Politics

A ‘morality council’ should be set up to decide which movies are allowed in Russian cinemas, considering the ‘infowar’ being waged against the country, an MP said, amid the scandal over black comedy film ‘The Death of Stalin’.

“In the current conditions of an information war, we should start living in accordance with wartime laws,” Elena Drapeko, the deputy head of the Russian State Duma’s Committee for Culture, said. “Of course, in a calm environment – when there are no attempts to destroy us in sports and the economy – we could be complacent and friendly to everything that is being sent to us. But now – when one provocation follows another – I believe that we should give it some thought and limit the possibilities of dissemination of information that is detrimental to the morality and security of our country,” Drapeko added.

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The actress-turned-politician, who starred in the Oscar-nominated 1972 war drama ‘The Dawns Here Are Quiet’, was speaking at a parliament session dedicated to the situation surrounding the movie ‘The Death of Stalin’. The French-British black comedy was pulled from Russian cinemas by the Ministry of Culture on Tuesday, just days before release, after MPs urged the reexamination of its content, saying the film contained “elements of extremism.”

"We propose to return to the issue of [the creation of] the Council on Morality,” Drapeko said, noting that her party, A Just Russia, has “regularly introduced draft laws on the need to have a special body in place that would decide in an expert manner what should be shown in Russia and what shouldn’t.”

The fate of ‘The Death of Stalin’ in Russian cinemas could be decided by the General Prosecutor’s Office. The Public Council of the Ministry of Culture sent a letter to General Prosecutor Yury Chaika on Wednesday, saying that the film contains “elements of information, the dissemination of which is prohibited under the Russian law.” The members of the Public Council, which includes famous actors, directors, musicians and writers, warned in the letter that “the screening of the film is very likely to create threat to public order and national security."

“‘The Death of Stalin’ movie is aimed at inciting hatred and enmity; at humiliating the dignity of the Russian (Soviet) people; at propagating inferiority of a person on the basis of his social and national identity – and these are signs of extremism [in accordance with Russian law],” the letter read, as reported by Rossiyaska Gazeta newspaper. “The film distorts the history of our country and blackens the memory of our citizens, who defeated fascism. In the trailer for the film, an offensive attitude towards the national anthem of the country is being noticed."

READ MORE: Russians name Stalin ‘most outstanding’ world figure, Putin ties for second

The director of ‘The Death of Stalin’, Armando Iannucci, has defended his movie, saying that he was “still confident we can get it in cinemas” in Russia. “All the Russians we’ve shown the film to so far, including the Russian press, have said how much they enjoyed and appreciated the film. They say two things: it’s funny, but it’s true,” he told the Guardian. According to Iannucci, who is famous for the TV shows ‘Veep’ and ‘The Thick of It’, a lot of work was put into research ahead of the filming, including the study of archives and consultations with historians and Russians who grew up in the 1950s.

‘The Death of Stalin’ ridicules the shock, disarray and fight for power among Soviet top officials after Joseph Stalin passed away in March 1953. Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, is played in the movie by Steve Buscemi, with Jeffrey Tambor, Paddy Considine and Michael Palin also making an appearance.

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A black comedy about the death of Joseph Stalin has been pulled from cinema schedules in Russia just days before it was due for release, after several members of a State Duma committee said it contained “elements of extremism.”

On Tuesday, several members of the Committee for Culture said Russia should put off the release of ‘The Death of Stalin’, a French-British production.

"We urge not to ban the film, since we are not to do this under the law, but to conduct additional examination, because we, for instance, see some elements of extremism in it," former actress-turned-politician Elena Drapeko, who is the deputy head of the Committee for Culture, told journalists.

‘The Death of Stalin’ is directed by prominent Scottish satirist and TV director Armando Iannucci, the man behind political satire TV series ‘Veep’ and ‘The Thick of It’.

According to Drapeko, 69, the film "purposefully inflames strife within our society."

"It’s so gross! I have never, ever seen anything like that! This is absolute libel, a game of bluff designed to convince us that our country is terrible, and the people and rulers are all fools – everything is distorted, from the anthem to the characters," she said.

She added that several committee members, along with Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov, had sent a letter to Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, asking him to “postpone the release of the film."

The film “insults our historic symbols – the Soviet anthem, orders and medals,” Pavel Pozhigailo, a member of the culture ministry’s public council, told RBC channel on Tuesday.

He complained that Marshal Zhukov, the iconic Soviet military commander, “is portrayed as a nitwit” in the film.

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Online calls for violence in Russian schools should be swiftly blocked, a top Russian MP said, commenting on recent stabbing attacks in Perm and Ulan-Ude. The existing laws provide sufficient tools to fulfill this task, he added.

“All the means to block [social media] groups, which contain calls for violence in schools are in the possession of [Russian internet watchdog] Roscomnadzor,” Leonid Levin, the head of the State Duma’s Information Policy Committee said. “It is necessary to monitor such content and swiftly block it,” he said, adding that no new legislation would be introduced by parliament in this regard. “Despite all their atrociousness, the tragedies in the Perm region and the Republic of Buryatia shouldn’t deprive us of common sense," the parliamentarian said.

According to Levin, the internet is not to blame as it exists only to speed up the distribution of information, which is still uploaded by people. ”Therefore, any bans on information channels would only limit the spread [of the data], but won’t eradicate the core of the problem,” he explained.

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"If we won’t bring up our children properly – if we don’t know what they’re thinking about, what they’re striving for – we’ll never be able to protect them from the challenges of modern times, hoping that we’ve placed them under an impenetrable information dome,” the MP said.

Russia has been shocked by two stabbing incidents, which happened in the country’s schools in the space of just a week. Earlier on Friday, seven kids were injured in Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Republic of Buryatia, when an older student attacked students with an ax and set the school on fire with a Molotov cocktail. On Monday, two ninth graders in the Siberian city of Perm assaulted primary school pupils with knifes, delivering multiple wounds to nine children and their teacher.

The attacks have been linked to the infamous social media ‘suicide game,’ dubbed ‘Blue Whale,’ which targets vulnerable teens online. Its participants are manipulated into completing a number of stunts involving various forms of anti-social behavior and self-harm, allegedly culminating in the game’s supervisor demanding the players take their own lives.

READ MORE: Columbine-inspired attack? 15 injured in knife rampage at Russian school

When asked about the attacks, Vladimir Putin’s press-secretary Dmitry Peskov pointed out that the President has stated that “the internet is an absolutely free space and its freedom should be maintained.” According to Peskov, the web “brings a lot of good, but one shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the fact that the Internet also brings evil, which sometimes manifests in our lives in an ugly and tragic way.”

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The new Ukrainian law on the reintegration of Donbass means an end to the Minsk peace deal and will likely lead to a new war in the southeast of the country, Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev warned.

"By adopting the odious law on the reintegration of Donbass, the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] of Ukraine has effectively axed the Minsk agreements (the mentioning of which was deliberately excluded from the text of the law in the final reading),” Kosachev, who heads Russia’s upper house Committee for International Relations, wrote on Facebook.

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He urged Germany and France, which are participants in the Minsk process together with Russia and Ukraine, to “give a proper assessment of Ukraine’s ‘anti-Minsk’ act that fundamentally overturns the situation in the intra-Ukrainian settlement."

“Kiev has switched from sabotage of the Minsk agreements to their burial,” the senator wrote, adding that such a development was expected. “By doing so, it (Kiev) screwed over its Western backers, which now have a difficult choice to make. A choice between war, which will be an inevitable result of further support for the current Ukrainian authorities, and peace, which would require honest assessments and responsible behavior in the future,” he stressed.

The law on the reintegration of Donbass, which was accepted by the Ukrainian Rada on Thursday, labeled the self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine as “temporarily occupied territories,” while qualifying the actions of Russia as “aggression against Ukraine.” The legislation also grants President Petro Poroshenko the right to use military force inside Ukraine without consent from the Rada, including for reclaiming Donbass. A joint operative staff of the Ukraine Armed Forces is already being created to take command of all the military, police and volunteer units in the conflict area.

READ MORE: Russians view US, Ukraine and EU as country’s main enemies – survey

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the eastern Ukrainian conflict, which broke out in spring 2014 after the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions refused to recognize the new coup-imposed authorities in Kiev. The so-called Minsk II peace deal – which was signed in February 2015 and envisaged a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weaponry and a prisoner exchange, among other things – helped to achieve a sharp decrease in violence, but wasn’t fully implemented, mainly due to the position of Kiev.

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The Constitutional Court has turned down a complaint about the law on elections by opposition activist, Aleksey Navalny, who was denied registration as presidential candidate over a suspended sentence.

The complaint by Navalny doesn’t meet the requirements of the law “On the Russian Constitutional Court,” a refusal note, signed by the court’s chairman Valery Zorkin, said. The decision is final and not subject to appeal, it added.

In late 2017, the critic of President Vladimir Putin was denied registration as candidate for the March 18 election due to having been handed a five-year suspended sentence for large-scale embezzlement, which is considered a grave crime in Russia. The law explicitly bars people with unserved lengthy prison sentences from participating in presidential polls.

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In his complaint, Navalny argued that he has the right to run for president as the restriction is only present in the law on elections , but not in the Constitution. According to Russian principal law, only those in confinement are barred from running for the top position in the state. Based on this fact, the activist and blogger said that the law on elections limit eligibility for public office.

The Constitutional Court noted that it had already came up with a ruling on a similar case in 2013 and decided that that the law can limit ballot access for those convicted of grave and serious crimes for 10 years after serving the sentence. The Central Election Commission earlier said that Navalny will be eligible to run for president after 2028.

In the refusal note, the judges came to the conclusion that “legal democracy requires effective legal mechanisms capable of protecting it from abuse and criminalization of public authority, the legitimacy of which is largely based on the trust of the community.” The ban for individuals with unserved prison terms is introduced in order to ensure that there are no doubts over “moral and ethical qualities, legitimacy and unselfishness” of the state officials among the population, the document explained.

“The very possibility of electing a person sentenced to prison for committing a grave or especially grave crime and having an unexpunged or outstanding conviction for such type of crime to this position (president of Russia) itself creates extremely high risks for legal democracy,” the court said.

READ MORE: Navalny presidential bid rejected by Russian Elections Commission

Navalny’s lawyer, Ivan Zhdanov, told Echo of Moscow radio that the negative ruling by the Constitutional Court came as no surprise after the Supreme Court earlier confirmed the Central Election Commission’s decision to deny registration to his client.

After being turned down by the Central Election Commission, Navalny urged his supports to boycott the March 2018 vote, with the Kremlin saying that the law enforcement authorities may evaluate if such exhortations were in line with the law.

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Territorial claims by other states and attempts by terrorists to enter the country are the main border threats for Russia, according to a new draft presidential decree.

"The main threats to Russia’s national interests and security in the border area are: the territorial claims of a number of foreign states to Russia; attempts to penetrate the territory of Russia by the members of international terrorist and extremist organizations, [and] members of illegal armed groups; the presence of hotbeds of socio-political and military tension near the Russian state border, [and] the risks of border incidents associated with them,” the draft decree said, as cited by Interfax.

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The document was prepared by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to replace the existing border policy, which was introduced back in 1996. The length of Russian land frontiers is 20,241km (12,577 miles), and Russia borders more countries than any other nation in the world (18, including the Republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia).

According to the draft decree, other dangers are present in the form of social, economic, ethnic and religious problems, as well as separatist moods among the populations of border areas. There’s also the risk of foreign expansion into some frontier territories due to their poor development and low populations, it added.

Another problem is the criminalization of the population of the border area, linked to the organization of illegal migration, and the smuggling of arms and drugs, the document read. Around 22 tons of drugs was seized by law enforcement officers in Russia in 2016, with the majority of the illegal substances produced outside the country, Nikolay Patrushev, Russian Security Council head, said last year.

In view of those threats, the primary goals of the new Russian border policy are designated in the draft decree as the identification and neutralization of threats to the territorial integrity of Russia, prevention of armed conflicts and incidents on the Russian frontiers, as well as provision of comfortable conditions for crossing the Russian border for those doing it legally.

The document also states that Russia has no territorial claims to other states and at the same time rejects any claims on its territory. The country accepts “the possibility of rearranging the Russian state border on a legal (lawful) basis, taking into account the interests of the negotiating parties, while respecting the generally recognized principles and norms of international law and international treaties signed by Russia,” the draft read.

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Activists from the opposition Yabloko party said they have gathered more than the required 100,000 signatures for veteran politician Grigory Yavlinsky to be registered as a candidate in the March 18 Russian presidential election.

The party has collected 105,000 signatures in support of Yavlinsky and isn’t planning to stop at that, Nikolay Rybakov, campaign head, told RBC. “Yabloko plans to gather 150,000 signatures and – after checking them through the Interior Ministry’s database – submit 105,000 sheets to the Central Election Commission,” he said.

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According to Russian law, candidates from non-parliamentary parties have to provide 100,000 signatures to be registered in the election. The presidential hopefuls have until January 31 to submit their papers to the Central Election Commission.

Yavlinsky, who founded Yabloko back in 1993, told RBC that he estimated his chances of being registered as candidate at “fifty-fifty.” The 65-year-old took part in two presidential elections, in 1996 and 2000, but was disqualified from the race in 2012 after providing defective signatures.

If the opposition veteran’s participation in the vote is approved, he will become the third registered candidate in the 2018 election after the Communist Party’s Pavel Grudinin and Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. President Vladimir Putin, running for office as an independent, has already collected over 1 million signatures, although they are yet to be submitted.

Yavlinsky said that during his campaign he will "categorically deny” Putin's policies, which “led to isolation, stagnation of the economy and growing poverty, [and] deprived the citizens of any kind of rights.”

READ MORE: Farm magnate Grudinin closes all foreign bank accounts ahead of Russia’s presidential election

According to the Yabloko founder, even if he isn’t allowed to participate in the election, he won’t support the calls for boycott of the March 18 vote, led by opposition activist Aleksey Navalny. The opposition figure was denied registration as candidate over an unserved suspended prison sentence. The move would be futile as there’s no minimum voter turnout threshold in the Russian presidential election, Yavlinsky explained.

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The number of Russians believing in the afterlife has significantly increased in recent years, according to a fresh opinion poll. Now, four in 10 Russians hold the view that life does not end with death.

The percentage of Russians believing in the hereafter has grown by almost 10 percent over nine years, a survey conducted by independent pollster the Levada Center has shown. In 2008, only about a third of respondents supported this belief, while in late 2017 the figure was 42 percent.

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Russians are also increasingly developing the conviction that their deceased relatives are able to influence the lives of the living. According to the Levada Center, the number of people believing in the hidden influence of their diseased kin on their lives has risen by 10 percent since 2008, growing from 28 to 38 percent.

The survey showed that religious people are generally more inclined to believe in the afterlife. However, even nonbelievers appear to be inclined to such feelings. According to Levada, 10 percent of those who define themselves as atheists or say they do not follow any religion also believe in the existence of heaven and hell as well as in religious miracles.

Russians’ attitudes to other forms of the supernatural remained largely unchanged, the pollster said. Still, superstitious beliefs seem to be fairly common among Russians. Some 45 percent of respondents that took part in the survey said they believe that lucky charms indeed bring luck, at least sometimes. More than half also believe that fortune tellers have the ability to predict the future and that spiritual healers can help them resolve their health problems.

However, significantly fewer people seem to be ready to test their beliefs in practice. According to the poll, only 10 percent of respondents have resorted to the services of spiritual healers while 14 percent have appealed to fortune tellers or astrologists.
The poll was conducted by the Levada Center in mid-December and involved 1,600 people from 48 Russian regions. Similar surveys were conducted by the pollster in 2008 and 1998.

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Russian internet watchdog Roskomnadzor has requested managers of Facebook and Instagram to give reasons for the recent blocking of accounts belonging to the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The request was sent to the social networks on Tuesday, Roskomnadzor’s press service told Interfax.

The head of the lower house committee for information policy and communications, Leonid Levin, said on Tuesday that the State Duma was expecting explanations from Facebook and Instagram and that if these did not arrive in the nearest future Russian lawmakers would send an official enquiry to the corporations, similar to that of Roskomnadzor.

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We would prefer this not to be a restriction of the freedom of speech and information, repeatedly described by various rights activists and community leaders who have hinted that Facebook might be abusing its right to restrict access to users’ pages,” Levin said.

Russian Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov called the apparent deletion of Kadyrov’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram “a vivid example of double standards,” but declined to make any further comment, saying that legal issues should be dealt with by the Prosecutor General and the Justice Ministry.

Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has told reporters that the Kremlin was concerned over the apparent blocking of Kadyrov’s Instagram and Facebook pages, but added that no one was discussing any reciprocal measures to the move.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s account in the Instagram social network went down on Saturday. The fact was announced by the Chechen minister for information, external relations and ethnic issues, Jambulat Umarov, who told reporters that Kadyrov’s Instagram page had become the target of “a lowly sabotage-like cyberattack.” Kadyrov’s Facebook page also became unavailable on Saturday.

Politics

The number of Russians who regret the collapse of the Soviet Union has reached its highest level since 2009, with almost an equal share saying the event could have been avoided.

A public opinion poll conducted by the independent Levada Center in late November this year found that 58 percent of Russians now regret the collapse of the USSR. Twenty-five percent said they felt no regret about this, while 16 percent could not describe their feelings in one word.

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When researchers asked those who regret the end of the USSR what the primary reasons were behind their sentiments, 54 percent said that they missed a single economic system, 36 percent said they had lost the feeling of belonging to a real superpower, 34 percent complained about the decrease of mutual trust among ordinary people, and 26 percent said that the collapse had destroyed the ties between friends and relatives.

The same research showed that 52 percent of Russians think that the collapse of the USSR could have been avoided, 29 percent said that the event was absolutely inevitable, and 19 percent did not have a fixed opinion on the matter.

The share of those who regret the demise of the Soviet Union has risen continuously over the past decade, but in 2009 it was even higher than today – at 60 percent. The all-time high – 75 percent – was recorded in 2000.

President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly addressed the issue of the collapse of the USSR in his speeches. In an address to the Russian parliament in 2005 he called the event the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century and a cause of major disruption for the Russian people. In September 2016, Putin said that the Communist Party should have transformed the Soviet Union into a democratic state rather than see it break into separate nations.

At the same time, Putin has always emphasized that he and other Russian officials have no plans to revive the USSR, and has expressed anger that people cannot accept this. He has also accused Western governments of deliberately confusing modern Russia with the USSR and harming the interests of ordinary people on the pretense of preventing an imaginary threat.