Russian press digest (24 August 2015)

This Monday, the Russian press reports on the Duma’s secret opposition to local government reforms, Russia’s financial literacy and what personnel changes inside the prison service tell us about a high-profile corruption case.

Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia
24 August 2015

Aleksandrovskoe bus stop, Kemerovo-Tomsk route. trbuh/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

This morning, Kommersant’s front page features a secret request made by the Duma to the Constitutional Court, in which Duma deputies request the local government reforms declared unconstitutional. According to the letters’ authors, these reforms, which included the removal of mayoral elections, have deprived Russia’s big cities of political independence. 

According to experts, this request may just be an attempt to score points ahead of the Duma elections in 2016. The initiators of this request are, after all, Anton Romanov, member of United Russia and the All-Russian People’s Front, and Sergei Levchenko of KRPF.

‘The Constitutional Court is going to have a hard time with this one,’ said Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics foundation. ‘The Court’s not used to opposing the political agenda, the Duma deputies won’t necessarily get the result they want. But it’s a good pre-election move, including the 2016 elections. It’ll allow them to test to see how popular protests against the removal of mayoral elections are with voters, and how permissible they are in the current situation.’ 

Turning to Ukraine, Kommersant reports that the Ukrainian authorities are yet to find companies willing to finance gas sales with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom.

As a result, Kyiv is prepared to return to the previous 2013 scheme, and Gazprom will send Naftogaz payments for gas transit to Europe in advance. Ukraine will use this money to fill up its own reserves. This decision should lead to the first talks between the heads of the two state monopolies in 18 months.

Meanwhile, as oil prices continue to drop and the rouble suffers, comforting news for Russian bankers: billionaire Gleb Fetisov, former owner of My Bank, has been released from house arrest. Fetisov was arrested in February 2014 on charges of embezzlement, but managed to switch pre-trial investigation for house arrest. He is now awaiting court on bail, which might lead to a lighter sentence.

RBK reports on Russian’s financial literacy this morning. According to RBK’s investigation, Russians still consider the rouble a reliable currency, despite the current situation. ‘People outside of Moscow and St Petersburg are generally unconcerned by exchange rates,’ says Dilyara Ibragimova, who says, on average, people’s savings are too small, and the connection between the strength of the dollar and living standards is far from obvious.

RBK also explains that Russians still don’t trust banks, believing that it’s best to store money at home, and that pensions are something far off in the future.

RBK covers the new draft bill from United Russia deputies Irina Yarovaya and Sergei Neverov, who plan to remove the mandate of deputies who refuse to declare property, as well as those who make false declarations

Neverov was investigated in September 2013 on similar grounds after Aleksei Navalny, an opposition politician and anti-corruption blogger, released information on Neverov’s alleged property deals. According to sources in the Duma, deputies are concerned that this initiative could lead to undesirable consequences, including a witch hunt in the lower house.

Finally, the case of Evgenia Vasileva, the alleged lover of Russian defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov and who was arrested in a 2012 fraud case, continues following personnel changes in Russia’s penitentiary service (FSIN).

As Moskovsky komsomolets reports, information has appeared on the FSIN website stating that Sergei Esipov and Aleksandr Loshchinin, two high-ranking officials, have been fired, as well as Moscow city military prosecutor Viktor Ivanov. These sackings may well be a coincidence, but, according to Moskovsky komsomolets, the sentencing procedure has become increasingly fraught. First, Vasileva’s lawyers appealed against Moscow city court’s decision, to which the court responded that the sentence was yet to come into force. Second, as reported last week, Vasileva apparently went missing en route to prison colony. In a high-profile case such as this one, these 'inconsistencies' could lead to fresh developments.

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