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Russia, Explained

Russians flee to Kyrgyzstan — Ban on Buying Dollars — Repression of Russians against the “Special Operation”

«Новая газета», редакция
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«Новая газета», редакция
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Here what’s in store for you this week:

  • We explain why Kyrgyzstan is witnessing an unprecedented number of arrivals from Russia;
  • We break down the Central Bank’s decision to ban the purchase of US dollars;
  • We share the grim testimony of four young women detained during protests against Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine.
  • Plus, we highlight the absurdity of the letter from 700 higher education institutions in support of the “special operation”.

A Note From Our Newsroom

On March 4, the State Duma introduced military censorship. Media outlets are prohibited from publishing “knowingly false” information about the actions of the Russian military in Ukraine. We are also banned from using certain terms to describe what is happening in our brother country, so must instead refer to it as the “special operation”. Journalists face up to 15 years in a penal colony if they violate these laws.

Illustration by Peter Sarukhanov / Novaya Gazeta

Nikita Kondratiev from our newsroom tells readers:

As soon as the military censorship laws enter into force (Vladimir Putin has yet to sign them), we will have to stop publishing reports from the front. We will no longer be able to tell the truth about the fighting in Ukraine […] We will continue to collect information but when, and in what form it will be published, we do not know. We are ashamed to take this step while our friends, acquaintances and relatives are experiencing true hell in Ukraine.

He adds that, while we are forbidden from covering what is happening on the front:

Military censorship does not cover the fact that the war is happening inside us. How does what is happening affect the mental state of Russians and Ukrainians? What is the future of our economy and our personal finances? Will Russians protest against what is happening? What form will the repression take? What will happen with access to medicines?

These are just some of the topics that we, the ‘Russia, Explained’ team, will continue to break down for you, our most valued readers, during this dark time.

Dissenting Russians Seek Refuge in Kyrgyzstan

The hotels, hostels, and restaurants of Kyrgyzstan are now packed with Russians who have left their homeland. Many of these are IT specialists and tech workers. Our special correspondent Ilya Azar spoke with some of the emigres about what made them leave, what plans they have for the future, and whether they are worried about the attitudes towards Russians abroad. We share their most impactful quotes.

Photo by Gavriil Grigirov / TASS


STANISLAV,
THE SCIENTIST

On why he left:

I simply no longer want to help build the state that Russia has become. Basically, I work for the government. I could try to justify this to myself by saying that we are outside of politics and are engaged in science, but this is not entirely true. We work at a state institution, we receive state grants from various sources of funding, including, let's say, near-military ones. Psychologically, this is difficult to deal with.

On the state of scientific research in Russia:

It has objectively become very difficult to engage in science and technology, to purchase foreign equipment. Foreign colleagues have now made it very clear that there will be no interaction with Russia in the near future […] If [scientists] are scared to the point that they start to scatter like cockroaches, then who in Russia will do the research?

On Russians abroad:

I think that Russians abroad will not be welcome now, for some time there will be an allergy to the word “Russian”. 

IVAN,
THE IT WORKER

On why he left:

For me, a country is a certain product, a set of services that you receive in exchange for taxes. What is the point of paying for services that are bad for you or do not suit you? Each person has the right to change their country of residence […] You can be Russian while living in Russia, and you can be Russian while living in Australia.

On Russians abroad:

There is no Russophobia. While living in two EU countries for a year, I never encountered any anti-Russian sentiments […] I have a plan: to find a country with a more or less decent standard of living and either continue to work remotely ro find a job abroad […] I have already had responses to my resume and no one has written, “Oh, God, no, you’re from Russia!”

ANGELINA,
THE PROGRAMMER

On why she left:

I was afraid that, in the coming weeks or months, if the economic situation deteriorated completely, looting could begin in the cities. I wanted to see from the outside how events would develop, instead of being exposed to risks with the closure of borders.

On fears for the future:

Maxim Katz [a blogger and politician] said that the majority of citizens support the “special operation”, and this is very sad.

The last time I experienced such a shock was when I worked as a member of the electoral commission in 2018. From the faces, from the mood of the people, I realised that the figures that were given — 70% support for the authorities — were actually realistic. My hopes for internal changes are gone.

IGOR,
THE FREELANCER

On why he left:

I had two concerns. Firstly, I saw how the «special operation» in Ukraine was progressing […] And secondly, as a freelancer who works for foreign employers I didn’t know how I would get paid, except into a foreign bank account […] because Paypal, Payoneer, Visa, and Mastercard have already stopped operating in Russia.

On Russians abroad:

I have a strong feeling that now there will be a surge of Russophobia around the world: it is happening in Europe, America, and in other countries. This connected, in my opinion, with the fact that cancel culture developed quite strongly in the West shortly before the events in Ukraine.

Read Azar’s full report here.

Kremlin’s Ban on Buying Dollars, Explained

On March 9, Russia’s Central Bank instituted a six- month ban on buying US dollars. The move came in response to Western sanctions, allegedly to prevent a run on the dollars and to shore up the country’s hard currency reserves. Our economics editor Dmitry Prokofiev breaks down the decision.

Photo by Arden Arkman / Novaya Gazeta

WHEN IN DOUBT, PROCRASTINATE. In this uncertain time, writes Prokofiev, the Russian government and the Central Bank understand that “any mistake can be fatal”. Their decision is, therefore, to make no decision. “We forbid people from buying foreign currency and kill several birds with one stone” — Prokofiev imagines their thought process — “We will reduce the demand for dollars, we will actually close trips abroad, we will bring down inflationary pressure, we will direct savings to the domestic market […]”.

THE EVERGREEN DOLLAR. “Previous crises have taught Russians to stock up on dollars in any difficult situation”, notes Prokofiev, “A green note, no matter what the TV says about it, is an understandable and accessible asset that can be easily turned into rubles.” During a crisis, the value of the dollar rises every day and, with it, the exchange rate. If Russians, in order to protect their savings from the inflation affecting the ruble, decided to buy dollars en masse, Russian banks would simply not be able to meet the demand.

SUBSTITUTING GREEN FOR GOLD. To compensate for banning the purchase of dollars, the authorities are now offering citizens the opportunity to buy gold without paying VAT. But gold is a “so-so” replacement for the dollar, remarks Prokofiev, since the buyer has to think about to whom and where he can sell it. “A gold bar or coin is not a hundred dollar bill that can be taken to any exchange office.”

CHEAP LABOUR. The Russian economy depends significantly on the labour provided by millions of migrants from Central Asia. These migrants provide for their families back home with remittances from Russia. A run on dollars would lead to a weakening of the ruble against the value of the Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz currencies which, in turn, would lead to migrants demanding higher wages. Russian employers, writes Prokofiev, are not ready for this.

PROTECTING THE ELITE. Behind this procrastination as usual, is greed. The authorities’ main concern is “How to keep the remaining foreign exchange reserve for the owners of the Russian economy [the elite]?” Prokofiev explains the situation as follows: “You have a limited resource, a surge in demand for it, and two groups of buyers. One group of buyers is ready to pay any price for this resource, but the opinion of this group is not very important to you. Another group of buyers is extremely important to you, but they are not ready to pay that kind of money for your resource. What do you do in this situation? Stop selling the resource to the first group in order to protect the interests of the second.”

Read Prokofiev’s full analysis here.

Police Beat Russians Protesting Against “What Cannot Be Named”

On Sunday, March 6, protests were held in 65 cities of Russia against “what cannot be named”. According to OVD-Info, more than 5,000 people were detained. Some of the young women — both protesters and passers-by — who were detained and beaten in Moscow’s Brateyevo police department — shared their testimonies with Natalia Glukhova and Alexandra Novikova. Brateyevo became infamous after 26-year-old Muscovite Alexandra Kaluzhskikh published a full recording of her interrogation there.

Brateyevo police department

NASTYA

Nastya — just 18 years old — was detained on Kalanchevskaya Street along with 29 other people. She describes the intense abuse they suffered from the police.

They took our passports. When we brought to the police department, no one answered our questions. They only responded with obscene language. There was a lot of swearing, a lot of humiliation. The boys were asked what gender they were because of their long hair […] the person who provoked us from the very beginning began to yell that we should read faster […] ‘why are you reading all this, you don’t understand anything, you’re stupid, you bitches’. 

KRISTINA:

As soon as you entered the room, you could immediately see that they were going to do something to you — by their faces, by their mood. When I referred to Article 51 and refused to disclose my personal data, they immediately poured a litre of water on me, right in my face. They called me a whore, a prostitute…

YEVGENIYA:

They started asking for my current address, cursing, insulting me […] I refused [to give them my phone], and a man of oriental appearance in black came and began to play the evil policeman. He insulted me, swore, and started hitting me on the shoulder three times, then with a knee, threatening me, saying that *** [would hit my face] if I didn't hand over my phone.

ANNA.

Just 18 years old, Anna Simonyan — one of the few interviewees comfortable with disclosing her full name — told Novaya of the “torture room” in Brateyevo.

The woman asks me for my phone number. I said: «The 51st article of the Constitution.» And he [the policeman] takes my hair, pulls my head back and pours water on my face. I start to choke […] The woman then asked the question: «Where do you live?» I said: «The 51st article of the Constitution.» And this man gave a slap in the face. Such a hard slap . He asked: «Will you still be silent?» I said yes, and he kicked me in the stomach. I curled up and leaned on the table. Even that one blow on the cheek had been a shock. I thought water, yes, but I didn’t think that they would hit me.

MURATOV SPEAKS OUT. In response to the harrowing testimonies of these young women, Novaya’s Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Muratov penned an open letter to Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the Minister of Internal Affairs, calling on him to respond. “Novaya Gazeta has been made aware of the inhuman treatment of those detained during the uncoordinated mass action in Moscow on March 6, 2022 […] I ask you to verify these reports and reign in the actions of your subordinates.”

Read Glukhova and Novikova’s full report here.

Bonus Round

On March 4, the rectors of 700 Russian higher education institutions published an open letter in support of the “special operation” in Ukraine. The letter came amid multiple expressions of support for President Putin from universities across the country. But not everything is as it seems, writes Tatiana Likhanova, as the petition in support of Putin from his alma mater demonstrates.

The University of St. Petersburg launched a call for signatures on VKontakte. Among the supposed signatories were people who were not only not active employees of the university, but also those who had no connection with it at all. Moreover, many names are accompanied by bizarre descriptions such as “non-admitted student”, “no longer a student”, and “mother of a first year student.” The icing on the cake, writes Likhanova, is the supposed signature of “Dmitry Yuryevich Beridze, a graduate of the Faculty of Law in 2018” — despite the fact that this student died in a car accident one year ago. The name has now been removed from the petition. Beridze was not the only deceased person found on the list. The 650th signature is allegedly that of Professor Viktor Alexandrovich Pliss, despite the fact that he passed away in 2019. The obituary marking his death was subsequently deleted from the university website.

Instead of Backstories: How We Got Here

Instead of our usual backstories for each theme, we instead offer a recap of how we ended up with this brutal, unprovoked, “special operation”. On the night of February 24 — early morning on the 25 Moscow time — President Putin announced a “special military operation” in Ukraine. The address echoed a disturbing speech he had made three days before, laden with historical distortions, in which he denied Ukraine’s existence as a sovereign nation and claimed that it was ‘invented’ by Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin.

It marked the culmination of 7 years of Kremlin attempts to attack and undermine Ukraine which, since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, has been a thriving democracy with clear pro-Western and pro-European orientation. Putin’s broadcast occurred at the same time as an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council which — in a dark twist of irony — was being chaired by Russia. On February 24, Russia officially recognised the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk “People's Republics”. The breakaway territories emerged after the 2014 revolution as part of the Kremlin attempt to preserve political and economic control over the country.

Since their occupation of Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin has controlled more than 7% of Ukrainian territory. With the “special operation” that has seen attacks on all major Ukrainian cities, there is a real prospect that this percentage will grow.

The last seven years of Russian actions in Ukraine has left approximately 13,500 dead, 1.6 million internally displaced, and over 800,000 refugees. With no end to the current onslaught in sight, these numbers will soar.

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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