Russian FSB Detains Ukrainian Translator for OSCE, Accuses Him of Espionage, But Releases

July 18, 2016
OSCE SMM team patrolling on March 18. Photo by Evgeniy Maloletka/OSCE

LIVE UPDATES: The Federal Security Service (FSB) has detained in Russia a translator for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), but released him and allowed him to return to Ukraine.

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 Elections Round-Up: Parnas List Accepted; Party of Pensioners Forced to Remove Candidates
‘What Would Boris Do?” Opposition Struggles with In-Fighting on Eve of September Elections
NATO Got Nothing From Conceding To Russia In the Past, Why Should It Cave To The Kremlin Now?
Who is Hacking the Russian Opposition and State Media Officials — and How?


Russia Approves Loan for Iran of 2 Billion Euro (US $2.4 Billion)

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev confirmed the decision to give Iran two export loans for a total of 2.2 billion euros (US $2.4 billion), BBC’s Russian Service reported.
One loan of $1.2 billion euro (US $1.3 billion) will be used to build a 1400-MW power station in Bandar-Abbas and the second loan of 1 billion euro (about US $1.1 billion) will be used to supply electricity to the Garmsar-Inch Burun section of the railroad.
The documents about the loans were posted on the Russian government’s legal portal.

The agreement for support of the project was signed in 2015 and has been repeatedly reported but was not finalized until now.

Iran and Russia restored relations last year following  a perior of strain due to the decision by then-president Dmitry Medvedev to join Western sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program in 2010. At that time, Russia suspended an agreement to supply Iran with the S-300 anti-missile system. After the Iran deal was brokered last year, sanctions were dropped and Russia then went ahead with the agreement for the S-300 which has begun to be shipped.

Iran has cooperated with Russia on its bombing campaign begin in Syria in September 2015. 

During his visit to Iran last year, President Vladimir Putin said Russia was prepared to provide a loan of $5 billion to support 35 energy projects. It is not clear when more funds might become available.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russia’s Sberbank Offers Free Insurance for Pokemon Go Players, but MPs Mull Restricting the Game

Russia’s Sberbank, one of the largest savings banks in Russia and Europe, is offering free insurance to Pokemon Go players, the bank reported on its web site.

Sberbank says “pokestops” (locations where players can get game tokens) at Sberbank in 16 cities from Moscow to Vladivostok with special modues will be placed to attract Pokemons.

Sberbank, which also operates an insurance company, is offering free policies for Pokemon players while they are playing the game in case they injure themselves.

There have already been a number of incidents around the world where people immersed in the augmented reality game on their phones have fallen or bumped into things, and in the US, doctors issued a warning.

The bank says that players can fill out an application online and in a few days will receive an insurance certificate.

Maksim Chernin, general director of Sberbank Life Insurance said (translation by The Interpreter):

“As the largest life insurance provider in Russia, we feel our responsibility for participants of the Pokemonl Go game which has obtained enormous popularity. Given that reports have come in from several countries of the world of traumas sustained while playing the game, we developed a special product that will be free for players. It’s also important for us that this project will help raise the financial literary of the population: the young generation can familiarize themselves with such financial instruments as insurance in the form of a game.

But while Sberbank is seizing on the game to boost business, the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, is considering banning the game or at least restricting its access, mindful of a number of incidents around the world.

Officials at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and Poland’s Auschwitz Memorial are calling on Pokémon Go maker Niantic to take their sites off the locations where players can hunt cartoon creatures 

Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chair of the defense committee in the Federation Coumncil said a number of governments and organizations around the world will be appealing to the company to stop placing the Pokemon creators at various sites, and he believes the company will be forced to accommodate them. Klintsevich commented:

“The sense that the devil has come through this mechanism and is trying simply to destroy us from within spiritually. But I understand this this sphere is extremely difficult to control today. The impression is created that this is imposed from outside by people who know exactly what a year or two will pass and the consequences will be irreversible.”

Klintsevich said in addition to bringing in experts, the issue has to be put to a broad public discussion. Special attentions should also be made to virtual-reality goggles as well.

“A discussion has to appear in society because we are on the verge of big problems. These problems have been imposed on us. Therefore overnight we will no longer be able to cope with them.”

He proposed excluding religious institutions, prisons, hospitals and other civic buildings from the Pokemon Go game, as well as cemeteries and memorials. These are sacred for many people and should not be experimented with, he said.

“Otherwise, we will get into the bedroom and intimate matters. Toilets will be shown. Therefore we need to sound a very serious alarm.”

He added that such games act on people’s mental states and behavior and “could engender promiscuity and permissiveness.”

Vadim Dengin, first deputy of the committee on information policy, information technologies and communications proposed that IT specialists analyze the information collected by the game and the data to which it gains access. If at first glance, the game seems innocent, it could hide something and in the context of the “information war,” this has to be taken seriously, he said.

“If a person has been taken by this game, then likely we don’t have the right to deprive him of that. But we must explain and remove the curtain for a person if he doesn’t know what’s going on.”

Pavel Nesterov, head of the Russian Language Pokemon Go group on VKontakte, Russia’s largest social network said that while the game had not officially launched in Russia, Russians were already playing it and incidents were orcuring, but players would not likely view positively any restrictions contemplated.

He said likely the company would get masses of appeals not to allow the game on such territories as army bases.

Pokemon Go has been discussed widely on Russian social media and has been parodied.

Translation: Ordinary days of Russian parliamentarianism — Pokemon will not pass!

This parody account of the Russian Foreign Ministry quotes from a blogger who in turn quoted Klintsevichs remarks.

Translation: Aleksandr Ryklin: “The question of restrictions on catching Pokemons will be discussed by the members of the upper and lower chambers of the Russian parliament, Frants Lintsevich, first deputy of the Federation Council’s committee on defense.

Your mother! How has it come about that they people gained power over us?

Translation: In the steppes, on an open plain, a lonely mound stands; under it a famous Pokemon was buried in past ages.

The tweet is a parody of Konstantin Tolstoy’s poem about the warrior’s burial mound. 

Translation: I promised not to do anything dangerou for the sake of Pokemon Go, but Drowsy doesn’t understand himself that cars are not trams, they go around,.
Translation: Look at what a Pokemon there is next to Tvetnoy Boulevard!

Translation: Yarovaya package Pokemon.

The reference is to the recent anti-terrorism package of legislation originally posed by conservative MP Irina Yarovaya which was signed into law earlier this month by President Vladimir Putin.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Russian FSB Detains Ukrainian Translator for OSCE, Accuses Him of Espionage, But Releases
The Federal Security Service (FSB) has detained in Russia a translator for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), RBC reports, citing RIA Novosti.
But the FSB says they have already released the translator, a citizen of Ukraine, and allowed him to return to Ukraine.
Artyom Shestakov, born 1984, a citizen of Ukraine,  worked in Lugansk Region as a translator for the mission of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the 57-member body promoting the 1975 Helsinki Accords.
It was not clear how Shestakov was on Russian territory. Russian-backed forces in part of Lugansk region control the Russian-Ukrainian border.
The FSB claims that Shestakov has confessed to traveling to Kiev in the summer of 2015 while working for the mission in Lugansk where he was allegedly recruited into  the SBU (Ukrainian Security Service) with the code name Svarog (the name of a Slavic deity) by Sergiy Slipchenko, an officer of the Department for Defense of National Statehood.

On the SBU’s assignment, Shesakov gathered information of a political, social, economic and military nature on the territory of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR). Shestakov regularl;y visited LNR government bodies and places of deployment of divisions of the “people’s militia” or Russian-backed separatist forces in Lugansk and Donetsk regions.

The OSCE SMM publishes daily reports, mainly about violations of the Minsk accord for a ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy artillery from the line of contact.

The FSB claims that in October 2015, on assignment of Ukrainian military intelligence, Shestakov sent information  about the routes of travel, automobiles, and telephone numbers of Pavel Dremov, a Cossack commander of the Russian-backed forces who was assassinated last December. Dremov, who had publicly criticized his fellow separatist leaders and was once part of a breakaway government was widely believed to have been murdered by forces in the LNR, not Ukraine.
The FSB also claimed Shestakov arranged for other agents of Ukrainian intelligence to obtain jobs in international organizations.
Shestakov is barred from future entry to Russia, said the FSB.
In March, the FSB reported that Yury Ivanchenko, a colonel in Ukrainian counterintelligence was arrested while visiting relatives in Russia, despite a ban by the SBU on such travel. He was accused of “trying to use the SBU and CIA to organize a set-up to be recruited by Russian intelligence services.” Ivanchenko was supposed to pose as a recruit to Russian intellience. 
At that time as well, the FSB released Ivanchenko and let him return to Ukraine in April because “he did not pose a threat to Russia’s security.”  SBU chief Vasily Gritsak said at the time that the Ivanchenko was removed from security clearance and was to be dismissed.
Yury Soloshenko, age 73, the former director of Ukraine’s Znamya defense plant was accused of espionage and plead guilty at his trial in October 2015. Soloshenko was alleged to have attempted to purchase components to the S-300 anti-missile system. He was sentenced to 6 years of strict-regimen labor colony.

For its part, the SBU said the FSB tried to recruit a Ukrainian diplomat, working through his old classmate from military academy. On June 18, the SBU detained a Russian diplomat on suspicion of paying bribes to Ukrainian law-enforcers. He was released after showing his ID as he had diplomatic immunity, said RBC.

Since war in Ukraine began, the Russian-backed forces have repeatedly harassed the OSCE SMM, sometimes even shooting at its personnel and kidnapping them on several occasions. Ukraine frequently accuses the Russian military in the OSCE SMM and Joint Coordinating of serving intelligence, and have complained of the involvement of a side in the conflict in the monitoring process.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick