Russia, Explained #5 by Novaya Gazeta

In Politkovskaya’s memory — Russia’s Arctic expansion — ‘Putin’s chef’ jet mystery

14:40, 9 октября 2019


«Новая газета»
14:40, 9 октября 2019


«Новая газета»

Anna Politkovskaya. Photo: Novaya Gazeta

This Week’s Highlights

This year’s recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award pens a letter to Anna thirteen years after her murder, a special report on military development in the Russian Arctic, an exclusive investigation into the strange destinations of a jet belonging to an internationally sanctioned individual – “Putin’s chef,” Gazprom’s missing pipelines and a spate of resignations causes a scandal at a leading children’s cancer center.

Want to get the full story? Click the links below for full-length articles in Russian. 

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Letter To Anna Politkovskaya

Thirteen years ago Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in the hallway of her Moscow home. The murderers are in prison, but the case investigating who ordered her killing has been suspended and isn’t being conducted at all. Every year, the human rights organization RAW In WAR presents the Anna Politkovskaya Award to recognize the courage and bravery of outstanding female journalists and human rights defenders. Here’s what this year’s laureate, Sky News war correspondent Alex Crawford, had to say upon receiving the 2019 Anna Politkovskaya Award:

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Special Report From The Russian Arctic

In this special report, Novaya Gazeta correspondent Tatyana Britskaya explains how the Russian government is spending billions developing the Arctic – but only for military purposes. Meanwhile, the standard of living in the region is getting worse. 

Backstory. With rapid climate change warming the Arctic, governments like Russia, the U.S. and China are competing to solidify their control over new trading routes and natural resources in the region. As a result, the Arctic is getting increasingly militarized as countries invest in development there. Nearly 75 percent of Russia’s $1.9 billion military budget went to Arctic expansion from 2015 to 2017. In September, the military brought in new S-400 missile systems to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, and built a new generation of anti-missile radars near the city of Murmansk and in the Komi Republic. $13 million is also being channeled through the Russian Guard for the defense of the northern settlements of Sabetta, Dikson and Dudinka. Meanwhile, people from villages in the Taymyrsky District near Dudinka are sifting through coal with shovels, with each family manually sorting up to 10 tons of coal every year. Schools and houses don’t have heating until late autumn and the climate in Murmansk is harsh. Salaries are not competitive with those in Moscow and many leave as soon as they can.

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Exclusive Investigation: Prigozhin’s Sanctioned Jets

Last week the United States Department of the Treasury announced new sanctions against Yevgeny Prigozhin – the former hot dog seller turned billionaire businessman nicknamed “Putin’s chef.” The sanctions also targeted the “troll factory,” three airplanes and a yacht belonging to the Kremlin’s global “fixer,” meaning that now, anyone that  gives Prigozhin’s aircraft the right to land could also be banned. According to Novaya Gazeta’s exclusive investigation, Prigozhin’s jets have taken some interesting flights.

For example, a Russian military delegation flew to Sudan aboard one of his business jets immediately after the country experienced a coup in April 2019.

And a number of high-ranking officials from the Sudanese government flew back to Sudan on it following negotiations in Moscow. Another “sanctioned” jet changed its tail number and “hid” under a Russian registration, while a third plane belonging to Prigozhin was in the Central African Republic just ten days before the murder of Russian journalists Orkhan Djemal, Kirill Radchenko and Aleksandr Rastorguev.

Backstory. Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin is known for his links to the Russian President and is often called “Putin’s chef” because of the restaurants he owns in the Kremlin. Prigozhin is leading Putin’s expansion in Africa, and is associated with the so-called Internet Research Agency, aka the St. Petersburg “troll factory” – a company engaged in disruptive commenting and influence campaigns on social networks, as well as the Wagner Group – a Russian private military contractor operating in countries like Syria and the Central African Republic. Sources believe that Prigozhin’s people could be involved in attacks on activists, as well as the murder of Russian journalists Orkhan Djemal, Kirill Radchenko and Aleksandr Rastorguev in the Central African Republic in July 2018. 

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Gazprom’s Missing Pipelines, Explained

During a press conference in December 2018, President Vladimir Putin heard about a gas pipeline “stolen” in northern Russia. According to the documents, Gazprom built and paid for a 129-kilometer pipeline in the Leningrad Oblast, but there is only a semi-overgrown trail in its place. The missing pipeline has yet to be found, but Gazprom allocated money for its construction once again, and so it continued. Now, a Novaya Gazeta investigation reveals a similar story in Russia’s Kostroma Oblast, north-east of Moscow, where the same people responsible for the Leningrad pipeline were supposed to build another one between the towns of Galich and Sharya. According to documents from Gazprom, the gas pipeline has practically been built and paid for, but no gas is flowing through it. Although the pipe is larger in diameter and covers a longer route, Sharya isn’t expecting any gas in the near future. 

Fraud Accusations. Novaya Gazeta reporter Denis Korotkov followed the track of the pipeline, but never found a pipe. However, he did uncover a lot of interesting information on the identity of the general contractor known as the “biker Yerema.” The contractor is accused of fraud amounting to over 800 million roubles (more than $12 million) in the construction of a gas pipeline in the town of Priozersk (Leningrad Oblast) and his name appears on a federal wanted listed. That being said, there is no one to recover the money from since the pipeline only exists on paper and there is no gas in the Kostroma Oblast. Residents of the region left without gas will probably have to send a messenger to bring this up at the next presidential press conference. 

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Pediatric Oncologists Scandal, Explained

Ten pediatric oncologists at Moscow’s Blokhin Medical Research Center quit their jobs on October 1, 2019, causing a nationwide scandal at the country’s leading medical research institution. An additional 16 doctors from the departments of transplants and hematology also wrote letters of resignation. According to Novaya Gazeta’s sources, the conflict began when the center took on a new director, Svetlana Varfolomeyeva, and her team in June. The scandal kicked off after the acting head of the children’s department, Professor Georgy Mentkevich, received a reprimand for “unethical behaviour, expressed through profanity,” used in relation to the director. This allegedly took place during a heated conversation about closing the premises for repairs. Mentkevich was removed from his position despite the fact that neither he nor the parents present during the discussion remember him saying anything bad about the center’s leadership. Parents came to the defense of the doctor and started an online petition, which almost a hundred thousand people signed. Doctors from the pediatric department joined the professor and recorded a video criticizing the director. Meanwhile, there are still forty patients due for treatment in the pediatric department, along with seven in the bone marrow transplant department.

Now the main question that remains unanswered following the managerial conflict is who will treat the children?

Backstory. In 2012, Putin ordered a substantial salary increase for doctors working in the state-owned healthcare system. But due to a lack of funding in the budget to pay them, officials ended up reshuffling positions and working hours, leading to dramatically increased workloads for doctors. As it turns out, the problems at the Blokhin Center were not just personal – there were also issues related to the repair of the premises, the calculation of salaries and sanitary conditions. The resignation scandal encapsulates worsening tensions over the state of the healthcare system that have been building up in hospitals across the country. Now, these tensions have finally reached a leading medical center in Moscow – where financing is usually the best. 

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Thanks for reading! To keep up with Novaya Gazeta’s reporting throughout the week, you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram. Our video content is available on Youtube and don’t forget to visit our website for the latest stories in Russian. Until next time! 

– The Novaya Gazeta Newsletter Team 

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