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The Real Russia. Today. A potential conflict of interest in the new Navalny case, plus Andrei Kolesnikov on Stalin and Gevorg Mirzayan ponders America’s ‘digital concentration camp’

Source: Meduza

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

  • Russian woman who called for help on Twitter among eight people killed in Yekaterinburg apartment fire
  • Opinion and analysis: Kolesnikov explains the monopoly on Stalin, and Mirzayan thinks it’s Russian social media’s time to shine
  • News briefs: Navalny’s next judge, the shaman returns, suing the foreign agents, and some limited clemency

Feature stories

🚒 ‘We’re dying on the ninth floor’ (790 words)

In the early hours of January 12, eight people were killed in a fire that broke out in an apartment building in Yekaterinburg. Among the victims was a seven-year-old child and her mother, who called for help on Twitter after reportedly being unable to get through to the emergency services. Firefighters did in fact arrive on the scene and managed to remove 90 people from the burning building. The deceased woman’s Twitter account has since been removed and government officials are claiming that she never called the fire department; spokespeople for the Emergency Situations Ministry underscored that “rescue workers don’t monitor Twitter.”

Opinion and analysis (summaries by Meduza)

🍖 Hands off Koba (100 words)

Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at Carnegie Moscow Center — VTimes

In the Kremlin’s campaign against human rights activists trying to preserve the historical record of Soviet crimes, ordinary Russians sometimes misinterpret what the authorities will permit, leading to controversies like the arrest of Stanislav Voltman, who tried to launch a shawarma stand named after Joseph Stalin. While the police allow certain pro-Stalin groups to harass organizations like “Memorial,” the state also enforces a monopoly on exploitations of Stalin, franchising these rights to “friendly firms” in desperate need of an issue that resonates with the public, like the Communist Party and newer spoiler political parties like “For Truth.”

🔑 Silicon Valley — kaput (230 words)

Gevorg Mirzayan, senior lecturer in politics at the Russian Federation’s Financial University — Vzglyad

By banning Donald Trump from Twitter and other networks, Silicon Valley has finally revealed to the world why digital sovereignty is a necessity in the 21st century: at any moment, these virtual monopolies can throw users in a “digital concentration camp” for entirely partisan reasons. [Note to readers: Twitter and other companies say they’ve suspended President Trump’s accounts for violating their terms of service, specifically regarding the glorification and incitement of violence. The U.S. president still has his YouTube channel, incidentally.] Junkies will recognize the tech companies’ business strategy: offer something for free, get users addicted, and then demand payment (in this case, allegiance to liberal political orthodoxy).

What if Facebook comes next for Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s outspoken press secretary? What if the West decides to meddle in the accounts of Russian media outlets and Russian politicians ahead of the 2021 State Duma elections? Presently, Russia’s main defense against such actions is that U.S.-based social networks don’t enjoy immunity against censorship charges like they do back home. (If Facebook blocks somebody important, the Russian state can squeeze the company’s access to advertising income in Russia.) A more long-term solution, however, would be to duplicate the West’s social-media and Web-hosting infrastructure, but this time without political censorship. Russians will reap the rewards and might even attract international business, if this Internet 2.0 proves freer than America’s digital concentration camp.

Other news in brief

  • ⚖️ With judges like these. (150 words.) Investigative journalists say they’ve uncovered evidence of a conflict of interest involving the Moscow judge due to hear the Federal Penitentiary Service’s request to imprison opposition figure Alexey Navalny for violating the terms of his parole. (Her father-in-law allegedly works for the prisons.)
  • 🧙‍♂️ On the road again. (320 words.) Alexander Gabyshev — a self-described Siberian shaman best known for making several attempts to travel on foot to Moscow to “expel Putin” from the Kremlin — has announced plans to undertake another campaign — this time on horseback.
  • ⚖️ Pay up, or else. (280 words.) Russia’s state censor wants to fine “foreign-agent media outlets” for eight violations of new rules requiring designated publishers to label their content as the work of foreign agents.
  • ⚖️ Let’s shave a few months off. (190 words.) The Moscow City Court reduced the sentences of some of the defendants in the controversial “Novoe Velichie” (New Greatness) extremism case by three months.
👨‍⚕️ Tomorrow in history: 68 years ago tomorrow, on January 13, 1953, the newspaper Pravda published fabricated allegations against some of the USSR’s most prestigious physicians, mostly Jews, describing a vast plot to poison members of the top Soviet political and military leadership. Many doctors, both Jews and non-Jews, were promptly dismissed from their jobs, arrested, and tortured to produce admissions.

Yours, Meduza