‘You could say I was selling him my emotions’. An inside look at Russia’s rental friendship industry

In the early 2010s, posts advertising so-called “friends for hire” began appearing on Russian-language websites. They allowed Internet users to pay an hourly fee for an apparently ordinary person to listen to them, give them emotional support, or simply chat for a while as though they really were an understanding longtime friend. This service, at least in its online iteration, was apparently invented in Japan, where even a husband or a daughter can be rented online. There are similar services available in Western countries as well. Journalist Anna Chesova explored Russia’s paid friendship industry from every possible angle exclusively for Meduza.

Russian federal agents arrest former geological company executive who was fired for inappropriate behavior on ‘Twitch’

Ruslan Gorring, the former deputy director of the Russian state-owned geological holding Rosgeo, was detained by federal agents at a Moscow airport on March 8, according to the television network REN TV. Gorring apparently planned to fly to Sochi, buying tickets on three different flights, in an apparent effort to evade the authorities. When he finally tried to board the third plane, FSB agents were waiting for him.

On March 8, here are eight Russian women writers you should know

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Meduza in English is highlighting the work of eight women who write literature in Russian but are poised to make major breakthroughs in English translation. Each of these miniature profiles includes a taste of the author’s writing, a brief description of her career, and a list of key translations or interviews that have already brought her voice into English.

Creative police work. How Russian law enforcement identifies Facebook and Telegram users

When policing online behavior in Russia, law enforcement agencies enjoy total compliance from the country’s most popular social network, Vkontakte, which coughs up users’ personal data whenever requested. This information — account registration times, linked email addresses and phone numbers, and IP addresses — constitutes sufficient evidence in court to prove that an individual is responsible for the content posted on their account. When it comes to Internet services based abroad, however, there’s no such cooperation, and Russia’s police have to get creative. In a new report for the website Mediazona, journalist Alexander Borodikhin summarizes 10 cases brought against individuals who allegedly violated Russia’s Internet laws by sharing illegal materials on foreign-operated social networks. Meduza summarizes this report.

In connection with Maria Butina, FBI agents reportedly questioned people close to Dmitri Simes, the president of the Center for the National Interest

While investigating Maria Butina for illegal foreign agent activities, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly explored her ties to Russian-American political expert and Center for the National Interest president Dimitri Simes, who has co-hosted a talk show on Russian state television since 2018. Two sources who know Simes told the online project Otkrytye Media (Open Media) that FBI agents previously questioned them about Simes’s connections to Butina. After Butina’s arrest in July 2018, federal agents reportedly visited the Center for the National Interest in Washington, D.C.

Putin’s spokesman called a question about this stolen gas pipeline ‘slander.’ Two months later, the police are investigating.

The website Fontanka publishes an investigative report about Gazprom’s construction of a 100-kilometer-long (62-mile-long) gas pipeline in Priozersk, outside St. Petersburg. According to financial records, the project’s contractor, “Omega,” completed the work back in 2014 and received 1.7 billion rubles ($25.8 million, according to the current exchange rate). Journalists later discovered, however, that only the first of four sections was ever finished: just 40 kilometers (25 miles) of pipeline. In September 2017, Omega declared bankruptcy.

From the stars to the steppes: How Kazakhstan welcomes ISS astronauts back to Earth

For the first time in Russia, images by the Irish photographer and two-time World Press Photo award winner Andrew McConnell will be displayed in a public exhibit. Re-entry is open in Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics until March 31. The foundation of the project is a set of photographs McConnell took in Kazakhstan during reentry missions from the International Space Station. Here, Meduza offers a preview of those photos.

Vladimir Putin says terrorism-related crimes in Russia have declined 110-fold in the past decade. Published statistics say he’s wrong.

“I must note that the number of crimes related to terrorism has been decreasing in recent years; the [FSB] director will certainly mention this in his remarks. In general, over 10 years, this figure has declined dramatically, from 997 to nine last year. At the same time, please note that the number of prevented terrorist attacks remains high — about 20 a year. This level has been maintained for the last three years,” Vladimir Putin recently told an audience at the Federal Security Service (FSB), according to the Kremlin’s website.