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The Real Russia. Today. United Russia's cowardly courage, interactive activism against domestic violence, and a retired colonel is freed in Afghanistan

Source: Meduza

Thursday, June 13, 2019

This day in history: 67 years ago, on June 13, 1952, Soviet Air Force fighter jets shot down two Swedish aircraft over international waters in the Baltic Sea. Moscow publicly denied involvement in the “Catalina affair” until the USSR dissolved in 1991.
  • How Russia’s ruling political party ‘abandoned’ the Moscow City Duma elections
  • In Russia, where at least one in three women faces abuse, an interactive media project against domestic violence goes international
  • Retired Russian colonel is freed in Afghanistan after a month in captivity
  • Opinion: Columnist Oleg Kashin says Golunov's freedom might force Putin to action on the 2024 question
  • News briefs: fired police generals, a beltway blockade, hiking the Internet fines, and spammed out of house arrest

United Russia’s strange death ⚱️

Among the politicians running this September for seats in the Moscow City Duma, there’s not a single candidate from the country’s ruling political party, United Russia, even though it held primaries in May to determine its favorites from among its members and supporters. Belonging to United Russia has become a liability for politicians in the capital, though the party’s leadership says candidates are merely trying to avoid “taking the easy road” in this fall’s elections (candidates from political parties with parliamentary representation don’t have to collect signatures to get on the ballot).

Read Meduza's report: “How Russia’s ruling political party ‘abandoned’ the Moscow City Duma elections”

Close to home 🆘

Kirill and Nastya’s backstory may say they appear from the outside to have a normal life, but Project 911, an interactive multimedia project released in Russian in December 2018, shatters that illusion immediately. The main feature of the site, a role-playing exercise called Game 116, introduces the couple with unsettling graphics and the explicit knowledge that Kirill’s aggression has caused Nastya to become increasingly closed off to the world around her.

Read Meduza's report: “In Russia, where at least one in three women faces abuse, an interactive media project against domestic violence goes international”

Trade ya? 🤝

Retired Colonel Alexander Lavrentyev, a member of Russia’s Cross-Agency P.O.W. Commission, spent a month in captivity in Afghanistan, the officer’s friends told the news website RBC.

On March 26, 2019, Lavrentyev arrived in the province of Herat on an expedition to find and identify the remains of Soviet soldiers who went missing during the USSR’s war in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. On the way from the airport, Lavrentyev was taken hostage by assailants (presumably Taliban combatants) who were tipped off by his local Afghan fixer. Three days later, Lavrentyev’s interpreter came to Russia’s embassy in Kabul and delivered the kidnappers’ ransom demands.

Find out what happened next: “Retired Russian colonel is freed in Afghanistan after a month in captivity”

Opinion: Oleg Kashin thinks Golunov might end up forcing Putin's hand in 2024

Ivan Golunov is free, and columnist Oleg Kashin thinks it could hasten a decision from Vladimir Putin about plans for Russia’s political system in 2024. In a new article for Republic, Kashin argues that defusing the Golunov case required Putin to act fast and reverse decades of police practice, awakening a “rusty state machinery” that could be hard to shut off again.

Kashin says winning mercy from Putinist law enforcement is more of a lottery than a question of guilt or innocence. For every Ivan Golunov or Kirill Serebrennikov, there’s a Vasily Aleksanyan or Sergey Magnitsky who dies behind bars. Until now, “good fortune” in this lottery meant escaping with your life, but Golunov has gone free a national hero, and the police officers who persecuted him are “frightened and sobbing.”

What was so special about Golunov to activate a mostly dormant Vladimir Putin? Kashin says the case against the journalist didn’t observe the established rules of political persecution: Golunov isn’t an opposition activist, he didn’t embezzle from the state, and he’s not affiliated with any foreign NGOs, exiled oligarchs, or Western intelligence agents. The final straw was the fact that police bungled the planted evidence against him so terribly, going so far as to publish photos from a drug bust that wasn’t even carried out at his home.

Kashin believes Golunov also went free thanks in part to backroom negotiations with his supporters. Evidence of collaborationism, he claims, was the change of defense attorneys (replacing “Agora” human rights lawyer Olga Dinze with “Open Russia” attorney Sergey Badamshin), and the withdrawal of public support for an unsanctioned march on June 12 by the rally’s organizers. Kashin also suspects that identical front pages in Golunov’s support printed by RBC, Vedomosti, and Kommersant “of course” had the Kremlin’s approval. Kashin says Golunov’s “more opportunist” supporters ultimately bowed to the regime to get him freed, temporarily abandoning the ruse that Russians live as free citizens, not ruled subjects.

More importantly, Kashin says, Putin and the state “transformed themselves” to close the case against Golunov, betraying police officers and violating “a basic principle of the Putinist state.” He says this is different from the usual anti-corruption cases against governors and other top officials who overreached.

Last year, when the government raised Russia’s retirement ages, Putin’s reluctance to take action was evident, frustrating officials who are looking for signals about what to expect in 2024. Now the president has demonstrated his ability to take quick, decisive action, and Kashin suspects it could whet appetites for more.

News briefs

Yours, Meduza