Saturday, August 27, 2016 Disputes 'How Was The Swim?' Official's Take On Petition To Oust Him

RBC on June 30 quoted "a source close to the Duma leadership" as saying that Russian child-rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov had already submitted his resignation and would soon be leaving his post.

Farangis Najibullah

The popular online petition and campaign site says almost all of the 150,000-plus people who signed a petition demanding the resignation of the Kremlin's reportedly ill-fated children's rights ombudsman are based in Russia, despite Pavel Astakhov's dismissal of his online critics as American puppets.

The petition called on Astakhov to resign over a seemingly insensitive remark he made while visiting child survivors of a deadly boating accident at a camp near the Finnish border.

Irrespective of the campaign, the anti-Astakhov effort appeared to have gained traction within Russia, as RBC on June 30 quoted "a source close to the Duma leadership" as saying that Astakhov had already submitted his resignation and would soon be leaving his post.

A number of Russians had publicly pilloried Astakhov, including the spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee, who implied that the ombudsman's statement to the survivors was beyond "the norms of morality and ethics."

"So how was the swim?" Astakhov asked one of 37 survivors of a twin capsizing that killed 14 people, almost all of them child campers, when a storm struck their boating expedition on remote Lake Syamozero in the northern Karelia region on June 18 and the camp's staff inexplicably failed to seek outside assistance.

Clearly feeling the heat, Astakhov dismissed the petition as an American smear and claimed most of the participants are Internet bots.

" is registered in San Francisco," Astakhov told Russian media. "Since when we express public opinion on American sites? The site includes a large number of Internet bots.... Even from my Instagram account I can see that 90 percent of them have come through Ukrainian sites just to make some nasty comments."

Not so fast, says

Dmitriy Savelyev, the head of the company's Eastern Europe and Central Asia services, told Russian media on June 29 that the group checks and verifies every signature on its site, and that 95.8 percent of the signatories are based in Russia and that "all the participants are real people," reported.

Astakhov's question has since earned its own #какпоплавали (#howwastheswim) hashtag, which some Twitter users have used to highlight perceived official insensitivity -- including Astakhov's -- in the past:

User @Rustem Adagamov tweeted, "Astakhov suggests sending the children who didn't drown in Syamozero to the Black Sea."

@OMA800 tweeted under the #какпоплавали hashtag a link to a Russian news story reporting that "Five people drowned in Tula Province."

Another Twitter user posted an image of a sinking cruise ship with the suggestion that it is a "new meme from our authorities" and the caption "So how was the swim?"

Meanwhile, the petition calling for Astakhov's resignation had gathered 152,100 signatures by midday on June 30.

Astakhov has continued to insist his comment was taken out of context, although a woman present in the room when he made it is heard to respond, "Thank God they are alive."

Russian Culture Minister: Netflix A U.S. Plot Of Global Mind Control

Vladimir Medinsky is known for public statements that often veer toward the hyper-patriotic.

Mike Eckel

There are many reasons why the U.S. online video-streaming service Netflix has exploded in popularity.

The series House Of Cards, for example, whose dark dramatization about a fictional White House and its Machiavellian president reportedly so intrigued Russian President Vladimir Putin that he told his new defense minister to watch it for insights into U.S. politics.

Netflix's fan base, however, does not include Russia's culture minister, who has now accused the company of being something more nefarious: a U.S. government plot to take over the world's television sets.

Vladimir Medinsky, known for public statements that often veer toward the hyper-patriotic, asserted in an interview published on June 22 that Netflix is part of a U.S. government mind-control project.

"And, what, you thought these gigantic startups emerge by themselves? One schoolboy sat down, thought for a bit, and then billions of dollars rained down from above?" he was quoted as saying in the interview with the Russian news agency Rambler.

"It turns out that that our ideological friends [the U.S. government] understand perfectly well that this is the art form that is the most important," Medinsky continued, alluding to a quotation by Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin about the influence of cinema on the masses.

They understand "with the help of Netflix, how to enter every home, to creep into every television, and through that very television, into the heads of every person on Earth," Medinsky said.

Founded in 1998 by U.S. entrepreneurs Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph, California-based Netflix, which started out as a DVD-by-mail service, now says it offers its streaming services in 190 countries, including Russia.

The company did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment.

One of the service's flagship series, House Of Cards offers a deeply cynical look at U.S. politicians. That was the reason, according to Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar's 2015 book All The Kremlin's Men, that Putin recommended the series -- which is based on a British production of the same name -- to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu after his 2012 appointment.

"It'll be useful," Putin is quoted as telling Shoigu in Zygar's book.

For his part, Medinsky has gained a reputation for making bombastic, nationalistic and sometime outlandish allegations since becoming culture minister in 2012.

He has called for patriotic summer camps and films, and last year called for a "patriotic Internet" saying the West had launched "a new blitzkrieg" against Russia.

Last week, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum Medinsky suggested that Russian animated films had too many "Asian faces." That elicited wide derision in places like Yakutia, the Siberian republic whose main ethnic group is non-Slavic.

Russian Media Duped By Fake British Soccer Journalists' Hooligan Tweets

Russian soccer fans clash with an English fan (right) during the match between England and Russia at Stade Velodrome in Marseille on June 11.

Carl Schreck

Violence between Russian and English soccer fans at the UEFA 2016 European Championship in France has shocked the game's supporters across the world with its brutality. In Russia, leading media outlets zeroed in on reports by a pair of purported British soccer journalists about English fans stoking the mayhem with "disgusting" behavior.

The state-owned RT network cited a Tweet by "British sports journalist Simon Rowntree" stating that English fans called their Russian counterparts "commie scum" and chanted a crude reference to Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, who was recently banned for two years for taking performance-enhancing substances.

It then cited tweets by "another member of the British media, Martyn Macintyre," stating that two English fans wiped "their bottoms with a Russian flag. No wonder Russian fans responded so angrily."

The claims were picked up by several Russian media outlets, including the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency and the Kremlin-loyal national daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Some cursory googling of these two purported journalists -- or even a quick glance at their other tweets about "sickening" and "disgraceful" behavior by fans at the tournament -- might have quickly tipped off these publications to the fact that "Rowntree" and "Macintyre" are, in fact, parody personalities reporting largely fake soccer news on the Twitter accounts bearing their names. 

As the Irish website noted last year, "Rowntree" and "Macintyre" identify themselves as journalists for a newspaper called The Forest Echo -- also fictional and with its own Twitter feed -- and "have made a name for themselves by reporting on fake, often highly offensive, stories on football."

"But the Forest Echo splice their fake news in with real news, which can be somewhat confusing for readers who just see stories popping up sporadically on their timelines," journalist Darragh Murphy notes.

The key to any good prank -- as Sacha Baron Cohen's fictitious characters demonstrate -- is including just enough implausible elements so that anyone who falls for it has no excuse for having been duped. A tweet by "Rowntree" stating that English fans were chanting the praises of the extremist Islamic State group would seem to meet this bar of implausibility.

It's not the first time that Russian media outlets have mistaken English-language online satire for legitimate news.

Last year, the Russian government's official Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper published an angry op-ed about U.S. Senator John McCain's alleged call for "military action" against FIFA after Switzerland arrested seven officials with global soccer's governing body on corruption charges.

The comments attributed to McCain actually came from a satirical article published by American humorist Andy Borowitz on the website of the U.S. magazine The New Yorker. The May 29, 2015, op-ed remains unchanged on Rossiiskaya Gazeta's website.

RT at some point added a pair of asterisks to its story quoting "Rowntree" and "Macintyre," noting that their claims have "since been refuted."

No similar correction has been made by Komsomolskaya Pravda or RIA Novosti, which is part of the media company headed by vehemently anti-Western executive and presenter Dmitry Kiselyov.

The RIA Novosti report citing "Rowntree" was picked up by several other prominent Russian media outlets that have yet to issue corrections as well.

Props, however, are in order for the popular national daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, which quickly flagged the purported journalists' tweets as satire.

"These witness accounts were attributed to two tweets of certain Western journalists -- Simon Rowntree and Martin Macintyre -- that were not corroborated by any other news items," it noted.

Not that some English fans in France haven't been acting badly. Video footage has emerged that apparently shows a group of England supporters mocking migrant children. 

Video Investigators Revisit Latest 'Golden Youth' Case Amid Outrage

Ruslan Shamsuarov, the son of a LUKoil vice president, has been jailed for 15 days in what a prominent expert on the Russian elite told Reuters was "the first case of its kind during Putin's tenure that I can recall which the authorities are not trying to sweep under the carpet."

Carl Schreck

Threatening to slash police officers during a traffic stop might be expected to invite criminal charges. But during an incident last month in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania in Russia's restive North Caucasus region, the apparently drunk young woman wielding the knife pulled out a trump card.

"Let me call my dad so he can f*** all of you up," Kamilla Kumekhova, who was a passenger in the car, screamed at the officers as they tried to pull her from the car in the republic's capital, Vladikavkaz.

There was some logic to Kumekhova's gambit: Her father, according to media reports, is Ruslan Kumekhov, a former senior prosecutor in the region. And the children of Russia's ruling elite have a long record of extricating themselves from sticky legal situations -- often stirring grassroots outrage.

This week, it appeared Kumekhova may get off scot-free for the May 1 incident, which prompted regional authorities to launch a probe after a video of the standoff was posted on the Internet. 

The state-run RIA Novosti news agency quoted a spokesperson for the local Investigative Committee as saying on June 7 that no criminal case would be opened because Kumekhova "did not present a real threat to the police officers."

But the political winds may not be blowing right now in favor of the children of Russia's rich and well-connected, commonly known as the "golden youth."

Moscow police chief Anatoly Yakunin in May vowed to "put an end forever to the outrageous behavior of our golden youth who spit on people."

"They think they can buy everything and everyone with money but they are wrong," he said.

Yakunin's announcement was aimed at Ruslan Shamsuarov, the son of a senior Russian oil executive. Shamsuarov and his friends earlier that month had led police on a hazardous car chase in his Mercedes-Benz G-Class through the streets (and a playground) of Moscow.

Video footage of the chase filmed by Shamsuarov and his friends in the car was later posted on the Internet, sparking widespread anger over the impunity with which they violated the law.  

After initially being handed a fine, Shamsuarov was jailed for 15 days in what a prominent expert on the Russian elite told Reuters was "the first case of its kind during Putin's tenure that I can recall which the authorities are not trying to sweep under the carpet."

Of course, anticorruption drives during Russian President Vladimir Putin's 16 years in power have been announced numerous times and seemingly petered out quietly.

Hours after RIA Novosti reported that police had declined to launch a criminal case against Kumekhova, the news agency published a follow-up item stating that the regional Investigative Committee branch had "canceled" that earlier decision by a lower branch of the agency.

The case materials have been sent back for further review, RIA Novosti quoted a regional Investigative Committee spokesperson as saying.

Twitter Restores Suspended Putin Parody Account After Outcry

The English-language account has attracted 58,000 followers since its launch in 2013 thanks to its wry skewering of the Russian leader with tweets such as: "Don't believe anything the Kremlin doesn't first deny."

Carl Schreck

Twitter has reactivated a popular parody account lampooning Russian President Vladimir Putin a day after the social-media giant's suspension of the feed sparked outrage and accusations of censorship.

The Twitter feed @DarthPutinKGB was active again on June 1, a day after it was suspended due to alleged violations of the California-based company's user rules on parody accounts.

"They wanted the name changed from 'Vladimir Putin' to something else so no one could mistake me for the real thing," the man who runs the account told RFE/RL.

He declined to reveal his identity in an online interview this week.

The English-language account has attracted 58,000 followers since its launch in 2013 thanks to its wry skewering of the Russian leader with tweets such as: "Don't believe anything the Kremlin doesn't first deny."

The circumstances of its suspension remain unclear, including who filed a complaint about the account. Twitter declined to provide details, citing security and privacy concerns.

Both Facebook and Twitter in recent years have removed posts and accounts critical of the Kremlin based on claims from Russian media regulators.

The Russian president's name has now been removed from the reinstated account's Twitter bio and replaced with "Darth Putin."

The suspension triggered an angry backlash against Twitter by fans of the account, who accused the company of bending to pressure from the Russian government or its allies -- and of failing to recognize satire.

Fans of the feed swiftly launched the hashtag campaign #NoTwitterGulagForDarthPutinKGB in support.

The account's first tweet after the suspension was lifted read: 

‘We'll Wash Away All The Black!’ -- Another Racist Russian Marketing Ploy Targets Obama

The racist references to Obama come at a time when ties between Washington and Moscow are badly strained.


There was the cutting board sold in the central Russian city of Kazan depicting Barack Obama with the ears of a monkey.

There was the laser image projected onto a Moscow apartment building showing Obama eating a banana.

Now, to the growing list of public racism targeting the U.S. president, add this: a car wash located in the Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk.

The business is called Abama, which is close to the Russian pronunciation of Obama’s name. The banner on its façade over the entrance features a crudely drawn picture of Obama grimacing, along with the promise: “We Will Wash Away All The Black.”

A tweet from the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow:

According to the news portal Amur.Info, which first reported the banner, the car-wash owner hasn’t commented publicly on his choice for naming his business. But the readers of the article debated whether, in fact, the banner was racist.
One wrote, “It’s somehow more idiotism than patriotism.”
In what appeared to be a reference to the erroneous Russian impression that the United States has provided weaponry to Ukraine in its fight against Russia-backed separatists, another said: “Obama deserves it in my opinion. A thousand of my countrymen have been killed by weapons he has supplied and sold.”

The United States has not provided lethal military equipment to Ukraine.

Another contributor posted a picture of a jar of Uncle Ben’s tomato sauce, a well-known U.S. food brand that uses a fictional black man as part of its branding, seeming to defend the business’s use of Obama’s face.
The news site commented that federal law potentially gives local authorities the right to force a business to remove advertising if it’s deemed to be offensive or indecent, though local authorities told the site no one has complained about the car wash yet.
Racist attitudes -- toward Africans, East Asians, migrants from Central Asia or the Caucasus -- lurk just under the surface in much of Russian culture, manifesting themselves in everything from racist advertising to violence against non-Slavic minorities.
Last year, a supermarket chain in the central region of Tatarstan apologized for selling a kitchen cutting board that featured a photo montage of Obama in the company of two anthropomorphized chimpanzees.

 Also last year, a company selling water heaters in the central city of Samara showed a depiction of Obama along with a caption saying: "Shame on unwashed chimney sweeps!"

 In 2014, a group of university students in Moscow claimed responsibility for a laser projection onto a building just opposite the U.S. Embassy that wished Obama a happy birthday, and showed him eating a banana.

The racist references to Obama come at a time when ties between Washington and Moscow are badly strained, with President Vladimir Putin frequently accusing the United States of trying to weaken Russia and undermine his authority.
Earlier this month, an ice-cream maker in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk released its latest produce: a vanilla ice cream bar, glazed with chocolate, whose wrapping features an image of a smiling African boy, wearing an earring. The treat is called Obamka, an affectionate or diminutive Russian form of the president’s name.

The city is also home to a café that features toilet paper bearing Obama’s likeness, along with a website that includes a choice epithet toward America.

 Sova Center, a well-known research group that tracks racism, xenophobia, and violence toward migrants in Russia, has documented growing prejudice and violence against non-Slavs in Russia, along with a growing number of neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant groups.

Russian Election Monitor Sets Trap To Test NTV For Wiretapping

Golos's Roman Udot recorded his encounter with NTV producer Pyotr Drogovoz and correspondent Liliya Parfyonova (video below).

Carl Schreck

In March 2012, Michael McFaul, then the U.S. ambassador to Russia, famously accused journalists from the state-controlled network NTV of hacking his phone or e-mails to access his schedule after they approached him as he arrived at a private meeting with an opposition activist.
Four years later, those same journalists have been purportedly tripped up in a sting operation by an embattled Russian election-monitoring group seeking to prove that security services are wiretapping its phones and leaking details of its meetings with foreign diplomats to the Kremlin-loyal network.
Golos, an independent election monitor that has documented widespread violations at Russian ballot boxes in recent years, says it has concluded that NTV journalists are surreptitiously obtaining information about its employees’ movements from Russian law enforcement or intelligence agencies.
Using this information, Golos alleges, the journalists are able to track the group’s itinerary and wait for them -- cameras and microphones in hand -- outside embassies and other Moscow venues where they meet foreign diplomats to discuss the country’s elections.
Footage of similar encounters with opposition activists has been deployed on several occasions in NTV documentaries portraying Kremlin critics as part of a nefarious "fifth column" bankrolled by the West to destabilize Russia.

Golos, which has faced pressure from President Vladimir Putin’s government for years, says it has long suspected that NTV was being tipped off about its meetings at embassies after its employees showed their passports to Russian police guards stationed outside the compounds.
So when a group of Canadian diplomats recently asked to visit the group’s Moscow office, Golos deliberately arranged the meeting by telephone to test whether NTV journalists would crash it. Holding the meeting at its office would also exclude the possibility of a tip-off from a police guard at an embassy.
The Canadians arrived at the office for the meeting on May 23.

“I tortured them with stories for about an hour,” Roman Udot, deputy head of Golos, told RFE/RL. “NTV showed up about midway through.”
Udot met the NTV crew outside the building and recorded the encounter with NTV producer Pyotr Drogovoz and correspondent Liliya Parfyonova. Both worked on the network’s Anatomy Of A Protest series that claimed Washington was funding anti-Putin protests and portrayed Kremlin critics as Western puppets:

Parfyonova, who asked whether Golos discussed possible Canadian financing of its election-monitoring activities at the meeting, denied eavesdropping on the group’s calls. Authorities designated Golos a “foreign agent” last year because it previously received foreign financing. The organization rejects the label and says it complies fully with Russian laws.
Examining his recent meetings with foreign diplomats, Udot says that out of eight such get-togethers over the past two years, NTV ambushed him twice after he showed his passport to an embassy police guard and twice when he made arrangements by telephone.
NTV did not show up at the other four meetings, which were scheduled by e-mail, he said.
“Where there’s a policeman plus a passport -- or a phone call -- there is NTV,” Udot told RFE/RL.
Gazprom Media, the state-controlled conglomerate that owns NTV, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The network’s heightened interest in Golos comes ahead of September parliamentary elections likely to be dominated by pro-Putin forces backed by the Kremlin’s media machine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed last month that an effort was under way to taint Putin and disrupt the elections.
Notably, both Parfyonova and Drogovoz were involved in the 2012 ambush of McFaul as he arrived for a meeting with Soviet-era dissident and veteran opposition activist Lev Ponomaryov.
“How did you find out about this meeting? Where did you get the information that I will be here?” McFaul asked in Russian. “This is against the Geneva Convention, if you are going to obtain my information from my telephone or from my BlackBerry.”

Parfyonova insisted that they learned of the meeting from “open sources.”
“We are law-abiding citizens,” she says:

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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