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The Real Russia. Today. Reining in an unruly Communist Party

Source: Meduza

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

  • Law and order: The feds chase a prank, Yeltsin’s NKVD records classification stands, Moscow’s ‘upsetting’ Central Asian languages, a review for two notorious killers, expanded police powers, a TikToker heads to prison, and Bastrykin doesn’t believe in acquittals
  • Public policy: sterilizing KPRF, early signs at the Listvyazhnaya mine, ‘Putingrad,’ a purge in Krasnodar Krai, conspiracy results at Yandex, and (opinion) Andrei Soldatov explains the significance of Russia blocking Tor
  • The pandemic: (opinion) Alexey Kovalev on the Kremlin’s coronavirus mismanagement, and Russians really hate vaccine passports
  • International: rethinking FARA, Muratov says FARA must go, (opinion) Andrew Bowen suggests Russian intentions in Ukraine, Germany might axe Nord Stream 2 after a Ukraine invasion, Biden’s ‘compromise’ talk, (opinion) International Crisis Group lays out a pathway to de-escalation, and (opinion) Samuel Greene and Graeme Robertson urge ‘strategic patience’ when confronting a risk-averse Putin

Law and order

🕵️ Bastrykin’s probe into Oxxxymiron and Noize MC: A parody of police work (5-min read)

The Russian Investigative Committee is looking into the work of popular rappers Oxxxymiron and Noize MC after receiving a “complaint” about their lyrics. As it turns out, the basis for the probe was a satirical LiveJournal post by a left-wing opposition activist, who immediately acknowledged that he wrote it as a joke. With a pre-trial check already underway, Russian investigators now have ten days to decide whether or not to initiate a criminal case. Will they get the joke and drop the probe? Meduza asks experts to weigh in.

⚖️ Russian Supreme Court upholds presidential decree on classifying NKVD employment records (Yeltsin’s 1995 orders will stand, thwarting historian Sergey Prudovsky’s research efforts)

🚇 Presidential Human Rights Council chairman asks Moscow mayor to look into ‘upsetting’ subway signs written in Uzbek and Tajik (Some Muscovites see the signs as evidence that migrants aren’t integrating into Russian society, says Valery Fadeyev. The ubiquity of English-language text throughout the capital apparently does not trigger people, however.)

⚖️ Russian Supreme Court sends murder conviction of Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis for appellate review, following ECHR decision in February (The two were convicted of killing lawyer Stanislav Markelov and Novaya Gazeta journalist Anastasia Baburova in 2009. Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov has vowed to help uphold the conviction, which the ECHR says was the result of an unfair trial.)

👮 Lawmakers adopt legislation expanding police powers (Officers will get more search-and-seizure authority, but the State Duma stopped short of formalizing something akin to qualified immunity. Officers will now be permitted to withhold their name and rank if they feel it might endanger them or impede their work. The legislation sanctions practices that are already commonplace, says Mediazona.)

⚖️TikTok vlogger sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for attacking FSB squad car during January protests against Navalny’s arrest (Konstantin Lakeyev has been in jail since the start of the year)

⚖️ Federal Investigative Committee director chides generals for allowing Russia’s acquittal rate to rise — though it’s still less than 1 percent (Alexander Bastrykin expressed concerns about jury trials and instructed staff to work with prosecutors to challenge “unjudicial rulings.” In 2020, Russian courts acquitted 2,256 people — 0.36 percent of all verdicts.)

Public policy

🗳️ Behind the Kremlin’s effort to rein in Russia’s increasingly unruly Communist Party (5-min read)

In 2021, Russia’s Communist Party managed to become a headache again for the Kremlin, reemerging as a genuine threat to the country’s ruling political party. The Communists staged protests, nominated unruly candidates for the State Duma, and opposed the government’s unpopular introduction of COVID-19 vaccine passports. In return, the party’s members have found themselves under felony investigation and at the center of attack pieces in the pro-government media. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev examines how the Kremlin and Russia’s security apparatus have targeted the Communist Party, and he explores what we know about President Putin’s thoughts on the campaign.

⚒️ Warning signs before the Listvyazhnaya mine disaster (10-min read)

A methane blast at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine in Siberia’s Kemerovo region killed 51 people on November 25. It was the deadliest mining accident Russia had seen since 2010. The explosion sent toxic smoke through the mine’s ventilation system, suffocating miners and rescue workers who came to their aid. But as miners at the Listvyazhnaya told Meduza, the mine’s methane levels had been critical for about two weeks beforehand, ever since a rock collapse “completely crushed” a ventilation shaft. The Listvyazhnaya’s management, however, opted against shutting down operations. According to the miners Meduza spoke to, their bosses were afraid they wouldn’t fulfill the production plan.

💡 Former Arkhangelsk mayor wants to rename the city ‘Putingrad’ (Alexander Donskoi says the change would lift people’s spirits and possibly draw more federal funding)

👋 Krasnodar Krai district council boots out Yabloko deputy, following governor’s demands (Alexander Korovainy lost the seat for supposed corruption, but colleagues say he doesn’t even own a car and gets around town on a bicycle. Before entering politics, he taught history. Korovainy lost his job in 2017 for attending a pro-Navalny demonstration.)

🧠 Research shows that Yandex search results return highest share of conspiracy-promoting content (four scholars found that Yandex was less likely than Google, Bing, Yahoo, or DuckDuckGo to return hyperlinks to scientific sources debunking conspiracy theories)

🧅 (Opinion) Andrei Soldatov says Russia blocking the Tor browser shifts the balance between ‘technically advanced democracies’ and ‘technically backward authoritarian regimes’ (the technology itself, “political from the beginning” with its U.S. military origins, has been “blurry” thanks to its criminal uses and susceptibility to DPI filtration)

The pandemic

💉 (Opinion) Alexey Kovalev says the Kremlin’s mismanagement of the pandemic and premature triumphalism have cost lives and complicated the state’s vital work (vaccine skepticism is rampant, thanks in part to Russia’s own misfired state propaganda, and a lack of leadership from Putin has undermined federal efforts)

💉 Three-quarters of Russians oppose QR-code vaccine passport requirements for accessing public transport (only 54 percent of respondents opposed mandatory vaccination against COVID-19, however)


🕵️ U.S. Justice Department will explore ‘possible regulatory modifications’ to FARA (The agency is soliciting public comments on how the U.S. government administers and enforces disclosure and labeling requirements for “foreign agents.” The Kremlin claims that Russia’s “foreign agent” laws mirror American regulations.)

🕵️ Nobel laureate and Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief tells U.S. democracy summit that all nations, America included, should ditch ‘foreign agent’ laws (Dmitry Muratov points out that the Kremlin cites FARA in the United States when justifying Russia’s “foreign agent” policies)

🛡️ (Opinion) Russian deployments, force posture, and possible intentions along the border with Ukraine (writing for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, analyst Andrew Bowen summarizes — in just three pages! — the leading speculation about what Russia’s military is doing you-know-where)

Germany’s new leadership would consider ‘halting’ Nord Stream 2, if Russia expands invasion of Ukraine (Chancellor Olaf Scholz “is broadly supportive of the infrastructure project,” but he’s reportedly flexible about responding to a broader war in Ukraine)

🕊️ Biden signals wish to convene meetings between NATO allies and Russia to discuss Moscow’s grievances with the pact (eastern states are reportedly spooked that any talk of “compromise with Moscow” means Washington will abandon them to Russian aggression)

🛡️ (Opinion) International Crisis Group briefing breaks down Russian military buildup near Ukraine and proposes mutual de-escalatory measures (The researchers endorse Washington’s approach to signal the repercussions of escalation by Moscow, acknowledging Europe’s broken security system and the limits of deterrence alone. This necessitates deals with Russia to prevent military buildups, using Minsk II, warts and all, as a basis.)

(Opinion) Samuel Greene and Graeme Robertson say invading Ukraine wouldn’t help Putin (They argue that “Putin’s overriding interest is in maintaining and cultivating his own power,” he relies on popular support, his ability to shape public opinion has limits, and he minimizes the costs at home of any adventures abroad. In other words, Putin won’t pursue goals of conquest that cost him power domestically. With an invasion of Ukraine unlikely, albeit possible, the West should strap in for a “long period of confrontation” and relearn “strategic patience.”)

Yours, Meduza

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