Nicolas Sarkozy Goes All-Out For Putin In Saint Petersburg

June 16, 2016
Screenshot from Ruptly stream.


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:

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?
Does it Matter if the Russian Opposition Stays United?
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Has Invented A Version Of History To Meet His Needs
Getting The News From Chechnya – The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed


Detentions and Beatings of Russian Opposition and Activists

The daily Russian-language publication from RFE/RL called 7:40 na Perrone, as well as Radio Svaboda, the Russian-language service of the US-funded RFE/RL, has noted a spate of detentions and beatings lately of opposition and activists.
o Yesterday activists Viktor Kapitonov and Vasily Nedopyokin were detained at the Federation Council building for passing out leaflets about the re-confirmation of Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, Radio Svoboda reported, citing the Facebook page of human rights defender Irina Yatsenko.
The two men were taken to the Tverskoy police precinct and then released pending trial on June 17 on charges of violating the law on public demonstrations and could face a fine of up to 20,000 rubles. This was not their first detention for leafletting
o Yesterday in Moscow, Vitaly Serukanov, a lawyer for the Anti-Corruption Fund led by Alexey Navalny, was detained for taking part in solo pickets protesting the re-confirmation of Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika.
Under the law on demonstrations, solo pickets are supposed to be allowed if the protesters are spaced far apart from each other. But police can arbitrarily declare such picketers in violation.  
Serukanov had also been previously detained for picketing in support of Oleg Navalny, the brother of Alexey Navalny tried in a case involving the French firm Yves Rocher believed to be fabricated to retaliate against Navalny for his corruption expose.

Set as default press image
Activist passing out leaflets about Prosecutor General Yury Chaika.
2016-06-16 18:44:24

Translation: They say they are taking me to Oryol. The court is there. I’m cooked. 

Oryol was the location of his last detention.

Today Serukanov was fined 20,000 rubles ($304), OVD-Info reported.

o reported the detention of Dmitry Potapenko, an officer of the Management Development Group involved in the Party of Growth in Moscow.
According to Interfax, Potapenko was detained by several plainclothesman, put into a van, and driven away. Later several plainclothesmen accompanied by a police officer came to Potapenko’s office after the employees called the police when their colleague was detained.
According to Potapenko’s fellow employees, the people who detained him said it was not related to the company or his business activity. Police had no comment, Interfax reported.

The Party of Growth is headed by the Russian ombudsman for business, Boris Titov. Potapenko intended to run for elections to the State Duma in the Tushino single-mandate district. Opposition MP Dmitry Gudkov and Rospotrebnadzor [the state consumer agency) head will also run in this district.

Potapenko became well known in 2015 after circulating a video of himself making a critical speech at the Moscow Economic Forum. Potapenko also hosted some hows on Finam FM and City FM.

But curiously, Potapenko later denied he was detained by police, RBC and Slon reported.
“I’m alright, God is merciful,” he said cryptically in response to a question of whether his office had been searched by investigators. RBC said that Potapenko’s colleague had contacted them and that they had also received via email a video of Potapenko’s detention, showing several policemen breaking down the door to his office and detaining a man who appeared to be him.
But Potapenko said that the video may have been an old surveillance video that had been spliced together:

“I haven’t seen that video, I’m at the Higher School of Economics, and I can only surmise that they found some old archival footage.”

As is common with attacks by either mafia or secret police in Russia, the victim is often told to keep mum and then things will go better for him. That could account for his denial. 

Timur Khasanov uploaded a video to YouTube today with a comment saying that “athletically-built people and policemen broke into our office today”. Using the authority of the policemen, they broke into Potapenko’s office. The man being detained in the video does appear to be Potapenko. The metadata on the video shows it to be dated June 16, and a reverse image search does not turn up any other videos.

o The gay couple detained for paying tribute at the US Embassy in Moscow to the victims of the terrorist attack on the gay club in Orlando could face 10 days in jail or a fine of at least 20,000 rubles ($303) for an “unsanctioned picket,” RFE/RL reports. As we reported, they carried a sign saying “Love Wins” and a candle, and this was interpreted by police as an unlawful public demonstration, because they didn’t have a picket. Their lawyer said they were just laying the items on the ground, however, not demonstrating.

o In Korolyov, a suburb of Moscow, Igor Ivanov, an activist in the Solidarity movement was beaten near his home, Radio Svoboda reported. Two unidentified men approached him shouting “This is for Savchenko, for Crimea!”. Ivanov, who suffered bruises and leg injuries, says the attack was for his participation in opposition activities.
o Aleksandr Vesyolov, chairman of the Union of Ecolostis of Bashkiria, was beaten in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, Radio Svoboda reported.
Vesyolov said he had gotten into this car and was about to drive away when a tall, burly man asked him for a light. Vesyolov braked the car and the man tore open the door and punched him in the face a half dozen times shouting, “Mind your own business!” Because he had already buckled his seatbelt, he was unable to protect himself. 
A surveillance camera near the building where the Union of Ecologists’ office is located was able to capture the attack. A guard inside the building who was monitoring the camera saw the attack and pushed an emergency button to summon the police and ran outside to the car. The assailant then fled. Vesyolov suffered cuts and bruises to his face and lips.

Several months earlier, a man who called himself by the nickname “The Inquisitor” threatened him, saying, “You are drinking blood in the south of Bashkiriya, we will punish you.”

Vesyolov’s said his group has indeed been active in the south in the town of Sterlitamak, protesting the construction of a solid waste landfill which they believed violated environmental laws. After gathering 2,000 signatures they were able to get a government analysis of the project and the involvement of Rosprirodnadzor, the Russian state environmental oversight agency, and stopped the construction. He believes that businessmen involved in the construction, angry at his helping to stop it and who had sought a meeting with him, could be behind the attack because they lost millions of rubles.

But the attack could also have been inspired by retaliation from the leadership of the Bashkortostan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment which he had also criticized in a report, accusing the ministry of falsifying data about air pollution and lobbying the interests of corporations. The Ufa police have opened a case.

o In Ulyanovsk, police opened a case to investigate the attack on Aleksandr Bragin, local leader of a branch of the opposition party Parnas, Meduza reported. Three men assaulted him this week near his home. He was hospitalized with skull and spine trauma.

Bragin believes the attack was related to his civic activity. He is a member of the Ulyanovsk Region Civic Chamber, an advisor to the governor and heads the regional Environmental Chamber.

As can be seen, some of these incidents are related to the upcoming parliamentary elections to the State Duma in September. While supposedly President Vladimir Putin has encouraged alternative candidates to the ruling United Russia party, in practice such dissidents are being harassed in a variety of ways to keep them from getting a seat in parliament.

Other incidents are related to business intertwined with state power in mafia-like fashion which uses violence to enforce their will, particularly related to claims of damage to the environment.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Talk Show Host and Guest Drown Out Russian Sportscaster Telling Truth About Fan Violence in France
A Russian sportscaster who was trying to report live the news about Russian soccer fans’ violence in France found himself drowned out by the talk show host who featured him, 

Владимир Гарниенко(в миру Стогниенко), который не болеет за Россию

Show Details… →

Jun 16, 2016 19:03 (GMT)

Boris Korchevnik, the host for Pryamoi Efir [Live], a talk show on Russian state TV’s Channel 1, devoted his show yesterday June 15 to reports of the recent Russian soccer fan violence during the Euro 2016 match.

French prosecutors said Russian fans instigated a brawl in which a number of people were wounded and a British sports fan was reportedly pronounced brain dead from his injuries. Subsequently, 43 Russian fans were arrested and some deported.

But Korchevnik, known for his provocative but pro-government shows, told the story differently. During the talk show, Korchevnik turned to Vladimir Stognienko, a Russian sports journalist covering the match in Lille (whose last name he got wrong), expecting him to continue his narrative portraying British fans as the culprits in the brawl last weekend in Marseilles.
To his surprise, Stognienko contradicted him and said in fact, it was just the opposite, that Russian fans had stormed a barrier separating the two audiences. 
As Stognienko kept attempting to deliver his truthful report, Korchevnik and the studio audience began to shout him down and one woman confronted him, claiming he was not sufficiently patriotic if he blamed Russian fans for violence.
The following is a translation by The Interpreter of the dialogue in the video uploaded to YouTube:
Korchevnik: Lille, Lille, once again we’re live from Lille. Here is Vladimir Garnienko, the commentator for the match.
Voice: It’s Stognienko. Stognienko.
Korchevnik. Yes. I will correct. I am fixing the sound since behind you is the police once again, and the British fans. I can’t help but asking: what happened there in the stadium? How was it all organized this time? Because as I will remind you, last time the British fans broke through into the zone of the Russian fans, and so on, there were such provocations. How was it this time at the stadium, what was the atmosphere in general?
Stognienko: Actually, it was just the opposite as it turned out. It was our guys who broke through. But that’s not important now. 
Korchevnik: [Interrupts] But ours broke through…
Stognienko: …everything is relatively quiet now…
Korchevnik: But the British bought tickets in our section, that’s what they said.
Stognienko: [Grins]
Woman: But are you in general rooting for Russia? From your attitude, you’re somehow against all of us….That’s not how you support a team.
Stognienko: I’m rooting for Russia more than anyone, but if there’s a problem, you have to talk about that problem.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Nicolas Sarkozy Goes All-Out For Putin In Saint Petersburg

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has emphatically aligned himself with the Kremlin today in remarks made ahead of the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

Sarkozy, who now leads the main opposition party in France, Les Républicains, was interviewed as part of the “Conversations with the Extraordinary” segment before the opening ceremony of the Forum.

Sarkozy said that France and Russia must work “hand in hand” and praised President Vladimir Putin:

Translation: Sarkozy: “No one disputes Putin’s leadership, certainly not me.”

Translation: Sarkozy at SPIEF: “We must work with Russia, I will fight for this. I do not want to see a new Cold War.”

Sarkozy claimed that cooperation with Russia was essential for resolving the war in Syria and “protecting” Europe against immigration.

Translation: “To protect ourselves from the flows of migration Europe must have more peaceful relations with Russia.”

This is despite the fact that Russia’s support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad and indiscriminate bombing campaign against civilian areas does nothing but worsen the humanitarian situation driving more Syrians to flee their country.

On Ukraine, Sarkozy said that the country “is a bridge between Europe and Russia, if you cut the bridge off from one of its banks it doesn’t exist anymore. The Russian minority must be protected and there must be respect for the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state, which cannot be negotiable.”

“The destiny of Ukraine is to have the best possible relations with Europe, and the best possible relations with Russia. Together! Together! Ukraine cannot choose one or the other. Ukraine is a friend of Russia and a friend of Europe. This is the reason for why I think that it is a mistake to integrate Ukraine into NATO and to integrate it into Europe.”

Translation: Ukraine “the decision to remove Russian as an official language is terrible.”

This is a bizarre statement as Russian has never been a state language in independent Ukraine. Many pro-Russian politicians, including former Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovych, have vowed to grant the language official status, but this has never come to pass.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that official government communications are in Ukrainian, there has been no suppression of Russian as a language in media. Indeed, many government organs still provide Russian translations of their communications. Furthermore, the linguistic divide is nowhere near as stark as often assumed. The vast majority of Ukrainians are effectively bilingual, with Russian spoken across the country and used as a first language by some members of the governing Cabinet and many members of the volunteer battalions presented by Russian media as fanatical Ukrainian nationalists.

Recent weeks have seen both houses of the French parliament approve non-binding resolutions calling for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbass.  

The National Assembly vote was led by MPs from Sarkozy’s Républicains. The resolution was introduced by one of his MPs, Thierry Mariani, who led a delegation of French MPs to occupied Crimea last summer, prompting outrage from the French and Ukrainian governments.

Today Sarkozy stressed his desire to see sanctions lifted, but suggested that Moscow make the first move by lifting retaliatory sanctions on European imports:

“I have proposed to President Putin that he lifts the sanctions from his own side and, in exchange, Minsk 2 will come into force. Go my Russian friends, show the way, lift the sanctions.”  

Quite what Sarkozy means here is uncertain. After all the implementation of the Minsk agreement is rather more dependent on Moscow stopping sending fighters and weapons into the Donbass and allowing OSCE monitors to inspect the entire border, let alone returning control of it to Kiev.

On the original cause for the imposition of sanctions – the annexation of Crimea – Sarkozy was evasive: 

Translation: Sarkozy on Crimea: “not a word in Minsk 2. If you want to get out of a crisis, you must not look back at the past.”

It is interesting that Sarkozy echoed Russian state media in appearing to present Europe’s clash with Russia as a product of American interference.

“I want France to be independent of American law. Relations between Europe and Russia should not be dictated by anyone. I am a friend of the Americans but sorry, I can not accept the fact that because we use the dollar we are subject to American justice.”

Sarkozy presented a vision of Europe that is indeed more relatable to Putin’s Christian conservatism, saying that Europeans needed to regain their identity because “there is no respect without identity.”

“Europe is not Christian, but Europe has Christian roots! If you do not know where you come from you don’t know where to go. I do not want a world with one single culture, a single cinema.” 

Sarkozy’s relationship with Putin, with whom he dined last night, has not always been so cozy.

I’ll add a translation here of a fascinating except from Nicolas Hénin’s La France Russe, on an exchange at the 2007 G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.

Sarkozy, who had been elected President less than a month earlier, went into a meeting with Putin full of vim and confronted the Russian leader on his domestic abuses and threats towards the Georgian government.

Indeed, as Hénin notes, Sarkozy had declared during his presidential campaign that “silence is unacceptable” regarding the death and displacement as a result of Russia’s wars in Chechnya.

Hénin describes the meeting:

“I am not Jacques Chirac. With me, we will talk of Anna Politkovskaya, we will talk about human rights, we will talk about the deaths in Chechnya…” The monologue lasts several minutes, during which Vladimir Putin remains impassive. He lets him speak. Then a silence.

“Look, I will explain it to you,” continues the Russian. “Your country, it is like this…” He makes a gesture with his hands close to one another. Then he spreads his arms wide: “And my country, it is like that. Now, you have two solutions. either you continue to talk in this tone and I will crush you, or you change your register and I can make you king of Europe.” 

Putin punctuates his speech with course and humiliating expressions to enhance the impact. Sarkozy is shocked. He leaves livid. A knockout debut.

Sarkozy’s nervous, stumbling speech at the press conference immediately afterwards was assumed by many to be the result of drunkeness, but Hénin claims that the President had not had a drop of alcohol, he was merely in shock from the meeting with Putin. 

After this meeting, Sarkozy made an about turn on his policy towards Russia.

— Pierre Vaux