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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: March 15, 2016

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.
Further Arrests in Culture Ministry Scandal; Damages Estimated at "Millions of Rubles"

As we reported earlier, the FSB has announced that a criminal case has been opened against "several senior officials" in the Culture Ministry.

The damage has been assessed as "exceeding one million rubles" and may be in the "millions of rubles," reported.

In addition to Pirumov, another figure said to be arrested was Boris Mazo, director of the property and investment policy department at the Ministry.

Aside from the restoration of the ancient Izborsk fortress in Pskov Region, a source told TASS that restoration of the Novodevichy Monastery and the St. John the Baptist 
Convent in Moscow, as well as the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg were also involved in the investigation.

This has prompted some speculation on social media that the fire at Novodevichy last year was an effort to cover the tracks of thieves, although no evidence was provided of this then or now.

The investigation has extended to the Pskov Region Administration where detectives are looking for "possible abuses and violations by contractors undertaking restoration 

The Culture Minister himself Vladimir Medinsky expressed "shock" at the developments. 

His press secretary put out a statement that under Pirumov's stewardship "substantial successes had been made."

Medinsky commented (translation by The Interpreter):

"This is a real shock for all of us. We're getting to the bottom of it. We're working with the investigation, providing all the necessary help, the official position of the ministry will be formulated in the very near future."
Lev Shlosberg, a former opposition deputy in the Pskov Legislature who was expelled over his criticism of the war in Ukraine, says investigators should have some direct questions for Medinsky himself, RosBalt reported.

He recalled an investigative report by the paper he founded, Pskovskaya Gubernaya, which outlined a scheme whereby a private company formed by the Culture Ministry passed through hundreds of millions of rubles despite only showing 10,000 rubles ($140) as their starting capital. The Pskov branch of the Yabloko Party, where Shlosberg is a member, has accused Pirumov's predecessor, Konstantin Cherepennikov, of embezzlement of funds intended to restore Izborsk. Shlosberg says the figures involved are at least 60 million rubles ($853,265).

A source told RosBalt that the FSB was also searching the Forum holding company owned by St. Petersburg businessman Dmitry Mikhalchenko, which in turn owns BaltStroi, the company involved in the Izborsk restoration. The St. Petersburg newspaper Fontanka says the investigation actually goes back to May 2013.

The restoration of Russia's many cultural monuments has been an essential feature of the rule of President Vladimir Putin because they express Russian identity. In February, he scolded the Culture Ministry for lack of progress in restoration, The Arts Newspaper reported:

At a meeting of his presidential council for culture and art in December, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, chastised officials about the state of the country’s rich architectural heritage and listened to the impassioned activists who have been fighting to save Russia’s monuments. Putin called cultural heritage a cornerstone in “the preservation of historical memory” and expressed regret about recent conflicts over construction in historic areas and the destruction of monuments. He told officials to identify “gaps” in legislation and to work more closely with activists.

“[Activists] are usually the first to raise the alarm about the loss of or threat to monuments, but they are not always heard,” he said. “I ask the culture ministry to submit clear proposals for protecting monuments of federal, regional and local significance against destruction and barbaric treatment.”

Officials also argued at this meeting whether some of the Russian government's big construction projects, such as one near the Solovetsky Monastery, site of the first GULAG camp, clash with its other priority of wanting to preserve and demonstrate Russia's rich culture.

A major wrangle has broken out over a plan by patriotic activists in the state-supported Military Historical Society to erect a monument to St. Vladimir of Kievan Rus, the 10th-century prince regarded as the founder of Russia. The plans are part of a concerted effort to interpret history so as to justify the occupation of Crimea. Students at Moscow State University protested plans to place it near the university, tens of thousands of people signed petitions against it; even UNESCO weighed in, saying the giant statute would ruin views of the Kremlin.

Medinsky labelled those who opposed the St. Vladimir statute as "people who have not found themselves in life, from either indolence, idleness or absence of demand."

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's press secretary Natalya Timakova said Medvedev had been informed of the case, as in all instances when federal officials were investigated by 

The question is whether this case, like so many others, will begin to fall apart or whether those targeted will only serve short sentences, if convicted, as in the Oboroneksport case in which the former defense minister and his mistress were arrested.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Chechen Officials File Libel Complaint Against Russian Opposition Activist Yashin After Critical Report on Kadyrov
Yesterday, March 14, Alvi Karimov, the press secretary of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, urged that Ilya Yashin, deputy chair of the opposition party PARNAS, be brought to trial for slander after Yashin's report on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, reported.

Today, the Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiev urged that a criminal case be opened up against Yashin, RBC reported citing the ombudsman's web site.

Claiming the report, which documented allegations of corruption and human rights violations, was "saturated with slander," Nukhazhiev sent a complaint to Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of Russia's Investigative Committee. He also called for blocking access to Yashin's web site. Said Nukhazhiev (translation by The Interpreter):

"Ilya Yashin's report is saturated with slander, cynicism, unconscionable lies, duplicitous fabrications aimed at the head of the Chechen Republic, aimed at the heads of the executive and legislative authorities of the Chechen Republic. Thus, we are witness to the fact that time after time, the most delirious and offensive accusations are made about the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. And this is done publically."

Kadyrov's term as head of Chechnya is due to expire April 1, and he has said he is willing to step down unless President Vladimir Putin asks him to stay. The Kremlin has not yet given any indication of whether they will support him, but there is widespread speculation that he will continue as Putin has said about Kadyrov in the past that he is "an effective leader."

Yashin's report, which has been translated into English by 4FreeRussia, aggregates information available in the independent media and the reports of human rights organizations as well as from his own interviews about known facts of arrests, torture, disappearances and killing in Chechnya, along with the extraction of funds from workers' pay to feed Kadyrov's charitable organization. Given that 70% of the Chechen economy is subsidized from Moscow, the funding is murky for Kadyrov's often visibly opulent lifestyle and the building of palaces and mosques. 

Nukhazhiev goes further than accusing Yashin of libel; he says he "undermines the foundations of the national security of the country, violations the constitution rights of citizens and negatively influences the socio-political situation in Russia."

These are all points that Putin loyalists and the state media make about Yashin and other opposition figures as well, so the Chechen complaint could serve as a pretext to mount a case of some kind against Yashin. In January, nearly a million people marched in Grozny in support of Kadyrov, many carrying state-sponsored signs accusing the opposition of being "traitors" who were supposedly funded from abroad.

For his part, Yashin said he'd be happy to appear in court and defend the information in his report, RBC reported, citing Yashin's Facebook page:

"We expected such a reaction from Kadyrov. Not for the first time he is trying to use the law-enforcement agencies as a lever of pressure on his opponents. A criminal case is an attempt to shut my mouth."
Yashin added that if the Investigative Committee really took his report seriously, they might "have questions about Kadyrov itself." Kadyrov had not answered any charge substantively, he said. 

Yashin said he hoped that authorities wouldn't attempt to halt the dissemination of his report due to the complaints and thus "play the role of service personnel for the head of Chechnya." 

"The nervous reaction of Kadyrov to my work testifies to the fact that I am doing a correct and useful thing, and the report has hit the target. And the more people learn about the truth of Kadyrov's bandits, the more chances Russian society has for changes."

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Deputy Culture Minister Pirumov Arrested, Charged With Embezzlement

Russia's deputy minister for culture, Grigoriy Pirumov, has been detained this morning, as Federal Security Service (FSB) and law enforcement officers conduct searches at his Ministry.


The state-owned TASS news agency reported, citing an unnamed source, that Pirumov has been charged with embezzlement.

Earlier today, the FSB announced that a criminal case had been opened against "several senior officials" at the Ministry of Culture and a number of businessmen, "suspected of embezzling public funds allocated for the restoration of cultural heritage sites."

According to an Interfax source, "close to the management of the Ministry of Culture," the case concerns sites in and around the fortress of Izborsk in the Pskov region.

The source said that searches were under way in practically every department of the Ministry, with all documentation related to construction and restoration works being seized.

Interfax notes that the restoration of Izborsk had been the subject of investigations by local journalists over the last few years.

Among those calling for the Investigative Committee to look into the situation was Lev Shlosberg, a local legislator who was assaulted after investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine and subsequently lost his mandate.

The Accounts Chamber, the Russian parliamentary financial control body, claims that no less than 60 million rubles (over 847 thousand US dollars) committed to the restoration work in Izborsk was unaccounted for.

Searches are also being carried out at the Baltstroy company, which was contracted to carry out the restorations.

-- Pierre Vaux

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