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The Real Russia. Today. Episode three of HBO's ‘Chernobyl’ miniseries, Vinokurova explains her turn to ‘Russia Today,’ and another suspected Putin mansion turns up

Source: Meduza

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

This day in history: 47 years ago, on May 22, 1972, Richard Nixon traveled to the USSR to sign multiple arms control agreements, becoming the first U.S. president to visit Moscow.
  • ‘He’s not a man anymore, but a reactor’: Meduza reviews episode three of HBO’s miniseries ‘Chernobyl’
  • Former protest organizer and independent journalist Ekaterina Vinokurova explains why she took a job at Russia Today
  • The Moscow government sent out warnings that a popular teen band might be dangerous for kids. Even the censors say otherwise.
  • Russian investigative journalists find a $36-million mansion outside Moscow that’s guarded by Putin’s secret service and owned by firms tied to his rich friends
  • Opinion: Journalist Andrey Pertsev says Russia's regional protests are responding to perceived humiliation by Moscow
  • Regional governor says Yekaterinburg cathedral should not be built in contested square
  • One of 30 concertgoers injured by Moscow police at May 1 hip-hop festival requests criminal charges
  • New performance indicators for Kremlin employees reportedly include social optimism and decreased protests
  • Russian police reportedly begin testing compact face recognition cameras
  • Russian pop star comments on the scandal surrounding her daughter’s annulled ‘The Voice Kids’ win

‘Chernobyl’: Episode 3 ☢️

HBO / Amediateka

On May 21, the American premium cable network HBO aired the third episode of “Chernobyl,” a new miniseries about the catastrophic nuclear accident in April 1986 that rocked the Soviet Union. After two episodes, with the initial fire extinguished and early panic beginning to subside, the focus shifts to questions about why the reactor exploded and who was responsible for the disaster. Meduza shares its thoughts about the show’s latest installment, “Open Wide, O Earth,” and looks at some of the showrunners’ editing decisions.

Read Meduza's review: “He’s not a man anymore, but a reactor”

Interview: ‘I try to live as though there are no walls’ 📰

The independent media journalist and protest organizer Ekaterina Vinokurova began working for the state media channel RT (formerly called Russia Today) in the spring of 2019. She now leads a project “The Regions,” which aims to increase RT’s influence among Russian viewers. In an interview with Meduza special correspondent Ilya Zhegulev, Vinokurova explained why she joined a state-run channel and how opposition politician Alexey Navalny affected that choice. This interview was recorded while Vinokurova was in Russia’s Ural region covering protests in Yekaterinburg.

Read Meduza's interview: “Former protest organizer and independent journalist Ekaterina Vinokurova explains why she took a job at Russia Today

Children, beware! 🎵

On May 21, Moscow’s Labor and Social Welfare Department sent a memo to various district governments and social welfare agencies recommending that they warn adoptive parents and guardians about the dangers of listening to the teen pop duo Friendzone. The memo followed Moscow ombudswoman Tatiana Potyaeva’s decision to take her concerns about the group to prosecutors and police. Potyaeva told Meduza that she only asked for an expert evaluation of the group’s music. Russia’s communications regulation agency, Roskomnadzor, already investigated Friendzone’s lyrics this year and found no potentially harmful material. Despite its charming high school vibe, Friendzone has faced resistance since November, when complaints from parents’ groups and local authorities shut down two of the group’s concerts.

Read Meduza's story: “The Moscow government sent out warnings that a popular teen band might be dangerous for kids. Even the censors say otherwise.”

Another suspected Putin mansion 💰

Companies tied to two close friends of Vladimir Putin — Mikhail Kovalchuk and Gennady Timchenko — own a large plot of land in a prestigious residential area in Moscow’s western suburbs that’s guarded by the Federal Protective Service (FSO), according to a new investigative report by the website Proekt.

Read Meduza's summary: “Russian investigative journalists find a $36-million mansion outside Moscow that’s guarded by Putin’s secret service and owned by firms tied to his rich friends”

Opinion: Russia's regional protesters feel humiliated

In an article for the Carnegie Moscow Center, journalist Andrey Pertsev says recent protests in Yekaterinburg, Arkhangelsk, and Ingushetia represent a trend in Russia where public perceptions of humiliation mobilize mass discontent for unpermitted rallies. In other words, Pertsev challenges the idea that apolitical, immediate concerns are what drive these demonstrations.

Yes, in Yekaterinburg people defended a public park, yes in Arkhangelsk locals protested a landfill, and yes in Ingushetia people opposed revisions to the republic’s boundaries, but Pertsev says the real nature of these problems is too “ill-defined and unobvious” to justify the public reactions, unless these grievances are understood as “symbolic things.” For example, Arkhangelsk’s controversial landfill is actually more than 60 miles from the city's center, meaning that locals won’t be choking on pollution like the people living outside Moscow in Yadrovo. In Yekaterinburg, Pertsev acknowledges that there are few public spaces, but he says October Square Park (the cathedral’s would-be construction site) was apparently mostly empty, until demonstrators decided to defend it. And the problem in Ingushetia, Pertsev argues, approaches “pure symbolism,” insofar as nobody lives in the redrawn territory.

Pertsev thinks perceived humiliation is the proximate cause in these three protest movements (for example, the important thing about the landfill outside Arkhangelsk is that it was being built for garbage from Moscow). He says this awakens dormant grievances about regional communities’ lack of influence on national decision-makers in matters that are overtly political, whether it’s raising the retirement age or fighting inflation. Pertsev thinks symbolic issues act as a tipping point, uniting different social groups, professional classes, and generations that are otherwise divided by their own unique grievances.

Demonstrators have tried to remain ostensibly apolitical, Pertsev says, but their demands are inherently political, the ultimate causes for their mobilization are political, and many of the slogans and signs at their rallies have also become openly political, particularly when it comes to demanding the resignations of regional officials (who are increasingly seen as outsiders sent by the capital to drain their resources). The Kremlin is clearly worried, Pertsev argues, which is why Putin has regularly intervened, often throwing his local envoys under the bus. But the federal authorities are only addressing the formal reasons for these protests, ignoring the underlying reasons for the unrest. This could spell trouble, Pertsev says.

News briefs

  • 🚧 Sverdlovsk Region governor Yevgeny Kuvaishev has announced that “a new location must be found” for the planned cathedral that Orthodox Church supporters hoped would be built in a central square. In mid-May, thousands of protesters converged on the square for several days because they saw the area as a rare and valuable section of green space in the city. Read the story here.
  • 👮 Maxim Sidorenko, a 22-year-old student of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, has petitioned Russia’s Investigative Committee to bring criminal charges against an unnamed police officer who beat him with a club at the Hip-Hop Mayday festival. Sidorenko’s attorney, Dmitry Julai of the human rights organization Zona Prava, told Meduza about the young man’s complaint. Read the story here.
  • 📊 Six Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) have been formulated for certain divisions of the Kremlin’s staff, two sources close to Russia’s presidential administration told RBC. The list of KPIs includes a decreased potential for protests, political stability in Russia’s regions, increased numbers of patriotic youth, and increased social optimism. The criteria, which will be measured according to surveys conducted by state-run polling agencies, will be evaluated once a year, RBC’s sources said. In late April, Vladimir Putin signed an order introducing performance indicators for regional governors that included faith in the government and the president personally.
  • 📸 Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry has begun testing cameras with facial recognition capabilities, Vedomosti reported. The devices were developed by NtechLab, which also created an algorithm called FindFace that generated controversy in Russia after it was used to recognize users’ social media photos. Read the story here.
  • 🎤 After her 10-year-old daughter Mikella Abramova’s victory in this year’s finale of ‘The Voice Kids’ was annulled, the pop singer Alsou expressed optimism that the voting scandal surrounding the show would resolve itself. She told Serebriany Dozhd that the young competitors in the Russian edition of the program had been “pulled into some kind of game” but that “everything should end well.” After an investigation, Abramova was found to have received thousands of SMS votes submitted by bots. Read the story here.

Yours, Meduza

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