LIVE UPDATES: Searches are under way at the state-owned TASS news agency and offices belonging to the agency’s general director, Sergei Mikhailov. The searches are reportedly connected to his previous work at Russian Railways, the ousted chief of which, Vladimir Yakunin, is now the subject of a hitherto-unexpected investigation by the Interior Ministry.
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
In a blog post today, opposition leader Alexey Navalny recounted his surprise that the Interior Ministry unexpectedly contacted him and asked for copies of the various investigations his Anti-Corruption Fund had run on Yakunin and Russian Railways in recent years.
He said he was just on the point of complaining about their inaction on past appeals when this request came. One of the best known concerned a fancy fur storage facility at his lavish dacha which seemed to indicate he lived beyond his official salary.
“It means that he is behaving inappropriately somehow, otherwise this wouldn’t be happening. Well, he was creating his own fund, and is intending to get involved in politics. Perhaps someone doesn’t like him there. If the Interior Ministry has become interested in this, then it is only in response to some of his statements, and then the hand of God could report that something has to be investigated.”
As with other criminal investigations, it is worth asking why the Interior Ministry (the police), as distinct from the Investigative Committee or the Prosecutor’s Office is conducting the investigation, and who it was that complained to the Interior Ministry.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
While these figures might seem hard to prove for some, the Russian government itself has reported a startling loss: Russia’s income from exporting oil fell by 41.8%, TASS reported today, citing the Federal Customs Service, and is currently $89.5 billion. Russia increased its shipments by 9.4% in 2015 to try to compensate for the losses.
Third, sanctions may become an instrument of undermining Russia as it reaches the state of self-exhaustion as significant part of the ruling class is “integrated with the West personally.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russian investigators are conducting a search at the offices of the state-owned news agency TASS.
The independent TV Rain channel reports that the search may be linked to the general director of TASS, Sergei Mikhailov.
Later this morning, searches were conducted at offices belonging to the general director’s Mikhailov and Partners firm at the Monarch business centre.
One source at the communications agency told TV Rain by telephone that:
“Investigative operations have been under way since the morning. They’ve seized phones from the employees who were in the office at the time.”
Mikhailov himself is, TV Rain reports, currently at a meeting in the Kremlin.
Mikhailov’s “previous occupation” referred to in the reports may well be his posts at Russian Railways, where he worked from 2004 until 2006.
According to his TASS biography, Mikhailov served first as an adviser to the president of the state-owned company, and then then became a board member, heading first the public relations department, and then the department of corporate communications.
Vladimir Yakunin, who headed Russian Railways while Mikhailov worked there, was dismissed by President Vladimir Putin last year and has since publicly warned other members of Putin’s inner circle that they were not safe in their positions, despite his long running close association with the President.
Russia's elite remain vulnerable to President Putin's whim, warns ousted ally
A former Soviet diplomat – and, it is widely believed, spy – Mr Yakunin left government service to go into business in the early 1990s. At the same time he acquired a lakeside dacha in the countryside north of St. Petersburg, where his neighbours included an official in the St Petersburg mayor's office called Vladimir Putin.
Further supporting suggestions of links between the searches at TASS and Mikhailov and Partners is the surprising news that the Interior Ministry has responded to long-standing calls by Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) for investigations into Yakunin’s assets and fraudulent activities.
TV Rain reports that, according to Navalny, the FBK received an unexpected notice from the MVD of the start of the investigation, even inviting representatives from the Foundation to supply documentation.
— Pierre Vaux