Team 29: A despairing letter from someone just back from vacation

posted 28 Apr 2019, 06:44 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Apr 2019, 06:59 ]

12 April 2019

Hi, it’s Katya Arenina, back from holiday (yes, the holiday that upset Kolya in the previous letter – well, it’s over now). 

For ten days I’ve barely read any news or looked at social media, so I had to catch up on everything quickly. Without me it was still business as usual for the other guys, so this mailing will be long.

What’s been going on?

  • Last week we found out that the court had banned reporting about the secret (or not very secret) affair between Andrei Kostin, President of VTB Bank Management, and journalist Naila Asker-zade in an apartment in central Moscow, which first belonged to the bank then somehow imperceptibly passed into Asker-zade’s possession. It turned out that in November last year the court decided that the material relating to Koston, Asker-zade and the apartment tarnished the bank’s business reputation and the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media began to block them. We worked out what was wrong with the court decision and why the blocks constitute a dangerous precedent.
  • Russia’s Armed Forces is an entirely religious organisation (indeed, it’s really not clear where they should place their hope, if not in God). Since autumn 2018, the troops have even been building their own cathedral in the Moscow region, so they can pray in a more focused fashion. They decided to pay for the building of the cathedral purely through donations, which is of course commendable. To raise funds, they set up a special non-profit foundation called Voskresenie [‘Resurrection’]; and the BBC found a foreign offshore company among the donors to the fund. If this were an ordinary non-profit organisation it would probably have been declared a foreign agent – but then the laws were not intended to apply to insiders.

 What to read/watch?

  • In the USSR, drug use and alcohol abuse were in practice equated with crime: they tried to treat alcoholism and drug addiction in prophylactory medical-labour dispensaries, which became part of the penitentary system on a par with labour colonies and camps. The medicines on offer at these places were as follows: hard physical labour, barbed wire, and the isolation cell for infractions. Is it any wonder that nobody was cured? People were let out only to drink and end up back at the dispensary after being denounced by vigilant neighbours and caring relatives. We tell the story of one patient who tried to return to normal life but could not do it.
  • 58 years ago (12 April 1961, if like me you can’t count) Yurii Gagarin went into space – and now this is Cosmonauts’ Day. Six months prior to that was another day which should not have been included either in the calendar, or in textbooks. The authorities tried to keep the accident at the Baikonur Cosmodrome secret: the bodies of the dead were sent home in closed coffins with the wording ‘death in the line of duty’, the burials were carried out secretly, and the death of Marshal Nedelin, who led the tests of the exploding rocket was attributed to a plane crash. [You can read about the accident at Baikonur and other Soviet disasters our article TASS is authorised to maintain silence , and watch a video .

What to listen to?

News from the podcast world: while I was gone, the last episode of the first season of our mini-serial ‘The Little Terror’, where Nastia Andreeva and I tell stories of people who have been tried for reason or espionage in Russia, came out. What’s more, we finally appeared on Yandex.Music, and Apple allowed people to listen the podcast on the site itself, not just via iTunes. So we are publishing links to the complete season in all the places we can, and talking about future episodes again.

You can listen at iTunes or the Apple site | Soundcloud | Youtube | Android | Yandex.Music | VKontakte. If you like our podcast, we ask you to please give it likes and ratings on iTunes and write reviews. It's very valuable and important to us.

Episode 1: ‘Someone Is Wrong on the Internet’

We discuss how a young lad, Roman Dmitrieva, a locksmith at an aircraft factory in Komsomoslk-on-Amur, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for posting on a forum for aircraft enthusiasts. At first the FSB beat out of Dmitriev a confession that he had disclosed state secrets, and then found someone suitable to play the role of a Mossad agent and accused Dmitriev of state treason against Russia for Israel. Dmitriev’s case is a signal to users of military and historical forums, and after his sentence several more cases of a similar nature appeared.

Episode 2: ‘The First and Only’

We discuss how in 1996 the newly formed FSB organised a hunt for Norwegian ‘spies’ and arrested the ecologist Alexander Nikitin. In 1999 Nikitin became the first person to be acquitted of state treason. Now we know that he was not only the first, but the only person acquitted. Nikitin was lucky: the acquittal was passed a few days before Vladimir Putin took office as acting president. There were no more acquittals after that.

Episode Three: ‘Our Troops are not There’

We discuss how the hybrid war [MAYBE LINK TO AN EXPLANATION? I HADN’T HEARD OF IT – AB] with Ukraine led to a situation where the authorities in Russia began feverishly to accuse people of state treason and spying for Ukraine. We look at three examples: Svetlana Davidova, mother of a large family, whose case never reached the court; the elderly Ukrainian Yurii Soloshenko, whom Putin eventually pardoned; and the Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko, whose case nobody clearly understood.

Oh, this letter really did turn out long. Let's say goodbye. Have a great weekend, guys.

With love,

Katya and K29

Translated by Anna Bowles