Russia This Week is a weekly review by the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project, reviewing developing stories in Russian domestic affairs as presented in the Russian media.
In The News:
Memorable Political Tweets By Russian Presidential Hopeful Sobchak
Ksenia Sobachak (Source: Twitter.com)
The independent Russian media outlet Meduza reviewed "the most memorable" political tweets by Ksenia Sobchak, who announced her intention to run for Russian president in the 2018 elections. Meduza's review, titled "Move over, Trump. A Russian Twitter celebrity wants the nuclear codes, too – Behold presidential hopeful Ksenia Sobchak's tweets about protests, Putin, Crimea, and politics," shows in certain cases Sobchak's low level of interest in politics.
On October 20, in an interview with The Guardian (October 20, 2017), Sobchak said that she has no political program. "I have no political weight, and I haven't earned the right to launch some kind of political program or stand as a candidate," said Sobchak, after declaring she wants to run for president.
See Meduza's review of Soback's tweets, Move over, Trump. A Russian Twitter celebrity wants the nuclear codes, too – Behold presidential hopeful Ksenia Sobchak's tweets about protests, Putin, Crimea, and politics, Meduza.io, October 20, 2017.
Reactions To Sobchak's Statement That Crimea Belongs To Ukraine
On October 24, Sobchak told a news conference: "Crimea belongs to Ukraine, from the point of view of international law." The Russian news agency Tass explained that Sobchak "believes that Russia broke the 1994 Budapest memorandum by admitting Crimea's reunification with it."
Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky stated that the Russian authorities should start a criminal case over Sobchak's claim. Zhirinovsky said: "How is it that, at a semi-official level, a lady eager to participate in the presidential election comes on the scene [and] says that Crimea is Ukrainian? That's a crime... Isn't there an article in the Criminal Code? The Prosecutor-General must launch a criminal case, the Investigative Committee must do the same and take it to court to have her jailed for five years or so... Imagine what people in Crimea must feel like today. That's nonsense, but nobody seems to be able to muzzle her."
(Tass.com, October 25, 2917)
Navalny And The Presidential Campaign
Alexey Navalny (Facebook.com/navalny)
The head of the department for supervision of observance of human rights and freedoms at the Russian prosecutor-general's office, Larisa Kopteva, said that Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has no "legal rights" to participate in any election (municipal, regional, legislative and presidential), since he was given a five-year suspended sentence as part of the embezzlement case. Under Russian law, citizens cannot participate in an election if they have been convicted of high-level felonies.
It is worth noting that Navalny was freed on October 22, after 20 days in jail. Navalny was arrested on the eve of a large protest rally on October 7, held the day of Russian President Vladimir Putin's 65th birthday. It is worth noting that despite Navalny's arrest, several hundred people rallied in Moscow and in Putin's hometown, St. Petersburg. Other rallies were held all over Russia.
(Tass.com, October 24, 2017)
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7133, Russian Liberal Newspaper 'Novaya Gazeta:' The FSB Trumps The President's Administration On 2018 Presidential Elections, October 15, 2017.
See also Russian police officer gets into heated argument with Navalny supporter and threatens to murder him, Meduza.io, October 24, 2017.
Ella Pamfilova, chair of the Russian Central Elections committee, commented on Navalny's candidacy: "On the one hand, they [Navalny and his supporters] interpret the law in a false way, while on the other hand they say 'Who is Pamfilova? What is Central Elections Committee? We'll take guys whom we have previously brainwashed to the streets, [and] pressure the authorities, so the authorities will definitely become afraid.' Will I be afraid? I'm a woman who's been to all warzones, looked death in the eyes. I will not allow – under any pressure – violation of the law, whether it is a good or a bad law. Let me tell you, as a chairwoman of the Central Elections Committee, there is a law and the Constitution... You know, despite the fact that Navalny is on probation, according to the law his felony is defined as severe – people who committed severe crimes cannot run for the presidential elections... He will be able – after the 10-year term – sometime in 2028 plus five months, to officially run. How old is he? He's got a whole life in front of him. So, he should count only on that..."
(Interfax.ru, October 17, 2017)
The BBC Russian service quoted an unidentified source in the Russian Presidential Administration as stating that the Kremlin had made up its mind not to register Navalny as an official candidate for the 2018 elections.
(Bbc.com, October 17, 2017)
Presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the BBC Russian service's remarks. According to RIA, Peskov said that the Central Elections Committee's position on Navalny's candidacy is well known and that there is nothing left to discuss.
(Ria.ru, October 18, 2017)
Echo Moscow Attack
Tatyana Felgengauer (Source: Khodorkovsky.com)
- On October 23, Tatyana Felfenhauer, deputy editor-in-chief of the radio station Echo Moscow, was stabbed with a knife at the radio station's studio. The attacker was identified as Boris Grits, a dual Russian-Israeli citizen. According to the authorities, the attack was an action of a madman. The Kremlin urged the public to avoid linking the Echo Moscow attack to political intrigue (Tass.com, October 24, 2017; read full article)
- Felfenhauer was hospitalized and doctors put her into an induced coma. Her vocal cords were not affected. (Kkhodorkovsky.com, October 26, 2017)
- Doctors said that Felfenhauer's life is not in danger. (Tass.com, October 23, 3017; read full article)
- Following the attack on Felfenhauer, Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the liberal media outlet Novaya Gazeta, decided to "arm" his journalists in the newsroom so they can protect themselves from attacks. (Echo.msk.ru, October 25, 2017)
- Grits will be kept in custody until December 23, 2017. (Kkhodorkovsky.com, October 26, 2017)
The website of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky commented: "It has not yet been medically proven whether Grits [the attacker] has any problems with his psychological health, and so it is difficult to attribute any solid motive to the attack at this point. Nevertheless, the attack shocked Moscow’s journalistic community, which faces frequent threats and, in many cases, actual attacks. Independent journalist Yulia Latynina, who also hosts a weekly radio show at Echo Moscow, was forced to flee the country in September after attackers set fire to her car.
"Latynina penned an article soon after the attack on Tatyana Felfenhauer at Echo Moscow; in it she posed the question 'Was Grits just a psychopath, or a psychopath being used by someone?' Latynina drew attention to the vast evidence that the manipulation of psychopaths in order to carry out attacks has historically been not an uncommon tactic for various secret security services.
"Aleksey Venediktov, Echo Moscow editor-in- chief, also stated that history shows plenty of examples where the authorities deliberately opened the door to mad people, not always knowing what consequences it could bring.
"Boris Grits stated that he had had telepathic contact with Felfenhauer since 2012. He also claimed that for the last couple of months she had 'sexually harassed' him. 'She plagued me every night using telepathic contact.'
"Journalists also discovered that Boris Grits was writing an online diary that included several entries about Felfenhauer. The latest one was just three days before the attack. Some of his writings claimed that Tatyana was 'looking for opportunities to affect my heart. She has been experimenting with stopping my breath for a long time already. She is not using me only for sexual harassment, she is threatening my life.' He wrote that he was seeking the help of a psychic. He noted that he was coming to Moscow in several weeks' time and that if Felfenhauer did not stop, the consequences could be harmful for her.
"Former colleagues of Grits claim that he does not suffer from psychological illness. However, his relatives claim that in the last couple of years Grits had begun to develop severe problems and often complained that he was being followed.
"Russian Union of Journalists head Vsevolod Bogdanov denied the possibility that the attack was carried out on political grounds. However, in contrast to this, the independent Union of Journalists claimed that the state TV channel 'Russia 24' must bear some of the responsibility, as it has repeatedly accused 'Echo Moscow', as well as Felfenhauer in particular, of cooperating with foreign nonprofit organizations (officially classed as 'foreign agents' in Russia). 'We believe that stories such as these stir up aggression and anger towards our colleagues, and they could have provoked an unstable person to carry out an attack on Felfenhauer.'
"Attempts have been made to strengthen security at Echo Moscow, especially after numerous attacks on Yulia Latynina. Another Echo Moscow journalist, Alexander Plyushchev, revealed that all Echo Moscow journalists receive threats on a daily basis.
"On October 11, the Russian state TV channel Russia 24 aired a program called 'Echo of the State Department' in which it attempted to show the close relationship between Echo Moscow and foreign nonprofit organizations, claiming that they are trying to transmit a distinctly 'pro-Western position' in advance of the Russian presidential elections due to take place in March next year.
"Russia 24 journalists also claimed that Echo Moscow's cooperation with foreign nonprofit organizations with 'questionable' financial sources is becoming 'more dangerous than ISIS.' The following day, 'Russia 24' released another instalment in which Felfenhauer was accused of 'working for the West.' Tatyana Felfenhauer is well known for being an independent opposition journalist, and has been a sharp critic of the Putin regime.
"Journalists who dare to think independently, or, as Kremlin propaganda would say, 'work with the West,' have long been in danger in Russia. As presidential elections in Russia draw nearer, journalists who fail to abide by the rules set out by the Kremlin and its media empire will face increased threats to both their autonomy and their lives. It is too early to conclude whether Felfenhaur’s attacker was either manipulated by someone or colluded with others, but the extent of the planning involved in locating and attacking the Echo Moscow journalist at her place of work raises interesting questions."
(Kkhodorkovsky.com, October 26, 2017)
News In Brief:
Russian lawmakers want to expand the government's power to block websites without court oversight (Meduza.io, October 2, 2017; read full article)
Russian police may punish parents and teachers for children who protest. Timur Valiulin, head of the Interior Ministry's anti-extremism department, said: "The decreasing average age of participants in these protest actions is alarming... We must think about possibly making amendments and changes to hold accountable not only the organizers of such actions, but also the participating schoolchildren's parents and teachers." (Themoscowtimes.com, October 17, 2017; read full article)
Commenting on the possibility of sanctioning parents if their children participate in political protests, Senator Valery Ryazansky, head of the social committee in the Federation Council, said: "We should prosecute parents when their children participate [in the street protest activities] just as we do when the child is caught driving illegally." (Rbc.ru, October 17, 2017)
Vladimir Putin had a working meeting with Ella Pamfilova, Chair of the Central Election Commission, who informed the president of the outcomes of elections that had taken place on the unified voting day, September 10, 2017. (Kremlin.ru, October 9, 2017; read full transcript)