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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Update: March 4, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Bombers, Transponders Turned Off, Threatened Civilian Airliners & Delayed Flights

The Irish Examiner reports that a Russian long-range strategic bomber, with its transponder turned off, crossed several civilian air routes in February, endangering civilian airliners and delaying at least one flight. The Moscow Times reports:

According to the Irish Examiner, the Tu-95 'Bear' long-range strategic bombers weaved through major civilian air routes on Feb. 18 about 40 kilometers off the Irish coast, crossing flight lanes used by incoming flights from North America.

The bombers cloaked their presence by switching off their transponders, which broadcast to air traffic controllers an aircraft's type, altitude, location and other information.

The Irish Aviation Authority told the Examiner British authorities had notified them that the bombers were moving toward Irish air space and warned that steps should be taken to ensure the safety of civilian flights. One flight from Dublin airport had to be delayed to prevent a collision with the Russian aircraft, the paper said.

That flight is separate from the incident where two nuclear-capable bombers flew through the English Channel weeks earlier, causing similar uproar as the maneuver may have endangered both civilian air traffic and national security.

These incidents are part of a wider pattern of aggressive, and typically usually unannounced, military drills in international waters, international airspace, and near Russia's borders.

Drills like this one:


Of course, all countries hold military drills, and NATO countries are no exception. NATO is holding naval drills in the Black Sea right now, and despite Russia's increasingly aggressive stance in this region, NATO is still the dominant military force in this region with a navy far larger and more capable than Russia's.

The main difference here is that NATO schedules its drills ahead of time, ensuring that military training and demonstration missions do not endanger civilian air and sea traffic or provoke unintentional military confrontations.

But a new report suggests that despite NATO's superior firepower, there is a growing gap between NATO and Russian military exercises.

The Atlantic Council reports that NATO's military readiness may not be an adequate deterrent for future Russian aggression:

In the past two years, Russia’s major military exercises deployed a total of about 745,000 troops, while those of NATO countries involved a total of some 157,000. (Actually, only 72,000 troops took part in full NATO exercises; 85,000 participated in drills run by individual NATO member states.)

These very broad comparisons are reached simply by totaling the published numbers of participants in each event. (Clearly, some personnel may have been deployed, and thus counted here, in more than one exercise.)

“While exercises are not the sole indicator of military readiness and capability,” the numbers show “a troubling disparity in magnitude,” Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Ian Brzezinski and analyst Nicholas Varangis write. The disparity is especially notable amid the debates among transatlantic leaders and publics over how best to deal with Russia’s assault on Ukraine. 

-- James Miller


The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Investigators Search Nemtsov's Apartment and Office in Yaroslavl


Mikhail Konev, aide to slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Yaroslavl, where Nemtsov was a deputy in the local legislature, says police have searched Nemtsov's apartment there, gordonua.com reported, citing TV Rain.

Konev was unable to tell reporters anything more because he says he had to sign a non-disclosure statement, although he said the search was lawful.

Konev was summoned as a person who had to be present during the search, as he worked for Nemtsov.

Anna Duritskaya, who was with NEmtsov when he was assassinated,  has also signed a pledge not to disclose information from the investigation, says gordonua.com.

Nemtsov's office in Yaroslavl was already searched on March 1.

One theory of a possible motive relates to an official that Nemtsov and his faction in the local legislature exposed in corruption, and eventually got fired.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin Calls for 'End to Political Murder," Orders Expanded Street Patrols Due to Increased 'Extremism' Crimes


President Vladimir Putin has called for "an end to political murders" in Russia, grani.ru and RIA Novosti reported.

But from all indications the context for his remarks is not so much a call to punish the actual perpetrators of the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov as to exploit the occasion to install further patrolling of city streets and empowerment of citizens' auxiliary police.

Putin spoke today at an expanded meeting of the collegium or board of the Interior Ministry, which governs the police, the same meeting at which reportedly Kolokoltsev, the head of the ministry, announced his resignation.

In a speech posted on kremlin.ru, Putin said (translation by The Interpreter):

The most serious attention must be devoted to high-profile crimes, including those with a political agenda. We must rid Russia finally of the shame and tragedies of what we and you lived through and saw recently. I mean the audacious murder of Boris Nemtsov, right in the center of the capital.

It must be noted that last year, the number of crimes that took place in public places has increased by 8.5%. We must immediately react to all the facts of such violations of the law, and a special emphasis should be made on preventive measures.

Now several words about the so-called street criminal world. Of course we must more actively deploy the voluntary people's druzhiny [auxiliary police]. In many subjects of the Federation, these formations were already created and complement well the capabilities of the Interior Ministry agencies. We must disseminate the best practice, and clearly define the authorities of those people who conduct this work alongside the Interior Ministry agencies.

I will recall that last year the Federal Law on Participation of Citizens in Preservation of Public Order was passed. Now we must complete the passage of analogous regional legislative acts. The growth of crimes of an extremist tendency -- almost by 15% -- causes serious concern.

Extremists poison society by the toxin of militant nationalist, intolerance and aggression. What this can lead to we see very well on the example of the neighboring country, Ukraine.


Putin does not mean the "people's republics" in the Donbass and the Russian-backed militants but right-wing groups in Ukraine, some of which have fighters in the Ukrainian armed forces and voluntary battalions, a subject always amplified by Russian propaganda

Clearly, Putin will exploit the murder of Nemtsov to institute further street patrols and enpower citizens' volunteer policing groups, which were prevalent in the Soviet times, receded for a time, and now are being promoted again. The state-approved and funded Cossack groups and Anti-Maidan organization made up of Fighting Brotherhood, a state-funded organization of Afghan veterans, are just the kind of organizations from which the druzhinniki or volunteer patrolers can be drawn.

On the one hand Putin seems to want to convey a sense that the government is controlling extremism -- which is very broadly defined in Russia -- but on the other hand he wants to invoke the specter of it to justify further control:

Last year, in accordance with judicial decisions, eight organizations were pronounced extremist and closed. The criminal liability for calls to extremism and a number of specific criminal offenses in that area have now been strengthened, including for the financing for the extremist activity and organization of extremist groups. New articles against extremism have been included in the Code of Administrative Offenses.

Meanwhile, the actions of extremists are growing more sophisticated. We have encountered attempts to use the so-called "color technologies" [i.e. from color revolutions] from the organization of unlawful street actions to open propaganda of enmity and hatred on social networks. And the purpose of obvious -- to provoke civil conflicts, and strike a blow at the constitutional foundations of our state, at the sovereignty of the country in the final analysis. We must instantly react to any signals on actions being prepared by extremists, and conduct the appropriate preventive measures, and preventive work, especially among youth.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Sources Say Russian Interior Ministry Chief Planning to Resign
Gazeta.ru reports that two sources close to the Interior Ministry say that Vladimir Kolokoltsev, head of the ministry since 2012, intends to resign, now that a meeting has taken place of the expanded collegium or board of the Interior Ministry in which President Vladimir Putin participated.

According to the source (translation by The Interpreter)

"This was expected in March already. Kolokoltsev will not leave immediately after the collegium, but most likely it will happen about two weeks later."


Rumors of Kolokoltsev's departure have been circulating since last fall, when the minister was said to submit his resignation. A source told Gazeta.ru that he really did write his resignation then, but some reason, possibly because of the leak of information about his departure, he did not leave at that time.

Putin was said to be pleased with the meeting, said the source, as the number of crimes have been reduced. He also praised the police for their professionalism during the Olympics in Sochi last year. Kolokoltsev reported at the meeting the there will be reductions in staff at the ministry.

A successor being discussed is Viktor Zolotov, commander-in-chief of the internal forces of the Interior Ministry and head of the presidential security service, a sub-division of the Federal Protection Service (FSO) from 2000 to 2013. The functions of the FSO were previous managed by the KGB's 9th directorate.  The new agency was created under the Yeltsin administration.

If true, the resignation and new appointment would follow a pattern of increasing personal control over the "power ministries" of the police, intelligence and army by Putin, who since 2013, has been installing more loyal security services, and also giving them large raises. As Yevgeniya Albats, editor of New Times wrote that year (translated by The Interpreter):

What if Putin sends a message across to both civil officials and oligarchs: here, these guys are the real power in the country. Well, there is nothing new about it. A lot has been written about the formation of a Russian militocracy, that is, a rule by people in military uniforms.
However, the authors tried not to mention that what happened in Russia in the mid-2000s, was a de facto military (or rather, KGB) coup, and that people in uniforms occupied key positions in the administration, but not always and not necessarily visible. However, the third Putin presidency seems to set the record: the President himself, the head of his administration, a number of assistants and chiefs of the Presidential Administration departments, the Investigative Committee deputy chiefs, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and the most ministers – all came from the KGB.


-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
REN-TV Reports that Source Inside Nemtsov Murder Investigation Has Images of Possible Perpetrators
REN-TV has a source inside the investigation of the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov who claims to have a clearer picture now of the possible perpetrators.

REN TV, a private TV channel owned by New Media Group is generally pro-Kremlin and is said to be partly owned through President Vladimir Putin's childhood friends, the Rotenberg brothers.

The source inside the Investigative Committee's group probing the murder said images were taken from a surveillance program used by Moscow traffic police called Potok [Flow], as well as videotapes from surveillance cameras.

They have also used this system to find all the drivers who passed through the area during the murder of Nemtsov, in order to confiscate their dashcams, if they had them. An investigator told REN-TV (translation by The Interpreter):

These activities enabled us to receive several images. They are only in the possession of the officers of the group which brought in specialists from the Center to Combat Extremism, the most experienced detectives of the Moscow Criminal Investigation, and officers of the FSB [Federal Security Service] (FSB) and SKR (Investigative Committee). A minimum of two people have been caught by the camera. From the footage we can already say that these people most likely are natives of the south regions of Russia.

By this, the police are saying they are Caucasians, i.e. Chechens, Dagestanis or others who live in the south of Russia.

The Center to Combat Extremism is under the Interior Ministry and usually investigates cases involving Islamist and ultrarightist terrorism and murders in Russia.

FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov said that the investigation already had some suspects. To be sure, he also said there are always suspects, commented REN-TV.

President Putin announced shortly after Nemtsov's murder that he was assigning the investigation to a group headed by seasoned special cases investigator Maj. Gen Igor Krasnov, known for his investigation of ultranationalist murder cases. The group was to include the Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, i.e. the regular police and the Federal Security Service (FSB). Now we see to this group has been added the Center to Combat Extremism.

Contrary to some early reports, Putin did not say he was taking personal responsible for the investigation, and this was made clear by further explanations from Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman.

We have several questions about this latest report. REN-TV says there are images taken both from dashcams and cameras. Does that mean now that the claim made by the Federal Protective Service (FSO), responsible for guarding this highly-secure area around the Kremlin, that the cameras "weren't working" or were "under repair" that day was a lie? Or does it mean that in fact these cameras don't belong to the FSO, but are the responsibility of the City of Moscow, which said their cameras were working? REN-TV's source doesn't identify the camera's provenance.

As for Potok, this program was dubbed "outmoded" in 2010 in a report by news.ru, and Moscow Region, the administrative body responsible for Moscow's suburbs, changed from Potok to another system called Avtouragan. Would Moscow do any less? Possibly Moscow is using an updated Potok program called Potok-PDD or maybe the source is using the name of an older program generically.

The reason to bring up the issue of the cameras and the traffic surveillance programs is that these indicate possible discrepancies or holes in the story, which might be fabricated.

And of course, with the inevitable "Caucasian footprint" having been found so quickly -- Chechens and other Caucasians are often scapegoats for crimes -- it bears taking with a grain of salt.


-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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