Russia, Explained#9 by Novaya Gazeta

“Sovereign Internet” begins — Critical medicine shortages — Anti-landfill protests

Russia, Explained#9 by Novaya Gazeta
Photo by Yulia Nevskaya, Novaya tribute

This Week’s Highlights

Russia moves to criminalize “drug propaganda” online, the “sovereign internet law” comes into effect, Russian doctors face shortages of vital medicines as foreign companies leave the country and the Russian National Guard takes on environmental activists protesting plans to build Europe’s biggest landfill in northern Russia.

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Russia’s “Sovereign Internet” Launches

Russia’s “sovereign internet law” officially came into effect on November 1, 2019, but it appears that the technology is still not ready. Nevertheless, the authorities are pushing ahead, introducing the “sovereign internet” as the logical next step in the course Russia has taken towards isolationism since 2014. Recent “firewall” tests in the Urals saw attempts at blocking access to networks and messaging apps like Telegram and Russia’s oversight body for information technology and mass media, Roskomnadzor, is already anticipating the implementation of its new powers.

Money and Politics.While businesses are looking for new ways to profit off of the internet control legislation, the Ministry of Communications is lobbying a law on the mandatory certification of optical communication cables and connectors for their installation. According to experts, the new law will create a great field of business opportunities for domestic manufacturers of deep packet inspection (DPI) technology, which is the main weapon in the world of internet sovereignty so far. But the political dimension of the law cannot be ignored, as the authorities will get their hands on tools that will allow them to limit what they deem to be “negative” internet traffic among Russian users. And no matter what drives the beneficiaries of the sovereign internet — be it ideological attitudes or the desire to earn money — it’s obvious that the Russian internet in its previous form has ceased to exist.

Read Novaya Gazeta’s full report on the “sovereign internet”here.

Criminalization of “Drug Propaganda,” Explained

Disseminating so-called “drug propaganda” online will soon be a criminal offense in Russia, thanks to the latest order from President Vladimir Putin. Now, the government is preparing another bill related to “crimes on the internet,” which will undoubtedly become an additional tool for political oppression. The politician leading the initiative, Senator Andrei Klishas, is even calling for up to 15 years imprisonment for those sentenced under the developing bill.

Drug Charges.While some may be convinced that narcotics policy in Russia is inadequately punitive, it’s very easy to plant drug charges under the current criminal code. Novaya Gazeta’s investigations have consistently found that the amount of drugs discovered on defendants was almost always equal to the amount necessary for opening a criminal case. And in combination with the “sovereign internet law,” this new anti- “drug propaganda” bill would provide one more pretense for government interference in online networks.

“What’s important here is that they’ve chosen the most radical scenario: they won’t block sites, but jail people for ‘drug propaganda’ instead.” — Novaya Gazeta Columnist, Kirill Martinov.

Online Crimes.The practice of prosecuting “crimes on the internet” allows for people’s actions to be broadly interpreted. For example, under the controversial Article 282, which outlaws inciting hatred or public discord, judges have been able to put down literally anything; including “inciting hatred towards a social group of officials.” This has had a negative impact socially and fueled hatred online in the wake of “online extremism” cases. With such a negative response from society, the authorities decided to roll back and partially decriminalize Article 282. By comparison, the notion of “drug propaganda” is as vague as the term “inciting hatred,” if not more so.

Read Kirill Martinov’s take on the new bill combating “drug propaganda”here.

Russia’s Critical Medicine Shortages, Explained

Russia is losing access to vital medicines, leaving thousands of children and adults at risk of dying unless the disappearing drugs needed to cure them are made available. The country’s oncologists have been talking about the collapse of drug supplies for several years, which began with shortages of vital medicines in the regions.

The issue should have been resolved after a scandal involving criminal cases that were opened against several mothers for ordering unregistered drugs for their children.

The cases pushed the government to start purchasing unregistered medicines like Frisium, which is used to treat children’s seizures. But according to the country’s Minister of Health, Veronika Skvortsov, the attempted improvements to the healthcare system in the regions have been unsuccessful.

Shortages Continue.Doctors are now saying that they’re still facing shortages of crucial medicines, but for different reasons. The current shortages are a result of government restrictions placed on foreign pharmaceutical companies in an attempt to boost sales of “domestic” pharmaceutical products. The government has also limited the use of foreign drugs in the state healthcare system by banning foreign companies from receiving public procurements. As a result, foreign pharmaceutical companies are abandoning the Russian market, at the expense of patients. In the words of the Director of the Dmitry Rogachev National Research Center, pediatric oncologist Alexei Maschan:

“Those medicines that should be registered here, that should be on our market are not there because foreign companies were placed under unfavorable conditions and left Russia. With the departure of foreign companies, the most needed medicines began to disappear — those you can’t do without. Changing them endangers thousands of lives.”

Read the full story on critical medicine shortages in the Russian regionshere.

Special Report: Ongoing Anti-Landfill Protests in Shiyes

For a year and a half environmental activists have been living in the forest to prevent the construction of Europe’s biggest landfill at the Shiyes station in northern Russia. Over time, activists set up an improvised encampment, with watchposts around the perimeter where they remain on duty around the clock, blocking the path of the heavy equipment needed for the landfill’s construction. Novaya Gazeta has been on the ground reporting since day one and even opened a bureau in Shiyes, to keep track of the ongoing protests. The anti-landfill movement in Shiyes part of a larger wave of environmental activism developing across Russia, where environmental degradation is becoming dire.

“I don’t remember what life was like before this construction, since that moment everything stopped…but what to do? I can’t sit on my hands and watch as they turn my land into a dump,” local firefighter, Aleksandr Neyman.

Stand off.Last week, army units from the Russian National Guard entered the neighboring village of Urdom, in an attempt to dismantle the crossing into Shiyes. The authorities have repeatedly attempted to disperse the tent city, opening administrative and criminal cases against the activists. They’ve also tried to remove the Shiyes railway stations from the map, cutting it off with a ban beginning last summer that keeps trains from stopping there. Nevertheless, the defenders of Shiyes have not given up and construction on the landfill remains frozen for now, while the developer is collecting the necessary documents.

Backstory.Moscow and the Arkhangelsk region reached the agreement on building a landfill in Shiyes in 2018, which was meant to take in 500,000 tons of garbage from the capital annually. Preparations for construction began almost immediately, despite the fact that the developer, Tekhnopark LLC, was lacking the necessary documents and environmental assessments. The locals responded with a rebellion, complete with everything from pickets and rallies to petitions and letters to President Vladimir Putin, explaining in detail that the landfill would become a swamp, spreading poison to the local environment through a complex system of rivers and lakes.

“The construction of a landfill here is illegal. We will not give our land away, it’s all we have,” anti-landfill activists in Shiyes told Novaya Gazeta.

The authorities are demanding that the anti-landfill activists leave, but they aren’t going anywhere.Read Novaya Gazeta’s special report from Shiyeshere.

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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