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The Real Russia. Today. Xenophobia, politics, and business in Irkutsk, nationalist Dmitry Demushkin's new gig, and Yekaterinburg's non-referendum

Source: Meduza

Friday, May 17, 2019

This day in history: 19 years ago, on May 17, 2000, Russia's State Duma confirmed Mikhail Kasyanov as President Vladimir Putin's prime minister. Kasyanov was dismissed in February 2004, months after he publicly criticized the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
  • How politics, money, and racism turned Irkutsk against a Chinese bottling factory at Lake Baikal
  • How convicted nationalist agitator Dmitry Demushkin left a prison colony for a gig as the mayor of a Moscow suburb
  • Yekaterinburg protesters get a survey, but not a referendum. What difference will it make?
  • Police arrest anti-homophobia demonstrators in St. Petersburg
  • Searches of arrested FSB officials’ properties reportedly reveal more than 12 billion rubles in questionable assets
  • Six regional legislators in Russia report incomes below a living wage
  • Human rights activists fined for holding live-stream with former oil executive and Putin rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky
  • New details reported in investigation of disastrous Moscow airplane fire

Xenophobia masquerading as environmentalism 👹

The construction of a bottling facility in the Lake Baikal area has been suspended, and the project’s Chinese investors might lose their lease on land that’s now home to a half-finished factory. For the past two months, the Irkutsk region and Moscow have witnessed a sustained mass campaign against the facility, even though there are other similar enterprises already operating at Lake Baikal. The factory's opponents include singer and cosmetic artist Sergey Zverev and television presenters Victoria Bonya and Elena Letuchaya, and there are more than 1 million signatures on a Change.org petition calling for an end to the project. Even Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has weighed in against the bottling facility. In a special report, Romb Story journalist Natalya Telegina explains how a Chinese factory became the target of a mass protest, and how this campaign benefits both local politicians and oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Read Meduza's report: “How politics, money, and racism turned Irkutsk against a Chinese bottling factory at Lake Baikal”

They told him to get a job ✊🏻

In May of 2019, the Russian nationalist Dmitry Demushkin was released from Russia’s prison colony system and almost immediately became the mayor of Barvikha, a wealthy suburb of Moscow. He had to do the job remotely: municipal consolidation efforts in Moscow Oblast have threatened to merge Barvikha into the Odintsovo Urban Okrug, and the district government considers Demushkin’s appointment illegal. Nonetheless, the town’s communist activists, who took over the local government in 2016 and then invited the nationalist to lead it, don’t intend to give in without a fight, and Demushkin himself plans to try and take over the entire district next. Meduza set out to tell the story of how Barvikha, where some of the richest people in Russia have homes alongside the president himself, turned from a symbol of capitalism into a “red town” with an avowed Russian nationalist and convicted extremist at its head.

Read Meduza's report: “How convicted nationalist agitator Dmitry Demushkin left a prison colony for a gig as the mayor of a Moscow suburb”

Not a referendum 🗳️

“If we go for a referendum, the situation will be suspended for a year. It would mean really major preparations, really major costs. That’s why, right now, we have to put maximal efforts into making sure this survey is maximally correct in procedure, in form, and in representativeness,” Yekaterinburg mayor Alexander Vysokinsky said on May 17. After several days of protests against the city’s plans to build a cathedral for its patron saint that would replace a central square, he was explaining the local government’s decision to run a survey instead of a referendum to gauge public opinion on the project.

  • How long would it take to prepare a referendum?
  • How will the survey work?
  • How is a survey different from a referendum?

Read Meduza's report: “Yekaterinburg protesters get a survey, but not a referendum. What difference will it make?”

Police arrest anti-homophobia demonstrators in St. Petersburg 🏳️‍🌈

Anton Vaganov / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Residents of St. Petersburg took to the streets to mark the 2019 International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17. According to attorney Ksenia Mikhailova, seven people were arrested at the demonstration, including herself. Police said the event had not received government approval although it took place in an area set aside for collective public expression. Mediazona reported that a group of young men with their heads shaved followed and intimidated the demonstrators while police stood aside and did nothing to stop them.

News briefs

  • 👮 More than 12 billion rubles ($185.6 million) in rubles, dollars, euros, and valuable material assets have reportedly been found in the possession of Federal Security Service colonel Kirill Cherkalin and two of his subordinates, Dmitry Frolov and Andrey Vasilyev. All three men have been jailed as their embezzlement and bribery cases proceed. Read the story here.
  • 💰 Russian regional legislators are required to submit income reports every year by April 1. This year, 60 of the country’s deputies reported receiving an income in 2018 that was lower than Russia’s nominal subsistence wage. Eleven deputies reported receiving no income at all. Read the story here.
  • 👮 The Moscow branch of Open Russia, a human rights organization with ties to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, held a live call with the former oil executive and opposition politician on February 27. During the event, police officers entered Open Russia’s office and recorded the identifying information of all 60 audience members present. Read the story here.
  • ✈️ The Sukhoi Superjet 100 airplane that caught fire upon landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on May 5 did not accelerate during touchdown as previous reports had claimed, but it was carrying a 1.6-ton overload, presumably of fuel. RIA Novosti journalists reported on multiple new developments in the investigation of the fire after reading a document prepared by Russia’s federal aviation agency. Read the story here.

Yours, Meduza