News of the Day: 3 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday confirmed 32,930 Covid-19 infections and 1,217 deaths.

RFE/RL: Imprisoned Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny has paid a fine of 850,000 rubles ($11,500) in a libel case involving a World War II veteran, the press service of the Moscow court that heard the case said on December 2.

RSF: While stepping up their harassment of journalists via the “foreign agents” law, the Russian authorities are now also targeting their lawyers. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an end to the harassment and prosecution of media lawyers and condemns the steps being taken to deprive reporters of legal assistance. […] Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Meduza: The state prosecution in the trial of Yuri Dmitriev has asked to prolong the historian’s sentence, his lawyer Roman Masalev told TASS. This took place during a hearing at the Petrozavodsk City Court in Russia’s Karelia on Friday, December 3. “[The state prosecutor] asked to add two years to the current 13-year term and to appoint [a final sentence] of 15 years in prison,” said Masalev. The lawyer clarified that the prosecutor also asked that Dmitriev serve his sentence in a maximum-security prison colony. 

Meduza: Tomsk oppositionist and RusNews journalist Igor Kuznetsov, who is in jail pending trial for allegedly attempting to instigate “mass riots” using Telegram, is facing new charges. According to lawyer Sergey Badamshin, the FSB’s Moscow branch has charged Kuznetsov with creating an extremist group (under Russian Criminal Code Article 282.1).

The Moscow Times: Russia’s Gazprom has gained control of the country’s largest social media network, VKontakte, following a string of deals to buy out Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov from the platform’s holding company.

Meduza: Leadership of Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, will likely fall to the son of the Kremlin’s domestic policy czar, two sources told The Bell on Friday, claiming “95-percent certainty” that Vladimir Kiriyenko will take over as CEO. A day earlier, another source claimed that Kiriyenko Jr. might find work in the insurance behemoth Sogaz, which acquired control over VK on Thursday in a monster deal with Alisher Usmanov’s USM holding company. Another two sources confirmed to the news website RBC that Vladimir Kiriyenko will be VK’s next head.

RFE/RL: Maksim Martsinkevich, a notorious Russian ultranationalist who died in custody last year, is to be tried posthumously on murder charges, a lawyer representing his family said on December 3. Lawyer Aleksei Mikhalchik told the TASS news agency that the charges filed posthumously against Martsinkevich by the Investigative Committee were based on alleged confessions he had made in a Siberian prison before his death. The 36-year-old’s death in a detention center in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk in September 2020 sparked allegations of foul play.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia’s Security Service [FSB] reported on 2 December that it had ‘broken up intelligence and sabotage activities by Ukraine’s Security Service ‘ in three Russian regions.  Three Ukrainians have been arrested, with the only proof of such alleged activities coming from ‘videoed confessions’ made by men totally under the control of the FSB.  

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia needs to send war and destruction to Ukraine to maintain ‘stability’ in Russia and prop up the current regime, under President Vladimir Putin.  That is according to Vladislav Surkov who was, at least until early 2020, Putin’s aide and who is believed to have been in charge of the self-styled ‘republics’ in occupied Donbas. Surkov’s article, published on 20 November 2021, is the latest of a series of incriminating revelations from prominent Russian players which obligingly give the lie to the Kremlin’s attempts to pass off the conflict in Ukraine as a ‘civil war’.

The Moscow Times: Russia has dismantled a notorious facility dubbed the “whale jail” that kept dozens of the mammals in cramped conditions, causing an international outcry. Almost 100 whales were kept in the secretive facility in Srednyaya Bay near the far eastern town of Nakhodka in 2018, before being released after an intense campaign by animal rights and environmentalist groups in 2019.

RFE/RL: The United States is tracking enough indicators surrounding Russian military activity near Ukraine to trigger “a lot of concern,” the top U.S. military officer said on December 2, while Ukraine’s defense minister warned of a possible large-scale military offensive by Moscow next month.

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