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The Real Russia. Today. A month since Golunov's arrest, blocking opposition candidates, and when pro-regime bots collide

Source: Meduza

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

This day in history: 101 years ago, on July 17, 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, his immediate family, and their retainers were executed by the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg.
  • It's been more than a month since Ivan Golunov was framed, charged, and released. What's happened to his story since?
  • Mediazona breaks down the technicalities used to block opposition candidates in Moscow and St. Petersburg
  • This man was killed in the Stalinist era and never rehabilitated. His grandson is the first person ever to get access to his case files anyway.
  • How pro-regime bot accounts have spread through Russia's regional election campaigns and even clashed with one another
  • Opinion: Pavel Kanygin says the Kremlin converts MH17 silence into immunity, but for how much longer? and Orkhan Dzhemal's widow gives an inside look at Russian investigators' uselessness
  • News briefs: Moscow's 57 rejects, FSB guilty, MH17 victims' relatives speak out, no Golunov criminal charges against police, and damaged bees

It's been more than a month since Ivan Golunov was framed, charged, and released 👮

What's happened to his story since? Thirty outlets published Ivan Golunov’s latest report, garnering 2.5 million hits. Turnover shook the Moscow police department. Seven people were fired and one more placed on leave. During a march against police brutality that went on without a permit, 530 people were arrested, and two spent 10 days each in jail. Vladimir Putin refused to decrease Russia’s sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. Investigators and prosecutors began looking into how Russian police handle drug cases. Meduza continued adding to a special project dedicated to resisting police brutality.

Read our feature story here.

Stealing Russian elections 🗳️

This September’s City Duma elections in Moscow were shaping up to be an interesting showdown between independent candidates and “unaffiliated” representatives of the authorities. Instead, election officials have closed the door on the opposition, refusing to register dozens of challengers. Supporters of the would-be candidates have protested the decision, but City Hall isn’t budging. In a report published by Mediazona, journalists David Frenkel and Maxim Litavrin summarize the excuses election officials in Moscow and St. Petersburg have offered for rejecting candidacy applications ahead of the upcoming elections.

The tricks of the trade covered by Mediazona include “handwriting expertise,” typos, blank spaces, bad binding, finances, lost mail, collection contracts, lost and substituted documents, and more.

Read our summary of Mediazona's text here.

Executed but never rehabilitated 🔍

On July 5, Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the Moscow region’s police department must grant Georgy Shakhet, a Russian actor, access to archival files concerning the criminal case against his grandfather, Pavel Zabotin. In 1933, Zabotin was executed on the orders of one of the OGPU’s notorious extrajudicial sentencing panels, or “Troikas.” Shakhet has been fighting for access to his grandfather’s case since 2016, and since 2018, he has been demanding that his grandfather be legally rehabilitated. The rehabilitation process, which is intended to restore the reputation of those targeted in the Stalinist repressions, must often be conducted posthumously because so many victims of those repressions were killed or died in labor camps. However, like many before him, Georgy Shakhet has found that rehabilitation is impossible without access to the case materials of the individual in question. Those case materials, in turn, cannot be released unless the target of the case has been rehabilitated. Shakhet is the first person to have successfully argued in court that the resulting catch-22 only emerged because law enforcement agencies incorrectly interpreted Russian law.

Read the story here.

Clash of the pro-regime bots 👾

The investigative media outlet Proekt has published an exposé describing how candidates supportive of the Putin regime are using bots, or hired online commenters, to boost their chances in the September 2019 elections. In St. Petersburg, where Acting Governor Alexander Beglov is running for a full term, the “social media headquarters” charged with hiring social media commenters is located in a business center at 52 Shpalernaya Street, Proekt reported. That address also houses the Charitable Foundation for Family and Childhood Values, which has received multiple government subsidies and grants.

Read our summary of Proekt's report here.

Opinion and analysis

✈️ Five years of lies

On the fifth anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed 298 people, Novaya Gazeta journalist Pavel Kanygin recalls how the Kremlin has dodged mounting evidence that the Russian military was responsible for the tragedy. Kanygin, who has reported extensively on MH17, says Moscow’s “trademark style” has been to respond to every new corroboration with its own official records, official statements, and “objective facts.” He believes that the Kremlin doesn’t care anymore about its international reputation, and just wants to win more time by scoring “tactical hits” and causing confusion.

Here’s how Kanygin summarizes Russia’s MH17 disinformation campaign:

  • For the first year, state-owned and government-loyal media outlets were the main tool, spreading incomplete and fake information meant to deny Moscow’s culpability. Russia Today and Pervyi Kanal were both involved in reporting bogus claims (initially propagated by the Russian Defense Ministry) that a Ukrainian military jet was responsible.
  • A year after the incident, the arms company Almaz-Antey shifted the narrative to claims that the missile was fired by the Ukrainian military, promoting highly questionable tests and claims about launch sites and missile trajectories that largely discredited the organization.
  • Though Almaz-Antey is no longer cited by Russian officials or in Russian propaganda, the “Ukrainian missile” theory has survived. In late 2016, Russian officials presented “radar data” from Rostov that supposedly shows no missile launches from the suspected launch site in Snizhne. In September 2018, the Defense Ministry also presented documents showing that the serial number on the recovered missile’s engine shell belongs to a missile that was transferred to Ukraine in the late 1980s. (Kanygin seems to suspect that this evidence, acquired from an intermediary in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” for cash, could be fake.)

Kanygin notes that the biggest wealth of untapped MH17 evidence is inside Russia, where the soldiers involved in the incident and other eyewitnesses have closed ranks and refused to speak about it — even attention-seeking figures like Igor Girkin. “Clearly, the [Russian] authorities are converting their silence into immunity from any intrusions from abroad,” says Kanygin, pointing out that this could change, once the Putin regime inevitably ends.

🕵️‍♂️ One year of nothing

It’s been nearly a year since three Russian journalists — Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko — were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR), while working on a documentary report about Evgeny Prigozhin’s alleged business operations in the country. In a new article for Novaya Gazeta, Dzhemal’s widow, Irina Gordienko, says the Russian investigators responsible for the murder case are stonewalling her, refusing to share their evidence and ignoring her lawyer’s requests to add new materials to the record, and pretending to have no leverage over local African officials.

In June, Gordienko’s lawyers asked Russian investigators to add to the record a report by Denis Korotkov, based on Dossier Center's investigation materials, about Prigozhin’s connections to the murders. (Read Meduza’s summary of these findings here.) Gordienko also asked Russian investigators to question two men identified in these documents: Valery Zakharov (a national security adviser to CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra) and Alexander Sotov (who is believed to work for a business tied to Evgeny Prigozhin). At first, investigators pretended not to have received Gordienko’s petition, then they rejected it, arguing that there is insufficient evidence to involve Zakharov or Sotov.

Gordienko says Russian diplomats have been similarly unhelpful with efforts to learn more about her late husband’s murder. The Russian government has failed to bring home the killed journalists’ personal items for ballistics analysis or acquire their CAR telephone records. Viktor Tokmakov apparently offered to help, but his eagerness disappeared after photographs showing him and Valery Zakharov surfaced online. Gordienko says Moscow has refused to use its recent military cooperation agreements with CAR to pressure local officials into turning over vital case evidence.

Remarkably, Prigozhin’s Federal News Agency hired a private detective named Evgeny Gvozdev who supposedly managed to get access to all these materials. “Maybe [the Russian investigators] should have written to Prigozhin, whose companies call the shots in CAR,” Gordienko says angrily.

News briefs

Yours, Meduza