Dear friends, welcome to yet another issue of our digest covering developments of the past two weeks. Most of the items in our digests are based on the original Russian-language sources and are hyperlinked to them. We seek to revive the legacy of the Soviet-era Chronicle of Current Events that was bringing international attention not just to the most famous and prominent dissenters but to the everyday resistance to oppression at the grassroots level. Yet with the rapidly increasing number of reports about protests and reprisals, we are bound to be selective and do not attempt to provide comprehensive coverage. Starting from this issue, we will also not be including any more the reports on protests and resistance on Ukraine’s occupied territories, so as to focus entirely on developments in Russia.
Our title – with tongue-in-cheek toward ‘Russia Today’, the powerhouse of the Kremlin’s global propaganda – reflects our belief in Vaclav Havel’s “power of the powerless”, including the long-term power of those Russian citizens, of many ethnicities and faiths, who are putting themselves in harm’s way to bring about a peaceful and less oppressive tomorrow for their country, for Ukraine, and for the rest of our world.
As you read it, we’d like to draw your attention in particular to six reports in two weeks about alleged attempts by Russian civilians to move to Ukraine and enlist either with the Ukrainian armed forces or with a paramilitary group fighting against the Russian army. However, there is not enough reliable evidence yet to conclude whether this is emerging as a new form of protest against the war, or whether most of these cases are being fabricated by Russian coercive apparatus for its own purposes.
Table of contents
I. MILITARY ‘REFUSENIKS’
II. CHARGES AGAINST ALLEGED DEFECTORS TO UKRAINE
III. CIVILIAN PROTEST
A. Ilya Yashin sentenced to 8.5 years in penal colony for denouncing the invasion
B. Nonviolent actions and reprisals – new cases
C. Nonviolent actions and reprisals – ongoing cases
IV. CRACKDOWN ON THE MEDIA
V. NEW RESTRICTIONS ON THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH
VI. EXODUS FROM RUSSIA AND TRANSNATIONAL REPRESSION
VII. NOBEL PRIZE LECTURE OF JAN RACHINSKY ON BEHALF OF THE MEMORIAL SOCIETY
I. MILITARY ‘REFUSENIKS’
- Dec. 7 – It became known that Russia’s 2nd western district military court ruled in favor of Zakhar Kukareko, a former paratrooper from Ryazan, who had sued his commanders for having put a derogatory seal on his military ID in retaliation for his refusal to fight in Ukraine. Kukareko served in military unit No. 41450. After his refusal he was discharged, and his superiors put a seal on his ID stating that he was ‘inclined to betrayal, lie, and treason’. It was reported that the practice of putting such disparaging seals on army IDs gained currency after the start of the invasion but were discontinued after a few months. Kukareko’s case was initially heard in the military court of Ryazan garrison, but later was transferred to a higher-level court due to alleged “state secrets” involved in this case. Ultimately, the court ruled that placing such a seal was illegal and ordered the local army station to issue a new ID to the plaintiff. (Pavel Chikov’s Telegram channel)
- – On the same day in Moscow, during his meeting with his loyal human rights council (recently purged of all potential troublemakers), Vladimir Putin claimed that Russian authorities do not have any camps for deserters from the frontline, and that any reports about such camps were “nonsense and fakes”. (Gazeta.Ru) Meanwhile, next day, on Dec. 8, the regional government of Pskov was compelled to respond to a public statement by Natalya Semyonova, a sister of one of the mobilized soldiers from the region, who claimed that her brother may have been kidnapped and held hostage by military authorities, along with 265 other mobilized soldiers who, together with him, refused to be deployed to the front line. A representative of the administration of the Pskov region responded to Semyonova that the information she provided “was forwarded to the office of the military prosecutor of the western military district for review in the shortest time possible”. (Horizontal Russia) And on Dec. 12, in Moscow, Roman Martynov, a mobilized soldier from Bryansk region who reportedly refused to fight and was punished with illegal detention, filed a complaint with the chief military investigative directorate, with support of Maksim Grebenyuk, a prominent Moscow-based attorney representing military officers in cases involving the defense of their rights. According to Martynov, he arrived to the frontline in the Luhansk region on Oct. 1 and on the next day declared his refusal to participate in hostilities. (Pavel Chikov’s Telegram channel) He then went through three different informal detention centers in Luhansk region: in Rubezhnoe, in Kremennaya, and in Perevalsk. In Kremennaya, his jailers suspected him of being a source of information about the location of this basement jail that was publicized by ASTRA; they beat him up and threatened to bury him alive. (ASTRA)
- Dec. 9 – In Krasnodar, contract soldier Vadim Bai has been criminally charged for two instances of disobeying orders related to fighting in Ukraine. His case will be tried by the Krasnodar garrison military court. Charges against him, based on the new law enacted in the first days of the mobilization on Sept. 24, carry between 2 and 3 years of imprisonment. (RFE/RL Caucasus.Realities)
- – On the same day, in Paris, Gulagu.net, a prison watchdog project led by Vladimir Osechkin from his exile in France, published videos of alleged violence by Russia’s penitentiary service officers against four unnamed inmates who were being punished for their refusal to consent to being mobilized to the war. According to the source, the video was filmed at the penal colony # 4 in Kaluga region. (Gulagu.net Telegram channel)
II. CHARGES AGAINST ALLEGED DEFECTORS TO UKRAINE
- Dec. 7 – In Abakan (Republic of Khakassia), Igor Pokusin, a 60-year-old local opposition activist and a native of Ukraine, was reportedly charged with ‘attempting high treason’. On Dec. 13, federal security service announced the detention of an Abakan resident, whose name it did not disclose, for allegedly trying to board a plane in Krasnoyarsk to leave Russia, after which he was planning to enlist into Ukrainian army. Local media identified him as Igor Pokusin, noting that he was detained at the airport in Krasnoyarsk on July 24, reportedly on his way to Astana. (’Baza’ Telegram channel) According to RFE/RL, a source close to Pokusin has denied his intention to join Ukrainian army. Pokusin was born in Odessa and grew up in Ukraine before moving to Russia. In 2013, Pokusin tried to run for Khakassia parliament as a candidate of Boris Nemtsov’s PARNAS Party but was denied registration. He also organized a local group that denounced abuse by law enforcement agencies. In May of this year, he was charged with ‘vandalism’ for allegedly damaging pro-war banners with blue and yellow paint and writing “Glory to Ukraine” on the wall of a local museum. (RFE/RL Siberian Realities) Per official media, Pokusin may be facing up to 20 years in jail. (RIA Novosti)
- Dec. 12 – In Vladikavkaz (Republic of North Ossetia), district court placed 21-year-old Savely Frolov in pre-trial detention until Feb. 11, 2023. He is charged with high treason for preparing to defect to the side of an unspecified enemy. Prosecution alleges that Frolov sought to join the so-called Freedom for Russia Legion which is purportedly an autonomous military unit of Russian citizens fighting on the Ukrainian side but is believed by some to be a largely fictitious entity promoted by Russia’s émigré politician Ilya Ponomaryov. In October, media reported that Frolov had been removed from a bus on the Russian-Georgian border, allegedly for uttering profanities in public, and was sentenced to 15 days of arrest for ‘petty hooliganism’. (‘Department One’ lawyers group Telegram channel)
- Dec. 14 – In Krasnoyarsk, local court sentenced 30-year-old Sergey Ulukshonov to 4 years and 8 months in hard-labor penal colony, allegedly for a similar intention as imputed to Pokusin (see previous entry). However, Ulukshonov was charged not with ‘high treason’ but under a different article of the criminal code that penalizes the act of ‘preparing to join an armed formation on the territory of a foreign country against Russia’s interests’. Ulukshonov, who according to official media was unemployed, was planning to join not the Ukrainian army but an autonomous paramilitary unit. With this purpose, he was allegedly communicating with a Ukrainian state security officer; on April 3, he went to Minsk where, according to the prosecution, he obtained instructions from the Ukrainian officer on how to cross the border into Ukraine. On April 8, he was reportedly detained by Belarusian border patrol and transferred to Russia. Ulukshonov is reportedly a native of the Republic of Yakutia-Sakha. Per official media, he had been “fervently opposed to Russia’s domestic and foreign policies”. According to them, in June of 2021, he went to Mexico trying to apply for asylum in the US but was denied his application and removed to Russia. From the first days of the invasion, he was speaking out against it in his online posts. The trial was partially closed to the public due to ‘state secrets contained in the prosecution file’. Official sources claim that Ulukshonov pleaded guilty. (Kommersant)
- – On the same day in Bryansk, regional court sentenced 29-year-old Anatoly Syntulsky, allegedly unemployed resident of Votkinsk (Republic of Udmurtia) to 5 years of hard-labor penal colony, on the same charges as in the case against Ulukshonov – ‘attempting to take part in an armed formation on the territory of a foreign state’. (Bryansk regional court system website) Court found Syntulsky to be ‘a supporter of Ukraine’s Nazi ideology and an active opponent of Russia’s domestic and foreign policies’ who planned to participate in hostilities on the Ukrainian side. He was allegedly corresponding with a recruiter from an unnamed military unit in Ukraine and was detained by Russia’s border patrol in Bryansk. In November, Russia’s financial oversight agency placed Syntulsky on its list of ‘terrorists and extremists’. (Mediazona)
- Dec. 15 – Also in Bryansk, the same regional court sentenced Artyom Bogolyubov, a resident of Leningrad region, to 6 years in hard-labor colony, followed by one year of further restriction of liberty, on exactly the same charges as the ones levied against Ulukshonov and Syntulsky. Intriguingly, like Syntulsky, Bogolyubov is labeled by prosecution to be ‘a supporter of Ukraine’s Nazi ideology and an active opponent of Russia’s domestic and foreign policies’ (no direct relationship between the two defendants has been made public). According to the authorities, Bogolyubov is 24 years old and unemployed; they claim that he was motivated not just by his political views but by ‘material need’ and bank debt. The story of his purported correspondence with an officer of an unnamed paramilitary unit in Ukraine and his subsequent detention by border patrol in Bryansk region is also just the same as Syntulsky’s. Media reports that this is the third such sentencing in the border region, the first being issued in October in the case of Artyom Skakalin from Tambov, a street cleaner who was sentenced to 7 years in penal colony. (Mediazona) There are three similar cases currently in the queue for sentencing. The names of the defendants are Ilya Kutsev, Kirill Belousov, and Maksim Timerkhanov. (Bryansk regional court system website)
- – On the same day in Khabarovsk, local FSB reported that an appeals court upheld the initial sentence of Khabarovsk regional court in the case of Vyacheslav Mamukov, a local resident sentenced to 12.5 years for ‘high treason’ on charges of allegedly trying to sell unspecified secret information about Russia’s transportation infrastructure to Ukrainian security services. (Russia’s federal security service)
III. CIVILIAN PROTEST
A. Ilya Yashin sentenced to 8.5 years in penal colony for denouncing the invasion
- Dec. 9 – In Moscow, Meshchansky district court found Ilya Yashin guilty of ‘spreading false information’ about the army, with aggravating ‘motivation of political hatred,’ and sentenced him to 8.5 years in penal colony. The charge stemmed from his video broadcast in April about the Bucha massacre.
39-year-old Yashin has been an elected member of the ward council of Moscow’s Krasnoselsky district since 2017; from 2017 to 2021, he served as chair of this council and head of the district. His successor in this job and one of his allies Elena Kotyonochkina has been forced to leave Russia, while one of his colleagues in the council, Alexey Gorinov, has been sentenced to seven years less one month of imprisonment for his critique of the war. Yashin has played an active role on the radical flank of Russia’s democratic opposition for the past 20 years. In 2005, he spent two weeks in Belarusian jail for taking part in protests against the Lukashenka regime. In 2006-08, he co-chaired the youth section of the Yabloko Party. In 2012, he was elected by opposition activists and supporters to the Coordinating Council that represented a part of the opposition to Putin; Yashin ranked 5th by the number of votes gained. In 2012-16, he was deputy chair of the PARNAS Party (Party of People’s Freedom) that was initially co-chaired by Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov and after Nemtsov’s assassination in 2015 chaired by Kasyanov alone. Yashin collaborated closely with Nemtsov, notably in co-authoring a report about the Kremlin’s ‘hybrid’ war in East Ukraine. He is also a co-founder (along with Nemtsov and Garry Kasparov) of the Solidarity movement and a member of its main governing body, which also includes Vladimir Kara-Murza, Sergey Davidis, and others. In recent years, Yashin repeatedly tried to run for a seat in Moscow city legislature and for the mayor’s office but was blocked by the barriers designed to eliminate opposition candidates from the ballot and by discord within the opposition. This year, Yashin was initially placed in detention for allegedly disobeying police and then was slapped with criminal charge.
On Dec. 5, Yashin delivered his closing statement in his trial. In these remarks, he acknowledged the opportunity provided to him by the judge Oksana Goryunova’s decision to keep proceedings open to the public, and the judge’s seeming openness to doubt and reflection. “I’m sure that you are just as shaken by this war as I am, and that you pray for this nightmare to end as soon as possible,” stated Yashin in addressing the judge. “You know that I’m innocent, and I know that you’re under pressure from the system. It’s obvious that you’ll have to issue a guilty verdict. I have no hard feelings against you.” He then addressed Vladimir Putin directly: “Mr. Putin! As you look at the consequences of this monstrous war, you probably realize what a big mistake you made on February 24. No one is greeting our army with flowers. We are called invaders and occupiers. Your name is now firmly associated with death and destruction. You have brought terrible misfortune to the Ukrainian people, who will probably never forgive us. But you’re not only at war with the Ukrainians. You’re at war with your own people. You send hundreds of thousands of Russians into a combat inferno, and many of them will never come home. They will turn to dust. Many more will be disabled or lose their minds from what they saw and felt. To you, this is just statistics — columns of numbers. But for countless families, this means the unbearable pain of losing husbands, fathers, and sons. You are taking away the Russian people’s home. Hundreds of thousands of Russians are leaving their home country because they don’t want to kill or be killed. Those people are running from you, Mr. President. … Did you forget that this kind of policy leads our country to disintegration? Although my words might sound like a voice crying in the desert, I’m urging you, Mr. Putin, to stop this madness immediately. You must admit that your policies regarding Ukraine have been an error. You must get the Russian troops out of Ukraine and start working on a diplomatic resolution of this conflict.” Yashin’s closing words were directed at his supporters: “Please don’t give in to despair, and don’t forget that this is our country. It’s worth fighting for. Be courageous, don’t give in to this evil, and resist. Defend your neighborhood. Defend your city. And above all, defend one another! There are many more of us than it seems, and together we are a great force. … Believe me: Russia will be happy and free.” (Meduza)
Upon learning of his 8.5-years sentence, Yashin responded that “those who issued this sentence are too optimistic about Putin’s prospects”. He further stated that “we have won this process. It was conceived as a show trial over an “enemy of the people” (embodied by me), but instead it turned into an anti-war megaphone. … Change is not far away, and soon we’ll have to do a lot of work to restore justice and humanism in our country.” (Meduza)
- Dec. 8 – Also in Moscow, Basmanny district court extended the pre-trial detention of Vladimir Kara-Murza, another leading democratic politician, until February 12, 2023. Unlike Yashin’s trial, this hearing was closed to the public and the media. Like Yashin, Kara-Murza is a member of the bureau of the political council of the Solidarity movement. He is also a columnist of The Washington Post and an advisor to Human Rights First. Kara-Murza is a dual citizen of Russia and United Kingdom, which in the past was used by the Kremlin to bar him from running for elected office. Kara-Murza is facing three criminal charges, one of them – for ‘high treason’. In his comment on the decision to close the hearing from the public, he stated: “As a historian, I know that a system built on lies and violence is bound to collapse, and I believe it will happen sooner than it might seem to those who are keeping me in this cage.” (Vladimir Kara-Murza’s Facebook page)
B. Nonviolent actions and reprisals – new cases
- Dec. 5 – In Balashov (Saratov region), Oleg Nepein, a 67-year-old city council member representing the communist party, announced that a criminal case had been launched against him for ‘spreading false information’ about the military. On Dec. 1, police searched his home and seized his equipment without providing a court order that would authorize the search. Nepein was then interrogated at the local office of Russia’s investigative committee; while the documents in his case were shown to him, he was prohibited from photographing them. Nevertheless, it became known that charges against him stem from 11 posts in his local Telegram channel, and that these included comments about the Bucha massacre. Nepein is retired and states that he cannot afford an attorney; his city council position is unpaid. Prior to the invasion, he reportedly organized several protests in Balashov on environmental and social issues. (OVD-Info)
- Dec. 6 – In Krasnoyarsk, two criminal cases was launched against Igor Orlovsky, a local resident, charged with ‘incitement of extremism and terrorism’ as well as ‘justification of Nazism’. Evidence against him is based on his posts in VKontakte. ‘Incitement of extremism and terrorism’ was found by prosecutors in his online comments that stated “Death to Russian occupiers! Peace to Ukraine and to the world!” and expressed his wish to see Putin dead. In another post that became the basis for the second criminal case against him, he opined that “Stalin was just the same kind of an aggressor as Hitler”. Orlovsky has been prohibited from traveling out of town. (OVD-Info)
- Dec. 7 – in Nizhny Tagil (Sverdlovsk region), district court sentenced Yury Potashkin, already an inmate at a local penal colony No. 12, to 30,000-RUB fine for ‘disparaging the army’. (Nizhny Tagil court website) Human rights sources report that Potashkin is alleged to have sharply criticized the actions of the Russian military after being placed in an isolation cell for an unspecified transgression. (Mediazona)
- Dec 8 – In Arkhangelsk, Yelena Kalinina, a local environmental activist, 46-years-old and a mother of four, was subjected to search and interrogation on charges of repeated ‘disparaging of the military’. On the next day, the local court, while stopping short of placing her in detention, prohibited Kalinina from engaging in a range of activities, including the use of any electronic communications except in emergency, and taking part in any public actions. The case against her is based on her posts in VKontakte against the invasion. Kalinina was previously sentenced twice, to two 30,000-RUB fines for her initial transgressions. The new charges carry the penalty of up to 3 years in jail. Prior to the war, in 2021, she was also detained for making a snowman that appeared to carry a poster with the words: “Down with the Tsar!” (Arkhangelsk Online) Kalinina cannot afford to hire an attorney; her family is crowdsourcing for her. (‘Pomorye – ne pomoika [The Seaside region is not a trash can] Telegram channel)
- – On the same day in Volgograd, district court sentenced Ruslan Narushev to two fines, for a total of 85,000 RUB, on charges of ‘disparaging the use of armed forces’. Narushev reportedly committed his transgressions in October and November, by displaying two antiwar banners, one on a bridge and another one next to a memorial to WWII heroes. One of the banners read: “End the war, bring soldiers home.” Per official sources, he admitted to having placed these banners but denied having disparaged the army. (Mediazona) On Dec. 16, Narushev was reportedly fined for the third time, for another 40,000 RUB.
- – On the same day in Chita, 26-year-old Ivan Losev was fined 30,000 RUB by district court for ‘disparaging the army’ via his Instagram posts about the war, which included the slogan ‘Glory to Ukraine’. After the sentencing, on Dec. 12, an extensive interview with Losev was published by RFE/RL; in this interview, he expressed his belief that the war was going to end very shortly, and not in Russia’s favor: “I am confident that Ukraine will prevail. And as soon as it does, all those who are currently in jail for spreading false information about the military will be released…” (RFE/RL Siberian Realities) After that, on Dec. 15, his mother Nelly Loseva was also charged with ‘disparaging the army’, on the basis of two likes that she made under the posts that were critical of Putin and stated that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. Loseva was reportedly prohibited from photographing the documents of the case against her. (RFE/RL Siberian Realities)
- – On the same day in Perm, a local division of Russia’s Higher School of Economics fired Dinara Gagarina, associate professor at the department of humanities, as a result of complaints by the parents of her students over Gagarina’s antiwar posts on her Facebook and Instagram. Gagarina previously reported that her antiwar stance already caused her employer to shut down the master’s program in digital humanities that she was managing. (Dinara Gagarina’s Instagram)
- – On the same day in Syktyvkar (Republic of Komi), local court placed Nikita Tushkanov in pre-trial detention until Feb. 5, 2023. (NetFreedomsProject) The hearing, except for the announcement of the court ruling, was closed to the public. 28-year-old Tushkanov, a former schoolteacher, is charged with ‘nurturing the idea of acceptability of terrorist acts’. The charge is reportedly based on Tushkanov’s posts in VKontakte made on Oct. 8-10 in the wake of the explosion on the Crimean bridge; these comments are apparently viewed by the prosecutors as approving of the explosion. Tushkanov may be sentenced for imprisonment of up to 7 years. Tushkanov was a history teacher in a small town of Mikun, until last year, when he was fired after taking part in protests against the arrest and the sentencing of Alexey Navalny. This year, Tushkanov has already been fined for ‘disparaging the army’. (Mediazona)
- Dec. 9 – In Elista (Republic of Kalmykia), authorities detained Valery Badmaev, 72-year-old journalist and editor-in-chief of Sovremennaya Kalmykia [Modern Kalmykia] periodical. He was subjected to a house search and his equipment was removed by law enforcement. On the next day, he was prohibited by court order from using internet and phone; however, the prosecution was unsuccessful in trying to get him placed in pre-trial detention. Court hearing was closed to the public, under the pretext of COVID restrictions. (The Insider) Badmaev is charged with ‘public activities intended to disparage the use of Russia’s armed forces in defense of Russia’s interests’. Badmaev is known in the region as a prominent organizer of the Kalmyk ethnic revival movement since early 1990s. (Activatica)
- Dec. 13 – In Rossosh (Voronezh region), criminal charges for ‘public incitement to extremist activities via Internet’ were filed against a 31-year-old local resident; his name has not been disclosed. According to the indictment, the defendant allegedly posted or reposted a text in Telegram in which Russian soldiers in Ukraine were called occupiers, using a verb that could be construed as incitement of violence against them. Official media emphasize that charges against the man may lead to a jail term of up to 5 years. (Rossosh district court website)
- Dec. 16 – In Moscow, human rights sources reported that the Civic Assistance Committee, Russia’s leading migrants rights NGO, was charged on Dec. 1 with ‘disparaging the military’. (Avtozak LIVE) The hearing in this case is scheduled for Dec. 20. The basis for these charges has not been made public, and the indictment was not shared with the organization. In its comments on the news, its staff underscored that the Committee did not mention the army in any of its statements about the events in Ukraine. (Mediazona) The maximum penalty for an organization under this charge is 500,000 RUB. Civic Assistance Committee, founded in 1990, is one of the few remaining by-products of the Gorbachev-era democratic movement. The Committee’s co-founder and leader, 80-years-old Svetlana Gannushkina, is one of Russia’s most senior human rights defenders, a member of the leadership of Memorial and of the Yabloko Party. In March of this year, she was fined for an alleged violation of the law on holding public actions. Over the past two years, the organization has been subjected to searches and a government audit.
C. Nonviolent actions and reprisals – ongoing cases
- Dec. 6 – In Moscow, Valery Kachin, a 35-year-old researcher at a wildlife preserve in Russia’s Far East and former staffer of the mayor’s office of Birobidzhan (Jewish autonomous region), was charged with ‘high treason’. No further details on the basis for this charge have been made public. Kachin was detained in September; on Dec. 7, a Moscow court extended his pre-trial detention. (OVD-Info) Proceedings in his case are closed to the public. He is being held at Lefortovo, Russia’s top-notch jail for politically sensitive inmates. Kachin has an IT degree and has worked on geolocation. Human rights sources report that Kachin’s name was previously made public by a leak of the database of Alexey Navalny’s supporters, in which he was listed; he is also known to have made online posts in support of pro-democracy protesters in Belarus and against the invasion of Ukraine and to have posted antiwar songs on Yandex. (‘Ostorozhno novosti’ [Beware of the News] Telegram channel) He is reportedly the fourth Russian scientist to be charged with high treason in the past several months.
- – On the same day in Abakan (Republic of Khakassia), city court sentenced Mikhail Afanasyev to a 450,000-RUB fine for ‘inciting hatred against law enforcement officers’; charges against him were based on his publications in Novy fokus [New Focus], online periodical that he owns and publishes. Afanasyev was also charged with ‘spreading false information about the army’, on account of his widely read article about 11 special designation police officers from Khakassia who refused to comply with the order to be deployed to Ukraine. However, in November the court remanded the case back to the prosecution due to procedural errors in its documents. The prosecution has one month, subject to possible extension, to correct the errors. In the meantime, Afanasyev remains in pre-trial detention under these charges, at least until Jan. 23 of next year. Afanasyev is a Yabloko Party activist and a winner of Russia’s Sakharov Prize in journalism. (Yabloko)
- – On the same day in St. Petersburg, city court designated Vesna [Spring], a democratic and antiwar youth group, as ‘extremist’, thus branding it with the same label as Alexey Navalny’s organization. This means that any involvement with the organization, including financial contributions, is also criminalized. It is notable that the text of the organization’s indictment was not made public or even shared with its activists; proceedings in the case were closed to the public. (‘Department One’ lawyers group Telegram channel) Vesna, which was mostly based in St. Petersburg and organized peaceful pro-democracy rallies for the past several years, gained more visibility this year due to its creative visual protest against the war in many Russian cities. In September, it called for mass protests against mobilization; about 2,200 people were detained at these protests across Russia. In October, Russia’s financial oversight agency placed Vesna on the register of terrorist and extremist organizations. (Mediazona) Many of the organization’s leaders and activists have already left Russia. In response to the verdict, Vesna vowed to continue its activities in Russia and abroad and to appeal the ruling. (Vesna Telegram channel)
- Dec. 9 – In Yekaterinburg, local resident Denis Yedomin was fined by court for three counts of ‘disparaging the use of the Russian army’, for a total of 90,000 RUB. Yedomin allegedly disparaged the army by vandalizing three cars decorated with semi-official pro-war symbols Z and V. Yedomin was compelled to repent in public, on video camera, and explained that he was motivated by his pacifist views. (Vechernie vedomosti [Evening News])
- Dec. 12 – In Omsk, district court sentenced Yevgeny Kruglov to 8 months of compulsory public works, upon finding him guilty of ‘spreading false information’ about the army. (Omsk district court website) Kruglov, an archaeologist, was charged on the basis of his allegedly sharing online a post about the Russian army violence against civilians in Bucha and Mariupol. The post was shared in May; in July, he was charged and prohibited from going out of town; in October, he was detained while trying to leave by train to Minsk, thus violating court order; he had been in detention since then. He was also court-ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation, which led to him staying for a month at a psychiatric hospital. Kruglov pleaded partially guilty, admitting that he shared the post but stating that he did not know whether the information in it was accurate. (OVD-Info)
- Dec. 14 – In St. Petersburg, district court extended the pre-trial detention of Olga Smirnova for another 6 months – until June 5, 2023. She is charged with spreading false information about the army. The hearing was closed to the public and the next hearing in her case, scheduled for Dec. 20, is also ordered to be closed. (RusNews)
IV. CRACKDOWN ON THE MEDIA
- Dec. 5 – Sakh.com, the largest independent news agency in the Sakhalin Island, announced that it was shutting down after 23 years in operation. The decision was caused by the authorities’ repeated decisions to block access to several of its articles. Sakh.com was launched on Aug. 5, 1999, a few days before Boris Yeltsin announced his selection of Vladimir Putin as his new prime minister and presidential successor. (Sakh.com)
- Dec. 7 – In Moscow, appeals court upheld the city court sentence of 22 years in hard-labor penal colony and 500,000-RUB fine for Ivan Safronov, journalist, and former advisor to the head of Russia’s space agency Dmitry Rogozin. In September, Safronov was found guilty of ‘high treason’, in a court hearing that was closed to the public. He was charged with allegedly passing classified documents to a Czech and a German agent, which he denied doing. His sentencing caused massive protests in the media community; Memorial has recognized him as a political prisoner. (RIA-Novosti)
- Dec. 11 – According to Roskomsvoboda, this month Russia’s internet censors intensified their activities against independent online sources: during the week of Dec. 5 -11, the number of websites that have been blocked and included in the government register of prohibited links increased by about 14,800 items. This is nearly 3 times more than the average number of resources blocked every week since the start of 2022. It is also reported that in many cases decisions about blocking a website no longer refer to a particular government agency that sought this action. It is believed that the agency whose name is no longer publicly associated with these decisions is the office of the prosecutor general. This month, Russia’s media oversight agency published a proposed rule that would allow to keep the decisions of the prosecutor general away from the public; the rule does not appear to have been officially finalized yet it is possible that it is already being implemented, according to the above information. (Kommersant)
V. NEW RESTRICTIONS ON THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Dec. 5 – In Moscow, Vladimir Putin signed into law two new repressive bills. One of them, on holding public actions, prohibits them in nearly every location that makes them visible on the political map. Protests can no longer be staged next to government buildings, as well as airports, train stations, colleges, schools, and hospitals. The second law bans ‘LGBT propaganda’, penalizing it with fines of up to 10 million RUB (over 150,000 USD). (Russia’s official law register) In response, at least three major books distributors announced that they were going to withdraw from their shelves any books that may potentially fall under this prohibition. LitRes, a major Russian bookseller, has sent letters to copyright holders requesting them to review their works and identify anything that may qualify as LGBT propaganda. Some authors are being advised to re-write their works so that they may return to the bookshelves and online bookselling platforms. (RosBiznesKonsulting – RBC) It has been reported that some of the booksellers and their attorneys view the law as so elastic that it may criminalize such classics as Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed and Sholokhov’s Quiet Don. (Mediazona)
On top of the draconian new laws, there has been an increase in informal prohibitions affecting Russian government officials. Thus, on the eve of Putin’s meeting with his recently sanitized human rights council, media reported that its chair, Valery Fadeev, instructed its members not to raise with the president any of the following issues: – the application of the law criminalizing ‘false information about the military’; – casualties on the frontline, a topic which is reportedly considered ‘toxic’ in the Kremlin; – protests by the relatives of mobilized soldiers; – and the barbaric extrajudicial execution by soldiers of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner of a former Russian prisoner of war upon his return to Russia. The purpose of this self-censorship was “not to upset the president”. They were also advised to be “very careful” in discussing anything related to mobilization and the provision of necessities to the mobilized soldiers. On the other hand, members of the council were advised to ask questions about the end of the partial mobilization, which would enable Putin to reconfirm his oral statements to the effect that it has indeed ended; as well as about Western sanctions, problems of refugees, and the ban on LGBT propaganda. (Verstka)
On the eve of the meeting, it became known that two of last remaining liberal holdovers in this ‘human rights council’ – attorney Genry Reznik and journalist Leonid Nikitinsky – resigned from their seats on the council. Reznik, who has acted as defense lawyer for many prominent oppositionists and organizations, did not comment about his decision. At the start of the invasion, he co-signed an appeal urging Putin to end hostilities as soon as possible; October he also withdrew from the board of Russia’s defense attorneys bar and from the advisory council of the ministry of justice. Nikitinsky stated that he asked Fadeev to strike him from the council roster at the start of the invasion, but this was never done; regardless, he stopped participating in any of the council’s activities. (Mediazona)
VI. EXODUS FROM RUSSIA AND TRANSNATIONAL REPRESSION
- Dec. 5 – Russian émigré source reports that Interpol has turned down Russia’s request for issuing red notices against prominent antiwar influencers, including Aleksandr Nevzorov, Andrei Soldatov, Oleg Kashintsev, and Veronika Belotserkovskaya. (Andrei Soldatov, Agentura.Ru)
- Dec. 6 – Olga Zhulimova, artist, and former head of the Penza chapter of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia, reportedly crossed into the US via Mexican border and applied for asylum. Her case will be heard in Los Angeles in July of next year. Open Russia has been banned by the Kremlin as an ‘undesirable organization’. (Kasparov.Ru)
- Dec. 12 – In St. Petersburg, district court imposed a 45,000-RUB fine for ‘disparaging the media’ on Miron Fyodorov, a famous rap singer known as Oxxxymiron. Charges against him were based on the antiwar video that he posted in VKontakte on the day of the invasion (Feb. 24 or 25); in this video, he stated that he was ‘opposed to the war that Russia is unleashing against Ukraine right now’. Shortly after making this post, Oxxxymiron left Russia; he has since staged several performances abroad to benefit Ukrainian refugees. Over the past month, one of his songs was officially recognized in Russia as ‘extremist’, and he was placed on the list of ‘foreign agents’ by Russia’s ministry of justice. (Mediazona) Oxymiron was awarded a prize by the Moscow Helsinki Group.
- – In Astana, Vlast.kz, a Kazakh Russian-language news website, reported that Russia’s media oversight agency pressured it to remove several items about the war in Ukraine (including a report about the number of civilian casualties in Mariupol), threatening the periodical to block access to it on Russia’s territory. In response, Vlast.kz stated that its editorial board had no intention to comply. (Vlast.kz) Other Kazakhstani news sources that recently refused to comply with similar requests reportedly include Arbat.media and Ratel.kz; in contrast, Newtimes.kz agreed with Russia’s agency request to remove an article about Western sanctions on Russia, stating that it was reluctant to lose access to its audience in Russia. (RFE/RL)
- Dec. 13 – In Moscow, police broke into the home of Yelena Verzilova, the mother of Pyotr Verzilov who is a co-founder of the Pussy Riot group and publisher of Mediazona. The authorities searched her apartment, seized all her electronic equipment, and summoned her for interrogation to the headquarters of Russia’s investigative committee. Verzilov left Russia all the way back in 2020 after he and his relatives were subjected to a series of searches and criminal charges were filed against him for failure to report his Canadian citizenship. Verzilov has been listed by the Kremlin as a ‘foreign agent’ and was placed on the ‘wanted’ list for the alleged failure to properly mark his publications as such. (Mediazona)
- – On the same day in Lipetsk, district court issued an arrest warrant for Ilya Danilov, a member of Avtozak LIVE, an online anti-repression watchdog project, and former coordinator of the Lipetsk branch of Alexey Navalny’s movement. The charge against him is based on his antiwar posts in his Telegram channel; the article of the criminal code under which he is being charged carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail. Last month, Danilov, who left Russia last year, was placed on the ‘wanted’ of the interior ministry. (Avtozak LIVE)
- – In Stockholm and Munich, conflicting information has emerged about Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a Chechen political exiled and leader of one of the anti-Kadyrov factions in the diaspora. As reported in our previous issue, sources outside of Russia claimed that Abdurakhmanov was assassinated in Sweden on Dec. 1. Yet neither Swedish authorities nor his relatives have so far confirmed or denied these reports. On Dec. 9, Radio Sweden announced, citing an official from a German court in Munich, that Abdurakhmanov was expected to testify at a court hearing there in a case that involves the assassination attempt against his brother Mukhammad. Yet on Dec. 13 Caucasian Knot reported, citing another official from the court, that Abdurakhmanov had already provided his testimony and was not expected to do so again. (Caucasian Knot) Tumso Abdurakhmanov recently announced the launch of a new political party in the diaspora, The Voice of Chechenia. His last online post is dated Nov. 30. His contacts in the human rights community have not heard from him or his brother since Dec. 1. Svetlana Gannushkina of Memorial and the Civic Assistance Committee commented that his relatives may keep mum about his assassination either because they renounced him, likely under the pressure from the authorities, or because they are afraid to remind about themselves. (Caucasian Knot) Some of the Chechen diaspora leaders stated that it was their hope that both of the Abdurakhmanov brothers were temporarily incommunicado due to the protection provided to them by Swedish and German police.
- Dec. 14 – In Moscow, the notorious Basmanny district court, issued an arrest order, in absentia, for Andrey Zayakin, journalist and scholar who is known as the co-founder of an online project exposing academic plagiarism by members of the ruling elite. Zayakin is charged with ‘financing extremist activities’, based on his donation of 1,000 RUB to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK); Zayakin made his donation on the day when the ruling that criminalized FBK as an ‘extremist’ organization, thus outlawing any contributions to it. In August, he was prohibited by court from using phone and internet, sending and receiving correspondence, and leaving his home at night. Zayakin is believed to have left Russia to Lithuania, although his defense attorney has not confirmed it to the court. (SOTA) The Kremlin has already placed him on the official register of ‘extremists and terrorists’; the ministry of justice has declared him a ‘foreign agent’; the interior ministry has placed him on its ‘wanted’ list.
- – On the same day, RFE/RL reported that Maria Zakharchenko (according to another publication, Zakharova), an antiwar protester from Krasnodar, had crossed into the US via Mexican border with her husband and 7-year-old son and applied for asylum. Zakharchenko staged a solo street protest on March 1, in the first days of the war, and has since protested against it with her Instagram posts. (RFE/RL Caucasus Realities)
- Dec. 15 – In Moscow, the office of the prosecutor general finalized the indictment of Aleksandr Nevzorov, an iconic TV anchor from the early 1990s who is currently publishing the most widely read antiwar Telegram channel, with over a million subscribers. Nevzorov is charged, predictably, with ‘spreading false information on the use of Russia’s armed forces’ in Mariupol and Bucha. Nevzorov, who has left Russia, has been on the ‘wanted’ list of the interior ministry since April; in May, Basmanny district court ordered him into pre-trial detention. (Prosecutor-general website)
VII. NOBEL PRIZE LECTURE OF JAN RACHINSKY ON BEHALF OF THE MEMORIAL SOCIETY
- Dec. 10 – In Oslo, Norway, representatives of the three Nobel Peace Prize winners – Natalya Pinchuk on behalf of her husband Ales Bialiatski; Oleksandra Matviichuk on behalf of Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties; and Jan Rachinsky on behalf of Memorial – received their awards and delivered their Nobel Prize lectures. In her introductory statement, Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, noted that the three laureates “have a common approach to exposing oppressors and perpetrators of war crimes. Their method is to systematically collect evidence of past and current human rights violations and war crimes. The purpose is to hold perpetrators accountable, to honour the victims and to prevent the repetition of atrocities. Reliable evidence is of vital importance not only for a legal process, but also for historical documentation and moral restoration of the victims’ perspective.” (Nobel Prize website) In his lecture, Jan Rachinsky, board chair of the International Memorial Society (one of the two legal entities in Memorial’s network that were officially liquidated by Russia’s court order), said that the sharing of this award with a Ukrainian and a Belarusian honorees “has great symbolic meaning for us: It underlines that state borders cannot and should not divide civil society”. He characterized the Kremlin’s military action as “insane and criminal war of aggression against Ukraine”. Rachinsky condemned the impunity of the perpetrators of war crimes by the Russian military, from Chechnya to Ukraine, concluding: “This chain of unpunished crimes continues, and it will not stop on its own. Nor will compromise lead to any durable solution to this problem.” In the final part of his lecture, Rachinsky rejected the notion of Russians ‘collective guilt’ as “abhorrent to fundamental human rights principles. The joint work of the participants of our movement is based on a completely different ideological basis – on the understanding of civic responsibility for the past and for the present. The responsibility of a person for everything that happens to their country, and to the whole of humanity, is based, as Karl Jaspers also noted, on solidarity, civil and universal. The same applies to the sense of responsibility for the events of the past. It grows out of a person’s sense of his connection with previous generations … Readiness for responsibility is an exclusively personal quality … And most importantly, a sense of civic responsibility, unlike a sense of guilt, requires not “repentance”, but work. Its vector is directed not to the past, but to the future. …” (Jan Rachinsky’s Nobel lecture)
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