Updated Daily. This week’s issue:
– TV Rain Selects Most-Discussed Quotations from Putin’s Speech
– At Valdai, Putin Lauded by Sycophants and ‘Realists’
– Russian Soldiers Still in Ukraine; Kremlin Announces Compensation for Missing and Killed Servicemen
– Former Lenta.ru Editor Launches Medusa in Riga; TV Rain Evicted in Moscow
– Putin’s Neo-Imperialism and the Price of Oil
– Soldiers’ Mothers Activist Arrested, Had Pressed Cases of Russian Soldiers in Killed in Ukraine
– Gorbachev Confirms There Was No NATO ‘Non-Expansion’ Pledge
– Poland Arrests Russian Lt. Colonel and Lawyer on Suspicion of ‘Espionage’
– Two American Journalism Professors Detained in St. Petersburg at Workshop
– Harassment Continues of Pskov Legislator Who Investigated Soldiers’ Deaths
– Russian Liberals Criticize Navalny’s Interview on Crimea, Putin
– Ekho Moskvy Interview with Navalny: ‘We Have to Stop Sponsoring the War’
– Members of Presidential Human Rights Council Raise ‘Information War’ Against Ukraine, Crimean Tatar Disappearances with Putin
– Sakharov Center in Moscow Attacked During LGBT Meeting
– Poitras Made No New Interviews with Snowden for ‘Citizenfour’; He Refused Her in Moscow
– Hundreds of Russians Poisoned, 25 Dead in ‘Spice’ Drug Epidemic
Previous week’s issue:
– Belarusian Dictator Challenges Putin’s ‘Russian World’ With Support of Ukrainian Integrity
– Dozens of Ukrainian Soccer Fans Detained in Belarus for Anti-Putin Song
– Russian Justice Ministry Files Lawsuit to Liquidate Russian Memorial Society
– What’s Going On With Major-General Igor Bezler of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’?
– Russian Journalists Mark 8th Anniversary of Assassination of Anna Politkovskaya
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Russia turned the clock back an hour at 2:00 Moscow time this morning, to winter time — for good.
Some readers might think of Narnia, but what’s happening is that the Russian government has decided to drop the semi-annual time changes and just stick with one permanent time.
Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) has a map of the Russian Federation showing the time zones with the new time:
Russia is a big country, with 11 time zones, so it takes some adjusting. KP explains it (translation by The Interpreter):
In the majority of regions in the country, on 26 October at 2:00 am, the hands of the clocks will be turned back an hour. But not everyone will change over.
Samara Region and Udmurtiya will leave their clocks alone and as a result will now be in a new time zone, Moscow+1.
Kemerovo Region will also sleep soundly Sunday night, not changing anything in their chronometers; the region will move to another time zone, and the time there will henceforth be behind Moscow by 4 hours instead of 3 hours, as it is now.
Kamchatka Territory and Chukotka have the same story — the arrows remain in place, and the regions make up a new time zone, Moscow+9 (for now the time remains 8 hours behind the capital).
President Vladimir Putin spoke at the Valdai International Discussion Club today October 24. His address can be read here in English.
This videotape has English dubbed over the Russian:
The independent TV Rain selected some of Putin’s most-discussed quotes, which The Interpreter has translated below:
“Perhaps what is allowed Jupiter is not allowed the bull. But I want to say that the bear is not going to ask permission from anyone. Generally, in our country he is considered lord of the taiga. He is not comfortable in other zones. But he will never give up the taiga to anyone.”
“Ukraine is another state. In fact, election precincts can be opened up outside the borders of the country in which the elections are taking place so that the citizens of that country who live abroad can take part in the ballot.”
On Russia’s Involvement in the Flight of Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych
“He left and took out the law-enforcers with him. He’s a fine one, now….I will not hide it. We helped Yanukovych make his way to Crimea, which at that time was part of Ukraine…Yanukovich asked us to get him out to Russia, which we did.”
On Ukraine and the Ukrainian Conflict
“If Ukraine wants to preserve its territorial integrity, it shouldn’t cling to some village. It must cease the bloodshed and arrange a dialogue with the southeast.”
“If someone once again is tempted to try to use force for the final solution of the Ukrainian conflict, he will drive it into a dead end.”
“Ukraine is an example of the kind of conflicts that have influences on the general global correlation of forces, but it is far from the last.”
On the Thesis ‘If There is Putin, There is Russia; If There is No Putin There is No Russia.”
“Louis XIV, the Sun King, said ‘France — that is I,’ and it is an entirely incorrect thesis … For me, Russia is life. It is an obvious fact. I cannot imagine myself without Russia not for a second.”
[Actually, Louis XIV said “l’etat c’est moi” – “the state, that is I”–The Interpreter.]
“Russia of course can get along without such people as me.”
“The greatest nationalist in Russia — that is I. But the most correct nationalism is the arrangement of actions and policy such that it goes to the welfare of the people.”
“We don’t intend to put together some sort of blocs and get dragged into an ‘exchange of blows.’ There are no grounds for the claims that Russia is trying to establish some sort of empire for itself, encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbors. Russia does not demand for itself any special, exceptional place in the world. Respecting the interests of others, we just want to have our interests taken into account and our position respected as well.”
“We don’t have a wish to return to the totalitarian past. This is a dead end for development.”
On the US
“I don’t think that the US represents a threat to us. I think that the ‘policy of the ruling circles’ of the USA is a mistake. It contradicts our interests and undermines trust in the USA. And in that sense it deals a certain blow to the USA. It undermines trust in the USA as one of the global leaders in the economy and politics.”
“If we, let us say, completely cease our deliveries of energy to EU countries, do we want that? Of course not. Why would we do that, when this is a good client who pays? But can we imagine that this could happen due to the will of our partners in Europe? I have a hard time believing this…Rejecting Russian gas will kill the competitiveness of Europe’s economy. I don’t even know what kind of colony Europe would have to be in order to embark on this. I think that common sense will reign and it will not reach that point.”
“Why are they insulting Ukraine with subsidies of $40 million dollars, let then give at least $1.5 billion.”
“Revolution is bad. We have already become fed up in the 20th century with these revolutions. Evolution is what we need.”
“‘Occupy Wall Street’ was strangled at its root. And no one says that they don’t like them. They do like them, but this movement was strangled. You have to give them their due, they work well.”
“I don’t regard mass demonstrations harshly, I harshly and negatively regard violations of the law… Mass events, demonstrations are a totally legitimate means of expression of one’s opinion and struggle for one’s interests. But this must all be done within the framework of the law.”
Vladimir Putin spoke at the exclusive Valdai International Discussion Club annual conference today October 24, surrounded by an audience of few critics, ranging at best from grudging “realist” admirers to gushing fellow travelers, all fortunate enough to get on the invitation list (The Interpreter had a preview of people Valdai Club was considering to invite, but we’re still waiting to get the final attendance list.)
The Valdai Club is named for a large lake in Novgorod which is a popular vacation destination; the Valdai Club then is like something akin to the Chatauqua Society which continues to the present day or perhaps a kind of TED conference for Putin fans, but more like the Aspen conference in the Colorado ski resort with politicians — except President Barack Obama wouldn’t attend those types of events, although he would Davos.
We already had a prelude of the personality cult to come yesterday October 23 when Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy head of the presidential administration, rhapsodized, “If there is no Putin, there is no Russia.” This was then repeated later by Sergei Ivanov, head of the presidential administration.
That tone was then maintained today by having British journalist Seamus Milne introduce President Putin.
Milne is a controversial figure even among British leftists, as he is known for minimizing the crimes of Stalin, diminishing the critique of Stalin for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact or justifying looting
during riots on the grounds of poverty. Now he was not just expressing an opinion independently
aligned with Moscow but appearing on a platform to endorse Putin
The last exchange was about reporter Courtney Weaver’s expose of Russian soldiers in Lugansk which we covered yesterday, which elicited in an insulting dismissal from the Defense Ministry today on our Ukraine Liveblog.
Financial Times reporter Courtney Weaver has found Russian soldiers in Lugansk.
The Kremlin has been insisting it has no military in Ukraine, and Ukrainian journalists and bloggers often find it hard to get the world to believe them until a Western reporter can confirm it.
Weaver found the soldiers at the Weeping Willow cafe in Lugansk — which was open as the city struggles back from the ruins of war:
they invited two western journalists to join their table. One member of
the group said he and the others had been in Lugansk for the past
month, meaning that they arrived after the ceasefire the rebels signed with Kiev on September 5.
The men’s goal was “training the local population”, said the soldier,
a native of Russia’s Voronezh region named Maxim. Asked if he and the
others had come as volunteers, he replied sarcastically: “Sure, we’re
volunteers. Nobody sent us here.” He continued on a more serious note.
“They gave us an order: who wants to go volunteer? And we put our hands
up like this,” he said, mocking someone being forced to put their hand
Russia has insisted that it has no regular army soldiers in Ukraine, although the leader of the Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg, who is also a member of Russia’s presidential human rights council, has presented a list of 9 soldiers from the 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade in the North Caucasus who were killed. She has lists of many more.
Russian and Ukrainian journalists from TV Rain, Gordonua.com, Pskovskaya Guberniya and other regional newspapers have confirmed at least 51 soldiers believed to be in Ukraine.
With today’s story on RFE/RL and an interview in Gordonua.com about a volunteer Russian fighter from Kronshtadt who was killed, the confirmed number rises to at least 52 — and there is yet further evidence of the Russian presence in Ukraine.
The mother of the 18-year-old man, Yevgeny Pushkarev, found that he had been recruited into the “Novorossiya” army online, and joined several groups supporting the rebels through this popular social network. He then left her a note on the refrigerator on September 5 and said he would be back “in two months”. He was killed covering fighters retreating from battle October 10 in Nikishino.
Pushkarev in honor guard uniform on Solidarity Day. Photo via VKontakte.
In August, the Ukrainian military captured an armored vehicle with Russian soldiers’ documents as well as 10 POWs from Russia’s 98th Svirsk Division of the Airborne Troops, one of whom was severely burned in battle. They were later returned to Russia.
The independent Russian news site RBC.com has reported on the units it believes are in Ukraine based on reported and confirmed deaths of Russian soldiers.
While relatives of soldiers and journalists are struggling to confirm the fact of Russia’s military presence in Ukraine via lists of missing or dead soldiers, the Russian government itself has just provided a tacit admission that this is a growing problem.
A new law was passed by the State Duma on 10 October and approved by the Federation Council on 15 October adds the category of “missing” or “declared dead” to those whose families may claim compensation.
The law calls for monthly payments “also to members of families of military personnel or citizens recruited in military drafts who have gone missing without news during the fulfillment of the duties of their military service and through the procedure established by law, are declared missing without news or declared dead.”
Thus a soldier who is recruited in the draft is entitled to have financial compensation go to his family every month if he goes missing or is declared dead.
The problem is that the Russian military says that some of those fighting in Donbass are “volunteers” who have not passed through the official military drafting process. There is evidence that the military’s recruitment commissions were used informally to contact veterans who might be interested in fighting in Ukraine, as Russian journalists have reported.
The law constitutes tacit admission that soldiers missing in Russia have become a problem for the government, as relatives clamor not only for news, but relief as their bread-winners are gone. It also may indicate that the soldiers missing or killed are in fact not volunteers but regular army.
Family members have been threatened with loss of such compensation if they talk to reporters about their missing or killed relations.
Meduza.io, the new Internet site established in Riga by exiles from Lenta.ru, a formerly independent Russia news site, launched this week.
Meduza, which means both “Medusa” and “jellyfish” in Russian, is edited by Galina Timchenko, who was forced out of her post as editor-in-chief of Lenta.ru in March after an interview with Ukrainian ultranationalist Dmitro Jarosz, leader of Right Sector, and other controversial materials.
Editorial meeting at Meduza. Photo by The Calvert Journal.
Timchenko brought a dozen of her former Lenta.ru editors and special correspondents with her to Meduza, including Ilya Azar who has reported from Ukraine. Sultan Suleymanov, another former Lenta editor, even left his job as editor-in-chief of the popular Twitter aggregator TJournal which he had held since September 2013, to move to Medusa. Some 70 signed an appeal in solidarity with Timchenko at the time and resigned along with her.
“The disaster is not that we have nowhere to work. The disaster is that it looks like you have no more to read,” they said.
Now their motto is “the news returns.”
Today’s issue has a major story on Alexey Navalny’s criminal case involving the French firm Yves Roche; the arrest of performance artist Pyotr Pavlenksy for cutting off his earlobe to protest psychiatric abuse at the Serbsky Institute; on the bail system by the Russian police abuse monitoring group OVD-Info; a visit to St. Petersburg’s Kresty (Crosses) prison; a draft law on private military companies and even an interview with the driver of the snowplow which killed Total’s CEO Christophe de Margerie
The last story is taken from Channel 1, and reveals that the driver wasn’t intoxicated but suffers from a heart condition; evidently Lenta.ru isn’t going to scorn state news, but pick out some of the best that bears republishing.
In part, Meduza is serving as a media aggregator, or perhaps “curator” is the better word for stories in the better Russian press, such as Vedomosti, e.g. a piece on how the Kremlin is now abandoning the ultranationalists like Col. Igor Strelkov whom it had originally sponsored in the war against Ukraine.
But Meduza is also doing its own stories, such as an interview with a doctor arrested for prescribing pain-relievers.
Meduza has the usual menu of foreign stories as well, on Obama, ISIS and Ebola.
A section called Shapito — Russian for “circus tent” — something like Gawker or Buzzfeed — has already drawn the ire of staid Izvestiya columnist Igor Karaulov for being frivolous, but then Karaulov also finds that “Medusa” could be decoded to mean “Media USA”, i.e. “a media project in the interests of the US.
The Shapito section had a translation of the Vogue story providing fashion tips to Edward Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills, who joined him in Moscow; the discovery by Redditors of how cats love circles; and how a Japanese Internet user made a figure of a girl’s head out of toilet paper
If anything, Meduza is critical of the US, with stories translated into Russia such as a Fox News report about how the Pentagon wound up accidentally delivering ammunition to ISIS and an interview with the new rector of the Higher Economic School Simeon Dyankov, the former Bulgarian prime minister, who says Russia should not be compared to the US.
A page which copies the Vox index card system explains how readers can circumvent Russian government Internet blocks and surveillance using a variety of circumvention programs and encryption tools.
Galina Timchenko. Photo by tkyrs.com
Given Russia’s long and storied tradition of exiles printing newspapers abroad, the expectation might be that Meduza would focus on political dissidents and sectarian arguments. And while there is some of this, it appears the goal is more to look like a Western newspaper and actually work as a business attracting readership. Meduza has not disclosed its funders.
In fact, the word “exile” doesn’t appear in its pages and the effect is more to project a sense of “internationalization,” escaping the confines not only of Russia state control but Russian provincialism.
Western readers of the old Lenta.ru in particular appreciated its brevity — the news and even opinion stories were short, unlike Russian newspaper pieces, thousands of words long.
Meduza is even shorter. There’s also an attempt to conquer the “theme and rheme” reversal issue” — in the Russian language and often in news reporting, the commentary about a topic and the description of the setting of the story are placed first, and the punchline or what journalists might call the “nut graph” can appear much later, creating a feeling that a writer isn’t “getting to the point.”
For example, a story like one on the new draft law on defense companies has clear bullet points which tell the background of this law curiously copying hated America’s experience. There was a failed attempt to create such private military companies by Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia at the Pskov legislature — home of the very contract paratroopers who were killed recently in Ukraine.
Meduza still seems squarely located in the Russian space, however, as it is not appealing so much to emigre communities as to the intelligentsia at home — at least, at home on the Internet. The index card page has information about whether people will be forced to stop using Master Card and Visa, whether Russia will be shut off from the global Internet, and whether Ebola will come to Russia.
It will be interesting to see whether Meduza takes away readership from glossy domestic Russian publications like vozduh.afisha.ru, i.e. Mamut’s other properties, aimed at hipster youth. Certainly vozduh.afisha.ru has a lot more tech talk and cultural news than Meduza appears to have.
It also has apps for smart phones, which is viewed as a way of getting around censorship, because it is obtained from Apple or Android app stores — companies which presumably would stand up to pressure from Russian authorities.
But as TechCrunch points out, the Russian government’s demand to companies to with Russian customers to place servers on Russian soil applies to apps as well.
In an interview with Calvert Journal, Ivan Kolpakov, co-founder, described Meduza’s vision:
“We can’t and don’t want to create the new Lenta. Lenta needed 15 years and a lot of resources to become Russia’s main newspaper,” Kolpakov told The Calvert Journal. “Meduza is a pirate ship, a small, mobile media organisation. Media which tries to produce quality journalism — both news and reporting journalism.”
Perhaps Lenta got out just in time. The Russian government has relentlessly tightened the screws on independent media. Today TV Rain, the independent cable TV and web site that lost cable operators due to a controversial show on World War II, was already informed earlier this year that its lease would not be renewed.
Now TV Rain has received word that it was leave the Red October business center by next year, a fashionable mall, by 15 November, the site reports. The reason cited is the need for “capital repairs.”
TV Rain plans to hold a “garage sale” of its property, and is not certain where it is headed next.
Slon.ru and Bolshoi Gorod, two other independent publications formerly renting at Red October, have recently left the building.
Lenta.ru is owned by Afish Rambler-SUP, headed by Alexander Mamut, who also owns the Red October building and the book chain Waterstone’s.
Ben Judah’s article at Politico, Putin’s Coup: How the Russian leader used the Ukraine crisis to consolidate his dictatorship has sparked avid commentary, notably from the person quoted in it — Radek Sikorski, the former Polish foreign minister and now speaker of parliament.
Judah quoted a number of sensational revelations from Sikorski, as we reported on our Ukraine blog, such as Russian offers to Poland to divvy up Ukraine — which Warsaw ignored. Deposed president Viktor Yanukovych, mired in corruption, was reportedly blackmailed by Moscow with threats to seize Crimea — and more.
Sikorski also had a number of stark comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin:
“What is happening now is the full embrace of neo-imperialism,” Sikorski
says. “They have exploited every post-Soviet and neo-Soviet atavism and
made it real because an alarming proportion of the population believes
it. This is how they have refueled their regime.”
“Putin has instilled fear of stepping out of line with talk from his propagandists about the “sixth column.” The regime has long smeared the opposition with textbook accusations of them being Russia’s “fifth column.” But the Orwellian new invention of a “sixth column” refers to those inside the regime opposing expansionism due to their ties to the West. Alexander Dugin, the Kremlin-controlled ideologue now promoted across official airwaves as the champion of this new conservatism, has even called these insiders the main existential enemies of Russia. “The oligarchs with property in London know they are the outdated remnants of a previous era,” said one Kremlin adviser.
Sikorski then said his quotations were “over-interpreted” and “not authorized.” Judah responded that in the US, it is not customary for journalists to go back and clear quotes with interview subjects, as it is in Europe.
Despite his walk-back, Sikorski then soon was re-tweeting Judah’s comments:
Putin’s war against Ukraine is bad enough in its own terms, but Judah’s point is that it is a shield to consolidate further authoritarianism:
Within the establishment there have been sudden sackings of
intelligence officials and generals believed to be disloyal. Meanwhile,
beyond the Kremlin walls, the security services have moved to finish the
job on the Russian opposition. Through repression and infiltration,
there is no meaningful opposition activism left. The main opposition
leaders have all been forced to flee the country, isolated or placed
under house arrest. The protest movement is dead. “We believe most of
the people who took to the streets of Moscow back in 2011 have
emigrated,” one Russian official familiar with the matter says. “And we
believe the rest will soon follow.”
It’s true that some opposition figures, creative intellectuals and entrepreneurs have been forced to flee Russia, although Russia never had a huge opposition in or out of parliament to begin with so “main leaders” as distinct from small groups all over the country are less important. People like Boris Nemtsov remain active in Moscow, and even under house arrest Alexey Navalny makes himself heard, for better or worse.
The Peace March last month against the war in Ukraine drew 26,000 people in Moscow and thousands in other cities around the country, which is significant given the years of prison handed to Bolotnaya Square demonstrators and other civic activists.
Meanwhile, the “Russian World” supporters of separatism in the Donbass and the carving out of pieces from neighboring countries drew only a few hundred for a rally last weekend. While some close-ups might make them appear more in number, if you drew back you saw the crowd was very thin.
Photo by Savik Shuster
Translation: The rally “Battle for the Donbass” in Moscow attracted about 200 people.
They compensated for sparse numbers by toxic anti-semitic signs like this one directed against Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoiskiy:
You, Russian! Help Russians, or else you will be next!
As for Dugin, he was fired from his position at Moscow State
University (MGU) earlier this year because evidently even Putin, chair
of the board of MGU, found him too far out in inciting violence against
Yegor Prosvirnin, editor of the ultranationalist site
sputnikandpogrom.com, was called in by the authorities for questioning
on charges of “extremism” and fears he may be “sewing mittens in Krasnokamensk” a remote prison labor colony, by the end of the year. Of
course the fortunes of the Russian-backed separatists like Col. Igor
Strelkov, promoted by Dugin, Prosvirnin and others through fund-raising
and even military assistance have diminished.
To get an idea of how much of a force to contend with the
“Novorossiya” backers and Russian nationalists in general are these
days, we will have to see how many turn out for the annual Russian March
in two weeks:
Translation: Russian March: For the Future of Russian Children
TV Rain is still broadcasting critical coverage of issues like the
Russian soldiers killed in the war in Ukraine, and blocked sites like
grani.ru or kasparov.ru can be read with circumvention software.
To be sure, each day brings new assaults on civil society, such a
the Justice Ministry’s move to close down Russian Memorial Society, a
leading human rights organization, and the situation is grim.
Will it ever change?
Like other critics of the Kremlin, Sikorski believes that if the cost of oil will fall below what Putin needs to balance the budget, say $110 per barrel, then reformers may prevail over the Slavic Walter White:
“Should it go decisively below $80 a barrel and stay there for two years he’s in trouble,” warns Sikorski. “But what’s bad for him is not necessarily good for us. He’s a gambler. And he’s got a lowered sense of danger. He’ll take these huge gambles because the real danger for Putin is his own life. He can’t let go. He can’t leave the Kremlin. Once you’ve spilt blood, once you’ve had apartment bombings, once you’ve sent death squads abroad, once you’ve had Georgia, Ukraine, all these mothers, and all the bodies of soldiers being disposed of from secret wars… You can’t just let go.”
Radio Liberty/Radio Free had a neat graphic illustrating the supposed beneficial correlation — oil prices dip down, and Boris Yeltsin appears to free the media and the economy after mass protests and the failed coup; oil prices go up and Putin re-launches the war in Chechnya.
Of course, along the way things like the global recession and the EU Accession Agreement also occur to complicate the theory.
The cost of oil (Brent) is at $82.90 and $85.55 (WTI) today. Coincidence or not, rights campaigner Ludmila Bogatenkova was released from jail – but pending trial on charges of fraud that lawyers say were fabricated in retaliation for her work in exposing the cases of Russian soldiers who were killed in Ukraine.