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.
– ‘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
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Lest anyone think Kremlin lead propagandist Dmitry Kisilyev is going soft (he recently startled audiences by advocating gay civic unions), a recent show in which Kiselyev ranted against Western professors has led to the dismissal of an American academic who was vice rector of Nizhny Novgorod University.
The Lobachevsky Nizhny Novgorod State University (NNGU) suddenly fired Kendrick White, assistant dean for innovation, a promiinent venture capitalist from Marchmont Capital Investments, a US citizen, Kommersant reported.
In the June 28th edition of Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week), Kiselyev discussed the Federation Council’s initiative of the so-called “patriotic stop list” which will contain organizations whose activity is undesirable for Russia, “so they don’t harm us,” as Kiselyev put it. He then introduced a TV1 broadcast about “candidates for the list.”
The program mentioned Scott Blacklin, former president of the US
Chamber of Commerce, who ran a program for gifted Russian students,
claiming he was “tied to intelligence” and that he was supposedly “hiding his true
purpose for his visits” to Russia.
Blacklin was arrested and spent two weeks in jail before being deported for an “incompatible visa,” as we reported.
White was also mentioned. “It’s
not comprehensible to this day why such a post was held by a citizen
from the USA, an entrepreneur from Washington,” said the program’s
narrator. He was accused of putting portraits of an American biologist
and botanist on the classroom wall instead of pictures of Russian scientists — which
“Democracy from America is only an attempt to subordinate us all,” the program concluded.
White’s dismissal happened so swiftly that the page with his biography on the
university’s web site has already been removed, although it is still
visible in Google’s web cache.
university published a notice saying an order for his dismissal had
been issue “in connection with the restructuralization of the system of
management of innovative activity at NNGU, connected with the need to
strength its scientific component.”
NNGU’s rector Yevgeny Chuprunov did
not have any comment for Kommersant other than “The times are such. Look
at the official notice on the site.”
White had taught at NNGU
since 1992, when reforms were begun in Nizhny Novgorod by Boris Nemtsov,
then the youngest governor of Russia and a protoge of President Boris
Igor Yefimov, dean of the faculty of biomedical
engineering at George Washington University said White’s firing was “a
terrible mistake” especially as White had made connections for Russian
students enabling them to show their inventions abroad and obtain
patents. He said it was part of the same “politics of hysteria” that led
to the closing of the Dynasty Foundation, which had funded scientific
As for Kiselyev’s advocacy of civic unions, the State Television and Radio Company confirmed that he had made the statement “as his personal opinion,” Gazeta.ru reported, citing Govorit Moska.
Vesti Nedeli is broadcast on Sundays and Wednesdays and taped in advance, so it will be interesting to see if Kiselyev’s “personal opinion” will be part of the show tomorrow.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russians were stunned today to see Dmitry Kiselyev, host for the top
news program Vesti and the Kremlin’s leaning propagandist notorious for
his anti-gay rhetoric, speak out on behalf of gay marriage today — but
not surprised to see the video and story removed from the web pages of
state news media.
The “man bites dog” story is still viewable in Google cache.
After the landmark US Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriages, the White House lit up with rainbow lights in celebration, but Russian conservatives were furious, threatening to ban Facebook over its enabling of rainbow-hued avatars.
Kiselyev began his show today with footage of the multi-colored White House, and the expectation was that a diatribe would follow. Kiselyev once said that gays should be banned from donating organs and “their hearts should be burned as unsuitable for the continuation of life” — a statement he later clarified after a storm of criticism at home and abroad to say he was referring to the FDA restriction on donations by HIV patients.
To the surprise of the audience today, Kiselyev instead made the following statement (translation by The Interpreter):
But kidding aside, in my view, in Russia, too, it is worth discussing this from time to time. The LGBT community is a fact. And we can figure, how to ease the life of adults in the case where they want to take on themselves — and with paperwork — the obligations to care for one another. In the end, love creates miracles, who’s against that? Moreover, same-sex unions have already been legally registered in Russia. For example, adoption. No one asks what sex the adopter and the adoptee are. It’s a contract — and in the future, care about one another, put them in your will, buy them medicine. You don’t have to necessarily sexualize everything. This is not a question of sex. Sex is separate.
If movement is to be made, then it is somewhere in the direction of civic unions. The main thing is not to call them marriage. Marriage in Russia must remain as such. In our culture, it is the union of a man and a woman, full stop. But a civic union is another story, another level. And men should not don a white veil for a wedding and throw a bouquet over their shoulder. Actually, Holland has gone that route. Besides the family, there is a form of civic union as registered partnership. And it is not important what the gender is of people entering into it. They can have different sexes. It is not yet a family, but it is a registered union. There is a similar practice in France, it is called there “a civic agreement of solidarity.” Is there any contraindications for Russia? I don’t think so.
A number of news sites such as Znak.com picked up the story but are now showing notices that the video was removed. Copies are still available on YouTube.
Translation: They have removed the news from REN-TV. Liberals who were about to support Kiselyev, have once again been thrown for a loop. BRILLIANT CHESS MOVE!
As can be seen from the page in Google cache, the front page had the story of Kiselyev’s comment on civic unions at the top.
Now it’s entirely missing.
is a story (on the far right of the page) about conservative St. Petersburg law-maker Vitaly Milonov complaining how he was pranked by being signed up to an LGBT community on the popular Russian social network VKontakte.
Milonov called the trolls “losers, slag, and garbage.”
The group was originally called Lentach, and was formed by former journalists from Lenta.ru, whose editor-in-chief was fired for coverage of the Ukrainian war last year, and moved with some of the staff to Riga, where they launched Meduza.io. They decided to re-name the group “LGBTach,” which caused 3,000 people to leave the group, although with Milonov, a member of the group under its original name who joined as a reader of lenta.ru, the group owners thought they had “a pleasant bonus.”
Milonov has vowed to punish the group for its humiliation of him.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Spanish prosecutors are accusing key Putin allies of helping to prop up the mafia. The chairman of the Russian energy giant Gazprom, a deputy premier, and two former ministers are all named in the investigation. The issue, however, is that it’s not clear whether any Russians will actually be forced to stand trial, since Russia does not extradite its citizens and Spain does not try people in absentia. Bloomberg reports:
Members of St. Petersburg’s Tambov crime syndicate moved into Spain in 1996, when Putin was deputy mayor of the former czarist capital, to launder proceeds from their illicit activities, Juan Carrau and Jose Grinda wrote in a petition to the Central Court on May 29, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News.
The 488-page complaint, the product of a decade of investigations into the spread of Russian organized crime during the Putin era, portrays links between the criminal enterprise and top law-enforcement officials and policy makers in Moscow. The petition, based on thousands of wiretaps, bank transfers and property transactions, is a formal request to charge 27 people with money laundering, fraud and other crimes. Approval by a judge would clear the way for a trial, but Spain doesn’t try people in absentia.
The only Russian official facing possible charges is Vladislav Reznik, a member of Putin’s ruling United Russia party and the deputy head of the finance committee in the lower house of parliament. The complaint, earlier reported by Spain’s El Mundo and ABC newspapers, says Reznik helped the alleged leader of the enterprise, Gennady Petrov, get his associates appointed to key posts in Russia in exchange for assets in Spain. Prosecutors are seeking to confiscate a property they say Reznik owns on the resort island of Majorca.
Some of Vladimir Putin's closest allies, including the chairman of OAO Gazprom, a deputy premier and two former ministers, helped one of Russia's largest criminal groups operate out of Spain for more than a decade, prosecutors in Madrid say. Members of St.
Sweden’s Expressen reports that Sverker Göranson, the Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, announced yesterday that Russian military aircraft have been behaving increasingly aggressive over the Baltic, even using countermeasures, including flares, against Swedish fighters.
Göranson was speaking at a seminar in Almedalen, a park in Visby, Gotland, where politicians and government figures are speaking at a series of events as part of an annual, week-long political forum.
The Supreme Commander said that Russian military aircraft had, on several occasions, violated Swedish airspace and conducted large military exercises near the border.
This much is already known. Russian military flights have repeatedly approached or violated Swedish airspace over the last year, with one military aircraft, flying without transponders, coming within close proximity of a civilian airliner south of Malmo.
The European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank, released a report on Russian aerial provocations late last year, cataloguing incidents of Russian military activities in or near European territory.
On May 21 this year, the Swedish military reported that two Russian jets had been intercepted approaching the island of Oland, though the aircraft, reported to have been Tu-22 bombers, did not enter Swedish airspace.
However Göranson’s comments yesterday described far more dramatic and “aggressive behaviour” from Russian aircraft.
According to the Supreme Commander, Russian aircraft broke formation when flying close to Swedish fighters (posing a collision risk) and launched flares as countermeasures.
Flares are usually fired as countermeasures against infra-red seekers on homing missiles.
Russian Su-27 firing flares as part of an aerobatic display.
Göranson said that such behaviour violated the “code of conduct” for interactions between foreign military aircraft encounters.
He said that such behaviour was forcing the Swedish Air Force to re-evaluate their protocols for intercepting Russian aircraft due to the increased risk of an accident. It was, he said, a difficult task to balance safety concerns with the need to avoid being seen as weak in defending Swedish airspace.
Expressen reports that Jesper Tengroth, a press secretary for the Armed Forces, said that Russian aircraft had been recorded using flares on several occasions, one of which, Expressen learned, occurred last autumn.
Carl Bergqvist, a defence blogger and columnist at Expressen, commented that releasing flares in close proximity to other aircraft can cause major damage, for example by being sucked into engine intakes.
Aftonbladet, another Swedish tabloid, reported that Marie Tisäter, another spokesperson for the Armed Forces, had said that the Swedish Air Force would be revealing more details of such incidents on Wednesday.
The risk of collisions during intercepts was highlighted by a video recorded by the Royal Norwegian Air Force last year.
Yesterday the Norwegian Armed Forces released another video, compiling footage of intercepted Russian military aircraft over the Baltic since May 1 this year.
The Russian government is re-examining the 1991 decision to grant the Baltic states their independence at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, according to Ukraine Today, citing Interfax.
Interfax reports (translated by The Interpreter):
“The legality of the decision to recognise the independence of the Baltic states is flawed as it was taken by an un-constitutional body” [said a source familiar with the situation]. In their opinion, the answer to this appeal “would be the same as the inquiry into Crimea.” The agency’s source said that the Russian Prosecutor-General has already recognised the illegality of the decision inb1954 to transfer Crimea from the RSFSR to Ukraine, however, according to him, this decision does not have any real legal consequences.
“The Russian Prosecutor-General has only stated the fact that the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine under Nikita Krushchev did not take place on a constitutional bases because the relevant decisions were not taken by the authorised government bodies.”
According to him, “in the current circumstances and realities, there is no authoritive body that could reverse this decision.” “However there is no such need. Crimea is again part of Russia and the issue moved into the political sphere,” said the source.
However he thinks that the Prosecutor-General’s response to the inquiry must be “more balanced.” “Recognizing one or another fateful decision as illegal can go too far – down to the problem of the legitimacy of the foundation of the USSR and other states,” noted the source.
There, he suggests, when taking such decisions at the MPs’ request, “one must take into account not only the legal, but the political aspect of the issues raised.”
As Interfax points out, the decision to review the independence of the Baltics comes just one year after the independence of recently-annexed Crimea was also reviewed — and overturned. NATO has been raising warnings about Russia’s increasingly aggressive actions in the Baltics, and this new development will hardly place them more at ease. Ukraine Today reports:
Speaking during a trip to Lithuania in June Europe NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Phillip M. Breedlove said Russia’s next steps were unpredicatble [sic] and dangerous.
“We cannot fully be certain what Russia will do next, and we cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent but what we can and are doing is learning from his actions. In addition what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernisation and ambitious strategic intent.”
“In the east, Russia is blatantly attempting to change the rules and principles that have been the foundation of European security for decades. This challenge that’s posed by resurgent Russia is global, not regional, and is enduring, not temporary.”
— James Miller, Pierre Vaux
Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in a statement on his agency’s website that investigators would begin questioning people in order to explore pressing charges against businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky regarding the 1998 murder of the mayor of Neftegansk and other crimes.
As the Kremlin’s propaganda outlet Sputnik International reported:
“According to information obtained by the investigative committee,
head of Yukos Mikhail Khodorkovsky could have ordered this murder and a
number of other serious crimes,” committee spokesman Vladimir Markin
The committee is set to question people suspected of involvement
in these crimes, including Khodorkovsky, he added. “I don’t think his
absence from Russia will be an insurmountable obstacle to carry out all
necessary investigative actions.”
Markin specified that “most likely” Khodorkovsky would be interrogated along with others in an effort to expose those complicit in the murder of Mayor Vladimir Petukhov and other crimes.
Russian prosecutors have not been able to make these charges stick over the last decade during which they have twice brought criminal cases against Khodorkovsky involving claims of fraud and tax evasion, for which he served a total of 10 years in prison.
Not long before the completion of President Vladimir Putin’s second term, Khodorkovsky was pardoned by Putin and allowed to leave Russia to visit his dying mother. But since he was unable to gain guarantees that he could travel to and from Russia freely, Khodorkovsky has remained abroad in Switzerland as a political exile.
Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Vadim Klyugvant immediately declared Markin’s claims absurd, RBC.ru reported, citing TASS (translation by The Interpreter):
“I don’t comment on inventions and fantasies, even when they come from the Investigative Committee.”
Klyugvant explained that under Russian law, there is a list of circumstances under which an investigation of a case can be re-opened.
“So when the investigation deigns to inform us what new circumstances they have, then the defense will comment.”
Khodorkovsky’s press secretary Olga Pispanen also had no comment, adding that if the Investigative Committee had more information, additional commentary may be available.
Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov was murdered on the night of June 26, 1988, on Khodorkovsky’s birthday. Aleksei Pichugin, head of internal economic security for YUKOS and former head of security for MENATEP bank was accused of the murder, and convicted in 2000 to life imprisonment.
Nefteyugansk, a city in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District in Russia’s mid-south, was in the news yesterday regarding flooding and an oil spill at a subsidiary of Rosneft, which is under US sanctions for its role in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
(Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia which is funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.)
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick