The Real Russia. Today. Bauhaus architects in the USSR, Russia's stolen-data industry, and police start enforcing the ban on ‘fake news’
Thursday, April 26, 2019
This day in history: 33 years ago, on April 26, 1986, the world's worst-ever nuclear disaster occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the now-abandoned town of Pripyat, in Soviet Ukraine.
- When Bauhaus architects moved to work in the early Soviet Union, they left a fascinating legacy — and paid a steep price
- New BBC report explores the black market for ‘data penetrations’
- Top FSB official jailed on bribery charges, while two former colleagues are accused of stealing 1 million dollars
- Former diplomat Vladimir Frolov says Putin denied Kim Jong-un a real ‘propaganda victory’ in Vladivostok
- Experts claim Putin's citizenship program in eastern Ukraine will cost Russia 100 billion rubles a year
- Russia’s FSB reports terrorist attack prevented in Northern Caucasian city of Nalchik
- Russian court releases anti-Putin protester who has spent a year in pretrial detention
- Putin approves list of criteria for effective governors that begins with faith in the president
- Russia has started enforcing its ban on ‘fake news.’ The first suspect? A woman protesting landfill pollution.
April 25 marked the centennial of the Bauhaus. The design school Walter Gropius founded in Weimar in 1919 went on to change how we think about what a modern building should look like inside and out and, more importantly, what principles should guide its construction. We asked Dmitry Khmelnitsky, an architect and historian of architecture, to explain how not only Bauhaus but Western architecture as a whole became Soviet Russia’s signature style in the 1920s. He also wrote about how designers from abroad helped modern architecture blossom under the early Bloshevik regime before those same designers faced political ruin in the Stalinist 1930s.
Last year, investigative journalists at Bellingcat and The Insider made international headlines by identifying the two Russian “tourists” suspected of carrying out a nerve-agent attack in Salisbury, England, as Russian military intelligence operatives. Part of that sleuth work relied on private data grabbed from government records in the “Rossisskii Passport” database. According to the website Rosbalt, the discovery prompted Russia’s intelligence community to launch a manhunt to track down the source of the leak. The journalists deny buying this information (Bellingcat says the spies’ passport data was provided by someone with access to the records), but there is an entire black market in Russia where scammers, private detectives, and even jealous spouses can pay hard money for anyone’s personal records. In a new report for the BBC Russian Service, Andrey Zakharov managed to buy his own phone and bank information, learning how this illegal industry operates in Russia.
Read Meduza's summary: “New ‘BBC’ report explores the black market for ‘data penetrations’”
A military court in Moscow has jailed the head of a local Federal Security Service (FSB) office for two months, pending the results of a criminal investigation. Colonel Kirill Cherkalin was arrested on April 25 and faces up to 15 years in prison on charges of receiving tens of millions of rubles in bribes. The details of the case haven’t been disclosed, and journalists only learned about Cherkalin’s arraignment after it happened.
In an op-ed for Republic, columnist and former diplomat Vladimir Frolov reviews Putin’s recent meeting with Kim Jong-un in Vladivostok, arguing that the North Korean leader’s general disinterest in the Russian president over the years has made sense, given Moscow’s reluctance to play a major role in resolving the dispute over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The peripheral importance of the North Korean issue in Moscow has limited Russian engagement while potentially granting the Kremlin greater diplomatic flexibility.
Despite the Putin-Kim meeting, however, Frolov thinks the deepening crisis in U.S.-Russian relations gives the Kremlin little incentive to change course because (1) pressuring Kim toward an agreement with the United States wouldn’t likely yield major benefits for Russia in Washington, where Trump’s freedom to negotiate with Moscow remains constrained, and (2) the Kremlin has no interest in “spoiling” denuclearization talks, given that derailment could lead to a nuclear conflict at Russia’s Pacific border.
So how do Kim and Putin benefit from a largely symbolic get-together? Putin gets the chance to look involved and sustain the narrative that Russia has geopolitical weight in this dispute. Kim Jong-un, meanwhile, came to Vladivostok to show Donald Trump that the U.S. can’t isolate North Korea unilaterally. But Putin didn’t put on much of a show, Frolov says.
The absence of any joint declarations means there were no unexpected breakthroughs when the two leaders sat down together. Vladimir Putin denied Kim any major propaganda victories, declining to call for a gradual weakening of the sanctions against Pyongyang or advocate the need for a “phased approach” to denuclearization (which Moscow and Beijing endorsed in a past declaration). President Putin also didn’t endorse Pyongyang’s interpretation of denuclearization, which holds that South Korea and Japan must reject the U.S. nuclear umbrella, he ignored a recent report by Kommersant about Russia using a barter system with Pyongyang to supply the country with sanctioned goods, and he evaded questions about North Korean workers on Russian soil who are supposed to leave the country before 2020, due to UN Security Council resolution (though he did indicate that he will push for a deadline extension from the UN).
- 🧓 Experts polled by the news website The Bell estimate that Vladimir Putin’s decision this week to simplify the path to citizenship for millions of people living in Ukraine’s separatist-controlled Donbas region will cost Moscow at least 100 billion rubles ($1.6 billion) in additional annual social-security payments. Read the story here.
- 🚨 FSB agents and police officers have prevented a terrorist attack planned for the Kabardino-Balkar Republic’s capital city of Nalchik, FSB representatives announced. Read the story here.
- ⚖️ St. Petersburg’s Dzerzhinsky District Court released Mikhail Tsakunov from a pretrial detention center after he signed a pledge not to leave the city. Tsakunov was arrested after the “He’s Not Our Tsar” protests in May 2018. Read the story here.
- 🛢️ A week after low-quality Russian petroleum was first reported in Belarus, Russian investigators have opened a criminal case to look into the matter, Interfax reported. The Russian company Transneft argued that the contamination of petroleum in the Druzhba pipeline was intentional, saying that an organochlorine compound was added to the pipeline at the Samaratransneftterminal junction in Samara. An investigation is ongoing in several private offices in the city. Read the story here.
- 👨⚖️ Russian president Vladimir Putin has signed an order that contains criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of the country’s regional governors. The document contains a list of indicators, the first of which is the governor’s level of faith in the government and in the president specifically. Read the story here.
- 👮 Russian officials in Arkhangelsk have filed the country’s first police report against an individual for spreading illegal “fake news.” According to the news website 29.ru, the activist Elena Kalinina used her VKontakte account to promote an unpermitted protest against a local landfill. Police officers reasoned that demonstrations shouldn’t take place without city permits, meaning that Kalinina's information about the unpermitted protest’s time and location amounts to “fake news.” Read the story here.