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Ruling elite infighting — Furgal interview — Oppression of indigenous peoples

13:27, 17 ноября 2021«Новая газета», редакция
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13:27, 17 ноября 2021«Новая газета», редакция
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Photo: Anatoly Strunin / TASS

Here what’s in store for you this week:

  • Big university scandal exposes deep infighting within Kremlin ruling elites. We unpack the Zuev case.
  • Furgal in the dock. This week we interview the man behind the unprecedented anti-Moscow uprising in Siberia
  • We explain how increasing repression of indigenous peoples in Russia echoes brutality of early Stalinist industrialisation
  • Plus, Dostoyevsky as the founder of religious psychoanalysis — time to refresh our ideas about his true legacy.

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

Infighting of Putin’s Favorites, Exposed

This week we keep track of one of the largest scandals in the modern history of Russian education. Our columnist Vladimir Pastukhov unpacks the byzantine circumstances of the 'Zuev Affair' and explains what it tells us about the nature of Russia's regime and its future.

WHO'S ZUEV, AND WHAT HAPPENED. Until recently, Sergei Zuev was the Moscow School for Social and Economic Sciences rector — one of the few remaining non-state and prestigious educational institutions. On November 10, he was arrested for embezzling over 21 million roubles (around $288,000) from the university. Zuev, a prominent liberal figure, faced extra-harsh pre-trial treatment, despite his frail health. At the same time, the evidence against him looks weak and has been put together haphazardly. In a stark move, the Kremlin didn't even bother to deny that the case is political. However, Pastukhov warns that this is a premeditated strategy to conceal the real reason for Zuev's arrest and 'highlights a transition to a qualitatively new level of state terror.'

Sergey Zuev. Photo from personal archive

WHAT'S BEHIND THE CASE. The real motive behind Zuev's arrest is linked to the infighting within the Kremlin elites over Enlightenment, one of the country's largest publishing houses. Before recent financial troubles, it accounted for approximately 30% of the country's school textbook industry. But in 2020, the government bailed out the company, and a troika of state-owned financial institutions, VEB, Sberbank, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund, took over 75% of the publishing house's shares. The acquisition fits well with the business ambitions of German Gref, the Sberbank's CEO and Putin's close ally. He is actively expanding into educational projects amid the Kremlin's growing grip over every aspect of education in the country. However, the move crossed the Ministry of Education that had its own plans for the company and the school education at large.

WHY NOW. This is where the name of Marina Rakova comes in. A former deputy education minister, she was Gref's appointee to oversee Enlightenment and assist his broader multi-billion ambitions to cash in on the reform of the country's schools. The following standoff between the Ministry of Education and Gref led to attacks on Rakova and her subsequent arrest on unrelated embezzlement charges. To make matters even more apparent, two months after the investigation's launch, Enlightenment announced that its public council would be headed by the Minister of Education, Sergei Kravstov — the man who had personally fired Rakova.

WHERE DOES ZUEV COME INTO IT. Sergei Zuev was implicated in Rakova's case, too. He was a perfect figure to distract the public from one of the Kremlin's infightings that got a little bit out of hand. Essentially, Zuev is collateral damage. He just happened to offer a means of concealing the personal vendetta and business rivalry within Kremlin elites.

'The task was to divert everyone's attention from the real source of the business infighting. For that, they had to implicate Rakova in something peripheral with no link to the zone of real conflict. They also had to divert everyone's attention from her business role in the standoff. This is where Zuev's 'martyr' figure fits in, making it a perfect coverup operation,' Pastukhov explains. By attacking the rector — a symbol of liberalism — the actual beneficiaries distracted the attention from the economic reality by offering a plausible political distraction.

Illustration: Petr Sarukhanov / "Novaya Gazeta"

WHY IS THE CASE UNIQUE. Since the early 2000s, the battle for riches has characterized Russia's economic and political life. From the Yukos Affair, which resulted in the imprisonment of the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky to the Hermitage case in which Gazprom and Surgutneftgaz moved against American financier Bill Browder (and which resulted in the US Magnitsky Act), shady deals and personal rivalries have frequently made both national and international headlines. Pastukhov argues that this time is different because while the former two were political battles disguised with economics, the Zuev affair is a business battle disguised with politics.

PUTIN'S KLEPTOCRACY FOREVER? Regimes like that in today's Russia writes Pastukhov, "could be eternal if it were not for the suicidal syndrome embedded within them. At some point [...] they make a trifling but fatal mistake." Mourning Zuev as the "ordinary victim" of war between political elites, he leaves us with this question: "Is favoritism beginning to cost the regime too much?"

BY THE WAY, check the new episode of our English-language podcast show 'The Russian Context' that explains Zuev's case and the Kremlin's overall war on science and academic freedoms. Plus, there’s now a separate Youtube channel for Novaya stories in English — subscribe and share, please.

Read Pastukhov’s op-ed in full here.

Kremlin’s Arctic Agenda vs Indigenous Peoples, Explained

While the term "indigenous activism" may, for many, first call to mind the United States, Russia — with its 120+ ethnic groups — also provides plenty of examples of indigenous peoples standing up to local and national authorities. As the COP26 summit draws to a close, indigenous peoples' role in environmental activism is more vital than ever. The peoples of Russia's Far North are part of this vanguard. This week, our special Arctic correspondent Tatyana Britskaya profiles some indigenous activists who have fallen foul of the Russian authorities. She explains how the Kremlin's 'Arctic Agenda' is harming the political, cultural, and ecological life of the Far North.

HOW KREMLIN REPRESSES INDIGENOUS PEOPLES. 116 international organizations have signed an open letter to President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling on them to "end Russia's indigenous peoples' intimidation and persecution". Britskaya highlights just some of the absurd and disturbing cases. Two years ago, Yamal activist Yeyko Saretetto was detained for three months, accused of organizing an 'illegal protest' — the event in question had simply been a gathering of deer hunters. Another example is Yana Tannagasheva, who had to flee the country after her father's house was set on fire after campaigning to save her village in Kuzbass. In September, the Ministry of Justice branded Yakutia native Stepan Petrov — head of the civil society organization "Yakutia — Our Opinion" a 'foreign agent.'

ECHOES OF STALINIST TERROR. During the Great Terror (1936-48), 125 of the 2,000-strong Sámi population in northwest Russia were arrested, most being executed by firing squad or sent to the gulag. The victims included almost all of the Sámi intelligentsia. When the Nenets people rose up for the second time against the Soviet authorities, the latter violently repressed the movement.

"It is impossible," writes Britskaya, "not to draw parallels between [the 1930s] and the present day. Simple and completely justifiable demands, requests even, from indigenous people are met with harsh responses. The State's decisions demonstrate complete ignorance of the lands and the peoples [of the Far North], illiteracy even. It is the authorities themselves who threaten the survival of these people and therefore force them to protest."

Photo: Nelly Slupachik

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, ONCE AGAIN, STAND IN THE KREMLIN'S WAY OF PILLAGING ARCTIC RESOURCES. "The Arctic is to 21st century Russia what the cosmos was to the Soviet Union, only without the romantic flair. The Arctic means oil, gas, platinum. The Arctic means weapons. It is power. Colonization continues apace, and it is no less aggressive than it was a century ago," Britskaya explains. However, she notes one significant difference between the present day and the Soviet past: while historical colonialism served the interests of the State, today's colonialism serves those of big private corporations under the Kremlin's patronage.

A CRACKDOWN ON INDIGENOUS ACTIVISM IN RUSSIA WILL LEAD TO WORSENING ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE IN THE ARCTIC. The Russian Arctic and Siberia are already experiencing one of the world's most severe climate change effects. This couples with aggressive military expansion in the Russian Arctic as the government rushes to take over new trading routes opening up due to climate change. The environmental activism of indigenous peoples of Russia makes the Kremlin uncomfortable since it clearly exposes how predatory and unsustainable its treatment of the Arctic is, Britskaya points out.

"Take, the Sámi people. They consider themselves the guardians of the Arctic land. They have never claimed ownership of it. The assignment of a section of the tundra to a family did not mean the right to exploit it, but rather the duty to care for and beautify this piece of land. The rest of us should take a leaf out of their book," Britskaya writes.

BACKSTORY. The exploitation of Arctic and Siberian natural resources has been a source of wealth for all Russian ruling elites across history — from the monarchy to the Soviets and Putin's Russia. The wealth was siphoned from provinces to the capital, leaving local populations impoverished. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian ruling elites got access to the international financial system and the ability to store their assets outside of the country. The pillage of natural resources leaves behind worsening environmental degradation, while the Kremlin continues to dismantle few remaining environmental regulations. Local indigenous populations are forced to pay the increasing price for that, notably in the Arctic. These policies provoke more and more man-made ecological disasters and further abuse vulnerable indigenous communities. Last year the Arctic saw the largest human-made fuel spill in its history. Back then, the Russian government colluded with the country's largest nickel producer to whitewash the disaster. The spill has also damaged the environment that provided local indigenous communities with basic food supplies.

Read Britskaya’s reporting in full here.

Khabarovsk’s Maverick Former Governor, Interviewed

Governor Sergei Furgal — whose arrest led to an unprecedented anti-Moscow outcry in Siberia and street protests in 2020 — is currently held in Moscow's infamous Lefortovo detention facility. He awaits trial for allegedly organizing the murders of two businessmen — the accusation that is widely considered politically motivated. While the supposed events occurred in Khabarovsk, the trial will take place in a Moscow court — 'to ensure an objective hearing.' Despite attempts by prison authorities to cut Furgal off from the outside world, our reporter Vera Chelishcheva gained an exclusive interview with Khabarovsk's former governor by passing questions through his lawyers.


ON BEING ARRESTED. "On my way to work, I was stopped by armed special forces. Significantly pulled out of the car, handcuffed, pushed into a tinted minibus, and taken to the airport [...] was transferred to the Lefortovo SIZO. They put me in a single cell with no newspapers or TV. They did not give calls, did not transmit news from outside. Until July 21, I was just sitting in an information vacuum."

ON THE MURDER ACCUSATIONS. "I have been hearing this nonsense [the alleged organization of the murders of two businessmen in the early 2000s] for a year and a half. In closed courts for prolongation of custody, I constantly ask the same question: "Tell me, how did I do this? Show me at least one proof. "In response, they tell me (I am quoting the investigator): "Respect the court. The investigation has all the evidence of your guilt. The case is complex and secret. In the interests of secrecy, we cannot voice evidence. They are in the materials of the criminal case, and when you get acquainted with the case, you will see everything."

ON WHO IS BEHIND HIS DETENTION. I will not give names, but of course, I know who they are. The main reason for my detention is the greed and fear of those people who are used to living in a certain paradigm. They did not understand that they needed to live differently, that people also mean something […]I personally want to live in a normal country where regional leaders are not appointed to rob, but on the contrary — to protect people."

Sergei Furgal. Photo: RIA Novosti

ON BEING SEPARATED FROM LOVED ONES. "It's very personal for me. And the system is arranged in such a way that weaknesses in every detained person are found and targeted. They know how they are professionals …."

ON THE OUTCOME OF THE TRIAL. If the court is even slightly objective, then, of course, there will be nothing to convict me for [...] I will defend myself, I hope for a fair trial.

AND THE QUESTION HE REFUSED TO ANSWER. Chelishcheva asked whether Furgal had received any support from the LDPR, the party of which he is a member. However, according to our Editor, "Sergey Furgal crossed out this question, refusing to answer it."

BACKSTORY. Khabarovsk has been a hotbed of anti-Moscow protests over the past year. The largest city in Russia's the Far East saw tens of thousands take to the streets after a popular governor Sergei Furgal's arrest on old murder charges. Locals believe the charges to be bogus and rallied en masse in support of the provincial governor. His arrest came shortly after a video emerged of Furgal fighting against constructing a new coal terminal similar to some current developments known for disrupting local sea life. Construction work quickly resumed after Furgal's arrest. Many of Russia's regions are rich in oil, gas, coal, and other resources, which Moscow uses to fill its pockets. Authorities often strip regional communities from valuable resources or treat them as storage facilities for environmentally harmful materials while failing to divide the profits fairly. Revenue often primarily feeds Moscow's budget, with regions only receiving scraps while bearing the brunt of the damage.

Read the full interview here.

On His 200th Birthday, We Unpack the Theoretical Legacy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky

November 11 of this year marks the 200th anniversary of the esteemed Fyodor Mikhailovich, the author who brought the world Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground. To mark this anniversary, Novaya’s Stanislav Belkovsky unpacks Dostoyevsky’s role as the founder of religious psychoanalysis and shows how his work influenced even his greatest critics many decades after his death.

WHAT IS RELIGIOUS PSYCHOANALYSIS ANYWAY? Belkovsky defines religious psychoanalysis as the “modern version of psychoanalysis”. Its central tenets include:

  • Removing the contradiction between scientific and religious knowledge of the world.
  • Establishing the equality of all forms of human experience
  • On an unconscious level, a person struggles with fear not of death, but of life. Life is an endless source of risks, challenges and threats. Hence, we are doomed to a fight with the power that made us live, that doomed us to a world of suffering.
  • The main tool of psychoanalysis is confession. Psychotherapy is repentance.
  • There is a convergence of missions and functionality of the psychoanalyst / psychotherapist and the [...] priest.

Photo: Alexander Demyanchuk / TASS

NABOKOV, THE CRITIC. One of Dostoyevsk’s greatest detractors was none other than Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita. Wittily, Bukovsky himself draws on the language of psychoanalysis to debunk Nabokov’s ostensibly searing critiques. He is a “person who consciously considers himself to be right, but who is unconsciously and deeply — convinced of his own wrong”. By constantly criticising Dostoyevsky’s writing and rejecting the idea that he was the predecessor of Freud and Jung, Bukovsky argues that Nabokov actually ended up putting the former on a “psychoanalytic pedestal.” Lolita, he claims, was the latter’s attempt to attain Dostoyevsky’s heights. Both Nabokov and his protagonist, Humbert Humbert, consciously dismiss psychoanalysis at the same time as unconsciously proving its veracity.

WHERE DOES DOSTOYEVSKY COME INTO IT? Belkovsky argues that: “Dostoevsky's work is religious psychoanalysis, shaped by the means and methods of so-called fiction. Dostoevsky himself is a dialectical hybrid of a psychoanalyst and a priest.”

THANKS FOR READING!

This newsletter drop is written and edited by several journalists at the Novaya Gazeta newsroom. Please, support our work by promoting our newsletter with #RussiaExplained hashtag on social media.

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.

The Novaya Gazeta Team

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