Does Vladimir Putin Have a Niece?

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Vera Putina, Vladimir Putin’s niece

On October 31, 2017, New Yorker staff writer Masha Gessen published a short piece about the plea deal between former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopolous and special counsel Robert Mueller, entitled “The Papadopoulos Plea Deal and the Great Blowhard Convergence of the 2016 Election.”

The articles contains the following passage.

“Take the Female Russian National. Papadopoulos, according to the plea agreement, believed her to be Vladimir Putin’s niece. To have a niece, however, the Russian President would have had to have a sibling. All of the available biographies of Putin, both official and unauthorized, agree: the Russian President had two older brothers who died as children, before Vladimir was born. He was an only child. He doesn’t have a niece.”

While it is definitely true Putin doesn’t have a niece in the English sense of the word, it seems he does have a niece in the Russian sense of the word.

Many Russians refer to what English speakers call cousins as their “brothers” and “sisters,” without specifying that these blood relatives are in fact двоюродные братья and сестры, something on the order of “brothers and sisters once removed.”

It took me exactly five seconds of digging on the internet to find out Putin has a двоюродная племянница, meaning the niece of a cousin or a “niece once removed,” so to speak.

In this case, the cousin’s name is Igor Putin, and Igor Putin has a niece named Vera Putina. That makes Vera Putina Vladimir Putin’s двоюродная племянница.

It is entirely conceivable that Vladimir Putin and other Putin family members simply refer to Vera as Vladimir Putin’s племянница or niece.

As Gessen points out toward the end of her article, Papadopolous later learned the Russian woman in question was not Putin’s relative after all.

However, Putin seemingly does have a niece in the broader Russian sense of the term, despite what Gessen has said on the subject.

I can even vouch for Vera Putina’s existence, because I have a close friend who has met her in person on a few occasions.

You can read what Vera Putina does in this article about her and other members of Vladimir Putin’s extended family, published in 2015 by the independent Russian-language news website Meduza. TRR

Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Asmolov/Delovoi Peterburg

Vadim F. Lurie, “White Night”

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Vadim F. Lurie, White Night, 2017

At night, the young women in Petersburg often sit in the windows, gaze at the street, and smoke. On a white night, they are visible from the ground even if the light in their flats has been turned off. I have several similar shots. All of them were takenfrom a distance, with a hidden camera, you might say. I don’t see it as unethical, because I’m not peering into windows and trying to see what’s inside. It is the young women who are showing themselves to the city. Moreover, this particular girl (I took the picture on June 17, 2017, on the Petrograd Side) has become an image, a symbol, which, in fact, makes the shot quite good.
—Vadim F. Lurie, July 2, 2017

My thanks to Mr. Lurie for his kind permission to reproduce his photograph here and his agreeing to respond to my questions about it in writing. TRR

Andrei Bazhutin: “More than a Million Trucks Have Stopped Running Nationwide”

Andrei Bazhutin: “More than a Million Trucks Have Stopped Running Nationwide”
Nina Petlyanova
Novaya Gazeta
April 7, 2017

The nationwide strike by Russian truckers continues. The regime’s main weapon against the strikers has been strong-arm police tactics.

Andrei Bazhutin, chair of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) and thus the duly elected leader of the long-haul truckers opposed to the Plato road tolls payment system, was subject to the harshest crackdown. On March 27, he was put under arrest for 14 days. He spent five of them in a jail before he was released, but during that time the authorities nearly removed his four children from their home and almost caused his pregnant wife to have a miscarriage. But none of this has forced Bazhutin and his colleagues to give up their fight.

Is 14 days of arrest a fair move in your circumstances? What were you being punished for?

The objective is clear. This was not done at the behest of the traffic police, the police or the other security services. It was a deliberate action on the part of the regime to isolate me. The only thing was that the judge got carried away when she sentenced me to 14 days of arrest. It was cruel and unusual punishment. I didn’t do such a terrible thing to warrant isolating me for 14 days.

What did you do? Had you violated any laws?

All three cases that made it to court were about revoking my driving license. Two of the cases were heard by Judge Marina Afanasieva, who ordered me put under arrest. But in two of the three cases I wasn’t even behind the wheel. It was recorded on video: there is evidence. However, despite that, my license was revoked.

When did you find out you’d been driving with a revoked license?

On March 27, when I was detained. I knew the accusations had been made. We were challenging them, and I was certain we’d challenge them successfully. But what happened, happened. Yet the traffic cops told me I coudn’t have been unaware of driving with a revoked license. Two days before I was detained, however, I drove to Moscow and back in my own car, and no one stopped me. Am so I insane that I would drive a thousand kilometers to another city and back knowing my license had been revoked?

When I was detained, I was driving my son back from practice. He was wearing his wet uniform. We were literally a hundred meters from the house. The 25th Police Precinct, where I was eventually taken, is located in the courtyard of my building. I asked the traffic cop either get behind the wheel himself or let me drive my son to the house, but he categorically refused. Moreover, he sent a message to children’s protective services, after which they decided to take the children into their custody.

What did you do when you found out about this?

While I still had a mobile phone, I telephoned my eldest son, and he ran home. But children’s protective services explained that he was not a guardian and could not stay with the children. Right at that moment, I had been hauled to the 25th Police Precinct. The people from children’s protective services and my son entered our apartment, and they inspected everything, including the refrigerator. Then Artyom called his mom, my wife, and told her everything. She left the hospital, where she had been hospitalized to avoid a miscarriage. [Natalya Bazhutina is seven months pregnant—Novaya Gazeta.] She came home and told the children’s protective services officials that her eldest son and his grandmother were in charge of the children in her absence. But they told her they needed a power of attorney. Natalya hurried to a notary’s office, where she was told the power of attorney could have been made out in the presence of the children’s protective services employees. But they hadn’t told a pregnant woman this. On the other hand, they warned her that if my eldest son or his grandmother took the children outside for a walk, the children would be immediately removed, since they had no legal proof of guardianship.

Did you know what was happening at home when you were in court and in jail?

Not for the first two days. I was isolated. Then someone gave me a SIM card and I called home. By that time, our guys from the OPR were standing constant watch in the courtyard and not letting any outsiders get into the apartment, because there was constant surveillance in the courtyard. A car with some strange young people in it was cruising there round the clock. They vanished only after I had been under arrest for four days.

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Andre Bazhutin (center) and comrades. Photo courtesy of Anna Artemieva/Novaya Gazeta

This was all done to intimidate you?

You can’t intimidate me with such methods. Although recently, who hasn’t been knocking on my door: the police, the tax inspectors, the prosecutors, the FSB. Space aliens haven’t come knocking yet.

Russian officials don’t understand they can’t intimidate us with such actions: I mean truckers in general. These are guys who are used to doing everything themselves. They’ve spent a million nights alone in the woods, in parking lots, on the side of the road. They’ve fixed their own trucks, rustled up food, and defended themselves. They are used to sticking up for themselves. You can’t derail them. That stuff doesn’t work on them.

Do they listen to you?

They do, but not the way they should. We have heard that people in power have been having nervous breakdowns due to us, due to this situation. But that’s not what we want. We aren’t professional protesters. We want to sit down at the negotiating table and solve our problems. What’s happening in the industry is abnormal. More and more truckers are involved in the strike. Some might not park their rigs, but they are riding empty: they’re not hauling cargo. They don’t park on the roadsides, they aren’t involved in our protest rallies directly, but they support us.

Your arrest and the story with your children have not altered your plans?

No way. Of course, I was worried about the children when I wasn’t sure whether the authorities would leave them at home or not. I was worried about my wife and her condition. But I was immediately bombarded with text messages from all over the country. People were willing to help. They were willing to take my family into hiding. I will be cautious in the future. But we’re not going to stop what we’re doing until we achieve something.

What is the mood of the truckers at the moment? How long do they want to strike? How far are they willing to go with their protest?

We won’t end the strike until the authorities make a decision. Whereas at the beginning of the protest, many colleagues said we wouldn’t hold out for more than a week, now everyone is unanimous that we’re holding out till the end.

The main objective is negotiations with Transport Minister Sokolov and Prime Minister Medvedev, who, I imagine, don’t have a clue about our problems. We want them at least to try and figure them out.

In addition, all members of the trucking community should sit down at the negotiating table, even those who don’t share our point of view, because the problem is vast, this is a real sector of the economy, and everyone’s opinions have to to be considered.

Until such a meeting takes place, the strike will continue. We will stay on the road until there is a real solution.

On April 5, Rustam Mallamagomedov, leader of the Dagestani truckers, was detained in Moscow. Have you figure out what happened? How are you going to react?

This is lawlessness. For the longest time, we couldn’t understand who the people who detained Rustam were. Were they from the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department or the FSB? We still don’t know what their beef with Rustam is. But we sent in the lawyers and human rights activists immediately. It worked, and Rustam is now free. We’re going to Makhachkala together. On April 7, truckers from Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkariya, and Chechnya will be meeting there with reporters. On the way back to Moscow, we’ll be holding similar meetings in Ossetia, Kransodar, and Rostov-on-Don, because there is a deficit of information in the media about the strike.

Why has Dagestan become the hottest spot?

In Dagestan, 90% of the drivers are private carriers. The republic is small, and so the strike is in everyone’s face. We have strikers spread across the entire country, but Russia is so vast that it’s not so noticeable, although a huge number of people are on strike. We’re going to summarize the numbers by April 10. We want to count the number of regions in which there are protest camps, and the number of people in these camps, as well as where the camps are, and where they were until the police dispersed them.

We will try and give an overall picture for every city in Russia. It’s complicated. In Petersburg alone, there are more than 200 parking lots, and we have to make the rounds of all of them. There are also people not involved openly in the protest, but who support it and have parked their trucks. We have to take them into account, too. Currently, not even the traffic cops and the police have those stats. But I can say for sure that at least half of all truckers have now stopped working as of today. In terms of numbers, that’s more than a million trucks.

Translated by the Russian Reader  

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Andrei Bazhutin. Photo courtesy of Anna Artemieva/Novaya Gazeta

 

“We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Yekaterina Schulmann

Yekaterina Schulmann. Photo courtesy of Andrei Stekachov and The Village

Political Scientist Yekaterina Schulmann on Why You Should Vote
Anya Chesova and Natasha Fedorenko
The Village
September 16, 2016

This Sunday, September 18, the country will vote for a new State Duma, the seventh since the fall of the Soviet Union. The peculiarity of this vote is that it will take place under a mixed electoral system for the first time since 2003. 225 MPs will be elected to five-year tears from party lists, while the other 225 MPs will be elected from single-mandate districts. Several days before the elections, The Village met with Yekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist and senior lecturer at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). We talked with her about why you should vote if United Russia is going to win in any case, as well as about the changes in store for the Russian political system in the coming years.


The Upcoming Elections

The Village: On Sunday, the country will hold the first elections to the State Duma since 2011. The social climate in the city and the country as a whole has changed completely since that time. Protests erupted in 2011, and the people who protested on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue believed they could impact the political situation. Nowadays, few people have held on to such hopes. What should we expect from the upcoming elections? And why should we bother with them?

Yekaterina Schulmann: Everything happening now with the State Duma election is a consequence of the 2011–2012 protests, including changes in the laws, the introduction of the mixed system, the return of single-mandate MPs, the lowering of the threshold for parties to be seated in the Duma from seven to five percent, and the increased number of parties on the ballot. These are the political reforms outlined by then-president Dmitry Medvedev as a response to the events of December 2011. Later, we got a new head of state, but it was already impossible to take back these promises. The entire political reality we observe now has grown to one degree or another out of the 2011–2012 protest campaign, whether as rejection, reaction or consequence. It is the most important thing to happen in the Russian political arena in recent years.

The statements made by Vyacheslav Volodin, the president’s deputy chief of staff, on the need to hold honest elections, Vladimir Churov’s replacement by Ella Pamfilova as head of the Central Electoral Commission, the departure of someone more important than Churov from the CEC, deputy chair Leonid Ivlev, and the vigorous sacking of chairs of regional electoral commissions are all consequences of the protests. If they had not taken place, nothing would have changed. We would still have the same proportional voting system, the same seven-percent threshold, the same old Churov or Churov 2.0. Continue reading ““We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Yekaterina Schulmann”

That Was the Year That Was, or, Hell, Upside Down

hell upside downWhenever I see something like the post I saw on Facebook a week and a half ago, containing photographic images of alleged “Russian redneck (?) culture,” I regret that I am not a mutant, alien or robot capable of translating and writing ten times more than I do on this blog, whose secret mission is to give people a glimpse of a Russian society that is smart, brave, independent minded, strong, and willing to get a few lumps on the head (or worse) to build a country that is democratic, egalitarian, LGBTQI-friendly, vigorously environmentalist, progressively urbanist, anti-xenophobic, pro-immigrant, and any number of other good things.

That is why I try and give a voice in English to some of the people trying to build that Russia or at least trying to think about building it. I am hardly very successful in that mission, since I have neither the time nor the abilities as a writer and translator to do more than gesture in this direction.

But one thing I try not to do is focus obsessively on Putin, his whys and wherefores, which is what 99% of what the so-called media do, including some alternate media, both inside and outside Russia. Putin is hardly the only problem in Russia (or the world), just as he is definitely not the real solution to any real problems. Nor are “Russian rednecks.”

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That said, I must admit I wish there were more of me to go around so as to cover larger chunks of both the scary and this encouraging parts of this beat, which are usually mixed up so thickly you cannot easily pry them apart.

Like almost all the years since 1905 or so, 2015 was a banner year in Russia for writing about “hell, upside down” and seeking out the saints, heroes, and just plain decent folk among the wreckage continuously amassing at the angel of history’s feet.

So here are the ten posts, published in 2015, that my readers read the most avidly among the 220 posts I filed over the year.

  1. “Rotenberg Is Worse than ISIS!”: Russian Truckers on Strike in Dagestan and Elsewhere (The year-ending story that the major Russian media have been trying not to cover at all.)
  2. Why Such Hatred? (The Death of Umarali Nazarov) (What happened when a totally corrupt law enforcement and immigration system took an infant Tajik boy into custody while preparing to deport his mother.)
  3. Victoria Lomasko: 18+ (A look behind the scenes of Petersburg’s lesbian scene.)
  4. The Two-State Solution (Racism and the Russian Intelligentsia) (Reflections on the tortured and often racist soul of the Russian liberal intelligentsia by Boris Akunin, Kirill Kobrin, Yegor Osipov, and Our Swimmer.)
  5. “A Home for Every Russian” (In which I refute the rather odd argument that Putinomics is really a much improved version of “actually existing socialism” when it comes to delivering affordable quality housing to the masses.)
  6. Oleg Shevkun: “I Don’t How to Trim My Sails to the Wind” (A portrait of the quiet heroism and sanity of a blind journalist in an insane time.)
  7. Syrias (Five different but complementary reflections on the beginning of Russia’s misadventure in Syria by George Losev, Greg Yudin, Alexander Feldberg, Ilya Matveev, and Bob the Australian.)
  8. “Smash the Kikes and Save Russia!” (If you are a neo-Nazi, you don’t want to have Petersburg Jewish community leader Leokadia Frenkel as your opponent.)
  9. Vlad Kolesnikov: A Real Russian Hero for Russia Day (Young Vlad Kolesnikov was recently driven to death in a provincial Russian town for facing down the madness of a society made sick by Putinism, but back in June of last year that as-yet-unknown ending was outshone by his sheer pluck.)
  10. Suffer the Little Children (In neo-imperialist countries on the warpath, the neo-imperialist brainwashing starts in kindergarten.)

Here are the five posts, originally published in previous years, that had the most staying power this past year.

  1. Don’t Leave the Room (April 2013) (An inspired bit of graffiti inspired this dubious translation of a bitter poem by one of the great Russian poets of the postwar period.)
  2. Ilya Matveev: A Word to the Wise (On Putin’s “Leftism” and Solidarity with Russians) (February 2014) (This little gem could not be reread or republished enough, but its message seems to have been lost on large swaths of the western “progressive left.”)
  3. Hanna Perekhoda: Freedom and Social Identity in the Donbas (August 2014) (A heartbreaking essay whose message seems to have been lost on folks inside and outside Eastern Ukraine.)
  4. Victoria Lomasko: A Trip to Kyrgyzstan (August 2014) (There is nothing trippier and more educational than going on a trip to former Soviet republics and the far-flung reaches of Russia with graphic reportage artist Victoria Lomasko.)
  5. Russia’s Anti-Gay Law Kills (July 2013) (This was just a little bonbon of a blog post, a translation of a news release documenting a street performance in Moscow, but if it seemed alarmist then, it seems like common sense nowadays.)

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For one reason or another, the following posts, also published in 2015, did not make my readers’ top ten this past year, but they meant the most to me.

  1. Kena Vidre: What Was Frida Vigdorova Like? (A warmly written memoir of the heroic Soviet journalist and human rights activist.)
  2. Rikhard Vasmi: Counting the Ships as They Sail Past (Pavel Gerasimenko’s perfectly rendered review of Petersburg artist and Arefiev Circle member Rikhard Vasmi’s 2015 posthumous retrospective at K Gallery + my translation of a little book Vasmi made in 1994 about life in the Port of Petersburg.)
  3. 59°54’32″N 30°29’49″E (Okkervil River) (In which four brave souls set out to find what manner of life exists on the far shore of the Okkervil River, which is a real river in southeast Petersburg, not just a compelling pop band from Austin, Texas.)
  4. “I Broke All the Laws I Could” (Leonid Nikolayev, 1984-2015) (A heartbreaking and detailed obituary of the tenderest troublemaker in the world’s largest country.)
  5. The Hipster’s Dream Debased (Portlandia) (What happens when milquetoast Putin-era hipsterism meets hyper-powered catastrophic urban redevelopment in the middle of Petrograd.)

With any luck, this blog will not lack for inspiring subject matter this coming year, either, and might even undergo some stylistic and substantive changes. We shall see.

Thanks for reading.

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“A real man doesn’t necessarily have to breakfast with a tomcat!”

"Vlad, I am just leaving this here. Petersburg will never cease to surprise. Because you can. And you аre an excellent motivator. One has to make it to Brazil to warm up without crawling under a blanket. A real man doesn't necessarily have to breakfast with a tomcat!" Photographed in central Petrograd on November 2, 2015, by the Russian Reader

“Vlad, I am just leaving this here. Petersburg will never cease to surprise. Because you can. And you аre an excellent motivator. One has to make it to Brazil to warm up without crawling under a blanket. A real man doesn’t necessarily have to breakfast with a tomcat!” Photographed in central Petrograd on November 2, 2015, by the Russian Reader

Ayder Muzhdabaev: To the Fourteen Percent

To the Fourteen Percent
Ayder Muzhdabaev
April 4, 2015
echo.msk.ru
facebook.com

Governments, international organization, and concerned citizens in different countries have been protesting against the increasing discrimination against the Crimean Tatars. They have demanded an end to the crackdown. Only in one country have no such protests been heard.

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Guess what country?

For more than a year, its citizens have pretended not to notice that their government has been behaving towards the Crimean Tatars along the lines of the Third Reich, having cast this people in the role of collective outcast. Moreover, it is not only officials and supporters of the regime who have behaved this way, but its opponents as well.

“Opposition,” “intelligentsia”: it is no longer possible to write these words in Russian without quotation marks. In this entire country of 140 million people you will hardly find ten people who have spoken out publicly in defense of the Crimean Tatars. Almost all my Moscow “friends” have been silent as well. When I appealed specifically to them here on Facebook, telling them in detail about the plight of the Crimean Tatars in Crimea, I got zero likes and zero reposts from those whom I had imagined as my addressees.

It is worth pondering this situation and evaluating it on its merits.

An entire people have been made second-class citizens in their country. People have been deprived of the chance to listen to the radio and watch TV in their own language, and children cannot even watch cartoons in this language! People are intimidated. Some of them have disappeared without a trace, others are in prison. The rest simply sit at home crying from fear, a sense of injustice, and despair. No one can be punished (at least not yet) for expressing sympathy with the Crimean Tatars. So why has the cat got your tongue, citizens?

It is just that no one really cares at all.

I think that even if the Crimean Tatars are shipped from Crimea in cattle wagons, as they were in 1944, I will read two or three posts about it in Russian on Facebook, amidst an account of sluts at a bar and snapshots of beloved doggies.

It is because of this, and not for some other reason, that I do not believe this country can essentially change for the better.

The damned eighty-six percent are to blame for everything? Is that right?

Look who is talking, fourteen percent.

Ayder Muzhdabaev is deputy chief editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. Image courtesy of Ukraine Today