Russia, Explained #6 by Novaya Gazeta

Child Murders in Saratov – New Navalny Attacks – Chechnya Purges

15:38, 16 октября 2019


15:38, 16 октября 2019


Photo: Novaya Gazeta

This Week’s Highlights

The murder of a fourth child in Saratov has Russian society debating the return of the death penalty, Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation is declared a foreign agent, Chechnya sees unprecedented purges of the ruling elite, an activist is sentenced to four years in prison in the “Moscow Case” and Yandex’s stock crashes as the Kremlin moves to take control of the company.

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

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Child Murders In Saratov, Explained 

Nine-year-old Liza left home for school at 7:30 a.m. on October 9, but never made it to class. Her mother went to the police that day and the Saratov search party known “Liza Alert” announced the beginning of its search. Meanwhile, the regional department of the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case for murder. Volunteers combed the area for two days, practically without rest. But on the night of October 10-11 the coordinators of “Liza Alert” unexpectedly asked everyone to go home. As it turned out, police had carried out door-to-door rounds of previously convicted felons in the district and detained a suspect, Mikhail Tuvatin, earlier in the afternoon, after he admitted to hiding Liza’s body in a garage 500 meters from her home.

Police Incompetence. After the search for Liza was called off around two a.m., hundreds of Saratov’s residents surrounded a police car believed to be containing the suspect at the scene of the crime, throwing stones and demanding his execution. Although the mob’s rally stopped after a couple of hours, the city is still boiling with rage because Liza’s death marks the fourth child killed in Saratov in the last month and a half.

The cases are believed to be unrelated and each one has a different suspect, but these tragedies have one thing in common: police failing to take preventative measures.

Law enforcement authorities do not track the actions of previously convicted or potentially dangerous residents. Liza’s killer had served several sentences in the past ten years, including ones for theft, robbery and rape. He posted explicit photos on social networks and subscribed to hundreds of pornographic groups, including ones with teenagers – but law enforcement agencies were not interested in monitoring the former convict’s network activity, and district police officers and operatives failed to noticed that he had taken possession of an empty garage in the vicinity of the school. 

Death Penalty. Liza’s murder has sparked a serious discussion in Russian society over reinstating the death penalty. Capital punishment has not been used in Russia since 1996, and the Constitutional Court instituted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1999 as a stipulation of the country’s Council of Europe membership. But after the news of Tuvatin’s detention, residents of Saratov posted several petitions to the President online, asking for the return of capital punishment. The most popular petition gained 23 thousand signatures. The State Duma posted its own poll on its VKontakte page, asking “Is the return of the death penalty needed for murderers of children and pedophiles?” – 80 percent of the 80 thousand respondents said “yes.”

Read Novaya Gazeta’s special report from Saratov here

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“Foreign Agent” Crackdown, Explained

Last week Russia’s Ministry of Justice added the opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) to the register of non-profit organizations acting as “foreign agents.” This came after the country’s Investigative Committee froze the Foundation’s bank accounts and shut down its regional headquarters two months ago, on suspicion of laundering money “knowingly acquired through criminal means.” The investigation into the case reportedly uncovered a total of 140 thousand roubles (just over two thousand dollars) transferred to the Foundation’s already frozen accounts from the United States and Spain. And the crackdown isn’t over yet. On Tuesday, law enforcement carried out searches at FBK offices in 30 cities across Russia, in relation to another money laundering case.

Backstory. Established in 2012, the Russian “foreign agent” law requires nonprofits involved in “political activities” that receive donations from abroad to register and declare themselves as “foreign agents.” The law is widely used to limit the activity of civil society and independent media organizations. Now that Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation is included in the “foreign agents” register, it is prohibited from participating in elections in any form and is vulnerable to a constant threat of fines due to increased scrutiny or failure to declare itself a “foreign agent.” 

Get the full story on the Anti-Corruption Foundation being declared a “foreign agent” here .

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Elite Purges In Chechnya, Explained

Novaya Gazeta’s latest report from Chechnya reveals that repressions against members of Ramzan Kadyrov’s inner circle have been increasing for months. Beginning in August 2019, high-ranking Chechen officials as well as their relatives, security guards and associates have found themselves illegally deprived of freedom in the cellars of “secret prisons” for anywhere from several days to a few weeks or even months. Under torture, the detainees have revealed information about illegal businesses and had nearly all their property confiscated. Meanwhile, those who are released are forced to pay millions in donations to the Akhmad Kadyrov Foundation. 

_ “In principle, Chechnya is accustomed to mass repressions. What they’re not accustomed to is such a contingent of detainees. In fact, we are witnessing the first of its kind [in terms of] large-scale cleansing of the ruling elite in the Republic. However, given the nature of power built in Chechnya, sooner or later this was bound to happen.” – _Novaya Gazeta Special Projects Editor, Elena Milashina. 

  Backstory. Chechnya is the most repressive Russian region led by the head of the Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. He is operating direct patronanage from President Vladimir Putin has essentially been given free reign thanks to strong support and personal backing. In 2017, Novaya Gazeta uncovered purges targeting Chechnya’s queer community, which have continued into 2019 without any official investigation despite international backlash. While the repression and persecution of minorities and government critics is nothing new, this kind of large-scale purge targeting the Head of the Republic’s inner circle is unprecedented. 

Read Elena Milashina’s special investigation into the purges of Chechnya’s ruling elite here

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The Case of Konstantin Kotov, Explained

On October 14, 2019, the Moscow City Court reviewed the appeal against the verdict given to activist Konstantin Kotov, who had been sentenced to four years in prison for participating in four protests, during which he was detained. Thirteen different lawyers served as his defense, filing 13 separate complaints demanding the court cancel the sentence. Nevertheless, the court upheld the verdict – four years imprisonment. 

_“The sentence will be cancelled. If not today then in a month, in a year. This is the last chance for the Russian judiciary to show that it has something to do with justice.” _– Maria Eismont, Konstantin Kotov’s lawyer.

Backstory. Civil activist Konstantin Kotov is just one of many defendants caught up in the “Moscow Case” targeting protestors who participated during this summer’s protests  for free elections. Kotov was detained on August 10, 2019, but it was not his first “offense.” He had participated in a number of government-approved gatherings, as well as unsanctioned protests in support of a variety of causes throughout the year. So after his fourth detention on August 10, he was put on trial under Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code – a controversial clause introduced in July 2014 to criminalize repeated violations of the country’s laws regulating public assemblies. Kotov’s case was investigated in record time: he was first charged on August 13 and on August 15, the Russian Investigative Committee announced the end of its investigation. The trial itself took all of two days. 

Read Novaya Gazeta’s interview with Kotov’s lawyer here **and the report from the appeals hearing ** here .

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Yandex’s Stockmarket Dive, Explained

The Kremlin is moving to take control of  Russia’s largest Internet services company, Yandex, ahead of the 2021 State Duma elections. Last week, the company’s shares fell 20 percent amind discussion in the State Duma of a bill that would limit foreign investment in internet companies – marking the third time this year that the actions of the Russian authorities has brought down the value of the country’s foremost tech company. And now, experts are saying that the authorities are seriously considering a “soft nationalization” scenario for Yandex – a company that was famously developed without any government involvement and essentially became the Russian equivalent of Google. 

Backstory. United Russia Deputy and member of the Committee on Information Policy, IT and Communications, Anton Gorelkin, introduced the bill in question to the State Duma in July, claiming the necessity of limiting foreign shares and capital in such “significant strategic enterprises for the Russian IT Market.” But there could be a bigger motive in the “hunt” for Yandex. Russia’s political managers have taken a serious interest in artificial intelligence, not just for its business capabilities but for the technological potential of using IT platforms in domestic politics. According to Novaya Gazeta’s sources, an internal political bloc in the Presidential Administration has emerged as the main supporter of Gorelkin’s bill, in preparation for the 2021 State Duma Elections. And “The point is not just to take Yandex’s algorithms, but also to learn how to use them, which the Kremlin is not able to do now,” the source explained. “In order for Yandex to work for the Kremlin in these elections, the question of the purchase needs to be resolved before the end of this year, or at the very least, at the beginning of next [year].” 

Read the full story on the Kremlin’s attempts to control Yandex here

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. Subscribe here. Until next time! 

– The Novaya Gazeta Newsletter Team 

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