LIVE UPDATES: A series of arrests and searches in Russia related to yet another oligarch in Russia has analysts wondering if President Vladimir Putin is “sweeping out” the “oligarchs’ club” before elections in less than two weeks.
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:
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– RBC Publishes Report Sourced in FSB and Military on Wagner Private Military Contractor with 2,500 Fighters in Syria
– Russian Parliamentary Elections Round-Up: Open Russiaâs Baronova Registered; Shevchenko Disqualified
– The Kremlin is Working Hard to Make Donald Trump President
His relatives feared that he had joined the long list of critics of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who have disappeared or have been imprisoned, or that he would turn up after recanting on television, as other critics of Kadyrov have been forced to do.
Indeed, Martagon resurfaced this week, appearing on television with a police chief and insisting that everything was fine, Caucasian Knot, a regional news service reported.
On September 3, he called his family and then contact was lost with him again. On September 4, he returned home to find investigators waiting for him, who, as Yelena Milashina of Novaya Gazeta reported on her Facebook page, “knew before he did that he would be released.”
Then that same day, Martagov appeared on the Grozny TV channel stating that he had been at an old friend’s house and had celebrated his birthday, and his grandson’s birth.
Shamil Kutsayev, chief of the Nadterechny District Police, a former Interior Ministry officer, appeared with him on the show, which was filmed in an apartment that Martagov rents in the town of Znamenskoye in the Nadterechny district.
Martagov said on TV that he was not abducted, and that it was just a coincidence that he seemed to be missing. He said an old friend called him and asked him to celebrate his birthday, and while they were up talking together in the middle of the night, his friend got the news that a grandson was born.
“Naturally, our stress relief continued at an even stronger pace,” he joked, and the police chief smiled, “Everything is clear.” Martagov said he forgot to call home.
While on the TV show, Martagov said various web sites such as Kavkaz Center and publications such as Kavkaz Pravdy (Truth) will “write all sorts of things”; when they reported he was abducted, then “the finger is pointed at the government automatically,” he said. Martagov apologized for causing people to worry.
Local observers believe the program was staged and don’t believe that there was any old friend with a birthday — or a grandson. “This is how they force critics of the current government to ‘recant’; everyone knows that well, and there are numerous examples of this,” a leader of a local NGO told Caucasian Knot on condition of anonymity.
Another Chechen activist who gave only his first name, Aslan, said that the authorities were trying to make it appear that Martagov went on a binge with his friend, but in fact his disappearance was more likely related to his criticism.
An official at a Chechen ministry who gave her name as Zarema told Caucasian Knot that the main thing was that Martagov was found alive, and the rest didn’t matter.
Caucasian Knot recalled a similar incident last year when Taita Yunusova, head of a civic group called Zhivaya Nit’ [Living Thread], a documentary film-maker, was reported to have been abducted October 10, 2015, and then later released home. On October 11, Yunusova denied that she was abducted. But human rights lawyers and a political commentator said at the time that they did not believe her denial, because of the pervasive atmosphere of fear in Chechnya.
Human Rights Watch released a report last month describing the campaign against critics in Chechnya, who are hounded and publicly humiliated, and who have had their homes torched. Some have appeared on TV making profuse apologies to Kadyrov.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Yesterday September 5, Interfax reported that the Levada Center had announced that it was under threat of closure after being included in the “foreign agents” list.
The notice appeared yesterday on the Justice Ministry’s web site after a snap inspection.
Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center told TV Rain (translation by The Interpreter) yesterday:
“In reality, this will mean the destruction of independent sociological research in the country. There are simply no other organizations left. Of course we will contest this decision but you yourself understand that we don’t have much of a chance.”
Both the law and its application have involved an overly-broad notion of what constitutes “political activity” — this can mean a public discussion, an exhibit, a petition or — as it turns out — an opinion poll, regardless of whether those involved are running in elections or representing political parties.
Only 31% of Russians polled August 26-29 in a sample of 1,600 people from 48 regions said they were prepared to vote for United Russia candidates; this figure was down from 39% from the previous poll.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
A series of arrests and searches in Russia related to yet another oligarch in Russia has analysts wondering if President Vladimir Putin is “sweeping out” the “oligarchs’ club” before elections which are less than two weeks away.
Translation: Vekselberg has fallen into disfavor? Sources have dried up? Usually the team is briefed about the “raid” and prepared for the “blow.”
The Renova company, owned by the 7th richest person in Russia, Viktor Vekselberg, president of the Skolkovo Foundation, was searched by masked spetsnaz on Friday, September 2, 7:40 na Perrone and Currenttime.TV reported.
Mikhail Slobodin, head of the telecommunications company Vympelkom since 2013 and also a member of the board of directors of T-Plus, also figures in this case. As soon as he found out he was wanted by police, he left his post and told Vedomosti that he would return to Russia at the end of the week and answer investigators’ questions.
TASS reported that Slobodin is in London. Slobodin also served as vice president of TNK-BP Management from 2011-2013; TNK-BP was once Russia’s third-largest oil company and partnered with the UK’s BP, but after a series of corporate disputes and legal problems, it was acquired in 2013 by Rosneft, headed by Igor Sechin, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin.
Translation: They could have drawn a picture for the President of a greedy “oligarch” (Vekselberg is no. 7 on the Forbes list).
The owner of the Vorkuta TES is T-Plus. According to Legal Report, Vekselberg himself is not under investigation.
Translation: Billionaire Vekselberg has gotten a “black mark” from the Kremlin.
Translation: Oh, look who they nabbed! #Vekselberg , @myslobodin (the latter BTW was writing on Twitter only yesterday, 04.09.16).
Skolkovo Foundation, the project to create a “Silicon Valley” in Russia started by former president and now prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, has been searched and investigated and its managers targeted. Vekselberg, who has served as president of Skolkovo Foundation, was initially cited as a target of the investigation. Ilya Ponomarev, a former MP in the opposition and a consultant for Skolkovo, was accused of being overpaid for lectures and seminars and ultimately fled Russia fearing unjust prosecution. But Vekselberg remains as president and the investigation appears to be suspended.
Vekselberg himself told RBC he had invested US $100 million of his own money in Skolkovo in five years.
According to LifeNews, Fayershteyn committed suicide, but the Investigative Committee said at that time it was verifying this information. Fayershteyn was one of 15 suspects accused of money-laundering in the company Metlizing (leasing). The others included the deputy head of the Komi Republic, the deputy chair of the government, the speaker of parliament, and a senator from Komi, all of whom were arrested
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick