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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 21, 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.
Yod News Tallies What Russians Lost in 2015, Following Western Sanctions Due to Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

The Moscow city news site published a chart today titled "What We Lost in 2015: The Most Notable Bans, Restrictions and Losses of the Past Year."

2015-12-21 17:51:36

The dramatic events that caused these losses were Russia's annexation of Crimea and the invasion of the Donbass, which triggered Western sanctions; counter-boycotts by Russia of European food; further restriction on media and Internet freedoms as the Kremlin grew more hostile to the outside world; the likely terrorist bombing of Russia's Metrojet plane traveling from Egypt to St. Petersburg; and Turkey's shooting down of a Russian fighter plane that strayed into its airspace near the Syrian border. All of these and related events had consequences for ordinary consumers -- less food, higher prices, the end of budget travel to Europe, and closed Internet sites.

The chart has been translated by The Interpreter:

January 1 - Ban on driving your car with summer tires in the winter.

January 1 - Ban on advertising on paid TV channels.

February 7 - Within 2 months, about 10% of Moscow's restaurants close.

June 22 - Satirical site Lurkmore (Lukomorya) blocked.

June 25 - Restriction of import of lactose-free milk products.

July 1 - General Motors closes in St. Petersburg.

August 6 - Boycotted products begin to be physically destroyed at the state border.

September 11 - British budget air company EasyJet announces end of flights from London to Moscow.

September 15 - German airline AirBerlin announces end of flights from Moscow to Berlin.

October 26 - Transaero freight license annuled.

November 6 - All flights to Egypt suspended.

November 9 - Court decision passed to block largest torrent tracker

November 10  Central Bank revokes licenses of 4 Moscow banks. Dozens of Russian banks lose their licenses this year.

November 23 - Law bans inspection of Bible and Koran for extremism.

November 25 - Tour operators stop selling tours to Turkey; president signs decree banning charter air flights to Turkey starting January 1, 2015.

November 27 - Finnish company Stockmann announces that it is selling all its shopping markets in Russia. Earlier Desigual, Seppala, Esprit, River Island, New Look, Gerry Weber, American Eagle Outfitters announced their closures.

December 2 - Government purchase of foreign medications partially restricted.

December 14 - Toshiba announces the liquidation of their Russian division.

December 16 - Owner of OVI, who had planned to open a chain of food stores and had even begun building them, rejects the idea.

"Everything will (likely) be fine in 2016," concludes Yod.

To this list we could add the numerous McDonald's franchises temporarily closed in Russia for "inspection"; the Spanish fashion store Zara, Wendy's, the Gap, Esprit, and the British store River Island, which have also closed stores or left Russia entirely.

The exception is IKEA, the Swedish store which is the world's largest furniture retailer. IKEA closed a "lifestyle" section of its Russian website to avoid crossing Russia's anti-gay laws and plans to invest $3 billion in the next 5 years in Russia, where sales have increased as other retailers have left.

Under a new law reducing foreign participation in Russian mass media from 50% to 20%, Western media companies are also exiting; German Axel Springer and Swiss Edipress are selling their Russian assets. Swedish Modern Times is selling 75% of its Russian assets. 

Pearson and Dow Jones sold their shares in Vedomosti.
The Finnish media group Sanoma sold its 33.3% stake in Vedomosti to Damian Kudryavtsev, a Russian entrepreneur and former publisher of Kommersant.

Companies say that, not only due to the new law but the drop in the ruble value, they are finding investment in Russia unprofitable. But Disney, Discovery and Fox News are all remaining by now working through Russian distributors.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
EU Extends Sanctions Against Russia Until July 31, 2016

The European Union has extended economic sanctions against Russia by six months, with the current sanctions regime now due to stay in place until July 31, 2016.

A statement, published today on the website of the European Council, says that the sanctions are being extended due to the failure to implement all of the Minsk agreements by December 31:

On 22 June 2015, the Council prolonged the duration of the measures by six months until 31 January 2016. This followed an agreement in the European Council in March 2015, when EU leaders linked the duration of the sanctions to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements, which was foreseen to take place by 31 December 2015. 

However, since the Minsk agreements will not be fully implemented by 31 December 2015, the duration of the sanctions has been prolonged whilst the Council continues its assessment of progress in implementation.

Earlier this month Italian diplomats called for a debate on the extension of sanctions, preventing their automatic renewal:

However on December 18, European diplomats agreed to extend the sanctions at a meeting of all 28 member states' ambassadors to the EU.

-- Pierre Vaux

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
76-Year-Old Protester Vladimir Ionov, Charged In Moscow, Flees To Ukraine reports
that 76-year-old Vladimir Ionov, a regular protester in Moscow who was under prosecution by the Russian authorities for conducting repeated, unsanctioned protests, has fled to Ukraine.

Last month prosecutors requested that Ionov receive a three-year suspended sentence, with sentencing due on December 8.

This was despite the fact that Ionov had usually conducted solo pickets, standing alone with placards, which would not be illegal even under the draconian anti-protest legislation introduced in July, 2014.

However as Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group explains, the authorities regularly use provocateurs to qualify these solo protests as illegal group demonstrations:

Of particular concern here is the way the ‘offences’ are effectively manufactured.  Both Ionov and Galperin are accused over single-person pickets which do not require authorization.  A standard form of provocation is to have someone go up to the picketers, and refuse to go away.  The police immediately turn up and detain both (the provocateur only nominally) for ‘holding an unsanctioned meeting’. 

Ionov's sentencing was deferred until December 23 after he was hospitalised with heart issues on December 7.

Under the terms imposed by the court on November 25, Ionov was barred from leaving Moscow or attending public events. 

Having been stripped of his passport, Ionov was forced to enter Ukraine illegally, passing through vegetable gardens on the border, before travelling by car to Kharkiv with his partner, Olga Braun, who had previously legally travelled to Ukraine.


Vladimir Ionov and Olga Braun. Photo: Yuri Timofeyev/

Ionov said:

"I don't think that I have left forever. My motherland is Russia, and I think that there will soon be serious changes here. God grant that these changes take place without bloodshed."

-- Pierre Vaux

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Organizer of Showing of Navalny's Film Expose of Chaika Severely Beaten in Kushchevskaya, Town of Mafia Terror
Novaya Gazeta reports that a man in the town of Kushchevskaya, in Krasnodar Region, has been beaten after he attempted to help show a film produced by opposition leader Alexey Navalny exposing Russia's top law-enforcers.

The town figured in the story of a web of corruption implicating Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and his two sons, Artyom and Igor Chaika.
Artyom Martynenko had offered to help show the film and met with the director of a local theater, Aleksei Mandrigel, his acquaintance, and a member of the opposition Party of Progress chapter in Krasnodar,  according to a post on Facebook. Mandrigel himself had tried to call the theater unsuccessfully, and asked Martynenko, who was not connected to the opposition or Navalny's Anti-Corruption Fund, to make the contact.

After the meeting, unknown assailants attacked him (translation by The Interpreter):

 "Of course the negotiations with the movie theater seemed completely safe to me, I didn't  imagine that something could threaten Artyom. On Thursday, December 17, Artyom was supposed to head off to this fateful meeting with the theater director. On Friday Artyom called from another number and told me what had happened. The movie theater director had told him that he didn't know if he would be able to rent the hall and proposed calling another day. Artyom came out of the movie theater after 9:00 am and 10 minutes later the attack on him was made.

On Sovetskaya Street, two unknown men attacked him, dealing several blows with a piece of reinforced concrete, after which they continued to kick him and take away his cell phone. They didn't take anything more, therefore a motive of ordinary robbery seems unlikely. 

Evidently, Artyom was attacked due to his attempts to make an agreement with the movie theater, and the telephone was seized in order to determine his contacts and find out on at whose request he had done this. Immediately after the conversation with Artyom, I called the same Druzhba movie theater and asked if we could rent the hall for a private showing. The phone was handed to the director who immediately refused me.

At this time Artyom has left Kushchevskaya since he fears for his life. He decided not to go to the police because there is no trust in the law-enforcement agencies here. The Kushchevskaya story in Krasnodar Territory never ended. But Artyom still videotaped his bruises. Now five people have the video interview of Artyom where he describes what happened to him and his bruises are filmed. In the event that a car "accidentally" runs over me or a brick falls on my head or something like that, these materials can be sent to the media, Investigative Committee and FSB. With this post I appeal to those involved in the attack on Artyom: I really hope that in reading this text you will understand that Artyom wound up involved in this story accidentally, he's not related to the Anti-Corruption Fund and the opposition. I hope you will leave him alone."

Martynenko then told RBC that doctors had diagnosed internal trauma and numerous soft-tissue injures, but then he broke off any further contact with reporters.

Sergei Isyuk, director of the Druzhba movie theater denies that anyone came to meet him, although he said that he had received a phone all about renting the hall privately and he had replied that the theater didn't have that capacity.  He believe that Mandrigel had fabricated the story "from start to finish."

Readers of Mandrigel's Facebook post also expressed doubt about the beating because the video tape was not uploaded for public view. Martynenko himself did not provide details about whom he had met; Mandrigel said he had been reluctant to talk about the attack at all at first then decided it could be publicized.

Kira Yarmysh, Anti-Corruption Fund's press secretary said the fund would help Martynenko with any expenses and provide legal aid, although he did not want any help. "For now all we can do is raise a ruckus and thus protect him," she said.

The reason the opposition wanted to show the film in Kushchevskaya was because this was the town of the mafia gang led by Sergei Tsapok and Vyacheslav Tsepovyaz , exposed in Navalny's film, which had terrorized for years, culminating Tsapok's conviction for the murder of a family of 12, including 4 children. It was Tsapok's wife who was among the founders of the company Kuban Sakhar with Olga Lopatina, the wife of Deputy Prosecutor General Gennady Lopatin, Chaika's subordinate. Novaya Gazeta confirmed the corporate registration papers, and and Nezavisimaya Gazeta confirmed that Natalya Tespovyaz, the wife of, had signed them although she said the company had essentially not operated.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Investigative Committee To Determine Whether Navalny's Satirical Post About Kirovles Judge is Libel

The Investigative Committee will determine whether a satirical tweet made by opposition leader Alexey Navalny with an attached historical painting was libelous regarding the judge in the Kirovles case, TASS reported.

The suit was set in motion by an inquiry from Antaoly Vyborny, a State Duma member from United Russia, to the Investigative Committee, asking for an investigation into whether Navalny's statement about Judge Yevgeny Borisov of the Nikulinsky District  Court at the time qualified as libel or not.

As we reported in October, when Navalny learned that he would have to pay damages of more than 16 million rubles in the case involving a sale of lumber from his business to Kirovles, he displayed a famous painting from 1948 by Gerard David in two panels titled "Judgement of Cambyses" and "Flaying of Sisamnes." The painting portrays the trial and execution of an unjust and corrupt judge, Sisamnes in the 6th BC based on the story by Greek historian Herodotus.

Translation: 16,165,826 ruble damages levied.

The amount was equivalent to $261,576 at the time.

In his blog post linked to the tweet, Navalny adapted the painting to comment on his own case in a trial widely believed to be fabricated in retaliation for his anti-corruption activism.

The prosecution of the Kirovles case, involving a load of lumber purchased for 14.5 million and sold for over 16 million was already shaky but became doubly unfair when the judge applied damages to Navalny involving a 14.7 million ruble payment already made to Kirovoles and not returned.

The injustice of the ruling prompted Alexey Shelestenko, manager of media partnerships with Twitter in Russia, to tweet a sharp comment on Twitter to the effect that Aleksander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee an other officials were the ones who should be on trial -- which he later deleted.

In filing the complaint,  Vyborny maintained that Navalny used "offensive formulations" to describe the judge's ruling using the painting and that furthermore, Navalny's lawyer, Vladimir Kobzev had accused Borisov of committing a crime (taking part in fraud).

Navalny had paid some installments on the damages but did not have sufficient funds to complete the payments. After the judge's ruling, bailiffs arrived to take property from his home late at night.

Under Russian law (Art. 298.1 of the Criminal Code), libel can be a criminal offense and is a more severe crime when made against a judge, prosecutor or other law official. It is punishable by up to 2 million rubles' fine (US $28,106 to be garnished from the defendant's wages for a period of 3 years, or compulsory labor for 360 hours. There could be worse punishment if it is found that along with the libel, another severe or especially severe offense is committed.

The contention is that by displaying the 15th century painting about the flaying of a corrupt judge, Navalny is implying that Borisov is corrupt for sentencing him to such a heavy fine.

Vyborny told TASS that if there wasn't any libelous intent found in the blog post, 10 days will be sufficient to make a decision to reject the case. Thus "in order to make a legal assessment or whether or not to open up a criminal case, a pre-investigation inspection will be conducted," he explained

Navalny was unapologetic and tweeted another sarcastic remark:

Translation: It's not true: no one has flayed the skin from this corrupt judge yet.

This latest round of legal action against Navalny in an attempt to silence his anti-corruption work follows from the October ruling and has its own dynamic, But authorities may have decided not to let the claims drop because they are now motivated to retaliate from Navalny's December 1 video and report charging the Prosecutor General of Russia Yury Chaika and his sons with corrupt dealings.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick