More Than Half of Russians Support Their Relatives’ Armed Service

February 18, 2016
Russian soldiers fire warning shots at the Belbek air base, outside Sevastopol, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Photo by Ivan Sekretarev/AP

LIVE UPDATES: More than half of Russians support their close relatives’ desire to serve in the army, according to a new poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion

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.

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Man Detained For Calling In Bomb Threat To Presidential Administration; Said To Be Mentally Ill; Sberbank Also Threatened

Police detained a man suspected of calling in the bomb threat to the presidential administration building, Interfax reported, citing a source in law-enforcement.
Among his papers were documents that proved he suffered from a psychiatric ailment, said the policeman.
The bomb was said to be located on the Ilyinka street side of Staraya Square.
The Federal Protective Service (FSO) said they found no bomb.
But authorities didn’t explain if this suspect was the same person who called in threats to 9 supermarkets and also Sberbank’s headquarters.

News has just been released about the threat to the bank at No. 19 Vavilova Street. Police are checking the premises, but employees have not been evacuated.
Ultimately, 11,000 were evacuated from 12 Ashan supermarkets. There were conflicting reports about the status of GUM, as people were evacuated but it was said not to be closed. 
Last Saturday, February 13, 7,000 people were evacuated from three Moscow shopping centers but no bomb was found.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

10,000 Shoppers Evacuated from Moscow Stores Due to Bomb Threats

Moscow authorities have evacuated more than 10,000 people from multiple shopping centers after bomb threats were made to Moscow’s largest shopping center GUM and 9 Ashan stores, a popular chain, TASS reported.

Earlier, as we reported, a bomb threat was made to the presidential administration building at 4, Staraya Square. 

Sergei Devyatov, the official representative of the Federal Protection Service (FTO), told TASS that the bomb threat at the presidential administration was “fake.” He said that the caller’s identity had already been established, and no bombs were found. The building was searched, but not evacuated, he said.

Meanwhile, there was mayhem at 9 supermarkets where evacuations were carried out and are still underway.

The news site MosLenta has been live-blogging social media reports about the evacuations.
A three-year-old girl was separated from her mother and lost; police and 15 dogs searched for her until they eventually found her in the candy aisle.
Customers abandoned their carts and left, but many were indignant at the inconvenience and made it known on Russian-language social media. Store workers were not sent home but kept near the sits and given blankets.
“We’re sitting here and playing Crocodile,” a  clerk posted on VKontakte (VK), Russia’s most popular social network. The VK mobile game consists of having a computer chose a random word for one player, who then draws a picture on his phone to illustrate the word, and other players guess it. Clerks from a number of locations posted that they were playing the game, and didn’t seem to question why they couldn’t go home.

2016-02-18 19:35:44

Photo by Roza Vetrov

Several video footages indicate the announcement to evacuate was made over loudspeakers in both Russian and English and spoke only of “technical difficulties.” (see at 21:54).

A boy who didn’t take the announcements seriously is shown chanting “Panic, panic, bomb, bomb” and an older woman is chastising him and telling him to leave before he gets locked in. 

An store called Mega Belaya Dacha (Mega White Cottage) and another one called Atrium were said to have received threats but later officials denied this, TASS reported.

An Instragram user feel1ke said the abandoned store felt “a little like the zombie apocalypse.”

2016-02-18 19:44:36

The effect of the mass evacuation of the shopping centers — and this may have been calculated — was to make people forget that the government itself had been threatened in a phone call.

 — Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Owner of Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport Arrested for Negligence in 2011 Terrorist Attack
Russian businessman Dmitry Kamenshchik, essentially the owner of Moscow’s domestic Domodedovo Airport, has been arrested today on charges of negligence that led to the 2011 terrorist attack on the airport, which killed 37 and wounded 172, reported.
Kamenshchik’s imminent arrest has been discussed for days, including by himself, as three other airport officials have been arrested on these charges
They will be tried on charges of violating Art. 238, part 3 of the Russian Criminal Code, “performing work or providing services causing the deaths of two or more persons due to negligence.”
Investigators said that a new system of inspection of luggage outside the airport building made it vulnerable to attack by Magomed Yevloyev, the terrorist who hid the bomb under his clothing and then set it off, dying himself in the explosion.
Igor Trunov, a prominent lawyer who represents the families of the victims, has crusaded to have arrests and compensation of the attack. He says there is evidence that neither metal or gas detectors were in operation at the airport.
Russian investigators attempted to find the ultimate owner of the airport through the companies East Line and Hacienda Investments, and found that the company had put Kamenshchik’s name as the beneficiary on the site of the London Stock Market when they were preparing for an IPO.
The terrorist attack was said to be organized by the head of Doku Umarov, head of the Caucasus Emirate, killed in 2013 by Russian forces, and various members of his group; ultimately authorities found 28 members, and killed 17 of them, and arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment 5 of them. The rest escaped and were declared wanted.
This is the first case in Russia where anyone has been charged with negligence related to a terrorist attack committed by militants, although in the many instances of such attacks in the last 15 years under Putin’s rule, there have been numerous complaints of law-enforcers themselves proving negligent and worsening crises by refusing to negotiate with hostage-takers. President Vladimir Putin himself has been accused of responsibility for the apartment bombings, and some of those who have made the accusations have died under mysterious circumstances.
In the case of Kamenshchik, there’s also speculation that the arrest is being used as a form of raid on the company to enable the state to take it over, as in the case of Vladimir Yevtushenkov, former owner of Bashneft.
Translation: D. Kamenshchik, owner of the Domodedovo Airport, has been arrested. It will as with Yevtushenkov. After Domodedevo is given away to their friends, they’ll let him go.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Authorities Evacuate GUM, Ashan Stores After Bomb Threats
Following bomb threats by anonymous callers to multiple locations, authorities have evacuated shoppers and workers from GUM, Moscow’s largest shopping center, and also five Ashan stories, and Interfax reported.
A source told Interfax that Ashan received bomb threats at 9 locations, and decided to evacuate people from only 5 of them.

As we reported, bomb threats were also made in a call to the presidential administration at No. 4 Staraya Square.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Bomb Threat at Russian Presidential Administration
Agents are inspecting the presidential administration on Starya Square in Moscow this evening after bomb threats were telephoned in, and Interfax report, citing a law-enforcement source.
The Federal Protection Service (FSO), responsible for guarding Russian leaders and the Kremlin, was conducting the inspection.

A worker in the building told Interfax that cars from various agencies are parked outside the building now, but employees remain working in the building.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Russia Formally Announces that S-300s Not Ready for Delivery Yet; Iran Will Not Cut Oil Production
Yesterday we reported that TASS published a statement from a source in Russia’s Defense Ministry that the S-300s to be purchased from Russia and sent to Iran in fact were not going to be delivered today, as had been erroneously reported by RIA Novosti and other state media. 

Peskov said the Iranians did not have the cash to pay for the anti-aircraft system. RIA had even claimed that the Iranian Defense Minister who just visited Moscow and met with President Vladimir Putin earlier this week was going to be present at a send-off ceremony at an Astrakhan port. The Defense Minister said there was no such ceremony.

Today, Dmitry Peskov, presidential administration spokesman made the news official: Russia will not be delivering the S-300s any time soon, reported.

 “It is premature for now to speak about specific time periods. There are no such time periods. There are problems related to payment; it has not yet been paid in the proper way.”

Clearly, the issue of the actual timetable of the S-300s manufacture and delivery is something the Russian government misleads about when suited — in recent months, Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin, in charge of the military and space programs, has repeatedly said the S-300s were just about to be delivered or were already on their way. The agreement in principle about the ability of the deal, stalled for a time over sanctions, to go forward has repeatedly been overstated as a rapid time-table for delivery.
So why did the Russian state media make it seem yesterday as if the champagne bottle was just about to be smashed on the bow of the ship to take the S-300 systems to Iran?
Since the story was sourced in the Iranian general staff and defense ministry, was this an effort by the Iranians to force Russia’s hand as the Kremlin may have been foot-dragging on the deal?
Or were the systems really sent, but it was not supposed to be publicized, and RIA disclosed a state secret?
Which state media can be believed? The statement by Peskov from the Kremlin itself should settle it — unless, of course, it’s disinformation, and we can never know.
But what could really be going on?
Iran, and the Russian arms manufacturers who make the S-300s and stand most to benefit may have put out the story — which may even have been about plans actually in the works — to force the hand of those in the Kremlin who didn’t want the delivery to go forward. (While it’s true that Russian plants would need time to make the S-300s, there have been indications that they might take some initially destined for Syria and give them to Iran.)
Iran needs the anti-aircraft systems more than Russia needs to sell them — although Russia needs the cash, and is happy to have its ally, especially its fellow fighter in the war in Syria, appear stronger, and with Moscow’s help (and the dependency on Moscow that comes with such help.)
But Iran is something of a “frenemy” for Russia in some senses, as it is about to produce more oil and directly compete with Russia on the world market. Russian officials usually dismiss this as a concern as Sputnik, the Kremlin’s foreign propaganda arm did today.
Yesterday another story about Iran was buried under the coverage of the defense minister’s trip to Moscow. Iran has announced that it will not unilaterally cut its oil production as other OPEC members have said they would in talks with Russia, reported. As it is just getting back in the oil delivery business, it seems no reason to do that. Oil prices were high when Iran was under sanctions; OPEC countries produced more oil and then the price went down, and now they come looking for Iran to join them, although “the responsibility for the fall in oil price’s is not Iran’s,” Tehran’s OPEC representative complained.

Sputnik simply ignored Iran’s statement and falsely claimed today that Iran was joining the oil cut plan when it is not; Sputnik even indicated that a new strategic cooperation between Russia and Iran who “understand that oil is a strategic commodity beyond its pricing significance” that would help split OPEC away from Saudi dominance. 

Russia’s energy minister Novakov had to walk back his initial enthusiastic report of meetings with OPEC last week to say that only 4 members of OPEC were going to actually cut production — and therefore help world prices of oil go up. Yet the Kremlin has not made a formal announcement, and Peskov ducked reporters’ questions yesterday and referred them back to Novakov.

Russia media enthusiastically reported last week that Brent crude oil prices had “jumped to $35” at the news of the Russian meeting with OPEC and then reported the “jump to $35” all over again, although in fact the dip and jump only back to $35 showed how tepid the markets were responding. 

Russia has had difficulty lining up the OPEC ducks — in January, OPEC sources were leaking to social media that Saudi Arabia had not agreed — as Russia was claiming — to a 5% reduction.

Yesterday February 17, Novak said he and other OPEC ministers would hold talks with Iran and Iraq, Vzglyad reported, after he met February 16 with Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and others; this time Novakov said Saudi Arabia agreed to the cut.

One had to go back to the Western media to see what really happened.  The Financial Times explained that Saudi Arabia had a caveat — they would join the freeze if they are joined by other large oil producers:

The speed of the deal between the Opec powerbroker and the world’s largest crude oil producer surprised the market but traders remained sceptical that the provisional agreement would gain wider acceptance. Opec member Iran is seen as the biggest stumbling block.

The deal was reached at a behind-closed-doors meeting in Doha with Opec members Qatar and Venezuela.

And as the New York Times explained, the output freeze has a catch — attracting OPEC unity.

But whether the plan actually goes anywhere — or is just chatter meant to bolster prices — is an open debate. The four countries said they would proceed only if others commit.

It is not an easy sell.

The plan, which also included Venezuela and Qatar, is a tentative sign that major oil producers are ready to cooperate. And it indicates how deeply prices have fallen, as Russia and Saudi Arabia have previously resisted tempering production.

Of course there are some commentators who say all of these maneuvers don’t matter in a world where the new domination of US shale oil has changed the dynamics for good. When Russian leaders put out propaganda overstating Moscow’s influence and achievements in oil diplomacy, they are not just trying to convince their weary public, but perhaps themselves as well.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

More Than Half of Russians Support Their Relatives’ Armed Service

More than half of Russians support their close relatives’ desire to serve in the army, according to a new poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), reports.

In 2015, 57% of those polled said they supported their close relatives’ military service, a slight increase from 53% in 2014 and a substantial increase from 2010, when only 36% declared such support.

The theory for some Western analysts has been that as more and more Russian soldiers are wounded or die in the wars in Ukraine and Syria, Russian public opinion will be galvanized to protest against the Kremlin’s aggression.

But given how the wars are accompanied with patriotic propaganda campaigns and disinformation on state TV about how the wars got started and are continued, Russians appear to support the concept of armed service only more, even for their own sons, brothers, and fathers.

In the most recent poll, 31% did not support armed service for their relatives and 12% said they were were undecided.
Even those who did not support such service for their own family conceded its purported benefits; 67% said the army “gave a person new opportunities, enabled him to find himself and establish himself in life,” said the pollsters.
The pollsters did not appear to have pointedly asked if those polled would be willing to sacrifice their relatives in battle, although that is implied. Another poll said 67% of Russians feared armed conflicts between countries most of all.
As we noted in our report last year, at least 500 Russian soldiers were confirmed as killed in Ukraine as of July 2015; since that time, the list has doubled although many new cases are not confirmed. But because the cases are spread out over Russia’s vast expanses, and the authorities do everything to suppress and even punish journalists, law-makers and NGO activists who try to raise combat deaths, the public impact of such losses in terms of policy is minimal.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick