Russia Update: Heavy Floods in Sochi Damage Airport, Resorts

June 25, 2015

According to the Levada Center’s latest public opinion poll, President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating is at an all-time high of 89%,

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.


Russia This Week:

Is ‘Novorossiya’ Really Dead?
From Medal of Valor to Ubiquitous Propaganda Symbol: the History of the St. George Ribbon
What Happened to the Slow-Moving Coup?
Can We Be Satisfied with the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
All the Strange Things Going On in Moscow

Special features:

‘There Was No Buk in Our Field’
With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin
Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs‏.

France Freezes Funds in Russian ‘Magnitsky’ Probe

City of Sochi Suffers Heavy Floods
Sochi is under water, Yod News reports with the headline, “Olympics Atlantis.”

city of Sochi, site of the Olympic Games in 2014, has experienced heavy
rains all week and the forecasts are that they will continue.

Streets, homes and businesses are flooded, cars are floating, and people are improvising boats to get around.

of the damage seems to be in the city proper, and not so much at the
Olympic sites outside the city, although the Adler District, where some
of the resorts are, has been affected.

One of the issues critics
of the site of Sochi had was the fear that massive construction in some
areas of this fragile environmental zone near the river would worsen
the effects of flooding and was not advisable at all due to frequent
floods in this area. This was mentioned in a report prepared by the
late opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics.

Yod points out, a number of cities have experienced flooding this
spring and summer, including Moscow, but they usually don’t experience
this much flooding and relentless rain.

Here are some pictures; for the full set go to Yod.





LifeNews reports that
city authorities announced that home and business owners will not get
any compensation unless they had insurance. Flood victims will have to
get in line behind fire victims in Russia and appeal to the president.

Translation: Adler Airport: Cost, 8.2 million rubles (according to Forbes)

We’d note, though, that the cost of the airport renovations was estimated by USA Today to be nearly $300 million (at the rate of the ruble in 2013); Wikipedia says that Basic Element spent over 14 billion rubles ($410 million) from 2007-2013 to revamp the airport.

Either way, it looks like part of it may be under water.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, James Miller

Witness Recounts How Kadyrov Threatened to Shoot Nemtsov in 2002

Aleksandr Ryklin, a journalist and civic activist in Russia, claims
that Ramzan Kadyrov threatened Nemtsov in December 2002 at the Congress
of the Chechen People in Gudermes in 2002, according to Vadim Prokhorov,
the lawyer for Nemtsov’s family. At that time Nemtsov was head of the
Union of Right Forces in the State Duma, and he was twice threatened
that day after a speech. Nemtsov himself wrote about the incident in his
book Tales of a Rebel published in 2007.

The first threat came
from a man who showed his identification as an officer of the FSB and
told Nemtsov that he should be shot after his speech. The second person
to come up and threaten him was Ramzan Kadyrov, who made the threat
outside in the presence of witnesses.

Prokhorov note that these
threats were taken seriously not only by Nemtsov but by Kadyrov’s own
father, Ramzan Akhmad-Khadji Kadyrov, who assigned body guards to
Nemtsov who accompanied him to the border of Ingushetia.

relatives have demanded that Kadyrov himself be interrogated in the
case. Recently he said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy that he would be
willing to be questioned, although he claims not to remember the

“They say that Kadyrov supposedly said [this] to
Nemtsov, but I don’t remember it. It’s just that Nemtsov, the rest, that
fifth column, when people begin to forget them, they begin recalling
me, so that a certain public in Russia began talking about Kadyrov, so
that they are on the surface.”

Five Chechen men remain in custody
as suspects in the murder, and the chief defendant, Zaur Dadayev, was a
former officer in the Interior Troops of the Chechen Interior Ministry,
which Kadyrov personally controls. He has been found on an airport
video tape with another officer of these troops, Ruslan Geremeyev, who
is said to have organized the murder.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Putin’s Approval Rating of 89% is Highest Ever in Levada Opinion Poll

According to the Levada Center’s public opinion poll, President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating is at an all-time high of 89%, Interfax reported.

Despite hardships caused by the fall in the price of oil and the value of the ruble which have led to loss of income and defaults on mortgages and loans, despite EU and US sanctions, despite even Russian soldiers dying in the war in Ukraine, Russians find Putin more popular than ever.

Putin’s rating has risen from 85% in January and 86% in April-May. In June 2013, it was down to 63% and in June 2012 it was 64%.

Only 10% of respondents say they are unhappy with the president’s performance.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Medvedev obtained a 66% approval rate, with 33% disapproval. The rest are undecided.

As for the government, 62% are happy with its performance and 37% are unhappy. In the regions, 64% are happy with their governors and 35% unhappy.

Russians were also asked to name the leaders they trusted most. These were Putin at 64% — his highest since 2014, when he was at 53%; Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at 28%; Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at 21% then Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov (11%); Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) 9%, Valentina Matvienko, speaker of the Federation Council (5%), Patriarch Kirill; Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia party, all at 4%.

At least 64% of respondents think the country is going in the right direction which is higher than January (55%) and June 2013 (44%).

The survey was taken of 1,600 people on June 19-22 in 134 population centers and 46 regions of Russia with a margin of error of 3.4%.

The tremendous improvement from 63% in 2013 to 89% today is
attributed by many to the forcible annexation of the Crimea and the war
in the Donbass. As the colleagues of the late Boris Nemtsov wrote in a chapter of the report
he was working on at the time of his assassination titled “Why Putin
Needs This War,” Putin’s ratings had plunged in 2011 after he merely
switched places with Medvedev. Then he signed a number of populist decrees that in some cases wounded up bankrupting the regions. The report authors write:

the summer of 2013, “it became obvious that the traditional methods
used to secure Putin’s popularity in past years were not capable of
increasing his popularity rating about 40-50%. By all appearances, the
Kremlin was seriously concerned about the negative trend and began to
work on a fundamentally new means of strengthening Putin’s electoral

The scenario of “the return of Crimea as a part of
Russia” was undoubtedly planned and carefully prepared in advance by
Russian authorities. Today, the scale of this preparation is obvious.

Much of the perception of Putin by the public depends on highly-controlled and manipulative state television. So while the popularity of Putin is troubling, in part it relies heavily on his TV performance. As the authors of Putin.War explained:

 Anyone attempting to describe the political career of Vladimir Putin will encounter an insoluble problem — the Russian president never had a political career. Putin’s career is made for television, and all of its stages, from the threat that he would “rub out the Chechens in their outhouses” to President Yeltsin’s admonition to him in hand over power that he “take care of Russia” — were no more than a series of TV shows.

Vladimir Putin is a TV star. His presidential calendar is scheduled from one call-in show to the next. The exaggerated role of television in communication between the government and society was formed in Russia under Boris Yeltsin but it was Vladimir Putin who managed to create a telecentric state in which all public institutions from the church to the army have been replaced by their televised images. Illustrative in that regard is the scandal in the spring of 205 in which RBC journalists discovered that the television shows of the latest working meetings of vladimir Putin, shown on federal television channels, had in fact been taped long before they were aired on TV: Putin’s true whereabouts during that time were simply unknown.

The only hope for changing this situation has been seen as the Internet — yet as the government increasingly controls the Internet, the percentage of Putin critics has gone down from the level of 55% who disapproved in March 2014 to 11% today. Not all of this change was due to a more free Internet for a time or the crackdown today, but it was a factor.

Opposition bloggers are still hopeful that reality will break through despite the disinformation of mass media. As one woman wrote last year in a post, “Television, Meet Refrigerator,” Russians may watch the “zombie box” but then they will not be convinced by it if their refrigerators are bare.

When we measure public opinion in a closed society as Russia is increasingly becoming again, we’re not so much measuring opinion as the efficacy of propaganda. Yet while this limitation is important to keep in mind, the fact is some Russians who multiple and varied types of information still support Putin.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Film Director Makes Unexpected Anti-War Allusions at State Awards Ceremony
Recently, President Vladimir Putin handed out one one of the Kremlin’s prestigious state awards to movie director Aleksandr Sokurov, but the solemn occasion in the Kremlin took an unexpected turn.

As Moskovsky Komsomolets (MK) reported, Sokurov used the occasion, broadcast by Russia’s top TV station TV1 and seen by millions, to make an allusion to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The Interpreter has translated his speech:

“It seems to be a festive day, but my heart is heavy. Our Fatherland is going along a burdensome, difficult path. No one knows what awaits us ahead. And…I would like to ask God to protect us from mistakes, and ask God that he protect our soldiers and our officers, to protect life, and that we have everything in a humane manner.”

The camera moved swiftly to Putin’s face as soon as he mentioned the uncertainty of the “difficult path” — and Putin rolls his eyes and sighs when he gets to the word “mistakes”.

By the standards of those getting arrested for anti-war protests near Red Square, this protest seems mild indeed, but coming from a state-approved figure at such a highly-visible occasion, it was widely seen as daring.

Sokurov has been particularly known for being among the few to predict war with Ukraine in 2008, given the militaristic turn he saw in the Russian state; he also predicted war with Kazakhstan and ongoing conflict in the North Caucasus and failure to ameliorate relations with the West.

Sokurov, who was already awarded the highest honors of “Merited Art
Figure of the Russian Federation” and “National Artist of Russia” in
past years  said he had passed through several stages of voting to be
chosen. MK asked if there was any preliminary instruction as to what he
should say. He said there was a rehearsal before the event but he had
not been able to attend because he was serving in the jury at the Tardovsky Festival; in any event, he had rehearsed the speech.

“I knew there was a wish that I not speak, since I can
be sharp and don’t behave appropriately for the official ceremony. But I
said I would speak, if I can be emotionally concentrated. In the end, I
said what I said.

After the ceremony, Sokurov and the other awardees were taken
to a champagne reception with Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and
other officials. The other people spoke first, and Sokurov said he was
overawed by Aleksandra Pakhmutova, a famous singer whom he had listened
to on the radio when he was young. Tamara Melnikova, director of the
Lermontov Museum recited a stanza from a poem by Lermontov. To the
surprise of the awardees, Putin picked it up and recited it to the end,
with “absolutely logical stress, as if he had learned it in theater
school,” said Sokurov, referring to the way stress can be on different
syllables in the Russian language.

When it came his turn to speak to Putin, Sokurov said first Putin demanded to know why he had not staged Faust in the Russian language, but chose to film it in German, a topic they had discussed in previous meetings.

“I explained to him, as I had the last time, that this was impossible, and explained why,” said Sokurov.

then had a “political” conversation, but he didn’t wish to disclose the
details. Since Putin seemed to wish to continue the conversation, he
hoped another meeting would be arranged soon.

Sokurov explained that the organizers of his new film Francophonia
were fearful of it and cancelled a special showing. It addresses the
relationship of France and Germany and both countries with Russia. He
said he did not want to take part in the Cannes competition but had
wanted to show the film.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick