Our weekly round-up of the news
24 April 2021
The Moscow Times: Russia has confirmed 4,753,789 cases of coronavirus and 107,900 deaths, according to the national coronavirus information center. Russia’s total excess fatality count since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is above 422,000.
RFE/RL: On March 20, 2012, a decree signed by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was published by the Russian government. The decree set out a system of payments to military servicemen “for special achievements in the service.” Section 4 of the order, which was first highlighted by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, stated that “servicemen of military units 99450, 74455, and the structural unit of military unit 29155 are paid a monthly supplement.” At the time, little attention was paid to the decree: Little was known about the units, which fell under the umbrella of the feared-and-respected military intelligence agency known as the GRU.
25 April 2021
Caucasian Knot: The torture case against Albert Khamkhoev, a resident of Ingushetia, was suspended 13 times, although the main evidence in the case has already been collected. Further, everything depends on the initiative of the investigation, said the lawyer of the “Committee against Torture” Magomed Alamov. The “Caucasian Knot” reported that on September 10, 2018, the court sentenced the athlete Albert Khamkhoev to 1.5 years of imprisonment conditionally, finding him guilty of possession of weapons. Khamkhoev pleaded not guilty and recalled that he was tortured after his arrest. The Prosecutor’s Office of Ingushetia has canceled another suspension of the investigation into the torture of Khamkhoev, the “Committee against Torture” reported. Even after 3.5 years, it is possible to effectively conduct an investigation into the Khamkhoev torture case, said Konstantin Gusev, an employee of the North Caucasian branch of the checkpoint.
Caucasian Knot: In one of the colonies, located in the Smolensk Region, three prisoners from Dagestan, a native of Azerbaijan and six other convicts have gone on a hunger strike. Their relatives have filed complaints about systematic bullying of inmates in the colony. Ten colony inmates, including the natives of Dagestan, Akim Esretaliev, Gadjimurad Rasulov, Shamil Nurmagomedov, as well as a native of Azerbaijan, Karam Alakberov, have stitched up their mouths and went on a dry hunger strike, their relatives told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent. According to their story, the colony staff is systematically and without due reason placing the same inmates into strict custody cells and dungeons (punishment cells). “They threaten to beat inmates; use foul language, and deliberately spoil the food. Thus, on April 9, a colony warden plunged a dirty stick into the pot with food, saying that ‘you pigs will eat this all the same.’ They took away the prayer rugs from Muslim inmates; there is no hot water in the colony,” says the relatives’ statement. They also pointed to religion-based discrimination.
26 April 2021
Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian court has sentenced 31-year-old Rayis Mavliutov to 23 years’ harsh regime imprisonment despite his having committed no recognizable crime. As has been the case in all analogous trials involving Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses from occupied Crimea, the ‘indictment’ pointed only to legal activities normal for any devout believer. This has been the case since Russia began such gravely flawed trials, with the main ominous difference lying in ever-increasing sentences. Nelya Mavliutova has shared photos of her son whom she describes as an ordinary young guy of his generation. He graduated from a theatrical college in Kazan and also entered a music college. He likes singing and has a particular love for jazz, but he’s also a football player and fan, with his favourite team Barcelona. He is married but the couple had not begun a family when, on 23 September 2019, he was arrested, the latest victim of Russia’s conveyor belt persecution of Muslims seen as being too independent. He has long been recognized by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre as a political prisoner.
The Moscow Times: Russia and the rest of the world increased military spending in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) think tank said in a new report Monday. In a second consecutive year of growth, Russia’s military expenditure rose 2.5% to $61.7 billion, placing it fourth in the world behind the United States, China and India. Despite the increase, SIPRI said Russia spent significantly less on its military than initially expected. “Russia’s actual military spending in 2020 was 6.6% lower than its initial military budget, a larger shortfall than in previous years,” it said.
27 April 2021
The Moscow Times: Russia’s third-largest city of Novosibirsk has been blanketed by smog from dozens of nearby wildfires, with residents gasping for air and local media reporting a distinct smell of smoke in the city center. Authorities in the Siberian city of 1.7 million on Tuesday issued a so-called “Black Sky” air quality warning, according to the local Ndn.info news website, with smoke-clearing rain not expected until early Wednesday.
RFE/RL: A Russian government regulator has slapped a fine of more than $12 million on U.S. tech giant Apple for “abusing” its dominant market position by giving preference to its own applications. “Apple was found to have abused its dominant position in the iOS distribution market through a series of sequential actions which resulted in a competitive advantage for its own products,” the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) said in a statement on April 27. “On April 26, 2021, the FAS of Russia imposed a turnover fine on Apple Inc of 906.3 million rubles ($12.1 million) for violating anti-monopoly legislation,” the statement said.
28 April 2021
The Moscow Times: Russian authorities have detained nearly 200 people in over two dozen cities in the week since protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny swept the country, an independent police monitor said Wednesday. Police initially detained 1,800 people in 100 Russian cities on the day of the rallies last Wednesday that called for civilian doctors to examine Navalny, who had been on hunger strike for three weeks to demand proper medical care. The OVD-Info police-monitoring website has tallied 178 additional detentions in 30 cities as of early Wednesday. Moscow accounts for nearly half with 84 people taken into custody, followed by 27 in Voronezh, 14 in Perm and 11 in the Far East city of Khabarovsk.
RFE/RL: In the week since a wave of protests in support of imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny swept Russia on April 21, at least 115 people in 23 cities have been detained by police. At least seven journalists who were covering the protests have also been summoned for questioning. Immediately after the protests, activists and observers noted the relatively mild reaction of the authorities to the unsanctioned demonstrations, particularly in contrast to similar protests in January and February at which thousands of people were detained, often brutally. But in recent days, Russian police have unveiled a new strategy, using surveillance-camera footage and other techniques to identify demonstrators and track them down, days after the event.
29 April 2021
The Moscow Times: Authorities in Russia’s republic of Chechnya have granted state protection to two gay men facing threats of familial “honor killings” after they were forcibly returned to their home region, the MBKh Media news website reported Thursday. Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isayev had fled Chechnya for Nizhny Novgorod northeast of Moscow last summer after they were allegedly tortured by Chechen special police. They were seized and returned to Chechnya earlier this year in what rights groups called a kidnapping.
RFE/RL: Reports in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, say police have launched a probe into the appearance of a giant mural of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny that survived only a matter of hours before authorities in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hometown painted over it. Citing city law enforcement sources, reports said that the investigation was launched into “vandalism motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred.” Investigators believe that several artists worked on the mural in which Navalny, Putin’s most vocal critic, was shown smiling and making the shape of a heart with his hands with the slogan “A hero of a new time” next to them.
30 April 2021
RFE/RL: A court hearing has started in Russia’s Siberian region of Yakutia to decide on the forced “treatment” in a closed psychiatric institution of a shaman who has been stopped by authorities several times in his attempts to march to Moscow by foot “to drive President Vladimir Putin out of the Kremlin.” Aleksandr Gabyshev’s sister, Kyaiyylana Zakharova, told RFE/RL that the hearing started on April 30. Gabyshev’s lawyer, Olga Timofeyeva, said that the hearing may last several days. Timofeyeva added that state experts said at the hearing that her client poses an “extreme danger” to society and “needs to be forcibly treated in a specialized hospital under permanent supervision.” About two dozen supporters of Gabyshev gathered in front of the courthouse in the regional capital, Yakutia. They were not allowed to attend the hearing as it is being held behind closed doors.
RFE/RL: Russia has barred eight officials from EU countries from entering the country in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russian citizens by Brussels. The Russian Foreign Ministry said those banned included European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova, and David Sassoli, the president of the European parliament. The EU imposed sanctions last month on two Russians accused of persecuting gay and lesbian people in the southern Russian region of Chechnya. The EU also imposed sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin the same month.