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The Real Russia. Today. Nationwide raids on Navalny's offices, an ignored attacked in St. Petersburg, and Oleg Smolenkov's bad information

Source: Meduza

Thursday, September 12, 2019

This day in history: 60 years ago, on September 12, 1959, the USSR launched the “Luna 2” spacecraft to the Moon. A day later, it became the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the Moon, and the first human-made object to make contact with another celestial body. 
  • Police launch nationwide raids against Alexey Navalny's regional offices, days after ‘Smart Vote’ potentially shifts election results in Moscow
  • St. Petersburg police completely ignored an attack on an election monitor inside a polling station, even though it happened right before their eyes
  • Journalist Ilya Azar offers an inside look at how media involvement and leaderless organizing drove Moscow's summer of protest
  • Scholar reports receiving salary of zero rubles for teaching at Moscow State University as administrators deny his claims
  • Opinion: Vladimir Frolov thinks Oleg Smolenkov told the CIA just what it wanted to hear
  • News briefs: a freed Chinese student and a suspended embezzlement case

‘Intimidation and robbery’ 👮

Police have raided local offices operated by anti-corruption activist and opposition leader Alexey Navalny in 43 cities across Russia, says Anti-Corruption Foundation project manager Leonid Volkov. Police are seizing equipment from Navalny’s local coordinators and local offices. The raids are connected to a money-laundering investigation against the Anti-Corruption Foundation, says Volkov, who points out that the foundation has no regional affiliates or offices, and says Navalny’s local headquarters belong to a separate organization. Police are also searching the homes of several coordinators at the “Golos” election monitoring movement. And these aren’t the first raids in the case against the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Read more about this nationwide crackdown here.

Thanks a lot, officer 👮

Last Sunday, as Russians across the country cast ballots in local races, election commission members were attacked at two polling stations in St. Petersburg. Georgy Medvedinsky, a member of the № 1619 precinct commission with a consultative vote, says he was jumped in the street, near his polling station. After the elections were over, the watchdog group “Petersburg Observers” published video footage of another attack inside precinct 1619 itself.

Read about Sunday's laziest police work here.

‘We have no politics, so we have no politicians’

Alexander Vislotsky for Meduza

Ilya Azar is a special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta and a former special correspondent for Meduza. He also serves as a municipal deputy in Moscow. In early June, he helped organize a march against fabricated criminal cases following the arrest of Meduza correspondent Ivan Golunov. That proved to be only the beginning of a highly eventful summer for Azar. He went on to take part in organizing several demonstrations demanding fair elections for the Moscow City Duma, including the August 10 protest that brought more than 60,000 Muscovites into the streets for the first time since 2012. Meduza correspondent Vladislav Gorin spoke with Azar about the line between journalism and politics and about the shift within Russia’s opposition movements toward spontaneous, democratic organizing tactics.

Read an abridged translation of the interview here.

For the love of the game 🎓

Askold Ivantchik, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told journalists that the leadership of Moscow State University (MGU) has asked him to teach without a salary this academic year. He said the salary for that appointment has always been “symbolic”: It was paid only to enable the university to officially list the instructor as a university employee.

Read Meduza's report here.

Vladimir Frolov: Oleg Smolenkov is full of shit 🕵️

In an article for Republic, former diplomat Vladimir Frolov argues that suspected CIA informant Oleg Smolenkov likely fed the U.S. government a bunch of baloney about Putin’s direct involvement in Moscow’s interference in America’s 2016 presidential election. Frolov also points out that Russian counter-intelligence agencies apparently only discovered Smolenkov’s spying after he fled with his family. (Frolov says officials never opened a formal treason case because they probably hoped to lure Smolenkov back to Russia or a third country, where they might arrest him.)

Frolov says American officials likely recruited Smolenkov before 2008, when he worked at Russia’s U.S. embassy, guessing that he agreed both for the money and the chance to stick it to his bosses, in retaliation for the “lackey work” he was assigned in the United States. Rooting out mid-level moles is virtually impossible, says Frolov, who compares the case to the recruitment of Vlad Potapov, another Russian embassy staffer who provided information to the Americans in the late 1980s and early 90s. (Frolov recalls that Potapov was evacuated in 1994, amid fears that Aldrich Ames might expose him — a noteworthy observation from the former first deputy secretary at Russia’s embassy in Washington, D.C., who may have served as Robert Hanssen’s handler.)

Frolov also compares Smolenkov to Alexander Vorobyov, the aide to Urals Federal District Presidential Envoy Nikolai Tsukanov who was recently arrested for spying for Poland. In both cases, Frolov says, neither of the informants’ supervisors (Yuri Ushakov or Nikolai Tsukanov) appear to be in trouble for the betrayals of their subordinates.

So why does Frolov think Smolenkov invented the intelligence he provided to the CIA? He argues that someone in Smolenkov’s position — an assistant to a presidential adviser on foreign policy — would “definitely not” have had access to information proving Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in Russia’s U.S. election interference. Frolov also says Ushakov probably didn’t have such access, either. 

Furthermore, Frolov doubts that Putin was directly involved in either the DNC hack or the social-media trolling operations. Few people in the Kremlin likely even knew about the Internet Research Agency’s “guerrilla warfare” (which Frolov says didn’t need the government’s sanction), and Evgeny Prigozhin was probably just guessing “which way the wind was blowing,” and trying to please the Kremlin. Frolov also insists that Russian intelligence units don’t need presidential permission to penetrate foreign political parties’ servers, because such intelligence gathering is why they exist in the first place. Leaking the stolen data to Wikileaks, however, is another matter, and Putin’s direct involvement here is likely, but Frolov doubts the existence of a paper trail that could have trickled down to Smolenkov. Frolov also believes Yuri Ushakov, if he somehow managed to learn about Putin’s role in the leak, would never have shared the information with a subordinate.

Why then did Smolenkov apparently tell the CIA that Putin was directly involved in Russian election interference? He read the newspapers and told Langley what it wanted to hear, Frolov guesses. “Sources often exaggerate their own importance,” he says.

News briefs

Yours, Meduza