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Russia Geopolitical Watch – From June 11 to June 17, 2022

Russia Geopolitical Watch Team: Lauren Lemaire-Hec, Manik Tadevosian, Enzo Pavodan, Simon Bouclier, Amandine Paillette, Olga Shevchuk

06/11/2022 : Vladimir Putin signs a law of non-compliance of ECHR decisions – Amandine Paillette –

On June 11, Vladimir Putin signed a bill authorizing the Russian State to no longer apply the decisions rendered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) following a third reading, adopted by the Russian deputies on June 7. The newly signed law applies to all decisions taken by the ECHR from March 15, the date on which Russia declared it was leaving the Council of Europe. This choice also implied for the country an exit from the European Convention on Human Rights to which it must nevertheless comply until September 16, the day it will no longer be a “High Contracting Party“. The next day, its official exclusion was announced, although the country had been a member since 1996. The reasons raised concerned the military intervention of Moscow in Ukraine, which began on February 24. 

At the end of the vote, Vyacheslav Volodin, president of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, declared in a release: “The European Court of Human Rights has become an instrument of political struggle against our country in the hands of Western politicians“. He then said “Some of its decisions were in direct contradiction with the Russian Constitution, our values and traditions“. It should be mentioned that Russia was until then the country filing the most appeals to the ECHR, with 70,000 cases or nearly a quarter of the cases handled by the Court (24.2%). 

06/12/2022: A Russian businessman takes over the activities of McDonald’s under the name “It’s good. That’s it.” following the departure of the American group from Russia – Amandine Paillette – 

On June 12, the famous yellow “M” characteristic of Mcdonald’s restaurants was exchanged for a dot and two orange bars on a green background in Moscow. And for reason, Alexander Govor, a Russian businessman in his sixties, bought the activities of Mcdonald’s and changed the symbol and the name to “Vkousno i totchka”, which means “It’s good. That’s it”.

Last May, the fast-food chain Mcdonald’s announced its departure from Russia to protest against the war in Ukraine and closed its restaurants in early March, although they represented 9% of the turnover of the American company. Alexander Govor, who was previously in charge of several McDonald’s franchises in Siberia, has decided to take over these brands with the same restaurant offer except for some essential meals. The general manager of the Russian group said “We have been forced to remove some products from the menu because they refer directly to McDonald’s, such as McFlurry and Big Mac”. He also added “We will try to do everything so that our customers will not notice any difference, neither in the atmosphere, nor in the taste, nor in the quality”. 

The first “Vkousno i totchka” restaurant opened in Moscow, Pushkin Square, a highly symbolic place since in 1990 it became the first place in the USSR to host an American fast food restaurant. The city’ s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, was present at the inauguration and assured that “the quality of service would remain the same”.  The new Russian McDonald’s has the slogan “the name changes, the love remains” and plans to reopen between 50 and 100 restaurants per week throughout the country. Alexander Govor welcomed the takeover, saying “I am very proud that I have been given the honor of developing this business. I am ambitious and plan not only to open the 850 restaurants, but also to develop new ones”.

06/12/2022: More than 50 people detained in Moscow subway with the usage of a facial recognition system – Olga Shevchuk – 

On 12 June, the official Russian holiday, more than 50 people who had previously taken part in anti-government protests were detained by the police in the Moscow subway, with a facial recognition system. The mass arrests were linked to the information that rallies against the war in Ukraine were to take place that day in Moscow city center. Police officers demanded that detainees sign a document warning them “not to commit illegal actions“. Some of them were left at the police station for interrogation, as well as for writing explanatory notes and fingerprinting.

Those detained include Pyotr Ivanov, a correspondent for the independent media outlet Sota, and science journalist Asya Kazantseva. In the statement of reasons written by Asya Kazantseva, the police demanded to indicate that she had received “a preventive talk about the fact that people who had been subject to administrative detention in the past should not enter the metro on the Day of Russia“. Pyotr Ivanov remained at the station for several hours for questioning. 

No major rallies took place in Moscow, while people only held one-man pickets, which take place in the Russian capital almost daily.

06/14/2022 : Russian Foreign Ministry bans entry to British journalists, representatives of the military-industrial complex and the British armed forces command -Lauren Lemaire-Hec-

On 14 June, the Russian Foreign Ministry added 49 representatives of the UK’s leading media, the Armed Forces Command and the military-industrial complex and the UK defence lobby to the sanctions list. These include 29 journalists – including BBC editor Timothy Davey, correspondents and commentators who actively write about Russia, such as Sean Walker, Luke Harding, Mark Galeotti, and The Guardian’s editor Katherine Sophie Wiener. A further 20 people from the military-industrial complex and the defence world were added to the list: the deputy defence ministers, several senior military officials, the directors of two of the UK’s largest defence companies, BAE Systems and Thales, as well as three MPs dealing with military issues and international cooperation.

This is in response to the UK’s sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine. It is also part of the Russian government’s control of information. Indeed, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed in a statement that “the British journalists included in the list are involved in the deliberate dissemination of false and one-sided information about Russia and the events in Ukraine and the Donbass. With their biased assessments, they also contribute to inciting Russophobia in British society”. The British Prime Minister expressed his support for “the British media and his colleagues in government and parliament” on the same day. 

06/14/2022 : Alexei Navalny has been transferred to high-security colony- Olga Shevchuk –

On 14 June, journalists learned that Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny had been transferred from the Pokrov penitentiary colony, where he is serving his sentence in a fraud case, to high-security colony #6 in the village of Melekhovo, Vladimir region, according to the chairman of the Regional Public Supervision Commission (PSC), Sergey Yazhan. 

On the morning of the same day, Leonid Volkov, an exiled collaborator of Alexei Navalny, reported that the prisoner had been taken from the Pokrov prison colony to an unknown destination without warning. His whereabouts remained unknown throughout the day.  The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) never discloses the direction in which prisoners are transported until they arrive at their destination.

Alexei Navalny had announced in early May that he would be sent to Melekhovo on his Telegram channel. “My sentence has not yet come into force, but the inmates of the Melekhovo high-security colony write that they are setting up a ‘prison within a prison’ for me there. They say that if you Google Melekhovo, there will be stories of inmates pulling out their nails there”. Prisoners from the Vladimir region are indeed mentioned in publications about the torture of prisoners and in reports about their deaths. In the colony, Alexei Navalny will serve a nine-year sentence for fraud and contempt of court.

06/14/2022 : The prosecutor’s office has requested a sentence of three years and two months in prison for LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova – Manik Tadevosian- 

On 14 June, at the trial held in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in the Russian Far East, the prosecutor asked that artist and LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova be sentenced to three years and two months in prison. The announcement was made by the defendant’s mother. Yulia Tsvetkova is accused of “illegal manufacture and distribution of pornography” on the internet. The 27-year-old artist is known for her illustrations of the female body aimed at “decomplexing” women, which she regularly posted on the Russian social network Vkontakte. 

The criminal case against her was launched in November 2019, following the publication of her designs. As a result, on 11 December 2019, she was found guilty of “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations to minors” and fined 50,000 rubles (approximately €621) because she managed two online communities on LGBTI topics on the Russian social network VKontakte. In July 2020, a second ruling fined her 75,000 roubles (930 euros) for disseminating her work. It was a design showing two gay families with the caption “Family is where love is. Support LGBT+ families”

06/15/2022 : St. Petersburg Economic Forum begins and ends on 18 June 2022 – Simon Bouclier-

On 15 June the St Petersburg Economic Forum began. It will bring together representatives from over 90 countries. This year’s theme is “The New Economic Order: Meeting the Challenges of the Times”. To address this issue, the forum will organise several sessions in which issues relating to the Russian economy in the face of European sanctions, digital sovereignty and information security, and the development of industry will be discussed. Vladimir Putin’s speech is highly anticipated and will take place on 17 June. According to Yuri Ushakov, the Russian president “will devote a significant part of his speech to the tasks that Russia is facing today and will have to face tomorrow, to ensure the economic development of the country. 

This year’s economic forum in St Petersburg is marked by a boycott of Western companies and states. However, according to press secretary Dmitry Peskov “Foreign investors are not only coming from the US or EU countries. Much larger investors are in the Middle East, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, dozens and dozens of countries that have much larger populations than the countries of the so-called collective West. One of the objectives of this forum is for the Russian economy to gain a stronger foothold in Africa, as evidenced by Egypt’s role as guest of honour.

06/15/2022 : The Russian Minister of Defense accused Ukrainians of disturbing the evacuation of civilians from the Azot factory, in Severodonetsk – Enzo Padovan

On the 15th of June, the Russian Minister of Defense has declared that Ukraine has “cynically disturbed the humanitarian operation” of civilians under siege at Severodonetsk. This city, located in the Donbas, harbors the Azot chemical factory, under which bunkers have been built. With the arrival of Russian forces, hundreds of Ukrainian refugees have fled to these bunkers in the last few weeks: a situation that is very similar to the story of the Azovstal factory, in Mariupol, which happened earlier in the conflict. In both cases, citizens were trapped in factories for an extended period of time, whilst the battle kept going around them. 

In fact, estimations made by the Luhansk People’s Republic’s authorities consider that 2,500 soldiers are located on the factory’s grounds, as well as 500 people classified as non-combatant personnel. In regards to the humanitarian crisis that this situation represents, the United Nations have at multiple occasions required the installation of a safe corridor, which could ensure a secure route of escape for civilians trapped in the combat zone. 

Thus, negotiations had been opened between Moscow and Kyiv, in order to establish said safe corridor. On the 14th of June, Russia confirmed the launch of a humanitarian mission, to give the option of leaving the battle area for civilians. This operation was supposed to take place on the following day (the 15th of June), and last 12 entire hours. However, during this mission, Rodion Miroshnik (Luhansk People’s Republic ambassador in Moscow) accused Ukraine of “disrupting the operation”. In addition, the Russian Minister of Defense has declared that Ukrainian troops were using the humanitarian action to “regroup to more advantageous positions”, and that they were acting as if refugees were “human shields”. Despite the lack of social confirmation for these informations, it is true that combats are still ongoing in Severodonetsk, and that up to 12,000 citizens were still trapped in the city, according to an article from the BBC.

06/16/2022 : Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev comments on Twitter on the visit of Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and Mario Draghi to Ukraine -Lauren Lemaire-Hec-

As the French President, the German Chancellor and the Italian Prime Minister were in Kiev on 16 June to show their support for Ukraine, Dmitry Medvedev posted a message indirectly pointing to the three of them. The Deputy Prime Minister said: “European lovers of frogs, liverwurst and macaroni love to visit Kiev. With zero use. They promised EU membership and old howitzers to Ukraine, stuffed themselves with gorilka [brandy] and went home by train, like a hundred years ago. All is well. But this will not bring Ukraine any closer to peace. The clock is ticking. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also commented on the arrival of the European leaders. “We would like to hope that the leaders of these three countries will not focus only on supporting Ukraine and plans to continue bombing it with weapons. This is absolutely unnecessary and will not only inflict more damage on that country”. The spokesman later added that he hoped they would “urge Zelensky to have a realistic approach to the situation”.

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