The destruction of President Vladimir Putin of the independent media in Russia was a disaster for obvious reasons. However, their absence has forced one of the Pro-Kremlin billionaire to speak out to protect their reputation. This may be the beginning of a healthy public debate of the new type.
Three months ago, the anti-corruption Foundation of Alexey Navalny has shown they filmed a documentary about a luxurious lifestyle, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The film scored 21.6 million hits. He became one of the main causes of mass demonstrations with participation of tens of thousands of people, mostly young people, who are at the end of March had swept across the country. In this film Bulk has not presented compelling evidence that Medvedev illegally became the owner of expensive real estate. However, he showed that some large land holdings in Russia, which uses the personally Medvedev and Italian vineyard, and other property fell into the hands of a mysterious non-profit funds which are managed by old friends of the Prime Minister.
In Russia senior leaders are immune from prosecution while President Vladimir Putin decides otherwise. Therefore, no legal consequences for Medvedev does not arise. But consequences have arisen for the Bulk.
In the film, this anti-corruption activist, decided to run for President and to compete with Putin in 2018, notes that one of these donors received a gift from Alisher Usmanov, whose fortune Bloomberg estimates at 13.9 billion dollars. According to Navalny, Usmanov has given this Fund a huge country mansion worth five billion rubles (88 million dollars) in one of the most prestigious areas of Moscow region. Navalny called this gift a bribe Usmanov Medvedev.
The billionaire, who owns big stakes in Russia’s largest company producing iron ore, in one of the three national mobile operators and also in the largest Russian social network “Vkontakte”, filed for Navalny in court. Usmanov’s victory in court is not persuaded by the audience to the Bulk of his innocence. Then the billionaire took matters into their own hands. On may 18 he made his debut as a videoblogger by posting “Vkontakte” diatribe against Navalny.
Manhandling the opponent to “you”, Usmanov seemed to then hurt and insulted, scared. He said that the transfer of the mansion allowed him to buy in the same area a large plot of land, as the Foundation refused his development. On the YouTube channel he also several times accused Navalny of slander and demanded an apology from him. “I feel a terrible envy of a loser and a failed businessman,” said Usmanov, and then said: “FIE on you, Alexei Navalny”.
This video very quickly spread on the Internet. Russian billionaires don’t usually do. Usmanov, who made his speech, still sitting in a fancy, but ugly office, became a major target. Some of his statements like “the two of us criminals are you” or “I live in happiness, Lesh, unlike you” instantly became a popular meme. Usmanov announced that he was ready to pay bonuses to those who will create the network “Vkontakte” stickers with these quotes.
The Usmanov watched the video about 3.3 million people. Few of them defended the oligarch in social networks, but the success inspired him, and he made a new recording, more elegant monologue, in which he thanked his supporters and then attacked the Bulk. He finished it with the words “FIE on you again”. This video got 2.5 million hits.
Navalny said convincing investigation and told about the origin of the Usmanov condition. He told how he had purchased from the Russian gas giant “Gazprom” the enterprises of non-ferrous metals, and then started selling them through its own companies. Bulk turned to Usmanov officially and “you”, but said no less aggressive, and his insults were just as inventive. This is a video on YouTube looked at 2.1 million.
Court under the claim to the Bulk of Usmanov began on Tuesday. The billionaire will probably win on some counts. During skirmishes Bulk made several does not have sufficient evidence of statements about how Usmanov was convicted in Soviet Uzbekistan and was in prison. But public opinion also evaluates the case, and here Bulk may come out the clear winner. The oligarchs, who made billions on the operation of the privatized Soviet enterprises, is not very popular in Russia. Bulk shows courage, acting against people like Usmanov, and is admired by the audience, even if some of his allegations are not confirmed in court. But Usmanov is unlikely to have regrets about their video presentations: it would have looked much worse if I just went to court like other people before him. In this case, he would have won pre-victory and fled in his yacht.
In any other country such videoitalia hard to imagine. In the West, this exchange of insults would lead to major lawsuits. And in Russia, Navalny is not afraid of anyone, because he performs in the courts a lot of time and win some cases in the European court of human rights in Strasbourg. Usmanov, for his part, pursues a more important goal than the protection of his own reputation. He wants to achieve recognition of the fact that the Russian billionaire is not necessarily criminal. He hired expensive specialists on public relations to burnish his image in Britain, where he owns a share in a football club “Arsenal”. But in Russia it is impossible, as industry mass media there defeated. Usmanov himself took part in the emasculation of the independent media. In 2006, he bought the rebellious oligarch Boris Berezovsky’s business newspaper “Kommersant”. Today a large audience can be only loyal to the Kremlin mass media. But it turned out that Bulk and Usmanov can bypass the media and speak with an audience of millions.
The deficit of media freedom and the absence of independent courts has led to the openness of a new type that acts out of reach of the state propaganda machine, and in parallel there is no credible judicial system. I hope that other members of the Pro-Kremlin establishment will follow the example of Usmanov and will contact the society directly, showing him their arguments. I also hope that the opposition will learn to produce popular content as it does Bulk. This can lead to the beginning of a healthy public debate where Putin left the dark desert. Over time, the professional media can come back — at least in order to check all statements for compliance with reality as they do in the USA with the President’s account of Donald trump on Twitter.
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