20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Leonid Nikitinsky comments on the recent arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov; Damir Gainutdinov discusses the key findings of Agora’s report titled “Russia Under Surveillance 2017”; Konstantin Gaaze analyzes the Ulyukaev vs Sechin trial; Dmitry Travin explains why freedom is no longer perceived as a value in Russia; and Kirill Martynov analyzes the reasoning behind the sudden closure of LifeNews. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at info@imrussia.org.


Director Kirill Serebrennikov at the Basmanny District court in Moscow. Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov / TASS.


Novaya Gazeta: Stood Up Again?

  • Columnist Leonid Nikitinsky comments on the recent arrest of the leading Russian film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, who was charged with embezzlement in what seems a politically motivated case.
  • According to Nikitinsky, the Serebrennikov case is part of a larger feud between various factions inside the Kremlin’s power apparatus.
  • The fact that Russia’s Investigative Committee and FSB structures affiliated with it lost at least two promising cases (the Ulyukaev case and the Dmitriev case) suggests that they are looking for a sure win this time. Attacking a prominent member of the liberal intelligentsia appears as such.
  • Nikitinsky notes that this time the case is not just about the selective administration of law (this dubious milestone was reached 12 years ago in the verdict of the first Khodorkovsky-Lebedev case), but rather about crossing a new line, i.e. proving the subjective side of a crime, like intent and motive.
  • The author notes that any Russian judge not highly placed enough to be independent of the special services will validate any claim presented by the investigation. But given the fact that the Investigative Committee has been off its game, while the only comment Putin has made so far on the case is calling the investigation “fools,” the judges may be tempted to try the case according to the actual law.
  • Nikitinsky concludes with regret that the more active the intelligentsia’s support for Serebrennikov is, the worse the director’s position is. 

Новая газета, Опять подставили? Леонид Никитинский, 22 августа 2017 г.

Also on the topic: 

  • Journalist Oleg Kashin writes in Republic that Serebrennikov’s arrest could mark the start of Vladimir Putin’s 2018 presidential campaign, noting that it’s the beginning of a harsh fall and even harsher winter.
  • In a rare editorial, Meduza calls for the release of Serebrennikov, noting that some commentators have been drawing parallels with the case of another theater director, Vsevolod Meyerhold, who was arrested and later executed during Stalin’s Great Purge. But even given the very different circumstances of the two cases, Meduza asserts that the Serebrennikov case still looks fabricated.


Republic: Blacklists and Total Control 

  • International watchdog organization Agora recently released a report titled “Russia Under Surveillance 2017” detailing the ways the Russian state collects information about its citizens. One of the co-authors, Damir Gainutdinov, discusses the report’s key findings.
  • Over the last few years, the Russian government has developed a complex system of total surveillance over several thousand activists, journalists and members of the opposition. Under the pretext of national security, the special services monitor their travel and communications, conduct covert audio and video surveillance, collect biometrical data, as well as hack into their online accounts.
  • The authorities also engage in compulsory fingerprinting, DNA sampling and photographing.
  • Since 2015, all Russian regions have adopted the Safe City video surveillance and face recognition program. In 2016, 83.6 percent of Moscow’s territory was covered by CCTV with only Interior Ministry officials having direct access to the footage.
  • By purchasing a ticket, booking a hotel, or using public wi-fi in Russia, a person automatically informs the authorities about his or her whereabouts, giving up personal information, such as name, date of birth, gender, document type and number, citizenship, etc.
  • The authorities also maintain lists of “unreliable” individuals and organizations in connection with extremist activities or terrorism, as well as organizations recognized as “foreign agents” (61) and “undesirable” (11).
  • Finally, the state has invaded people’s privacy through a number of restrictive laws, thus steering a course toward the continued nationalization and de-anonymization of the Runet.

Republic, Черные списки и тотальный контроль. Что говорится в новом докладе «Агоры» о слежке за россиянами, Дамир Гайнутдинов, 22 августа 2017 г.


Carnegie.ru: Court Ricochet. Who Will Be the Main Loser in Ulyukayev vs Sechin Case

  • With the beginning of former Minister of Economic Development Aleksey Ulyukaev’s trial on August 16, journalist Konstantin Gaaze analyzes two accounts that attempt to explain what led to Ulyukaev’s arrest, all the while speculating on the role of Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin in the affair.
  • Ulyukaev was arrested in November 2016 after he was accused of soliciting a 130 million ruble ($2 million) bribe from Sechin as a reward for endorsing Rosneft’s absorption of Bashneft. Ulyukaev claims that Sechin framed him.
  • Ulyukaev lacks Sechin’s reputation and advantageous position in Putin’s inner circle. However, based on the evidence, Sechin remains the only other actor involved in the extortion attempt, without the Kremlin’s protection.
  • Gaaze outlines two scenarios that could explain Ulyukaev’s extortion attempt.
  • The first version alleges that Ulyukaev, through VTB head Andrei Kostin, asked Sechin to provide his ministry with a monetary reward after endorsing the Bashneft deal. Kostin, Sechin and Rosneft’s curators in the FSB then decided to frame Ulyukaev and arrested him.
  • According to Gaaze, this version includes an impractical set of logistics and implies a close relationship between Sechin and Ulyukaev that simply does not exist.
  • In the second version of the story, there are no intermediaries. Instead, Ulyukaev is said to have directly solicited money from Sechin during a joint business trip in October 2016.
  • Gaaze posits that the evidence for this scenario is weak: only a madman would attempt extortion from someone with Sechin’s post. Moreover, by October 2016 the Bashneft deal was already closed, so Ulyukaev would have had no reason to threaten Sechin or ask for a reward.
  • Theoretically, the entire ordeal could be linked to the privatization of Rosneft, which Ulyukaev was initially against. He could have threatened Sechin to derail the deal, but this is unlikely. Both Putin and Medvedev demanded that the deal close by the end of 2016 at whatever cost, and Sechin was the only interested buyer.
  • Gaaze concludes that based on the available evidence, the legitimacy of Ulyukaev’s actions can be doubted only on the basis of Sechin’s testimony. For Gaaze, the biggest question is what will happen with Sechin, whom he believes cannot reconcile his ambitious business interests with his proximity to the “Kremlin jungle.”

Carnegie.ru, Придворный рикошет. Кто будет главным проигравшим на процессе Сечин vs Улюкаев, Константин Гаазе, 17 августа 2017 г.


Vedomosti: The Abduction of Freedom

  • Political scientist Dmitry Travin discusses how freedom stopped being a value that the Russian people appreciate due to the government’s cunning manipulations spanning decades.
  • Freedom wasn’t banned or proclaimed a non-value per se; but at the same time there is not a single national holiday currently celebrating freedom in Russia. People hardly noticed when Constitution Day became a regular working day or how the Russian equivalent of Independence Day was renamed simply “Russia Day.”
  • Meanwhile, holidays celebrating military patriotism are on the march, so to speak: e.g. Defender of the Fatherland Day (formerly Soviet Army Day), which has become a national holiday.
  • Within the same vein, one may observe how the government manipulates history by underscoring the values that it deems significant for power expansion, while simultaneously downplaying other values that could strengthen civil society. As a result, the state now controls the society.
  • Similar developments have taken place in popular culture: the people’s struggle for the country (or rather the state) and for the faith is elevated as a major value, while the struggle for freedom or  art is sidelined. Thus, young Russians may not even understand why freedom is a crucial spiritual value.
  • Travin concludes that freedom was carved out of the public mindset, thus causing Russia to lose its historical memory.

Ведомости, Похищение свободы, Дмитрий Травин, 21 августа 2017 г.


Novaya Gazeta: Gabrelyanov Moves On 

  • Journalist Kirill Martynov analyzes the reasoning behind the sudden closure of LifeNews, owned by the tabloid media mogul Aram Gabrelyanov of the New Media holding company. He discusses Gabrelyanov’s future projects, as Russian media continue to move online.
  • While the professional community was bewildered last January by the closure of RSN, a leading Moscow radio station also owned by Gabrelyanov, many considered the demise of LifeNews to be a positive development that would bring its propagandists to justice.
  • Gabrelyanov’s television career blossomed from 2014 to 2015, when LifeNews became a key Russian agent in the hybrid war with Ukraine.
  • Some speculate that the diminishing influence of LifeNews is a result of a disagreement between Gabrelyanov and the new leadership of the Interior Ministry, given Gabrelyanov’s strained relations with former First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration Vyacheslav Volodin. But differing opinions are not enough to explain its termination.
  • To Martynov, the closure of LifeNews has more to do with the redistribution of resources—there is no sense in maintaining yet another channel replicating official state rhetoric in a Russian media landscape already dominated by Channel One Russia, Russia-1, and NTV, not to mention REN TV.
  • Having proven his effectiveness in the hybrid war to his superiors, Gabrelyanov seems to be eyeing the more important task of “turning the Internet into a tabloid.” LifeNews’ online version, Life.ru, will introduce Gabrelyanov’s “sensations” and “investigations” to the Internet to sway younger and more outwardly dubious or antagonistic audiences, so that the entire country begins to speak the same language.
  • Martynov recalls the recent news about the state’s intentions to mobilize Internet users to take interest in the election campaign, as well as the current negotiations underway between government officials and the Mail.ru Group, which controls the popular social media platforms VKontakte and Odnoklassniki.
  • Gabrelyanov’s plans for Life.ru add another element to this ongoing information war.

Новая газета, Габрелянов идет дальше, Кирилл Мартынов, 21 августа 2017 г.



  • Minchenko Consulting group has released a new report titled “Politburo 2.0: Renovation Instead Dismantling.” 

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