The Real Russia. Today. A mysterious Spaniard, a controversial arbitration, and Putinism as the anti-Leviathan

Friday, October 18, 2019

This day in history: 152 years ago, on October 18, 1867, Alaska was formally transferred from the Russian Empire to the United States on October 18, 1867, through a treaty ratified by the Senate and signed by President Andrew Johnson. The purchase added 586,412 square miles of new territory to the U.S. for the cost of $7.2 million (about $125 million in today's dollars).
  • Meduza tracks down the Spaniard whose mysterious donation led Russian officials to designate the Anti-Corruption Foundation as a ‘foreign agent’
  • Russia’s ‘Press Council’ sides with central election commissioner in ethics dispute against Associated Press
  • A Russian prison warden denied reports of torture until he was caught torturing prisoners himself. We interviewed the journalist who broke the story.
  • Opinion: Konstantin Gaaze has changed his mind about Putinism and its Bolshevik attitude toward the state

Boxer and mysterious anti-corruption benefactor 🥊

Roberto Monda
Club Boxeo Ramos Savin / YouTube

On October 9, Russia’s Justice Ministry announced that it was adding Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) to its list of “foreign agents.” Officials based the designation on donations sent to the organization from abroad: one from “ LLC” in the United States, and another from a Spanish citizen named Roberto Fabio Monda Cardenas. According to documents published by FBK founder Alexey Navalny, Cardenas made two transfers to the organization through CaixaBank in Spain: one for 29,242.44 rubles (about $455) on September 6 and another for 109,262.97 rubles (more than $1,700) on September 17. Meduza tracked down Cardenas and had a rather peculiar conversation with him.

She said, she said ⚖️

Russia’s “Independent Press Complaints Council” has sided with Central Election Commissioner Ella Pamfilova against the American news agency The Associated Press in a dispute over an article published in late August about Moscow’s City Duma elections. According to the complaints council, AP’s reporting was biased. Here’s what happened.

Caught in the act 👮

At the end of September 2019, Alla Konstantinova wrote an article for the legal news source Mediazona that described a regular practice of torturing prisoners at Correctional Colony No. 9 (IK-9) in the journalist’s hometown of Petrozavodsk, Karelia. After the article was published, both Russia’s Investigative Committee and its Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) committed to investigating the prison. At the same time, prison warden Ivan Savelyev said he would sue Konstantinova and asked the Investigative Committee to investigate Konstantinova’s article for slander. On October 12, a video appeared online that appeared to show Savelyev beating a prisoner himself. On the morning of October 15, Konstantinova discovered that Savelyev and his deputy, Ivan Kovalyov, had been tracking her. She brought that information to the media as well. The press service for Karelia’s FSIN branch argued that the journalist’s assertions were “absurd” and that its employees had only “driven up to buy water” when Konstantinova encountered them. Meduza spoke with Konstantinova about the incident and her work more broadly.

Gaaze: Putinism is the anti-Leviathan 👑

In an article for Vedomosti, sociologist Konstantin Gaaze shares his revised thoughts about “Putinism,” following the latest think piece by former Kremlin “gray cardinal” Vladislav Surkov. Reviewing how Surkov has gone from calling Putinism a “political ideology of the future” to a “global political lifehack,” Gaaze argues that the two assessments of Vladimir Putin’s governance intersect in their perception of the state, which Putinism treats as an “empty vessel” without its own will, legitimate rules of operation, or independent interests. For Putinism, says Gaaze, the state is a “glove, or rather a doll,” that is animated solely by current or strategic considerations.

Whose considerations steer this ship? Gaaze says he used to think policymaking was the result of friction between a “day state” and “night state” (that is, between the official state infrastructure and a medley of the various security and intelligence agencies, plus Putin’s different courtiers). He’s now convinced that there aren’t two states — in fact, there’s barely one. The “doll” state apparatus has systems of hierarchies and powers, but an external player (which Gaaze calls “the regime”) is constantly distorting, twisting, and blocking the state’s operations. 

The regime can either pull the state’s strings or act independently through secret societies, conspiracies, offshore companies, and so on. In other words, the Putinist state is the opposite of the classic Leviathan. Putin not only isn’t sitting atop a huge mechanical being; he doesn’t even share the same “order of existence.” True authority in this mix of ideology and “lifehacks” is found “beyond the legal field of the bureaucracy,” in the administration’s backroom dealings and the president’s undisclosed private meetings.

As a doctrine, Gaaze says, Putinism is built on deflating statehood as an idea and destroying the state as a “stable ensemble of people, practices, and institutions.” In the sense that Putinism relies on government located beyond the state’s formal institutions, it’s not so different from Russia’s ideologues a century ago: the Bolsheviks.

Yours, Meduza