The Real Russia. Today. An abandoned gold mine of police records turns up in Moscow, two teens head home, and a KGB poser gets four years in prison
Friday, August 17, 2018
This day in history. On August 17, 1977, the Soviet icebreaker “Arktika” became the first surface ship to reach the North Pole.
- Blogger in Moscow finds an abandoned police station brimming with old passports and internal docs
- Moscow court moves two teenage ‘extremist group’ suspects to house arrest, following public backlash
- Police say local businessman helping to organize ‘trash protests’ outside Moscow is hiding his U.S. citizenship
- The man who attacked a Navalny organizer with a metal pipe gets off with community service
- Russian federal officials want mobile operators to spend billions to switch to FSB-approved SIM cards
- A Russian court in Syktyvkar sentences a man to four years in prison for posing as a KGB chairman and calling for the USSR's return
- Russia's human rights commissioner says the country's needs to stop prosecuting so many Internet users
- YouTube blocks a Belarusian rap video on Russian censor's orders
- Russian man in Kemerovo attends own funeral after body is misidentified by relatives
A Moscow blogger named Lana Sator has made quite the discovery on Bolshaya Cheremushkinskaya Street, finding an old abandoned police station and migration service building still brimming with sensitive internal records. On Instagram, Sator shared several photographs of hundreds of documents piled high in various rooms, including people’s passports (with pictures attached), felony and misdemeanor case files, personal files, and police personnel records.
“The cherry on top was a bunch of long-ago expired Army rations and a pile of blank police forms from the 1980s,” Sator wrote online. “An unremarkable abandoned building with broken windows and an eerie entryway. It's strange even that the homeless still haven’t settled here.”
After Sator drew attention to the site, Moscow police officers cordoned off the building and started an investigation. Local law enforcement and the Federal Investigative Committee say they’re looking into the matter and considering a criminal negligence case, according to the newspaper Kommersant.
On Thursday, Moscow’s courts agreed to transfer Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik to house arrest, granting a request by state prosecutors filed hours before hundreds of people demonstrated against the teenagers’ incarceration on August 15. Police arrested Pavlikova and Dubovik in March for allegedly belonging to the “Novoe Velichie” (New Greatness) extremist movement.
While in jail, Pavlikova and Dubovik reportedly developed serious illnesses, leading Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova and Presidential Human Rights Council Chairman Mikhail Fedotov to call for their release.
Pavlikova and Dubovik’s mothers previously published a video appeal to Vladimir Putin, demanding that he order their daughters’ release and punish the officers who “framed” them. The mothers also accuse the police of fabricating evidence against their children. “Do you really have no other enemies than my daughter?” Pavlikova’s mother asks in the video. According to the websites OVD-Info and Medizazona, police had at least one officer embedded undercover in the movement.
Federal Security Service agents showed up at Artem Lyubimov’s home on Friday with a warrant to search the premises. The Volokolamsk businessman says the raid is retaliation for his role as one of the leaders of a protest movement against the “Yadrovo” landfill, which locals say is responsible for an “ecological catastrophe.” A day earlier, officials charged Lyubimov with failing to report his dual citizenship to the Russian authorities. He says the FSB fabricated documents indicating that he has U.S. citizenship. If convicted, Lyubimov faces a fine of up to 200,000 rubles (almost $3,000) or up to 400 hours of community service.
On April 3, Lyubimov was jailed for two weeks after he supposedly resisted police orders. After the arrest, the authorities also raided Lyubimov’s business partners. That same month, state officials detained and started harassing at least two other Volokolamsk entrepreneurs who helped facilitate the demonstrations against the trash dump.
A court in Moscow has sentenced the man who beat Nikolai Lyaskin over the head with a metal pipe to 11 months of community service. In September 2017, Alexey Shcherbakov attacked Lyaskin, who was then serving as Alexey Navalny’s campaign chief in Moscow. Police first classified it as an act of hooliganism, but later downgraded the charges to battery. Lyaskin wants Shcherbakov convicted on felony charges and says he plans to challenge Friday’s ruling. In court, Shcherbakov claimed that Lyaskin paid him to stage the attack as a publicity stunt. Lyaskin sustained a concussion in the beating.
Russia’s Communications Ministry wants to use new anti-terrorist legislation to force mobile communications providers to install FSB-certified cryptographic protections on SIM cards, possibly costing the industry tens of billions of rubles. According to the agency’s proposal, mobile operators would need to switch to new SIM cards and then start replacing customers’ SIM cards once every 15 months. Russian telecoms currently buy their SIM cards from two companies based abroad, which has raised concerns that they might hand over the keys to their future cryptographic protections to foreign intelligence agencies.
The company VimpelCom estimates that implementing the Communication Ministry’s proposal would cost more than 5 billion rubles ($74.1 million). Federal officials say the new program would require mobile operators to buy 80 new pieces of equipment, each cryptographic device costing 3.2 million rubles ($47,500). MegaFon, however, says it would need one of these devices for every 10,000 customers. With roughly 260 million mobile service subscribers in Russia, this would raise the hardware costs to 83.2 billion rubles ($1.2 billion), according to the newspaper Kommersant.
There are no working cryptographic protection systems in Russia’s mobile service market today. According to various estimates, it would take between 10 months and two years to develop this infrastructure.
The Communications Ministry submitted its proposal to the Justice Ministry on August 3, but it was returned to the agency on August 15 for revisions, at the request of Russia’s Economic Development Ministry.
Arrest the Internet
A court in Syktyvkar has sentenced a local 40-year-old man to four years in prison for inciting extremism and publishing hate speech. The man posed as a “KGB chairman of the Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic,” shared anti-Semitic comments, and advocated the restoration of the Soviet Union in posts on Vkontakte. According to a statement from prosecutors, the man (whose name hasn’t been released to the public) was under house arrest for attacking a traffic police officer when he posted the inflammatory content.
On August 14, police in Togliatti charged an elderly woman named Lyubov Kuzaeva (the former head of the Society of Indigenous Russian People) with sharing “extremist” content on Vkontakte. She’s accused of inciting ethnic hatred and rehabilitating Nazism.
In recent weeks, Russian police have opened criminal cases against people who deny the collapse of the USSR. On August 9, officials detained a group at Kislovodsk City Hall, where the activists demanded to see the “documents” establishing legal continuity between the Soviet and Russian states. A few days later, several people “sealed off” the local council building in Astrakhan and raised the Soviet flag in place of the Russian tricolor, resulting in their detention by police.
Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova has joined the chorus of public figures in Russia calling for lighter punishments against Internet users accused of spreading extremist or offensive content. “I believe it’s important for us not to expand artificially the number of people with criminal records,” Moskalkova said on August 17. Two days earlier, Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin endorsed draft legislation that would reduce “criminal memes” to a misdemeanor offense.
Mail.ru, the parent company that owns Vkontakte (where most cases against Russian Internet users begin), has also called for decriminalization and amnesty for people already convicted of illegal speech, so long as their actions led to no violent outcomes.
Russian police have been prosecuting Internet users for “hate speech” more and more. In 2011, courts convicted 149 people of “extremism.” Last year, more than 600 people suffered this fate.
As the federal censor’s request, YouTube has blocked Russian users’ access to a May 2017 music video by the Belarusian rapper LSP. According to the artist’s official Vkontakte page, Roskomnadzor blocked the video because it features information about suicide and promotes suicide. At the time of this writing, the video has almost 40 million views worldwide.
In May 2018, Vkontakte blocked another song by LSP on the same grounds.
LSP is a music project by the Vitebsk native Oleg Savchenko. From 2012 to 2017, the group LSP was a duet between Oleg “LSP” Savchenko and Roman “The Englishman” Sashcheko. After the latter’s death in 2017, Savchenko continued performing as LSP with other artists.
Meet Sergey from Kemerovo. Sergey lost his identity after relatives misidentified the body of a man who burned to death earlier this month in a house not far from his. The only valid document Sergey has in his name today is his death certificate.
Sergey says he learned about the mix-up nine days after the body was discovered, when he attended his own funeral, hearing about it from a friend. Local investigators are planning a genetic examination to determine the victim’s actual identity. Officials are also working to revise their records to reinstate Sergey as a living human being.