Savchenko’s Russian Lawyer Investigated for ‘Extremism’; Ruble Value, Brent Crude Fall at Brexit News

June 24, 2016
Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko while imprisoned in Russia, speaking with her lawyer, Mark Feygin.

LIVE UPDATES: Police are investigating Mark Feygin, the Russian lawyer of former Ukrainian political prisoner and MP Nadiya Savchenko.

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


Putin’s Overture to West at St. Petersburg Economic Forum at Odds with His Anti-Westernism

Commentators on the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last week found that despite President Vladimir Putin’s best efforts, even supportive Westerners were not able to stop EU sanctions, which were approved again for another six months.

The forum, which once drew leading international figures hoping for a chance to get Putin’s ear now seems to have dwindled in importance. 

A video from a speech at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum by MIT Prof. Loren Graham, a historian of science, was posted by anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny and many other Russians.

The YouTube of his talk, titled “You Want Milk Without the Cow,” seems to sum up a lot of Russia’s problems with innovation efforts and economic reform in general. 

Said Graham (in reverse translation from Russian by The Interpreter): 

“Dudes, you will not get any innovation or any Skolkovo as long as the government suppresses political opponents and bans freedom of assembly.”

Navalny pointed out that Graham’s university, MIT, had donated $300 million to the Skolkovo project, begun ambitiously by then-president Dmitry Medvedev. Since then the project has faltered, Western investors have pulled out, and under President Vladimir Putin, the director and participants have been prosecuted, including former MP and entrepreneur Ilya Ponomarev, who was forced to flee Russia.

Liliya Shevtsova, economist, said on her Facebook page that there was an inherent contradiction in Putin’s claim that he wanted to be friends with the West again, and supposedly “harbored no ill-will,” because he strenuously maintains an anti-Western policy.

“Can you really be the West’s gas station when you bite its ankles?” she asked pointedly.

She said in fact it’s hard for Putin to dismantle anti-Westernism as it is a mobilizing mechanism and a legitimacy of his own regime.

Shevtsova pointed out that while Putin crowed about Western participation, the leaders who came to SPIEF were already viewed as pro-Russian and urged the end of sanctions against Russia. They included former French prime minister Nicholas Sarkozy, chairman of the Eurocommission Jean-Claude Juncker and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi.

Today the West can only look with suspicion on Putin, regardless of his overtures, because of his support of the extreme right and left forces in European countries and his undermining of the European Union, she said.

Even in Germany, only 14% of Germans think they can trust Russia and 58% say sanctions against Russia must be kept in place.

The EU’s Disinformation Digest covered the SPIEF in today’s issue (via email) 

Russian media portrayed the forum as a successful opportunity for Russia to reach out to the world, without making any real concessions. However, in a time of crisis, the Kremlin’s messages inevitably also find themselves subject to critical debate. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s wish to selectively engage with Russia was covered. At the same time, his statements that the EU does not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea and that the Minsk Accords need to be fully implemented if sanctions are to be lifted were carefully ignored by many Kremlin-loyal media.

The Disinformation Digest included in its report a copy of a poster advertising the SPIEF seemed to hark back to images of Soviet pioneers.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Police Raid Women of the Don Office; Leader Faces Possible Prosecution for Refusal to Register As ‘Foreign Agent’
Kommersant reports that police had begun a search of the office of the human rights organization Women of the Don, citing a Russian human rights leader, Natalya Taubana of Public Verdict.
Valentina Cherevatenko, head of Women of the Don, a southern region in Russia, may become the first person in Russia to face criminal charges for violating the law on NGOs.
So far, there are little details and it is not clear if the search is in fact related to the criminal case, but investigators have already extended the deadline for her investigation.
In 2013, officials in Novocherkassk in the Rostov Region found that Women of the Don was a “foreign agent,” Radio Svoboda reported.
Cherevatenko said the group openly received foreign grants, but did not consider its work political. She said she had been investigated by a group of 8 agencies after failing to register as a foreign agent: the prosecutor’s office; Rospotrebnadzor, the consumer inspection agency, the tax inspectors, the FSB, the police, the Emergencies Ministry and “E Center,” as the Center for Anti-Extremism is known. Multiple administrative cases were opened but after convening a conference, the group decided not to register as a foreign agent.
Among the group’s activities were round tables to discuss reform of the Interior Ministry or police, which may have drawn the special ire of law-enforcers although Cherevatenko said they were supportive of them.

So far, groups that have refused to register as foreign agents have faced only heavy fines, sometimes repeatedly, and some have been forced to close. But in Cherevatenko’s case, she may be prosecuted under Art. 330-1 of the Russian Federation criminal code (“persistent refusal to perform obligations defined by RF law for non-commercial organizations”), under which she could face up to two years of imprisonment.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

State Duma Passes ‘Yarovaya Package’ of Anti-Terrorism Legislation; Companies Required to Turn Over Encryption Keys
As expected, the State Duma passed in the third and final reading a package of amendments to existing legislation on terrorism, Novaya Gazeta and RBC reported. The new laws creates harsher penalties for acts that are already defined over-broadly in Russian legislation and affect civil rights under the Russian Constitution.
The Yarovaya Package, as it is known, is named for one of the two co-sponsors, Irina Yarovaya, a former Yabloko party member and current United Russia party member who made no secret of the fact that the amendments were prepared in collaboration with the siloviki — the power ministries of the army, police and intelligence — Novaya Gazeta reported.
As we reported yesterday, after a tide of protest, at the last minute, the most objectionable clauses about removal of citizenship or banning of travel abroad for those implicated in terrorism were removed.

Even so, there are a number of new requirements to already-pervasive government surveillance of citizens that have drawn criticism, Novaya Gazeta reports.

Telecommunications services and Internet service providers are required to store copies of communications for six months. Furthermore, they must retain information about subscribers’ contacts for a period of three years. Owners of messenger services and social media must store data for a year on users’ sending of information.

Furthermore, these companies will have to provide law-enforcement not only with users’ correspondence but the keys to any encrypted chat or files. Companies that refuse — as Apple did with the FBI in the case of the San Berdino terrorist’s phone — or which use non-certified encryption will face fines from 3,000 rubles for an individual to one million rubles for legal persons ($46 to $15,379).

The law tackles “missionary” activity which is defined as propagating beliefs, holding services, distribution literature, and collecting donations for religions not legally registered with the government. Preaching in residential buildings is now outlawed and equated with “extremism”. Urging citizens to withdraw from the state education system or other civic duties is now also a crime. Foreign missionaries will be unable to obtain long-term visas as they had in the past, and may enter Russia only if they have an agreement with a recognized religious body.

The age of responsibility for the offenses was lowered to 14 and the penalties for the offenses made more harsh with lengthier terms of imprisonment.
The motivation for the Russian legislation was widely seen as the Egyptian air crash (Metrojet Flight 9268) in which 224 people were killed, reported to be brought down by a terrorist bomb. Yet Russian authorities have cracked down on a wide variety of people from those writing favorable about Ukraine to advocates of greater Siberian autonomy to admirers of ISIS on charges of “extremism” and sent people to jail just for blog entries or “likes” or reposts on social media.

Andrei Klishas, head of the Federation Council on Constitutional Law and State Construction, referenced terrorist attacks in Paris and the US for the need to “find a reasonable balance between rights and civil liberties of citizens and guarantees of their security on the other.” He noted that France rejected the idea of depriving citizens of citizenship over terrorism but at least discussed it as a justification for the consideration of such a measure in Russia.

Vladimir Pligin, chair of the State Duma Committee on Constitutional Law and State Construction, said there was a practice forming around the world in a number of cases where deprivation of citizenship was justified, for example in cases where persons acquired it illegitimate reasons.

Yelena Lukyanova, professor of constitutional and municipal law at the Higher Economic School, said the law should have been debated longer as it restricts civil rights. She noted that Americans spent “two or three years” debating whether it was lawful to burn the American flag.
Genri Reznik, human rights attorney, said the law was part of an overall “repressive trend”; “at first they sow ‘spring’ crops and then harvest winter crops,” he said, making a play on words on the name “Yarovaya” which means “spring season.”
He called out some fine points of the legislation, such as the formulation “creation of conditions for committing a crime” which he said was a “mockery” of how law should be defined. He added that while all European countries had anti-extremism legislature, they limited their application narrowly to cases of “incitement of imminent violence,” not just negative criticism.
Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Center which tracks extremist movements in Russia, said that the law enabling storage of communications and law-enforcement access would affect not just cases of extremism or terrorism but any criminal case. He commented (translation by The Interpreter):

“Evidently, the amendments are related to suppressing the opposition, but everything is already so well suppressed that there was no sense in passing something else. Most likely the amendments are timed to the elections, before which, as a rule, various threatening anti-extremist alws are passed which citizens love. It is a great pre-election action, that’s why they hurried, to get it done before the end of the session.”

Leonid Volkov, opposition activist, pointed out that the requirement to turn over encryption keys could be a problem for banks and government service portals that use one-time disposable keys to secure customers’ information. He said the law would immediately be violated by those who could not technically preserve the keys.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Savchenko’s Lawyer Mark Feygin Placed Under Investigation for ‘Extremism’
Mark Feygin, the attorney for the Ukrainian former political prisoner and MP Nadiya Savchekno is now himself under investigation for “extremism,” he announced on his Twitter account, Gazeta reported.

Translation: So, the latest statement has been writtn on me with a demand to prosecute me for extremism. For Twitter. Details will come tomorrow.

RBC reported, citing TASS that police at the Khamovniki precinct are investigating a post he made on Twitter regarding the release of Savchenko and her exchange for the Russian GRU officers Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev.

Feygin said: 

“An investigator came to me and said that a certain Shchukin had written a statement against me, demanding that charges be brought against me. I do not know who he is, tomorrow I will go to the police and find out everything.”

Earlier in April, Feygin said that the Investigative Committee had began an investigation of him for “extremism.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Savchenko’s Russian Lawyer Investigated for ‘Extremism’; Ruble Value, Brent Crude Fall at Brexit News

The ruble is at 65.34 to the dollar and 72.78 to the euro. Brent crude is at $48.82.

The following headlines were taken from 7:40 na Perrone, RBC, Rosbalt, Gazeta, Vedomosti, Fontanka 

— Ruble Value, Brent Crude Fall at Brexit News

What We’re Reading