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.
Photo Of The Week
In a new Moscow trend, people have started masquerading as part of their daily routine such as for example riding the Moscow Metro. (Photo credit: Frank Herfort @FrankHerfort)
In The News:
MP Vitaly Milonov (representing the ruling United Russia Party) caused a storm when he made anti-Semitic comments in reference to the controversy surrounding the proposed return of the Isaakii church in St. Petersburg to the Russian Orthodox church.
Milonov, who has achieved notoriety for his blatant anti-gay positions, said that Christians have survived in spite of Jewish attempts to exterminate them. Two of the church restitution's major critics, (both members of the local city parliament) are indeed of Jewish extraction and Milonov personally targeted them and their ancestry: "Christians survived despite the fact that the ancestors of Boris Vishnevsky and Maksim Reznik boiled us in cauldrons and fed us to animals", said Milonov
(Mr7.ru, February 12, 2017)
Milonov subsequently apologized on his FB page: "Having paid attention to the unexpectedly stormy reaction and accusations of anti-Semitism, following a fragment of our sharp discussion regarding the restitution of the Isaakii Cathedral, I want to say that I had no intention of addressing ethnic and national issues or offending anyone on ethnic grounds... If my words offended anyone in an ethnic-national context I extend my apologies" said Milonov.
(Gazeta.ru, February 12, 2017)
Mikhail Rostovsky, a columnist for the newspaper Moskovskii Komsomolets writes that Milonov's remarks should be viewed together with previous anti-Semitic remarks uttered by Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy. Tolstoy's remarks about descendants of the Jewish Pale of Settlement vandalizing churches conveyed the same ideological message and were not an isolated mistake, but illustrated a trend. If this trend went unchecked by the highest echelons of Russian authorities, it could undermine Russia's very statehood. "This mine must be defused as soon as possible."
While Rostovsky's sources told him that Tolstoy's remarks aroused anger in the Kremlin administration Tolstoy was allowed to save face.
(Mk.ru/politics, February 13, 2017)
Vitaly Milonov (Image: Peoples.ru)
Vaycheslav Volodin, the Duma's speaker, subsequently said that such comments are unacceptable and that the parliament pays attention to them and there will be a proper response. "Any tensions in such delicate issues are, in my opinion, unacceptable we'll do everything to prevent them from arising". The Israeli Ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, claimed that such statements harm Russia-Israel relations. Volodin resisted calls to launch a criminal investigation against Milonov on the grounds that an MP "acting within his competence and within the law had the right to take decisions and make statements independently"
(Rbc.ru/rbcfreenews, February 15, 2017):
Moscow Chief Rabbi Irks Muslims, Apologizes
Pinkhas Goldshmidt, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow and the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, publicly apologized to Russian Muslims for statements that he made in a recent interview on RIA. The rabbi's videotaped apology was posted on the Instagram page of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, a powerful figure in Putin's Russia.
"I always insist on the necessity of avoiding generalizations, and clearly differentiating between radical and genuinely religious Islam, I am sorry that this time I myself was insufficiently cautious my wording and did not make necessary distinction which offended my colleagues. If I offended believers, I apologize, because I myself am a religious person. I am hoping for your understanding ".
In his February 8 interview, Goldshmidt commented on U.S. President Donald Trump's recent presidential order against migrants and defended the right of the U.S. to take security measures in the same fashion that European countries declared a state of emergency but then inserted the problematic sentence: "Today, actually 99 percent of terrorists are Muslims"., a remark that provoked indignation amongst Muslims (although in the same interview the rabbi condemned the Swiss ban on minarets as a surrender to populism).
(Ria.ru, February 8, 2017)
Rabbi Goldschmidt (Source:Ou.org)
The following Saturday Chechen Republic mufti Salah Mezhiev replied on his Instagram: "Instead of wasting time on calculating the percentage of terrorists among Moslems, the rabbi should remember history and recount the fact that in a span of over 60 years, radical Jews exterminated peaceful Palestinians, brazenly seized the land of Palestine, burnt villages, expropriated property and culture, a continuous process of genocide against an entire people is proceeding. Hence, the Zionist invaders have no equal in terrorism and extremism, as their ferocity towards peaceful Moslems is boundless".
"Before drawing such sharp conclusions, I would advise Rabbi Pinkhas to think rather than give vent to racist sentiments, otherwise there will be consequences"
Mezhiev warned about conflating terrorism with a particular religion in general: It is impermissible to define terrorism and extremism, by calling it Islamic, Judaic or Christian, indeed the terrorists have no nation".
Salah Mezhiev (Source: Themoscowtimes.com)
Kadyrov's comment on Goldshmidt's apology was conciliatory. "I believe that it is necessary to draw a line under the discussion on Pinkhasa Solomonovich [Goldschmidt]'s interview.
Navalny Convicted In Retrial, Pledges To Continue Presidential Campaign
Following a retrial prompted by the European Court of Justice, a court in Kirov again found Aleksey Navalny guilty of embezzlement in the Kirovles case and imposed a five-year suspended sentence.
Navalny's co-defendant in the retrial, Pyotr Ofitserov, also received a suspended sentence of four years. The court also obligated Navalny and Ofitserov to pay 500,000-ruble fines each. Navalny said that he will protest the court's ruling.
"We disagree with this sentence. It is an exact replica of the sentence that followed the first trial. We will appeal the sentence," Navalny said in the courtroom.
"We do not recognize this sentence. It will be overturned. I will participate in elections. Right now I am taking part in an election campaign," he said. "This sentence violates the European Court’s verdict. That verdict has not been enforced. We are expecting the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to react and to overturn the sentence passed today," lawyer Vadim Kobzev said.
(Tass.com/politics, February 8, 2017)
Alexsey Navalny has stated that his conviction in the Kirovles case would not pose a legal impediment that would disqualify him from competing in the Russian presidential election.
"Russia’s Constitution says that those kept in the places of detention are not eligible to run in elections. However, according to the verdict, I will not be sent to prison, which means that I have a right to stand for election," he said.
Navalny also said he will ask the Constitutional Court to reconsider the legal rule that prohibits him from contesting the Russian presidency as long as his suspended prison term remains effective.
"We will be lodging complaints with all courts, including the Constitutional Court. We will protest the legal rule our opponents refer to because it is unconstitutional," he said.
(Tass.com/politics, February 8, 2017)
Aleksey Navalny (Source: Commonswikimedia.org)
Mikhail Barshevsky, the Russian governmental representative in the High Constitutional Court is convinced that Navalny is mistaken and he will be unable to participate in the 2018 presidential elections since his conviction is now final. The court must lift his criminal record to allow him to run.
(Echo.msk.ru, February 8, 2017)
Navalny and other would be presidential candidates may be facing another obstacle. MPs from Vladimir Zhrinovsky's nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia have submitted a proposal, which if passed, would limit the nomination of presidential candidates exclusively to parties represented in the parliament. In the current legal situation extra-parliamentary parties may select presidential candidates and participate in the elections, but a precondition for getting the candidate on the ballot is the submission to the elections committee of a form signed by a 100 thousand supporters. A single lacking similar party backing can also compete in the presidential elections but for him the bar is even higher. The form that he submits must be signed by 300 thousand supporters to the election committee. The proposed legislation would short-circuit even this narrow path.
(Echo.msk.ru, February 6, 2017)
According to Moscow's general prosecution office, during 2016, 1213 bribery cases were registered and investigated in the city –totaling 15 billion rubles of corruption damage. .
(Vedomosti.ru, February 16, 2017)
Strange But True:
"Juvenile extremism": A 16-year-old minor may face a trial, and if convicted, a five-year prison term and a stiff fine for creating a public domain on a Russian social network. The prosecution found that one of the posts on the site includes materials which "demean the human dignity of people on the basis of nationality or their belonging to a social group "representatives of the authorities". The investigators have already visited his home and school. Demeaning the human dignity of a particular group falls under the anti-extremism law and imply 5 years of imprisonment plus a heavy fine.
( Echo.msk.ru, February 13, 2017)
The head of the regulatory agency Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications), Aleksandr Zharov, believes that children under the age of 10 should not be exposed to the internet at all, while more mature children should be limited to at most 2 hours of daily internet use, because extensive internet use may expose them to bullying or victimization and allow evil minded people to penetrate the family's personal space. Moreover, the official is convinced that smartphones conduct unfriendly surveillance of their owners and therefore recommends the old-fashioned methods of committing everything important to paper instead of saving it in the smartphones.
( Echo.msk.ru, February 14, 2017)
MP Irina Belyh ( United Russia party ) has submitted a draft proposal to the Duma that would prohibit MP's from holding public meetings with their voters without a prior authorization from the local executive authority. Technically the proposal equalizes the status of public meetings between MP's and their voters to "public demonstrations" which require prior authorization by local executive officials under Russian law.
(Vedomosti.ru, February 5, 2017)