Russia This Week is a weekly review by the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project, surveying developing stories in Russian domestic affairs as presented in the Russian media.
Pictures Of The Week
Director Kirill Serebrennikov shared photos of the ballet crew on his Facebook account, after the Bolshoi Theatre was ordered to cancel the world premiere of his ballet "Nureyev"
Kirill Serebrennikov, Bolshoi Theater press secretary Katerina Novikova, and choreographer Yuri Posokhov.
(Source: Facebook.com/kirill.serebrennikov, July 11, 2017)
Kirill Serebrennikov, choreographer Yuri Posokhov, and ballet crew. (Source: Facebook.com/kirill.serebrennikov, July 11, 2017)
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7015, Russian Art Under Attack, July 18, 2017.)
In The News:
Navalny Vs. Strelkov
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny will debate former separatist commander Igor Girkin (better known as Igor Strelkov) on July 20. Their debate will be live streamed.
(Facebook.com/navalny, July 18, 2017)
The Hub Of Novorossiya
Strelkov (meaning "the shooter") was formerly the military commander of the Donetsk People's Republic, and has recently become a harsh critic of the Russian authorities. It is worth noting that Strelkov's opinion of the Kremlin turned hostile ever since he was removed from the post of Donetsk People's Republic defense minister. Though considered a marginal figure, Strelkov, as a fighter for the Russian world and a self-described Russian nationalist and imperialist, articulates the Russian right wing's attitude towards Kremlin policies.
Strelkov (Source: Vk.com/igoristrelkov)
On January 26, 2016, the Russian media outlet Gazeta.ru published the following article, explaining why "Stalinists" and "nationalists" have created "third political force" that revolves around Igor Strelkov:
"Russian nationalists and Stalinists are uniting behind the idea of Novorossiya. The creation of the 'January 25th Committee' [See Novorossia.pro/25yanvarya] chaired by the former defense Minister of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) Igor Strelkov has been announced in Moscow. For the time being, the purpose of the new forum is [limited] to an exchange of information, however, its founders' future plans call for the 'ingathering of Russian lands' in Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan as well as the construction of the national state.
"The founding meeting of the 'January 25th Committee' was held by the representatives of patriotic movements: the editor-in-chief of the nationalist site 'Sputnik & Pogrom' (S&P), Egor Prosvirnin, National Democratic Party (NDP) founder Konstantin Krylov, National Bolshevik Party (NBP) leader Eduard Limonov, an orientalist Anatoly Nesmiyan (known in LiveJournal (LJ) as el_murid) as well as two Stalinists: the author Maksim Kalashnikov and a blogger from Tyumen, Aleksey Kungurov.
"Maksim Kalashnikov conferred the name 'January 25th Committee' on the new framework, whereas others prefer somewhat more neutral terms, such as a council or a club or simply a forum.
"As Konstantin Krylov has explained to Gazeta.ru, the people who have gathered around Strelkov are united by very minimal criteria: they are well-known persons who are openly supportive of Novorossiya and at the same time do not hold liberal views. The forum assumed the most neutral name 'January 25th' simply because it was established on that day, and the date has no negative connotations in Russian history. Members of the new society do not presently refer to themselves as 'Januarists', similar to the historically familiar Decembrists or Octobrists.
"This forum lacks a distinct structure. [It is] merely an open community of people with fairly divergent views… However, we are all united around Strelkov and there is consensus on two basic issues. First, we all support the Russian people's right to self-determination. And second, we believe that Russia must be a just country and be a comfortable place to live, where Russians have equal rights with non-Russians, something that does not exist today. This is the minimal set of beliefs we are all agreed upon, the ideological hub,' Krylov says…
"Maksim Kalashnikov and Eduard Limonov, writing in their LJ blogs, call the new forum the 'Third political force', as distinct from the [regime] 'guardians' and 'pro-Western liberals'. 'You now have a place where to join and seek refuge and a banner to stand under in the event of a cataclysm. There is now a third force aside from the government and pro-Western liberals,' Limonov states optimistically and clarifies that the new forum is needed 'so that Russia is not inherited by liberals à la Khodorkovsky.'
"His prognoses for Russia's future, resembling those of other founders, are apocalyptic. 'We agree that the Russian Federation is sliding towards a systemic crash, that pro-Western liberals are not concealing their gloating and are trying on government roles in advance, whereas the government itself is doing everything possible to cause its own downfall. The current situation closely recalls the eve of the 'Maidan' revolution in Ukraine. And at the same time the country lacks a healthy third force that could at once stand up to dead end bankrupt regime guardians and pro-Western white tape [liberals]," Kalashnikov writes.
"He argues that the objective of the movement is to unite the Red and the White in order to prevent the disintegration of Russia and achieve the 'reunification of the Russian people in a single state.' The NDP leader Krylov clarifies that the forum organizers do not conduct any illegal political activity and their work has
little to do with day-to-day politics, however 'that may change in historically insignificant time.'
"The S&P editor thinks that Russia currently finds itself in a deep crisis and has no desire to emerge from it. In his view, liberal forces are busily self-organizing. Prosvirnin urges avoiding a repetition of mistakes made by previous generations of patriots. He characterizes the movement founders as 'meritocratic assembly': representatives of the Russian national army, from battle commanders to those who worked behind the front line, all of whom assisted the Donbass insurrection: 'All present aren't simply chatterboxes or web theoreticians, but they made a good showing in Donbass'.
"He said that the initiative belonged to Strelkov, but the idea was cherished by all participants.
"The S&P editor thinks that the first forum meeting proved successful and demonstrated that the organizers' views were aligned. He asserts that the organizers neither pursue short-term public relations gains in federal media nor promise to 'urgently save Russia', but are in fact after long-term global goals: to make Russian Federation a state where all are equal before the law and to fight against serious social stratification in society. 'The main principle is the reunification of the Russian people not only in Ukraine but in Belarus and Russian parts of Kazakhstan as well. The irredentism must continue and not be limited to Ukraine,' Prosvirnin says. He also proposes to change the country's federal structure by turning national republics into provinces. "When asked how Stalinists could find common ground with White monarchists, Prosvirnin answers that the founders' most important goal is to assist Russians living abroad and they are also united in their struggle for an equitable Russia…
"The movement does not intend to enter into direct conflict with authorities. 'We maintain neutrality toward the current government,' Kalashnikov asserts. 'We are not going to serve as their assistants, nor get soiled by association with them."
"The forum has already sparked criticism among the regime guardians. Konstantin Semin, the host of the TV channel 'Russia 24' program 'Agitprop', wrote on his Twitter account that all the talk of the 'Third political force' is reminiscent of Heinrich Himmler, the ROA [the Russian Liberation Army of Russians who fought for Hitler] and the NTS [the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists that preached a third way between Stalin and Hitler).
"Oleg Bondarenko, a political analyst close to the Kremlin circles, believes that Strelkov has not abandoned the hope to advance his political career. 'He sees himself as a Messiah and acts accordingly. Since they did not allow him to do so in Donbass, he decided to resort to political means…'
"… Igor Strelkov declined to comment on the January 25th Committee initiative, however in the past he had repeatedly told Gazeta.ru that under current conditions he had no plans to take up politics, form a party or get elected to the Duma.
"Since leaving Donbass, Strelkov has been in serious conflict with Vladislav Surkov who is responsible for Ukrainian policy. According to Gazeta.ru's sources, that prevents Strelkov from entering into Russian politics. Besides that, because of this conflict the former defense Minister of the DPR [i.e. Strelkov] ended up on the state media's black list."
(Gazeta.ru, January 26, 2016)
New Nationwide Assault On Navalny's Presidential Campaign
Independent media outlet Meduza.io summarized the latest crackdown on Navalny's presidential campaign:
"On July 5, police in Novosibirsk announced that they had reason to believe a bomb had been planted in Alexey Navalny’s local campaign headquarters. Officers promptly smashed in the door to the building and detained three people inside, including two campaign volunteers. Earlier that day, police spent the morning trying to use another excuse to enter the building, where Navalny’s staff was storing thousands of campaign newspapers for distribution throughout Siberia and eastern Russia. The police ultimately confiscated some of these materials, but the campaign managed to sneak most of them out a back window.
"The day before, on July 4, Navalny’s local campaign headquarters in Krasnodar was ransacked. In other cities across the country, the state authorities have refused to allow members of Navalny’s team to conduct any public campaigning… Members of Alexey Navalny’s national headquarters say the latest 'intensification' of pressure against regional campaign offices started at least three weeks ago. 'Not a day goes by without one of our people [in different cities] getting beaten up or attacked, or something of ours being broken,' Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s campaign manager, told Meduza.
"For example, on June 26, unknown persons vandalized the car of Navalny’s campaign coordinator in Rostov, slashing his tires. That same day in Barnaul, someone tried to set fire to Navalny’s local headquarters. Volkov ties the rising violence to a recent announcement by Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova, who declared that Navalny would only appear on the presidential ballot next March 'by some miracle.' 'Her comments that Navalny has no chance to register for the election have been used to trigger a new centralized campaign,' says Volkov.
"Early on July 5, police arrived at Navalny’s local headquarters in Novosibirsk, looking for 'illegal campaign materials.' Volkov says they tried to pick the office’s locks. 'They didn’t expect anyone to be there, but we knew it was coming, and we left some people behind on watch. [The police] explained that they were responding to illegal campaign work. They said they'd call an investigative team and threatened arrests, but after 12 hours of waiting, no investigators ever showed up, and they never produced a warrant to enter the premises,' Volkov said.
"By the afternoon, the police had a new story: the building that housed Navalny’s headquarters had received a bomb threat. Officers now broke down the door to the office, detaining three people inside, including two campaign volunteers. Afterwards, activists say the police started bringing into the office a series of black plastic bags filled with something they couldn’t see. A few hours later, the local news outlet Taiga.info reported that police had informed Sergey Boiko, Navalny’s Novosibirsk campaign coordinator, that they were now searching the office for illegal materials. The officers never presented a warrant."
(Meduza.io, July 5, 2017)
Alexey Navalny (Source: Navalny.com)
On July 11, media outlets reported that Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) submitted a request to a Moscow court to overturn Navalny’s suspended sentence to actual imprisonment under the Yves Rocher embezzlement case. The Russian government-funded media outlet RT later reported that Russia's prison service issued a denial that it had made such a request to a Moscow court.
RT wrote: "The press secretary of the Simonovsky District Court of Moscow, Viktor Vasilyev, told RIA it had received a letter from the service that requested the suspended sentence on Alexey Navalny be canceled and replaced with time served in a prison colony.
"Vasilyev noted that the court had registered the letter, but had not yet made a decision whether the request should be considered or rejected.
"Navalny’s lawyer Vadim Kobzev said in comments to RBC that his client had not yet received any notifications or warrants concerning the possible requalification of his sentence. He added that the defense team opposed the request and if the report is true Navalny’s lawyers would soon form their position and defend it in court.
"According to Russian law, a suspended sentence can be replaced with a real one when the convict systematically violates public order, in particular, when he or she gets convicted in civil cases two times or more within a period of one year.
"In 2017, Navalny was twice convicted on civil charges – in March he was fined for violating the rules of public events, and in mid-June he was sentenced to 30 days in custody for violating the law on rallies (the sentence was later changed to 25 days and Navalny walked free on Friday last week).
"Navalny was issued his five-year suspended sentence in mid-2013 after a court in the North Russian city of Kirov found him and two local businessmen guilty of embezzling funds from state-run timber company Kirovles. Navalny appealed the sentence and eventually took it to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR ruled that Navalny’s right to a fair trial had been violated and in November last year, Russia’s Supreme Court vacated Navalny’s sentence and sent the Kirovles case for a retrial.
"In February 2017, the Leninsky District Court in Kirov again passed a five-year suspended sentence on Navalny after finding that the activist had organized the embezzlement scheme while acting out of profit motives. Navalny was also ordered to pay 500,000 rubles in fines (US$8,300). As Navalny had served a large part of the term after his first sentence, the judge deducted this period from the new term, and the new suspended sentence is set to expire in August 2018.
"The Kirovles case sentence is important because it undermines Navalny’s declared intention to run for the Russian presidency in 2018, as Russian law prohibits people serving suspended sentences from becoming candidates.
"In a separate case, Navalny was sentenced to 3.5 years suspended in December 2014. The court ruled that in 2012 the activist, together with his brother Oleg, who worked as a senior manager in a subsidiary of the state enterprise Russian Post, deceived representatives of the international cosmetics giant Yves Rocher into signing a transportation contract with Oleg Navalny’s own company at inflated prices, embezzling about $500,000 as a result.
"Later on [July 11], [Russian news agency] Interfax reported that Simonovsky District Court rejected the request from the Federal Service for Execution of Punishment, citing technical reasons. 'The letter was sent back because it was not signed,' the court’s press secretary told reporters.
"Navalny reacted to the developments later in the day, writing 'What is going on?' on his Twitter…"
(Rt.com, July 11, 2017)
Extra-Judicial Killings In Chechnya
The Russian independent media outlet Novaya Gazeta published a new investigation into the conduct of Chechen authorities. According to the publication the Chechen authorities executed at least 26 people ( extra-judicial killings) in January 2017, while the real number may be at least twice higher. The Russian ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova was provided with the materials and initiated a request to Central Investigative Committee, which in turn replied that the investigation could not be pursued since the materials provided lacked personal information of the victims. Although the newspaper concedes that it cannot confidently claim that extra-judicial killings took place, the article's authors call for the launch of an official investigation into the allegation.
(Novayagazeta.ru, July 9, 2017)
Novaya also quoted presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov saying: "Yes, we've seen the publication and paid attention to it, we have also paid attention to statements by the Chechen Ministry of Interior denying those allegations. The information is anonymous, the sources of the information are unclear".
Chechen authorities denied the allegations.
(Novayagazeta.ru, July 10, 2017)
Meduza.io reported: "Russia’s National Guard said in a press release… it plans to bring lawsuits against people who threaten or harass its troops on the Internet. Officials haven’t yet named any of the supposed victims or perpetrators, but the National Guard’s public statement says, 'The authors of these publications often hide behind exceptionally noble goals, sometimes calling themselves anti-corruption fighters.'
"The National Guard argues that harassing its officers online encourages an 'incorrect understanding' of how to register complaints against the agency, and 'generates hostility and discredits the authorities in the eyes of society.'
"The National Guard’s announcement comes as police continue a nationwide crackdown on Alexey Navalny’s presidential campaign offices. Last week, during a raid on Navalny’s Moscow headquarters, a lieutenant in the National Guard used sambo combat maneuvers against a volunteer who refused to show his passport and allegedly interfered with police work."
(Meduza.io, July 11, 2017)
Earlier the National Guard complained (as posted on its social media account) about activists, who publish negative comments on the Internet (mainly blogs and social media) against the National Guard, threatening the servicemen and their families.
(Rbc.ru, July 11, 2017)
An official statement of the National Guard read: "The National Guard stresses that it is ready for a substantial dialogue with society. Having said that, the National Guard will not tolerate biased allegations, false statements and humiliation and will protect its reputation in court, as provided by law ".
(Rosbalt.ru, July 11, 2017)
Strange But True
Reading the Bible in public, while involving other people who become unwilling participants, runs counter o the local law on demonstrations and public assembly and therefore the organizers of such events are obligated to notify the authorities prior to an event. The case was presented to the EHRC following a fine levied on an evangelical priest for reading the Bible aloud to his followers in a local café back in 2014. The authorities argue that prior notification (and therefore authorization) would have obviated any type of danger to the participants and the surrounding while ensuring that police protection for public safety reasons would have been provided.
(Vedomosti.ru, July 4, 2017)
Interfax reported: "The Russia Justice Ministry says that its stance in the Strasbourg Court regarding a lawsuit filed by Sochi resident Alexei Kolyasnikov, who was fined in 2014 following a collective reading of the Bible in a cafe, is based on the court judgments that came into effect and does not encroach on the constitutional rights of believers. 'The Russian Justice Ministry's position on this case is based on the provisions of the aforementioned law and the court judgments in effect handed down on the plaintiff,' the Justice Ministry's press service told Interfax in response to the relevant question. 'This standpoint cannot be considered as limitation of the freedom of conscience and religious rights of people guaranteed by the Russian Constitution,' the ministry said. 'Domestic legal instances held the plaintiff of the Kolyasnikov vs. Russia claim accountable in a way of an administrative fine not for 'collective Bible reciting' but for breaching requirements set in the federal law 'On gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets',' it said. 'The Bible reading in the cafe should be coordinated with the authorities, because it is necessary to ensure the safety of people, who take part in a sermon and cafe visitors,' the Vedomosti newspaper reported earlier, referencing the Russian envoy to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Mikhail Galperin's stance on the Alexei Kolyasnikov case.
"Kolyasnikov was fined in 2014 for breaching the rules of a mass event following the issuance of a protocol for collective Bible reciting at the Sochi cafe without preliminary coordination with the authorities.
"The ECHR asked several questions regarding the lawsuit, in particular, whether the fine is a breach of the right of religious freedom."
(Interfax.com, July 4, 2017)