Meduza

The Real Russia. Today. Russia's anti-Western ‘counter-sanctions’ were written by ‘saboteurs,’ and Moscow consolidates a multibillion-dollar industry

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

  • The debate heats up over Russia's proposed “counter-sanctions” against the U.S. crackdown on Kremlin “oligarchs”
  • Oleg Deripaska says he can't afford charity anymore
  • Moscow consolidates its multibillion-dollar trash collection business
  • Telegram isn't so important to most Russians, but traffic is fairly stable
  • Roskomnadzor quietly rewrites some of its bylaws
  • Mail.ru Group denies helping the censor
  • A website pays off Pavel Durov's (minuscule) tax arrears
  • A public defender goes the extra mile
  • First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov is supposedly stepping down

Russia's “counter-sanctions” take shape 🇺🇸🇷🇺

🤔 Dummies or saboteurs?

The majority shareholder of VSMPO-AVISMA, the world's largest titanium producer, says the State Duma’s plans for new “counter-sanctions” against the West were written by “saboteurs.” Mikhail Shelkov told the magazine RBC that his only question about the lawmakers who drafted the counter-sanctions is whether they’re acting as saboteurs knowingly or unknowingly. The draft law, Shelkov says, “needs further development and reflection.”

VSMPO-AVISMA exports more than 70 percent of its product, and its clients include the corporations Boeing and Airbus. The State Duma’s counter-sanctions would allow the Russian government to halt cooperation in the aircraft industry and ban the export of titanium. Lawmakers are expected to vote on a first reading of the draft legislation in mid-May.

On April 24, a committee in the Federation Council largely endorsed the State Duma’s proposed counter-sanctions options, though the senators are asking that the bill be amended to spare all “reasonably priced, vitally necessary” American pharmaceuticals from a potential boycott.

⛔️ No playing by the Yanks' rules

Andrey Isayev, the first deputy head of United Russia, says the State Duma’s counter-sanctions would impose criminal penalties on individuals and steep fines on businesses in Russia that observe sanctions enacted by the United States. “From our perspective, this activity is criminal, and therefore no sanctions imposed by the U.S. Congress or U.S. president will operate on Russian soil within Russian jurisdiction,” Isayev told the news agency RIA Novosti.

📚 Now Deripaska can't afford charity

Oleg Deripaska’s “Volnoe Delo” charity is calling off what would have been the second International Book Festival, blaming the recent U.S. sanctions against Deripaska. The festival was scheduled to take place in Irkutsk next month. “Because the foundation is financed from Deripaska’s personal funds and from the companies added to the sanctions list, it’s become impossible in the short term to continue funding philanthropic projects,” said Volnoe Delo’s spokesperson. Boris Kupriyanov, one of the festival's organizers, wrote on Facebook that the cancellation “came as a complete surprise.”

Consolidating Moscow's trash collection 🚮

The Moscow region is consolidating its trash collection, and a company called RT Invest” (co-owned by Rostec) has won a 109.1-billion-ruble ($1.8-billion) procurement contract to pick up 60 percent of the garbage around the capital. RT Invest also plans to build four new waste incineration plants outside the city. Each facility is expected to cost roughly 31 billion rubles ($503.4 million). Another company called “Charter” (owned by Attorney General Yuri Chaika’s son, Igor) won a 34.9-billion-ruble ($566.6 million) contract to collect trash in Moscow’s Noginsk area.

Beginning next year, trash collection in Moscow’s municipalities will be restricted to companies that win public tenders. The entire Moscow region has awarded roughly 187.7 billion rubles ($3.1 billion) in procurement deals. Before the capital instituted this process, more than 300 different companies were contracted throughout the region to pick up and process garbage.

Since the beginning of 2018, residents in towns around Moscow have protested against over-capacity local landfills that are leaking air pollution. The biggest demonstrations have been in Volokolamsk. Police have detained protesters and raided the offices of local officials who have issued permits for their rallies.

The Telegram crackdown 📱

📊 Minimal support

Just a quarter of Russian Internet users say preserving Telegram access is important to them, according to a new national survey by VTsIOM. Nearly half of all respondents — 43 percent — told the pollsters that Telegram access “doesn’t matter whatsoever.” Being able to use the instant messenger was more important to young people, however. Among Internet users between the ages of 18 and 24, roughly 45 percent of respondents said Telegram access matters to them.

✍️ A little revision

Earlier this week, Russia’s federal censor quietly revised its own regulatory statutes to expand its legal justifications for blocking websites. The changes state that Roskomnadzor can block online resources on the basis of a court ruling in an administrative case involving Russia’s laws on information. The newspaper Kommersant was the first to notice the revisions.

Since April 16, when it ordered ISPs to cut access to Telegram, Roskomnadzor has blocked nearly 18 million IP addresses — most of them belonging to cloud services operated by Amazon and Google. As a result of the crackdown, Google services ranging from YouTube to reCAPTCHA have experienced major disruptions in Russia.

📈 Not so blocked after all

According to analysts at Combot, TGStat and Crosser Bot, Telegram’s total user base in Russia has shrunk by just three percent since the Russian government started trying to block it. The number of posts, meanwhile, is up three percent, and the instant messenger’s channels have witnessed a 23-percent boost in subscriptions.

🙅‍♂️ They're innocent you gotta believe them

Mail.ru Group denies that it is working with Roskomnadzor to block proxy servers being used to access Telegram. On Tuesday, Mail.ru Group told RBC that its cloud services were used by a client to identify proxy servers accessing Telegram, but the company says it’s since suspended this client from its services in the interests of “Internet freedom.”

Mail.ru Group says it can’t always control how its customers use the company’s cloud services, and pointed out that some of its own proxies have been banned by Roskomnadzor because clients have used them to flout the blocking of Telegram.

💆‍♂️ Maintaining Durov's focus

Reporters discovered earlier this week that Telegram CEO Pavel Durov owed four rubles and 23 kopecks (less than $0.70) to the Federal Tax Service for underpaid taxes on his St. Petersburg apartment. Though a person’s tax arrears must exceed 3,000 rubles ($49) before federal officials can ask a court to freeze their bank accounts, several Telegram channels speculated that the authorities might use the back taxes as a pretext to harass Durov, in retaliation for his stand against Roskomnadzor. To eliminate these concerns and so Telegram’s CEO wouldn’t be “distracted,” the website Fontanka went ahead and paid off Durov’s tax debt for him.

A most dedicated defender ⚖️

His methods are unorthodox, but there’s no denying that Maxim Bushin is dedicated to his clients. On Tuesday, a Moscow district court fined the public defender 50,000 rubles ($810) and sentenced him to drug addiction treatment for obstruction of justice. Last December, when Bushin was representing a woman charged with drunk driving, he asked the court to produce the breathalyzer results against her. Once handed the report, he tore out several pages and ate them in front of the judge. It was only a copy of the original evidence, however, and the defendant ended up losing her driver’s license for 20 months. She was also fined 30,000 rubles ($485).

So long, Shuvalov? 👋

Sources have told the television station Dozhd that First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov will likely step down from his position next month, when Vladimir Putin begins a new presidential term. Shuvalov, who has served as first deputy prime minister for 10 years, reportedly wants to go into business or head Vnesheconombank. According to other rumors, he could also join the board of directors at Russia’s Central Bank or replace Anatoly Chubais as head of Rosnano.


Yours, Meduza