Alexander Brazhko, School Meals Activist, Beaten in Moscow

Alexander Brazhko, Quality School Meals Activist, Beaten in Moscow
Lydia Kadashova
Activatica
September 23, 2020

On the evening of September 22, an unknown person attacked lawyer Alexander Brazhko, coordinator of the Honest Products project. His injuries were very serious, including head trauma, cuts to the face, and severe bleeding.

According to Brazhko, an unknown person, without concealing himself, walked up to him and slashed his face, presumably with brass knuckles worn under a glove. Brazhko was able to get a glimpse of the assailant and gave a description to the police. One explanation for the attack could be Brazkho’s many years of combating counterfeit food products and working to improve school meals in Moscow and other regions of Russia.

Activatica contacted Brazho to find out the particulars of the incident and discuss possible motives for the attack.

Photo of Alexander Brazhko after the attack

Photo of Alexander Brazhko after his wounds were treated in the emergency room

I was returning home and not far from my house when I was attacked by an unknown person, who struck me on the head, on the face. In my opinion, the presence of [other] people probably scared the villain off.

It wasn’t a fight, it was an attack that probably didn’t last more than a minute. And, after I reacted and people took notice, the criminal ran away. I couldn’t quite make out his features, but if I see him, I could identify him. Of course, I needed both too chase down the villain and document my injuries. I think it was brass knuckles. Given the injuries that were inflicted on me, it seems [the assailant was wearing] gloves that were weighted with something.

I have one explanation [for what happened] and it is quite simple. It is no secret that there are a lot of low-quality food products in this country. Along with other social activists, I have been involved in protecting the rights of consumers. It is clear that our interests and the interests of citizens clash with the interests of people with “reduced social accountability,” with those engaged in deception, falsification, and imitation.

I have been working in this area for several years, and I have not received any threats, but I feel that the situation is tense. This incident is an attempt to show civil society that it is defenseless. It is civil society that protects itself, but right here in Russia it is unprotected. Why? This incident occurred in the center of the country, in the capital region, not somewhere in a restricted area, but openly, publicly, in order to provoke a broad public reaction.

Of course, they want to intimidate us, the activists of the region: today they warn us, tomorrow they beat us, and the day after tomorrow they  kill us. But society cannot ignore these threats. At the same time, it must accept the challenge. Unlike market professionals, civil society has no for-profit social institutions. We have the police, the prosecutor’s office, etc., but these are oversight bodies that enforce the law and protect absolutely everyone. And if such things occur, it means that criminals feel they can get away with them. They foster an illusion of impunity when they repeatedly avoid prosecution. Manufacturers of fake products have upped the ante, so they are already beginning to deal with activists in this way.

I have been working on school meals for several years, and my colleagues and I have been raising the issue quite actively. We have helped the authorities, schools, and parent committees to implement the procedure that is prescribed in the law on education and came into force on September 1.

Of course, there are quite a lot of conflicting points on this issue. The schools should be in charge of feeding children. We understand that cooks should be employed by educational institutions themselves. But not every school has its own cooks. Many schools use an outsourcing system and purchase this service. But this is an absolutely opaque procedure for parents. The cooks are not responsible to either the parents or the schools. They are responsible to their employers, and these are mostly commercial organizations. They are interested in making a profit, which does not match up in any way with the interests of parents, who want their children to be fed tasty, high-quality food.

The second question that we have is the timetable. The President spoke clearly about introducing free breakfasts. All children should have full stomachs during their first class of the day. But what has really been happening? The first free breakfast is served after the second or third lesson. Headmasters avert their eyes and say that parents feed their kids at home. If the law [on education] says that grades 1-4 should receive free, hot meals, then breakfast should be served before the start of the school day. This is a serious matter.

The third controversial issue is the operators involved in the school meals market. In my opinion, the efforts stipulated by the law [on education] are powered by parents’ money. If your child did not eat breakfast, then you do not need to pay for it. But what do I hear? “It doesn’t matter whether s/he ate or not. The plate was on the table, so you need to pay.” There is no such model anywhere else in the world. When we come to the store, we don’t have to pay for what is on the shelf, we only pay for what is in our basket.

The fourth question is choice. You can’t plan ahead what you’re going to eat next Tuesday. But parents are told by schools that on a specific Wednesday their children will eat porridge. Why porridge? Why can’t children choose what they want? When school ends, we assume that these people will make their own decisions. There’s a glitch here. I am told that neither children nor parents can make the decision: the schools must set the menu for them and they should eat what they are given. But, my argument is, Why don’t you provide meals on Saturday and Sunday, or during the holidays? These questions remain unanswered.

One of the reasons for the attack may be the active stance taken by me and my colleagues in the regions on restoring order when it comes to school meals. But the specific reason for the attack can only be established by a police investigation. The investigation is underway. In my opinion, the culprit will be identified. It may take more than a week, but we shall learn from the mouths of both the assailant and the people who paid him how I get on their bad side, where I crossed them.

Photos and video courtesy of Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader

______________________________________

If you imagine that what happened to grassroots activist Alexander Brazhko has nothing to with the “big” news that “really” matters, think again. The parallels between his story and Alexei Navalny’s much better-known conflict with Yevgeny Prigozhin (aka “Putin’s chef”) are too obvious to ignore. The emphasis in the following article is mine. || TRR

Russia Seizes Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Apartment
Moscow Times
September 24, 2020

Russian authorities have seized Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s apartment days after he was discharged from German hospital where he was being treated for poisoning by Novichok, his spokeswoman said Thursday.

Kira Yarmysh said court marshals came after Navalny’s three-bedroom apartment in southeastern Moscow to enforce a $1-million court ruling in favor of catering magnate Yevgeny Prigozhin. The businessman has earned the nickname “Putin’s chef” from his close ties to President Vladimir Putin.

Prigozhin last year won 88 million rubles ($1.1 million) in damages against Navalny and his close associate, who blamed Prigozhin for a dysentery outbreak among Moscow schoolchildren linked to contaminated lunches.

Prigozhin previously vowed to “ruin” Navalny if he survives the poisoning.

“Instead of siding with the affected children, the court sided with Prigozhin,” Yarmysh said in a video on Twitter.

“As a result, they seized the assets and the apartment of a person who was in a coma,” she said.

Navalny came out of a coma two weeks ago after falling violently ill on a flight in Siberia on Aug. 20. Germany, where the fierce Putin critic was flown two days later, said it had unequivocal proof that he was poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok family.

The court marshals’ seizure bans Navalny from selling, renting out or leaving the apartment in a will but does not mean he can no longer live there, Yarmysh said.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is undergoing rehab in Germany after his release from hospital. Yarmysh has said Navalny plans to return to Russia as soon as he recovers from the poisoning.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Federal Security Service (FSB) rejected a request to investigate reports that security agents tailed Navalny throughout his trip to Siberia during which he fell ill.

Russia denies that Navalny was poisoned and complains that Germany is not sharing its findings in order for authorities to launch an investigation at home.

The Special Op in Omsk (The Poisoning of Alexei Navalny)

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
August 20, 2020

Everything happening now around Navalny (and what is happening is a special op), including not letting his doctor see him, not letting his wife see him, the huge number of security forces [at the hospital in Omsk], the refusal to transport him [to another country for treatment] is aimed at one goal and one goal alone. And it’s not treating the patient, of course.

The goal is concealing traces of the crime, making it impossible to detect the toxin, making sure no one gets access to the biomaterials, so that there is no convincing evidence of what substance was used to poison him and how it was used. So what if this is wreaks havoc with choosing the optimal medical treatment.

But it will allow the Kremlin to play their favorite game, like with the Boeing [shot down over Ukraine by Russian forces in July 2014]: to put forward 300 different hypotheses of any degree of absurdity (except the obvious and true explanation), and to shout “What is your evidence?” in response to the obvious explanation. In fact, they have already started doing it.

Translated by the Russian Reader 

NKVD Captain Yermolai Remizov fights ruthlessly against the Motherland’s enemies. His task force has cracked dozens of cases, eliminating the remnants of the White Guard, and capturing foreign spies and Trotskyist henchmen. From reliable sources, Remizov gets a signal about an upcoming act of sabotage at the Proletarian Diesel plant. The plant is the flagship of its industry, and any accident there would be a serious political statement. Remizov needs to identify the saboteurs urgently. But how? Suddenly, among the plant’s staff, the captain notices a new engineer, who bears a striking resemblance to an acquaintance from the Civil War…

This novel, Chekists, was published yesterday (August 19, 2020) by the major Russian publisher Eksmo, a fact made known to me by LitRes, Russia’s leading e-book service. The burgeoning genre of neo-Stalinist revisionist pulp fiction and the equally flourishing genre of neo-Stalinist revisionist “historiography” that nourishes it are two big parts of the relentless culture war waged by the “Chekists” in the Kremlin to make their flagrant, brutal misrule of the world’s largest country seem natural, inevitable, and historically predetermined. As part of their overall campaign to hold on to power in perpetuity, while bleeding the country dry, it only makes sense that they would turn governance into an endless, gigantic “special op,” in which poisoning “the Motherland’s enemies,” like Alexei Navalny, is all in a day’s work. // TRR


Doctors ‘fighting for life’ of Russia’s opposition leader Navalny after alleged poisoning
Yuliya Talmazan
NBC News
August 20, 2020

Fierce Krmlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny is inh a coma as doctors fight for his life after he was poisoned Thursday mo rning, his spokespersoin said.

The 44-year-old foe of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin felt unwell on a flight back to Moscow from tTomsk, a city in Siberia, Kira Yarmysh said on iTwitter.

“The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. Alexei has a toxic poisoning,” Yarmysh tweeted.

Navalny is said to be unconscious and was placed on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. Yarmysh did not say who she believed may have poisoned Navalny, but said police had been called to the hospital.

The politician is in a grave but stable condition, hospital representative Anatoly Kalinichenko, deputy chief physician at the Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1., said in a video shared by Yarmysh on Twitter.

Kalinichenko said all possible reasons for Navalny’s sudden illness were being looked at, including poisoning. “Doctors are really dealing with saving his life right now,” Kalinichenko added at a later briefing with reporters.

The spokeswoman said that doctors were preventing Navalny’s wife, Yulia, from seeing her husband. Yarmysh quoted the doctors as saying her passport was insufficient evidence of her identity, instead asking for their marriage certificate which she wasn’t carrying.

Yarmysh told Russian radio station Echo of Moscow there are tests being conducted to determine the nature of the toxin used. She said Navalny only had a black tea at an airport coffee shop before getting on the plane in the morning, and they believe that’s how he could have been poisoned.

She said she was sure it was “an intentional poisoning.”

“A year ago, he was poisoned in a prison, and I am sure the same thing happened here,” she told the station. “It’s different symptoms, obviously a different toxin, but obviously this was done to him intentionally.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said an investigation would be launched if it turned out Navalny was indeed poisoned. Asked if this was a special case because of Navalny’s outspoken criticism of the Russian government, Peskov added, “the current government has many critics,” according to the state-run TASS news agency.

Meanwhile, elements of Russia’s tightly-controlled state media have been exploring the narrative that Navalny may have had a lot to drink the previous night and took some kind of hangover pill today.

An anonymous law enforcement source told TASS that authorities are not yet considering this a poisoning.

“For the moment this version is not being considered,” the official said. “It is possible that he drank or took something himself yesterday.”

Last year, Navalny was rushed to a hospital from prison where he was serving a sentence following an administrative arrest, with what his team said was suspected poisoning.

Doctors then said he had a severe allergic attack and discharged him back to prison the following day.

In 2017, he was attacked by several men who threw antiseptic in his face, damaging one eye.

Pavel Lebedev was on the same plane as Navalny and posted an image of the politician drinking something out of a cup before the flight on his Instagram Stories. NBC News could not confirm that the photo shows the beverage that his spokeswoman believes may have poisoned him.

In a series of videos uploaded to his Instagram, Lebedev said he saw Navalny go to the bathroom after lift-off, and he did not return for a while.

“I heard a commotion and took my headphones off,” he added. “It turned out that there was an emergency landing in Omsk, so I thought someone was feeling ill. Then I turned my head and I saw Alexei lying down.”

Navalny rose to prominence in 2009 with investigations into official corruption and became a protest leader when hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Russia in 2011 to protest electoral fraud.

A few years later, and after several short-term spells in jail, Navalny faced two separate sets of fraud charges, which were viewed as political retribution aimed at stopping him from running for office.

In his only official campaign before his first conviction took effect, Navalny garnered 30 percent of the vote in the race for Moscow mayor in 2013.

Navalny also campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but was barred from running.

Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation has conducted in-depth investigations into the highest ranks of Russian political elite, including his most famous investigation into former prime minister and president Dmitry Medvedev.

Alexei Navalny’s brilliant March 2017 exposé of then-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s corruption, viewed almost 36 million times

Last month, he had to shut down the foundation after a financially devastating lawsuit from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.

Russia holds regional elections next month and Navalny and his allies have been preparing for them, trying to increase support for candidates which they back.

In the Year 2035

“Will You Choose This Russia?”: Federal News Agency Releases Pro-Constitutional Amendments Ad in Which Male Couple Adopt Child as Sad Music Plays 
Bumaga
June 2, 2020

The Petersburg-based news website Federal News Agency, affiliated with Yevgeny Prigozhin and the so-called troll factory, has posted a pro-constitutional amendments ad on social media that shows two gay men adopting a child, thus reminding viewers that one of the proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution would enshrine the concept of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

[. . .]

The action of the Federal News Agency video takes place in the year 2035. In the ad, a boy is collected from an orphanage by an adoptive father who is preparing to introduce him to his adoptive mother. “Mom” turns out to be another man, who is a recognizable caricature of a homosexual. As sad music plays, the boy gets upset, and a female employee of the orphanage spits on the ground and walks away. The video ends with the couple kissing and the phrase, “Will you choose this Russia? Decide the future of the country—vote for the amendments to the Constitution.”

The video has been heavily criticized on social networks for homophobia and its unrealistic portrayal of homosexuals. Many viewers did not understand the connection between the events in the video and the Constitution.

[. . .]

The video was created by the Patriot Media Group, which includes Federal News Agency and other media outlets associated with the troll factory. Patriot’s board of trustees is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, “Putin’s chef.”

Nikolai Stolyarchuk, the head of Patriot Media Group, said that the video was not aimed against the LGBT community, but defended “the institution of the family as a union of a man and a woman.” According to Stolyarchuk, homosexual couples should not adopt children. He added that this was only the first video in a large series of ads. The campaign, according to Stolyarchuk, was funded exclusively by Patriot, not by the Russian state.

The actor who played the role of “Mom”, told Coda that he was neutral towards homosexuals and did not think that the video would generate such a strong public response. He said that although he had never voted before, on July 1 he would vote against the amendments to the Constitution because he had been detained by police and fined for violating self-isolation rules.

photo_2020-06-02_15-14-34Actor Alexander Filimonenko plays “Mom” in the homophobic campaign ad. Photo courtesy of social media and Coda

The vote on the amendments to the Constitution has been scheduled for July 1, despite the ongoing coronavirus epidemic in Russia.

In Petersburg, activists demonstrating against the proposed constitutional amendments have been detained by police on several occasions. On March 15, activists laid carnations outside the doors of the Constitutional Court on Senate Square. They called their protest action a “funeral event.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

A “Political Hit Job” in Petersburg

vishnevskyBoris Vishnevsky. Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle

Petersburg City Councilman Boris Vishnevsky Accuses Prigozhin Media of Slander
Deutsche Welle
November 14, 2019

On Friday, November 14, Boris Vishnevsky, a Yabloko Party deputy in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, filed a complaint with the Primorsky District Internal Affairs Department, requesting it open a criminal slander investigation into articles published by Patriot media holding company, whose board of trustees is headed by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, as reported by Vishnevsky himself on his Facebook page.

Novaya Gazeta has reported that, beginning on November 7, Patriot’s media outlets have been running stories claiming that, in his capacity as a professor at the Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University (RGPU), Vishnevsky had sexually harassed first-year female students.

The basis of the charges is, allegedly, an email from a young woman named Kristina, who identified herself as an RGPU alumna and claimed Vishensky harassed her and other female first-year students in 2014.

On November 12, the national TV channel Rossiya 24 told viewers there had been “widespread complaints” against Vishnevsky, and students had been holding solo pickets against him outside the Legislative Assembly.

Meanwhile, RGPU has issued a press release. It stated there were no first-year students named Kristina enrolled at the university in 2014, Vishnevsky had never taught courses to first-year students there, and no allegations of sexual harassment had ever been made against him.

Vishnevsky has called the scandal an obvious “political hit job.”

“This is the regime’s revenge for my political activities and political stance, for exposing fraud involving the city budget and utilities rates, for fighting to save the city, for defending political prisoners, and for Yabloko’s victories in the municipal district council elections in the Central District,” he wrote.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Two Russian Nationals Jailed in Tripoli

Two Russian Nationals Jailed in Prison in Tripoli Suburbs
RBC
July 6, 2019

Two Russian nationals, previously detained by Libyan authorities, have been jailed at Mitiga Prison in the suburbs of Tripoli, according to Alexander Malkevich, president of the National Values Defense Fund [sic], as reported to TASS.

Malkevich confirmed that two Russian nationals, sociologist [sic] Maxim Shugaley and interpreter Samer Hasan Ali, who is a  dual Russian-Jordanian national, had been jailed. There were a total of three people in their research group [sic]. Malkevich also claimed fund staff members had not meddled in election campaigns in Libya. Their work was limited to monitoring the situation there.

The Russia-based National Values Defense Fund (FZNTs) reported on July 5 that their staff members had been detained in Libya. It claimed they had only been carrying out sociological surveys and researching humanitarian, cultural, and political conditions in Libya.

According to Bloomberg, the Russian nationals were detained in May of this year. In particular, two of them had arranged a meeting with Saif al-Islam, son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Saif al-Islam is considered a possible Libyan presidential candidate.

As noted in a letter sent by the Libyan Prosecutor’s Office to PNE [sic], the information found on laptops and flash drives confiscated from the detainees proved both of them worked for a company “specializing in meddling in the elections scheduled in several African countries,” including Libya. The prosecutor’s office also noted a third Russian national had managed to leave Libya before the special services arrested the men.

Thanks to Grigorii Golosov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

fundRussian Orthodox Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Russian MP Vitaly Milonov, and Alexander Malkevich presenting the National Values Defend Fund at a press conference at Rossiya Segodnya News Agency in Moscow in April 2019. Photo courtesy of Znak.com

Grigorii Golosov
Facebook
July 7, 2019

As for the National Values Defense Fund, which sent a poor spin doctor (identified as a “sociologist”) to Libya, it is a new project, obviously run by [Yevgeny] Prigozhin. Its website makes it clear it is going to defend Russian national values primarily in Africa.

You can read more about the project here.

I realize Putin’s ex-chef Prigozhin has long been more than an errand boy for the man with whom he has been involved in the asymmetrical albeit profitable relationship of vassal and liege lord. Prigozhin has his own business interests in Africa. Russian foreign policy is now so arranged that Prigozhin’s business interests are Russia’s national interests.

So be it. China also has interests in Africa. They are backed by colossal investments that are gradually exchanged for political influence. This happens really slowly because the Africans are quite touchy about it: Chinese influence makes people unhappy. But the investments it makes go a long way toward containing the unhappiness.

Russia has taken a different route. It helps its cause to educate African army officers at the relevant Russian universities, but that is a long-term deal. The powers that be want things to happen quickly, hence the appearance on the continent of mercenaries [like Prigozhin’s Wagner GroupTRR] and spin doctors to aid dictators in fixing their so-called elections and squashing protests through trickery.

In other words, the Chinese approach involves spending money now to obtain influence later, while the Russian approach involves trying to gain influence now in order to make money later. I don’t need to tell you there is no better way to make “Russia” a swear word in Africa and elsewhere, and all Russian nationals into automatic personae non gratae.

Our current rulers will surely take pride in the fact they managed to make as many countries and regions as possible hate Russia. This how they imagine defending national values.

Thanks to Louis Proyect for the link to the article about Jane Goodall’s campaign against Chinese influence in Africa. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Plot Against America

prigozhinYevgeny Prigozhin (left), the man whose company has been accused by at least two Russian publications of plotting to destroy the United States by igniting a race war. Photo by Alexei Druzhinin. Courtesy of AP and Quartz

Several people have asked for my comment on the alleged plot by Russian agents to incite a race war in the US.

I’m not going to comment on it except to say that, even if there were such a plot, it’s a Russian problem, not a US problem.

No Americans in their right minds have any suspicions about African Americans and their ability to distinguish real anti-racist campaigns from fake ones.

No Americans in their right minds think that all is right with “race” in the US and the treatment of people of color by authorities and our country’s dominant and hegemonic classes.

No Americans in their right minds think people of color either have no reason to protest their present condition or no constitutional right to engage in protest, including, when necessary, civil disobedience.

Decent Americans support all Americans of color in all their strivings for total justice and unequivocal equality.

If certain Russians, especially Russians with links to the current Russian regime, think they can or should meddle in our domestic affairs, this is a Russian problem.

If there are people left in Russia with any pride in their country and the desire to have friendly relations with other countries in the world, including the US, they need to reign in the current Russian regime as soon as possible. {THE RUSSIAN READER}

Nastiness Is a Warm Gun: The Kremlin’s Cowboys

bd1bf37b99A Miratorg worker tending calves. Courtesy of Readovka

Business Russian Style, or, What is Miratorg, and What Do You Eat with It?
Dmitry Zhuravsky
Readovka
April 30, 2019

How Did a Company Importing Meat from Brazil End Up Getting Most of Russia’s Agricultural Subsidies? 
Miratorg’s own website identifies it as the largest agribusiness investor in Russia. The company is owned the Linnik twins, Viktor and Alexander. Viktor serves as the company’s president. It was Viktor Linnik who, last week, proposed tightening controls on the luggage of people entering Russia and increasing penalties for the illegal import of meat-based products. Today, he encouraged Russians to stop thinking about Parmesan cheese and start thinking more about the country’s growth. To rub it in, he dubbed everyone disgruntled with such proposals “blowhards.”

We should point out right off the bat that the fact Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s wife’s maiden name is Linnik is only a funny coincidence, one which the Linnik twins have never tired of mentioning when they are interviewed by journalists.

The facts back this up. Blood relatives of the Russian state’s second most important person could not have established a giant agribusiness company that keeps all its accounts and founding capital outside Russia.

One hundred percent of Miratorg’s shares are owned by Cypriot offshore companies: 99.99% by Agromir, Ltd. (despite its Russian acronym, the company is registered in Nicosia), and 0.01% by Saudeid Enterprises, Ltd. (also registered in Nicosia).

Nevertheless, Miratorg is on the Russian federal list of so-called backbone companies and, since 2015, due to Russia’s self-imposed ban on meat and produce imports, it has been dubbed a strategic company. These regalia allow the Cypriot-based company to obtain loans from Vnesheconombank at discounted rates, which means it borrows part of its operating capital by drawing on the future pensions of Russians. (We published a detailed analysis of this scheme in a previous article.) It also means Miratorg can apply to the government for subsidies to pay back these selfsame loans.

A Success Story
Considering Viktor Linnik’s current circumstances, Miratorg’s origins appear laughable. The company was initially established to import meat from Holland and Brazil to Russia. To make the job easier, two years after the company was founded, in 1997, Miratorg opened a subsidiary in the Kaliningrad Sea Fishing Port, through which it imported meat to mainland Russia. Miratorg did business this way for nearly ten years. In 2005, it purchased a stake in two BelgoFrance-owned pig farms in Belgorod Region. The import company was transformed into a full-fledged agribusiness.

Kaliningrad Sea Fishing Port. Courtesy of Readovka

Miratorg went on to co-found a farm in Kaliningrad Region. A little later, it moved into Bryansk Region, which has become the company’s second home.

It was also in 2005 Miratorg was chosen to be involved in the National Priority Projects, a program for growing “human capital,” announced by Vladimir Putin on September 5, 2005. Until Dmitry Medvedev was elected president, the program, which included promoting the agricultural sector as one of its priorities, was overseen by the current Russian prime minister. Since 2008, when Medvedev was inaugurated president, the agricultural growth program has had its own line item in the federal budget.

Current Realities
Miratorg is currently Russia’s largest meat producer. According to Kontr.Focus.ru, an online service for assisting in doing due diligence on potential clients and business partners, Miratorg, Ltd., has founded thirty-six subsidiaries in eight regions of Russia. In 2017, the company produced 415,000 tons of pork, 114,000 tons of poultry, and 82,000 tons of beef.

Russia’s regions regard Miratorg as a valuable investor whom nearly any governor would be glad to welcome into his neighborhood. According to Miratorg’s website, the company has made a total of 200 billion rubles in investments. The advent of an agricultural market player of this caliber in a region means a guaranteed inflow of money from the federal budget in the form of subsidies from the government’s agricultural sector growth program and  Miratorg’s own investments.

On paper, Miratorg is a real find for regions heavily dependent on federal government subsidies. Aside from the federal agricultural subsidies it brings with it, Miratorg contributes to regional budgets through the land it leases. Its farms provide jobs while they are being builty and after they are brought on line. In addition, it pays taxes in the regions. The company is not a burden but a blessing, or so it would seem.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Miratorg President Viktor Linnik. Courtesy of Readovka

Taking advantage of its status, Miratorg moves confidently around Russia. In the regions, it has become accustomed to acting suddenly and brazenly. The company often receives land under indefinite gratuitous bailments by order of the federal government, whose decrees are personally signed by Prime Minister Medvedev.

Miratorg usually acts in full compliance with the law, although the effects of how it does business trip up regional governments. After three years, the land it leases free of charge is transferred from regional ownership to Miratorg’s ownership.

Last summer, the Bryansk Commercial Court adjudicated a conflict between the Bryansk Meat Company (Miratorg’s local subsidiary) and the Bryansk Regional Government. Miratorg tried to prove that members of a district council had violated the law by refusing to sell them land they had been leasing. According to law, a company that has leased agricultural land for three years has the right to purchase it and continuing farming it. Only two conditions must be met for the deal to go through: the relevant regulatory authorities must have no objections, and the land must be used for its original purpose.

The Bryansk Meat Company had complied with these terms, but local councilors had not signed off on the deal. Originally, they had agree to lease the land to the investor. Later, Miratorg’s subsidiary decided to trick the council and buy the land. Consequently, the local council was not paid the rent promised to it and did not profit from Miratorg’s presence in the district.

Instead of a lease, the local council was offered a one-time payment, which is transferred to the council’s accounts when the investor buys the land. Bryansk Meat Company’s farm occupies thirteen parcels of land totaling 7,398,700 square meters. Under the terms of the sale of the parcels to Miratorg, the average assessed value of one square meter of land is a mere 1.6 rubles. It is a great deal for Miratorg, but not for Bryansk Region.

We found reports of similar law suits ongoing between Miratorg and local governments in other regions of Russia.

Nastiness Is a Warm Gun
Since 2009, Miratorg has also confidently been colonizing Kursk Region. Its investments there began with the Pristen District, but currently the company operates in thirteen districts in the region. Its facilities in Kursk Region include the Pristen Pig Farm, Blagodatnoye Agricultural Enterprise, Renaissance Farm, Fatezh Lamb, and Miratorg Kursk, Ltd. According to Miratorg’s figures, it invested 17 billion rubles on its agribusiness facilities in Kursk Region between 2009 and 2017. In the Pristen District, it built two pig-breeding facilities with three sites each, while in the Oboyan District it built two pedigree breeding units.

Currently, Miratorg is building what will be Europe’s largest refrigerated slaughterhouse with a capacity to process 4.5 million head of hogs or 400,000 tons of meat in slaughter weight. Miratorg has also been building seven pig farms in two other districts in the region.

3fe1ac38af.jpgA billboard showing Miratorg’s assets in Kursk Region. Courtesy of Readovka

Why has Miratorg invested so much in Kursk Region? For the same reason it has invested heavily in Smolensk, Bryansk, Kaluga, Kaliningrad, and other regions in Russia. The Russian federal budget supports domestic industrial agricultural enterprises with subsidies. Some of the federal government’s assistance is earmarked for the largest players in agribusiness, the strategic, “backbone” companies we mentioned earlier. Some of the assistance is filtered through regional government budgets, where it is meant to boost small companies and support local producers. When Miratorg sets up a subsidiary in a region, it automatically grabs the lion’s share of federal subsidies for itself.

In Russia, there are no limits on the subsidies a particular agricultural holding company can receive. By using the subsidiaries it has established in the regions, a national agribusiness company can qualify for regional subsidies. For example, in 2016, the Bryansk Meat Company was awarded 98% of all subsidies earmarked in the federal budget for promoting agriculture in Bryansk Region.

At the same time, Miratorg has been officially designated as a strategic, “backbone” enterprise. Accordingly, the company and its subsidiaries also receive subsidies for pursuing particular projects. Since 2014, Vnesheconombank has lent Miratorg $871.5 million to expand meat production. Thanks to sleights of hand such as this on, in 2016, Bryansk Meat Company left not only farms in Bryansk high and dry in terms of financing but also farmers nationwide by hogging 90% of all subsidies earmarked for agriculture. The total amount of subsidized loans was 33.6 billion rubles, and this financing was obtained by a single Miratorg subsidiary for a single year.

The company has been feeding off this program since it was founded in 2005. Miratorg has received hundred of billions of rubles in subsidies over this period.

The more subsidiaries it gets, the more lines of credit Miratorg can receive. The story  of its rise to the top bears a strong resemblance to the way Yevgeny Prigozhin built his school cafeteria catering monopoly in Moscow. There is one signal difference, however: whereas Concord Catering’s contract implies that Prigozhin’s food production facility does the work for which it was contracted and pays back its debts out of the profit generated by the facility, some of Miratorg’s loan agreements contain an interesting loophole. It can fulfill its obligations to Vnesheconombank one of two ways, either the way Concord Catering does it, by paying back its debts out of its profits, or by selling off its founding shares in its subsidiaries to pay off its loans. Meaning, hypothetically, Miratorg can rid itself of some of its subsidiaries.

Where Do Miratorg’s Profits Go?
Considering the billions in government subsidies it receives annually, Miratorg and its owners do not even have to run a good business to live high on the hog. According to open sources, Miratorg’s profits shrunk fivefold in 2016, amounting to a mere five billion rubles, despite the fact the company received several tens of billions of rubles in subsidies from the Russian federal government.

Nevertheless, Miratorg is the main supplier of meat for huge fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King. It has also launched its own cafes and supermarket chain. Miratorg’s profits, which are incomparable to the subsidies paid to the company, end up not in Russian bank accounts, but in offshore accounts in Cyprus.

d79d3fe745.jpgA  Miratorg supermarket, newly opened somewhere in Russia. Courtesy of Readovka

Miratorg’s operations do not resemble an attempt to promote Russian agriculture, but rather a scheme for spiriting federal money out of the country. Given Miratorg is the industry leader in terms of land assets and government support, it should also have come to monopolize supermarket shelves. Its status as a strategic enterprise and the subsidies it receives simply oblige it to aspire to this end. The government’s plan was to have Miratorg replace all the imported meat banned from supermarkets with domestically produced meat.

Instead, Miratorg annually receives several hundreds of billions in subsidies allocated by the government to support the country’s agriculture. Miratorg spends the money to purchase land, which it uses, along with shares from its regional subsidiaries, as collateral to obtain more loans.

Ultimately, instead of building a successful business and resurrecting Russian domestic agriculture according to the government’s plan, Miratorg merely filches money from the federal budget. As long as it keeps feeding the “Cypriot butchers,” real hardworking Russian farmers will have to get by without substantial assistance. Eventually, the whirligig of subsidies could lead to the complete collapse of Russian agriculture as such.

Thanks to Anna Klimenko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Halo’s in Your Head

390px-unsc_insignia_(post-war)

The nonstop international hasbara hoedown Quora gets all the best “specialists” to answer its readers’ pressing questions.

When my personal favorite Quora hasbarista, “Dima Vorobiev, I worked in Soviet propaganda,” is unable to make the shaky, miserable, mean, destructive Putin regime look indestructible and infallible, “Ha Dang, Military Specialist at United Nations Space Command (2016-present” picks up the slack.

Who would win in a war between Russia and Germany?
Ha Dang, Military Specialist at United Nations Space Command (2016-present)
Answered Mar 11, 2018
Russia vs Germany ( Great Patriotic War Vol.2)

No Allies involved (NATO would not support Germany)
No Nukes

[…]

Though a lot of experts said that it is most likely Russian land invasion would be stampede, since their T-72 and T-80s are too fragile when facing tanks like Leopard 2 or Abrams. However, with the advent of T-72B3, T-80BVM, T-90s and T-14 Armata, it is the Russian, who are enjoying both numerical and technological edge. With a force of 3600 modern tanks, Russia can quickly capture Berlin within 4 weeks, instead 4 years like it did 73 years ago.

Final Verdict:

Russian Victory

Why does garbage like this matter?

Because people read it. This particular post garnered 60,400 views for “Ha Dang, Military Specialist.” That’s only 22,000 or so fewer views than the Russian Reader got all last year, even though I never publish hasbara and fake news, much less the “expert” opinions of self-avowed propagandists and video game enthusiasts.

This is the brave new world Alex Jones, Donald Trump, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Mark Zuckerberg, and other world-historical creeps have bestowed on us.

The essence of this topsy-turvy world is well expressed by Quora superstar “Dima Vorobiev, I worked in Soviet propaganda.”

Does Dima Vorobiev add his own propaganda and biases into his answers?

[…]

Obviously, I do. As a propaganda veteran, I believe that hardly anything people tell each other, is ever unbiased. Everything is propaganda—you just have to accept that, like death and taxes.

What is my bias? I’m the wrong person to ask: I don’t know. I live inside my own bias. Don’t ask fish what water feels like. It’s got no idea, it just swims in there.

It’s also a world where 60,400 people were impressed by Ha Dang’s arguments, even though he “works” at a fictitious agency that only exists in the “military science fiction first-person shooter video game franchise” Halo.

The United Nations Space Command (UNSC) is the military, exploratory, and scientific agency of the Unified Earth Government which acted as the emergency governing body of the human race at large for a time. The UNSC was formed in the 22nd century, a time when remnants of old cultural ideologies clashed for supremacy in the Sol System. The UNSC served mainly as overseer of United Nations military operations in space. After initiating massive militarization propaganda throughout its off-world colonies, through the UNSC, the UN defeated Frieden and Koslovic insurgent forces in a conflict known as the Interplanetary War, which consisted of several side-battles that took place on Mars, the Jovian Moons and the South American rainforests. Although the Interplanetary War brought a great deal of suffering to both the colonial population and the residents of Earth, it also united most of humanity’s military forces by the end of the 22nd century.

This is one of the reasons I have nearly given up on the idea that this website has much to contribute to a conversation that is anything but intelligible. The masses (or, at least, a worryingly large number of people) want racist, fascist, apocalyptic, pro-Putinist fairy tales for breakfast, dinner, and supper, not the complicated but ultimately discoverable truth. {TRR}

UNSC logo courtesy of Halopedia

One Good Turn Deserves Another

Media Identify Prigozhin Firms as Developers of Judicial Quarter in Petersburg
According to Kommersant, Firms Affiliated with Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and Concord Management and Consulting Are Project Subcontractors
Grigory Dubov
RBC
December 26, 2018

755458040463897Judicial district construction site in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Stanislav Zaburdayev/TASS and RBC

Firms affiliated with businessman and restaurateur Yevgeny Prigozhin will build the judicial quarter in Petersburg, a project costing 35.7 billion rubles [approx. 455 million euros] that will include residential buildings for the Russian Supreme Court and Boris Eifman’s Dance Palace, report sources quoted by Kommersant newspaper familiar with the project, which has been designed by the Russian Presidential Property Management Department and construction industry insiders.

The sources say the subcontractor was selected in the summer of 2018 without tendering. The newspaper’s sources claim firms affiliated with Prigozhin have launched the process of awarding commercial tenders and have been requesting bids from major construction companies for the construction of individual buildings without advance payment. One of the Prigozhin-affiliated companies engaged in sending out bid and tender requests is Lizena, a firm founded in 2014.

In 2016, the Russian Presidential Property Management Department pledged it would build two office buildings for the Supreme Court and Judicial Department, the Dance Palance, and four residential buildings containing a total of 600 apartments within four years in Petersburg. Construction was supposed to have begun in 2017, and the opening of the facility was scheduled for 2020. In May 2017, the Presidential Property Management Department declared the project top secret and obliged future contractors to maintain secrecy.

judicial quarterThe future judicial quarter in Petersburg is currently a giant sandbox. Photo courtesy of Alexander Koryakov/Kommersant

Construction was not begun, however. In September 2018, the Presidential Property Management Department acknowledged the deadlines it had set would be missed. As Kommersant wrote, the department failed to spend the 22.3 billion rubles allocated on the project. The funds were reallocated for 2021, when completion of construction has been planned. As transpired in December, an advance payment in the amount of more then 9.2 billion rubles was postponed from 2018 to 2021; no advances are envisaged in 2019 and 2020. As of December 1, according to the Federal Targeted Investment Program, builders in Petersburg had started to dig foundation pits for the residential complex. There was no information about the Supreme Court’s residence and the Dance Palace.

In March, the US Department of Justice imposed sanctions against Prigozhin and his companies Concord Management and Consulting, and Concord Catering. In February, Prigozhin and twelve other Russian nationals, as well as a number of legal entities, were indicted for interfering in the 2016 US elections. Included in the indictment was Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency, which was abolished [sic] in 2016. RBC’s sources identified the IRA as the “troll factory” that, according to the US Department of Justice, had tried to influence US voters since 2014. President Putin called the charges made against Prigozhin by US officials “laughable.”

prigozhinYevgeny Prigozhin. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Metzel/TASS and RBC

A number of media outlets have also identified Prigozhin as “Putin’s chef.”

At his press conference on December 20, Putin said, “All my chefs are officers of the Federal Protection Service (FSO). All of them are military men. I have no other chefs.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Lilia Shevtsova: Gutting Russia

1535459018_stena-1The Wall, one of the Russian National Guard’s new toys for crushing popular unrest. Photo courtesy of Voennoe obozrenie

Lilia Shevtsova
Facebook
September 27, 2018

Gutting the State
“They are crazy!” we wail as we gaze at the regime’s latest stunts.

“What stupidity!” the commentators exclaim in horror as they compile the Kremlin’s list of shame: raising the retirement age; a high-ranking silovik threatening to kill Navalny in a duel; the fiasco of the so-called Salisbury tourists; vote rigging in the Maritime Territory; the Russian fighter plane shot down by the Syrians with our own rocket; the hole in our spaceship, patched up with epoxy; threats to ban use of the US dollar in Russia; more lies about Malaysian Airlines Flight 17; and Navalny’s latest arrest.

The regime’s attempts to rectify its blunders only exacerbate the circumstances, turning them into farces. Did annulling the election in Vladivostok restore people’s faith in elections? Were the elections in Vladimir Region and Khabarovsk Territory not turned into farces when the winners did their level best not to win? And what about the televised interview with the Salisbury tourists? What should we make of attempts to blame Israel for downing the Russian warplane, and the Americans for punching a hole in the Soyuz capsule? The latest act of shooting ourselves in the foot was supplying the Syrians with a S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which is a threat to Israel and, of course, the US. (The Israelis will most certainly respond.)

If we regard all these topsy-turvy achievements as the outcomes of stupidity, the hope emerges that we can fix the stupidity by purging the ranks of officialdom, which is exactly what the Kremlin, in fact, sunk its teeth into today. Actually, what we regard as failure and stupidity have long become the new normal. What we see are the outcomes of a monopoly on political power, which has turned its own replication into an end in itself, and of a negative selection of members of the political elite based on the loyalty principle. In short, a duelist in charge of the Russian National Guard, and poisoners disguised as tourists are the new Russian normal. They are logical and inevitable consequences.

The wailing about a crisis at the top is, therefore, groundless. Russia skipped over the crisis stage. A crisis is a natural turn of events that compels society to look for new solutions and new people to implement them. When this does not happen, society and its superstructures rot. This stinky viscous goo is our current location. Decay prevents collapse: what is rotting cannot collapse. But decay also prevents our country from finding the strength to change.

The ruling class can seemingly take it easy, for the system somehow hobbles along. There are no large-scale protests, and the protests that do occur can either be ignored or quashed, especially since the National Guard has special new crowd-control armored vehicles at its disposal like the Shield, the Storm, the Wall, and so on.

In reality, things have taken a serious turn for Russia. By seeking to ensure its endlessness, the regime has been destroying the Russian state. That is a whole other ballgame. We have reached the point at which the ruling class has been rocking the pillars of statehood, destroying its own guarantee of survival in the bargain.

By outsourcing violence to volunteer oprichniki, the regime has deprived the state of one of its vital attributes: a monopoly on violence. By making Russia a global scarecrow, the regime has undermined the country’s international status and the external habitat in which it dwells. By rejecting strategic planning in favor of tactical maneuvers, the regime has stripped the country of the capacity for progress. By making the Russian state a tool of clan domination, the regime has destabilized the country, since society has been forced to defend its own interests by protesting on the streets.

Finally, by destroying institutions and making the rules of the game relative (there is more than one way to “get things done: in Russia), the regime has plunged the country into a state of lawlessness. When lawlessness ensues, no one is safe from it.

Do the guys in the Kremlin not realize how things will end? Apparently, they do understand, but they are incapable of stopping.

The autocracy survived in 1991 by scrapping the Soviet state. The autocracy has now been trying to survive by turning the post-Soviet Russian state into a lip-synched song about superpowerdom.

Lilia Shevtsova is a well-known Russian political scientist. Translated by the Russian Reader