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

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Veteran Human Rights Leader Alexeyeva Urges Justice Ministry Not to Include Soros Foundation in "Undesirables" List

Veteran human rights activist Ludmila Alexeyeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said today that  there were no grounds to include the Open Society Foundation funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros among "undesirable organizations" under a new Russian last passed last month, Kommersant reported, citing RIA Novosti (translation by The Interpreter):

"Let them with facts in their hands prove what the Soros Foundation has done bad for our country. He gave grants to scientists for fundamental research, he gave pensions to our scientists in the 1990s, when they were literally dying from hunger. Soros funded many charitable and social projects in our country, he gave many human rights organizations money, and I do not know a single 'grantee' that he has given money to for a bad cause."

 As we reported, the State Duma passed the "undesirable organizations" law in the third reading on May 19 and Putin signed the law on May 24 which went into effect June 3.

The law enables the Russian government to arbitrarily ban under administrative or criminal procedures the activity of groups not deemed compliant with Russian policy. Their assets can also be seized. The measure fills the gap that the Kremlin felt existed even after passing the "foreign agents" law under which 67 organizations have already been stigmatized, with some closing as a result. The new law enables banning of groups even if they don't directly get foreign funding.

While the law was being debated, there was discussion of attaching a list of groups already defined by members of the State Duma as "undesirable" but in the end, there was no such list. But members of the Russian Communist Party have appealed to the Ministry of Justice to put the Open Society Foundation in the list.

The law was initially described as only a ban under the Administrative Offenses code with a fine from 5,000-15,000 rubles for officials, 20,000-50,000 for judicial persons and 50,000-100,000 for legal persons, i.e. organizations, a range from $89 to $1,793.

But a new article is being added to the criminal code regarding "leadership of the activity" of the undesirable organization with stiffer penalties than just participation as a member of the group. Under the criminal offense, "leadership" of the "undesirable organization" will entail a fine of 300,000-500,000 rubles ($5,367 to $8,957) and imprisonment from 2 to 6 years with a ban on such activity up to 10 years. A member of such an organization can face the same penalty if he is found guilty of such activity more than twice in a year.

The law affects only non-profit organizations, not commercial entities. If included in the register, the NGO cannot open branches in Russia, distribute information, including via the Internet or implement its programs or projects on Russian territory. The Prosecutor General's office, in consultation with the Foreign Ministry, will make the determinations about such organizations.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Federation Council Member Says 'No Intrigue' About Possible 'Unscheduled' Meeting, Cites Technical Reasons

Yesterday as we reported, Valentina Matvienko the speaker of the Federal Council made a cautionary announcement to deputies that they should stay close to home because of the possible scheduling of an "emergency" session of the Federation Council. Here's what she said:

"I do not rule out that the need will arise to whole an additional, unscheduled session of the Federation Council, therefore I ask you not to go very far away and remain in contact. If such a decision will be taken, we will inform you in a timely manner."

The word  she used in Russian was vneocherednoye which means literally "outside the line" and is used to mean "unscheduled" or "extraordinary" as in "emergency." An "unscheduled" session of the Federation Council is perceived to be in response to an emergency because this body only meets every two weeks and rarely has any emergencies.

Noah Sneider then translated this news story, where TV Rain linked it to past experience:

As we explained, in fact Russian troops already went to the Crimea on February 28, as President Vladimir Putin later admitted, and the Federation Council's "authorization" was symbolic.

The news that there might be an "emergency" in Moscow due to the Russian-backed separatist offensive along the front line yesterday snowballed, and in some cases there were reports that the session was already scheduled, although Matvienko had clearly said that it may be called, not that it was called.

By evening, and Kommersant were writing clarifications of this situation.

Later Walker reported in The Guardian that "the report was said to be a fake by a spokesperson for the parliamentary body."

But in fact, neither or Kommersant used the word "fake" or "hoax" or "misreport" or even "crossed wires" at all and didn't make that claim. They cited a member of parliament who made a technical point about existing difficulties with the schedule due to the June 12 holiday, Russia Day.

The Interpreter has a full translation of both sources. wrote, under the headline "Possible Convening of Unscheduled Session of Federation Council Is Technical in Nature":

The possible convening of the unscheduled session of the Federation Council is purely technical in nature and connected to the schedule of the State Duma, Andrei Klishas, head of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation.

According to him, it was originally thought that next week, when the State Duma will have its plenary sessions, the lower chamber of parliament will not review draft laws that must be passed in the third reading. Said Klishas:

However now it became known that the State Duma schedule could change, and it is not ruled out that some draft laws will also be passed in the third reading. According to the Constitution, after the passing of a draft law in the third reading, within 14 days, it must be reviewed by the Federation Council. The next session of the Federation Council is marked for June 24. Accordingly, if the State Duma passes draft laws in the third reading early next week, the Federation Council cannot fit into the 14-day period stipulated by the Constitutions, and the laws will thus be considered unconstitutional.

If the draw laws will be passed in the third reading at the end of next week, then the upper chamber will totally fit into the Constitutional deadline and accordingly, there will be no need for an unscheduled session, Klishas summarized.

The last time the Federation Council planned an unscheduled meeting was on Marc 1, 2014, in order to give President Vladimir Putin permission to introduce a limited contingent of forces into Ukraine.

Kommersant wrote, under the headline "Possibility of Unscheduled Session Explained at Federation Council":

Andrei Klishas, head of the committee on constitutional legislation of the upper chamber of parliament [the Federation Council] announced that there was no intrigue about a possible meeting of the Federation Council in an emergency session, since it could be connected to a change in the schedule of the State Duma's work. He noted that the Federation Council reviews laws passed within 14 days:
"Therefore our session takes place once every two weeks. Taking into account that in June there will be holidays connected to Russia Day [June 12], it may turn out to be not two weeks but three weeks since possibly the State Duma work schedule will change in that connection. That's all there is, there is no intrigue in the fact that the Federation Council may convene in such an unscheduled session."

Matvienko was quoted correctly, but her call on deputies "not to go far away" did not make clear that this was a technical matter of juggling schedules and in the context of the offensive, it was seen by TV Rain and others as a possible signal of trouble.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Chechen Officer Ruslan Geremeyev To Be Placed on Russian Federal Wanted List; Murder Weapon in Nemtsov Case Reportedly Found

Ruslan Geremeyev, a former officer of the Sever [North] Battalion of the Chechen Interior Ministry, is to be placed on the federal wanted list in the case of the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, reported, citing Interfax.

Geremeyev served in the same unit as Zaur Dadayev, the chief of five Chechen suspects currently in custody and the alleged trigger man. A source close to the investigation said he Dadayev hid out in this apartment, reported.

The Investigative Committee traveled to Chechnya in April in an attempt to interrogate Geremeyev but were unable to gain access to him. Geremeyev is a relative of Sen. Adam Demlikhanov, an influential figure in Russia who is in turn related to Ramzdan Kadyrov. Rumors have circulated that he fled to the UAE.

A source told Interfax (translation by The Interpreter);

"The whereabouts of Geremeyev were not able to be determined, so the next step is to declare a federal search."

This source said Geremeyev was officially a suspect in the murder case, which has not been stated before; initially he was to be questioned as a witness, not a suspect. Yet there has not been any confirmation of this status by the Investigative Committee.

Yesterday June 3, the pistol said to be used in the murder was found, Interfax reported.

"At the present time, the murder weapon has been discovered and attached to the materials of the case, certain forensics are being conducted."
Consequently, the pistol will be demonstrated to the suspects and they will have to answer the questions of the investigators."

Earlier, an anonymous source familiar with the investigation told Interfax that two pistols were found in the river, and other weapons in the suspects' apartments, including that of Zaur Dadayev, but these reportedly not turned out to be the murder weapon.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
American Business Consultant Expelled from Russia over Visa 'Incompatibility' Issues

Another American has been detained for visa problems and after a two-week stay in jail, will be deported tomorrow June 5, Kommersant reported.

Scott Blacklin, a business consultant and the former head of the American Chamber of Commerce, was detained May 20.

US Embassy spokesman Will Stephens said the US was "outraged" and called the jailing "absurdly long."

The Wall Street Journal reported:

Russia jailed a prominent U.S. business consultant for two weeks for an alleged visa violation, the latest sign that a chill in relations could damp trade between the two countries.

Scott Blacklin, a former president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Russia, has been held in the provincial city of Nizhny Novgorod since May 20. The U.S. raised the issue of his detention “several times at senior levels” in Moscow and in Washington, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said, arguing that he violated no laws.

Russian officials said Mr. Blacklin will remain in custody until Friday, when he will be deported. He was also fined 5,000 rubles—about $93. A provincial court found that Mr. Blacklin’s activities in Russia—he delivered a lecture at a university—were incompatible with his visa.

Blacklin came to Russia on a business visa, then was scheduled to give a lecture at the Lobachevsky Nizhny Novgorod State University at a conference called ComTech which is about innovative technology.

On the morning of the lecture, police came to his hotel and he was taken to the Federal Migration Service, then  to jail.

Blacklin, a friend of former President Bill Clinton, worked in the US Department of Energy, then in the Moscow office of WJS, Inc. and later Westinghouse Electric and Motorola International Celluar Infrastructure Group. He served as head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia from 1997-2000, then worked in executive positions at Cisco systems and also ran his own consulting firm, says Kommersant.

A source told Kommersant that Blacklin had been expelled from Russia last year for violating migration regulations and had to pay a 2,000 ruble fine ($36) and was forced to leave the country. At that time, too, he took part in a round table at the same university. The Wall Street Journal said that he was punished that time because taking part in a conference was activity incompatible with a tourist visa.

This time, he took the trouble to get a business visa, but it was still deemed in violation of the rules for inexplicable reasons, and now had to serve jail time and pay 5,000 rubles ($92) as a repeat offender.

Kommersant reported that there were two other cases of deportations this month from Nizhny Novgorod; three staff members of the Danish Institute Against torture (Dignity) who came to participate in a seminar organized by the Committee Against torture, and two volunteers from Czech Republic and Poland who were to take part in a seminar about protection of the rights of migrants.

Last year, two American journalism professors and four American exchange participants were expelled from St. Petersburg, also for "incompatibility" issues with their visas. A British academic was expelled earlier this year.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick