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, and see also our Russia This Week stories âAnti-Maidanâ Launched by Nationalists, Cossacks, Veterans, Bikers and The Guild War â How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features âManaged Springâ: How Moscow Parted Easily with the âNovorossiyaâ Leaders, Putin âThe Imperialistâ A Runner-Up For Timeâs âPerson of the Yearâ and It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy, It’s Putin.
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Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeyev and his business partner Dmitry Skuratov have denied media reports about searches held in their homes and offices, Interfax reports: (translation by The Interpreter):
The press service of Konstantin Malofeyev officially denies the information disseminated in a number of Russia media outlets about searches conducted in the homes and offices of the businessman and his business partner Dmitry Skuratov. These reports do not correspondent to reality.
Yet as we reported earlier, Kommersant, a business daily, obtained court records that said Malofeyev had lost his appeal to stop searches of his premises and they had indeed been searched. Kommersant said it couldn’t get a comment from Malofeyev.
Meanwhile, Skuratov said that nothing had changed about their status in the case, “We are witnesses,” Kommersant quoted him as saying, although he refused to comment on new search or other actions by the investigation, saying that the investigation had made him sign a non-disclosure statement.
In an article titled “American Sanctions Did Not Protect Him from a Search,” Kommersant said the Interior Ministry had “unexpectedly activated the investigation into a high-profile case about theft of a loan from VTB Bank for more than $225 million.” Kommersant implied they had court records, as they noted that Malofeyev’s appeal at Moscow City Court had been lost.
In fact, Malofeyev isn’t in the US list of persons sanctioned with regard to the war in Ukraine, but he has been included in the lists of the EU and Canada.
Dmitry Skuratov is the son of Yuri Skuratov, former prosecutor general whose own career ended during the Yeltsin administration in scandal after disclosure of a sex tape.
Malofeyev has been tied to support of the Russian-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine. Some observers have theorized that if any effort was made to prosecute Malofeyev, it would mean that his protection from Putin had evaporated and now he might be sacrificed if Putin was ostensibly going to rein in the militants in Ukraine. Yet there is no evidence that the Kremlin’s support for the rebels has disappeared, or even that Malofeyev is needed to arrange it — or make it go away. Malofeyev is associated with ultrarightist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin, who was fired from Moscow State University, where Putin is the chairman of the board, for his extreme incitement against Ukrainians.
So many will be watching to see if any of the cast of characters associated with the “Novorossiya” cause are now removed from the scene or even prosecuted and sent to jail — although there is nothing to say that it will happen in such lock-step fashion.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russian-language Twitter today was filled with a strange hash-tag today, #ТвиттерРодилПингвина which translates to #TwitterBirthsPenguin.
This wasn’t a tag that was trending anywhere else in the world, just in Moscow.
The tag also trended yesterday, February 11.
Lots of the tweets with the hashtag even had a picture:
Translation: I waited and believed in it until the end!
Many thought it was absurd but retweeted the hashtag anyway:
Translation: Ohai. Once again we have met under an idiotic hashtag.
Translation: (The entire world) – WHAT THE HELL???!
Translation: Russian Twitterers – -#ТвиттерРодилПингвина – The rest:
And what do you want to say with that? – You’re not normal. ONCE AGAIN RUSSIANS ARE RAGING OR WHAT
Russians: EVERYTHING IS NORMAL ))o)
Interestingly, yesterday, the Russian censor denounced Twitter for
defying its demands to remove content. It’s not clear how this will end.
So the hash-tags might be related to that, and indicate that
efforts to censor only end up getting more attention to content. Or it
might be a campaign to discredit Twitter.
None of the usual pro-Kremlin propagandists and trolls are tweeting this hash-tag, so it may be spontaneous.
– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Malofeyev, head of Marshall Capital, is a sponsor of Russian Orthodox philanthropic projects who has been associated with Col. Igor Strelkov, the former commander of the forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the cause of “Novorossiya,” the aspirational republic of Russians outside of Russia to be made up of parts of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. (See Is Separatist Colonel Strelkov the Kremlin’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Gone Out of Bounds?, ‘Novorossiya’ and the ‘Fifth Column’ Around the Kremlin: Novaya Gazeta Interview with Boroday and Is Colonel Strelkov Making a Comeback or Has He Been Tamed?)
The search was related to a case involving embezzlement of more than $225 million from the VTB Bank. The searches were reportedly carried out with a warrant upheld by Moscow City Court on February 11, after Malofeyev’s attorney unsuccessfully challenged it.
Malofeyev is a witness in the case involving theft in 2007 of money from VTB given by its subsidiary VTB Capital to a little-known company to buy some dairy plants from a firm previously controlled by Malofeyev.
Investigators had previously searched his home and office in 2012 and 2013 looking for documents related to the case.
Also involved in the case is their former partner Alexander Provotorov, at that time head of Rostelekom and subsequently deputy general director of Tele2.
Evgeny Kremniev, general director of Russagroprom, is accused in this case of creating fictitious reports about the financial status of the milk plants and then stealing money.