print
memri
August 24, 2017 No.
7065

Russia This Week – August 17-24, 2017

Russia This Week is a weekly review by the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project, surveying developing stories in Russian domestic affairs as presented in the Russian media.

In The News:

Famous Russian Director Serebrennikov Placed Under House Arrest


The Moscow Times summarized the case against prominent Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov as follows:

"Prominent Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov on Wednesday [August 23, 2017] was placed under house arrest as part of an embezzlement case widely seen as political.

"Serebrennikov was detained by law enforcement on Tuesday[August 22, 2017] and charged with embezzling 68 million rubles ($1.1 million) in government funds as part of the 'Platforma' project connected to Moscow's Gogol Center. He faces up to ten years in behind bars.

"Serebrennikov was sentenced to remain under arrest until Oct. 19.

"Speaking from a cage in the courtroom, Serebrennikov protested his innocence, describing the charges against him as 'incredibly absurd and impossible,' according to a Mediazona live feed from the courtroom.

"He asked the judge not to place him under house arrest, saying it would mean he would no longer be able to work. He added he was not a flight risk since law enforcement had earlier confiscated his passport.

"The crackdown against Serebrennikov began in May when his theater, the Gogol Center, was raided by law enforcement and Serebrennikov was detained by authorities for questioning. He was later named a witness in the case.

"Three former employees connected to the Gogol Center are also on trial, including an accountant who during a court hearing earlier this month accused Serebrennikov of being the mastermind of the alleged fraud scheme.

"Serebrennikov's lawyer called several prominent cultural figures to testify in the director's defense, including director Andrei Smirnov and literary figure Irina Prokhorova, who offered to pay his bail.

"As Serebrennikov pleaded not guilty to the charges, a crowd of around 200 people chanted 'Kirill!' and 'Freedom!' outside the courtroom. The crowd included some of Russia's most well-known cultural figures. 'This is a two-act performance which has been going on in Russia for a long time,' journalist and prominent commentator Sergei Parkhomenko told The Moscow Times outside the Basmanny Court.'The first act is that everyone is guilty. In Russia anyone who receives state funding is trapped, because it is impossible to comply with all the regulations, and consequently they're hung up by several hooks. The second act is such that is that any of these hooks can be pulled at any moment, either to exact bribes or to make a political statement.'

"Ahead of presidential elections next year, many within the upper echelons of Russia's cultural circles see Serebrennikov's case as politically motivated.

"Serebrennikov is widely believed to have the backing of Kremlin adviser Vladislav Surkov, feeding theories that the director's arrest is also part of an internal power struggle. But many outside the court on Wednesday said the director's arrest was meant to send a broader message. 'Those who are opposition-minded are being shown that nothing will save them, whether or not they're famous, talented, stupid, fat,' said Parkhomenko. 'The message is: 'If we want to snack on you, we'll eat you whole'.'

"Journalist Viktor Shenderovich compared the case to the prosecution of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was Russia's richest man until he was arrested in 2003 and jailed for more than a decade in a case widely seen as political. 'This sends a similar signal,' Shenderovich told the Dozhd television channel. 'Kirill is a director of world class and this is a clear signal ahead of elections: no world fame or proximity to the elite will save you from a repressive government if it decides to throw you under the bus.'

"Few assembled outside the courtroom on Wednesday [August 23, 2017] could explain why the award-winning director had become a target. 'That's for Kremlinologists [to explain,]' acclaimed journalist Leonid Parfyonov told The Moscow Times. 'There's no logic in it. Something you don't understand yourself is impossible to explain.'

"'Why Kirill? Because he stands out the most,' film director Anna Melikyan told Dozhd. 'The scariest thing is that we've stopped even being surprised'."

(Themoscowtimes.com, August 23, 2017)


See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7015, Russian Art Under Attack, July 18, 2017

Former Russian Economy Minister Ulyukayev's Trial

On August 16 the court in Moscow began hearing the case of former economic development minister Alexey Ulukayev, who was indicted for bribery. The prosecution maintains that Ulukayev demanded $2,000,000 from Igor Sechin, head of the Rosneft corporation and a close friend of Vladimir Putin, in return for delivering a positive governmental assessment on the merger between Rosneft and Bashneft. Allegedly, Ulukayev threatened Sechin to hamper other future deals in case the bribe is not paid.

According to the prosecution, Ulukayev demanded the money personally from Sechin during BRICS summit. Ulukayev denied the allegations, stressing that the bag with $2 million, which was allegedly delivered personally to him in the Rosneft office by Sechin was a staged provocation by the Federal Security Service based on a false premise. He also mentioned that he was subordinate to Sechin in terms of political clout and position and superiors do not need to bribe subordinates.

The next hearing is set for September.

(Novayagazeta.ru, August 16, 2017)

Following the indictment, Alexey Venedictov, editor in chief of Echo Moscow radio station, speculated on the courtroom clash between Ulukayev and Sechin: "The important thing is that until today only [Russian PM Dmitry] Medvedev and [Chechnyan President] Ramzan Kadyrov could publicly oppose Sechin. Sechin's political weight is so high, that no federal official could afford to challenge him – especially as he is backed by the FSB (Federal Security Service). So, who stands behind the weakened, ousted and arrested former minister, who allows himself to say so much? Ulukayev definitely understands all the risks involved in a frontal attack".

(Echo.msk.ru, August 17, 2017)

The Moscow Times summarizes the case as follows: "Alexey Ulyukayev, the first serving Russian minister to be arrested since the fall of the Soviet Union, appeared in a Moscow court on Wednesday [August 16, 2017] in what was the first hearing into accusations he solicited a bribe from the country's largest oil company.

"The former Economic Development Minister has been under house arrest since his detention in the dead of night last November after allegedly demanding $2 million to approve oil giant Rosneft's purchase of Bashneft. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

"Following a closed preliminary hearing at Moscow's Zamoskvorechye court Aug. 8, his house arrest was extended until Jan. 27. Ulyukayev was visibly thinner, telling journalisst he had lost 14 kilograms 'thanks to the Russian justice system.'

"He called the case 'a vile provocation,' meant to serve the interests of 'the corrupted part of the management and corrupted part of the security services.'

"On the same day, Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft who allegedly played a leading role in the sting operation against the former minister, was added to the case's witness list.

"Here are the main highlights from today's [August 16, 2017] hearing:

"Before the Hearing

"Ulyukayev entered the courtroom holding an e-book. He told journalists he was reading 'The Murder' by Russian literary giant Anton Chekhov.

"Asked by journalists how he ended up in his current situation he said: 'That's a long story. I lack the talent to describe it.'

"When the judge ordered several photographers and a reporter to leave the courtroom, Ulyukayev drily commented: 'Expulsion from paradise.'

"Asked whether he thought his case would end well, Ulyukayev cryptically replied: 'It will end well, from a historical point of view.'

"The Prosecutor's version: Bribe in Goa

"According to prosecutors, Ulyukayev exacted a $2 million bribe from Rosneft head Igor Sechin during a BRICS summit in October 2016 in Goa, India, to rubber-stamp Rosneft's purchase of a more than 50-percent stake in Bashneft.

"Sechin agreed, after which he notified law enforcement. On the day of Ulyukayev's detention, Sechin invited Ulyukayev to his office at 5 p.m. to hand over the cash. Ulyukayev took the suitcase and stepped into the car, after which he was detained by the FSB.

"The Defense

"Ulyukayev denied the accusation describing it as a 'set-up' by Sechin and Oleg Feoktistov, an FSB general and Rosneft's former head of security.

"Ulyukayev said the bag in which he supposedly received the cash was planted by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). 'Sechin called me on the pretext of discussing important matters and proposed that we meet. That's when the bag was given to me,' he said.

"The defense also claimed there was a new accusation that Ulyukayev had opposed the privatization of Bashneft in writing — a charge that has not been made before.

"The next hearing will be held on Sept. 1 at 10 a.m."

(Themoscowtimes.com, August 16, 2017)

ISIS Claims Responsibility For Stabbing Attack In Surgut, Russia

On August 19, 2017, A'maq, the news agency of the Islamic State (ISIS), reported that ISIS was behind the stabbing attacks in Surgut, Russia, in which seven people were injured on August 19, 2017. Citing a "security source," the report said that the perpetrator of the attack, who was gunned down by police, was "a soldier of the Islamic State."

(Telegram/NasherNews, August 19, 2017)

See MEMRI JTTM report "ISIS Claims Responsibility For Stabbing Attack In Surgut, Russia," August 19, 2017.

Terror Plot In Moscow

Russia's intelligence service, FSB, informed in a statement: "[The FSB] stopped activities of the terrorist group, which plotted a series of terrorist attacks in public places, including on transport and in Moscow's big shopping centers, which use of suicide terrorists and powerful explosives. In a special operation, were identified and detained members of a terrorist group, including a curator - an emissary of the Islamic State international terrorist organization, outlawed in Russia, who is a specialist in making explosives, and two suicide terrorists."

The Russian news agency also reported that the FSB had found in the Moscow region an explosives manufacturing laboratory. The FSB statement provided further details: "During the initial procedural actions, FSB learned the terrorist attacks had been plotted by leaders and emissaries of the Islamic State international terrorist organization, who are in Syria, including Nazarov T.M. and Sirindzhonov A.M. - head of the IS demolisher school, both are on the international wanted list."

(Tass.com, August 14, 2017)

Russia To Train Female Military Jet Pilots

For the first time in Russia's modern history, girls will be admitted to the Krasnodar aviation school for pilot training this year.

(Tass.com, August 12, 2017)

Russian 'Party Of Growth': It Is A Better Time For Putin To Step Down With Honor

The Russian "Party of Growth", long considered the artificial creation of former presidential administration first deputy and the current Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin to syphon off liberal votes, announced that it will hold primaries and nominate its own presidential candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

Dmitry Marinichev, member of party's central council, said:" I don't believe that we will be able to return to good relations with the West with Putin as a president. I don't believe that starting from 2018 president Putin is going to be beneficial for Russia. Only with a new person we can solve the accumulated heap of problems".

Aleksandr Khurudzhi, who plans to participate in the primaries, said:"2018 is a better time [for Putin] to leave with his head held up high". He added that Putin may continue consulting a new president from the sidelines. A changing of the guard was necessary because "During the last five years we are on our way down – they can deceive the people as much as they want, but the fact is that the number of work places has contracted, we've lost our competitive advantages (low taxes and cheap energy)". He added that Russia should stop "saber rattling all over the world".

Party of Growth chairman and Russian billionaire, Boris Titov, disassociated himself from Marinichev and Khurudzhi: "In this case [regarding Putin's leave] it's the personal opinions of some party members, who view their participation in the primaries in that way... But there are also other candidates, other positions. Many think that our best strategy for us is to support Vladimir Putin if he decides to put himself forward for a new term".

(Rbc.ru, August 10, 2017)

Right Wing Media Outlet Zavtra.ru: If Navalny Is No Longer An Alternative, He May Be 'Taken Out' Of The Game

If Navalny is no longer an alternative – he may be 'taken out' of the game In an interview to CBS news, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny said that there is a fifty-fifty probability that he will be assassinated. He later explained in an interview to Echo Moscow that he was kidding, and was channeling a well-known Russian joke about a blonde woman's assessment of the probability that she'll meet a dinosaur when she steps out onto the street. According to the original joke, which plays on the stereotype of blondes as mentally and educationally challenged, the blonde assigns a probability of 50-50: either she meets a dinosaur or not.

Oleg Schukin, an opinion writer for the far right internet magazine Zavtra.ru, adopts a conspiratorial approach to the exchange and claims that Navalny is more likely to be liquidated by the West than by Putin:

"Who will assassinate him? The answer is in a headline. If Navalny criticizes Putin, then Putin will 'kill' him. After all, in the informational matrix of the collective West Putin is a 'bloody tyrant', thus he ought to simply kill his opponents…

According to Schukin, American intelligence community higher ups write explicitly: 'We should make Russian oligarchs and top-managers, whom the Western sanctions are targeting, to understand that Putin is their problem, not ours... The U.S. president and his European colleagues should send a clear signal to those people: America does not care by what means they will solve the problem of Putin. If they are able to convince good old Vladimir to abandon the Kremlin step down with all the military honors and solemn salutes – great. If Putin is too stubborn to understand that his career is over – then he may have to be taken feet first out of the Krermlin with a bullet in his head that will be fine by us as well …'

"If Navalny is no longer an alternative to Putin (even a phantom one) then they will try to use him in a different way the Moor has done his duty the Moor can go– he may be 'taken out' of the game… Taking into consideration the massive announced and inevitable exodus of American cloak and dagger knights [spies] who operate under diplomatic cover, they can slam the door [behind Russia] by tossing yet another dead body of a Russian opposition figure at the Kremlin's [feet]. They [U.S. spies] not only can and want to do so but it is a matter of necessity for them.".

(Zavtra.ru, August 8, 2017)

News In Brief

  • Alexey Navalny has reacted to accusations made by blogger Sergei Udaltsov and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky that he is nurturing a a leadership cult. According to Khodorkovsky, in case Navalny wins the presidential elections, Russia will face yet again the "unpleasant system of the monopoly over the power and authority". Navalny advised Khodorkovsky to read his election platform. (Pravdareport.com, August 14, 2017, See full article)
  • Russia's Federal Security Service wants user data from registered instant messengers and social networks. (Meduza.io, August 11, 2017, See full article)
  • Russian news agency 'RBC' refuses to publish investigative report on a 'secret torture prison' allegedly operating outside Moscow (Meduza.io, July 24, 2017, See full article)
  • Russia's human rights commissioner says she doesn't believe that Moscow's 'secret torture prison' exists, but says that such prisons do exist in Ukraine (Meduza.io, July 26, 2017, See full article)
  • Media owner Demyan Kudryavtsev was stripped of his Russian citizenship. His family owns the business newspaper Vedomosti and several other news outlets, including The Moscow Times. (Meduza.io, July 21, 2017, See full article)