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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: April 16, 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
'Real Reason for Search of Open Russia is Film about Kadyrov' - Khodorkovsky

Earlier today we reported that the Moscow office of Open Russia, the movement founded by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was being raided by masked policemen.

The officers showed a warrant to look for materials regarding "extremism" and took files and computer hard drives. Employees snapped photos of them and tweeted the search as it was in progress. Opposition supporters noted the timing of the search during Putin's TV marathon.

At first it seemed as if the raid might be related to the frustrated plans of another opposition group to hold a rally April 19, to which Open Russia was not related.

But then Khodorkovsky commented:

Translation: The real reason for the search at Open Russia - film footage about the place of Kadyrov in the current system of government. The obvious question: who then is the ruler?


Translation: Khodorkovsky's press secretary told TV Rain about the fate of Open Russia's film on Kadyrov.

The slogan on the upside-down sign shown in the tweet translates as "Throw Out Putin, Not Bombs."

Kulle Pispanen, the press secretary, told TV Rain (translation by The Interpreter):

"Materials were not only located there. Laptops, computers and flash drivers were confiscated. But the materials were not destroyed."


Pispanen said that along with the senior police agents searching the office were journalists from NTV who filmed the progress of the search. Later, NTV aired the footage from the search.

The Interior Ministry press service said that the search was due to banners, leaflets and other items that allegedly contained "calls for extremism," TV Rain reported.

A source told TASS
that the flyers confiscated had already been analyzed and that they contained "signs containing calls to undertake extremist activity."

The Russian anti-extremism law has been widely used to intimidate or prosecute activists of varying types, including actual extremists such as neo-Nazi groups but also opposition groups seeking greater autonomy for their provinces or change in the totalitarian government.

Open Russia staff person Renat Davletgildeyev reported on his Instagram account at 22:20 Moscow time that the search was over:

"Well, it looks like that's it. 12 hours of searches. 12 hours in the company of the Interior Ministry's Main Department of Anti-Extremism. Terabytes of footage are sent to the Investigative Committee."

Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia, funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

-- 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 Chosen Among Time's 100 'Most Influential' People


Time magazine has issued its annual list of "the 100 Most Influential People in the World."

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the "Leaders" section of the list.

The essay on Putin was written by Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, who noted:

Putin’s place on this year’s list comes thanks to his gravity-defying ability to confront the West in ways that boost his popularity in a country suffering through an economic meltdown for which his own policies are largely responsible. No leader arouses more fascination around the world, because his actions speak a language of defiance that so many of his people want to hear, lifting him to levels of popularity that other leaders can only envy.

Other world leaders who made the list this year are Jorge Ramos, Narendra Modi, Alexis Tsipras, Bob Corker and Hillary Clinton.

Although Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was listed among the nominees, he was not chosen. Readers could vote "yes" or "no" as to whether they thought nominees could be included, and Putin reportedly drew the highest number of popular votes.

Times' editors select the people on the list based on their own criteria, although the popular vote has some influence on their selection.

-- 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
For Putin, the Nemtsov Murder Case is Essentially Closed Due to Super Sleuthing of FSB and Police - and He Ducks Venediktov's Question about the Contractor

On the Pryamaya Liniya [Direct Line] call-in television show today, President Vladimir Putin took a question from Irina Khakamada, a former member of parliament and presidential candidate, regarding the prospects in general for the participation of the opposition in political life and specifically about the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, and his research into the Russian military presence in the war in Ukraine.

The Interpreter has translated this part of the transcript from kremlin.ru:

Irina Khakhamada: Vladimir Vladimirovich, I was promised two questions.

The first question - that is, of course about the tragic death of Boris Nemtsov, which shook me not only as a citizen. You must understand, we worked together, and even now, really, the pain is terrible. Therefore I have a question: how do you regard how the investigation is going, and is there a chance that we will nevertheless learn who ordered this horrible murder, which is more like a terrorist act? And are you, realizing that his colleagues are in the opposition, including to you personally, prepared to facilitate it so that on equal terms, they can fight for their places for in a future parliament, including both Navalny and Khodorkovsky? Because to criticize is easy, but to conduct government opposition work in parliament is more responsible. Perhaps this would stabilize the situation and stimulate private business and private investments.

The second question: at the funeral of Boris Yefimovich [Nemtsov], Western journalists came up to me and asked this question, plus, in the Internet there is information about it, that Boris Nemtsov obtained certain information about the presence of Russian troops during the events in the south-east of Ukraine. And at the funeral it was the same - Western journalists keep asking the same question.  Perhaps you can finally disclose and answer in more detail -- were our troops in fact there after all or not?


Vladimir Putin: Let us begin with the opposition which has the right and the opportunity to take part officially and legally in political life a: ) of course, it must and should; b) if they get into parliament in the upcoming elections, that means they will obtain the support of the people, then they bear responsibility to a certain degree for what they propose. To be sure, you are an experienced person, you worked in government organizations, you know: it's one thing to be a deputy in the State Duma in the opposition and criticize everything you like. The responsibility here is also not great, but nevertheless it provides a certain tribunal, it brings people out of the shadows. In my view, this is a positive thing.

But even so, in the final analysis, people make a decision, they vote as to whether someone should be in the parliament or not. I believe that this would be positive.

Now regarding the murder of Boris Yefimovich Nemtsov. You were friendly with him. You maintained relations with him. He was sharply oppositionally-minded both to me and to the government in general. Although we had fairly good relations when we were in contact. I have already spoken in this regard. I believe that it is an absolutely shameful phenomenon, tragic and shameful -- murder of this type.

How is the investigation going? I can tell you that within literally a day, a day and a half, perhaps at a maximum, all the names of the perpetrators were known to the investigators of both the FSB and Interior Ministry. The question was only where and how they would be arrested. I have to give credit to our special agencies [intelligence], this is absolutely objective data, connected not only with the surveillance cameras, connected with a great number of capacities which they had available recently. I don't know, I'm afraid of saying something excessive so as not to reveal the modern means and methods of the work of our special agencies, but on the whole, I repeat, the question was resolved within several hours. In that sense, they worked well and efficiently, and in fact immediately through several channels, and different services came upon one and the same result.

The question is whether the contractors will be found and are there contractors?  I don't know yet. Of course that will become known in the course of the work that is being done now.

And finally, the question of whether our troops are in Ukraine? I can tell you directly and definitely: there are no Russian troops in Ukraine. In fact, in the course of the recent conflict in the south-east, in the Donbass, the head of the general staff of the Ukrainian army said it best of all, when he said publicly at a meeting with his foreign colleagues, "We are not fighting with the Russian army." What more can be added?

There are a number of points to be made about this performance by Putin.

First, he affected a magnanimity that "of course" the opposition could legally take part in the next parliamentary elections in 2016 -- although the reality is that no critical opposition party has been able to clear the 5% threshold to enter parliament, either because they cannot register their parties and gain seats with party lists, or because they are barred from the media and cannot reach audiences, or because they are harassed in various ways and vilified in the state media. It's disingenuous to pretend that figures like Nemtsov or Aleksey Navalny are marginal and wouldn't gather votes, particularly after Nemtsov was elected governor of Nizhny Novgorod Region and later the Sochi and Yaroslavl legislations and Navalny was able to get 30% of the votes in the Moscow mayoral elections despite considerable obstacles. 

Yet Putin feigns a posture that people like Nemtsov were unable to do anything but criticize and didn't know how to handle executive responsibility and that Putin believes it would therapeutic for them to have to take even the "not great" responsibility of the Duma.

Here, he reveals his essentially scornful attitude toward this pocket parliament by describing it as little more than a forum for speeches and not really for action where "responsibility" can be taken, as the serious people in government do, by implication. Yet the real issue is that Putin is not prepared to share power with the opposition.

Second, Putin made a point of drawing himself up and speaking very emphatically when he spoke of the "absolutely shameful phenomenon" of a political murder -- a point he made immediately after the assassination as well -- as if it wasn't a hallmark of the very system he presides over and is some kind of abstract weather event from which he is disassociated.

Further, he emphasized that Nemtsov was in "sharp" opposition to him but that nevertheless they were on good terms when they spoke, meaning back when Nemtsov and Putin were in the Yeltsin government, an acknowledgement that they were once part of the same system.

Third, in addressing the investigation of Nemtsov's murder, Putin casts aside the fiction he sometimes invokes of not being allowed to interfere in an ostensibly independent judicial system and frankly brags of the recent capacities of the intelligence agencies to solve cases. It's not clear what he means -- and he is being deliberately vague -- beyond the surveillance camera footage and the traffic police monitoring but it might be something like facial recognition software. Putin made a point as well here to say that different agencies -- the Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, and the Federal Security Service were all involved in investigating the murder -- arrived at the same conclusions via different channels.

So while all the suspects say they were tortured into confessions and some have alibis, Putin has made it clear that through the wonders of technology, the right suspects were caught and now it's just a question of grinding through the prosecution.

As for the contractor or even higher-level mastermind, Putin says something that caused a number of Russian journalists to take note -- "the question is whether the contractors will be found and are there contractors?" -- implying that there might not be any higher-level contractor at all. This was floated as a theory earlier, by claiming that the murder may not have been a contract murder, or that the perpetrators might have been motivated by anger about the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and not need some kind of conspiratorial plot to move into place against Nemtsov.

Meanwhile, Aleksey Venediktor, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, asked a question: why couldn't investigators question Ruslan Geremeyev, the name leaked to Russian media of the supposed contractor, a man with powerful relatives who served in the same Interior Ministry troops unit as Dadayev?

This question didn't get on the transcript at Kremlin.ru, at least not yet as it is still to be continued, although it was on Ekho Moskvy's web site. The Interpreter has translated this excerpt.

Venediktov: I would return to the topic of political murders, especially as today in Ukraine there is yet another political murder of a journalist, unfortunately. I would return, first to the topic of the investigation of the murder of Boris Nemtsov, you really did know him well. But you know what provokes surprise and doubt? When the investigators cannot interrogate witnesses, when the witness is hiding out in the territory of Russian in one of the subjects of the Federation, a major, and the investigators cannot interrogate him.

This was a reference to Rusan Geremeyev, a major in the Sever Battalion, access to whom was blocked by Chechen authorities when investigators traveled to Chechnya to investigate the murder earlier this month. As it was, they needed intervention from Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov even to meet with Alimbek Delimkhanov, commander of Sever and a relative of Kadyrov's.

And finally, Vladimir Vladimirovich, the next thing. People have gone there to the site of the murder and laid flowers. Perhaps there are not that many (hundreds, a thousand) people. They place flowers, they place Russian flags and they want to make a memorial plaque there. "Here politician Boris Nemtsov was murdered." Like Olaf Palme. You know, there is one there, on the site. But no, it's not allowed! This is garbage! Flowers go in the trash, Russian flags, in the trash, icons, in the trash. It will be clean here, a "city garden"!

Apparently, without your opinion on this question, if it exists, of course, this cause will not budge at all. I would like you to express your attitude, especially as you knew Boris well and spoke up.

The second thing I would like to say. You know, you, of course, are from St. Petersburg, Vladimir Vladimirovich, and I am a Muscovite, but you know that in Moscow there is no street  named for Vladimir Vysotsky? Thirty-five years have passed since his death and there is no street (in his name) in Moscow.  And nothing can be done about it. But the Moscow law allows for the president to make a contribution and then the Moscow government can, say, name Marxist Street, which runs from the Theater on the Taganka could be called Vladimir Vysotsky Street. Perhaps some day the Nemtsov bridge as well will be renamed in this history. I would like you to express your thoughts in this regard. Thanks.

Putin:  As for the murder, I already gave that an assessment, I think it would be pointless to repeat it here.

Now regarding the flowers, memorial plaques and street names. You know, that is the prerogative of the local, regional authorities, in this case the Moscow authorities. There is a law under which memorial plaques can be placed on the site of a person's death 10 years after their death. But in the final analysis, I'll repeat it again, Moscow authorities can and may take appropriate decision.

As for the flowers, signs of attention of another sort, I really don't understand what the restrictions are, I do not welcome them. On the contrary, I think there is nothing terrible here. What of it, if people come and lay an icon or flowers? if it does not bother anybody I don't see here any problems. And I will definitely speak to the mayor in that regard so that there are obstacles placed.

Venediktov: Vladimir Vladimirovich, you surely understand, I have prepared for this meeting by studying the Moscow law.

Putin: I guessed as much.

Venediktov: It is said directly in the Moscow law that the president of the Russian Federation -- that's you -- has the right to come out with a proposal in accordance with the law and that the decision will be taken fairly quickly. I ask you to come out wit h that proposal.

Putin:  Yes, yes, I'm not opposed, perhaps I will use my right but not all rights that I have must immediately be used, there are other instruments. It's possible to speak to the mayor and he can use his rights. We will solve this problem.

In another development reported today by RBC.ru, the attorney for Zaur Dadayev, the main suspect in the Nemtsov investigation, reiterated that his client's confession was made under torture, and said that he would provide an alibi. He also noted that investigators were trying to get him to admit that a man named "Rusik" said to own a car seen at the address where Dadayev lived was Ruslan Geremeyev.

But Dadayev said they were trying to plant that notion on him, because he would not have called Ruslan, his superior, by a nickname of this type.

-- 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 Spins a New Narrative About Iran, Yemen, and France's Cancelled Mistral Warships

Earlier we posted a round-up of Putin's 4+ hour televised question and answer session, highlighting a few key points.

But there were two statements about national defense and foreign policy which caught our eye. The first concerns the cancellation of the sale of French Mistral warships to Russia. Yesterday news broke that a third sea trial of one of the ships has been cancelled,  another sign that the deal is dead in the water, at least for now. Today Putin said that he will not fine France for failing to fulfill its contract, since he is convinced that France will just give Russia a refund. The Moscow Times reports:

"We do intend to seek any penalties or fines … but it is necessary that all costs we have incurred are covered," Putin said during his annual televised call-in show.

"I assume the current French leadership and the French generally are good people and will return our money," he said.

Putin also maintained that the cancellation of the deal would not significantly impact Russia's military readiness:

But perhaps a more interesting statement was one we covered earlier, relating to the sale of S-300 missiles to Iran.

Yesterday we reported that Iran's Defense Minister was traveling to Russia in order to discuss the delivery of the S-300. The S-300, one of the most advanced anti-aircraft systems in the world, is important because if Iran does not comply with the deal, the presence of the S-300 will make any military reaction to an Iranian military nuclear program much harder -- perhaps nearly impossible:

In the Pryama Liniya [Direct Line] show today, Putin took a question on the S-300s. The Interpreter has translated this section of the transcript from kremlin.ru.

A. Torkunov:

In commentaries of both journalists and politicians there is often contained and expressed fear regarding the fact that the deliveries of S-300 will hinder the completion of our negotiations in the "six" regarding Iran's nuclear program. Moreover, there is even talk that deliveries of anti-aircraft systems on the whole complicate the situation in the Near and Middle East.

This morning I watched the statement of Angela Merkel to the effect that the sanctions had to be removed collectively, and not individually. But in Israel, as you perhaps have heard, there have been circulating all kinds of talk regarding the fact that if the S-300s are delivered to Iran, then Israel will take its own measures, right up to selling arms to Ukraine. I would like to learn your opinion in this regard.

Putin:

We really did sign such a contract back in 2007. And then in 2010, by decree of the president this deal was suspended. It was done in connection with the problems around the Iranian nuclear program. This really was the case. But today, and we see this clearly, and you as an experienced person understand this perfectly, our Iranian partners demonstrate a great deal of flexibility and clear wish to reach a compromise on this nuclear program.

Essentially, all the participants in this process declared that the agreement was reached. The question is only in the technical details which should be worked out in June of this year. Therefore we made such a decision then.

I haven't seen or heard the statement from the Federal Chancellor of the Federative Republic so I can't comment on it. But if someone is concerned that we have come to the abolition of the sanctions, then apparently our colleagues don't know that in the UN sanctions list, such a system is not included. We suspended the fulfillment of this contract exclusively in unilateral fashion. And now, when there is progress on the Iranian nuclear track, it is obviously positive, then we don't see the basis for further, in an unilateral fashion, and I wish to emphasize that, keep to that prohibition.

As for the sanctions list stipulated by the relevant resolutions of the United Nations, then we of course will act with our partners in unison and we have always done this and have made a great contribution and I would like to emphasize in the settlement of the Iranian nuclear problem.

Moreover, our plants have produced this weapon. It is expensive, it costs under a billion dollars ($900 million). No one has paid our plants for this. To be sure, it is being hinted that they may buy this from us, but no one is buying it. And the question arises: will we suffer losses in connection with this?

The situation is being corrected, it isn't in the UN sanctions list. On the contrary, it seems to me, we must encourage our Iranian partners so that they act further in this vein. Aside from everything else, there is also one other component.

You mentioned now the position of our friends in Israel. I must tell you that we always take into account the situation in a given region, including, and above all, of course in the Near East in delivering our armaments to the foreign market. By the way, we are not the largest supplier of weapons in the Middle East. The United States supplies much more weapons for a much greater sum in this region of the world.

So just recently, the Israelis expressed concerns regarding the delivery of the S-300 systems to another country in the region. They directed our attention to the fact that if this delivery were made, that it would lead to cardinal changes, geopolitical even, in the region since  from the territory of this country, the S-300 could reach the territory of Israel. Although it is not offensive weaponry but as my colleague said to me, "Not a single plane of ours will take off." And that really is a serious thing.

We conducted consultations with our buyers. It must be noted that our partners in one of the countries of the Arab world regarded this with understanding. We cancelled that contract entirely and returned the pre-payment of about $400 million. That is why we are acting very carefully.

Such systems are not including in the UN sanctions list. We introduced such sanctions in a unilateral form, and now, when there are movements in the negotiations, we don't see the sense in keeping them. This is defensive weaponry, and taking into account the situation in Yemen, it is also a deterring factor. It does not threaten Israel.

A "deterring factor?" By mentioning Yemen Putin is playing up the narrative that Iran, a predominantly Shia nation,  is involved in a regional power struggle against the Sunni regional powers -- Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, and perhaps even the Sunni militias in Iraq and Syria. The S-300 sale, according to this narrative, would guard against Sunni Islam, not Israel or the United States. His mention of "another country in the region" whom Israel was concerned about underscores this narrative -- that Putin is constructive, that the move to sell these weapons to Iran is not aimed at Israel, and that Iran is hardly the only threat to Israeli security.

Putin's comments on both of these topics, the Mistrals and the S-300, are related as they attempt to frame Russia as a cooperative member of the international community who is trying to help (with the French economy, with sectarianism, etc.), instead of a threatening force that might, say, use amphibious assault ships to invade its neighbors or deploy S-300s to Iran to prevent airstrikes against a nuclear weapons program which could be designed to threaten the United States and Israel.

-- James Miller, 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
On Marathon Q&A Show, Putin Boasts Western Sanctions Only Strengthened Russia - and Denies Rumor About Poroshenko's Offer of Donbass

President Vladimir Putin's marathon question-and-answer session on the TV show on Pryamaya Liniya (Direct Line) has been underway for nearly two hours. Some two million people have sent in questions, and some of them are being vetted and selected for the president to answer.

Gazeta.ru has a live blog on the show (in Russian).

TV Rain has done a quick digest of what has transpired so far. The Interpreter has a translation:

How long should the sanctions be endured? Putin: the question isn't how long to "endure" the sanctions but how much to use them. Without sanctions we wouldn't have introduced such defensive  measures. And the government and the Centeral Bank have only been helped by sanctions.

Could anything be done to avoid the sanctions? Putin: I believe that we did everything optimally.

Criticism is good, but if we will preserve the consolidation of society, then no threats are frightening for us.

But there is a crisis, anyway? Yes, but by spring, the pace of inflation was reduced and the ruble stabilized and even strengthened.

Why did the ruble strengthen? Putin: the issue isn't only in oil. Experts see that Russia passed through the peace of its problems.

Kudrin [former prime minister]: the system has outlived itself, we will only lag behind the world. Putin: you also created this economic model. The recipes are well known: you have to create conditions for investments, improve the system of governance. But  you propose cutting expenses and reducing the population's incomes, but you have to have not only a head, but a heart, or else we will roll back to the beginning of the 1990s.

On statistics: Putin: I believe the figures that they give me.

On deliveries of the S-300s to Iran: Putin: such systems are not including in the UN sanctions list. We introduced such sanctions in a unilateral form, and now, when there are movements in the negotiations, we don't see the sense in keeping them. This is defensive weaponry, and taking into account the situation in Yemen, it is also a deterring factor. It does not threaten Israel.

Putin's reassurances have not been persuasive for his critics.



Translation: They spoke so long about the successes of the economy and the billions, and then there was the realistic picture from Kostroma Region.

And as Gazeta.ru reported, Kudrin came back with a response to Putin's demagoguery:

The professional discussion between Kudrin and Putin continues. The former minister of finances clarifies that he has no problem with his heart; he is not against social support but proposes make it targeted. And he also is certain that Russians' wages are growing faster than the productivity of their labor, which is why is why inflation is drive up which could have been avoided. And finally, he justifies himself: saying he wrote Strategy-2020, but only 20-30% of it was taken.

Some of the questions publicized already on the web site connected to the show have been asked:

Finally the questions have just gotten to Ukraine now.

Translation: Putin's plan: No matter what is done, it's all for the best!

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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