Russia Update closely follows 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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Police searched the home of Roman Rubanov, director of Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund, as well as the home of his parents, in a trumped-up “art theft” case.
Translation: The Volvo plant in Kaluga is suspending the production of trucks in
Kaluga, and reducing 30% of its staff. The Volvo Group team was forced
to make the cuts.
The Volvo Group said that poor market conditions and lack of demand for commercial vehicles was forcing them to suspend production, RIA Novosti quoted them as saying. The management characterized the move as “temporary.”
Translation: Bad news, starting 2/11, Volvo will suspend production of trucks in Kaluga and fire a third of its personnel. Very sorry for Russian Detroit.
Volvo opened a $52.5 million excavator plant near Kaluga in 2013.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The official Twitter account of the Latvian Armed Forces (NBS) has reported that Italian Typhoon fighters, operating as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission, have been scrambled to intercept a Russian Il-38 aircraft over the Baltic Sea.
The Il-38 is a maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. No details have been given as to whether the flight crossed into Latvian sovereign airspace.
Police searched the home of Roman Rubanov, director of the Anti-Corruption Fund founded by opposition leader Alexey Navalny, early this morning, as we reported.
The homes of Rubanov’s parents and sisters were also searched. The purpose was ostensibly related to the “art theft” case which is the latest in a series of cases used to harass Navalny and his associates for their work in exposing corruption in high officials.
The search came on a day when Rubanov was to take part in a meeting to organize an opposition march planned for March 1 to protest the economic crisis in Russia and the war in Ukraine.
Translation: The search is finished. They took the laptops, cell phones and flash cards. They were looking for Kulachenkov and the picture.
Nikita Kulachenkov is another employee of the Anti-Corruption Fund who is wanted by police in the art case.
Translation: And coming to search at 7:00 am is beastly.
As Meduza recalled, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev once called such investigators “bastards” for coming so early.
His remark came in response to a query from journalist Alexei Pivovarov, who noted that Pavel Kostomarov, with whom he was making a documentary film about the Bolotnaya Square case of jailed demonstrators, was searched early in the morning.
Translation: I was tailed to my office.
While the formal reason for the search was the “art theft case,” Rubanov and others are concerned that the authorities may cast their net wider, as they made reference to a complaint from Mikhail Degtarev, a member of the ill-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, regarding alleged embezzlement at the Fund.
to Russian involvement in the war in Ukraine is the main theme of the
March 1 rally. The rally needs a permit, and Mr. Navalny thinks it may
get one for a location on Moscow’s outskirts, but not in the center.
understands that war with Ukraine is just crazy,” he said. But other
issues include some major political and economic demands: reducing the
32 percent of the government budget dedicated to defense and public
security; canceling the sanctions on Western food imports, which fuel
inflation; and loosening election laws to give more parties a chance,
including his own, the Progressive Party.
Navalny said he thought Western sanctions on certain sectors, like
banking, had had some influence on the Kremlin, while personal sanctions
had been too easy to circumvent.
the West really wanted to influence the discussion inside the
government, it could quietly impose a complete travel ban on the 1,000
or so most important Russians and their families, Mr. Navalny said, many
of whom own property abroad. “That would increase the split in the
elite,” he said. “All these guys want to drink coffee in Paris.” Such
measures would be popular with ordinary Russians, he added.
As Fund employees have been interrogated 12 times in the last 3 days, the authorities may be developing another case to use against the Fund and disrupt plans for the demonstration in March.
The Fund has continued to publish photos and documentation about the lavish homes of top officials who appear to live beyond their means.
TV Rain (Dozhd) reports (translated by The Interpreter):
A man, having immolated himself outside the Kaliningrad mayor’s offices, has been taken to hospital by doctors and is in a critical condition. This was told to TV Rain on Friday, February 6, by the head of the regional anti-corruption centre of Transparency International, Ilya Shumanov.
Photo: Maxim Pereverzev / Klops.ru
“The man set himself on fire right next to the central entrance of the mayor’s office. Eyewitnesses say that he survived and was taken away in a critical condition to hospital. There are now many law enforcement personnel around the Kaliningrad mayor’s office, some of them from the security services,” said Shumanov.
Of the reasons for the immolation, he said, nothing is known yet.
The Klops.ru publication writes, citing eyewitness reports, that the man walked up to the mayor’s office and placed a note on the ground, after which he poured petrol over himself and himself on fire.
Kaliningrad-based Klops.ru reported that, after seeing the man douse himself in petrol:
The eyewitness rushed into the building to alert the attendant. When they returned outside the man was already lying on the street and burning. People tried to put out the fire, throwing a jacket on the man; motorists helped with fire extinguishers.
Afterwards an ambulance arrived on the scene and the still-alive man was taken to hospital.
— Pierre Vaux
Russia media is reporting on yet another “treason” case in Russia, which brings back memories of the Soviet era for many people.
According to a report from Interfax also published by Ryb.ru, Gennady Nikolayevich Kravtosv has been arrested and charged with leaking state secrets to “a Western country.” He is likely being held in Lefortovo Prison, as the Lefortovo Court has confirmed that on January 21, a Russian citizen was placed under arrest for passing secret information to the West. He is to remain in custody at least until March 27.
Interfax says he was arrested last year and could face up to 20
years in prison under Art. 275 of the Russian criminal code (“state
treason”). The case has been classified as “top secret” so no more
information was available.
Recently Svetlana Davydova, a mother
of 7 in Vyazma, was arrested and taken to Lefortovo on charges of
“treason” for allegedly reporting to the Ukrainian Embassy about Russian troop
movements to Ukraine. She was released to return to her children after
massive online protests and attorney’s appeals and will face trial.
man, Vladimir Golubev, a former employee of the nuclear center in
Nizhny Novogorod Region was also arrested and charged with disclosure of
state secrets for an article he published back in 2003 in a Czech
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
More family members of Roman Rubanov, director of the opposition Anti-Corruption Fund founded by Alexey Navalny, are being searched early this morning in Moscow.
Translation: “@badamshin_s I don’t know where you’re going, I’m going to a search.” And I’m going to another one.
Tatyana Solomina is a legal expert from the Moscow Bar Association specializing in family and labor law and criminal cases.
Another attorney asked her who else was being searched, and she replied, “The sisters of Roman Rubanov.”
Translation: For three years now, every day, somebody is detained, searched, arrested and tried.
While the search is technically related to the “art theft” case of the previous director of the Fund as we reported, it appears to be more about intimidating the current director from further opposition activity by involving his family.
Slon.ru has reported further on the case, noting that the original “art theft” involved Georgy Alburov, former director of the Fund, who was forced to flee abroad and request political asylum in the UK, and Nikita Kulachenkov, who is now being sought by police.
Both men were accused of tearing a street artist’s sketch off a fence in Vladimir, 100 miles from Moscow, and giving it to Navalny as a present. It featured a “good man” and “bad man” in a satirical statement on Russian life. The artist, Sergei Sotov, a janitor who makes drawings as a hobby and does not sell his sketches, didn’t press any charges until later, when he was intimidated by investigators.
Rubanov said he would not open the door to investigators until his lawyer could be present. Human rights lawyer Sergei Badamshin tweeted that he was on his way and arrived at 9:15 am Moscow time to witness the search still under way. Badamshin has also taken up the case of Svetlana Davydova, a woman in Vyazma accused of “treason” for allegedly informing the Ukrainian Embassy that troops based near her home were gone from their barracks and believed to be deployed in Ukraine.
Rubanov was summoned for an interrogation in January when he was asked about Kulachenkov’s whereabouts. The investigators also probed him about the Anti-Corruption Fund’s activities and any possible embezzlement of the fund’s cash.
He was informed that a complaint from Mikhail Degtyarev, a deputy of the State Duma from the ill-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, had been filed against the Anti-Corruption Fund, claiming embezzlement had taken place. No such credible reports have been made independently.
Investigators claim without demonstrating any proof that 60% of the funds collected by Navalny’s organization went to payroll “and not for the purposes that the fund was supposedly created.” Russian authorities don’t like those purposes, however, which involve exposing large-scale corruption of top officials.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russian President Vladimir Putin made an offer of a peace plan to France’s President Francois Hollande and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel that will not involve Ukraine’s government, Unian reports. The European leaders urged him to send the plan to Kiev, says a source.
Rada or Ukrainian parliament Mustafa Nayyem, Putin does not want to
involve anyone from the Ukrainian government in the peace talks
currently underway to revive the Minsk Agreement signed in September
2014. He cited a high-ranking participant in the forthcoming planned conference in
Munich. Nayyem made the statement on his Facebook page (translation by The Interpreter):
The plan to settle the situation in Ukraine was given
to France Hollande and Angela Merkel yesterday afternoon. At first the
Kremlin’s proposals were given only to the Europeans. The Russian
president offered to discuss the plan regarding Ukraine without (!!!)
involving the Ukrainian side. That is, completely without any
participation of officials from Ukraine!
Judging from everything, Vladimir Putin — unlike
Hollande and Merkel — has not understood anything. The situation in
Ukraine can be discussed anywhere — in Brussels, in Berlin, in
Washington and even in Moscow… But until Ukraine is at the negotiation
table, this little party will end with yet another blood-bath, which we
have already witnessed, when the gentlemen of the opposition Yatsenyuk,
Klitschko and Tyahnybok together with the Europeans signed the
agreement with Viktor Yanukovych.
In general, maybe Putin’s plan is even good, but the maneuver around it came out stupid.
The peace talks originally involved Leonid Kuchma, past
president of Ukraine, who was designated as a negotiator by the
Ukrainian government but who is not a member of the current government
of President Petro Poroshenko. The Russian ambassador to Kiev and the
heads of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics”
also participated as did an OSCE facilitator.
For people in this
region, the scheduling of peace talks in Munich with the prospect of no
participation of Kiev brings to mind the Munich Agreement of 1938,
whereby the major powers of Europe permitted Nazi Germany to annex
portions of then-Czechoslovakia in areas inhabited by Germany speakers,
for a territory then called “Sudetenland.” Adolf Hitler, British Prime
Minister Neville Chamberlain, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and
French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier signed the Munich Agreement.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
A search is underway this hour at the home of Roman Rubanov, the director of the Anti-Corruption Fund founded by opposition leader Alexey Navalny. The search is related to an “art theft” case that has to do with a street artist’s sketch taken from a wall last year and given to Navalny as a present.
The case is widely believed to have been trumped by the authorities
to persecute Navalny and his colleagues, as the drawing has no great
value, and its author, Sergei Sotov, a janitor in the city of Vladimir,
did not press any charges against Navalny’s past director, Grigory
Alburov, after he took the sketch.
Alburov has fled to the UK with his family and asked for political asylum.
Translation: I don’t know where you’re going, I’m going to a search.
Sergei Badamshin is a civil rights lawyer.
Translation: Searches at the homes of the director of the Anti-Corruption Fund and his parents are once again being conducted by Bastrykin’s ‘”special cases investigators” from the Main Investigative Division of the Investigative Committee.
Aleksandr Bastrykin is the head of the Investigative Committee, which handles Russia’s top cases, notably against political opposition.
Translation: The race is on, live. Who will get here first, the power saw or the lawyer?
The reference is to the police practice of cutting open doors with a power tool as opposition members refuse to open them on principle.
Translation: Outside my door, there are the same flatfoots who searched the Anti-Corruption Fund exactly three weeks ago.
Translation: You will recall, the Investigative Committee loves to fit in searches under cases they’ve already opened, in order to look for material for new cases.
Recently, Alburov published the documents of the court case against him on his blog. Among them he discovered correspondence between Aleksandr Bastrykin and Yury Chaika, the prosecutor general, regarding the case. Chaika wanted to drop the case due to lack of evidence of a crime. Bastrykin wants to continue it.
The sketch, titled “Good Man v. Bad Man” shows two types of Russians with lists of words next to them. The punk on the left in the t-shirt with a cigarette has the words “Internet” and “Decadence” next to him, and the clean-cut type in the golf polo on the right has the words “Love for Motherland” and “Decency” next to him.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick