LIVE UPDATES: Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been issuing threats against the Russian opposition for weeks, sent his most ominous message to date with a post of a video clip today on Instagram showing opposition figures through a sniper’s scope.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
–The Non-Hybrid War
–Kashin Explains His âLetter to Leadersâ on âFontanka Officeâ
–TV Rain Interviews Volunteer Fighter Back from Donbass
–âI Was on Active Dutyâ: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
The US State Department is planning to add names to the Magnitsky List of serious human rights violators in Russia and other countries — but Secretary of State John Kerry asked to delay the publication, Eli Lake writes for Bloomberg News.
The pending sanctions illustrate how President Barack Obama’s Russia policy is a balancing act: Even as the U.S. punishes President Vladimir Putin’s aides and allies, it still pursues Russia’s cooperation in the Middle East. The same week Kerry has been urging Russia to help end the war in Syria, a senior Treasury official let it slip that Putin is hiding a personal fortune from his own people.
This week, the pattern will continue. State Department officials tell me they expect to add five more names to what is known as the Magnitsky list, named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was jailed after exposing Russia’s largest-known tax fraud and died in prison in 2009, after he was severely beaten. Russian courts have made a mockery of the investigation, leading Congress to pass a law in 2012 blacklisting the people responsible for Magnitsky’s murder in the U.S.
On Thursday evening, the State Department informed Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat like Kerry, that it would be submitting the new names to Congress on Friday, according to congressional officials. But Kerry stopped the rollout on Friday morning. A senior State Department official told me Kerry had a few additional questions but anticipated the new names would be announced this week. Kerry was too late, though, for McGovern, who on Friday sent a news release congratulating the State Department for adding the new names to the list. A spokesman for McGovern told me Friday that his office then revoked the release because it was sent prematurely.
The names to be added are not yet known, but McGovern’s office indicated one is related to Chechnya:
The fifth name on the list, according to McGovern’s now-revoked release, is a Russian national implicated in the torture and murder of a Chechen human-rights activist. McGovern noted that in the release, saying that the addition of this individual was important because Congress intended for the Magnitsky list to be a way for the U.S. government to punish a broad array of Russian human-rights violations.
Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya and accused of masterminding kidnappings and murders as well as threats to the Russian opposition, is said to be already on the classified part of the Magnitsky List.
As we have noted in the past, the Obama Administration has wanted to water down the Magnitsky List and delayed its publication for some time. Kerry, while still a senator, first worked to delay Magnitsky, then said he supported the bill in principle but wanted to “be more introspective” about US wrongs and not “point the finger” at Russia, then ultimately voted for the list but was among the last to do so.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The ruble had been on a four day rally, buoyed by higher ruble prices. Both are down today, however. Bloomberg reports that the ruble will likely track the price of oil for some time:
The Russian currency traded 1.5 percent weaker at 76.538 per dollar as of 5:50 p.m. in Moscow, paring last week’s four-day, 6 percent rally. Bonds dropped for a second day, raising the yield on government five-year debt by nine basis points to 10.40 percent after the Bank of Russia warned on Friday that it may consider raising rates to combat the risk of quicker inflation.
The currency of the world’s biggest energy exporter has been buffeted by swings in the price of oil this year after concern over slowing growth in China and a global supply glut drove up volatility. While local tax payments and a bounce in oil prices last week helped the ruble to recover, the currency is still the fourth-worst performer in emerging markets this year. Policy makers opted to hold rates at 11 percent at their meeting last week.
“In Russia the tax period is over, the central bank rates meeting is over too, so we just swing to the tune of global markets and oil,” Denis Davydov, analyst at Nordea Bank in Moscow, said by e-mail. “And there’s not much optimism here.”
The ruble slumped for the first time in five days, retreating with weaker oil prices, while a warning on the possibility of higher rates by the Bank of Russia curbed appetite for government bonds. The Russian currency traded 1.2 percent weaker at 76.33 per dollar as of 10:46 a.m.
But there’s another reason for the ruble to slump — tensions with Turkey are once again mounting as the Turkish government has once again accused Russian jets of crossing into Turkish territory. Market Watch reports that the Turkish lira fell nearly the same amount as the ruble today, suggesting that the two currencies have more in common than just their reliance on energy prices. Here are the two currencies over the last year:
As Ruble Nosedives, Russians Are Priced Out Of Live-Saving Western Treatment
As the ruble continues its catastrophic tumble, hitting another historic low last month, the pain is being felt keenly across Russia. Among those worst hit are patients in need of urgent surgery abroad or other life-saving treatment billed in foreign currencies.
The economic problems are hurting regular Russians as well, even though the true costs of the ruble devaluation and Russia’s economic downturn may still take some time to have their full impact. But many in Russia have noticed. Activists in Rostov-on-Don, the city where ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled, held a mock protest over the weekend in solidarity with the fallen ruble. Moscow Times reports:
“We wanted to hold this kind of a jocular action, because one can no longer watch without humor the condition into which the authorities have driven the economy,” one of the rally organizers, Yana Goncharova, was quoted as saying by Radio Svoboda, the Ukrainian language service of RFE/RL.
“We wanted city residents to look at the signs, and, feeling the irony, consider the question of which actions of the government have put the ruble into such a pitiful state, remember Crimea and the Donbass, tensions in relations with all the neighbors and partners, and everything else that has led to sanctions and an economic collapse.”
Russians Hold Irreverent Rally in Support of the Ruble | News
Activists in southern Russia held a rally billed as an action in support of the shrinking ruble, but intended as a tongue-in-cheek reminder to Russians that their economic hardships were a result of government policies, according to news reports and social media accounts over the weekend.
Temporary upswings in the value of the ruble or a barrel of oil will not save the Russian economy, nor will a drop in those numbers kill the Russian economy. But the Russian government set its 2016 budget — and its already dismal economic projections — on $50 oil. Every day below that mark is going to have a very real impact on the Russian government and the Russian economy on the whole. The dip in oil prices (currently a barrel of Brent Crude is trading at $34.10, down from $35.96 which it hit earlier in the day but a marked improvement from $27.88 where it closed on January 20) may be a sign that oil’s recovery won’t be smooth, though it may take some time to deduce a longer trend in oil prices.
— James Miller
Opposition members Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. have taken the threat made against them today by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in stride, but have called it incitement to murder,” Novaya Gazeta reported.
Kara-Murza, Jr. published a photo of himself with Kasyanov today on his Facebook page (translation by The Interpreter):
“We decided to photograph ourselves together for diversity, without Kadyrov’s sniper rifle sight. To be sure, it’s in front of a landscape painting of the Caucasus Mountains.”
As we reported earlier, Kadyrov published a video clip showing the pair through a sniper’s scope.
“There is nothing surprising in that publication and the other threats which have resounded from the mouth of Mr. Kadyrov and his cohorts. This is a result of the murder of our colleague Boris Nemtsov. I am convinced that the trail of that crime leads to Grozny.”
“We ask that a special rapporteur be appointed by the Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe on the case of the investigation of the murder of Nemtsov, so that someone could follow this trial. In the video with us is Mailis Reps, a deputy from Estonia. In Strasbourg, LifeNews ran after us with hidden cameras, we saw that a few times, so they didn’t manage to hide it very well.”
“Vladimir Putin is the guarantor of the Constitution of the country; moreover, he is authorized to manage the police agencies. In that connection, he cannot but react to such anti-Constitutional actions by the head of a subject of the country [Kadyrov].”
The state-controlled news agency RIA Novosti has an Instagram account as do other Russian media.
Journalists noticed this afternoon that the “sniper” post had been removed from Kadyrov’s Instagram page.
Indeed, the sniper video post which was there just a few hours ago is now missing from Kadyrov’s page on Instagram.
It is still viewable, however, on the page of Magomed Daudov, known by his nom de guerre, “Lord,” speaker of the Chechen parliament and a close associate of Kadyrov.
Roskomnadzor, the Russian state censorship agency, has issued a warning to New Times (Novoye Vremya), an independent online magazine edited by investigative journalist Yevgeniya Albats, Interfax reported. New Times published a story today about the eldest daughter of President Vladimir Putin, Mariya Faassen, who is married to a Dutchman, Jorrit Faassen, who worked at Gazprom.
Translation: Today The New Times first tells the story about the president’s eldest daughter, Mariya Faassen (author – Sergei Kanev).
The site is currently down, but the article can be seen for now in Google’s cache.
News came out that the publication had in fact been issued a warning by Roskomnadzor, the state censor, over an earlier piece.
Translation: Roskomnadzor [state censor] issued a warning to The New Times for “misuse of freedom.”
It was the first warning in the publication’s history.
Translation: The New Times received its first warning from Roskomnadzor in nine years.
Vadim Ampelonsky, press secretary for Roskomnadzor, told Interfax that the warning was issued in fact back on January 21 for an article that appeared January 18 in which the ultraright Ukrainian organization Right Sector was mentioned, without a notation that it was banned in Russia.
Russian law requires all media to mention that terrorist and extremist organizations it has banned such as ISIS always be mentioned with an explanation that they are banned in Russia.
Ampelonsky said an administrative case had been opened for violation of Art. 4 of the media law, “misuse of freedom of mass media.” New Times could face a fine of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles ($517 to $646). If a publication receives two or more warnings from Roskomnadzor within a year, it can appeal to a court to remove its media license.
It is not known if Romskomnador took further action today or why the site is down.
In the piece today, New Times published rare photos obtained from friends’ social network pages of Mariya Vladimirovna Vontsova, as she was known (with her father’s name as her patronymic and a different last name). The article describes how when a correspondent went to a building on Novinsky Boulevard, near the American Embassy, known as a residence of government elites, said to be her current address, a man emerged to tell the reporter that he would seize his camera if he didn’t leave.
Maria studied medicine at Moscow University, but reporters could not get any of her friends to talk. There were rumors that she was the daughter of a secret missile designer or rich general, and she’s said to be very wealthy, as pictures of her on a yacht indicate.
New Times recounts how in November 2010, Faassen was beaten by the security guards of banker Matvei Urin; Gen. Vladimir Kolokoltsev, then head of the Moscow police, personally nabbed the culprits and then was promoted to head of the Interior Ministry. All of the guards were put in jail and Urin lost his banking license; several FSB officers who had protected the banker were fired, and Urin’s partner in the bank fled to the UAE.
It’s not clear where Faassen now works; he had moved to the company MEF Audit after Gazprom. Employees there told reporters that Faassen moved around Moscow in a jeep with a flashing light accompanied by a body guard from the state Federal Protective Service (FSO) which provides security to top government officials. But MEF Audit’s web site dropped mention of him six months ago, and sightings of Maria also ceased. About this time she had a baby daughter and also received her candidate of science degree after publishing her dissertation.
New Times details Maria’s philanthropic work and many contacts in Europe and adds one detail at the end: when activists in Memorial placed two plaques on the building where she was said to live, in their project “Last Address” which commemorates the homes of people executed in the Stalin era, security removed the plaques and said they didn’t want anyone filming near the building.
A Russian immigrant girl in Germany who made allegations that Middle Eastern refugees had kidnapped and raped her when she was missing for two days has now admitted that she fabricated the story, The Guardian reported.
As we reported, 13-year-old Elizaveta Fursenko ran away from home but was returned the next day. Her aunt then gave an interview to the Russian state television channel Rossiya 24 in which she said her niece was kidnapped, beaten and raped by multiple immigrants. German police investigated the story but denied the girl was attacked.
As the Guardian reported:
The parents of the teenager, named only as Lisa, reported her missing on 11 January after she failed to appear at school in the Marzahn district of the capital. She reappeared 30 hours later with injuries on her face, and told her parents she had been attacked by men of Middle Eastern or north African appearance. News of the incident spread on social media, sparking outrage among Berlin’s Russian-German community.
But when she was questioned by trained specialists three days later “she immediately admitted that the story of the rape was not true”, said the spokesman for the state prosecutor, Martin Steltner.
He said the teenager had been scared of going home after the school had contacted her parents over an incident at school.
Analysis of the teenager’s mobile phone records showed she had spent the night with a friend, who is not being treated as a suspect.
The story came at a time when Germany is already coping with the crisis ensuing from the attacks by immigrants on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, which has been a serious challenge for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Russian community groups staged protests along with far-right groups.
Russian propagandists seized on the distress to promote their notion of a Europe plagued by refugees spawned from wars in the Middle East for which they blame the US — and offer Putin’s authoritarianism as the answer.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused Russia of interfering in its internal affairs.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been issuing threats against the Russian opposition for weeks, sent his most ominous message to date with a post of a video clip today on Instagram showing opposition figures Mikhail Kasyanov, former finance minister and Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. a journalist and program coordinator for Open Russia through a sniper’s scope.
In the video, heavy breathing and clicks can be heard as the scope targets the figures in what seems like a secret police surveillance tape. The pair are shown on a street in front of a store with an unidentified red-haired woman.
Kadyrov made a brief comment with the post (translation by The Interpreter):
Kasyanov came to Strasbourg to get money for the Russian opposition. WHO DOESN’T UNDERSTAND, WILL!
The latter is a frequent tag line for Kadyrov; it is supposedly the title of a film featuring him in a heroic role, dashing up mountains and fording streams, supposedly made by a “famous Hollywood director,” but it’s not certain the film exists.
Kasyanov was in Strasbourg on January 28 to take part in a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to commemorate the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov a year ago on February 27, 2015. The Russian delegation opted not to attend the PACE session because Russia’s voting rights were suspended in connection with the annexation of the Crimea.
Kadyrov’s Instagram message was also re-posted by Magomed Daudov, known as “Lord,” among Kadyrov’s closest associates, speaker of parliament and former head of Kadyrov’s administration who had originally fought against Moscow in the Chechen wars but switched sides and held a series of posts in the Interior Ministry troops.
The post comes after weeks of Kadyrov’s taunts and threats against opposition leaders and independent journalists whom he has called “traitors” and “fifth columnists,” urging they be imprisoned or interned in psychiatric hospitals and given injections.
Kara-Murza, Jr. noted the post on his Facebook page, and said that the last time he recalled Kadyrov using the tag line “Who doesn’t understand, will,” was on May 25, the day before he was poisoned.
On May 25, Open Russia, an organization promoting democracy in Russia founded by former political prisoner and businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, released a film titled The Family which detailed allegations of corruption and the sanctioning of kidnappings and murders by the Kadyrov regime.
Kasyanov does not appear to have reacted to the threat yet. Recently, he traveled to St. Petersburg to hold a meeting with other opposition parties to organize a “primaries” to select candidates for the parliamentary elections later this year.
While Kadyrov’s post has gained 9,826 “likes,” and most readers who posted comments approved, one commenter was bold enough to object:
kamila7656 to @kadyrov 95: what do you want to say, that you can do anything??? I really beg you to cease doing stupid things or are you doing this at the hint of people who are smarter than you and using you; undertsand this and begin to think and take actions using your head…Then you will be a real leader and not a puppet.
To add to the sense of danger, Kadyrov has often shown himself at target practice as well, as he did a week ago:
He also makes a point of showing himself in pictures with President Vladimir Putin, such as this one, where Putin is giving him a friendly punch, with the slogan below:
“The treater the individual, the louder the chorus of nasty dogs helplessly barking at the wind.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick