07/09/2020, 10.21
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Moscow, arrests and schisms: the season of consensus ends

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Journalist Ivan Safronov arrested, accused of "betrayal of the state". He was investigating the catastrophe of the Losharik nuclear submarine. Scholars, human rights activists, members of humanitarian and charitable associations are now "groups at risk", given that they maintain relationships with foreign colleagues. The ex-Sergeant Sergij Romanov also sentenced by a civil court. His resistance continues in the Sredneuralskij monastery in Verkhoturja.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – On July 7, the journalist Ivan Safronov, a well-known ex correspondent for Kommersant and Vedomosti, was arrested on charges of "betrayal of the state ". Since May he has been working as a consultant to the Roskosmos group of entrepreneur Dmitrij Rogozin in the political information sector. FSB officials (ex-KGB) made the arrest by declaring to the press that Safronov was collecting and transmitting important information to NATO foreign agents on Russian defense projects covered by state secrecy.

The 30-year-old journalist is a well-known figure with family ties in the sector: his father, Ivan Safronov senior, who died in 2007, was in turn a commentator on military affairs of the Kommersant. Ivan junior was fired from the newspaper after revealing, in May 2019, the possible resignation of the President of the Senate, Valentina Matveenko, one of Vladimir Putin's closest collaborators. The entire political editorial staff of the newspaper, after Safronov's dismissal, resigned en bloc, creating a sensational case in the Russian news world.

In the last year, Safronov had been collecting unpublished data and details on the catastrophe of the Losharik nuclear submarine, and had therefore been officially accredited by the same presidency; Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the arrest "is not related to journalistic activity". Safronov faces up to 20 years in prison.

For Russian public opinion, the arrest of Safronov opens a Pandora's box: the simple collection of information - various colleagues point out - can from now on be subjected to the charge of treason. Every good journalist, in fact, inevitably maintains relationships with foreign colleagues and with organs of various origins and expertise. Scholars, human rights activists, members of humanitarian and charitable associations are also now "groups at risk".

It would appear that the "season of consensus " is ending in Russia, after the twenty years of Putin rule had somehow linked society to an underlying solidarity, despite the numerous cases of repression and violence against journalists and activists.

Now entire categories are being questioned, and the resounding "Ural schism" of the Sergeant Sergij Romanov shows that these categories also include various components of the Orthodox ecclesiastical world, which until now had constituted "the lintel of social consensus". Orthodoxy is the great "ideological" dimension of today's Russian society, and monastic dissent creates deep confusion in consciences.

The ex-Sergeant Sergij Romanov

Ex-igumen Romanov certainly cannot be compared to journalist Safronov, but both belong to this new season of uncertainty. Romanov also ignored the civil court session, after having deserted the ecclesiastical one. The court limited itself to sentencing Romanov to a fine of 90 thousand rubles, about 1500 euros, for spreading fake news on the coronavirus, avoiding the most serious accusations of extremism.

It will not be easy to force the ex-Igumen to leave the Sredneuralsky monastery in Verkhoturja, where he remains barricaded with the nuns and lay faithful. The monastery is also officially the civil residence of Sergij Romanov, who is in some way it’s "master". We will need more court rulings, and possible forceful actions. Romanov showed reporters his humble monastic cell, in which he uses a coffin as a work table, claiming "he has no other place to live". The Moscow patriarchate tries to remain as foreign as possible to the affair, despite Sergiy's railing against Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev), leaving the hot potato in the hands of the local bishop. The effects on public opinion, orthodox and otherwise, are yet to be seen.

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