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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: December 9, 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.
TV Rain to Get Tax Inspection - On Top of Inspections for Violation of 'Extremism' Law, Labor Code, Media Licensing

After facing a demand for an inspection of possible violations of labor law and the anti-extremism law earlier this week, TV Rain, the last independent TV station in Russia, is now getting a demand for a tax inspection, reported.

Yesterday officials from the prosecutor's office and the Emergencies Ministry arrived at the TV Rain office to serve notice to Natalya Sindeyeva, who published the document on her Facebook page with a comment (translation by The Interpreter):

"Of course, it's unpleasant when all these inspections occur at once but the tax inspection is useful. It helps to correct mistakes that may crop up in the accounting office's work."

The Ostankino Inter-District Prosecutor's Office launched the inspection "upon appeals from citizens." Prosecutors will be looking at labor code violations, evidence of "extremism," violation of media licensing law -- and now tax law.

The office didn't specify what specifically was in the "citizens' appeals" that triggered the inspections.

Sources told RBK that originally, TV Rain had helped opposition leader Alexey Navalny's Anti-Corruption Fund in the early stages of researching his recent report on the sons of Prosecutor General Yury Chaika -- that may have fuelled the desire of prosecutors for inspections.

But the same sources said that TV Rain had withdrawn from Navalny's project, citing pressure from the prosecutor's office.

TV Rain's editor-in-chief Mikhail Zygar told RBC that his station had researched the businesses of Igor and Artyom Chaika (Artem Chayka) independently; however they "didn't have sufficient resources to conduct a full-fledged investigation." They then turned over some of their video materials to the Anti-Corruption Fund, which were used in Navalny's film Chaika and indicated as "video from TV Rain."

An official of the prosecutor's office told RBC that they did not know of TV Rain's involvement in the Anti-Corruption Fund's investigation, and had not spoken to TV Rain about the matter.

Today, television channels conducted their annual interview with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. TV Rain host Mikhail Fishman asked Medvedev what the Kremlin's reaction was to the allegations about Chaika's sons. Medvedev said the reaction to such claims "shouldn't be emotional" and can be made by the justice system only, using the established procedures:
"All sorts of publications -- you know perfectly well how they emerge. This is not always the result of objective investigation."

Chaika himself has implied that Navalny's report was paid for by outside sources, although the report is based on publicly available real estate and business documents that beg the question of how government officials and their relatives have obtained expensive properties incompatible with their salaries.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Italy Blocks Automatic Renewal Of EU Sanctions On Russia, Calls For Debate

Italian diplomats have barred the automatic extension of European Union economic sanctions on Russia, calling instead for the matter to be debated.

Italy's ANSA news agency reported this afternoon that the extension had been due to be approved at a meeting of EU member states' ambassadors today before Rome objected.

Tiziana d'Angelo, spokesperson for the Italian mission to the EU, told Reuters that "we have asked for a discussion on the matter."

"We think it is an important subject and deserves at least a quick exchange of views," she said, "Even if there is no disagreement on the substance."

The current economic sanctions regime expires at the end of January. The deadline for warring parties to abide by the terms of the second Minsk agreement is December 31. So far, with fighting escalating dramatically in Ukraine once more, there appears little chance that this will be the case.

Reuters reports:

That worries some EU officials who fear it could reopen divisions in the bloc over how to deal with Russia, the EU's main energy supplier. The main focus of the summit is intended to be negotiations with Britain to continue its membership and efforts to contain irregular migration.

While eastern EU nations favor several more years of economic sanctions, countries with a closer relationship with Russia including Cyprus, Italy and Hungary believe dialogue is more important than trying to punish the Kremlin.

According to diplomats who spoke to both ANSA and Reuters, ambassadors may either attempt to pass the extension of the sanctions after a short debate tomorrow, or it will be deferred until the next meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on December 17 and 18.

-- Pierre Vaux


The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Khodorkovsky Says Murder Charges Filed Against Him are Kremlin's Retaliation for His Corruption Expose of Top Officials

Businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky said the murder case filed against him by Moscow is in retaliation for an expose of corruption among top law-enforcement officials published this week, reported.

As we reported, Russian authorities gave notice to Khodorkovsky yesterday that he is being charged in connection to the 1998 murder of Neftegansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov for which Alexey Pichugin, the former security chief of his YUKOS oil company was sentenced to life imprisonment.

At an online press conference at Open Russia, the organization he founded to promote democracy in Russia, Khodorkovsky said that the charges against him of involvement in the murder of Petukhov  -- for which a number of figures had motivations -- are related to his report on connections of these top Russian law-enforcers with the Russian mafia in Spain.

Open Russia has published the 415-page indictment of Russian officials and organized crime figures and provided commentary about Chaika's and Bastrykin's relationship to criminal networks.

Russian authorities re-opened the murder case, for which Yukos security chief Pichugin was convicted, last summer, summoning Khodorkovsky's elderly father Boris Khodorkovsky for interrogation.

The Interpreter has provided a translation of Khodorkovsky's statement at the press conference: 

Pressing new charges against me before New Year's is an old tradition. This is the third time. And Putin has described this publicly for the third time.

There is a more than enough information about this even in Wikipedia. Thus I will speak on this topic briefly.

The murder was solved back in the year it was committed -- in 1998. The perpetrators were found, they were arrested, but for some unknown reason they were released and murdered themselves.

There were several hypotheses. You can read about them if you wish. 

The false link of YUKOS employees emerged only in 2003, after my public speech regarding corruption in the highest echelons of power, which President Putin really didn't like.

The fabrication of the charges required a replacement of the perpetrators. These perpetrators -- new perpetrators -- were promised short terms for false testimony. They described this in court.

[Presidential spokesman Dmitry] Peskov said when I was sent abroad, Putin didn't know anything. That's not true.

The reasons for today's aggravation are quite clear. There is more than one reason. The decision was made in early summer to pressure the stockholders of YUKOS. They don't want to pay the $50 billion [awarded as fees in a successful law suit--The Interpreter], therefore they are using all mechanisms for pressure.

Recently we published at our portal materials from the Spanish prosecutor proving that Bastrykin was appointed chairman of the Investigative Committee at the recommendation of Gennady Petrov who is said to be close both to Putin and the leadership of the Tambov organized crime group. Investigations have been published by the Anti-Corruption Fund, Novaya Gazeta and New Times.

The result was to lend haste to the performers of this action [the charges against Khodorkovsky--The Interpreter] in order to change this agenda so disliked by the government [the Spanish indictment--The Interpreter].

And finally, the activity of Open Russia -- the organization which I created -- is an irritant. There have already been police raids and arrests of employees. In fact on the latter, President Putin expressed once again an unusual and detailed degree of informedness.

Today, everything provokes irritation from the government, the entire agenda of the day is crappy.

When I got out of prison and was sent abroad, the situation was favorable to them: huge reserves from super-high prices of oil, a friendly Ukrainian government, the war in Georgia practically forgiven by the West, 30 rubles to the dollar, and correspondingly, no protests.

Only two years have passed, and what do we see now? The reserves will end in 2017, and not only because the ruble has fallen to 69 to the dollar. If such a devaluation had not occurred, the reserves would have ended earlier. The standard of living of the population has sunk 20% and will fall further. The usual places for vacation have become inaccessible [i.e. popular destinations such as Egypt, where a terrorist bomb was recently placed on a Russian Metrojet, killing all 224 on board, and Turkey, where Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter plane has led to boycott of Turkish tours--The Interpreter].

Patience is broken by protests that were provoked by the greed of the Putin entourage. The long-distance truckers are only the first herald [long-distance truckers and others are protesting new tolls on federal highways - The Interpreter].

There is a military conflict with Ukraine. Thousands have been killed. And in fact nothing is over yet.

The conflict with Turkey is [somewhere] between a trade war and a normal, full-fledged war.

Western sanctions have not only reduced the reserves but have frozen the technological backwardness of many branches of industry in place. Young people, specialists, are choosing to go abroad to continue their careers.

The banking sector is on the verge of a systemic crisis.

The outrageous system of corruption has infected all those around the president, the governors of regions, the leadership of the law-enforcement system.

What was the original cause of all this?

The original cause was the deliberate destruction of Russia's justice system in order to preserve power.

By skirting the Constitution, the president is now essentially heading the country for the fourth time. He obtained the ability to appoint or fire any judge. He essentially appoints the judges of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts as well. The parliament here serves only as a screen.

The parliament itself is deprived of basic budget authorities. The parliamentary oversight body -- the Accounts Chamber -- has been re-subordinated to the president. The decorative role of government is clear to everyone.

Thus, the president and his entourage may use the resources of government and use them virtually without oversight. They use them to buy loyalty, for war, for mega-projects and finally simply many of them put this cash in their own pockets.

The Chaika Affair, the "Russian Mafia in Spain," Governor [Andrei] Turchak as the mastermind of the beating of the journalist Oleg Kashin, the murder of Boris Nemtsov whose ties stretch to [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov's close associates -- this is not just the degradation of the state.

In recent days, we have seen the abolition of the primacy of international law despite the procedure established by the Constitution, and three years of imprisonment for Ildar Dadin for realizing his Constitutional right to peaceful picketing.

We are dealing here with a full-fledged anti-Constitutional coup.

What is the way out? Given the lack of an institution for honest elections and other mechanisms for the lawful change of the government, the only means for changing it is revolution.

Revolution in Russia is inevitable. The [dwindling] remains of the reserves and the threat of repressions only delay the inevitable onset.

The question is how to make the revolution at least relatively peaceful and effective from the perspective of the restoration of democratic governance of the country.

I see my task in offering alternatives to society, to help people prepared to become that alternative who wish to acquire political experience for themselves.

Essentially that is why we launched the Open Elections project. Timur Valeyev, head of that project, is here today in the hall.

For that we have created and will help to create platforms for free discussion about the future of the country. We have told the truth in articles and films and will go on doing so. We are fighting for the rights of political prisoners, against repressive anti-Constitutional laws and will go on doing so.

I see Russia as a law-based state with independent courts, with an independent parliament, with broad authorities in the budget sphere and in the sphere of oversight of the executive branch.

Russia needs a strong and self-sustaining government. Russia needs a president as well but as a guarantor of civil rights and a head of state who will leave his post without machinations after no more than two terms, and leaves it forever.

The country needs new areas of growth, modern megalopolises besides Moscow, it needs a modern infrastructure, cheap and rapid transportation, modern industry. All of this is impossible without coming out of the isolation into which this government has pushed us in order to maintain its permanency.

I know that after this government is changed, education and science, accessible health care and an honest police force must be immediately created, and much more in fact.

There are the resources for all this. They simply must be used rationally and not traded for the loyalty of crooks in and out of uniform.

Putin and his entourage must provide account to the public for what has been done in an independent court. I see that as my task.

To reiterate: Russian society must acknowledge that an anti-constitutional coup has taken place in the country.

Illegitimate repressive laws are being passed, they are being passed by an illegitimate parliament on orders from an illegitimate government body -- the presidential administration -- and are being applied by dependent courts.

They are against the law. And they must be sabotaged to the extent there is effort and ability.

Returning to the legal field in such a situation is called resolution. It is inevitable and necessary.

Revolution is a good word.

It can and should be peaceful.

It is our common task to make a peaceful resolution.

Khodorkovsky told reporters that he no longer considered himself bound by a pledge not to engage in politics, made to Putin at the time of his pardon in December 2013. According toan Interfax report (translation by The Interpreter):

I took that obligation upon myself, and I fulfilled it: not to take part in political life, but to be involved in family affairs at the time when I was given the decision of [Vladimir] Putin [on pardoning]. At that time it was required of me in connection with the fact that my mother was in serious condition, and alas, regrettably, she passed away in August, more than a year ago. 

Khodorkovsky pointed out that officially, his prison term would have ended last August -- he was pardoned 8 months before the completion of his 12-year sentence and that "no obligations existed" afterward.

Even so, Khodorkovsky added that he "wasn't interested in being involved in politics" and that "the majority of professional people who have been involved in politics in the opposition could not perform this function." But "as a citizen of Russia, I simply could watch what was going on in the country," he explained.

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

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick