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The Real Russia. Today. The new felony case against Navalny, plus the atomization of post-Soviet society and a pyramid scheme to support Russia’s military

Source: Meduza

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

  • Defrocked Orthodox priest Sergii Romanov arrested during raid on monastery
  • Opinion and analysis: Sokolov thinks e-medicine is replacing Russia’s medical bureaucracy, Inozemtsev explains why Russia survives where the USSR collapsed, and Golts says the defense industry runs on a pyramid scheme
  • News briefs: a new criminal case awaits Navalny back home, human rights lawyer Vanessa Kogan’s problems, Vitaly Mansky’s illegal underpants, and anti-domestic-violence advocacy

Feature stories

☦️ Ignoring the Church’s calls

In the early hours of December 29, a SWAT team stormed the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery outside of Yekaterinburg and arrested Sergii Romanov — one of the region’s most well-known priests, who was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church earlier this year. Romanov was taken to Moscow where a district court remanded him in custody for the next two months on charges of inciting minors to suicide, violating freedom of conscience and religion, and arbitrariness. Following Romanov’s arrest, his supporters have been gathering outside of the monastery and refusing to allow anyone to enter the grounds, for fear that the Yekaterinburg diocese will retake control of the convent.

Opinion and analysis (summaries by Meduza)

🩺 A new ‘ecosystem’ to replace the old bureaucracy 

Denis Sokolov, “Center for Social and Economic Research of Regions” research director — Republic

The pandemic has exposed the dysfunctionality of both Russia’s bureaucracy and the Russian healthcare system. As nations around the world imposed lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus, urban and first-world Internet users leaped ahead of underperforming governments to pick up the slack. The Russian state now faces growing pressures to redirect resources from the fight against terrorism and extremism to epidemiological work.

Most importantly, the pandemic has “mobilized society around a new social state,” reshaping the environment Russia’s political elites inhabit. Stability — that central pillar of Russia’s social contract — is now impossible without access to the “advanced ecosystems” that sustain the modern, locked-down world.

In practice, this means that people are now using high-technologies more than ever before to perform the bureaucracy’s traditional healthcare functions. Volunteer groups have made major strides here by leveraging the mobilizing power of social networks, though such movements haven’t exactly flourished in Russia (except perhaps in the North Caucasus). Resources like Facebook now determine the reputations of medical professionals and this new “parallel system” for healthcare has proved to be better at generating incentives than bureaucratic regulation. 

🛒 Dream on, libs

Vladislav Inozemtsev, economist and columnist — VTimes

Liberals are kidding themselves if they think Russia’s economic struggles will upend the country’s political stability the way that stagnation wrecked the USSR. The collective nature of Soviet society made it possible to mobilize around economic issues because the public experienced shortages together and blamed this scarcity on the state. In today’s market economy, however, Russians are more likely to view poverty and falling income as failures by individuals. It’s “empty shelves” versus “empty pockets.” As a result, Russians are atomized and more motivated to improve their own financial situations, which often diverge between different social groups. 

By ending Russia’s global isolation and abandoning the pretense of superpowerdom, moreover, the Kremlin can now plausibly shift the blame for economic hardships to foreign, even faceless phenomena, like Western sanctions and oil prices.

Russians are still capable of protests, of course. Stolen elections, police brutality, and the persecution of popular leaders can serve as temporary “electric shocks” capable of mobilizing crowds, but lip service to bettering the economy should be enough for at least the next decade to prevent any major movements built on common material concerns.

💰 A defense plan fit for the pharaohs

Alexander Golts, military expert and columnist — The Insider

Despite waves of “modernization,” the Kremlin never really replaced the Soviet military-industrial complex. Without the industrial cooperation needed to build weapons, Russia now finds itself stuck with low-efficiency defense enterprises and rising manufacturing costs. As a result, the industry has become a “giant pyramid scheme” that needs funding beyond its budget allocations to remain afloat.

Russia’s defense industry is a money pit, despite the government’s decision to cut budget allocations by 195 billion rubles ($2.6 billion) in 2021. Manufacturers are nevertheless moving forward with the production of costly, much-vaunted hardware, like the T-14 Armata tank and the latest Sukhoi fighter jet. The Kremlin has decided to finance the implementation of these defense orders through bank loans — about 360 billion rubles ($4.9 billion) over the next three years. This debt lands on a pile of borrowed money that amounted last year to roughly 2 trillion rubles ($27.1 billion). Defense enterprises are now struggling even to make interest payments, which has necessitated rounds of debt forgiveness and early loan repayments using public money.

As a measure to guard against further Western sanctions, Russia has also started transferring funds for defense orders through Promsvyazbank’s confidential channels, leaving it unclear if the government is lending to the defense industry at a loss or if Russia’s state corporations and state banks are secretly routing money to Promsvyazbank.

Why would the Kremlin endorse a pyramid scheme to sustain Russia’s national defense? Once you convince President Putin that something is necessary to obtain unrivaled weaponry, all the money in the world becomes available.

Other news in brief

  • 👮 We double-dog dare you to return, pal. Russian federal investigators have charged Alexey Navalny with felony fraud, punishable by as many as 10 years in prison. Officials say he and his anti-corruption allies spent almost $5 million in donations on personal expenses like property and vacations. Navalny is still in Germany, recovering from an attempt on his life in August.
  • 👮 You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. Police officers came to the Moscow home of American human rights lawyer Vanessa Kogan on Tuesday and detained her in connection with her controversial residency-violation case. She could face deportation from Russia.
  • 👮 Book ’em, Danno. Russian film director Vitaly Mansky is now formally charged with an unlawful assembly, after picketing outside the FSB’s Moscow headquarters with a pair of blue boxer shorts — an allusion to the garment that allegedly delivered the nerve agent that nearly killed Alexey Navalny.
  • 🕵️ Domestic violence: a political issue. Russia’s Justice Ministry has designated the anti-domestic violence advocacy group “” (No to Violence) as a “foreign agent.” The organization supports legislation that would re-criminalize domestic violence and add protections for victims of such abuse.
🎂 Tomorrow in history: 115 years ago tomorrow, on December 30, 1905, Daniil Kharms was born in St. Petersburg. He would grow up to be a very normal-looking avant-gardist and absurdist poet and writer.

Yours, Meduza

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