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Journalist’s beating sparks outcry; fair investigation doubted. Jailed tycoon gives closing remarks. Oligarchs bicker over metals giant. Gazprom sees rosy future. Supermodel Naomi Campbel denies rumors of marriage to Russian boyfriend.
Top News: The brutal beating of a well-known Russian journalist this weekend sent shockwaves through the Russian elite. Oleg Kashin, a sharp and salty 30-year-old writer for Kommersant, Russia’s leading daily newspaper, as well as a prolific blogger, remains in an induced coma, having undergone several operations to relieve his injuries: a fractured skull, broken jaw and leg, broken fingers (including one that had to be amputated). The attack was caught on video, and after viewing it’s easy to understand why Russian prosecutors have opened an investigation into attempted murder. The U.S. State Department and a host of international rights groups have called on Russia’s leaders to bring the attackers to justice. President Dmitry Medvedev said that “whoever contributed to the crime will be punished regardless of his position or place in society.”
Yet hopes that the attackers — and, more importantly, those who ordered the attack — will be found remain small, not least because the vast majority of attacks against journalists over the past 10 years remain unsolved. Both Kashin’s editor and the prosecutor’s office have said the attack is likely linked to the reporter’s work. Kashin is neither pro-Kremlin nor pro-opposition — he treats everyone with equal cynicism and disdain. Yet theories as to who was behind the attack have focused on three potential reasons: his coverage of Russia’s Kremlin-run youth groups, a recent war of words with a regional governor and/or his coverage of a controversial road being built in the northern Moscow neighborhood of Khimki.
Kashin’s wasn’t the only case to make the news this week. Two other attacks on local journalists followed in its wake, while the editor-in-chief of Khimki’s main newspaper faced trial — not in a case against the unidentified men who beat him into paralysis and brain damage two years ago, but in a case of slander against him. Mikhail Beketov was convicted of slander against Khimki’s mayor, but the judge waved the 3,000 ruble ($100) fine.
More than any other event since Medvedev took over the presidency from Vladimir Putin two years ago, the attack on Kashin has called attention to the wide chasm between the president’s rhetoric of liberal change and the reality on the ground.
That argument was laid out in a speech given last week by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed oilman who used his final day in court to issue a sweeping manifesto decrying the current state of Russia. Khodorkovsky, on trial for a second time, this time on charges of embezzlement and money laundering, will begin to hear his verdict on Dec. 15 (observers expect the reading to take several days, if not weeks, possibly stretching into the holiday season when press coverage will be minimal). He faces a sentence that could keep him in prison through 2017.
Money: The months long battle for control over Norilsk Nickel continued its messy demarche this month. Rival board meetings, daily snarky press releases, a public war of words — all this and more as rival oligarchs fight for strategic control of the metals giant. Oleg Deripaska, via his aluminum concern RusAl, which owns a 25 percent stake in Norilsk, is reportedly seeking investors to help him buy a larger stake in the nickel giant, in order to win one over rival oligarch Vladimir Potanin after months of struggles over board control have failed to yield a result. He has also reportedly begun exploring an IPO for a power utility he owns, in a sale that he hopes will bring in $1.5 billion. The renewed push by Deripaska, as well as his recent agreement to buy back of a 17 percent share in Austrian construction company Strabag (which he sold in the wake of the financial crisis), has led many to declare the return of the man who was once Russia’s richest until the crisis crushed his holdings more than any other oligarch.
Gazprom said it expects profit to rise for the rest of the year, on both domestic and international sales. Second quarter results showed that the gas giant’s net profit rose year-on-year, with a 10 percent increase in sales in Europe, Gazprom’s main source of revenue. Rumors are also floating around Moscow that Gazprom is getting ready to sell its 10 percent stake in Novatek, Russia’s second largest gas producer. The move would present a boost for independent gas producers in Russia.
Elsewhere: Putin was up to his usual antics this week, staging an absurdly elaborate photo-op as he climbed into a Formula-1 racing car this week. That stunt came just one week after he posed for a manly horse-themed photo shoot. No wonder he got a botox retouch late last month, busy man!
Russia’s gossiping classes love few things better than rumors of a big wedding, so it was with glee that they passed on the news that supermodel Naomi Campbell was about to marry her longtime Russian oligarch boyfriend, Vladislav Voronin, in Egypt this week. The only problem is: it’s not true. Campbell's publicist denied the reports.