News of the Day: 27 May 2021

RFE/RL: Open Russia, a British-based pro-democracy movement founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, says it has decided to end its operations in Russia. The decision was made to protect its supporters from further “harassment” by the Russian authorities due to a bill toughening the law on “undesirable organizations,” Executive Director Andrei Pivovarov said on May 27. “We do not need new fines and criminal cases, and we want to protect our supporters,” Pivovarov told the independent news website MBKh Media, which was also founded by Khodorkovsky. The move comes after Russian police last week carried out searches of the offices of Open Russia and MBKh in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The Moscow Times: Open Russia, an opposition movement established by exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, announced its closure Thursday to avoid jail for supporters ahead of parliamentary elections. Executive director Andrei Pivovarov linked the decision to bills advancing through Russian parliament tightening criminal punishment for Russians who support and work for “undesirable” organizations. Open Russia was labeled “undesirable” in 2017 in line with a law targeting foreign groups accused of political meddling.

Amnesty International: Reacting to the news that Otkrytaya Rossiya (Open Russia) has taken the decision to completely cease its activities and dissolve, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said: “The end of Open Russia means less pluralism across Russia’s civic space, and the loss of another valuable member of the human rights community. Open Russia has shown its dedication and effectiveness against crushing state pressure to silence dissent. It is tragic that the group was forced to close to protect its members, due to an unjust law designed to crush critical voices.

RFE/RL: The European Union has rejected a decision by Russian prosecutors to designate three German nongovernmental groups as “undesirable organizations,” calling the move “the most recent example of the Russian authorities’ disregard for a vibrant civil society.” “The decision by the Russian prosecutor-general ultimately harms the interests of Russian people and possibilities for open and free dialogue,” EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell’s spokesman said in a statement on May 27, a day after the designation of Forum Russischsprachiger Europaer e.V., Zentrum fur die Liberale Moderne GmbH, and Deutsch-Russischer Austausch e.V as “undesirable.”

Human Rights Watch: Activist Yuliya Galyamina has been targeted by authorities who are using Covid-19 restrictions to clamp down on opposition figures. Galyamina, a former member of Moscow’s municipal assembly, appeared in court May 26 on two separate administrative offence charges related to a meeting she co-organized between independent municipal deputies in the city of Velikiy Novgorod to discuss strengthening local self-governance. On May 18, four days before the start of the meeting, the local governor imposed new restrictions putting a 50 person limit on events organized by authorities and 30 for private parties, with obligatory mask-wearing and social distancing rules.

RFE/RL: A Moscow court has fined Twitter 19 million rubles ($259,000) for failing to delete content Russia deems illegal, in the latest chapter of a long-running dispute between authorities and the social network giant. Russia has already imposed a punitive slowdown on Twitter for refusing to delete content banned by the Russian government since March, part of a broader stand-off between Moscow and big tech companies to beef up what it calls Internet sovereignty. State communications regulator Roskomnadzor earlier this month partially halted the slowdown after Twitter deleted more than 90 percent of illegal content. […] TikTok and Google, which had both been fined earlier for similar offenses, received smaller fines on May 27.

The Moscow Times: Facebook said Russia and Iran are the internet’s leading spreaders of disinformation aimed at manipulating public opinion in a report published Thursday.  Facebook researchers linked most of Russian operations to the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based troll factory that was also blamed by the U.S. intelligence community for 2016 election interference.  “Facebook’s broader security strategy against influence operations was developed in response to foreign interference by Russian actors in 2016,” the 2017-2020 Threat Report said.  Researchers also found disinformation links to Russian military intelligence.

RFE/RL: Russia’s Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit by U.S. biotech company Gilead Sciences that challenged the right of a Russian government decree to allow a domestic pharmaceutical company to produce a generic version of Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir without consent. The Supreme Court said on May 27 that the government decision to grant Russian drugmaker Pharmasyntez permission to produce and sell the anti-COVID-19 treatment without the consent of the patent holder was valid due to the emergency conditions created during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Guardian: Russia has retaliated against a ban on carriers entering Belarus’s airspace by refusing to grant permission to European planes flying to Moscow. In an apparent escalation by the Kremlin, Russian aviation authorities forced Austrian Airlines to cancel its flight from Vienna to the Russian capital. Air France also cancelled its Paris-Moscow flight for the second day in a row, after it was denied permission on Wednesday to land in Russia.

The Moscow Times: Austria on Thursday slammed Russia after it refused to allow an Austrian Airlines flight to be rerouted to avoid Belarusian airspace, resulting in the Vienna-Moscow service being cancelled. Austria’s Foreign Ministry said Russia’s refusal to allow the route change was “absolutely incomprehensible,” urging it “not to artificially impede free air traffic between Russia and Europe.” “It is in the interests of both Austria and Russia that all flights to and via Russia can continue to be carried out without any problems,” it said in a statement to AFP. 

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