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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, May 26, 2016

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
Censorship Clauses Removed from Ekho Moskvy Journalist Albats' Contract; Awaiting Signature
The offensive clauses requiring pre-clearance of topics and questions in a radio show produced by Yevgeniya Albats, editor of New Times, have been removed, Vedomosti and RBC reported, citing Ekho Moskvy's editor-in-chief Aleksei Venediktov.

Vedomosti confirmed with Yekaterina Pavlova, the general direction of the station, that the objectionable clauses had been removed.

The contract has now been sent to Albats and is awaiting her signature; she has not yet made a comment.

As we reported yesterday, Albats' weekly show "Total Albats" has not run since early this month and appeared to be cancelled due to her refusal to sign a new contract as her previous one expired. According to statements she and Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief made yesterday, she objected to implied censorship in the contract regarding the need to clear topics and questions.

A source within Ekho Moskvy told Vedomosti, however, that in fact Albats had signed a contract with such clauses before, and the text had not changed since 2014 for her and other freelance journalists. Vedomosti looked at the 2015 contract and saw that the same requirements to clear topics were included which she now refused to sign, yet had signed before.

Vitaly Ruvinsky, an Ekho Moskvy journalist published the contracts they had all signed on his Facebook page, pointing to the previous existence of the "censorship" clauses.

Vedomosti, which came under new majority ownership last month as its original foreign investors were forced to leave and Russian businessman Demyan Kudryavtsev bought their stakes, appeared to portray Albats as not having a case in this piece.

Pavlova is quoted first as saying the contract had not changed, then implying that she had spent several weeks trying to convince the editors to change the contract so that they could sign it:

"We were ready to exclude these norms which suddenly became the subject of dispute, because they are not a matter of principle for us."

She said all contracts had this wording, but Venediktov said it was the first he had heard of it, and that he had not approved of it.

Although Vedomosti didn't report this, the difference is that when Albats signed the contract in 2014, there was a different general director, Yury Fedutinov, who had been at the company for 22 years, who was more trusted by journalists not to interfere and to keep such language as "boilerplate" that wasn't enforced.

He was replaced, and Pavlova, the wife of a deputy of Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov -- a factor also not mentioned by Vedomosti -- installed in his place. Pavlova then left for a time last year, instilling hope that the Kremlin's eyes and ears would not be a factor at Ekho Moskvy. But then she returned.


The language in question says as follows:

The host "does not have the right to pronounce text or carry out other actions that violate commonly-accepted norms of morality". Elsewhere there is a clause stating "topics that have not been cleared, questions and other information may not be aired during the hosting of radio programs." 

Under the current direction, Albats decided this would constitute active censorship. 

Serguei Parkhomenko, a popular critical blogger and journalist who has ran a program at Ekho Moskvy for 13 years said in reply to Ruvinsky's Facebook post that he had never had to clear topics or questions with anyone, but included material at his own discretion. He also had never signed a contract with this wording.

Fedutinov, the former general director, said in this Facebook discussion about Ruvinsky's remarks that "the concept of general director" isn't in the contract, i.e. invoking his authority versus the general director's is not established. But Venediktov has invoked other language in the charter of Ekho Moskvy that establishes editorial independence.

-- 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 ISIS Militants 'Liquidated' in Ingushetia; TV Tower Blown Up in Dagestan
The Federal Security Service (FSB) spetsnaz [special forces] and Interior Ministry forces "liquidated" five militants related to ISIS, Gazeta reported, citing the FSB's National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAC) (translation by The Interpreter):

As a result of the interception of the activity of a bandit group from IS [Islamic State] this past Saturday, and liquidation of 9 stashes of weapons and ammunition, FSB and Interior Ministry divisions received information about the whereabouts of bandits and their accomplices on the territory of Malgobek and Nazran Districts.
NAC said that during a "special operation" in the city of Malgobek and a "counter-terrorist operation" (CTO) in Nazran in Ingushetia, the militants put up an armed resistance. "As a result, 5 of them were liquidated and 3 were detained," said the NAC.

It is rare for law-enforcers to detain suspected terrorists as usually they prefer to shoot suspects dead.

No names of those killed or arrested were provided.

Citing law-enforcement sources, the independent regional news site Caucasian Knot reported that two militants were killed during the CTO in Nazran; another was killed in a clash that took place near the cemetery in the Barsuki district of Nazran. "Several" were detained. Caucasian Knot did not have information on other two allegedly killed; it said the Interior Ministry did not have any statement on its web site.

Russian media has variously called the terrorist related to ISIS by the acronym "ISIL" or "IS" for "Islamic State" and now seem to have settled on "IS". All media are required to attach a tag line to every story that ISIS is "a terrorist group whose activity is banned in a number of countries including in Russia."

Yesterday, May 25, a television tower in Dagestan was blown up, and a clash between militants and police took place nearby, Caucasian Knot reported.

The re-broadcasting station at the village of Goor in Shamil District was mined on May 24; militants began shooting a police the next day, and then the explosion took place. No police were injured. A fire broke out in the tower's equipment area, said officials.

Channel One was knocked off the air as a result of the explosion, and cell phone service was halted. Officials said while the tower and antennae themselves did not suffer, analog transmitters and cell phone equipment was damaged. 

A representative of the TV tower told Caucasian Knot that personnel were generally not present at the facility, which ran automatically. There are about 15,000 people who live in the area but no injuries reported. 

It was not explained how police came to be in the area if the tower was "automatic," given that the explosion was reported to occur after the shoot-out.

"As soon as the law-enforcement agencies allow access to the facility, the restoration of the station will begin," he said.

The perpetrators were able to "escape into the mountains," a source in law-enforcement said.

A representative of Rostelekom would only note that as a result of a fire, some equipment had been damaged and that the district center of Khebda was without cell service. Repairmen were hoping to restore service with reserve lines.

-- 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
Putin to Travel to Greece for Talks on Gazprom Pipeline; Visit to Mt. Athos
President Vladimir Putin will travel to Athens on May 28 for two days of meetings with Greek leaders and opposition and a visit to the sacred Mount Athos, Russian media reported.

Putin will travel in three armored cars that will change constantly so it will not be known which one he is in and he will be in an "electronic field of security," Gazeta.ru and RosBalt reported citing RFI. No other sites, including RBC.ru, ran this story about Putin's security although it was openly discussed in the Greek media.

Federal Protection Service (FSO) officials have swept the airport in Saloniki in preparation for Putin's visit. RFI said Greek press also indicated that any threat from a drone or helicopter during Putin's visit would also be repelled.

Putin plans to visit Mount Athos, site of 20 ancient monasteries, in connection with the 100th anniversary of the Russian Orthodox monks' presence there, Newsr.com reported. Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, will also make a pilgrimage to Mount Athos on May 27-29.

Only males are permitted to visit Mount Athos, and the number of visitors is restricted.

At a press briefing, presidential aide Yury Ushakov said "great significance" was being attached to the meetings as both sides hope to "activate" ties in all directions, RBC.ru reported. 

The Greek leadership has maintained a pro-Russian position and opposed EU sanctions over the Russian annexation of Crimea but as a member of EU has been forced to maintain them. Trade with Russia has dropped 34% as a result. Recently ultranationalist Aleksandr Dugin was barred from Greece because he is on EU sanctions list.

Russia plans a revival of pipeline plans in cooperation with Greece along the Black Sea bed, RBC.ru reported.

Presidential aide Yury Ushakov told RBC that the pipeline "will go across the territories of coastal countries, evidently Bulgaria, and then on to Greece and Italy."

Gazprom signed a memorandum with European partners Edison SpA in Italy and DEPA SA in Greece in February, despite EU sanctions against Russia, although it is not a final agreement. Negotiations with European Commission officials are still ahead. 

Ushakov does not think a statement on the pipeline will be signed in Greece during Putin's trip but the project will be discussed. 

Interfax cited Ushakov saying the pipeline may cross Turkey, although immediate plans for this possibility were scuttled after a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian plane last November near the border of Syria, killing the pilot. Relations between Russia and Turkey deteriorated drastically, with Russia calling boycotts of Turkish flights and products. Although Russia has opened a murder case on behalf of the downed pilot, eventually the prognosis, Interfax noted that in its corporate memoranda, Gazprom appears to perceive that this incident will be isolated from other aspects of the relationship and the Turkstream and is confident that the pipeline project will be revived.

Back in March,  Gazprom board member Oleg Aksyutin said that Turkstream could be revived when relations with Turkey were "normalized," Interfax reported

Even so, Gazprom's deputy chief Aleksandr Medvedev said the pipeline would likely go across Bulgaria, which has generally remained in good relations with Russia because it needs its gas. Gazprom declined to mention any other countries specifically named in their memo with European companies.  Some analysts such as Mikhail Korchemkin of East European Gas Analysis believe the pipeline will never get to Greece due to bad relations with Turkey.

Gazprom was forced to cancel its Southstream project due to EU sanctions. That pipeline was also supposed to cross Bulgaria; under pressure from the EU, Bulgaria, which is a member, halted the project, then Russia announced that it was closed. But Russia then immediately took up negotiations with Turkey, with which it had improving relations in recent years before the Syrian incident; then it froze the Turkstream project.

-- 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
Police Detain Son of Lukoil Executive and Friends for Joy-Ride in Mercedes
Police detained Ruslan Shamsuarov, son of Azat Shamsuarov, senior VP of Lukoil, and his friends for speeding through Moscow in a Mercedes Gelandewagen, recklessly driving into oncoming traffic lanes and evading police until they were finally caught, Gazeta.ru reported.

The story captivated Russian audiences angered by VIPs and their children who cut ahead of other cars and speed dangerously, sometimes running over pedestrians.

Videos made on Periscope and uploaded to Youtube by the joy-riders featuring them laughing and mocking police, has been widely disseminated on social media; the videos have been viewed from 27,000 to 81,000 times.

Ruslan Shamsuarov then informed on his friend, Abduvakhob Madzhidov, age 22, who he said was in fact at the wheel of the car when the youths fled police. Madzihdov was sentenced to 15 days in jail today, May 26.

Shamsuarov has now published an apology on Facebook (translation by The Interpreter):

"We were coming back from the club in my car. I had indulged in drinking a bit and didn't get behind the wheel. On Lenin Avenue, a traffic policeman tried to stop our car. But we didn't comply with his demand. What came next you know from TV and the Internet.

It is extremely unpleasant for me that I became a participant in this story. The only explanation for our behavior is our uplifted mood after visiting a club, which doesn't justify us one bit. We behaved badly. Therefore I would like to publicly make my sincere apologies for myself and my friends to the officers of the traffic police and all people in traffic, Muscovites and of course my family."

REN TV aired the youths' video and Gazeta has covered the story for three days.

Viktor Kovalenko from the press office of the Moscow chief of police made a statement

"A group of young people born in 1992 decided to display their bravado and uploaded a video about how they escaped from the police. But they didn't escape. It's clear in the video that they abandoned the car in a parking lot and ran away. They were then detained by police patrols, and were taken for administrative investigation which is ongoing."

The young people went on their joyride on May 23 early in the morning along Lenin Avenue, a broad thoroughfare in Moscow. They uploaded their videos as they raced around Moscow and people immediately began talking about the "golden youth," as the children of high-ranking officials and top business people are known.

In this video, viewed by 27,000 people, the young people film first-hand their race through Moscow into oncoming traffic. 

In this video, Shamsuarov mockingly describes his adventure with his friends, pointing to a nearby traffic police car and laughing. The video has over 81,000 views.

So great is public anger against officials and other privileged people speeding through Moscow with sirens but never suffering the penalties that ordinary people do that a movement has been active for some years in Russia called the "Blue Buckets". 

To imitate the blue sirens such officials often place on their cars, the activists put blue buckets on the top of their own vehicles to simulate the sirens. They track cases of officials violating traffic laws and publish them. When a BMW ran over a pedestrian in July 2013 and killed him, the "Blue Buckets" rallied, publishing the car's license plate and seeking justice. They believed the license belong to a government official, but police contested this.

While the focus has been on reckless government drivers, increasingly accidents involve ordinary people.

Another widely publicized incident on Kutuzov involved street-racers which ended in a multi-car pile-up and injuries for a number of drivers. Eventually an unemployed man from the North Caucasus, 33, turned himself into police

Last month 5,000 street car racers (known as stritreysing in Russian) gathered in Moscow for drag races that turned rowdy as many were drinking, and police had to break up the crowds. Fire trucks sprayed water on the crowd, prompting concern about use of new water cannon designed to control demonstrators, but authorities explained the vehicles involved were from the fire department.

There was another more serious incident on Kutuzov Avenue last year when Irakly Danelia, 21, was speeding and slammed his Hyundai into a Lada-2114, killed a policeman. It turned out that this student at a prestigious college had 45 speeding tickets. Danelia, who had tried to flee the scene of the accident, was arrested for 2 months pending trial then sentenced to 2.5 years of labor colony.

Russians are known world-wide on the Internet for avidly keeping videotapes made from dashboard cameras. This practice grew out of the fact that many Russians believe the only way they can prove their innocence in an accident is with a dashcam, but often these videos show how wild their driving is.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 



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