AM News: ‘Rent-a-Crowd’ Sees Off Russian Olympic Team; MinFin to Slash Support for Small Business

July 29, 2016
Fans who came to Moscow's Sheremeytovo Airport to see off Russia's Olympic team were paid, Gazeta reports. Photo by Gazeta

LIVE UPDATES: The Russian Ministry of Finance is proposing to slash support of small and medium business nearly in half.

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?


Closed Military Trial of Suspects in Murder of Opposition Leader Nemtsov Begins; Jury Selection in August

This week on July 25 the trial of the suspected murderers of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, assassinated February 27, 2015, began behind closed doors.

Because the defendants were members of the Sever [North] Battalion of the Chechen Interior Ministry Internal Troops, it was decided to try them in a military court .

The defendants are Zaur Dadayev, said to be the triggerman; the brothers Shadid Gubashev and Anzor Gubashev; Temirlan Eskerkhanov; and Khamzat Bakhayev. They are accused of serving as hired killers in an organized group for a sum of at least 15 million rubles ($227,093), and of unlawful acquisition, carrying, transport and possession of firearms. 

According to investigators, Ruslan Mukhudinov, the driver of the commander of the Sever Battalion, Ruslan Geremeyev, was the organizer of the murder and is still at large.

Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee which completed the investigation in June, said Mukhudinov had made the offer to the contract killers in September 2014 — which means that theories about motivations specifically related to Nemtsov’s Facebook comments of concern about Kadyrov’s “personal army” in December 2014, or alleged anger over the Charlie Hebdo journalists who were killed by terrorists in January 2015, have no merit, although Nemtsov’s earlier formal petition regarding Kadyrov’s army could have been a motive.

Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov

As can be expected, there is a wide range of theories now being published and discussed about the possible forces behind the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down February 27, two days before he was to lead a protest march against the Russian government's war on Ukraine and its anti-crisis measures.

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Jul 29, 2016 19:48 (GMT)

How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Novaya Gazeta's Investigation

A number of different scenarios for how opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was assassinated on February 27, 2015 have been published in both the independent and pro-Kremlin Russian media this past year, notably by RosBalt, Novaya Gazeta, Moskovsky Komsomolets and REN-TV.

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Jul 29, 2016 19:47 (GMT)

The request for a jury trial was evidently granted, although there have been conflicting reports about this.

The news agency Moskva reported that the press secretary of the Moscow District Military Court announced that the jury would be selected in August.

Translation: The selection of the collegium of the jury members in the case of the murder of Nemtsov will begin August 24.

Supporters maintained a vigil on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, where Nemtsov was murdered, and where an unofficial memorial has been maintained — and constantly removed by pro-regime supporters or police. 

Translation: Nemtsov Bridge

Nemtsov’s family wanted the murder case to be classified as “for political motives,” which would carry a sentence of a minimum of 12 years of prison, but investigators earlier declined this request and characterized the murder as “for mercenary motives,” which carries a minimum of 8 years.

It’s still possible that the murder may be re-classified during the trial says Vadim Prokhorov, the family’s attorney. 

Geremeyev, who is a relative of a powerful senator, Suleiman Geremeyev, connected to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, was said to flee Russia after the murder, but then returned. 
Translation: Ruslan Geremeyev resigned from the Sever Battalion.

Translation: “Geremeyev is involved with civic affairs in Chechnya.”

According to a source familiar with the situation, Geremeyev had decided to leave the battalion in September 2014 and moved to Moscow. Said the source:

“Actually in early 2015, he was getting settled in the capital before his planned resignation, and then his name ‘surfaced’ in connection with the murder of Nemtsov.”

Geremeyev used up all his vacation time, and then resigned, said the source, and his departure was not connected to Nemtsov’s murder. A law-enforcement source confirmed his resignation, said Rosbalt. According to this source, Mukhudinov is in Chechnya currently, although he had left several times, and does not appear in public places.

As with the trials of other high-profile persons murdered in Russia, such as journalist Anna Politkovskaya, there seems little likelihood that the real masterminds of the assassination will be revealed and prosecuted. 

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Russia This Week: Remembering Boris Nemtsov, Insider and Outsider (1959-2015)

In Russia This Week , you will find links to the stories of Russia Update in the last week and to special features, plus an article following up on the news and trending topics below. Last issue: Ultranationalists Angry over 'Capitulation' of Minsk Agreement This Week's Top Stories: – Are Sanctions Against Russia Working to Stop the War in Ukraine?

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Jul 29, 2016 19:56 (GMT)

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russian Bloggers Meet with Facebook Public Policy Manager to Protest Frequent Bans
Leonid Volkov, an opposition activist and project manager at the Anti-Corruption Foundation headed by Alexey Navalny, posted an account of a meeting with Facebook officials to discuss frequent bans of Russian bloggers that appear to be the result of hostile campaigns by pro-regime trolls.
Volkov said that a month ago, after an “epidemic” of bans of Russian activists on FB, he wrote a long post in which he said the actions taken by Facebook management against independent Russian journalists and bloggers were not “normal” and were a problem that “could be solved.” The Russian non-governmental Society for Defense of the Internet worked on getting a meeting with Facebook which finally took place today.
Ross Kirschner, public policy manager, and some of his colleagues agreed to meet with the Russian bloggers. They said there were no “bots” that made bans automatically; they said no such system exists. All reports — although they are numerous — are first evaluated in light of FB’s terms of service by real humans. Subsequent reports on an account may be made automatically, but the first assessment is by FB staff, said Kirschner.
The moderators who make these assessments know the language of the post being reported and assess it for issues like nudity, calls for terrorism and “hate speech.”  

FB said that the concept of “hate speech” is quite vague, and they are constantly working on improving it. They said moderators could be mistaken, and that their personal views might affect their assessment, given that criteria is “imperfect.”

They also look at context, so that a sentence like “I was just walking along the street and some lady called me a whore,” would not lead to a ban because it’s not directed speech. Yet Volkov says it is exactly these types of statements that are leading to bans.

He writes (translation by The Interpreter):
“They [the Facebook staff] understand that under the conditions of the high politicization of Russian-language FB and the constant aggressive clash of views on it, and also under the conditions of the work of state-sponsored troll farms, the situation requires special attention and correction. The story of bans for formal reasons as a result of reports on posts made two years ago is unacceptable and FB will change its policy such as to not permit this to happen again.”
The activists agreed with FB staff to send them a list of specific cases with references to specific posts when bans were made for insufficient reason.
They will form a commission to discuss the cases collected to determine when unfounded bans were made, and what moderation policies should be changed to prevent these cases in the future.
Volkov cited Oleg Kashin, Olga Romanova, Alfred Kokh, Kseniya Larina and Viktor Shenderovich as Russian bloggers who had become the victim of unfair bans, and urged these authors to collect the posts that had led to bans so that Facebook could examine them. He also called for any other bloggers to send in their cases.
Meanwhile, in a long interview with Izvestiya today, Aleksandr Zharov, head of Roskomnadzor, the state censor, complained that Facebook’s ban of Russian users who used hate speech was “incorrect” and “unacceptable”.
“I regard censorship as bad,” he said curiously.

Specifially, Zharov noted cases of those who had used the word khokhol, a pejorative word for Ukrainians, and had been banned. He said even when prominent blogger Maksim Kononenko quoted a poem by Alexander Pushkin with this archaic word, they were banned. He expressed the view that automatic algorithms were at work.

“I believe that in this case not people, but bots are working,” he said, adding that he had raised the issue of the bans directly with FB officials.

Izvestiya noted that Roskomnadzor planned an inspection of VKontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, in September, and wondered whether Facebook would be inspected as well, especially given reports that the US company had not yet placed servers on Russian territory with the data of Russia users, as required under a Russian law passed last year.
Zharov said his agency planned to inspect foreign social networks in 2016 and 2017 along with VKontakte. He said his agency had not received a direct refusal from Facebook to place the servers in Russia and was in regular contact with all social networks about this issue — Facebook, Twitter, and Google:

“I can say that the companies listed are taking practical steps to localize data bases on the territory of Russia. We are satisfied with the pace of their actions. We do not intent to act drastically or without thought. We understand perfect well that the users of these social networks are millions of our citizens. Ongoing dialogue with these companies enables us to surmise that sooner or later the demands of Russian law will be met in full measure by each one of these companies.”
Zharov did not specify which steps were taken by which companies.
Asked about Pokemon Go, Zharov said he did not believe that the developers of the popular game were spying on locations but merely trying to make a profit. He said that when Pokemon Go was officially released in Russia, it would be examined and conclusions would be made about how it was handling Russians’ personal data. 

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

AM News: ‘Rent-a-Crowd’ Sees Off Russian Olympic Team; MinFin to Slash Support for Small Business

The ruble is trading at 67.06 to the dollar and 74.38 to the euro. Brent crude is $42.34 per barrel.

The following headlines are taken from Novaya Gazeta, Gazeta, Meduza, Kommersant, RosBalt, and Caucasian Knot.

– New Head of Russian Federal Customs Service to Battle Corruption Within the Agency

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