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:
– Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
– – Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
– How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Investigation by Novaya Gazeta
– – How Stalin Returned to Russian Contemporary Life – Meduza
“This is a real shock for all of us. We’re getting to the bottom of it. We’re working with the investigation, providing all the necessary help, the official position of the ministry will be formulated in the very near future.”
He recalled an investigative report by the paper he founded, Pskovskaya Gubernaya, which outlined a scheme whereby a private company formed by the Culture Ministry passed through hundreds of millions of rubles despite only showing 10,000 rubles ($140) as their starting capital. The Pskov branch of the Yabloko Party, where Shlosberg is a member, has accused Pirumov’s predecessor, Konstantin Cherepennikov, of embezzlement of funds intended to restore Izborsk. Shlosberg says the figures involved are at least 60 million rubles ($853,265).
The restoration of Russia’s many cultural monuments has been an essential feature of the rule of President Vladimir Putin because they express Russian identity. In February, he scolded the Culture Ministry for lack of progress in restoration, The Arts Newspaper reported:
At a meeting of his presidential council for culture and art in December, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, chastised officials about the state of the country’s rich architectural heritage and listened to the impassioned activists who have been fighting to save Russia’s monuments. Putin called cultural heritage a cornerstone in “the preservation of historical memory” and expressed regret about recent conflicts over construction in historic areas and the destruction of monuments. He told officials to identify “gaps” in legislation and to work more closely with activists.
“[Activists] are usually the first to raise the alarm about the loss of or threat to monuments, but they are not always heard,” he said. “I ask the culture ministry to submit clear proposals for protecting monuments of federal, regional and local significance against destruction and barbaric treatment.”
Officials also argued at this meeting whether some of the Russian government’s big construction projects, such as one near the Solovetsky Monastery, site of the first GULAG camp, clash with its other priority of wanting to preserve and demonstrate Russia’s rich culture.
A major wrangle has broken out over a plan by patriotic activists in the state-supported Military Historical Society to erect a monument to St. Vladimir of Kievan Rus, the 10th-century prince regarded as the founder of Russia. The plans are part of a concerted effort to interpret history so as to justify the occupation of Crimea. Students at Moscow State University protested plans to place it near the university, tens of thousands of people signed petitions against it; even UNESCO weighed in, saying the giant statute would ruin views of the Kremlin.
Medinsky labelled those who opposed the St. Vladimir statute as “people who have not found themselves in life, from either indolence, idleness or absence of demand.”
The question is whether this case, like so many others, will begin to fall apart or whether those targeted will only serve short sentences, if convicted, as in the Oboroneksport case in which the former defense minister and his mistress were arrested.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
“Ilya Yashin’s report is saturated with slander, cynicism, unconscionable lies, duplicitous fabrications aimed at the head of the Chechen Republic, aimed at the heads of the executive and legislative authorities of the Chechen Republic. Thus, we are witness to the fact that time after time, the most delirious and offensive accusations are made about the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. And this is done publically.”
“We expected such a reaction from Kadyrov. Not for the first time he is trying to use the law-enforcement agencies as a lever of pressure on his opponents. A criminal case is an attempt to shut my mouth.”
“The nervous reaction of Kadyrov to my work testifies to the fact that I am doing a correct and useful thing, and the report has hit the target. And the more people learn about the truth of Kadyrov’s bandits, the more chances Russian society has for changes.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russia’s deputy minister for culture, Grigoriy Pirumov, has been detained this morning, as Federal Security Service (FSB) and law enforcement officers conduct searches at his Ministry.
The state-owned TASS news agency reported, citing an unnamed source, that Pirumov has been charged with embezzlement.
Earlier today, the FSB announced that a criminal case had been opened against “several senior officials” at the Ministry of Culture and a number of businessmen, “suspected of embezzling public funds allocated for the restoration of cultural heritage sites.”
The source said that searches were under way in practically every department of the Ministry, with all documentation related to construction and restoration works being seized.
Interfax notes that the restoration of Izborsk had been the subject of investigations by local journalists over the last few years.
Among those calling for the Investigative Committee to look into the situation was Lev Shlosberg, a local legislator who was assaulted after investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine and subsequently lost his mandate.
The Accounts Chamber, the Russian parliamentary financial control body, claims that no less than 60 million rubles (over 847 thousand US dollars) committed to the restoration work in Izborsk was unaccounted for.
Searches are also being carried out at the Baltstroy company, which was contracted to carry out the restorations.
— Pierre Vaux
The following headlines were taken from Gazeta, Interfax, Novaya Gazeta, and RBC:
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick