THE RUSSIA OF TOMORROW: Human Rights Defense and Resistance Digest
A project of the American Russian-speaking Association for Civil & Human Rights (ARA)
ISSUE # 1, AUG. 15-21, 2022
Our team is pleased to share the latest issue of our new project for our English-language audience: a digest of antiwar resistance and defense of human rights in Putin’s Russia. It follows upon the pilot issue that was sent out last week. The digest is intended as a brief summary of key developments in the past week, with links to the original (in most cases, Russian-language) sources for further exploration by the readers. The digest does not aim to be exhaustive, but to provide materials that are sufficiently representative of major issues and trends. The title ‘The Russia of Tomorrow’ – with tongue-in-cheek toward ‘Russia Today’, the powerhouse of the Kremlin’s global propaganda – is really about the people who are sacrificing themselves to bring about a peaceful and less oppressive tomorrow for their country. As with all other projects in our portfolio over the past 10 years, we always appreciate your feedback. In time, we plan to make it more interactive and thereby involve our readers in its production.
I. RUSSIANS AGAINST THE INVASION
Discontent in the military
According to a report on Aug. 15 by Important Stories (iStories), a bilingual website published in Riga, Latvia by a team of Russian émigré journalists led by Roman Anin, Russia’s 64th Motorized Rifle Brigade is one of the hotbeds of discontent with the Russian army conduct in Ukraine and (in fewer instances) with the invasion as such. Daniil Frolkin, a soldier with this brigade, who reportedly admitted to the journalist that he had participated in the killings of civilians, claimed that from the start of the invasion many of his colleagues were looking for the ways to quit service but their requests were denied. According to iStories, circa 700 contract servicemen i.e., about 80% of the brigade are trying to quit, but even some of those whose contacts have already expired are being kept in Ukraine, albeit with increased pay rates. Frolkin is quoted to say, “it would be better if this war had never happened”. (https://bit.ly/3dLPpZa) In its follow up reports on Aug. 18 and 19, iStories published several anonymous interviews with servicemen from the brigade about the obstacles they have faced in trying to quit, including detentions and beatings. Maksim Grebenyuk, an attorney specializing in the defense of Russian soldiers refusing to serve in Ukraine, wrote on Aug. 19 that in the past month he had 19 clients who had experienced violence, illegal detentions, and other forms of retaliation for such a refusal. (https://t.me/military_ombudsmen/349). A group of lawyers defending conscientious objectors has published detailed instructions on how contract soldiers and conscripts can avoid serving in Ukraine without violating the letter of the law (https://t.me/peaceplea/255?single).
In another high-profile case, Pavel Filatyev, a former serviceman of the Crimea-based 56th paratrooper regiment who earlier this month published a scorching 140-page account of his participation in the invasion (https://bit.ly/3R2bjG2) on investigative website Gulagu.net, has reportedly left Russia to avoid prosecution. Gulagu.net is run out of Biarritz, France, by another recent emigre, Vladimir Osechkin. In the past, Osechkin was reportedly an ardent supporter of the occupation of Crimea and pro-Russian secessionists in Donbass. He claims to have organized Filatyev’s escape from Russia (https://bit.ly/3K9huWe). On Aug. 17, The Guardian published a detailed report about him and his escape from Russia, noting that this is the first known case of a soldier fleeing from Russia because of his opposition to the war. While the article notes that not every detail of his story has been verified, the newspaper has been shown evidence of his paratrooper status and of his written complaint about the war directly to the Kremlin (https://bit.ly/3dEVWVn).
Civilian opposition to the war
OVD-Info, Russia’s leading human rights monitoring group, has calculated that currently in Russia there are over 200 defendants in criminal cases arising from their antiwar protests. According to Russian human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov, as of Aug. 16 there were 85 active criminal cases against Russians charged with ‘spreading false information’ about Russia’s military. Under the new article of Russia’s criminal code, this is a felony punishable with up to 15 years in jail. 27 of those charged are currently in pre-trial detention and another 24 have left Russia (https://t.me/pchikov/4994). At least in one instance, in Penza, these charges were brought against an inmate in a local jail, an unnamed 30-year-old man who was allegedly denouncing the war in the jail’s headquarters (https://bit.ly/3pAfux6). In Moscow, on Aug. 15, a district court extended the pre-trial detention of Dmitry Ivanov, the publisher of a Telegram channel about discontent at the Moscow State University, until February 2023 (https://bit.ly/3QScqbi). Ivanov has been in detention since June and is among those charged with ‘spreading fakes’ about the army; his Telegram channel has been inactive since his arrest. Also in Moscow, on Aug. 20, another district court authorized the detention of Dmitry Talantov, a lawyer and president of the Bar of the Republic of Udmurtiya, till Sept. 23 (https://t.me/deptone/3510); he is being charged with spreading fakes via his Facebook post about the war crimes committed by Russian military in Bucha, Irpyn and Mariupol. The same term of pre-trial detention (till Sept. 23) was set for Viktoria Petrova, whose appeal was denied on Aug. 18 by a Moscow district court (https://bit.ly/3wgxAYw). In Nizhny Novgorod, on Aug. 16, police detained Alexey Onoshkin; the charges against him are based on his online post about the Russian army’s destruction of the Mariupol theater and other activities (https://bit.ly/3CnINue). Onoshkin is a longtime opposition activist with a track record of reprisals against him: he was previously detained at an antiwar protest on March 2, was sentenced to a fine of 40,000 Rbl (circa $670) for ‘discrediting the army’ and subjected to a compulsory psychiatric examination. Prior to that, he was detained several times at least since 2012 for participation in anti-Putin protest and in 2018 for his public reading from George Orwell’s 1984. (https://bit.ly/3QHlEaj) The court set his pre-trial detention for a term ending Oct. 10. In Omsk, Yevgeny Kruglov, an archaeologist who has also been charged with ‘spreading false information’ about the military, was placed on Aug. 16 in a psychiatric ward after the court ordered his ‘comprehensive psychiatric evaluation’ (https://bit.ly/3c7SJNV).
Some of the defendants in such criminal cases have already left Russia. This includes the elected city council member in Novosibirsk Helga Pirogova. On Aug. 16, her home and her family members’ homes were searched by police (https://bit.ly/3AfACNO). Pirogova has been placed on a ‘wanted’ list that is supposedly enforceable across the Commonwealth of Independent States; yet she is reportedly in Georgia which is not a CIS member.
Another, less widely used article of the criminal code is used to charge antiwar activists with ‘financing extremist activities’. This is a felony punishable with 3 to 8 years in jail. In Moscow, on Aug. 17, a court extended the pre-trial detention of Mikhail Kavun, a geologist who allegedly donated to the ‘Right-Hand Sector’, a Ukraine-based organization that was labeled extremist in Russia. The charges are based on a testimony by an anonymous witness who claimed that Kavun has shared the ideas of Ukrainian nationalism, has frequently traveled to Ukraine and has been critical of Putin’s policies. Kavun pleaded not guilty. In his own words, he is being imprisoned for his love of Ukraine and his aid to its civilian population, via a Ukrainian fund that provides support to children (https://t.me/deptone/3496).
In St. Petersburg, Alexander Shishlov, the head of the 2-member caucus of the antiwar Yabloko Party in city legislature (and formerly Human Rights Commissioner of St. Petersburg City), is being charged with an equivalent of a misdemeanor, under a less severe article that prohibits ‘actions intended to discredit Russia’s armed forces’. Across Russia, there are currently several thousand people charged with this ‘violation’; but Shishlov is the first such defendant who is also a regional-level elected official (St. Petersburg, along with Moscow City, is a constitutional ‘federation unit’, on a par with Russia’s regions and republics). On Aug. 19, the district court disqualified the expert evaluation of Shishlov’s statements that was submitted as evidence by the prosecution. The next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 2.
In the town of Novorzhev (Pskov Region), Sofia Pugacheva, Novorzhev District Head – also elected official from the Yabloko Party – was found guilty of ‘discrediting armed forces’. Namely, she ordered to remove the letters V and Z – the semi-official symbols of Russia’s ‘war party’ – from the local cultural and sports center, replacing them with Russia’s official flag. Pugacheva was sentenced to a maximum fine of 50,000 Rbl (circa $840); she is planning to appeal (https://bit.ly/3QWm1Ob).
On Aug. 15 in Moscow the same charge led to the sentencing of Ilya Azar, a Novaya gazeta reporter and a neighborhood council member, to a 50,000 Rbl fine; this was the second time that he was fined for his online comments since the start of the war (https://t.me/rbc_news/56034). On the same day in Sochi, Daniil Hogman, a sports trainer and Yabloko activist, was fined 30,000 Rbl for an online antiwar comment that was published prior to the start of the invasion. And in Moscow on Aug. 17 another Yabloko activist Maria Volokh was sentenced to a total of 60,000 Rbl fine, including the maximum 50,000 for a poster with asterisks replacing the prohibited wording (‘no to war’) and 10,000 was violating the rules of a street protest (https://bit.ly/3dAZ6te). Volokh was recently disqualified from running for a neighborhood council due to her residence permit in Austria which expired in 2019.
In Chita, on Aug. 18 a court sentenced Vitaly Goryachikh to a 30,000 Rbl (c. $500) fine for ‘discrediting the army’ – which he had achieved by holding a poster with an inscription ‘Fear No Evil’. In Russian, ‘evil’ translates as ‘zlo’; on his poster, Goryachikh changed the Russian version of ‘z’ at the beginning of ‘evil’ to the Latin Z, which is one of the unofficial symbols of the pro-Putin ‘war party’. The judge ruled that under present circumstances capital Latin Z means the Russian army. Goryachikh is planning to appeal (https://bit.ly/3AC9N7Q).
And in Arkhangelsk on Aug. 20, the same charge led to a 30,000 Rbl fine imposed on Dmitry Chistyakov, a veteran of Russia’s emergency management ministry (https://bit.ly/3KcRV6F). Earlier, he was forced to resign from his job with the weather forecasting agency; he also quit his other, teaching job at a local university – in his own words, because of his refusal to ‘lie’ to his students about the war in Ukraine (https://bit.ly/3pxNUAo).
However, the most high-profile sentencing this week took place in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan. Here, Russia’s most popular rock singer Yury Shevchuk was sentenced, also for ‘discrediting the army’, to the maximum fine – of 50,000 Rbl. He did not attend the hearing; instead, his attorney read out Shevchuk’s written note. In it, Shevchuk stated that he had always been “against any wars in any country ever” and that he was also “opposed to the war in the Donbas … and to the current special operation in Ukraine”. It is widely believed that the real reason for the case against Shevchuk was his recent statement that “our motherland is not the president’s ass that has to be kissed all the time”. The online buzz over this sentencing is converging around the idea that the Ufa court de facto confirmed Russia’s present condition of being indistinguishable fromPutin’s ass (https://bit.ly/3QGjSq6). His lawyer plans to appeal the sentence.
About 30 other musicians popular with Russian youth are currently on the official list of ‘undesirables’ due to their antiwar statements. While some of them have left Russia, others are trying to continue performing around the country, but their performances are being canceled. As a result, on Aug. 17, the Anacondaz band announced the postponement of all its scheduled performances for the rest of 2022; the Agora group of human rights lawyers led by Pavel Chikov will litigate Anacondaz’ lawsuits against the authorities for their actions that led to the cancellation of the band’s performances in Yekaterinburg and in Perm (https://bit.ly/3ClTP37). Contracts with singers now reportedly include the requirement to not speak out on political topics and not to display any symbols (https://t.me/pchikov/4996). Meanwhile, on Aug. 19, at a rock festival in Voronezh, when a band named Times Square started performing a song by Shevchuk’s band DDT that had been kept off this festival due to its antiwar stance, the organizers interrupted the streaming of the festival to VKontakte, the Russian-language social media network (https://bit.ly/3ACZiBf). The next day, at the same festival, the front man of the Spleen band, performed a song that he described as dedicated to all those artists who had been compelled to leave Russia. In response, the organizers also cut his performance out of the festival streaming (https://bit.ly/3cekynF).
Meanwhile, an anonymous website https://stop24.day/ has published a call for a one-day nationwide antiwar ‘disobedience’ on Aug. 24 – the day of Ukraine’s independence which will mark 6 months since the start of the invasion.
As has been widely reported, on Aug. 20, a car that was being driven by Darya Platonova (Dugina), the daughter of Russia’s extreme rightwing and nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, exploded and burned in the middle of the road in the countryside a dozen miles west from Moscow. Dugina died on the spot. It has been widely viewed as an assassination attempt targeting Dugin who was supposed to be in the car but was not. While some of the most hawkish pro-Kremlin commentators have blamed Ukraine for this murder, more mainstream as well as antiwar observers speculate that this was an act of terrorism by radicalized antiwar activist or activists. Meanwhile, Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of Russia’s Duma from a pro-Putin Just Russia party who was the only one to vote against the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and is currently a Kyiv-based political exile, announced that the explosion was the job of his “comrades from the National Republican Army” and called upon the Russians to join its ranks (https://t.me/Pul_Nomer_3/50027. The self-proclaimed NRA published its own statement on several Telegram channels in which it justifies terror against “warmongers, plunderers, and oppressors,” and calls Putin a war criminal.
II. POLITICAL PERSECUTION DIRECTLY UNRELATED TO UKRAINE
On Aug. 15, Alexey Navalny wrote on social media that he had been placed in solitary confinement for 3 days for failing to completely button his jacket. He was also warned that his stay there could be extended if he does not ‘change his attitude’. (https://bit.ly/3wjB9x4).
Meanwhile, in Moscow on Aug. 18 a court denied the appeal by Maria Chugunova seeking to overturn her sentence of 8 months in penal colony and compensations to government transportation agencies for a total of 3,348,000 Rbl (over $56,000). Chugunova was found guilty of blocking traffic while protesting the imprisonment of Navalny in February of 2021 (https://bit.ly/3QYhjiL).
On Aug. 16 in Yekaterinburg a regional court upheld the prior decision of city court to deny consent to the organizers of a rally in support of political prisoners. The justification of the denial was that at the previous rally of Feb. 6 several participants brought posters in support of Navalny while another one came with a poster saying, ‘I am for peace’. This was in spite of the fact that as of Feb. 6 neither affiliation with Navalny nor antiwar protest had yet been criminalized. The application for the permit was submitted by local activists Igor Filippov and Andrei Deba; Filippov coordinates the council of left-wing organizations of Yekaterinburg (https://bit.ly/3QLbYvB).
On Aug. 17, Dr. Boris Kagarlitsky, professor, journalist, book author, former political prisoner, and former member of Moscow City Council, was slapped with a 10,000 Rbl fine for failing to mark his online publications as produced by a ‘foreign agent’ (https://t.me/pchikov/4998). Since May of this year, Kagarlitsky has been on the ministry of justice’ ever-expanding list of ‘foreign agent mass media’ (even though he does not own or manage any mass media). On Aug. 19, political scientist Ekaterina Shulman was fined for the same ‘misdeed’; the amount of the fine was also the same (https://t.me/pchikov/4999).
On Sept. 11, Russia will hold regional and municipal ‘elections’ in 6 regions, 11 cities, and Moscow’s neighborhood (‘municipal district’) councils. According to human rights defender Pavel Chikov, during the election campaign at least 85 candidates, including 53 in Moscow, have been charged by the authorities with either a misdemeanor or a felony. 64 candidates, including 35 incumbents in 12 regions, have been found guilty of displaying Navalny-related ‘extremist symbols’; 47 of them were disqualified from running (https://bit.ly/3R0UNWB). Last week, Daniil Nesmelov, a neighborhood council candidate on the Yabloko slate, reported that he had been fired from his teaching job after his interview with RFE/RL Russian Service where he discussed his antiwar views (https://bit.ly/3PKzYxr).
III. CENSORSHIP AND PERSECUTION OF JOURNALISTS
On Aug. 15, Russia’s Main Radio Frequencies Center, an affiliate of its communications and IT oversight agency (RosKomNadzor), announced its decision to award a 57,7 mln. Rbl (c. $970,000) contract to a private company, Execution RDC, for producing an AI system capable of detecting prohibited content online. The system shall be analyzing visual data and texts, including chats and messengers, as well as ‘scenes, combinations of objects, faces, static and dynamic movements’, in real time. The list of ‘prohibited content’ that the future system should be able to analyze includes ‘materials exhibiting features of extremism and terrorism’; ‘explicit disrespect for society, state, and official symbols’; information about the ways to commit suicide and the production of narcotics; the ‘propaganda of non-traditional sex relations’; and ‘demonstration of smoking”. The timeframe of contract execution is set to expire in December 2022; the Kremlin-loyal Kommersant paper considers it to be unrealistic for a task of this magnitude. The awardee has no prior experience of contracting with the government (https://bit.ly/3T766i0).
On the same day in Elista, the Republic of Kalmykia, a local court fined a family of three – Elvira Kulmanova and her children Galina and Sanal Kulmanov – for a total of 40,000 Rbl for their protesting on July 4 on the city’s main square against the absence of the freedom of speech in Russia. The protest was allegedly held without informing the authorities. Court hearing was held in the absence of the defendants. The verdict has been appealed (https://bit.ly/3ABMnPX).
On the same day, Moscow arbitration court launched bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL LLC, a company that was set up to represent RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) in Russia. The proceedings are caused by the refusal of RFE/RL to mark its publications as a product of a ‘foreign agent’ and to pay the nearly 1 billion Rbl ($16 million) in fines for the violations of this demand – which, in turn, led to the blocking of its bank accounts in Russia making it unable to pay local taxes. Since March of this year, RFE/RL bureau in Moscow is shut down and its websites are blocked. By its own record, around 27 of its authors have been branded as ‘foreign agents’. On Aug. 17, the homes of RFE/RL authors in Kazan, including sociologist Iskander Yasaveyev and Marina Yudkevich, were searched by police (https://bit.ly/3Ki7gmD). On the same day, in Yekaterinburg, Yelena Shukaeva, an author of RFE/RL and many other publications, was sentenced to 14 days in jail for ‘displaying extremist symbols in public’, namely, for sharing Navalny’s investigative videos from his YouTube channel. After her appeal was denied, Shukaeva went on a hunger strike in protest against this sentence (https://bit.ly/3QFfDuX). Shukaeva is known for her participation in a documentary on Stalin-era persecutions and her online diaries about these persecutions’ role in breaking down human bonds within society.
On Aug. 16, RosKomNadzor blocked access to website https://antijob.net that enables employees to evaluate their employers and publishes an ‘employers’ blacklist’. In response to a complaint by one of the businesses, the court ordered to block access to a relevant entry on the site, but the state agency blocked the site in its entirety due to its use of https protocols. As noted by human rights organizations, the website has taken an antiwar stance and declared its support for those employees who are being nudged to speak in favor of the invasion or have been fired because of their opinions. The site is still accessible in Russia for VPN users (https://bit.ly/3K9GbSu).
On the same day, Telegram and Twitch were fined by a Moscow court for not deleting ‘illegal’ content related to the invasion of Ukraine. Telegram has been fined twice on the same day, for a total of 11 million Rbl (circa $178,000). Twitch was fined for 2 million Rbl, which is roughly equal to $32,400 (https://bit.ly/3T6rMuw).
On Aug. 18, Russian-language social media network VKontakte blocked access to the group named ‘Freedom of speech in Russia’. It was administered by Aleksandr Yesin in Samara who had been detained in the past while demonstrating for the release of Navalny and other political prisoners. The group was blocked by order of the general prosecutor’s office (https://bit.ly/3pyPBgO).
On the same day in Yekaterinburg, a regional court denied the appeal of Vechernie vedomosti, a local publication that had been sentenced to a 200,000 Rbl fine for ‘discrediting the army’ in its Telegram channel postings (https://t.me/smirusnews/14831).
IV. RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION
On Aug. 15, RIA-Novosti, Russia’s official news channel, reported about the searches held over the weekend in the homes of alleged members of New Generation, a Pentecostalist church based mainly in Latvia and Ukraine. In 2021, Russia’s general prosecutor office labeled New Generation an ‘undesirable entity’. RIA-Novosti claims that the New Generation has provided support for Ukraine’s Azov Regiment. Among those subjected to searches were pastors Aleksandr Grishin and Olga Matyusheva in Kemerovo, as well as New Generation followers in Moscow, Krasnodar, Sochi, Chelyabinsk, and Novosibirsk (https://bit.ly/3Ad1wGb).
On Aug. 16, alternative media reported the searches and arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 10 locations in Novocherkassk. Three of JW’s followers – 66-year-old Lyubov Galitsyna, 55-year-old Garegin Khachaturyan and 35-year-old Gevorg Yeritsyan – were placed in pre-trial detention for two months (https://bit.ly/3cf23zh). On Aug. 18, Russia’s investigation committee announced the completion of investigation in the case of an unnamed JW follower in Apatity, a town in the Murmansk region (https://bit.ly/3QYdnhX). And on Aug. 19, Chelyabinsk regional court upheld the verdict against another unnamed JW follower who had been sentenced to a suspended 6-year jail term. Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in Russia in 2017 as ‘extremist’; in June 2022, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the ban on JWs and their persecution in Russia contravened the European Convention on Human Rights, but by that time Russia had ceased to be a party to the Convention.
V. PERSECUTION OF ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS
In Usinsk, a town in the Republic of Komi and a center of the oil business, two activists from a nearby village, Nadezhda Panchenko and Galina Chupurova, were detained after protesting the environmental damage caused by oil extraction. The police released them after confiscating their posters. The protest was in response to the opening of a high-level governmental and corporate forum in Usinsk on the exploration of Arctic which was convened without the participation of local residents (https://bit.ly/3dKZR30).
VI. EXODUS FROM PUTIN’S RUSSIA
On Aug. 19 in Moscow, a local court postponed by one month the hearing on the liquidation of the Russian office of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI or, in Hebrew, Sokhnut). JAFI’s mission includes assistance with the repatriation of Jews to Israel, the safety of Jews in other countries, strengthening Jewish identity and connecting Jews to Israel and one another. Russia’s ministry of justice has pursued the liquidation of JAFI’s office. The ministry’s complaints against it have not been fully clarified to the public; according to Kommersant and other Russian media, they stem from JAFI’s collection of personal data on Russian Jews. The postponement was at JAFI’s request for more time to respond to the charges against it. JAFI’s other request – for a reconciliation procedure to settle the charges was rejected by the justice ministry. According to JAFI’s own data, since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, over 20,000 of Russia’s about 165,000 Jews have left the country; this is more than the number of Jewish emigres for the entirety of last year (https://bit.ly/3dLIoaS).
On the same day, Meduza, the Latvia-based portal, published an interview with Diana Isakova, the 25-year-old daughter of Eduard Isakov, member of the upper house of Russia’s legislature from the oil-rich Khanty-Mansi – Yugra autonomous district. Isakova, who had been involved in antiwar protests since April, told the interviewer that her father kicked her out of home because of her views and that she left Russia (https://bit.ly/3wlvgzn). Her father responded with a Telegram post in which he labeled her a ‘traitor’ who ‘sold out to foreign agent media’.
This is all for the past week. Thank you for reading and see you again soon.
Project Director – Dr. Dmitri Daniel Glinski