We Wouldn’t Mind If You Died of AIDS and Hepatitis C

aids flagRussia has an HIV epidemic. According to the Federal Aids Prevention Center, approximately a million Russians are infected. A third of them also have hepatitis C. At best, only hundreds of these patients receive state-of-the-art treatment. Image by Yaroslava Chingayev, special to Vedomosti

Officials Want to Replace Current Hepatitis C Treatment with Outmoded Therapy
Industry and Trade Ministry Supplied Money for Manufacture of Drugs
Irina Sinitsyna and Olga Sukhoveiko
Vedomosti
December 13, 2018

The Russian Health Ministry plans to significantly reduce procurements of the most effective treatment for viral hepatitis C, combined interferon-free treatment, thus reducing the availability of the drugs for patients infected with HIV in combination with hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Instead, the ministry has proposed putting these patients on interferon therapy. Maria Onufriyeva, director of Community of People Living with HIV, an interregional grassroots organization, has written about the matter to Health Minister Veronika Svkortsova. Ms. Onufriyeva has also sent a letter to Valery Alexeyev, director of the Honest Procurements Project at the Russian People’s Front (ONF). Vedomosti has seen copies of the letters. Ms. Onufriyeva confirmed she sent them. A spokesperson for Mr. Alexeyev said he received the letter. The Health Ministry has not responded to her query.

In November, Minister Skvortsova said that over 714,000 Russians were infected with HIV. According to the Federal Aids Prevention Center, whose figures Ms. Onufriyeva cites, there are 978,443 Russians infected with HIV. A third of them also have hepatitis C.

In late October, the Health Ministry published the final list and amounts of drugs it would be procuring in 2019 and providing to HIV patients, including HIV patients who also have hepatitis B and hepatitis C, writes Ms. Onufriyeva. (Vedomosti has seen a copy of this list.) In particular, the Health Ministry wants to reduce procument of dasabuvir by 750%, meaning one hundred patients would have access to the drug, while this year 748 people could count of getting it, according to the Community’s calculations.

In monetary terms, this would mean a drop in expenditures on the drug from 431.6 million rubles [approx. 5.7 million euros] to 57.9 million rubles [767, 754 euros].

The Health Ministry plans to switch to narlaprevir, intended for the treatment of hepatitis C in combination with other antiviral drugs. In 2018, as the Community has discovered, and as is borne out by information accessed on the federal procurements website, narlaprevir was not purchased by the Russian governmennt. In 2019, the Health Ministry could spend 139 million rubles [approx. 1.8 million euros] on procuring the drug in order to treat 430 people, the Community argues.

Dasabuvir is the most up-to-date antiviral drug. According to the Community, it can cure 98% of hepatitis C patients in twelve weeks.

This figure was confirmed by Vadim Pokrovsky, director of the Federal AIDS Prevention Center.

In Russia, HIV patients who also have hepatitis C have been treated with dasabuvir in combination with ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir, manufactured under the brand name Viekira Pak by the American company AbbVie. Dasabuvir was placed on the official Russian list of vital and essential drugs for this year. Two years ago, Alexey Repik’s R-Pharm and AbbVie agreed to partly localize manufacture of the drug at R-Pharm’s plant in Kostroma. As R-Pharm reported then, the deal covered repackaging of the drug and quality control. According to AbbVie, Viekira Pak is distributed in Russia by R-Pharm and Euroservice.

Ms. Onufriyeva writes that interferon therapy is much less effective in treating chronic hepatitis C patients with HIV. The treatment significantly reduces quality of life, since it requires weekly injections.

Mr. Pokrovsky explained the difference. Interferon treatment has almost no effect on the virus itself. It stimulates the body’s immune response, but it has numerous side effects, from impotence to mental disturbances. The treatment lasts a year.

Due to the length of the treatment, Ms. Onufriyeva said, it was between 52% and 133% more expensive than interferon-free treatment.

Tableted by R-Pharma, narlaprevir has to be taken together with ritonavir, pegylated (long-acting) interferon, and ribavirin, as indicated in the instructions.

In 2012, R-Pharma acquired a license for the production and sale of narlaprevir from Merck & Co. It tried to refine the drug with support from a federal targeted program administered by the Russian Industry and Trade Ministry. Trade publication Vademecum wrote that R-Pharm invested 700 million rubles in narlaprevir. The Industry and Trade Ministry would allocate 120 million rubles on clinical trials, Sergei Tsyb, head of the ministry’s Department for Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, promised in 2012.

A R-Pharm spokesperson confirmed receipt of the funds.

R-Pharm registered narlaprevir in 2016. In the spring of 2017, during a meeting with the business community, President Putin promised R-Pharm’s director general Vasily Ignatiev that the government would allocate funds to procure the company’s drugs for hepatitis C patients.

“I will also keep this in mind when allocating resources for healthcare in 2018 and the following years, in 2019 and 2020. It will be necessary, of course, to use what you have developed,” Putin said.

Mr. Pokrovsky is certain the Health Ministry’s decision to reduce procurements of interferon-free drugs could have been influenced by Russian manufacturers wanting to compensate their costs at the state’s expense.

The R-Pharm spokesperson insisted that the company, like other manufactures, received a request from the Health Ministry to quote its prices for narlaprevir and dasabuvir.

“Our price offers for the drugs were the same as last year’s,” he said.

In total, according to the Community’s calculations, in 2019, the Health Ministry can spend 473.5 million rubles [approx. 6.3 million euros] on the procurement of drugs for treating chronic hepatitis C, as opposed to 1.1 billion rubles [approx. 14.6 million euros] last year.

In November, Vademecum wrote that, in 2019, the Health Ministry would also reduce its overall procurement of antiretroviral drugs under its program for providing drugs to people infected with HIV, including patients who were infected with HIV in combination with the hepatitis B and C viruses. However, although it would spend far less money, it planned to expand coverage to a mere sixty percent of those needing treatment.

Ms. Onufriyeva has asked the Health Ministry to consider increasing procurements and moving away from the chronic hepatitis C drugs scheduled for purchase in 2019 and towards drugs that have proven effective. The latter should be supplied to patients with HIV plus viral hepatitis C, including those suffering from advanced liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.

She has asked Mr. Alexeyev to assist her in protecting the interests of patients by sending inquiries to the Health Ministry, asking them to explain the reasons for the cuts in procurements and the selection of outmoded drugs. She also asked him to verify whether the Health Ministry’s actions were in compliance with antitrust laws.

She told Vedomosti she had not received replies to her letters.

vich

“How the Numbers of HIV-Infected Patients Have Changed, 2013–2018.” The red columns indicate total numbers of patients; the orange columns, first-time infections. Figures are given in thousands of people. Source: Rosstat. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mr. Alexeyev explained the delay in replying. The letter contained a good deal of specialized and medical information, and it was under review by independent experts working for the Russian People Front’s Honest Procurements Project.

“The Russian People’s Front has drawn attention to problems with the list of essential and vital drugs, and their procurements, and this letter is the latest alarm,” he said.

According to Mr. Alexeyev, the Russian People’s Front has been reviewing the Health Ministry’s procedure for including medicines on the list and had already been in touch with the government.

hep b and c

“How the Numbers of Hepatitis Patients Have Changed, 2013–2018.” The dark blue bars indicate first-time cases of chronic hepatitis B; the light blue bars, first-time cases of chronic hepatitis C. Figures are given in thousands of people. Source: Rospotrebnadzor. Courtesy of Vedomosti

If the grassroots organization Community of People Living with HIV believes the industry regulator acted in a way that violated specific regulations on procurements or antitrust statutes, it can file a complaint with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) in the manner prescribed by law, said Maxim Degtyarev, deputy head of the Department for Oversight of the Social Sector and Trade at FAS. For the time being, however, FAS had no grounds to perform an inspection.

The Industry and Trade Ministry did not respond to our request for information.

Elena Filimonova contributed to this article.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Everyone Wants to Like and Be Liked

Mail.ru Group Speaks Out against Punishments for Likes and Reposts
Company Proposes Changing the Law and Law Enforcement Practice
Olga Churakova and Yekaterina Bryzgalova
Vedomosti
August 6, 2018

Mail.ru Group не раз критиковала громкие законодательные инициативы, касающиеся интернетаMail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile law bills and laws affecting the internet. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mail.ru Group, which owns the largest social networks in Russia, VK and Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], has harshly condemned the practice of filing criminal charges against social media users for likes and reposts on social networks.

“Often the actions of law enforcement authorities have been clearly disproportionate to the potential danger, and their reaction to comments and memes in news feeds are inordinately severe,” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We are convinced laws and law enforcement practices must be changed. We believe it necessary to grant amnesty to people who have been wrongly convicted and decriminalize such cases in the future.”

Recently, the number of convictions for posts and reposts on social networks has reached a critical mass, explained a Mail.ru Group employee. Most of the convicitions are not only unjust but also absurd. He would not explain what specific corrections the company was going to propose.

“We believe current laws need to be adjusted, and we are going to make pertinent proposals,” VK’s press service told Vedomosti.

Mail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile laws and law bills affecting the internet. In 2013, for example, the company opposed an anti-piracy law. In 2015, it teamed up with Yandex to criticize the “right to be forgotten” law. In 2016, it opposed a law bill that proposed regulating messengers and search engines.  But punishing people for likes and reposts has become a political issue. Members of the opposition and social activists have often been the victims of Criminal Code Article 282, amended in 2014 to allow prosecution of people for incitment to hatred or enmity while using the internet.

Communist Party MP Sergei Shargunov addressed the problem during the President’s Direct Line in June of this year.

“If Article 282 were taken literally, certain zealots would have to convict Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Mayakovsky, and have their works removed,” he said.

Putin agreed it was wrong to reduce such cases to absurdity. Subsequently, he tasked the Russian People’s Front (ONF) and the Prosecutor General’s Office with analyzing how the notions of “extremist community” and “extremist crime” were employed practically in law enforcement.

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“Prosecutions for Incitement to Enmity (Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) in Russia. Numbers of People Convicted, 2009–2017. Source: Trials Department, Russian Supreme Court.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

An Agenda for the Autumn
On June 25, Shargunov and Alexei Zhuravlyov, leader of the Rodina [“Motherland”] party, tabled draft amendments in the Duma that would decriminalize “extremist” likes and reposts. The MPs proposed transferring the violation described in Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 to the Administrative Offenses Code, where infractions would be punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 rubles or 15 days in jail, while leaving only Part 2 of Article 282 in the Criminal Code. Part 2 stipulates a punishment of up to six years in prison for the same actions when they are committed with violence, by a public official or by an organized group. The government, the Supreme Court, and the State Duma’s legal department gave the draft amendments negative reviews, pointing out that the grounds for adopting them were insufficient. A spokesman for Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the Duma’s Committee on Legislation, informed us the committee would start working on the amendments when MPs returned from summer recess.

The ONF, which held a meeting of experts in July, has begun drafting a report for the president. The legal community, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Supreme Court must send their proposals to the Kremlin’s control directorate before September 15.

Leonid Levin, chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, agreed there was a problem.

“The law is repressive, and there is no misdemeanor offense, although the Supreme Court issued an opinion that different cases should not be treated identically,” he said.

While there has been no lack of proposals, no one is in a hurry to abolish the law completely. A source in the Kremlin said dissemination of prohibited information should be punished. But a way of relaxing the law must be devised and, most important, a means of avoiding random convictions, he added.

A Demand for Liberalization
Recently, VK had been under pressure from the public due to the huge number of criminal prosecutions for posting pictures and reposts, said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. He argued the statement issued by Mail.ru Group was an attempt to defend the company’s reputation. According to the so-called Yarovaya package of amendments and laws, since January 1, 2018, VK has been obliged to provide law enforcement agencies with information about its users upon request, but the question of the legality of providing information having to do with people’s private lives remains open, since under Russian law a court order is required for this, Chikov noted.

Political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued political decentralization and moderate opposition were now fashionable.

“Even the most cautious players sense the dictates of the age and have been trying to expand the space of freedom. Mail.ru Group is trying to be trendy,” he said.

Gallyamov predicted that, as the regime’s popularity ratings decline, the screws would be loosened, and the number of people advocating liberalization would grow.

Part of the political elite realizes many things have gone askew, agreed political scientist Alexander Kynev. A number of people hoped the circumstances could be exploited to push the idea of moderate liberalization. This could be a way of showing the regime was ready to talk, he argued.

“A lot will depend on what the autumn brings, on the results of regional elections. Now it would appear to be a topic that is up for discussion, but there are no guarantees. There are people in the government interested in having the topic discussed, but this doesn’t mean a decision has been taken,” Kynev said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Twenty Percent of Russian Schoolteachers Contemplate Quitting

Twenty Percent of Russian Schoolteachers Contemplate Quitting
Salaries Lower than Official Rates, While Workload Is Extremely Heavy
Yelena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
June 27, 2018

russian teacher salariies

“How Much Schoolteachers Are Paid.” Orange = average monthly salary according to ONF survey, in rubles; blue = average monthly salary according to Rosstat (Russian State Statistics Service), in rubles. From top to bottom, the two sets of figures are provided for Moscow, Arkhangelsk Region, St. Petersburg, Moscow Region, Leningrad Region, Murmansk Region, Krasnoyarsk Territory, Orenburg Region, Volgograd Region, Vladimir Region, Voronezh Region, Pskov Region, Kostroma Region, and Rostov Region. The figures given are for the period January–March 2018. Courtesy of Vedomosti

A third of Russian schoolteachers do not know how their salaries are calculated or whether incentive payments and reimbursements are added to their paychecks. This was one finding of a survey carried out by the Russian People’s Front (ONF) in May 2018, during which researchers interviewed more than 3,000 teachers in 82 regions.

“Wage growth remains insignificant, making it impossible to attain the wage levels claimed by Rosstat,” the ONF concluded.

In Murmansk Region, for example, the survey showed teachers earned an average of ₽36,382 a month [approx. €495 a month], while official statistics showed they earned ₽50,560 a month [approx. €688 a month].

But even the salary the teachers earn comes at the price of an extremely heavy workload, the researchers stressed. The workload was heaviest in Kemerovo, Kostroma, and Samara Regions, where teachers averaged over thirty classes a week.

A quarter of schoolteachers have second jobs or hold additional positions at the same school, while twenty percent think of quitting the profession due to the heavy workload. Seven percent of the teachers surveyed spoke of not having been paid at all or paid in full at times. Twenty-three percent said their paychecks had been miscalculated, while fifty-seven percent had not been paid for overtime or additional duties.

Lyubov Dukhanina, deputy chair of the State Duma’s education committee and a member of the ONF’s central staff, argues the current nontransparent system of calculating salaries, which divides salaries into basic pay and incentive pay, should be abandoned. Instead, teachers should receive a guaranteed salary for their work. She also notes that, according to many teachers, incentive payments are unfair and opaque, and the amount of these payments can vary wildly from month to month.

Igor Remorenko, rector of Moscow State Pedagogical University and former deputy education minister, said all systems of compensation include guaranteed basic pay.

“In organizations undergoing reform, the lower the guaranteed basic pay, the better, because it enables you to rotate employees. In stable organizations, the constant part of the paycheck is more important, because it motivates employees. We need to move in the direction of having teachers sign annual contracts and feel confident in the future, while accepting the possibility of being paid different amounts depending on differing workloads from month to month,” said Remorenko.

The ONF’s survey actually embellished the real picture, noted Vsevolod Lukhovitsky, co-chair of the Teacher Trade Union.

“There are legal means of turning tiny salaries into big salaries on paper. For example, in Moscow, until 2018, the statistics included only full-time employees who had open-ended contracts, while the part-timers, who earned less money, were not included in the stats,” said Lukhovitsky.

According to Lukhovitsky, a law bill would be tabled in the State Duma this autumn that would establish a guaranteed minimum salary, equal to at least two minimum wages, for eighteen academic hours.

“It’s nice a large organization like the ONF has supported our conclusions four years after we started talking about going back to a fixed salary,” said Lukhovitsky.

Naturally, teachers are dissatisfied with their salaries. They are thus fertile ground for the ONF, argues political scientist Konstantin Kalachev. Teachers play a key role in elections and the entire political system.

[The ONF is a pro-Putin, astroturfed “populist” front organization. Teachers are critical to the Putin regime because many of them serve as polling station workers during elections, due to the fact that polling stations are commonly set up in schools. Teachers are thus often involved in the systematic vote rigging and electoral fraud that have helped keep Putin and his allies in power for twenty yearsTRR.]

“The current system of governance sometimes needs to let off steam. There is nothing frightening about the fact the stats are fudged, and the president’s May decrees are not fully implemented. The president sets tasks, and if they are not solved that is the problem of the people trying to solve them,” said Kalachev.

It is pensioners, teachers, and physicians who have the most impact on approval ratings, “so it makes sense the powers that be are focused on worrying about teachers,” he concluded.

Translated by the Russian Reader

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union in Russia

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union
The reason for the rapid dissolution of Alexei Etmanov’s union was a complaint about what it does: defending the rights of workers 
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
January 12, 2018

The St. Petersburg City Court’s decision to dissolve the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (MPRA) at the request of the prosecutor’s office has not yet come into force. But the case itself clearly illustrates the current regime’s suspicious attitude towards independent trade unions that do not restrict their activities to handing out discounted holiday packages and tickets to children’s New Year’s celebrations.

MPRA was registered in February 2007. Its core consisted of the trade union of autoworkers at the Ford plant in the Petersburg suburb of Vsevolozhsk, famous for its pay rise demands and defense of workers’ rights. The emergence of a trade union that vigorously and effectively defended workers at foreign-owned plants was no accident. There is no legacy at such plants of servile, Soviet-era trade unions, which were once part of the management machine. Foreign companies have been forced to deal with the right of workers to go on strike and other means of self-defense against overtime and layoffs.

According to MPRA chair Alexei Etmanov, his career as a trade union activist kicked off randomly, in part. In 2001, soon after the Ford plant went on line, as one of the leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) local at the plant, Etmanov was invited to a congress of Ford trade union workers in North and South America. According to Etmanov, it was then he realized a real trade union not only handed out benefits and formally coordinated management’s decisions but also consistently defended the rights of employees from groundless redundancies, unpaid overtime, and other forms of managerial tyranny.

MPRA never concealed its membership in the IndustriALL Global Union, which has fifty million members in 140 countries worldwide, nor did its activities previously trouble the Russian authorities. MPRA’s troubles began after a pro-regime blogger, who saw signs of political activity in the trade union’s work and accused it of hiding its status as a “foreign agent,” filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. The complaint led to an audit, and later, in December 2017, the prosecutor’s office filed suit with the court, asking it to dissolve MPRA.

The prosecutor’s key claim against MPRA (Vedomosti has obtained a copy of the lawsuit) was that it received financing from abroad and had not registered as a “foreign agent.” MPRA’s crusade to amend labor laws and its solidarity with protests by Russian truckers against the introduction of the Plato road tolls system in 2015—the ordinary work of a normal trade union in a country with a market economy—have been depicted as “political activity” by the prosecutor’s office. The lawsuit also includes claims that appear to be pettifogging, in particular, that MPRA incorrectly listed its official address, that it originally registered in a manner not stipulated by law, and so on.

Yet the lawsuit does not contain any mention of demands by the prosecutor’s office to eliminate the shortcomings it has, allegedly, identified. For example, in 2015, after such demands were voiced and corresponding changes made, the Supreme Court dismissed the Justice Ministry’s suit asking that Memorial be dissolved. In Petersburg, the prosecutor petitioned the court to dissolve the trade union, no more, no less. According to Yulia Ostrovskaya, a lawyer at the Center for Social and Labor Rights, this is excessive punishment. The judgment for the plaintiff is tantamount to calling into question Russia’s observance of the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, signed by the Soviet Union in 1956. The convention’s third article guarantees the right of workers and employers to draw up their own constitutions and rules, freely elect their representatives, and formulate their own programs, while the fourth article states that professional organizations shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority.

The circumstances reflect the regime’s growing suspicion toward independent trade unions that have not joined the Russian People’s Front (the FNPR joined the Front in 2011, for example) and insist on defending the rights of workers, notes Pavel Kudyukin, a council member at the Confederation of Labor of Russia. Authorities in some regions have accused the MPRA that they scare away investors, while courts have ruled that IndustriALL’s brochures are “extremist.” If, however, the Petersburg court’s decision is upheld by the Russian Supreme Court, it would be a terrible precedent, argues Kudyukin. All trade unions could declared “foreign agents,” include pro-regime trade unions, since many of them of belong to international trade union associations, from which they receive funding for training activists and making trips abroad.

Labor protests in Russia in terms of percentages of those involved, 2008–first half of 2017. Red = spontaneous; pink = trade union locals; dark blue = national trade unions; gray = workers’ committees; light blue = political parties and grassroots organizations; pale blue = other. The percentage may exceed 100% if several actors were involved in the same protest. Courtesy of the Center for Social and Labor Rights

Sixty Percent of Russian Doctors Make Less than 360 Euros a Month

IMG-20161117-WA0025It’s hard to say why these alleged Russian doctors are so happy, since sixty percent of them make less than 360 euros a month. Maybe they’re not real doctors, but paid actors.

Survey: Sixty Percent of Doctors Make Less than 25,000 Rubles a Month
Takie Dela
December 11, 2017

Over half of Russian doctors earn less than 25,000 rubles [approx. 360 euros] a month. Only 8.4% of them earn the nationwide average monthly salary of over 50,000 rubles a month.

RBC reports on a survey conducted by the Russian People’s Front and Zrodovye, a health services monitoring foundation, according to which 59.4% of doctors earned less than 25,000 rubles a month. 21.4% of respondents noted that their income from one salary [Russian doctors often work at more than one clinic or hospital to make ends meet—TRR] was less than 15,000 rubles a month. 21.7% of them reported they made between 15,000 and 20,000 rubles a month, while 16.3% reported a monthly income between 20,000 and 25,000 rubles.

13% of doctors reported that their salary varied between 35,000 and 50,000 rubles a month; 11%, between 25,000 and 30,000 rubles a month; and 8.5%, between 30,000 and 35,000 rubles a month. Only 8.4% made more than 50,000 rubles [approx. 720 euros] a month.

According to Rosstat, the current average salary for doctors is 53,100 rubles a month. Eduard Gavrilov, staff member at the Russian People’s Front and director of the Zdorovye Foundation, argues that the difference between reality and statistics has to do with the high amount of moonlighting among physicians. Due to low salaries, doctors are forced to work two jobs or a part-time job in addition to their full-time job.

Among medical support staff—nurses, midwives, paramedics, and others—nearly 80% of employees earn 25,000 rubles a month. Only two percent earn more 50,000 rubles a month.

According to President Putin’s May 2012 decrees, doctors would be receiving double the average monthly salary in their regions by 2018. Achieving this goal would require spending 266 billion rubles [approx. 3.85 billion euros], but officials do not know where to find the money.

In March, analysts at the Academy of Labor and Social Relations found that, as of the end of 2016, the average monthly salary of doctors at their main jobs was 21,700 rubles a month. When part-time jobs were figured in, doctors made 28,500 rubles a month on average.

Over the last four years, less than a third of medical workers have experienced pay growth, and only four percent have seen significant pay rises. A third of respondents said they had felt a drop in incomes, while a fifth of them reported a significant drop in wages.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Smolensk State Medical University

P.S. When you read an article like the one above, you naturally imagine the incumbent president would have a hard time persuading voters to re-elect him to what amounts to a fifth term, given his pathetic record when it comes to improving people’s lives, including the incomes of highly educated professionals such as doctors.

But if you imagined that, you’d be forgetting a few things.

First of all, the fix is in, so Putin will be “re-elected” in March 2018 no matter how many promises he has broken during his first four terms or “decrees” he has failed to implement.

Second, despite the new school of unthought that argues Putin is not omnipotent, and we (whoever “we” are) should not be so afraid of him, attributing powers to him that he does not have even on the homefront, the problem here has nothing to do with the old “good tsar vs. bad boyars” paradigm.

It’s much simpler than that. Putin and his cronies are gangsters, concerned only with enrichening themselves and increasing what they regard as political power. For them, political power has nothing to do with making good things happen for as many people as possible or addressing more specific, urgent. They see political power as a means of disempowering ordinary people and all possible constituencies other than their own clique so they have a free hand to do with the country what they will.

To that end, Putin’s so-called May (2012) decrees were so much sand kicked in the face of Russians to blind them to the basic facts of life in their country, of which they could hardly be unaware.

At nearly the exact same time, the so-called Bolotnaya Square Case was launched to show the whole country what the Putin mob did to people who did not like having sand kicked in their face all the time.

As luck would have it, a week ago, I had to have an emergency eye exam at a fairly swishy private medical clinic on the Nevsky. Since I know quite a few Russian doctors personally and have blogged a lot on this website about the rotten state of healthcare in Russia, including pay and working conditions for Russian doctors, and nascent attempts by doctors in Moscow and elsewhere to organize militant trade unions and stop rampant hospital closures and mergers, I dared to ask my new (terrific) ophtalmologist how she liked the swishy clinic and whether she was well paid.

She avoided the second question entirely, confessing only that she liked the good working relationships at the private clinic, where she had worked three years.

The takeaway message is that Vladimir Putin is a very powerful man indeed, perhaps the most powerful man in the world. But that will remain the case only until Russians decide they have had enough of the degradation to which Putin and his mob have subjected them and their country for seventeen years and do something about putting an end to it collectively. TRR

Krasnodar Farmer Kills Himself after Land Seized

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Kuban Farmer Shoots Himself over Illegal Seizure of Land
Gella Litvintseva
Proved.rf
October 1, 2016

A farmer in Krasnodar Territory has committed suicide because he was unable to get back a thousand hectares of land that had been illegally seized from him, according to Alexei Volchenko, organizer of the August 2016 tractor convoy and a farmer from the Kalininskaya Distrist.

“Nikolai Gorban, a farmer in the Timashyovsk District, shot himself. It happened three days ago. A thousand hectares of land were confiscated from him by court order. The man wrote a suicide note in which he named the people he blamed for his death. Prior to this, gangsters came to his place, threatening him and promising to do away with his family. His loved ones are now preparing for the funeral,” says Volchenko, head of the Kalininskaya District Peasant Farm Enterprise.

According to Volchenko, the victim received the land plot after buying the shares from the land’s owners. After the court ruled the land confiscated, he tried to get it back, but failed.

“The farmer had his own land. He had bought it from other shareholders, like himself, and had it marked off and registered. But later the meeting of shareholders [at which they had decided to sell the land to Gorban — TRR] was declared null and void by the courts, and the land was returned to the collective farm, which Oleg Makarevich has been trying to get his hands on. The farmer went to see Natalya Kostenko, of the Russian People’s Front [a pro-Putin astroturfed “civil society” organization — TRR], to ask for help. He went personally to see her twice, and he called her. He went to see Andrei Korobka, deputy governor of Krasnodar Territory, and asked him for help. He met with me. He said, ‘I’ve lost everything. I’m going to put a bullet in my head.’ I told him not to do anything, that all was not lost, that in the end it wasn’t worth his life. I told him we would tough it out, we would beat them come what may. But he said, ‘I don’t want to live.’ I tried to dissuade him, but now we’ve found out it’s all over,” recounts Volchenko.

On September 23, convoy participants were in Moscow. Scheduled meetings with the president and the agriculture minister did not take place. They only managed to have a small get-together with Kuban officials. At the beginning of the week, Volchenko announced the farmers would be meeting with a presidential envoy in Yeysk on September 28, but ultimately this meeting did not take place, either.

“We got ready and went to Yeysk. I went into the hotel where the event was going to take place. They looked at me like I was an idiot. ‘Young man, are you smoking something or popping pills? What presidential envoy? What journalists? We have nothing scheduled.’ I went outside and saw cars with tinted windows, FSB officers walking around, and Vyacheslav Legkodukh (the Krasnodar governor’s envoy for farmer relations) sitting in a cafe and eating. I got the picture. I went to the farmers and said, ‘This is a setup. Let’s leave for home on the sly.’ They wanted us to gather outside the hotel so they could arrest us again for holding an unauthorized assembly,” recounts Volchenko.

Earlier, the protesting farmers met with Alexander Chernov, chair of the Krasnodar Territorial Court, who promised he would review all the cases the farmers requested. For now, he is their only hope.

“All the judges say Chernov is a very decent man, and keeps his word. Currently, farmers have won some of the cases that were before the courts. There are positive results, but it’s not clear whether this will be enough, because right now several farmers are under tremendous pressure, Nikolai Maslov, for example. Certain media outlets have been writing that he is a raider, that he has been trying to grab land from Shestopalov and his honest Dmitriyevskoye Agricultural Enterprise. But people just want to mark off and purchase their own land, 200 bloody hectares. Tremendous pressure has been exerted through the press. Andrei Koshik, a Kuban journalist, went to Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow and tried to get the journalists to publish this garbage. They refused and wrote about it on Facebook,” says Volchenko.

The problems of Kuban’s farmers became widely known in the spring, when they decided to travel to Moscow by tractor to tell the president about illegal land seizures in Krasnodar Territory and about corruption in the local courts and district councils. To capture the president’s attention, over the course of seven months the farmers released doves with messages for him, held several rallies in a field, set off for Moscow in tractors, and wrote to the president’s public relations office. Their tractor convoy in August ended on day two in Rostov-on-Don, when the farmers were jailed and fined. Subsequently, convoy participants have been subjected to continual pressure from local authorities and law enforcement agencies.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Anatrrra for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Viktor Pogontsev and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, where the caption to the photo reads, tellingly, “Record grain harvests in the Kuban region in recent years have bothered certain local farmers. They have been demanding a new redivision of the land.” Rossiyskaya Gazeta is the Russian government’s daily newspaper of record.

Nikolay Mitrokhin: The Photogenic Telegonist

Anna Kuznetsova and family
Anna Kuznetsova and family

The Pro-Life Appointment
Nikolay Mitrokhin
Grani.ru
September 12, 2016

In any other country, the appointment of Anna Kuznetsova as ombudsman for children’s rights would be deemed a win for feminism. She is a mother of several children, relatively young (thirty-four), a certified psychologist, a veteran of public organizations where she has helped single mothers, a woman from the provinces, and, finally, pretty and feminine. All these qualities set her apart in the positive sense from the Putinist bureaucracy. She could have been a style icon for feminists and liberals.

However, the appointment has caused a flurry of attacks. The first wave of criticism hit Kuznetsova when it transpired her husband was a priest. The second wave rolled over her when it was discovered she supported the pseudo-scientific concept of telegony, long popular among the Russian Orthodox crowd. But is that so unforgivable? After all, the liberal segment of the Russian political elite features people like Garry Kasparov, who is fond of Anatoly Fomenko’s “new chronology,” and Vyacheslav Maltsev, an alleged psychic who is running in the number two spot on the PARNAS list in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Russian society is politically passive, but all the same it sees right though a person when a few details of his biography are outed. This applies to all of Putin’s recent appointments. Police general Tatyana Moskalkova  was appointed the federal ombudsman for human rights, while Anton Vaino, grandson of the former head of the Estonia Communist Party and a specialist in protocol, was made the president’s chief of staff. Olga Vasilyeva, a former staffer in the presidential administration’s propaganda office, has been tapped as education minister, and now a priest’s wife, an activist with the pro-Putin Russian People’s Front (ONF), and the manager of a large grant program has been appointed the ombudsman for children’s rights. We really can see through all of them. Anna Kuznetsova’s appointment fits the pattern of how Putin has been reforming the upper ranks of the nomenklatura, a pattern that became obvious after a series of dismissals and appointments over the summer.

Putin has been solving several problems. The whistle-blowing campaign in the liberal media and social networks against people from the president’s inner circle has borne fruit. Putin has been reacting to criticism from the urban middle class, including the liberal public, which he still fears, despite his ostentatious contempt for them and his reliance on his “base in the heartlands” as figured, allegedly, by the workers of the Uralvagonzavod tank factory, in Nizhny Tagil. He decided to clean the stables of wildly self-indulgent siloviki, governors, and old pals, thus seemingly pulling the rug from under the liberals’ argument. The sacking of Sergei Ivanov, his former of chief of staff, has been symbolic of this tack. Other controversial figures, like former education minister Andrei Furskenko, former Central Electoral Commission chair Vladimir Churov, and former federal ombudsman for children’s rights Pavel Astakhov, were ousted before the big 2016-2018 election campaign. And theirs are not the last names on the black list: culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, Federation Council member Yelena Mizulina, and Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko have also been marked for possible sacking.

Why, though, has Putin been replacing them with Russian Orthodox conservatives and anti-westerners rather than nominal liberals? Why have there been three Moskalkovas to every one Pamfilova?

The information available on Anna Kuznetsova’s life and views, as well as the reaction to her appointment in certain circles, gives us a sense of the social milieu whose support Putin finds vital at the end of his third term. An interview with Kuznetsova’s brother, Konstantin Bulayev, and a search of the social networks help us piece together her family history. Apparently, her father is Yuri Bulayev, deputy warden of Penal Colony No. 4 in Penza. In the penal colony, he runs the convict labor adaptation center, where he is responsible for “expanding the product portfolio, prospecting for potential clients, and recruiting potential contractors for employing convicts.”

The children, apparently, have taken after him rather than their mother, an engineer at the Penza Electrotechnical Research Institute, which develops “cryptographic information protection hardware and telecommunications equipment for ministerial and departmental special communications networks.” Kuznetsova, as we know, specialized in the social adaptation of single mothers and administered government grants for this purpose. Her brother, a 31-year-old lawyer, has a plum job as head of the contracts and legal department at the Samouchet Center in Penza, which sends utility bills to customers. A year ago, he and the center were harshly criticized for the exorbitant prices they charged for their services as intermediaries. This did not faze Konstantin Bulayev, though. The local press quoted him as saying, “What, you want to dazzle people with figures?”

Through Kuznetsova and her husband, this hard-working family of provincial officials is linked to the Russian Orthodox Church. Through Viktor Bulayev, Yuri Bulayev’s brother, the family is linked to the Great Don Army. In recent years, Viktor, a former military man with combat experience in Chechnya and an ex-firefighter, has been an activist with the Great Don Army, the organization that seized the southeast part of Lugansk Region and was driven out by Russian special forces and Lugansk People’s Republic units in 2015.

However, all of this is clearly insufficient to unleash a nationwide charity foundation.

Kuznetsova’s foundation is called Intercession. It receives the bulk of its private donations from the Moscow-based Alexander Foundation, which also renders assistance to children, in Penza Region, via Intercession, and Smolensk Region, where it operates independently. In November 2014, the Alexander Foundation essentially became Intercession’s sole sponsor. The man behind the nearly anonymous organization is Alexander Popov, former head (2012-2013) of Rosnedra, the Federal Service for Subsurface Resources Management. A former staffer for Igor Sechin, Putin’s most trusted ally, Popov now runs Itera Oil and Gas Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rosneft, which is run by Sechin. The Alexander Foundation has the same address as Itera’s headquarters.

Another organization allied with Intercession (there are few such organizations identified on the foundation’s website) is the Penza branch of the Law and Order Center. This foundation for KGB-FSB veterans is an affiliate of the organization Officers of Russia. Nikolay Kovalyov, former FSB director (1996-1998) and longtime member of the State Duma (to which Kuznetsova recently tried to get elected), heads the Law and Order Center’s expert council. On the Penza branch’s website, you can find many articles about the peculiar memorial events held by the former KGB officers, including Route of Mercy, which provides “material assistance to veterans [of the KGB-FSB] who have been actively involved in the patriotic education of young officers.” However, after the December 2014 arrest of Vladimir Zarechnev, head of the Law and Order Center and a colonel in the FSB’s anti-corruption directorate, for brokering a bribe given to the governor of Sakhalin, the foundation has clearly curtailed the scope of its work.

In terms of church policy, the position taken by the Kuznetsov family is also fairly clear. They are affiliated with the Pro-Life Movement within the church, which now operates under the name Association of Organizations for Protecting the Family. The movement is involved not only in opposing abortion but also in promoting radical anti-western and monarchist ideas. Judging by the blogs of the movement’s leaders, such as Ruslan Tkachenko and Father Maxim Kolesnik, liberals and Ukrainians are objects of special hatred. The movement’s leader is the Moscow-based Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, known for his outrageous escapades. Smirnov heads the Patriarchal Commission on Family and the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood. With the general support of the Moscow Patriarchate, the ideological group of priests he controls has been lobbying for restrictions and bans on abortion and biotechnology, as well as opposing juvenile justice.

Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov
Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov

On July 3 of this year, Kuznetsova’s husband, the priest Alexei Kuznetsov, posted an article on his Facebook page by a leader of the Pro-Life Movement, the Moscow priest Maxim Obukhov. The article had been published on the radical nationalist website The Russian People’s Line. The article frankly outlines the movement’s principles and objectives.

“Everyone agrees, even Matviyenko, that the country’s priorities are the traditional family and procreation. It is a feature of our Eurasian civilization. This consensus exists among the various religions and social strata, with the exception of a narrow segment of liberals who do not represent the public. This universal understanding must be incarnated on the legislative level: we must shake up the legislation and change the laws. But this cannot be accomplished by sudden attacks and shouting. What is needed is serious creative and systematic work.  Such work was done by Yelena Mizulina, who drafted a decent package of anti-abortion amendments.

“Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox community has not established its own lobbying groups, which testifies to [its] immaturity and the improper application of [its] exertions. However much we have struggled over abortion legislation, we have continued to avoid lobbying. Lobbying is staff work that requires systematic professionalism and quality. But we just march out, sword unsheathed, to various rallies and demonstrations.

“There is no end in sight to the Orthodox community’s work. We have to sift through all the laws to check whether they are compliant with the interests of the family.”

So it would seem the public has interpreted the sparse details of Ms. Kuznetsova’s life correctly. Her party’s program will be her main guide in her work as a high-ranking government official. All of her previous public work has somehow been linked to the radically anti-western segment of the ROC and Russian society in general. It suffices to say she systematically received donations from an organizer of the Russia-Ukraine war, the adventurer Konstantin Malofeev. In turn, she raised funds for the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics in her own region.

In practice, all of Kuznetsova’s work is endlessly remote from both Orthodoxy and traditionalism. In an argument on Facebook, she defends her pro-family position not in terms of Christian values, but solely in nationalist Newspeak:

“if there had been fewer normal large families, you just would not exist)) The population has died out [sic]. Calculate what would have happened to the population if one child had been born in all six or seven generations, considering that some people don’t have children, some people were unable to have a family? Your grandchildren would already be speaking Chinese or something else))) Currently, the 3% of large families provide at least some dynamism in the demography, where is the deficit in the pension fund from? Why is the working generation fewer than the pensioners, whose ‘only’ children just cannot earn money for them, even if they are as you say, ‘high-quality,’ and what if they are not? What if the one is prison? What if he is disabled? The pension fund is also meant for such children, but who will put it [sic] in this fund? Your ‘only’ child again?” [Spelling and punctuation preservedNM.]

This replacement of Christ and religion in general by hypertrophied fears over family and children is a typical trait of the new Christian fundamentalism. Under the patronage of the Life Center, it arrived in Russia via the US, and over the past decade, it has become popular in the intellectually secular circles of anti-westerners like Mizulina and Sergey Kurginyan. Whereas, ten years ago, Father Maxim Obukhov spun his horror stories about “black demographers,” sponsored by western foundations, “interested only in reducing the birth rate,” on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website, Russian politicians can often be heard saying such things nowadays.

But the general public doesn’t necessarily need to know about Kuznetsova’s real views. The newly minted state official and her husband have already disowned telegony, blaming the whole thing on malicious journalists. This week, they will have to disown monarchism, a distaste for vaccinations, and doubt about the existence of AIDS. By appointing Kuznetsova, Putin has appealed to the so-called patriotic segment of the political spectrum, which, nonetheless, does not go in for excessively radical views and likes pretty pictures. For these patriots, traditionalism is when someone else has six children, but they still have the right to an abortion. In this circle, it is the done thing to jabber about the danger of vaccinations, but they will make sure to have their own children vaccinated. “Tradition” means wishing an atom bomb would rain down on America’s head after the Saturday evening news, but definitely taking the kids to McDonald’s on Sunday. So Kuznetsova’s public representation will be as false and ambiguous as Putinist propaganda as a whole.

Kuznetsova will speechify on support for the traditional family, and once a quarter she will post a photo of a large family, a church in the background, on her blog, but she herself will be on business trip or just on her own, as has long been the custom in families with infants, apparently. First and foremost, judging by her statements, Kuznetsova will defend Russian children from  adoption by foreigners. She is unlikely to bother to do anything about the longstanding problems of oversight of Orthodox orphanages and foster families who have taken in dozens of children to raise, but she has already promised to deal as harshly as possible with Moscow School No. 57.

The country will hear a lot about the hardships of children in Donbass, but don’t expect to hear anything news about the lives of children in Kuzbass from the ombudsman’s office, and good-hearted anti-Putinist Muscovities will continue to raise money for the medical treatment of both groups of children. The fight to outlaw abortion will intensify, and Kuznetsova will become the main ally of Vitaly Milonov and his soul mates in the new Duma, but in the next five years there will probably be no drastic changes in this area, because the presidential administration will not back off from its neutral stance. And, of course, the employees of Kuznetsova’s foundation will not be idle. They will have to allocate many more presidential grants and sponsorship money. A place at Putin’s right hand is worth a lot.

Like Matviyenko, Pamfilova, Moskalkova, and Vasilyeva, Kuznetsova is following the peculiar career path of Russia’s sovereign feminism. The number of women in senior positions in Russia has increased in Russian years, and I would not be surprised if, ten or so years from now, the selfsame Kuznetsova, having done a couple of ideological flip-flops, takes up the post of defense minister in a future (not necessarily Putinist) government. That would make sense in its own way.

Nikolay Mitrokhin is a fellow at the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen. He is the author of books on the current state of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian nationalist movements in the postwar Soviet Union. Photos courtesy of Storm Bringer and Pravoslavie.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader