Meduza

The Real Russia. Today. Roskomnadzor blocks Open Russia online; a Kremlin advisor slams Roscosmos; and the FSB arrests another supposed traitor who passed naval intel to the CIA

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

  • Roskomnadzor, the Justice Ministry, and the Attorney General vs. Khodorkovsky's Open Russia movement
  • A controversial film about eastern Ukraine provokes death threats
  • Moscow endorses Russian Olympians' neutral ambitions
  • Russia's WADA whistleblower is indicted again back in Moscow
  • A Kremlin advisor takes Roscosmos to task for failing to earn the big bucks
  • AP gets a hold of a long-rumored Syrian oil contract
  • The FSB arrests another supposed traitor who leaked intel to the CIA
  • Moscow says it treats Trump's tweets as official U.S. statements
  • A university attack stokes ethnic and religious tensions

Story of the day: Russian Internet censors block Khodorkovsky's political movement ⛔️

Acting on orders from the Russian Attorney General’s Office, federal censor Roskomnadzor blocked the website of “Open Russia,” a social-organization-turned-political-movement (launched in 2001 by oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and reinvented in 2014 after his release from prison). The government also blocked several other websites associated with Open Russia. Government officials say the websites have been blacklisted because they belong to an organization the Justice Ministry has banned as “undesirable,” though Open Russia says it’s being confused with a similarly named organization also tied to Khodorkovsky that’s based in Britain.

  • Open Russia, which conducts political activism and publishes news stories, is continuing operations, sharing new content on social media and on a backup domain. On December 12, the social network Odnoklassniki suspended Open Russia’s account, claiming it had violated its terms of service, without offering any further details.
  • Open Russia representatives say they will appeal Roskomnadzor’s actions in Russian and European courts.

Death threats for a documentary film about Ukraine's anti-separatist volunteers 🎥

The organizers of the “ArtDokFest” film festival say they have received anonymous death threats because they agreed to screen Polet Puli” (Flight of the Bullet), Beata Bubenec’s controversial documentary about the war in eastern Ukraine. Filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, the festival’s director, says anonymous people have called and threatened to “rip open his stomach and hang him by the feet.” He says he’s encountered similar threats on Facebook, and on the festival’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

  • At the time of this writing, Beata Bubenec was expected to attend the festival’s closing ceremony on December 12.
  • On December 10, activists from the far-right SERB movement interrupted and prevented a second screening of Bubenec’s film. A day later, the group’s leader says he filed a police report, accusing the movie of “inciting ethnic hatred.”
  • Polet Puli has also sparked criticism from Russian liberals: Sergey Khazov-Cassia, a reporter for Radio Liberty in Moscow, notes that the documentary film includes footage of a civilian taken hostage by Ukrainian “Anti-Terrorist Operation” volunteers. The film reveals the man’s identity (as gives away rebel positions), though Bubenec never got his permission to interview him. In a Facebook post after Khazov-Cassia’s criticism, Bubenec wrote that she was told the man later died.

Russia endorses its Olympians' neutral wishes 🏂⛷

Russia’s Olympic Committee has formally endorsed Russian athletes’ wishes to participate in the 2018 Winter Games under a neutral flag, as stipulated by the International Olympic Committee in an offer earlier this month to “clean” competitors. On December 11, the committee’s chairperson, Sofiya Velikaya, announced that most Russian Olympians have agreed to accept the IOC’s conditions.

  • The IOC based its ruling on the findings of a commission headed by Denis Oswald, which determined that the Russian government coordinated a doping system that allowed widespread cheating among Russian athletes. The IOC also stripped Russia of 11 medals won in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, knocking it from first to third place in the overall medal count.

Moscow does not believe in whistleblowers 💉

A Moscow court has indicted Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory and the man who fled to the U.S. and blew the whistle on Moscow’s state-sponsored doping program, in absentia for illegally trafficking dangerous substances, an anonymous source told the news agency Interfax on December 11.

A Kremlin advisor has harsh words for the state corporation formerly known as Russia's Space Agency 🚀

Presidential advisor Andrey Belousov has criticized Roscosmos for failing to earn money independently and relying entirely on government funding. Speaking at the “Space as Business” conference this week, Belousov stated that about 220,000 people work in various subdivisions of Roscosmos, “and this great mass of people can’t earn a nickel.” The Kremlin advisor congratulated Roscosmos on developing the GLONASS satellite navigation system and International Space Station, but complained that this hasn’t earned additional money.

  • Belousov argued that Rosatom, Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation, is an example of a self-sustaining federal enterprise, recalling how it closed its federal special programs and started earning money through contracts.
  • Roscosmos acquired state corporation status in December 2016. Before this, it was Russia’s federal space agency. Other Russian state corporations include Rostec, Rosatom, and Housing and Utilities Reform Foundation, Vnesheconombank, and the Deposit Insurance Agency.

AP gets a copy of that Syrian profit-sharing contract linked to Russia's troll factory king 🛢

The Associated Press has obtained a copy of a 48-page contract between Evro Polis (a firm linked to “Putin’s favorite restaurateur” Evgeny Prigozhin) and Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp., which says the Russian company would receive 25 percent of the proceeds from oil and gas production at fields its contractors capture and secure from Islamic State militants. While the five-year contract could not be authenticated, Fontanka reported the same deal in June.

Another Russian is arrested for leaking intelligence to the CIA 🕵️‍♂️

On November 30, a Moscow court arrested Russian citizen Alexey Zhitnyuk on treason charges, though the ruling was only reported on December 11. Zhitnyuk is suspected of passing top secret naval intelligence to the CIA, according to Rosbalt, which reported that he was detained in a special operation by the Federal Security Service (FSB). Sources also told Rosbalt that the FSB has noticed a spike in U.S. intelligence-gathering in Russia, Europe, and throughout the former USSR.

Moscow says it treats Trump's tweets like official U.S. announcements 😧

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that Moscow considers Donald Trump’s personal tweets to be official statements by the U.S. White House. “Everything that comes out of his authorized Twitter account is perceived in Moscow as his official statements and nothing else, and naturally that’s how this is reported to President Putin along with other information about regular statements by politicians and heads of state,” Peskov explained, noting that Vladimir Putin isn’t active on Twitter.

University students beat up a classmate and force him, on camera, to apologize for criticizing sexist traditions 🤳

On December 8, a group of Moscow university students attacked a classmate and forced him to apologize on camera for comments he published on social media. The men punched the student and threatened to kill him, after threatening him online for weeks. Police and federal investigators are reviewing the incident. The attackers have hired a lawyer, who insists that there is no ethnic or religious component to this story (some of the assailants are Muslim and from Russia’s North Caucasus), and argues that this was just a schoolyard discussion gone wrong. The victim says he wants the boys expelled.


Yours, Meduza

Now you can do your friends and family an invaluable service: sign them up for our newsletter!