LIVE UPDATES: President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met yesterday in Moscow amid reports of Russian aerial incidents against Israel’s jets in Syria.
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.
Recent Analysis and Translations:
– Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Has Invented A Version Of History To Meet His Needs
– Getting The News From Chechnya â The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed
– Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
– Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
RBC, one of Russia’s few remaining independent news sites, appears to be under pressure from the Kremlin for its frank news reporting, notably on the Panama Papers in recent weeks that exposed figures close to President Vladimir Putin as involved in corruption.
Three red flags known to all independent media in Russia from similar attacks in the past have occurred — 1) searches of the owner of the media; 2) a hurried trip abroad by the editor 3) a hit-job on editors in pro-Kremlin media.
Earlier this week there were searches of Oneksim, the company owned by oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of RBC. Prokhorov, who once ran against Putin in the presidential elections and founded the Civic Platform and later left it, in fact appears to have stayed loyal to Putin, but this has not helped.
Novaya Gazeta reported on April 16 that the Kremlin denied there was any desire to put pressure on RBC’s freedom, but cited the statement of the FSB, which conducted the search (translation by The Interpreter):
For the purposes of checking reports of possible evasion of payment of taxes and fees from organizations, premises were opened and searched which are occupied by the companies of the Oneksim group and affiliated legal persons, including the credit organizations International Financial Club, JSA ACB, Renassaince, Ltd. CB. As a result of initial measures, information was obtained about the violation of tax law requirements by a number of commercial organizations. Documents confiscated were transmitted for further investigation to specialists for the purpose of taking the appropriate procedural measures.
As Novaya commented about the statement, referring to the nickname of the FSB still used from the Soviet era (the Cheka):
This commentary was wonderful for the fact that it could be interpreted to the broadest extent possible and be bound up as a basis for any version of a case: from the Chekists’ routine work on a criminal case unrelated to Prokhorov’s shares, to a smoke curtain for the attack on RBC nonetheless.
A source close to the media group said the departure of the editor-in-chief, Elizaveta Osetinskaya, may have been brought forward under pressure from Kremlin officials who were displeased with the publications about Putin’s inner circle.
A Kremlin spokesman denied the media group or its owners were being subjected to pressure.
Translation: Osetinskaya went on an early leave…right after the searches at RBC.
Presidential administration spokesman Dmitry Peskov once again denied today that the Kremlin has placed pressure on Osetinskaya to depart for her sabbatical early, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing RIA Novosti.
We regularly speak with many of the editors-in-chief. You know, first of all, that Putin regularly holds meetings, they take place once a year with all the editors-in-chief…and all of this is in a routine regimen. And we often also meet with editors, with the editors-in-chief of various media — the ordinary maintenance of working contact. In this case, we did not establish a goal to learn the plans regarding Elizaveta’s leave, we just discussed issues of information cooperation.
RBC has also seen the arrest of one of its journalists, Aleksandr Sokolov this year on charges of extremism for involvement in a group called “People’s Will Army.”
The game of pretending that the media outlet isn’t under pressure will likely continue, RBC itself may continue not to comment on the issue of whether it is experiencing pressure, and readers will only be left with examining the content to try to make a judgement.
RBC continued to publish unbiased dispatches today, for example, carrying all the Western, Russian and Syrian versions of the story of the downed MiG-23.
RBC also published critical stories about Russia domestic and foreign issues, for example on Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s intentions to challenge the overturn of the Yukos decision in the Hague, on Transparency International’s claim that Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin had purchased an apartment abroad through an offshore company, and a lengthy article on the exchange process that might occur with Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko and two GRU agents, and other POWs and prisoners.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Last year, the issue was taken up again by Just Russia; a factor was likely their own member, Ilya Ponomaryev, who had left their party in fact in protest against their policies, and was the sole person to vote against the annexation of the Crimea. Authorities then revived an inquiry about his role in Skolkovo Foundation, an innovation project started by then-president Dmitry Medvedev which came under fire when Putin was back as president.
Ponomarev was charged in relationship to fees he had been given under contract to run lectures and investment seminars; he countered that he returned much of the disputed funds though they were not shown to be unlawful. He then fled Russia and is living abroad now involved in opposition activities, as he says he would face selective prosecution if he returned.
Ponomarev has been far from the only controversy regarding absenteeism, however; another deputy, Roman Vanchugov of Karelia, who was investigated in a case involving bank fraud and accused of missing sessions, also faced discipline but appears to have hung on to his seat.
The communists did not vote for the measure. Sergei Reshulsky, deputy from the Communist Party of Russia Federation, opposed an amendment that allowed any committee to start the process.
“An explosive atom bomb is put under every deputy: how can you give initiative to a committee that does not know what a deputy is doing?
Boris Kashin, another Communist, said the purpose of the amendments to the law involved an “unprecedented” procedure enabling the influence of the “parliamentary majority” to be deployed on one member.
“No one doubts this was sent down from the administration of the president,” he said — which could be said about many drafts laws in parliament.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The following headlines were taken from 7:40 na Perrone, Ynetnews, Novaya Gazeta, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and Rufabula
What We’re Reading
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick