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"The educated classes, the lackeys of capital, consider themselves the brains of the nation. In fact they are not its brains but its shit."
--V. I. Lenin
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The big story this week in Russia is the purging of RBC’s editorial board. Over the last two years, RBC has become without question Russia’s best news agency.

On Friday, chief editors Elizaveta Osetinskaya, Roman Badanin and Maxim Solyus were dismissed, the most detrimental in a series of blows against RBC over the last month. In April, there were rumors that Kremlin officials were none too happy about RBC’s editorial policy. The heat started after the publication of a string of articles that hit to close to Putin’s circle. In particular, there were pieces on the expansion of Moscow State University and its connections to Putin’s daughter, Ekaterina Tikhonova, an investigation into the business dealings and sudden wealth of Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s son-in-law; and another on how friends of Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin easily obtained control of oil companies. Then RBC gave a lot of attention to the Panama Papers.
The breaking of RBC all started with the FSB raiding the offices of Onexim investment group, the owner of which is Mikhail Prokhorov, who is also the owner of RBC. Six days after that and five days before the publication of the Putin-Sobyanin story, Osetinskaya suddenly announced she was going on “sabbatical” to Stanford University. Her announcement was followed by rumors Prokhorov was looking to sell the agency to a Kremlin friendly buyer. This was followed by an announcement by the Interior Ministry of an investigation into allegations RBC's general director, Nikolai Molibog, stole $13.4 million worth of Byte-Telecom shares. But according to Reuters, the final straw was RBC’s decision to publish a story about an oyster farm built next to “Putin’s Palace.” “It provoked the Kremlin's ire and they complained to the (group's) shareholder," an anonymous source told Reuters.

As if anyone had any doubt, Vedomosti reports that the order to purge the editorial board came from above:
 
These investigations, as well as coverage of the Ukraine severely irritated officials, especially members of the presidential administration, sources from RBC, Onexim and the Russian government tell Vedomosti. Figurants in these investigations often complained about RBC in the administration, especially to the first deputy head of the Presidential Administration Vyacheslav Volodin. Molibog, Sauer, Onexim employees and Prokhorov all received calls from the administration demanding RBC’s editorial policy be changed, Vedomosti’s sources claim.

Thirteen RBC journalists have reportedly quit in protest.
 
According to Meduza, all remaining RBC editors must now get their stories approved by Molibog before publication.
 
Neutering RBC was finished in quick successive snips. All done in a matter of three weeks.
 
Pavel Gusev, the head of Russia’s Journalist Union said, “I have absolutely no doubt there’s a political component to this decision.” Well, gosh darnit’ give that man a gold star!
 
Oleg Kashin had this reaction:
 
"Media such as RBC is an anomaly for this country. We have no idea what made Mikhail Prokhorov support this editorial team for two years, but in any case, even this period was too long. But now nothing will change in the media industry because there is no media industry in Russia. There is a large unofficial media corporation controlled by the presidential administration, which, from the look of it, has just swallowed the best of Russian media."
 
We’ve seen this staged tragedy before. Several of Russia’s excellent media outlets have been hobbled in a similar fashion. Friend of the Kremlin Alisher Usmanov bought Kommersant in 2006 and eventually tamed its reporting. Gazeta.ru was neutralized in 2014. As was Lenta.ru (it’s reporters founded Meduza). Forbes.ru also recently got a new owner, Alexander Fedotov, and there’s unconfirmed reports of him meddling in editorial policy. There have been rumors of Vedomosti’s impending sale to a Kremlin friendly for months. It hasn’t happened yet though it had to recent shed its connections with the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times because of a new law that limits foreign media ownership. Novaya gazeta has been repeatedly hassled but it’s till alive and kicking despite ongoing fears it would be shut down.
 
And of all days, Putin had the following to say about the monopolization of media in Russia to the Russian State Television and Radio Company:
 
"I want to thank you for . . . deliver[ing] alternative information to viewers and listeners. Monopoly is always harmful, and in the field of information even more so. Even if we do something wrong, well, fine. We have the right to talk about this, and people, listeners and viewers, need to hear and see alternative viewpoints."
 
Obviously certain “alternative viewpoints” aren’t needed, particularly if they involve the nexus between the Kremlin, its intimates, orbiting elites, big business, privatized state institutional fiefdoms, the network of shell companies, offshore havens, and graft.
 
Anyone unfamiliar with RBC’s “alternative viewpoints” has missed some of the best investigative journalism coming out of Russia. Particularly the stories about the wealth and financing of some of Russia’s biggest political figures and their circles and institutions. I’ve already mentioned RBC’s investigation into the properties owned by the Russian Federation of Trade Unions in previous Dispatches. In addition to the stories cited above, there are many more. RBC has assembled a its greatest hits on its Facebook page and Slon has a list as well.
 
But, hey, it’s all good. RBC’s stock shot up 7 percent after the firings became public. You can always count on the market to be on the side of the righteous.

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The NYT broke open the Olympic doping scandal with the testimony of Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of a Russian anti-doping lab. Rodchenkov describes an elaborate scheme of doping cocktails and urine switching.
 
Then Reuters published a long piece on how the Russian security services looked the other way and even facilitated Islamic radicals leaving the country to fight in Syria. 

Shaun Walker has an excellent and fascinating story in the Guardian about two Russian spies living in deep cover the US, how their kids had no idea, and how its effected their lives.
 
Mark Galeotti blasts apart myths about Russian’s security organs. In reality, their fractured, consumed with bureaucratic turf wars, and end up producing some pretty poor work as a result.
 
A wonderful website Soviet Movies Online has collected a bunch of Russian movies with English Subtitles, including an impressive science fiction section.
 
Carl Schreck writes on Russia’s gangster athletes and their rise to power in the 1980s and 1990s.
 
A recent Asian graduate in Russian literature discusses issues of race in British academia. “Although I may be “postcolonial”, I’m not qualified to teach it.”
 
Vitalii Atanasov delves into the difficulties of Ukraine’s displaced persons and their efforts to survive.
 
Mediazona has published an interesting confessions of a former employee of a St. Petersburg district prosecutor. From this testimony, it appears that at these lower rungs, the Russian justice system is just driven by bureaucratic inertia.
 
The entire law enforcement system works to show that it works, and not to fight crime. You can rape and kill, and nothing will happen to you if you know how the system works. The newspapers often write only about the crimes that have been solved. I’ve seen a bunch of criminal cases in which no one wants to investigate: a man is killed but figuring out who killed him is hard, so a murder is changed into an accident simply because there is no time to look into it.
Bad news for Western infowarriors. Gallup has done a study that shows Western media attempts to control the narrative over Ukraine and Crimea have fallen flat. But it’s not because Russian media is more effective, but because Western coverage of Russia is so ineffective. This isn’t surprising given the continual bland, hackneyed bellyaching about RT, perpetual moralizing, and the obsession with Putin that’s fed to the American public. That Western media projected into post-Soviet states fares poorly.
 
If the West hopes to at least stay in contention in the next information skirmish, it will clearly need to make some changes to its communication strategy. Some of this will need to be content, and some of it will need to be tone. . . Several survey respondents remarked to interviewers that Russian coverage goes much deeper into the issues that they find important and that the Western coverage comes across as disaffected, lacking passion and failing to demonstrate an understanding of the region. Several also took exception with the Western media’s tone, which they said demonized Russia.
 
Yet for some pundits, the solution is to batten down the hatches. Such is the renewed endeavor of infowarrior vets Anne Applebaum and Ed Lucas.  Once again their cries of the “dangers” of Russian propaganda in the West with finger pointing at the usual suspects: RT and Sputnik. It’s a persistent theme for the dynamic duo as their latest missive is a regurgitation of previous Chicken Little imitations. This is not to say that Russian propaganda isn’t a threat. It is, but to its own citizens. For once I wish someone would provide some actual evidence of RT’s sway because so far it’s impact is quite minimal unless you’re a crank, a Putinoid, or, so it seems, a Western infowarrior, who out of sincere belief or careerism keeps pumping the threat. Propaganda debunking now runs according to its own market logic.
 
The “sky is falling” and “end times” rhetoric coming out of some in the US military establishment is also getting scrutiny. An excellent article in Politico argues that a lot of the hyperventilating about the Russian military threat comes down to good old bureaucratic interests, namely the hunger for increased budgets.
 
“This is the ‘Chicken-Little, sky-is-falling’ set in the Army,” the senior Pentagon officer said. “These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There’s a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. What a crock.”
 
Anyone attuned to the huffing and puffing of (now former) NATO Air Force General Philip Breedlove might get the impression that we’re living in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. On a monthly basis, Breedlove pumped up the Russian military threat and soothsaid of a coming Russian invasion. It never happened. In regard to Breedlove’s last warmongering session in March, a senior civilian Pentagon advisor told Politico’s Mark Perry, “I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about.”
A court in Tver sentenced Andrei Bubeyev to two years in prison for extremism and separatism. His crime? Reposting a picture of a tube of toothpaste labeled “Squeeze yourself out of Russia” an article by Boris Stomakhin called “Crimea is Ukraine.” Budeev called his trial a “circus.”
 
This is no one off. As Tetyana Lokot points out on Global Voices,
 
Bubeyev's verdict is the latest in a string of cases in Russia where Internet users have been charged under “anti-extremist” legislation and given real prison terms or community service for posting or reposting content on social media.
As a new study by the Center for Economic and Political Reform shows that extremism cases in Russia are up, up, up. Between 2011 and 2105, the annual number of extremism cases increased from 137 to 414 and convictions went from 82 to 369. The main targeted groups are: far right nationalists, religious extremism, particularly Islamist, and particularly after Crimea’s annexation, pro-Ukrainian activists.
Copyright © 2016 Sean's Russia Blog, All rights reserved.


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