I’ll Let the Robots at Yandex Get This One

TASS ✔
Sergei Lavrov said that on the eve of the parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation, new attempts by Western countries to “shake up the situation” and “provoke protest demonstrations” are possible.

“It can be assumed that on the eve of the elections to the State Duma there will be new attempts to undermine, destabilize the situation, provoke protest demonstrations, preferably violent, as the West likes to do. Probably, then a campaign will be launched to not recognize our elections — there are such plans, we are aware of them, but we will focus primarily on the position and opinion of our people, who themselves are able to assess the actions of the authorities and speak out about how they want to further develop their country,” he said.

Translated by Yandex Translate. Source: Telegram

Yandex.Rover, a driverless robot for delivering hot restaurant meals, is seen in a business district in Moscow, Russia, December 10, 2020. Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

Russia’s Yandex driverless robots to deliver food at U.S. colleges with GrubHub
Reuters
July 6, 2021

Driverless robots will soon deliver food to students on college campuses in the United States after Russian tech giant Yandex (YNDX.O) and online food-ordering company GrubHub (GRUB.VI) agreed a multi-year partnership, Yandex said on Tuesday.

Sometimes described as Russia’s Google, Yandex offers a raft of services, from advertising and search to ride-hailing and food delivery. It began testing autonomous delivery robots in 2019 and already operates at some locations in central Moscow and in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Yandex did not disclose the financial terms of the partnership.

“We are delighted to deploy dozens of our rovers, taking the next step in actively commercializing our self-driving technology in different markets across the globe,” said Dmitry Polishchuk, CEO of Yandex Self-Driving Group.

Yandex’s delivery robots will join GrubHub’s platform, with the service to be made available at select college campuses this autumn. GrubHub partners with more than 250 college campuses across the United States.

“While college campuses are notoriously difficult for cars to navigate, specifically as it relates to food delivery, Yandex robots easily access parts of campuses that vehicles cannot — effectively removing a major hurdle universities face when implementing new technology,” said Brian Madigan, vice president of corporate and campus partners at GrubHub.

The technology behind Yandex’s delivery robots is the same that powers its self-driving cars.

Roman Pichuzhin: “Did you swear to serve Signor Tomato or to fight against him?”

Signor Tomato and Cipollino on a 1992 Russian stamp. Courtesy of Wikipedia

OVD Info | Telegram | June 29, 2021

Today at 3:00 p.m. a verdict will be announced in the trial of Roman Pichuzhin, an elections commission member targeted in the so-called Palace Case. Pichuzhin is represented by OVD Info lawyer Dmitri Zakhvatov.

Yesterday the prosecutor requested three years in prison [for Pichuzhin]. The court took only a day to examine the case.

We publish Roman Pichuzhin’s closing statement here.

Photographs and trial transcript provided by RP’s lawyer.

When I read [Gianni Rodari’s] Cippolino as a kid, I swore an oath that if I ever encountered Signor Tomato in my life, I would fight against him.

And you, esteemed prosecutor, esteemed riot policeman: when you read Cippolino, did you swear to serve Signor Tomato or to fight against him?

And when I watched the old Soviet movie about Cinderella, there was the last line, where the king says, “Connections are connections, of course, but when all’s said and done one must listen to one’s conscience. When they ask you, ‘And what exactly can you say for yourself?’ no connections in the world can help make a foot smaller, a soul bigger, or a heart more just.”

Why do we forget our childhood oaths? Why are you doing this?

Personally I can’t understand it. I don’t think you understand it either.

If, in order to remain free, I have to forget my childhood oaths, then I don’t want that kind of freedom. If keeping these oaths means I have to go to prison, well, fine, I’ll have to go.

In conclusion I want to recite some [Vladimir] Vysotsky.

If you’ve never in your life
Eaten meat with a knife
If with arms folded you just
Looked down on other folks
And you didn’t join the fight
Against the butchers and the scum —
Well, that means that in this life
You are just beside the point, you are nothing!

That’s all I have to say.

Translated by the Fabulous AM, with many thanks from me.

Roman Pichuzhin. Courtesy of OVD Info and Activatica

Elections commission member Roman Pichuzhin sentenced to two years in prison
Activatica
June 30, 2021

A court has sentenced Roman Pichuzhin, a defendant in the so-called Palace Affair and a member of a precinct election commission, to two years in a medium-security penal colony, reports OVD Info attorney Dmitry Zakhvatov.

On June 29, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow found Pichuzhin guilty of using violence against authorities (punishable under Article 318.1 of the Criminal Code) at a rally in support of Alexei Navalny on January 31. The prosecution asked the court to sentence Pichuzhin three years in a medium-security penal colony. According to investigators, Pichuzhin struck a riot police officer in the torso with his fist on Komsomolskaya Square in Moscow. The court took only a day to examine the case.

[…]

Pichuzhin was detained on March 2 as he was leaving Special Detention Center No. 2, where he had served a thirty-day administrative sentence after being detained at a rally in support of Alexei Navalny on January 31.

Roman Pichuzhin is 44 years old and has an 11-year-old child. According to OVD Info, Pichuzhin suffers from epilepsy.

In January and February, large-scale protests took place, the first of which was advertised in Alexei Navalny’s film Putin’s Palace: The Story of the World’s Biggest Bribe. More than 11 thousand people were detained at the protest rallies. 134 people have been named as suspects and defendants in criminal cases: this is more than in the so-called Bolotnaya Square Case and the Moscow Case combined. Forty-nine criminal cases involve charges of using violence against the authorities (punishable under parts 1 and 2 of Article 318 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), while twenty-three cases involve charges of obstructing roads (punishable under Article 267.1 of the Criminal Code). Some cases include charges of violating health and epidemic regulations, threatening the lives, health and safety of citizens, and involving minors in the commission of illegal actions.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Why Small-Town Electrician Vladimir Yegorov Had to Flee Russia

Vladimir Yegorov is still in quarantine and lives in a tent camp for refugees in Lithuania. Photo courtesy of Vladimir Yegorov and Radio Svoboda

“I realized that the country was over”: a “terrorist” electrician from Toropets flees to Lithuania
Radio Svoboda
Elizaveta Mayetnaya
June 28, 2021

Vladimir Yegorov, 54, from Toropets, Tver Region, was an ordinary electrician, but he has now become a political refugee in Lithuania. He fled there because in Russia he was threatened with up to ten years in prison on two criminal charges: “condoning terrorism” and “calling for extremism.” “I outfoxed the FSB: I lived under their nose for four months while they were looking for me everywhere,” Yegorov tells Radio Svoboda. “They can only steal, torture and invent criminal cases. They are no match for real terrorists.”

On June 27, Vladimir Yegorov posted these photos on his Facebook page, writing, “[My] final days in Russia. It’s a pity. It could be such a [great] country. But we are the people, and we fucked it all up. And it’s our fault that Putin exists here. Now all I can do is run. I did what I could.”

Yegorov says that he was not very interested in politics until the war in Ukraine began.

“My mother was seriously ill. She was a doctor, the head of the medical clinic, a respected person in the town. And then came the war, the seizure of foreign territory by Russia, the dead, the prisoners of war: my mother read all about it and could not believe that such a thing was even possible. And before that, holding her heart, almost crying, she told me how our entire healthcare system had been ruined,” Yegorov recalls. “Before the war with Ukraine, I still somehow hoped that all was not lost, but then I finally realized that the country was over.”

Yegorov worked at a sawmill and earned money on the side as an electrician. Then he joined the opposition Yabloko party and moderated (first at the party’s request, then on his own behest) Citizens of Toropets, a social media community page that was popular in the area.

“Of course, we have mass media there, but they only write what suits the authorities, while I, though I’m a simple electrician, was like an independent journalist. I wrote on the community page about our ‘crooks and thieves.’ In our wildest fantasies, we expected that three hundred people would read it, but the page was quite popular: we had more than a thousand subscribers, nearly every resident of the district read it! Sand was being stolen from quarries there by the tons and hauled out in KAMAZ trucks, but the local police and administration covered up the whole thing. After I wrote about this in May 2017, windows were broken in my house. A stone was thrown into the room where my little daughter was sleeping, and a canister of gasoline was found lying nearby.”

Yegorov was not intimidated and sent the evidence of theft at the sand quarry to Moscow. But instead of investigating the theft and the attack on his family, the authorities opened a criminal case against Yegorov himself over an old post on the social network VKontakte. In 2016, Yegorov had bluntly commented on a statement made by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who suggested that a teacher who had complained about a low salary “earn some more” and go into business if he wanted a high income. “We need to understand that all these ‘statements’ in public by these morons with zero popularity ratings, who occupy high-ranking posts, are nothing more than part of a special operation by the KGB to whitewash the main culprit of all the troubles and his closest cronies,” Yegorov wrote. His post was accompanied by a photo of President Vladimir Putin.

Police investigators interpreted the expressions used in the post as “extremist.” One of their forensic linguistic experts deemed it a call for the physical destruction of the Russian leadership, and a witness in court said that he read the post as an appeal to overthrow the government. Consequently, Yegorov was sentenced to two years of probation and forbidden from moderating websites. Memorial recognized him as a political prisoner.

Fearing criminal prosecution, Yegorov fled to Ukraine, where he applied for political asylum. The Ukrainian authorities denied him refugee status and took him to a neutral zone near the border with Russia. Yegorov left for Belarus, but he was detained there and sent back to Russia. He spent several months in jail before getting a suspended sentence.​

“My wife left me and took my daughter with. No one anywhere would hire me because I was immediately put on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of extremists; my bank accounts were blocked, and the house was also impounded. When I would go to the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) to check in, they mocked me, telling get a job! But no one anywhere would hire me. I went all over town many times, applying for all the vacancies, even the lousiest ones, which no one at the unemployment office would apply for, but I was turned down everywhere,” he says. “I, a healthy man who can do anything with my own hands, whom the whole town used to ask to fix things, was an outcast. I ate only potatoes and noodles for four years, and lived with boarded-up windows, because I had no money to replace the windows broken by those gangster. I didn’t go anywhere much: it was almost like being in prison, only at home. And the court had ruled that I could no longer moderate the community page, either.”

The patriarchal town of Toropets is, as it were, a dead end. Moscow is 400 kilometers away, and Tver is 350 kilometers away. Yegorov’s house stands almost in the center of the town, and is perfectly visible from the highway, where hundreds of cars pass every day. In March 2019, Yegorov hung a Ukrainian flag over his house, which he had ordered for 167 rubles on AliExpress. He posted a photo of it on social networks along with a list of political demands: “Putin, liberate the occupied territory of Ukraine! Release [Oleg] Sentsov, the [imprisoned Ukrainian] sailors and all prisoners of war! Don’t meddle in the affairs of a neighboring country! Take care of your own people! I am a simple Russian man, I don’t want my country to be like this.”

“The Ukrainian flag didn’t make [the local authorities] happy, of course, but according to the law, I can do what I want on my 2,200 square meters, and you can’t touch me. Basically, I made a nuisance of myself,” says Yegorov. “During that time, I figured out computers and learned how to use a VPN. When it comes to modern technology, those [FSB] field officers are just kids compared to me.”

Nor did the law enforcement agencies leave Yegorov alone: several times his home was searched, and in December 2019 and July 2020 his computer was seized. In December 2020, Yegorov was named the defendant in two new criminal cases: he was charged with “publicly condoning terrorism on the internet” (punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code) and “publicly calling for extremism” (punishable under Article 280.2 of the Criminal Code). This happened after the security forces had again searched his home on December 4.

“I supported Katya Muranova from Medvezhegorsk in Karelia on social networks. She is still very young, she has a sick child on her hands, and she was also convicted, fined and put on the Rosfinmonitoring list, allegedly for condoning terrorism [Ekaterina Muranova of Medvezhegorsk was accused of “condoning terrorism” in 2019. For commenting on a social media post about the suicide bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices by the 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky on November 4, 2018, she was sentenced to pay a fine of 350 thousand rubles. Several dozen people in Russia have also been convicted on the same charge for commenting on the bombing — Radio Svoboda.] I feel very sorry for Katya, who also can’t get a job anywhere because of this stigma. She and I became friends, and I wrote a post about the anarchist Zhlobitsky. According to the FSB, it contains ‘statements condoning terrorist activities and creating a positive image of terrorists,'” says Yegorov.

Ekaterina Muranova, convicted in 2019 of “condoning terrorism.” Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Actually, it was this post that led to the charge of “condoning terrorism” against Yegorov. Law enforcement agencies detected “publicly calling for extremism” in another post, which Yegorov allegedly made on January 1, 2020, in the VK group Toropets Realities, referring to a news item published on Ura.Ru, “District head blown up near Voronezh.” There was a note under the news story: “All of them should be blown up.” The FSB believes that it was Egorov who posted this comment from someone else’s account, accessing the page from a virtual Ukrainian number.

“At first I denied everything, but then, during the search, they showed me some kind of knife. I had never had such a thing in my life, and they said that they could find something worse. Consequently, I dismissed my lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina and confessed to everything. In exchange, they promised to leave me on my own recognizance until the trial. I didn’t want to go to prison again,” says Egorov. “I was then actively corresponding on social networks with one person who promised to help me. He also had problems with his wife: it was our common ground. So I decided that I would let [the authorities] think that they had broken me, and I would hide and run away from them. On February 10, I left.”

In the evening, Yegorov lit a stove in his house and left his mobile phone there. Under cover of darkness, he got into the car of his new acquaintance, whom he had never seen before, and left with him for Moscow.

“I helped him with electrical work and did a lot of other things around the house, and then he took me to his dacha,” Yegorov recounts. “All those four months they were looking for me. They hassled my wife’s relatives: they thought that she was hiding me, but no one knew anything. And all that time we were reading everything we could about the border and the best places to cross it. We were on different online chat groups, carefully gathering information. Then we went to Belarus by car. My friend took his family along so the authorities would not suspect anything. We even went to a restaurant, like we were ordinary tourists. And then for seven thousand rubles illegal guides took us to the border. At the lake that divides the border in half, I jumped out of the car and immediately dove into the water. I was wearing swim fins, and had a hermetically sealed bag and sat nav with me. I was supposed to swim 400 meters under water, but I surface at the wrong spot: the water had risen, and there was grass and swamp all round. I ended up swimming 1,200 meters, paddling for a very long time along the Lithuanian shore. Nothing was visible, and I didn’t turn on the flashlight to avoid being detected. I got out on the shore: there was no one in sight. I quickly changed my clothes and went to the road to take a minibus to Vilnius. I came to the road and everywhere there were signs, in Russian, advertising houses for sale. I was afraid that I had come ashore in Russia.”

In Vilnius, Yegorov turned himself in to the police.

“I told them: you’d better me shoot here than hand me over to Russia! They would put me away for ten years for nothing, and then they would me kill me prison. They would hang me like Tesak, and then they say I did it myself,” Yegorov argues.

At first, Yegorov was housed in the transit zone at Vilnius Airport.

“I have never seen a Boeing, I have never flown anywhere on airplanes, only by helicopter when I was in the army. Basically, I haven’t been anywhere: I’ve been to Moscow, to Tver for interrogations, and to Velikiye Luki. I fled unsuccessfully to Ukraine, but they sent me back… So my whole life has been lived in Toropets: I have graves of relatives there that are 300 years old. I didn’t think that I would go on the run in my old age, but I didn’t have much choice, ” says Yegorov.

After several days in the transit zone, Yegorov was transferred to a quarantine camp. He now lives in a tent for twenty-two people.

“The food here is quite tasty: they give us cheese and pears. After my long life of semi-starvation in Toropets, I feel like I’m at a health spa now,” Yegorov says, smiling. “Most of the refugees here are Iraqis, Sri Lankans, and Arabs. The staff treat us well. All of them speak Russian, and I communicate with the other refugees using an online translator: somehow we understand each other. They are all in transit to Europe via Belarus, where it is now a well-established business. This, however, has turned out to be in my favor.”

On June 6, 2021, Agnė Bilotaitė, Lithuania’s interior minister, said that the situation with migrants in her country was getting worse.

“We live next door to an unpredictable terrorist regime,” she said. “After Lukashenko’s threats about unleashing an unprecedented flow of migrants, we are seeing an increase in illegal migrants. Four times a week, flights from Istanbul and Baghdad arrive Minsk, whence the migrants head for Lithuania. At least 600 people fly from these destinations every week. The price of transporting people illegally across the border is as much as 15 thousand euros per person, and 30 thousand euros per family.”

This year, over 400 illegal migrants have arrived in Lithuania from Belarus, which is five times more than during the whole of 2020.

A view of Vladimir Yegorov’s hometown of Toropets. Courtesy of Wikipedia

“The flow of refugees is huge, and they spend a lot of time vetting everyone. I was given [refugee] status five years ago after waiting a month and a half, but the folks who came after me waited for six months,” says Irina Kalmykova. Criminal charges were filed against Kalmykova in Moscow for her repeated participation in solo pickets and protest rallies, and she was fined 150 thousand rubles. Instead of waiting until she was arrested again and faced a second set of criminal charges, she and her son fled to Belarus in January 2016, and from there they went to Lithuania, where she was granted political asylum.

Kalmykova was one of the co-founders of the Russian European Movement, which was organized to bring together Russian political refugees in Lithuania.

“We have a very friendly Russian diaspora here now,” says Kalmykova. “We help each other out because, until recently, we ourselves were in the same situation: no money, no clothes, no documents, nothing at all. The guys have already found an apartment where Vladimir can stay, and they will help him find a job. Lithuania is considered one of the poorest countries in Europe, but, you know, people here are quite responsive and kind, and everyone knows Russian, so it is much easier to adapt here than in some other countries The main thing is that Vladimir already has support, because it is quite important that a person doesn’t feel unwanted in their new home. I have no doubt that Lithuania will grant him political asylum: criminal charges have been filed against him, and he has been persecuted for his political stance.”

Yegorov says that he really hopes that his life will finally get better in Lithuania.

“Maybe when I can work here, my wife and daughter will move here to join me. I would really like that,” he says.

Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. In my “real life” as a professional translator, I would have earned around 170 euros for translating a text of this length. Instead, I have provided translations of this and thousands of other compelling texts for free over the last fourteen years here and at Chtodelat News. So, please consider donating money via PayPal or Ko-Fi to help support this work and encourage me to continue it. You’ll find “Donate” and “Buy me a coffee” buttons in the sidebar on the left of this page. Click on one of them to make a donation. Thanks! ||| TRR

Crimson Sails

vera.afanasyeva
“A man depicting Alexander Nevsky, on a ship that [was built] 500 years after Nevsky, sings the Soviet song ‘It’s Fun to Walk Together’ at a Putinist festival in St. Petersburg at the height of the epidemic.

Russia: Chronicles of Mass Madness”

And also people in elven armor, people in 18th and 19th century European dress, one dude in a hockey uniform. Peter the Great and someone who looks like Lomonosov.

Only Lenin and Stalin are missing from this picture.

Poor, poor [Alexander] Green . . .

See Alexander Petrosyan’s photos of last night’s Crimson Sails festivities here. Translated by the Russian Reader

__________________

Saint Petersburg Posts Record Covid Toll Following Euro 2020
AFP (Moscow Times)
June 26, 2021

Sweden supporters cheer during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group E football match between Sweden and Poland at Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on June 23, 2021. Maxim Shmetov/AFP

Russia’s Euro 2020 host Saint Petersburg on Saturday reported the country’s highest daily Covid-19 toll for a city since the start of the pandemic, data showed.

Official figures said the city, which has already hosted six Euro 2020 matches and is due to host a quarter-final on Friday, recorded 107 virus deaths over the last 24 hours.

Russian news agencies said this was the highest toll of any Russian city since the start of the pandemic.

Saint Petersburg was where dozens of Finland supporters caught coronavirus after they traveled to the city for their team’s defeat against Belgium.

Russia has seen an explosion of new coronavirus cases since mid-June driven by the highly infectious Delta variant first identified in India.

The nation as a whole reported 21,665 new infections on Saturday, the highest daily figure since January.

The dramatic rise in infections come as officials in Moscow are pushing vaccine-skeptical Russians to get inoculated, after lifting most anti-virus restrictions late last year.

“To stop the pandemic, one thing is needed: rapid, large-scale vaccinations. Nobody has invented any other solution,” Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin told state-run television on Saturday.

“To fundamentally solve this problem, you need to be vaccinated or go to a lockdown,” he was cited as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

Russia also reported 619 new coronavirus deaths on Saturday—the highest daily toll since December—bringing the total to 132,683 fatalities since the pandemic began.

But officials in the sixth-worst hit country the world—and the hardest in Europe—have been accused of downplaying the severity of the outbreak in the country.

Under a broader definition for deaths linked to coronavirus, statistics agency Rosstat at the end of April said that Russia has seen at least 270,000 fatalities since the pandemic began.

Just 21.2 million out of a population of about 146 million had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Friday, according to the Gogov website, which tallies Covid figures from the regions and the media.

Juneteenth a la russe

Four solo picketers detained in Moscow demanding that authorities not exacerbate the epidemic 
OVD Info
June 19, 2021

Alexander Rimov has informed OVD Info that four people involved in a series of solo pickets demanding that authorities not worsen the epidemiological situation have been detained.

During the United Russia party congress, taking place at Moscow’s Expo Center, several people took turns holding up a placard containing a message encrypted using a QR code. The protesters urged the authorities not to worsen the epidemiological situation and postpone the elections so that the ruling party does not endanger the electorate.

Among the detainees, according to Rimov, are two virologists, a law enforcement officer and a municipal employee. They were taken to the police department in the city’s Arbat district, where they were cited for violating the rules for holding public events (per Article 20.2.5 of the Administrative Code).

UPDATE 10:00 P.M. After the charges were filed, the detainees were released, a friend of theirs has told OVD Info.

During the United Russia congress, President Putin announced the first five names on the party’s federal list for the upcoming State Duma elections.

Thanks to Activatica for the link and the Kamchatka Krai branch of the United Russian party for the photo of the congress venue. Translated by the Russian Reader

United Russia has set itself goal of winning the elections, but this is not an end in itself. The main thing is to achieve more for the country, Vladimir Putin said.

He noted that the platform of United Russia, as a leading party, should be truly popular.

In the top five of United Russia’s federal list in the elections, there should be both political heavyweights and relative newcomers, Putin believes. The Russian president named Shoigu among those whom he sees at the top of United Russia’s federal list in the elections.

Putin also said that Protsenko, Lavrov, Shmeleva and Kuznetsova should be among the names at the top of the federal list.

Source: TASS, June 19, 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader. Mediazona editor Yegor Skovoroda writes that new data from Rosstat, the Russian federal statistics service, shows how authorities in many of Russia’s regions have been hiding covid-19 deaths by passing them off as mortalities from respiratory and circulatory diseases. In Chechnya, for example, such deaths suddenly increased by 674%, while in the Samara region they increased by 202%. It was mostly the elderly that have been dying from these alleged causes, prompting Skovoroda to call the phenomenon a “nightmarish variety of ‘pension reform.’” All the particulars are contained in Mediazona’s survey of the stats, published on June 18, 2021.

Grigorii Golosov: Dissecting Dead Elections

What to Expect from Dead Elections
Grigorii Golosov
Proekt
June 7, 2021

In journalism, there is the well-worn cliché of “dissecting elections.” This is when experts explain to the general public how the electoral system works, how election campaigns are run, and how votes are tallied. In a democracy, this knowledge is ordinarily not in high demand, because voters, as a rule, don’t care about such subtleties. People who go to the polling stations have preferences and emotions that they express by voting. The fine points matter a narrow stratum of politicized intellectuals. Rank-and-file voters regard elections respectfully, as one of the foundations of the democratic state, which they value, but they are not keen about its anatomical details.

Under authoritarianism, it would seem that elections merit no interest at all. After all, they don’t make it possible to change the government, let alone influence it in any tangible way. Their impact on the make-up of representative political bodies is insignificant, and on politics, negligible.

They are dead elections. And yet they are anything but inconspicuous.

On the contrary, the most high-profile events of recent months in Russia have been related to elections indirectly (like the crackdown on opposition organizations and activists) or directly (like United Russia’s so-called primaries). They have gone unremarked only by people who have completely isolated themselves from the daily grind of the Russian state and the propaganda servicing it. This is, of course, quite a healthy thing to do, but not everyone has the luxury of doing it.

Naturally, the hype will only increase over the summer, because presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has already promised us a literally red-hot campaign. Indeed, elections — and just such dead elections — are vital to modern authoritarian regimes. Elections perform many useful functions for autocracies. I could list all of them, but it suffices to point out their main function: unless the regime triumphs at the ballot box, it is difficult to explain why the people in government occupy the high-ranking posts they do.

Their power is not warranted by the right of succession, nor by their outstanding personal qualities, nor by their crystal clear vision of the prospects for social development. Naturally, there are other contenders for power, ready to take it simply because they want to. So the common idea that elections will be canceled as unnecessary is mistaken. This means that there is some point in dissecting dead elections, just as there is a point in dissecting dead bodies.

The basic principle of election pathology is simple: dead elections should look like the real thing, but still keep those who already hold power in power, allowing only a minimal rotation of minor figures. In keeping with this principle, authoritarian elections involve four main areas of tampering: (1) voting systems; (2) voter behavior; (3) voter choice; (4) vote counting. Let’s examine each of these areas separately.

In Russia, messing with the electoral system in the narrow sense of the term is a thing of the past. Readers may remember that for a time we had a purely proportional electoral system, in which we could vote only for party lists, not for single candidates. Its introduction was no accident and no matter of good intentions: it was meant to facilitate the emergence of the United Russia party and eradicate independent MPs. However, the 2011 State Duma elections, in which United Russia nearly lost its parliamentary majority, showed that a mixed system was more convenient, so they went back to it.

There is nothing particularly innovative about this. If we do the numbers we see that that mixed systems are more popular among autocracies than among democratic countries. And we know from experience why: even if United Russia fails to gain a parliamentary majority via its party list, it will make it up for it by winning in the single-member districts. It was the single-member districts that gave United Russia a constitutional majority in the current State Duma. We know what the consequences for the Russian Constitution have been. But, admittedly, room for further tweaking of the pathological particulars has mostly been exhausted. Going any further would involve embracing electoral systems in which all semblance of democracy is forfeited.

But there is still room for creativity when it comes to manipulating voters. Take, for example, United Russia’s “primaries.” Many people ask why the powers that be must play this expensive game at all, if it is known in advance and has been repeatedly borne out by experience that, ultimately, only those candidates approved by the Kremlin end up on the party lists. I will answer this question with a question of my own. Is there a better way to test the ability of the regional authorities to get voters to an event that is not even an election, whose meaninglessness is obvious to everyone involved? Primaries are an ideal vehicle for turning out the segment of populace dependent on the authorities and thus doing a practice run before the parliamentary campaign kicks off in earnest.

Turning the dependent populace out to vote has been the primary tool of the authorities in recent years. I should stress that we are talking about a mobilization of voters that can be carried out regardless of a campaign’s particular circumstances and definitely produce the expected result. It’s a myth that people who vote under duress can give the authorities the finger behind their back. These people are forced to go to the polls in order to vote for United Russia and that’s exactly what they do.

Sometimes op-ed writers wonder why, since the authorities are so interested in voter turnout, they don’t introduce mandatory voting, which exists in many (mostly democratic) countries. The electoral forensic pathologist answers this question as follows: because the authorities are not interested in turning out all voters, only those who can be expected to vote “correctly.”

If you drive everyone to the polls, it will irritate the populace. Then, perhaps, the “giving them the finger” scenario could come to pass. No, the authorities have to facilitate the turnout only of the most reliable voters, and these are the voters who are forced to vote a certain way.

When such innovations of recent years as multi-day and electronic voting are discussed, attention is often paid to their role in falsifying the results. However, another thing is equally important. It is much easier to administratively enforce turnout and control the behavior of voters if the vote is held over several days. And we have heard a lot about the effectiveness of using screenshots in electronic voting following the results of United Russia’s “primaries.” Perhaps new tricks will also arrive in time for the September elections. The scope for creativity, I repeat, is still wide.

Manipulating voter choice, of course, mainly involves limiting the number of parties and candidates allowed to stand in elections. The conditions for this were created at the dawn of Russian electoral authoritarianism, in 2004–2006, and have been continuously perfected since then. At first, as you know, the authorities tightened the screws to such an extent that the remaining parties could literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. The 2011 campaign, in which the opposition pursued the “vote for any other party” strategy, showed that this was not the optimal path for the authorities.

There are a lot of registered parties this time round. Among them, there are no truly oppositional parties, completely independent of the authorities, nor can there be. However, careful work is being done to generation the illusion of choice, as exemplified by the comic rebranding of the Communist Party of Social Justice as the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice.

Of course, the “big three” parties (i.e., the LDPR, the CPRF, and a Just Russia) remain the favorites among the “legal opposition.” Even the half-forgotten Just Russia has been patched up for the elections: it has been renamed and strengthened with valuable new personnel. The calculation of the authorities is simple: United Russia’s administrative advantage + propaganda + the scattering of votes among “projects” and spoilers + the refusal of opposition-minded voters to go to the polls = a United Russia majority even on the party-list votes alone.

The problem has come from unexpected quarters: from the single-member districts. Again, the mixed electoral system does generally benefit the authorities. However, it generated an opportunity for so-called smart voting – that is, for strategically choosing to vote for candidates who have a chance of defeating United Russia candidates, rather than trying to elect candidates preferred by opposition voters.

Smart voting is bane to the authorities not only because it can achieve its immediate goal, but also because it encourages opposition voters to turn out for elections. And if they show up, they definitely won’t vote for United Russia on the party list ballots.

Crackdowns have been the main way of solving the problem this year. They enable the authorities to remove potentially strong and at the same time genuinely oppositional candidates from the elections. The efforts of the authorities on this front have been striking and attracted wide attention, but the principal target, in my opinion, is different. Smart voting is a complex strategy that requires organizational infrastructure and systematic guidance. The politicians who are currently targeted by crackdowns are vital not so much as potential candidates — the authorities could have prevented them from running using any number of tried and true methods — but as crucial figures in this infrastructure. The same applies to independent media, as well as (and especially) the few remaining opposition organizations in the political arena. Over the last year, they have been literally torn up by the roots.

Of course, the authorities cannot completely eliminate the threat posed by smart voting. It is a flexible strategy that relies on unconventional methods of political mobilization. Moreover, the impact made by the current scale of crackdowns on public sentiment and on the behavior of voters may go against expectations. In my opinion, hysteria about “foreign agents,” “undesirable organizations,” and other horrors is counterproductive in terms of the regime’s survival, since it erodes its claims to adhere to the democratic principles, driving it into the trap in which Alexander Lukashenko now finds himself. However, the authorities are trying their darndest to do just that, and if they break their own skulls in the process, you cannot blame them for their lack of diligence.

This zeal is fueled not so much by fears of losing, but rather by the well-founded notion that the desired outcome can be achieved only through fraud.

Let’s not harbor any illusions: the outcome will not be honest in any case.

Given the direct disciplinary responsibility of regional governors for getting the “correct” percentages at the ballot box (percentages that are known in advance), Russian elections generate irresistibly strong incentives for skewing the vote count. The federal authorities, in principle, have a stake in ensuring that the scale of the fraud is not off the charts and is not particularly conspicuous. But I don’t think that this is a matter of serious concern to them. Unlike in 2011, there is simply no one capable of recording violations due to the lack of independent monitoring.

The pathology of authoritarian elections is universal. Nothing special is happening in Russia compared to other regimes of this type, from Chad to Singapore. And yet, the current events, especially in terms of pre-election crackdowns, seem a bit too much. However, the cause of the overkill is clear. The parliamentary elections are quite important, but they would hardly be worth the effort if there were not a much more important event happening in 2024. The presidential election will complete the “reset” operation, extending Vladimir Putin’s term in office for at least six (and most likely twelve) years. The authorities must prepare for this in such a way as to completely rule out surprises.Grigorii Golosov is a political scientist, dean of the political science department at the European University in St. Petersburg, and author of the book Autocracy, or the Loneliness of Power. Photo courtesy of Proekt. Translated by the Russian Reader

Doing the Right Thing (Victory Day)

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
May 9, 2021

Here is what I’ve been thinking about on this day. I seem to understand why every year on May 9, everyone engages in such jealous and painful arguments about whose victory it was and whether it was a victory at all. Everyone wants to prove that the good guys, that is, people like them, won the war. The bad guys —Hitler and Stalin — lost. The bad guys from the other side and the bad guys from our side lost.

But that’s not how it was. The soldiers who won the war at the cost of enormous bloodshed saved everyone, both good and bad. The victory in 1945 was a victory of life over death. Not of a good life (this is the answer to the question “Why do we live so badly if we won?”), but mere life, life as such. People stopped dying. Wasn’t that enough?

I have seen many times how good deeds were done by the wrong people. A person who does not love the motherland can put out a fire. A man who beats his wife will save someone else’s child. And so on. On the one hand, he saved the child, and on the other hand he has beaten his wife again. What conclusions should we draw from this?

None. It doesn’t change anything. Saving children is still the right thing to do, but beating your wife is not. One does not negate the other.

And the child, by the way, can grow up to be a criminal. And so what? Should it not be saved now?

People are different. What matters is not what they are, but what they do. Seventy-six years ago, they saved the world. And what happened to them afterwards is up to the people they saved, it is our choice.

I remember the grief, the huge amount of blood shed, and the losses. But still, today is a holiday, because we were saved: it’s a joyful occasion. And today is also a time to think about whether we have saved anyone.

George Losev
Facebook
May 8, 2021

There are two main reasons for all the pomp around May 9.

First, the more magnificent the holiday, the more money you can allocate from the state coffers [and embezzle]. Officials are just plain greedy.

The second is that the Russian Federation is an imperialist country. Like any imperialist, the Russian Federation tries to expand and prepares for war, generating the appropriate ideology in the process. The construction is quite simple: either a major historical military victory or a major defeat is taken, and the sense of pride or desire for revenge [occasioned by the victory or defeat] is stoked. A typical example is Germany and France before the First World War. Both sides fanned the flames of the Franco-Prussian War as a subject. On the eve of the First World War in the Russian Empire, the subject of 1812 [i.e., Russia’s victory over Napoleon in the so-called Fatherland War] was also hyped.

The Olympics, big construction projects, and so on serve the same purpose, but it is past wars that best fit the bill.

The Russian Federation now simply has no other choice but the Second World War. First, because of the scale. Secondly, after it, the USSR and the Russian Federation engaged in seven wars (the USSR fought in Afghanistan, while the Russian Federation has two Chechen wars, Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, and Libya to its credit), all of which ended with the emergence of “gray” zones, sites of constantly smoldering conflict. Creating such zones is the goal of the current imperialist countries, but they cannot be cited as [positive] examples. They cannot serve as a justification of the regime’s actions, because they themselves are in need of justification. Why should Russians be glad to remember the actions of Russian mercenaries in Libya? Or the [Russian] bombing of Syrian cities?

Hence the Second World War.

But as it makes this choice, the Russian Federation has one problem.

Putin’s regime represents, rather, the side that the USSR fought against during World War Two rather than acting as the successor to the Soviet Union. It is the side of monopolistic capital, militarism, and institutionalized racism.

The Soviet Union built schools and hospitals, while the Putin regime has been closing them down. The USSR nationalized property in the territories it liberated, while the Russian Federation has privatized it.

Therefore, the ideological construction becomes more complicated.

The very fact of victory is magnified, and everything else is either hushed up or slimed.

This is the root of the apparent schizophrenia in which the ideological elite of Putin’s Russia has been dwelling for many years, all those TV presenters, priests, Mikhalkovs and writer-directors of endless series about the war, in which Soviet soldiers and commanders are shown as complete degenerates, cowards and traitors.

All these “cultural figures” realize that they are forced to exalt those who essentially fought against them. So there is a huge difference between my annoyance at the hype and the pathos on the eve of May 9, and the fierce hatred that Putin’s ideological minions radiate.

I don’t like marches by kindergarten children in Red Army forage caps: they would be more appropriate in Nazi Germany.

The Putinists do not like the mass heroism of the Soviet people. They hate the Communists, who accounted for one-third to one-half of all Soviet combat losses.

Vyacheslav Dolinin
Facebook
May 9, 2021

I remember a story, funny and sad at the same time, which was told to me many years ago by the musician Mark Lvovich Rubanenko. He was a young man in the pre-war years, and back then he played in Leningrad in an orchestra with other young musicians like him. All of them were fun-loving: they liked to drink, make jokes, and pull pranks. Once, during a friendly gathering, they were flipping through the phone book and found a surname that seemed funny to them – Kurochkin [“Hen-kin”]. One of the musicians dialed the number of the man with the funny last name.

“Comrade Kurochkin?”

“Yes,” said a voice on the other end of the phone.

“Greetings from Petushkov [“Rooster-ov”],” the caller said and hung up.

After that, the musicians began phoning Kurochkin from different places and at different times of the day, even at night. They usually asked the question”Comrade Kurochkin?” and when he responded, they would say, “Greetings from Petushkov.”

Then the war broke out, and all the band members went to the front. Rubanenko made it all the way to Berlin. After the war, the musicians gathered again in Leningrad. Not everyone had come back alive. They drank vodka and remembered their dead friends. And then someone remembered: “And how is our Kurochkin?” Excited, they picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number.

“Comrade Kurochkin?”

“Yes.”

“Greetings from Petushkov.”

The voice on the other end of the phone was silent for a while. Then it yelled: “You bastard! You’re still alive! So many good people have died, but you’re alive!”

The musicians hung up. They never called Kurochkin again.

Ivan Ovsyannikov
Facebook
May 9, 2021

Recently, my mother told me about her stepfather, a front-line soldier. He was wounded, captured, and sent to a Nazi prison camp, and after the war he was sent to a Soviet labor camp in Kolyma. There he met my grandmother, who was also a victim of political repression. The man was, according to my mother, cheerful (which is not surprising), only he frightened her as a child when he would began raving in German in his sleep. He had dreams about the German prison camp while in exile in the Soviet Union. He was also involved in Komsomol weddings.*

[The inscription on the invitation, pictured above, reads: “Dear Comrade V.D. Nigdeyev! We invite you and your spouse to a Komsomol wedding. The wedding will take place at the Tatyana Malandina Club at 19:30 on August 22, 1964.”]

Vladimir Golbraikh
Facebook
May 9, 2021

[Soviet WWII veterans, gathering on] May 9, 1975, on the Field of Mars in Leningrad. Photos by I. Koltsov

Yan Shenkman reports on political trials and popular culture for the independent liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta. George Losev is a housing authority electrician and socialist activist in Petersburg. Vyacheslav Dolinin is a well-known Leningrad-Petersburg Soviet dissident, former Gulag inmate and samizdat researcher. Ivan Ovsyannikov is a journalist and socialist activist in Petersburg. Vladimir Golbraikh, a Petersburg-based sociologist, focuses on his immensely popular Facebook page on unearthing and publishing archival photos of Leningrad-Petersburg during the Soviet era. Translated by the Russian Reader

* ‘Among the events that Komsomol organs planned were Komsomol weddings, a novel ritual for youth that used cultural activities to inculcate not only officially prescribed cultural tastes but also gender norms, part of a broader post-Stalin drive to ascribe civic meaning to ceremonies and ritual. First mentioned in 1954, these wed- dings began to appear across the Soviet Union with the enactment of the 1957 aesthetic upbringing initiative. Official discourse, as expressed by Komsomol’skaia pravda, touted state-sponsored weddings in clubs as a way to undermine religious wedding traditions, in keeping with Khrushchev’s anti-religion campaign, and to minimize the drunkenness and untoward behavior prevalent at private wedding feasts. The authorities also intended Komsomol weddings to ensure the stability of the family. As noted by Shelepin in 1957, private marriages often ended in divorce, but “when someone gets married openly, in front of the people, his friends and comrades—it is another matter altogether.” Such rituals aimed to place relationships between young men and women within the boundaries of government-monitored official collectives, in effect reframing the norms of courting and family life from private to more public settings and ensuring the performance of officially preferred gendered behavior.’ (Gleb Tsipursky, Socialist Fun: Youth, Consumption, and State-Sponsored Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1945–1970, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016, p. 149)

Ivan Pavlov: Thanks!

Russian human rights lawyer outside the Basmanny District Court in Moscow yesterday. Photo courtesy of his Telegram channel

Dear friends, colleagues, and allies!

This is Ivan Pavlov.

Yesterday was not an easy day for me, my family and the team. At 6 a.m., my friend Igor Dorfman had his door broken down. His apartment was searched for eight hours, and he was interrogated by the FSB. The Team 29 office was searched until nightfall.

But despite the fact that I have been restricted in my access to all means of communication, I am still with you.

My Facebook page has been temporarily blocked for security reasons. My Telegram channel will be run by my team. And this message has been written by Yevgeny Smirnov, who spent the whole day alongside me.

The team’s media resources will continue to function, publishing the latest news and features, because openness to the press and freedom of information have always been a priority for us. This, by the way, has always irritated our opponents a great deal.

The attack on me and my team is, of course, revenge for our work, for our principled stance, for our involvement in high-profile criminal cases run by the Russian FSB’s investigative department. And, of course, revenge for defending the Anti-Corruption Foundation, founded by Alexei Navalny, in court. But we are not going to stop. We will keep on working and fighting. Let’s not fall to the ground before shots are fired.

Especially since my team and I felt extraordinarily strong support from journalists, human rights defenders and the public on this day. And, most importantly, from our colleagues in the legal community, who came to the rescue without unnecessary formalities.

I am grateful for this difficult day because I learned how many people support me and Team 29. This inspires an optimism that cannot be diminished by interrogations, searches and court hearings.

Thanks!
Ivan Pavlov
(via Yevgeny Smirnov)

Source: weekly Team 29 emailing. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________________

Russia targets lawyer over media comments on treason case
Daria Litvinova
Associated Press
April 30, 2021

Russian authorities have launched a criminal probe against a lawyer representing a former Russian journalist accused of treason and the team of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accusing him of disclosing information related to a police investigation.

St. Petersburg-based lawyer Ivan Pavlov told reporters Friday he was formally charged with the criminal offense, punishable by a fine, community service or detention of up to three months, after his Moscow hotel room was raided on Friday morning and he was summoned to Russia’s Investigative Committee for interrogation.

Pavlov appeared in court later Friday and was ordered not to contact witnesses in the case or to use the Internet or a cellphone.

Pavlov’s colleague, Yevgeny Smirnov, had reported that the lawyer was detained. But Pavlov’s spokesperson, Yelizaveta Alexandrova-Zorina, later clarified to the Associated Press that Pavlov formally wasn’t arrested even though he was de-facto detained in his hotel room during the search.

The Team 29 association of lawyers that Pavlov heads said on social media that its office in St. Petersburg, the apartments of one of its employees and of Pavlov’s wife, and Pavlov’s house in the countryside were also raided Friday.

Opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have been facing increasing government pressure in Russia. Raids targeting Pavlov and his team elicited outrage in the Russian legal and human rights community, with prominent lawyers and legal aid groups calling on authorities to stop “using the law as a tool of pressure on lawyers.”

Pavlov said the accusations against him were connected to his defense of Ivan Safronov, a former Russian journalist charged with treason in a case that has been widely seen as retribution for his journalistic work. He said he was targeted because he shared information about the case with the media.

“The investigators maintain that I committed a crime when I told you, reporters, that your colleague is being unlawfully held in Lefortovo (pre-trial detention center) on absurd accusations,” the lawyer said.

Safronov, who wrote about military and security issues for a decade before becoming an adviser to Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, was detained last year and accused of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence. Many journalists questioned the charges, and his former newspaper rejected them as “absurd.”

Safronov’s former colleagues alleged that authorities may have sought revenge for his reporting that exposed Russian military incidents and opaque arms trade deals. Safronov has remained in pre-trial detention since July.

Pavlov had been due to appear in a Moscow court on Friday at a hearing about extending Safronov’s pre-trial detention. The lawyer said police unlawfully seized “almost the entire dossier” of documents related to the case during the hotel raid, including those subject to attorney-client privilege.

According to his colleague Smirnov, Pavlov frequently received threats from investigators at Russia’s Security Service, or FSB, with an investigator involved in the case against the former journalist allegedly saying to the lawyer, “We’re going to do everything to put you behind bars.”

Pavlov maintained his innocence and said he considered the case against him “revenge” for his work on cases investigated by the FSB.

Smirnov told the AP that persecution of Pavlov sends a signal to all lawyers: “Don’t even think about working effectively on criminal cases. Don’t even think about speaking out. Don’t even think about defending people.”

In August, Russian media reported the FSB had lodged a complaint against Pavlov over his refusal to sign a non-disclosure statement in Safronov’s case. Pavlov said he had signed a statement not to disclose state secrets in connection with the case, but no one had asked him to sign a broader non-disclosure statement.

The case against Pavlov was opened shortly after he started representing the [Anti-Corruption Foundation], founded by President Vladimir Putin’s longtime foe, opposition leader Navalny.

This month, the Moscow prosecutor’s office petitioned the Moscow City Court to outlaw Navalny’s foundation and his network of regional offices as extremist groups. The case, expected to be heard May 17, is part of a sweeping crackdown on Navalny, his allies and his political infrastructure.

On Friday, the Rosfinmonitoring agency, which analyzes financial transactions to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, added “Public Movement of Navalny’s Headquarters” to its list of organizations involved in extremist activities or terrorism.

However, Navalny’s top strategist Leonid Volkov said no such organization exists. Rosfinmonitoring can freeze access to bank accounts and it is not clear how Friday’s move would affect Navalny’s foundation or other operations.

Navalny is currently serving time in a penal colony outside Moscow. He was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a Soviet nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. Russian officials have rejected the accusations. European labs have confirmed he was poisoned.

Yefim Khazanov: One Repost Too Many?


Yefim Khazanov. Photo: Roman Yarovitsyn/Kommersant

Yefim Khazanov, Academician of Russian Academy of Sciences, Detained in Nizhny Novgorod
Roman Ryskal
Kommersant
April 21, 2021

Yefim Khazanov, an academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences and laureate of the State Prize in Science and Technology was detained in Nizhny Novgorod on Tuesday, April 20. Presumably, the reason was his reposts of information about Alexei Navalny on Facebook.

As Mr. Khazanov reported to Kommersant, he was taken to the police department in the city’s Kanavinsky district. “I was detained in the afternoon at work and brought to the police station. They said that I had written [something] about Navalny on Facebook, but I believe that I did not write [anything],” the scientist said. He added that, for the time being, he was in the lobby of the station, and the police officers had not gone through any procedures with him. Lawyer Mikhail Lipkin had gone to the department to represent the physicist.

Mr. Khazanov’s page on the social network contains reposts of information from Alexei Navalny from the [penal] colony, an appeal by human rights defenders to Vladimir Putin about the convicted person’s [sic] condition, as well as posts by Leonid Volkov about the state of health of the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK, entered in the register of foreign agents). The police have not yet commented on Khazanov’s detention.

Yefim Khazanov is a Russian experimental physicist who specializes in creating laser systems. In 2008, he was elected a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the Department of Physical Sciences. In 2012, he was awarded the Russian Federation Government Prize for his work creating a petawatt laser system. In 2018, he was awarded the Russian Federation State Prize for establishing the basic foundations of and devising instrumental solutions to the problem of registering gravitational waves.

Thanks to EZ and others for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader