The Real Russia. Today. Putin's March 1 Federal Assembly address won't be at the Kremlin; Navalny could spend Election Day in jail; and Meduza interviews the Communist Party's millionaire presidential candidate

Thursday, February 22, 2018

  • Putin's big campaign speech (the next state of the nation address) won't happen at the Kremlin
  • Navalny is charged with “protest violations” and could end up spending Election Day behind bars
  • An election watchdog says some of Putin's candidacy endorsements were collected illegally
  • Meduza interviews the Communist Party's millionaire presidential candidate
  • Moscow deploys its next-gen stealth fighter jet to Syria
  • The Defense Ministry starts issuing cryptographically protected mobile phones to top officers
  • A Dagestani government minister bans prayer at work, and her staff is pissed

The presidential election cometh 🗳

🎙 The president's big state-of-the-nation speech gets a venue

Vladimir Putin’s big speech to the Federal Assembly will take place on March 1 at the Moscow Manege, which is adjacent to Red Square, just outside the Kremlin. According to Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, the next address (which usually takes place in December) is getting an expanded guest list, and the Manege also has some fancy television screens that would be difficult to relocate to the Kremlin, where Putin typically speaks to a joint meeting of the houses of parliament. According to the newspaper Kommersant, the president plans to talk about the next six years, though these events are usually only dedicated to the next year, and Putin is expected to unveil his campaign platform — all less than three weeks before Russia’s March 18 presidential election.

👮‍♂️ Navalny could spend Election Day behind bars

Police detained opposition politician Alexey Navalny as he exited a dentist’s office on Thursday. Minutes earlier, officers also detained Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s campaign manager, at Sheremetyevo Airport, before he could board a flight to Ufa to meet with supporters of Navalny’s “voters’ boycott.” Within an hour, police released Navalny after formally charging him with repeatedly violating laws on public assemblies. He faces a 30-day jail sentence.

  • On January 30, spokespeople for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and presidential campaign, Kira Yarmysh and Ruslan Shaveddinov, were detained at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed for several days for hosting a livestream broadcast of footage from unsanctioned protests. On February 19, police detained Roman Rubanov, the director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation. He was later jailed for 10 days.
Why now? This is probably how the authorities will keep Navalny off the streets on Election Day. On January 28, Navalny’s campaign organized nationwide rallies to promote a “voters’ boycott” of the March 18 presidential election. Unsanctioned demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg ended with mass detentions by police. Officers also detained Navalny, but he was quickly released, pending an investigation. Navalny and Volkov now face 30-day jail sentences for organizing these rallies, meaning they could spend March 18 behind bars.

🗳 Tisk tisk, Mr. Putin

The “Golos” movement has published an investigation accusing an organization called “Victory Volunteers” of illegally using government facilities and state officials to collect candidacy endorsements for Vladimir Putin. According to the report, in 40 of the 76 regions where “Victory Volunteers” is registered, its coordinators are active state officials (generally, these are officials tasked with overseeing local governments’ youth policies). As a rule, the group’s regional headquarters are typically based inside state facilities, including local universities. Federal law prohibits government agencies from participating in the collection of signatures for any candidate.

  • Responding to the allegations, a spokesperson for “Victory Volunteers” said the group’s headquarters in Moscow isn’t on government property, and implied that Golos is wrong about its various regional headquarters. The organization also claimed that state officials are allowed to participate in its work in their off time. “Victory Volunteers” says it was not formally involved in the effort to collect signatures endorsing Vladimir Putin’s re-election campaign. (Election laws ban legal entities from helping candidates for free.)
How did Putin’s endorsement drive go? As an independent candidate, he needed to collect 300,000 signatures. Putin submitted 1.6 million. Election officials only threw out 0.39 percent of them. According to the budget numbers released by Putin’s campaign, this means he spent 13.89 rubles (about $0.25) on each endorsement.

☭ Meduza's interview with Russia's Communist Party candidate

Russia’s upcoming March 18 presidential election doesn’t exactly promise a grab bag of surprises. One of the few unexpected developments is that the Communist Party isn’t running Gennady Zyuganov, its leader, but Pavel Grudinin, the 57-year-old general director of the Lenin State Farm in Moscow. A former member of the country’s ruling political party, Grudinin is a millionaire. In fact, he’s not even a card-carrying Communist. Meduza special correspondent Ilya Zhegulev met with Grudinin in mid-February to discuss Russia’s upcoming election.

Hello, the Russian military 🇷🇺

✈ Amazing airplanes

Russia has deployed several of its newest fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter aircraft to its airbase in Syria, according to Twitter user Wael Al Hussaini, who posted several photos and videos of the jets on Wednesday. He says he saw two Su-57s, four Su-35s, four Su-25s, and a Beriev A-50 early warning and control aircraft. The Russian Defense Ministry has not commented on the sightings.

What are these planes? Sukhoi's internal name for the Su-57 is T-50. It is Russia’s first stealth jet, capable of sustained supersonic flight, super-maneuverability, and advanced avionics. Work on the aircraft started in 2002, and the first test stage wrapped up last year. On February 8, Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov announced that Moscow would start testing the Su-57 in actual combat. Russia first deployed the Beriev A-50 to Syria in December 2017, after President Putin’s latest announcement that Russian troops are withdrawing from the war-torn country.

📞 Can you hear me now?

The Russian Defense Ministry has started issuing cryptographically protected mobile phones to top commanding officers, according to the newspaper Izvestia. The officers receiving the devices reportedly have top secret security clearance. In 2015 and 2016, the Defense Ministry bought 1,700 M-663C “Atlas” high-security telephones, says the news agency RIA Novosti.

What are these phones? The M-663C is manufactured by the “Atlas” Scientific and Technical Center, a federal state unitary enterprise. The devices are equipped with hardware that cryptographically protects voice information. These phones can access GSM networks using a SIM card from Megafon, which is currently the only operator in Russia that has a license from Atlas for encrypted communications.
What other measures is Moscow entertaining against cellular technology? Russia’s military is also considering stricter regulations on the mobile phones, laptops, and tablets soldiers bring with them to Syria. The Defense Ministry says it is organizing a communications hub at Khmeimim Airbase with 30 workstations, which soldiers can use to phone home securely. The newspaper Kommersant previously reported that the Russian military plans to limit the use of smartphones in Syria to reduce intelligence leaks. The Defense Ministry reportedly wants to provide troops with flip-phones that lack geolocation technology and cameras.

Damn, Dagestan 🙏

How far are state officials prepared to go in their sweeping crackdown on the Dagestani government? Ekaterina Tolstikova, the new head of the republic’s Land and Property Relations Ministry, is apparently willing to go pretty far. According to a report by the local publication Novoe Delo, Tolstikova banned her staff from praying at work, refusing to let employees leave the office early for Friday prayer and shuttering the ministry’s prayer room. Her staff says it’s unconstitutional, and they’ve complained to her boss, acting Dagestani head Vladimir Vasiliev.

What’s going on in Dagestan? Beginning in January, a multi-agency federal commission led from Moscow has carried out numerous raids and arrests, charging several high-profile Dagestani government officials with the large-scale embezzlement of public funds. The special commission’s stated mission is to “verify the state of the law” in Dagestan.

Yours, Meduza