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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: December 8, 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
A Brief Tour Of The Russian World In Crisis

Just one month ago NATO Commander General Philip Breedlove gave an interview to NPR's Steve Inskeep. Breedlove discussed Russia's aggressive actions across the globe, its intervention in Syria, and its moves in Ukraine. During the interview he made a very important point -- it's not wise to attempt to use your own Western logic to understand Russian President Vladimir Putin, instead watch what Putin actually does and what he prepares to do and make predictions from there:

"I really don't think anyone truly understands what Mr. Putin is about. And I'm suspect when someone walks up to me and says, Mr. Putin wants this or Mr. Putin wants that. We watch the capabilities and the capacities that he builds in these places. And from those capabilities and capacities, we can deduce what he might want to do. And so we looked at the force he built up when he went into Crimea. We look at the force that he has built up in Syria. And we take a look at that and deduce that he can take the following actions or make the following influence. And that's how I try to determine where Mr. Putin might be headed."


Following this logic, if one were to take a quick look around the Russian world, one might get the impression that Russia's entire sphere of influence is on fire today.

In Syria:

- Russia is accusing the US Air Force of conducting an  airstrike on a Syrian military base. The US blames a Russian airstrike.

- Russian propaganda outlets are bragging about the presence of an advanced Kilo-class submarine off the coast of Syria, equipped with Russia's new Kalibr cruise missiles.That submarine has reportedly launched cruise missiles against targets in Syria.

- The rhetoric between Turkey and Russia continues to escalate. Yesterday Turkey condemned the "provocation" of the placement of a soldier with an anti-aircraft missile on the deck of a ship passing through the Bosphorus Straits. Russia is dismissing Turkey's criticism.

- Russia has warned NATO against strengthening Turkey's air defenses.

In Ukraine:

- The fighting continues to boil as it has for weeks, though today there are signs of a significant intensification near Donetsk:

- Meanwhile, electricity has partially been restored to Russian-occupied Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in March 2014.
- This follows more more than two weeks of little-to-no electricity for Russian occupied Crimea since explosions at electrical pylons in Ukraine. Those supporting a blockade of Ukrainian goods moving into Crimea have shifted from fringe activists to the country's leaders.

- Russia has embargoed all Ukrainian food, and Ukraine has threatened to retaliate through its own sanctions. Russia has said that Ukraine can't freely trade with both the EU and Russia, and the next stage of Ukraine's EU Association Agreement goes into effect on January 1.


Keep Your Eyes On Russia:

There are so many unanswered questions about the fate of Russia in the near term. Can Russia simultaneously fight Ukraine and in Syria? Can Russia cut off trade with both Ukraine and Turkey, two of its largest trading partners?

But then there is another crisis -- the price of oil and the devaluation of the ruble. Over the summer, as oil prices tumbled, Russia took dramatic steps to end the slide in the value of the ruble. This week oil prices reached historic lows with Brent crude at $40/barrel, and the ruble tumbled to its lowest point since September. How can Russia afford to increase military spending, decrease trade with many countries in the West as well as those mentioned above, and still balance its budget while the value of the ruble crumbles and its national coffers empty?

I don't have an answer, but history has shown us that Putin, when his back is against the wall, tends to act out in the foreign sphere, and when he does he often simultaneously crushes dissent at home. If we take a look at just a handful of stories we've covered over the last few days, we'll see a significant uptick in Russian government action against civil society, a trend which has been accelerating rapidly since the EuroMaidan Revolution, but behavior that stretches to the start of Putin's reign in Russia, and beyond:

- A new crackdown on Moscow's only remaining independent television network:

- New legal threats against one of Putin's most famous critics, and his father:
- A crackdown on an activist who used the same language to talk about Russia's regions that the Kremlin uses to talk about Ukraine:
- A crackdown on new protesters:

- More foreign organizations declared "undesirable":


- A reneging on a previous pledge to recognize international law when Russia joined the Council of Europe:

General Breedlove might be right, and if he is then we should expect Russia to double down on Ukraine and Turkey, not necessarily militarily but certainly economically. Any such move will have a negative impact on the Russian economy, and when it does Putin may do what he has done for the last two years -- blame Russia's problems on the West, and increase his confrontational behavior in conflicts beyond Russia's borders. In order to do that, he'll need to redouble efforts to ensure there is no political blow-back at home, and as you see from just a few selected headlines above, that pattern appears to be playing out once again.

So while the world once again debates whether Russia is a reliable partner, it's important to heed General Breedlove's proven advice -- focus on Putin's behavior, not on Western analysts' projections of his thoughts.

-- James Miller


The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Conservative Duma Deputy Zhuravlyov Appeals to Prosecutor General to Inspect TV Rain's Sources of Funding


Conservative Russian parliamentarian Aleksei Zhuravlyov has appealed to the Prosecutor General with a request to check the sources of funding of the independent station TV Rain, Novaya Gazeta reports, citing TASS.

As we reported yesterday, TV Rain is already under inspection for alleged "violations of extremism and labor laws."

As Zuravlyov noted in his inquiry, the Polytechnical Museum allocated about 1.8 million rubles to the TV station for "creation of spots between programs and placement in broadcasting on the television channel." Zhuravylov felt this deal was "dubious" and asked for whether it was a "justified budget expense" and complied with Russian law.

He also asked separately to inspect TV Rain's relationship with the Rolf foreign automobile company, since advertisers on cable TV had to fit certain criteria, Novaya Gazeta reported. These probes appeared to be an effort to attack TV Rain's sources of ad funding.

Zhuravlyov, a deputy from Voronezh, is a member of the Rodina (Motherland) party and the United Russian faction. He is most notorious for sponsoring legislation to deny gay parents the right to adopt children, and a draft aw to deny schooling to the children of migrants who do not pay their taxes, which ultimately was not passed. He is also known for having gotten into a fight in 2013 in the parliament building with Chechen senator Adam Delikhanov which ended in the hospitalization of his acquaintance. Zhuravlyov traveled to Donetsk to celebrate with Russian-backed separatist leaders the 70th anniversary of Victory Day on May 9, 2015.

-- 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
Russian Activists Call on Foreign Internet Service Providers Not to Place Servers in Russia Under New Law

The meter is running out on the grace period for Russia's new Internet law requiring all Internet service providers with Russian customers to maintain servers on Russian soil. The law went into effect September 1, 2015, but authorities said they would issue only warnings until the end of the year, and not block any services.

As we have been reporting in the last year, so far it is not clear how much cooperation the Kremlin will obtain from foreign companies in its effort to gain access to user data. In August, Google was reported as maintaining servers in Russia and Facebook was holding off; Twitter has also not complied.

Under Russia law, all ISPs have to provide access to the Federal Security Service (FSB), domestic intelligence and also maintain archives of data over time. Russia's own popular social network VKontakte has already seen accounts and groups shut down if they were politically controversial; it was this trend that Pavel Durov, inventor of VKontakte cited in his decision to leave Russia. 

The Kremlin has cited the need to combat crime and terrorism as rationale for increased monitoring of the Internet but in practice, non-violent political or media sites have been blocked such as grani.ru and activists have been handed heavy sentences for their online expression. 

Russian activists  have launched a petition at Change.org calling on foreign providers not to place their servers in Russia.

Soldatov, a Russian journalist is author of The Red Web, an investigative book about the Kremlin's increasing control over the Internet, recently gave an interview to The Interpreter.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has endorsed the petition.

The OSCE's Rapporteur on Freedom of Media noted the petition.
Recently, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia's long-time SORM program to filter Internet communications violated internationally-recognized human rights by which Russia was bound when it became a member of the Council of Europe.
But the Russian parliament declared recently that it would no longer recognize the primacy of international law.


Many Russians have come to rely on Twitter, Facebook and other services to escape the confines of the Russian censor. It remains to be seen what the Russian government will do if Western companies refuse to comply with the new law. 

Last summer, authorities showed their willingness to block an entire site -- Wikipedia -- over one article on drugs to which the censor objected. The blocking was brief but the struggle has been ongoing; recently Russian Wikipedia editors expelled one of their colleagues who cooperated with the government in editing some controversial pages. 

-- 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
Russian Investigative Committee Notifies Khodorkovsky Of Formal Charges Related To Murder Case To Be Presented December 11

Russia's Investigative Committee will formally charge businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky this coming Friday, December 11, Moscow Times reported.

Khodorkovsky posted a copy of the letter signed by Special Cases Investigator Yury Burtovoy on his Twitter feed. 

Translation: They remembered that first, they have to present the charge. The Kremlinites generally have a memory problem. It's an epidemia.

Earlier, Khodorkovsky had received a summons for interrogation via his father who resides in Moscow.

The summons, dated December 7, orders Khodorkovsky to appear at the Investigative Committee in connection with the murder charges which will be formally made on December 11, and informs him that he will be provided with an attorney if he does not have one.

There is still no announcement on the Investigative Committee's web page.

Khodorkovsky, who has lived in exile in Switzerland since he left Russia following President Vladimir Putin's pardon in December 2013, is not intending to answer the summons.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr., a program director at Open Russia, the organization founded by Khodorkovsky, wrote on his Facebook page that the charges in the investigator's letter related to the Petukhov murder case in which Aleksei Pichugin was tried.

Kara-Murza, Jr., who suffered what appeared to be a deliberate poisoning while working in Moscow in May, was in critical condition for many weeks before his discharge in July and departure from Russia for rehabilitation abroad. He has recently decided to return to Moscow.

-- 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
5 Injured in Moscow Bus Stop Bombing; Bomber Caught on Surveillance Video

A suspect in the bombing of a Moscow bus stop was caught on surveillance video running from the scene, RBC.ru reports, citing Interfax. The bomb contained metal shrapnel, said police.

Last night as we reported, a bomb was thrown at Muscovites waiting at a bus stop on Pokrovka Street. The toll of those injured has now been revised up to 5.

Sources in law-enforcement now report that a video at the bus stop caught a man throwing a package of explosives, then running away. Later, police found pieces of metal shrapnel they said was packed into the bomb.

A case was opened to investigate "hooliganism" and authorities were not characterizing the violent act as "terrorism."

Three of those injured were taken to the Shklifofsky Trauma Hospital, one was treated at the scene and a fifth person was reported as injured later and taken to City Clinic No. 36, said RBC.ru.

A source said the bomb was estimated to contain 50 grams of TNT. 

Traffic remained closed on Pokrovka Street on Tuesday morning Moscow time. 

Moscow police said they had tightened surveillance in the capital in the last two weeks since threats were made following the downing of the Metrojet plane on October 31, believed to have been caused by terrorists related to ISIS, as well as the execution of a Russian man from Chechnya by ISIS, said to be an FSB informant.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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