Meduza

The Real Russia. Today. Lugansk's confusing rebel coup; lawmakers threaten Google with a ban on advertising in Russia; and Igor Sechin will flout a fourth subpoena

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 (Meduza's daily newsletter will return on Monday, November 27. Happy Thanksgiving, Americans!)

  • Armed men seize parts of rebel-held Lugansk
  • The State Duma says it will consider banning Google's advertising in Russia
  • A Russian senator claims he didn't use a shell company to evade French real estate taxes
  • Lawmakers move ahead with legislation allowing the State Duma to ban “threatening” foreigners
  • Igor Sechin says he'll ignore a fourth subpoena to attend the Ulyukayev trial
  • A Novaya Gazeta freelancer is fined for violating labor codes
  • Alexander Shulgin is leaving Yandex

Story of the day: a confusing coup in rebel Lugansk 🇺🇦

On the morning of November 22, as many as 200 armed men occupied the self-proclaimed separatist government’s prosecutor’s office in Lugansk. The rebel government has not commented officially on the standoff. According to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the operation is being carried out by the Interior Ministry of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, though it’s unclear if the armed men are taking orders from the ministry’s new head, Vladimir Cherkov, or recently ousted LNR Interior Minister Igor Kornet.

  • The conflict between Kornet and LNR leader Igor Plotnitsky intensified on November 20, when the latter fired the former. The next day, armed individuals seized control of downtown Lugansk, refusing to say whose orders they were obeying. In a video recording, Kornet said he doesn’t consider himself fired. Plotnitsky has demanded that Kornet and anyone helping him be brought to justice.

Russian lawmakers are busy bees 🐝

💸 Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy speaker of the State Duma, says Moscow will consider banning Google from collecting advertising revenue in Russia, in response to the company’s recent actions against Russian media outlets. “We also would like to meet and talk about what can be done to protect Russian citizens from dangerous content. And if this isn’t possible, then let’s just shut off all advertising with new legislation,” Tolstoy said.

  • The Duma vice speaker’s remarks follow an announcement on Monday that Google News is working to “de-rank” stories from Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik. In October, moreover, Google removed RT from a package of premium YouTube videos it sells to advertisers.
  • Read Meduza’s report here.

🇫🇷 Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the detention of Federation Council member Suleiman Kerimov in France is illegal, insisting that he enjoys immunity from law enforcement measures abroad as a Russian federal official. French police say they were permitted to detain Kerimov because he wasn’t in France on an official visit.

  • A senator and businessman from Dagestan, Kerimov was detained at the Nice airport on November 20, though it wasn’t reported until a day later. He is suspected of using shell corporations to evade taxes when he purchased luxury real estate in the French Riviera. Kerimov denies owning the real estate in question.
  • According to Forbes magazine, Kerimov is the 21st richest entrepreneur in Russia, with an estimated net worth of $6.3 billion.

🇺🇸 A State Duma committee has approved draft legislation that would empower the parliament to ban certain foreigners from entering Russia. The ban would apply to foreign citizens who have committed acts “threatening Russia’s national interests or infringing on the interests of Russian individuals, society, state, or nationally recognized historical, spiritual, cultural, or social values.” The bill was first submitted to the State Duma in November 2014, when Russia’s federal government responded negatively, pointing out that the restrictions exceed the parliament’s constitutional powers. When recommending the legislation this week, the Duma committee said the government should weigh in again, to help finalize the law.

  • The Committee on Legislation co-authored the bill. The steering committee for the law, the Committee on Developing Civil Society, has yet to vote on the legislation.
  • The effort to empower the State Duma to ban certain “threatening” foreigners was designed as a retaliatory measure against the U.S. Congress, which passed the so-called Magnitsky Act in 2012, which prohibits a list of Russian officials allegedly responsible for the death of Sergey Magnitsky from entering the U.S. and using its banking system.

Igor Sechin can't come to court right now, but please leave a message at the sound of the beep ⚖️

Judge Larisa Semenova of Moscow’s Zamoskoretsky Court has subpoenaed Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin for a fourth time. After refusing to appear in court three times already, Sechin is now ordered to present himself for questioning on November 27. The oil executive has said repeatedly that he is too busy at work to attend the corruption trial against former Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev, who accuses Sechin of framing him for bribery. On November 22, Sechin’s legal representatives told the court that he won’t be free until at least next year. Instead of appearing in court, he has invited the judge to read out the testimony he previously gave to investigators.

  • Alexey Ulyukayev was arrested in mid-November 2016 on charges of extorting a $2-million bribe from Igor Sechin for greenlighting Rosneft’s acquisition of a stake in the oil company Bashneft.
  • In the case materials, there is an audio recording of a conversation between Ulyukayev and Sechin on the day Ulyukayev was arrested. The recording indicates that Sechin gave him some kind of gift.

So here's what last week's raid on Novaya Gazeta was about 👮

Moscow’s Basmanny District Court fined Novaya Gazeta freelance reporter Khudoberdi Nurmatov (pen name: Ali Feruz) 5,000 rubles ($85) for violating the city’s labor codes, ruling that he should be deported from Russia, though this measure has been postponed until the European Court of Human Rights hears his appeal in Strasbourg. According to the website OVD-Info, officials at the detention center where Nurmatov has been held since August reportedly removed him from his cell and told him, “Pack your bags. You’re going home.”

  • This August, the European Court of Human Rights halted Nurmatov’s deportation to Uzbekistan, pending a review of his case that’s expected to take months.
  • Nurmatov has applied for political asylum in Russia, saying police in Uzbekistan previously tortured him and tried to force him to work for them. On October 20, Russia’s Interior Ministry refused to grant him even temporary asylum.
  • On November 16, police raided the Moscow office of Novaya Gazeta, investigating Nurmatov’s labor code violations. The tabloid REN TV reported the raid before it even began, betraying the cooperation between Russian law enforcement and pro-Kremlin media outlets.

So long and thanks for all the 💻

After three years on the job, Alexander Shulgin is stepping down as operational director of Yandex’s Russian division. In an announcement, the company said Greg Abovsky, who’s worked at Yandex since 2013, will replace Shulgin in December as acting operation director. Arkady Volozh will remain Yandex’s CEO. In 2014, when Shulgin became the company’s operational director, he replaced Volozh.


Yours, Meduza

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