The Real Russia. Today. Yekaterinburg protesters face beatings, two women activists will face off in Moscow's elections, and Olga Romanova dissects Russia's escalating silovik turf wars
Monday, May 13, 2019
This day in history: 28 years ago, on May 13, 1991, the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) began broadcasting television in Russia. Today, the media conglomerate is now one of the Russian state’s most powerful tools of mass communication.
- Standing against church construction in public space, Yekaterinburg protesters face beatings from opponents and pressure from police
- Two prominent activists are planning to run for the same Moscow City Duma seat, prompting tensions among opposition supporters
- Celebrity stylist Sergey Zverev goes to court for defending his hometown on Lake Baikal from a bottled water factory
- Prisoners' rights activist Olga Romanova says escalating silovik turf wars mean troubled times for the country
- Columnist Oleg Kashin thinks late Putinism is a laugh riot
- Anti-Kremlin activist will run for city council in Rostov-on-Don, where she's been under house arrest since January
- All victims of Sukhoi Superjet 100 disaster at Sheremetyevo identified
- 75-year-old Russian scholar who spent 10 months in pretrial detention on suspicious treason charges moved to hospital
- Cannes Festival organizing committee promises to go after Russian website selling tickets for thousands of Euros
On the evening of May 13, Yekaterinburg residents organized a protest against plans to build a cathedral to replace a city square. That morning, fencing was installed around the square in preparation for construction work to begin. After photographs of the fencing spread on social media, opponents of the construction project began gathering around the square to protest. They were able to knock down the fencing, and once inside the square, the protesters erected a tent to remain there overnight. Several activists attempted to block a nearby road but stopped after facing resistance from police.
- Groups of aggressive young men arrived on the scene to push back against protesters
- Police did not interfere in the clashes until late in the evening
- Plans are underway to replace the square, which is located next to a local theater, with a new church building, St. Catherine’s Cathedral
In this September’s elections for the Moscow City Duma, the race for the 43rd District’s seat promises to be the most closely watched. The central urban district has a history of offering opposition candidates a strong starting position, and two candidates who are unaligned with the Putin regime to varying degrees are planning to campaign in it. Nyuta Federmesser, a widely recognized advocate for palliative care and the founder of the hospice aid foundation Vera is one of those candidates, and the other is Lyubov Sobol, an attorney for the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). FBK founder and longtime opposition politician Alexey Navalny has asked Federmesser to withdraw her candidacy so as not to help the local Moscow government by keeping Sobol out. Navalny warned Federmesser against crossing “the line between compromise and conformism” when it comes to her relationship with the authorities. Sobol has argued that Federmesser decided to run in the 43rd District after she did; Federmesser stands by the opposite claim.
- Lyubov Sobol, Sergey Mitrokhin, and Nyuta Federmesser all plan to run for a City Duma seat in Moscow’s 43rd District
- Federmesser argued that Sobol chose to run in the 43rd District after she did
- Sobol said Federmesser told her nothing about her own candidacy but did try to find out where Sobol would run
- The 43rd District is known for its oppositionist leanings. Sources say Federmesser would be able to use her campaign to criticize the government.
On May 13, a Moscow court fined the celebrity stylist and singer Sergey Zverev after he picketed alone on Red Square. Zverev was cited for violating protest regulations. In early March, Zverev stood by the Kremlin twice to protest the construction of a water bottling plant on Lake Baikal. The facility was to be built in the village of Kultuk, where Zverev grew up. Shortly after the stylist’s picket, a court order brought the plant’s construction to a halt due in part to Baikal locals’ objections to the fact that the factory would be Chinese-owned.
Opinion and analysis
The last time oppositionist and prisoners' rights activist Olga Romanova wrote an op-ed for Republic, it was about the unknowable backroom intrigue that may have precipitated the sudden release of Kirill Serebrennikov. A month later, she’s still got the stage director’s case on her mind, and her new op-ed is another long, winding hypothesis about how Russia’s law enforcement officials — the siloviki — really operate, and why they do what they do. This time, Romanova cites multiple unnamed sources in Russia’s federal agencies, plus one former state prosecutor from Chuvashia, Alexey Fedyarov, who now works with her at “Jailed Russia.”
Based on what her silovik sources tell her, Romanova argues that the country’s economic and geopolitical stumbles have raised the stakes for the byzantine decision-making process that guides Russian law enforcement, which has in turn made many officials nervous.
One of Romanova’s sources says criminal cases in Russia are prosecuted normally, unless “there’s a phone call.” This shorthand for political interference in the legal system is actually a euphemism, Romanova explains, for the results of long negotiation processes between competing groups among and within different state agencies.
What’s an ordinary case? She lists the Baltstroi embezzlement case involving former Deputy Culture Minister Grigory Pirumov, the organized criminal activities by former Anti-Corruption Unit deputy chief Boris Kolesnikov, the Oboronservis embezzlement case involving former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, and banking crimes by Alexander Grigoriev, who worked with Putin’s cousin, Igor Putin. “They keep locking up new defendants, and nobody really cares,” Romanova says.
Citing more unnamed sources, Romanova describes some of the internal logic that drives Russian law enforcement, acknowledging the existence of clans, but emphasizing that rivalries among the siloviki are fluid and messy. Conflicts between the Federal Investigation Committee and Attorney General’s Office, for example, revolve around personal rivalries, the intersections of business interests, and the fight for resources, but Yuri Chaika and Alexander Bastrykin rely on different common bonds to exert influence. Lower-ranking officials in both agencies generally resent their supervisors, and some departments and special units enjoy levels of prestige and privilege that breed intra-agency bad blood, as well. Amid all this, there are also certain golden rules, like don’t ever undermine your colleagues, once a case goes to trial.
Romanova finishes on a warning that the country is in for a “tough time,” thanks to the Kremlin’s supposedly failed foreign adventurism in Syria and Venezuela, and Russia’s inability to replace Ukraine as Moscow’s transit-way to Europe with three new oil and gas pipelines. Another anonymous source says President Putin has delegated the search for a solution to Russia's oil-and-gas problem, which has led to today’s turf war.
In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin says Vladimir Putin’s recent stumble at a hockey game shows that his displays of machismo and athleticism have become a public relations liability, but it doesn’t matter to the president because he participates in these spectacles for his own amusement, not to boost his popularity. Kashin thinks Putin has given up on Russians who don’t like him by now, and it doesn’t embarrass the president that his stunts are ridiculed. (Kashin says nothing about recent legislation that bans Internet users from insulting state officials, including the president.)
Kashin says Putin is growing more sentimental, kind, and lazy, as he gets older, and this has brought Russia to the threshold of a new era of stability, where the Kremlin’s public awkwardness is payment for the fact that “nothing bad happens.”
Kashin acknowledges that the country’s future is frustratingly obscured, so long as Putin remains in power, but he argues that the absurdity of the president’s growing complacency “on the ice” cultivates the laughter that is key to Russians’ nostalgia for the late Brezhnev era of Soviet stagnation, where there were suddenly more reasons to laugh and fewer reasons to cry.
- 🗳️ Activist Anastasia Shevchenko has reportedly decided to run for a city-council seat in Rostov-on-Don, where she’s been under house arrest since late January. Shevchenko is the first person in Russia to be charged with the felony offense of working for an illegal “undesirable organization.” She is an activist with the “Open Russia” movement and the regional head of the “Party of Changes,” which has endorsed her candidacy. Read the story here.
- ✈️ The bodies of all those who were killed when a Sukhoi Superjet 100 made a rough emergency landing and caught fire at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on May 5 have been identified. Read the story here.
- 🏥 75-year-old engineering researcher Viktor Kudryavtsev, who has been in pretrial detention since July 2018 on treason charges, has been moved from the Lefortovo pretrial detention center to a state-owned hospital. Kudryavtsev stands accused of sending confidential information to a Belgian institute; his lawyers have argued that he had not had access to the information in question for more than 20 years. Read the story here.
- 📽️ The organizers of the Cannes Film Festival have begun looking into a Russian-based website that offers tickets to screenings, parties, and other festival events for thousands of Euros. The head of the festival’s registration bureau emphasized to RBC that the site is “absolutely illegal.” Read the story here.