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THE RUSSIA OF TOMORROW: Antiwar Resistance & Human Rights Defense Digest / Issue # 16, Nov. 28 – Dec. 4, 2022

Table of contents

I. PERSECUTION AND RESISTANCE IN UKRAINE’S OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

II. MILITARY ‘REFUSENIKS’

III. CIVILIAN PROTEST

A. Nonviolent actions and reprisals – new cases

B. Nonviolent actions and reprisals – ongoing cases

C. Actual or alleged violent resistance

IV. POLITICAL PERSECUTION DIRECTLY UNRELATED TO THE WAR

V. EXODUS FROM RUSSIA AND TRANSNATIONAL REPRESSION

I. PERSECUTION AND RESISTANCE IN UKRAINE’S OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

  • Dec. 1 – In an unspecified location in Crimea, Ukraine, an unnamed high schooler that had been relocated to Crimea from Kherson allegedly wrote ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ on her class drawings. She also refused to stand with the rest of the class during the mandatory performance of Russia’s anthem. Her classmates reported on her to the school authorities and made a video of her during the anthem incident. (Astra)
  • Nov. 28 – In Melitopol (Zaporizzhe region, Ukraine), FSB claims to have detained three Ukrainians who allegedly planned to organize an explosion at a local market. The names of the defendants are Anton Zhukovsky, Dmitry Sergeev, and Yanina Akulova. The occupying authorities allege that the three were in possession of explosives and weapons and that they confessed to such planning. According to the source, they are also believed to have blown up a car carrying two officials of the Kremlin-installed administration. They have been placed in detention until Jan. 23. (Baza)
  • Nov. 30 – A Russian court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Marlen Mustafayev, a Crimean Tatar activist, to 17 years of imprisonment (including first 3 years in jail, followed by 14 years in hard-labor colony, and 1.5 years of restriction of movement upon release) on the routine charge of ‘organizing the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir’ in Belogorsk, Crimea. Mustafayev, a car repairman by trade, is from Belogorsk. After Russia’s occupation of Crimea, he became involved in advocacy in support of political prisoners and in providing aid to their families. He was detained in February 2022, two weeks before the start of the current invasion. The case against him was entirely based on the testimonies of FSB operatives, government-provided forensic experts, and an anonymous witness; evidence in the case is limited to audio recordings of conversations on religious and political issues devoid of any violent content. (Crimean Solidarity) Charges of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir (an international Islamic organization based in the UK and banned in Russia, Germany, and most Muslim countries) are systematically used by Russian authorities in Russia and in the occupied territories to prosecute Muslims.
  • – On the same day in Krasnodar, a higher-level appeals court upheld the ‘sentence’ of Mustafa Dzhemilev, the legendary leader of the Crimean Tatar national movement and Soviet-era political prisoner. Dzhemilev was sentenced earlier this year by city court in Armyansk, Crimea, for alleged ‘illegal possession of weapons’ and ‘illegal border crossing into Russia’, that is, into Crimea; in May, Crimea’s supreme court imposed an even harsher sentence on appeal, i.e., 4 years of imprisonment and 20,000 RUB in fine. Court proceedings took place in absentia, as Dzhemilev is currently not on the territory controlled by the Kremlin. (Crimean Process) Dzhemilev is a member of the Ukrainian parliament.
  • Dec. 1- City court in Armyansk (Crimea, Ukraine) sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Aleksandr Dubovenko and Aleksandr Litvinyuk, to 6 years each in penal colony, followed by 1-year restriction on movement upon release and 5-year ban on educational, media, and any public activities upon release, on charges of “organizing the operations” of JW’s organization. The hearings were closed to the public. The criminal case against the two was initiated by the FSB in August of last year; the defendants spent over a year under house arrest and afterwards were prohibited from leaving town. (Crimean Process)

II. MILITARY ‘REFUSENIKS’

Russian media sources continue to report about widespread efforts by soldiers to avoid the frontline. While these ‘refuseniks’ almost never openly speak against the invasion itself, it must be kept in mind that their disobedience and refusal to fight can lead them to jail and other, potentially deadly consequences, even without the aggravating element of political protest. Reports of routine discontent over the lack of proper training and equipment, including from commanders, without information about actual refusal to fight or be deployed, are ubiquitous and we do not cover them in this digest.

The story about the ‘refuseniks’ illegally imprisoned in the occupied territories, has continued to develop: On Nov. 28, Aleksandr Afonin from Moscow and Andrey Vasilyev from Pskov, two of the contract soldiers who had been detained for two weeks in the largest of the 12 jails identified by Astra – in Zaitsevo (Luhansk region, Ukraine) – teamed up with the relatives of three of the current detainees in Zaitsevo and filed criminal charges against their commanders with Russia’s investigative committee. (Pavel Chikov’s Telegram channel) By the end of the week, some or all of the ‘refuseniks’ from Zaitsevo had been moved to an undisclosed location to avoid further publicity; according to a relative of a ‘refusenik’ mobilized from Voronezh region, she had lost contact with him after that move. (ASTRA) Meanwhile, on Nov. 28, ASTRA reported that makeshift jails for ‘refuseniks’ had been operating at least since May. It published a video allegedly made in the village of Novotroitskoe (Donetsk region, Ukraine), in one of such jails which is reportedly no longer being used. The author of the video, who initially agreed to enlist on a contract but soon afterwards felt that he had been duped and started complaining, was imprisoned in Novotroitskoe for 3 days. He claimed there were about 50 soldiers imprisoned with him. He eventually agreed, under duress, to go back to the army and ended up on the frontline, even though he had not agreed to that. He later was able to return to Russia and filed written complaints about his experience but found that “nobody cares”. (ASTRA) On Nov. 30, ASTRA published a video interview with Mikhail Nosov (identified in a previous issue of this digest as Mikhail N.)  Nosov, who was mobilized from the Primorye region in the Far East, was recently released from his detention in a cellar in Zavitne Bazhannya (Donetsk region, Ukraine). In this interview, Nosov clearly stated his objection to the war itself: “This is a foreign country. It is not clear what we are fighting for. This was not for me.” Nosov stated that he wanted to pursue the release of all others illegally detained and seek accountability for those who jailed them. ASTRA claims to have identified by name 70 out of possibly more than 300 imprisoned ‘refuseniks’. (ASTRA) On the same day, ASTRA also reported about the 12th makeshift jail that it discovered, this time in Makarovo village (Luhansk region, Ukraine), on the territory of a former children’s camp. ASTRA was alerted to it by a wife of one of the prisoners, a soldier from Sverdlovsk region; reportedly, around Nov. 3, soldiers stationed there refused to go back to the frontline (the hamlet of Ploshchanka). After that, commanders took away their IDs, weapons, and uniforms, placed them in detention, and started threatening them, demanding them to sign 3-year contracts. According to ASTRA, there are currently 88 ‘refuseniks’ in Makarovo; it also published an audio file of a conversation with one of them in which the soldier states: “We are being denied food and water. They are trying to break us physically and mentally. … I have no idea what will happen to us. … We will keep pushing to the end.” (ASTRA)  

  • Nov. 29 – An opposition channel reported that in early November 33 mobilized soldiers deployed in a forest near Nizhnyaya Duvanka village (Luhansk region, Ukraine) refused to move forward to Yagodnoe village to participate in its ‘cleanup’ from Ukrainian forces. According to the soldier who anonymously reported it to the media, ‘refuseniks’ have been subjected to intimidation and have been told that FSB operatives are on their way to the forest. The soldiers are reportedly with military unit 38838 from Kaliningrad. (Sirena)
  •               – On the same day in St. Petersburg, city court denied the appeal by Kirill Berezin against a district court decision to deny his request to substitute alternative civilian service for mobilization to the army. The court ruled that civilian service is envisioned as an alternative to regular draft only, but not to mobilization. This ruling is effective immediately. The appeal hearing was closed to the public on the grounds of “confidential defense-related information”. 27-year-old Berezin is a conscientious objector. He was mobilized in October; upon arrival to the unit, he refused to take up arms. He endured threats from his commander and was reportedly in a suicidal mood. He eventually left the unit without permission and returned home. His going AWOL is now under review by Russia’s investigative committee. (Rotonda) Boris Vishnevsky, an antiwar member of the St. Petersburg legislature and one of the leaders of the Yabloko Party, notes that the right to a civilian alternative to military service is enshrined in Russia’s constitution which states that it can only be restricted by law or by the state of emergency, but neither any such restrictions, nor a state of emergency have been enacted in Russia. Vishnevsky asked the military prosecutor to intervene in Berezin’s case, to no avail. (Boris Vishnevsky’s Telegram channel) Berezin is now back with a military unit, albeit in the vicinity of St. Petersburg; he is reportedly subjected to constant threats and expects to be sent to the frontline. His lawyer plans to appeal the latest ruling with Russia’s supreme court. (Novaya Gazeta-Evropa)
  • Nov. 30 – In the neighboring Gatchina (Leningrad region), city court made an opposite choice and ruled in favor of Pavel Mushumansky, another conscientious objector insisting upon his right to an alternative civilian service. His initial request for it was denied by the conscription office, and he was sent to the army; he sued in response, and the court ruled that his mobilization was unlawful. Mushumansky is 23-year-old; unlike Berezin, who did a regular conscription stint in the past, Mushumansky has already served alternative service in place of the regular draft. His lawyer commented that this worked in Mushumansky’s favor in this case, because, unlike Berezin’s, his pacifist beliefs had already been established with the conscription authorities. (Novaya Gazeta – Evropa)
  •                   –  On the same day, governor of the Vladimir region was compelled to deny the reports that a group of mobilized soldiers from regiment 346 who had abandoned their position on the front line were threatened to be court-martialed. He hinted that “the had been controversies” about their commanders’ behavior, but “the problem had been resolved”, as both the soldiers and their commanders allegedly “cooled off”. (’A Day in Vladimir’ Telegram channel) As was acknowledged even by Russia’s defense ministry, the soldiers had reportedly turned their weapons over to the commanders and refused to continue, allegedly due to lack of proper training; afterwards, their families published three videotaped appeals to Putin insisting that untrained soldiers should not be sent to Ukraine.               
  • Dec. 1 – An opposition channel in the Republic of Chuvashia reported that over 2,000 ‘refuseniks’ from a training unit stationed in Ulyanovsk who were expected to be deployed to Ukraine by Nov. 28 were reportedly designated as a reserve unit and were going to stay put at least until January. Many of these ‘refuseniks’ are ethnic Chuvashs. It is interpreted as a victory for one of the most visible groups of protesters in the army – following upon many meetings with government officials and a special one-time payout to quell their discontent in late October – early November. “When you are united and determined, protests may pay off – this should be the most important lesson for other soldiers around the country, and not just for them,” concludes the report. ( ‘Angry Chuvashia’ Telegram channel)
  •                  – A Belarusian opposition channel reported that 3 Russian soldiers fled from Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground near Baranovichi (Brest region, Belarus). (’Motolko Help’ Telegram channel )

III. CIVILIAN PROTEST

A. Nonviolent actions and reprisals – new cases

  • Nov. 28 – The Mothers’ and Wives’ Council, a rising grassroots force whose VKontakte page was blocked last week by Russia’s authorities, issued a defiant open letter addressed to Putin, Shoigu, and the State Duma. The letter’s content reflected the internal contradictions of this group, or, perhaps more likely, external pressures on it, as it mixed democratic demands of ending political persecution of human rights defenders with anti-Western and militaristic statements. The Council declared that it had “no confidence in our country’s power system that, in our opinion, failed to avoid a bloody armed conflict with a neighboring country while Russia’s army was unprepared for it.” It stated that “the leadership of the country and the army is afflicted by corruption” and noted that “the entire world has armed up against us, which we also view as a result of the policies of our president”. The Council pushed back on the charges in the pro-Kremlin media that it is connected to CIA by claiming that “before presenting Putin to the people as his successor, Yeltsin got Clinton’s approval of his candidacy”.  (Mothers’ and Wives’ Council open letter online)
  • Nov. 29 – In Irkutsk, authorities detained Vladimir Timofeev, on charges of ‘disparaging the army’ and ‘rationalizing terrorism’; his bank accounts and ‘VKontakte’ page were also blocked. Timofeyev is a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan and Russian war in Chechnya, a leftwing antiwar activist, and the publisher of a Telegram channel. His associate Sergey Kulikov was detained with him. (‘New Red’ VKontakte page) On the next day, Timofeyev was released and ordered to stay under house arrest while awaiting  trial. (RFE/RL)
  • – On the same day, local pro-war media in Smirnykh (Sakhalin region) reported that Tatos Mkoyan, a local councilman and developer, allegedly challenged mobilization orders by getting on a bus that was going to transport the newly mobilized to their unit, announcing that mobilization is illegal, and urging future soldiers to leave the bus and go home. Mkoyan was predictably charged with ‘disparaging the army’ and on Nov. 18 was slapped with 30,000-RUB fine. The story apparently made it into the media only last week. Mkoyan has appealed the verdict. (‘ChP Sakhalin’ Telegram channel)
  • Nov. 30 – In the village of Balakhta (Krasnoyarsk region), criminal charges of disparaging the army were filed against a man whose name has not been disclosed. The case against him is based on his posts in VKontakte. He may be facing a range of possible penalties, including up to 3 years in jail or a fine between 100,000 and 300,000 RUB. (NewsLab.Ru)
  • Dec. 1 – In Aleksin (Tula region), a man whose full name has not been disclosed, was placed in pre-trial detention for the next 30 days, as a ‘suspect’ in a case of ‘vandalism’. He allegedly left five inscriptions on the walls of the local administration headquarters and the army draft station; the content of these inscriptions ‘disparaged the president and the government’. The man also set some ‘patriotic banners’ on fire. (Tula region court system press service)
  • This week, charges of ‘disparaging the army’ were also filed against Kermen Cherchesov, a resident of Vladikavkaz (Republic of North Ossetia; the hearing in his case is scheduled for Dec. 5) and against Vyacheslav Tolstonozhenko in Volzhsk (Volgograd region; the hearing to be held on Dec. 13). Ivan Tsikunov from Slavyansk-on-Kuban (Krasnodar region) was fined for the same ‘misdemeanor’. No further details on the specifics of the charges against them have been made public. (RFE/RL Caucasus.Realities) In addition, Vladimir Shishkov from Yeysk (Krasnodar region) was also charged with disparaging the army, and two residents of Stavropol, Vladimir Pankov and Roman Zadorozhny were fined 30,000 RUB each, for the same kind of transgression. The verdict in the latter two cases was issued in absentia, which may indicate that the defendants were no longer in Russia. In Krasnodar, similar charges have been filed against prominent attorney Mikhail Benyash (who is also on the list of ‘foreign agents’); and in Astrakhan, against Sergey Bataev. (RFE/RL)

B. Nonviolent actions and reprisals – ongoing cases

  • Dec. 2 – In Izhma (Republic of Komi), district court extended the house arrest of Alexey Semyonov, environmental activist charged with ‘repeat offense of disparaging the army’, until Feb. 6, 2023. Charges are based on his post in VKontakte. His VKontakte account has been blocked. Semyonov was previously fined in May, in the amount of 30,000 RUB, for another post there. (OVD-Info)

C. Actual or alleged violent resistance

  • Nov. 28 – In Cherepovets (Vologda region), city court sentenced two young men, one 17- and another 16-years old, to 1.5 years of suspended imprisonment each, with 2-year probation, on charges of unsuccessfully trying to set up a local conscription office on fire. The names of the defendants have not been disclosed. Official court version claims that a third person paid one of them to commit arson. (Vologda region court system press office)
  • – On the same day in Yekaterinburg, several cars sporting pro-war Z symbol were set on fire. Arsonists have not apparently been found yet. (E1.Ru – Yekaterinburg Online)

IV. POLITICAL PERSECUTION DIRECTLY UNRELATED TO THE WAR

  • Nov. 28 – In Yekaterinburg, the central district military court opened the hearings in the case against five residents of Ufa (Republic of Bashkortostan), each of them between 19 and 21 years old. They are charged with “setting up a terrorist group aimed at seizing power”, which, according to the prosecution, they planned to accomplish by “attacking government and law enforcement agencies”. They are also charged with producing explosives and preparing to commit terrorist acts. Intriguingly, prosecution claims that young men were planning to seize power in Russia in … 2024, right after the presidential elections, “against the backdrop of massive public protests by those who would disagree with the results”. The purported leader of the group is Ruslan Bogdanov.  (Kommersant)

  • Dec. 1 – Alexey Navalny was placed once again in isolation cell, for 11 days, reportedly as a punishment for not wearing his coat in the wee hours of the morning. (Kira Yarmysh)

V.       EXODUS FROM RUSSIA AND TRANSNATIONAL REPRESSION

  • Dec. 4 –RFE/RL Russian Service reported that Tumso Abdurakhmanov, an anti-Kadyrov blogger, whom it calls “Kadyrov’s chief critic”, was shot to death in the night of Dec. 2 in Sweden. Abdurakhmanov left Russia in 2015 because of his conflict with Kadyrov’s inner circle. (RFE/RL) Last year, he obtained asylum in Sweden. In Russia, he was placed on the ‘wanted’ list on the grounds of his alleged involvement in insurgency in Syria, although Abdurakhmanov denied that he ever traveled there. In 2020, there was an apparent assassination attempt against him in Sweden. (OVD-Info)

  • Nov. 30 – Russia’s interior minister placed Ilya Novikov, a reputable attorney, on its ‘wanted’ list. This means that he is a defendant in a criminal case, but the details of this case had not been made public. Five days earlier, he was included in the list of ‘foreign agents’, on the grounds of his alleged funding by Ukraine. In the past, Novikov defended in court Nadiya Savchenko, Ukrainian officer captured by Russian forces, and Oyub Titiev, human rights activist from Chechnya. Novikov has left Russia and currently lives in Kyiv. (RFE/RL)

  • Dec. 1 – In Vologda, criminal charges were filed against Yevgeny Domozhirov, chief editor of SOTAvision, an opposition Telegram channel, and former head of the local branch of Alexey Navalny’s network. Domozhirov is charged with “spreading false information” about the army “due to political hatred”. Charges are reportedly based on his Telegram posts. (SOTAvision) Domozhirov and his family left Russia in May; in October, he was placed on the ‘wanted’ list. Domozhirov repeatedly clashed with authorities over the past 10 years and was first fined in 2012 for allegedly confronting police during a protest action. (OVD-Info)

  • Dec. 2 – Amyr Aitashev, a journalist from the Altai region and head of the ‘Anticorruption committee’ project, announced that he had to leave Russia to avoid criminal charges for his antiwar stance and that was currently in Istanbul. Aitashev had already been fined twice for ‘disparaging the army’ and was issued an official warning that a third charge would lead to a criminal case against him. (He was fined for the first time for reposting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appeal about the war in Ukraine.) (Amyr Altashev’s Telegram channel)

A project of the American Russian-speaking Association for Civil & Human Rights (ARA)

Produced under the direction of Dr. Dmitri Daniel Glinski

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