Russia This Week: ‘If Putin Sends in Troops’ (7-13 July)

July 12, 2014
Screengrab of a dash cam video uploaded by Lenta novostei 11 July showing Russian armored vehicle in Razumnoye near the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Updated Daily. Refugees continue to flee armed conflict in southeastern Ukraine into Russia, but questions remain about how many of them there are, as both official and news reports differ substantially, and international relief organizations and journalists are not let into the border towns under a state of emergency. The retreat of Col. Igor Strelkov from Slavyansk and the regrouping of separatist forces in Donetsk has caused some of his supporters among Moscow’s ultranationalists to denounce him; meanwhile various hypotheses have been constructed about the role of Kremlin “grey cardinal” Vyacheslav Surkov in brokering a peace deal with Ukrainian oligarchs eager to preserve their properties and investments from war and the new government in Kiev which might lead to a “Donetsk Transdniestria.”

For last week’s issue with an analysis of the Russian government’s exaggerated numbers of “110,000” refugees from the armed conflict in Ukraine go here. There are likely tens of thousands of refugees, but with reporters barred from the area and towns under declared states of emergency, it’s difficult to get the real story. The US government has added Chechen strongman Adam Delimkhanov, a close associate of President Ramzan Kadyrov, to its sanctions list. A member of the Presidential Human Rights Council tasked with monitoring human rights in Ukraine was beaten in Voronezh. Separatists from the “Donetsk People’s Republic” staged a propaganda bus tour to a Ukrainian army base they claimed was surrendering, but the trip ended in the killing of a journalist from shell fire. The dismissal of ultranationalist and Eurasianist ideologue Alexander Dugin from Moscow State University was confirmed.

For the previous week’s issue on the Russian finance minister’s admission that the government has raided the pension savings of ordinary Russians to pay for the forcible annexation of the Crimea — and will not be returning the funds; on continued harassment of opposition blogger Alexey Navalny with libel suits and fabricated criminal cases — as well as a public witch-hunt; on a new government program to aggressively combat ill-defined ‘extremism’ under the new anti-terror laws that will target civil society — and also enlist citizens’ groups and ethnic associations to educate and displace dissenters, as in the Soviet era, go here.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs‏.

July 13, 2014

2124GMT: At a videotaped press conference 10 July uploaded to YouTube, Aleksandr Boroday and Col. Igor Strelkov of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” answer questions about their campaign and introduce yet another Russian with a checkered past — Vladimir Antyufeyev — who is to join them as “deputy prime minister.”

Boroday says he is just back from Moscow, but declined to say with whom he met there, characterizing this as a “military secret.” Yet he acknowledged that he considered his trip a success, and said, “I am very much counting on help from the Russian Federation in the very near future.”

The blogger Vineyardsaker has provided what is described as a “rough translation” of the entire press conference. We checked the video and found the translation was generally accurate, but The Interpreter edited and added a few things dropped as follows in the section on how Russian citizens came to head up the “people’s” republic in Donetsk, Ukraine:

“Reporter from the Wall Street Journal: I would like to ask the following question: the Donetsk People’s Republic and the People’s Militia of Donbass position themselves as being comprised of people that come from the land of Donbass that identify themselves as such. How did it come to be that before us are two citizens of the Russian Federation that command the entire enterprise? How did it happen?

Boroday: (smiling) I’ll tell you it’s worse that that. There are two Muscovites sitting before you.

Reporter: Yes.

Boroday: And I don’t see anything terrible about this at all. Absolutely.

Reporter: But, how?

Boroday: We see nothing wrong in this. Absolutely nothing. I would like to tell you that both Igor and I have been volunteers for a very long time. The volunteer movement is very developed in Russia.

The people of Donbass rose up by themselves. The fact that by virtue of certain…competencies, qualities and capabilities both of us ended up at the head of this movement – well, that’s how it turned out. This is normal and natural.

Moreover, please take into account the fact that the entire liberation movement of Donbass is oriented toward the Russian Federation. Oriented, if you like, spiritually or otherwise. And in principle expects Moscow’s arrival here, in the good sense of the word. Expects, thirsts, and simply prays for it – prays for the time of this arrival. And, so to say, any people from Moscow are welcomed here.

And, by the way, I would like to make one further announcement – fortunately, a person has arrived – regarding people from Moscow for the Donetsk People’s Republic, there are more and more of these people here. For instance, at the next Supreme Council session, we anticipate putting forward the candidacy of a new Vice-Premier of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

I would like you all to welcome Vladimir Yuryevich Antyufeyev. Vladimir Yuryevich, I hope you can say a couple of word to us. Vladimir Antyufeyev, New Vice-Premier of DPR. […]

Antyufeyev: Ladies and gentlemen, briefly, about myself. My name is Vladimir Yuryevich, born in 1951. I am Russian and a citizen of the Russian Federation.

My primary education is in law. As well, I am a graduate of the Presidential Academy of Government Administration of the Russian Federation, in the National Security Department. I hold a PhD in Political Science and teach as a professor at the Academy of Military Science.

My entire adult life and service while I was in Moscow I have devoted to fighting national-fascism in Latvia, in Moldova, and, now, in Ukraine (as well as in Georgia). I have been granted state awards by the Soviet Union, Transdniestria, Russia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. I say this not to boast, but simply to identify the points of application of my competency and the realization of my capacities.

I was invited by the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic to facilitate the creation of law-enforcement organizations, because the national-fascists of Ukraine, who have unleashed, under the leadership of the Kiev government, a war against the people of the South-East, have, in perpetrating these hostilities, substantially destabilized and undermined the functionality of these organizations.

The task I see before me consists of reconstructing the functionality of these organizations, relying primarily on the local law-enforcement cadre, to recreate these organizations, ensure that each and every citizen of the Donetsk People’s Republic is, first and foremost, clearly confident that both his personal and his property rights are protected.

I will conduct my activities in strict compliance with the law and the existing legislation and from the standpoint of the highest principles of fairness and a high civic duty. My military rank is Lieutenant-General. Please ask your questions.

Reporter: What will you be managing in the new government? What will be the scope of your responsibilities?

Antyufeyev: National security, the Ministry of Interior, the courts and the justice system, customs, and so on. […]

Antyufeyev: Well, as for the Prosecutor’s Office – we will be cooperating with the Prosecutor’s Office.

Reporter: So, in other words, the entire security apparatus, correct?

Antyufeyev: No, hold on, not exactly. The military component is excluded here – this is the prerogative of the leadership of the Republic. We will certainly build our relation in the context of cooperation, exchange of information and the planning of joint operations in ensuring state security and the defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic. […]

Reporter: Did you come from Russia today?

Antyufeyev: Yes, today.”

A lot is available about Antyufeyev’s background online, for example here in Russian and English that the DPR leadership has left out in this press conference. Basically, it’s the same story as Boroday and other figures in the separatist struggle — the revanchist forces who fought the liberalization of Russia and the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s from ultranationalist/communist positions in a variety of settings and armed conflicts, have come together again in the battles of the Donbass.

Antufeyev is definitely a man with a past — and a wanted man in Latvia and Moldova. He is a former Riga police deputy of criminal investigation — involved with police forces who cracked down on opposition in Latvia in January 1991 in the “Barricades” events which were a kind of a prefigurement of Maidan; ultimately he fled to Russia. Then he served as the head of the Ministry of State Security of the unrecognized Transdniestria Republic together with the “Black Colonel” Viktor Alknis who opposed Yeltsin, the independence of the Baltic states and the break-up of the USSR.

Antyufeyev led the Transdniestrian independence movement under the pseudonym “Vadim Shevtsov”, was exposed in 1997 and indicted for crimes against the Moldovan state in 2012, including “exceeding the power of office” and destroying a number of criminal files, and declared “persona non grata” by the EU, then ultimately dismissed by the new president of Transdniestria, Yevgeny Shevchuk, who prevailed over Moscow-backed candidates in elections. He managed to flee to Russia again, where according to Kommersant, he became actively involved in the invasion and annexation of the Crimea. During periods when he had to remain in Moscow, i.e. in 1999, he obtained his higher degree from the Presidential Government Academy of Administration.

July 12, 2014

0952GMT: This last week a hashtag has appeared in Russian-language tweets #путинвведивойска (“Putin send troops”). As with all hashtags, it’s hard to know how much influence they really have and whether all the people using the hashtag bear this sentiment — it’s used as much by people opposing the view or exploiting it to advertise things of their own; even those likely using it sincerely seem almost a parody:

Translation: Putin, I believe you from my last strengths only because I believe in God. [Putin send in troops] [Putin give the order] FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!

In some cases, this hashtag is being used to promote a new viral video, “What Awaits Russia: If Putin Sends in Troops,” that actually opposes the hashtag.

The video was made by Okeyam Nyet [No Okays] an anonymous person or collective which has an account on VKontakte with about 2,300 members currently, describing its work as “anti-Western creativity.” The account was opened in April of this year, and has posted various anti-Kiev memes and hate-posters against the Russian liberal opposition. Typical is its “Maidan Alphabet” series which creates negative memes out of the letters of the alphabet, for example “N” for Nezalezhnist‘, the Ukrainian word for “independence” — showing the EU and the US pulling the strings on Kiev.

Meme from Okeyam Nyet, 'N is for Nezalezhnosti [Independence]"

Meme from Okeyam Nyet, ‘N is for Nezalezhnosti [Independence]”

Earlier this year, Okeyam Nyet published a parody of a popular Maidan anthem, based on a poem by Anastasiya Dmitryuk, “We Will Never Be Brothers,” which got 300,000 views before being removed for copyright reasons.

‘If Putin Sends in Troops,” which already has more than 300,000 views (100,000 in the last half day) since it was posted 10 July, takes a decidedly anti-American tone, but warns all the “couch generals” advocating that Putin actually invade Ukraine what the consequences will be.

With fast-paced graphics intended for viewing on i-Phones, Okeyam Nyet flashes a sinister picture of Putin in dark glasses with missiles in hand and intones, “If you want Russia to get dragged into this war, are you prepared to watch this war not on your screen, but sitting in a trench?”

Screengrab from video by Okeyam Nyet, "Do you often use this hashtag, Putin send troops?"

Screengrab from video by Okeyam Nyet, “Do you often use this hashtag, Putin send troops?”

“Provoking the invasion of Russian troops to Ukrainian territory is the USA’s most important task,” warns the video makers.

Ukraine won’t be brought into the EU anyway, and IMF loans can’t save it, but when they can’t pay pensions and it’s industry is ruined, Russia will be blamed, says Okeyam Nyet. The world will denounce Russia if it brings in troops. The UN won’t authorize the troops because they will be on the territory of a sovereign state. The “state” asking for this — “Novorossiya” — is not recognized by anyone. The West will array against us, and our allies (Belarus and Kazakhstan) won’t support us. Even if Russia made a no-fly zone, America might make one too — what if they knocked down our planes? Are we going to start a whole war with Europe, America — plus Canada and Australia?

“That’s exactly what America wants, because it is gasping from a huge state debt, more than $17.6 trillion. They need a big war right away!” cries the video.

“Will hundreds die? Or hundreds of thousands?” says a voice-over with scenes of rows of crosses.

“The next time you say Putin dumped the South-East, think about what you’re pushing your country towards.”

The video has provoked a lot of discussion on Twitter and other social media.

Max Katz, a liberal opposition politician who was just able to clear the signature hurdle to run in Moscow’s municipal legislature elections this fall, said:

Translation: Even with all the nastiness of the parts of the video which are about the USA, it’s still anti-war, and that’s wonderful, therefore, ‘like’.

It’s not clear who is behind the account, but the sentiments resonate with some of the leftist ultranationalists of various tendencies such as Nikolai Starikov, a writer and noted conspiracy theorist who is described as “neo-communist and neo-nationalist” who has warned of the dangers of being dragged into a war and pointed out to those constantly griping that Russia isn’t helping the separatists that they seem to have not only acquired MANPADs, but have learned how to use them amazingly quickly for people who were only coal miners yesterday.

0902GMT: Last week, we published a translation of a piece by economist and former Putin advisor Andrei Illarionov on Ekho Moskvy which cited various sources in the Russian government warning at that time that “within 48 hours,” Putin may bring in “peace-keeping troops.” The 48 hours came and went and there weren’t troops — although apparently there was an infusion of some more high-power armor from Russia to the separatist movement, along with open admission from pro-Russian separatists that they received military assistance from Russia.

Screen grab from LifeNews video 10 July 2014 of Strela driven past separatist checkpoint in Donetsk, believed to have come from Russia.

Screen grab from LifeNews video 10 July 2014 of Strela driven past separatist checkpoint in Donetsk, believed to have come from Russia.

This weekend, we see another warning was published 9 July in the National Review, “A Dreadful Inevitability” by Askold Krushelnycky, saying Putin is likely to send his “peacekeeping” troops into Ukraine soon:

“Serious sources are predicting that Russian president Vladimir Putin will send his forces into Ukraine — possibly under the guise of peacekeeping forces, as he did in Georgia in 2008.

The chief of Ukraine’s national-security council has stated that the risk of Russian incursions is very high. And a Moscow source of mine with links to the Russian foreign ministry — who has previously provided accurate information — has said that Putin is considering sending in his forces within the next few days.

A member of the German Bundestag, Marieluise Beck, has said that senior Russian diplomats have warned Berlin that Moscow’s military will enter Ukraine regardless of whether the EU imposes a third tier of sanctions against Russia.”

We haven’t any more indications of these rumors, but it’s useful to see what Ukrainian blogger Petro Oleshchuk says about this on his Facebook page (translation by The Interpreter):

“Regarding ‘Putin’s sending of troops.’ It will not happen — and it is already happening. Let me explain.

Everyone who hears about the sending of troops thinks that this is a reference to some ‘official declaration of war.’ It won’t happen. There won’t even be any peace-keeping operations which we’ve been intimidated with for months. There won’t be anything. Formally and officially.

Officially, Russia will pretend that it has not relationship to what is happening. And will play the fool very comically. It will not be hard for it to do.

The events of the last week were a test for the world community. The blatant kidnapping of [pilot Nadezhda] Savchenko and other super-outrageous actions were provoked by the Kremlin’s curiosity: how far will it be allowed to go?

It turns out, a distance almost without limit.

There is no end to the sniveling of the EU and the US. Russia has learned this.

That’s why the Russian army became involved in the war so openly. They are simply fighting without announcing it. And everyone in the world seems to be ‘happy.’

Now, as needed, Putin will move all the specific units of the Russian army needed to fulfill assignments that after they cross the border will become ‘divisions and regiments of the DPR army.’

Thus will be decided the question of that army’s lagging behind in artillery and aviation. For the latter, by the way, they do not cease attacking local air fields. This is in order to rationalize the appearance of “DPR’s aviation.” If they aren’t seized, the hell with them! They will bomb without any reason.”

Oleshchuk believes that Russia’s intention is to make it appear as if “two halves of Ukraine are fighting” and Russia can be a “peace-maker” — all the while demoralizing the Ukrainian army until it accepts such “peace.” The ideas of past Czech President Vaclav Klaus are being invoked now to imply that a “velvet divorce” could occur with Western Ukraine and the Donbass, just as Czech Republic separated from Slovakia, although a “federalization” is more likely. Oleshchuk says Russia will continue to pretend it isn’t doing what it’s doing, and he says the only solution is for Ukraine to keep calling this out at every step and trying to influence world opinion.

July 11, 2014

1522GMT: We’ve been watching the changing kaleidoscope of the fortunes of Novorossiya (pronounced Novo-ROSS-iya), the shifting movement for an idealized region to be made up out of parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova — or perhaps, only out of Donetsk and Lugansk for now — which is the new place d’armes for Russia’s ultranationalists in their vying for resources and influence over President Putin.

In separate posts we’ve covered the speculation from both liberal opposition and ultranationalist regarding the possible ambitions of pro-Russian separatist leader Col. Igor Strelkov; the antics of leftist ultranationalist Sergei Kurginyan and his denunciation of Col. Igor Strelkov for losing Slavyansk, and his riotous press conference with the “people’s governor” Pavel Gubarev in which the fact of Russian aid to the rebels nevertheless slipped out; and the speculation regarding the intrigues of Kremlin “grey cardinal” Vyacheslav Surkov

Now it’s time to fill in another puzzle piece, which is the role of Aleksandr Boroday, the Moscow political consultant now serving as “prime minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” who some say is the auteur of the southeastern Ukrainian adventure.

Boroday is back in Donetsk now guiding what could be the pro-Russian separatists’ last battle. But last week he was in Moscow meeting with…whomever takes meetings with Novorossiya leaders. Novaya Gazeta‘s Vladimir Dergachev interviewed him 6 July on the rebels’ fateful retreat from Slavyansk, which has stirred up so much angst among the ultranationalist elites of Russia. Note: this interview came before Kurginyan’s revelations in the 8 July press conference about Russian assistance to the separatist but Boroday has not commented since.

Asked about the future governance of the DPR, Boroday made it clear that the vertikal , i.e. direct command under Strelkov versus a council of warlords would remain. Then he was asked about what has been seen as as “Surkov project” of disowning Strelkov and shifting attention to deal-makers among separatist leaders and Ukrainian oligarchs like Rinat Akhmetov, who are interested in preventing their property from being bombed. Here’s an excerpt of the interview translated by The Interpreter:

“Dergachev: What do you think, why did Sergei Kurginyan suddenly come to Donetsk with sharp accusations against Strelkov? Many connect the figure of Kurginyan with Vladislav Surkov and the “party of peace” in the Kremlin [AKA “the party of defeat” by others writing about it from another perspective–The Interpreter].

Boroday: I am convinced this is not the case. First I would not start connecting Surkov himself with the ‘party of doves.’ That is an incorrect point of view. Second, I don’t know why Kurginyan went there. Honestly, I am deeply offended by his outbursts against Strelkov. […] Strelkov commands as the leader for the whole republic. I would react harshly if I were in his place. Because during war-time, such statements are subversive. And I would advise Sergei Ervandovich Kurginyan to think hard before saying such stupidities.

Dergachev: The head of the Vostok Battalion, Aleksandr Khodakovsky, is no less a mysterious figure than Kurginyan. A former SBU [Ukrainian Security Service] officer, he prevented the nationalization of [Ukrainian oligarch Rinat] Akhmetov’s assets, it is his people who are guarding Kurginyan himself, and it was he who organized the failed storming of the Donetsk airport and the Marinovka border checkpoint…”

Boroday denied that Khodakovsky had any role regarding Akhmetov’s assets and rejected the idea that he was “freelancing.” This may have changed, as judging from Aleksandr Dugin’s denunciations of Khodakovsky’s splitting up from Strelkov, and other reports that Khodakovsky is challenging Strelkov with a rump of the Vostok Battalion from which many have fled, the vertikal may have broken down.

Boroday denied that Akhmetov was connected to Khodakovsky, although as commander of the SBU’s Alfa division in Donetsk he would have been known to Akhmetov.

Asked about his battle plans, Boroday is vague, although he comments obliquely that there was a certain “rules of the game” agreed with the Ukrainian military that were “violated” and forced the separatists to drop Slavyansk and move to try to block Lugansk and Donetsk in the belief the Ukrainian military could not prevail there.

“Degtarev: What do you think, what are the Kremlin’s plans? Many believe that Moscow does not intend to annex the territory of the [Donetsk and Lugansk people’s] republics but want to see an unstable territory in the east of Ukraine for further pressure on Kiev, and also to preserve the status quo in Crimea.

Boroday: I can’t confidently comment on the plans of the Kremlin at all since I have nothing to do with them. But I definitely don’t see in the Kremlin’s plans a desire to preserve instability in the so-called south-east of Ukraine. There is such a term although as you can understand, this is perceived extremely negatively in Donetsk and Lugansk. It is justified.

I rather see just the opposite, the desire to foster maximum stabilization. It’s another matter that the Kremlin and Kiev have completely different ideas of stability.”

Finally, asked pointedly if the separatists would lay down their arms if told to do so as a result of a deal involving Putin, Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch brought in by Putin to talk with Kiev, and President Petro Petroshenko, Boroday said Medvedchuk did not represent the people’s republics but was merely a mediator, and that the separatists had a condition: all Ukrainian troops had to be removed from the territory of the DPR and LPR. Ultimately, his goal was recognition of independence for the Donbass region.

Boroday also denied any direct connections regarding funding for the separatists and said Moscow was not a side in the conflict but was only “consulted.”

“Honestly, I didn’t think the war would be unleashed on such a scale and with such ferocity. I had hoped that it would be possible to prevent it,” he added.

He also said the separatists did not perceive that they had started the war, but that Kiev, and notably Ihor Kolomoyskiy, an oligarch and governor of Dnipropetrovsk Region were to blame for causing it; on 2 July, Kolomoyskyi was ordered to be arrested in absentia for the murder of civilians due to his purported role in creating the Dnipro Battalion.

1522GMT: We’re used to seeing the Russian stock market, the MICEX, continuing to climb as if the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions don’t make a dent. Over on our Ukraine LiveBlog, we’ve been steadily watching as the MICEX recovers from whatever setbacks it encounters. The MICEX is higher than it has been at any point in the last 9 months; it advanced last week when Russia didn’t invade, and its losses from having annexed Crimea have now been restored. Some analysis:

“But there are also two key myths that are easily debunked by looking at the data. The first is the idea that sanctions are having a significant impact on the Russian economy. They are not. The weakness in the economy predates and is largely unrelated to sanctions. The second myth is that just because the Russian markets have rallied means that there is no long-term consequence to the Russian stocks being in the lurch for months. The bottom line is that the instability, much more than the sanctions, did leave wounds in the Russian economy, and that will have consequences for future growth — as well as for Russian tax revenue.”

So the MICEX is an indicator of good business for some especially in Russia, Inc., the state-run businesses, but not forever and not for all Russians. (It’s also a Russian institution about which there is mainly only Russian-sourced reporting, so we can’t be entirely certain of its activities.)

Yesterday BBC’s Russian Service reported that capital flight from Russia has reached $74.6 billion for the first six months of the year, according to the Bank of Russia. By contrast, flight during an analogous period in 2013 was $33.7 billion. If everything is so good for business at home, judging from the MICEX, why has capital flight doubled?

An independent economist, Sergei Guriev, the former rector of the New Economic School who was forced to emigrate to France and now is a professor of economics at the Sciences Po, has a sobering analysis in the Russian newspaper Vedomosti. He notes that the annexation of the Crimea was not a “normal” phenomenon; the last country to annex territory was Iraq taking over Kuwait in 1990, and that the short-term effects in Putin’s popularity and confidence in the market may be followed by recession. The Interpreter has supplied translation of an excerpt:

“For many years corruption has been perceived as an internal problem which Russia must resolve itself. Moreover, Western leaders did not object to Russian corruption for its own even more selfish reasons. When the money embezzled by corrupt officials was spirited out of Russia and found its way into Swiss bank accounts or was spent on penthouses in Chelsea, Western governments placated themselves with the idea that powerful people in Moscow were vitally interested in keeping peaceful relations with the West. It was customary to believe that corruption made the Russian elite to a significant degree dependent on the West.

This was a mistake, and a very serious one, because it is Russian corruption which was a key reason for the Crimean crisis. Corruption has destroyed the Russian economy. And when economic growth ends, authoritarian regimes often resort to territorial expansions as an instrument of support for popularity and preserving power. […]

Why has growth ended? Because the previous sources of growth — the cheap labor force, the growing prices on mass consumer goods, the expansion of the market of consumer credits — were exhausted, and further growth requires stimulus for investments. And this, in turn, would require protection of property rights and a guarantee for the keeping of contracts — but it is precisely these institutions that are destroyed by corruption in the executive branch and judicial system. Even regarding the Crimea, investors have actively voted with their feet. Investments fell. Russian shares traded with a 50% discount on securities from other developing markets.

Leading the economy into a recession, the Russian elite has been forced to find new means of keeping in power. For an authoritarian regime, this is always a difficult task, requiring money, oppression, and propaganda. A recession means that the Russian authorities can no longer buy the loyalty of society for money. Only repression and propaganda can fill the gap for loyalty. Under these circumstances, nothing may be more useful than a little victorious military adventure. Tangible victories — it is not important how small they are, and it is not important at what price they are achieved — always increase the popularity of a leader. It is not surprising that the level of support for Vladimir Putin now has risen to 80%.”

This is a very old story, of course, epitomized by Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2:

“Therefore, my Harry,
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out,
May waste the memory of the former days.”

July 10, 2014

1652GMT: Svetlana Gannushkina, a respected human rights advocate specializing in issues of migration and asylum gave an interview to the independent web site Rights in Russia. Gannushkina, head of Civic Assistance and a board member of International Memorial society speaks to Andrei Shaly, and challenges the official statistics provided by the Russian government on the numbers of refugees coming to Russia from Ukraine. The translation is by Graham Jones of Rights in Russia:

“Shaly: Russian federal and regional officials are giving radically varying estimates of the number of refugees from the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. The data are so contradictory as to be not credible. According to Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of the human rights organization Civic Assistance and member of the board of International Memorial Society spoke to Andrei Shary with regard to the refugees

Gannushkina: I cannot state the exact numbers of refugees because quite a large number of Ukrainians entered Russia earlier in the hope that they might be able to find here not refuge but work, and most are in this category.

However, of course, the flow of refugees has increased considerably since that time. There is such variance in the estimated figures that it is very hard to say something with any certainty.

I am now looking at the statistics of the Federal Migration Service, and it turns out that slightly over one thousand people have applied for refugee status since the beginning of the year, and slightly over six thousand have applied for temporary asylum.

Why they don’t accept documents from those who came because of the war, because these people needed shelter, it is hard to say. Apparently, the State is unable to cope.

But at the same time, the Ukrainian situation has caused the first influx of people to which the Russian government is giving sufficiently serious attention and is endeavouring to help. The public supports the authorities in this regard.

I cannot call the influx of refugees from Ukraine “a humanitarian catastrophe”, because even the greatest estimates of their numbers which have been cited (and which I don’t really believe) are far less than the million people that Lebanon received from Syria, far less than that which Turkey took from Syria. Such a vast country as Russia can take in its brothers. Because to our country are coming people who do not just happen to be Russian speakers, but these are people who were actually born into the Russian language and Russian culture.

Shaly: Try to work out the numbers. Are there thousands of people by your estimates, or tens of thousands?

Ganushkina: I think tens of thousands. But the State has already estimated hundreds of thousands.”

Gannushkina said that she had not seen many refugees appear at her own offices, where many people from Central Asia and the Caucausus seek help. But she believed that the authorities were taking care of them in camps. A key factor in the flows of people was hysteria being instigated by Russian state media itself:

“Shaly: Is it possible to paint a typical portrait of a family of refugees? Is it the people who run from the Ukrainian authorities or from the separatists?

Gannushkina: It is people fleeing war, people who are saving their lives and the lives of their children. It is mainly women and children. If the men remain, if someone is involved in an armed conflict, then, of course, they try to send women and children to safe places.

It is always like that. Refugees are people who are saving their own lives, regardless of beliefs. Of course, that part of the Ukrainian population which sympathizes with separatists, basically goes to Russia, while others go to Ukraine.

According to Ukrainian statistics, they have taken about forty thousand refugees from the eastern regions. We have, I think, in general, more refugees.

Many of these people need psychological help, they are plagued by terrible rumours: yesterday I was hearing about “Jewish Freemasons”, before that I heard that “American soldiers were taking everyone they came across as hostages”. Of course, these are people who have been under great stress, but they are also the victims of their own weird interpretations of propaganda.

Shaly: By Russian propaganda?

Gannushkina: Probably, basically by Russian propaganda, but also in conflict zones, as always, there are terrible rumours.”

0631GMT: Moscow Times, an independent newspaper has a special feature on the refugee situation.

They report that “more than 400,000 refugees have come to Russia since April, according to the Federal Migration Service” — about four times the number of “110,000” which has already come into question. There was no independent corroboration of this number as international relief organizations and journalists have not had access to all the areas of reported refugee flows.

Novaya Gazeta
has reported that journalists are barred from border towns under state of emergency in Rostov Region, where many of the refugees from Ukraine are said to be sheltered.

Moscow News has found refugees in home-stays with relatives or friends in Moscow region and have interviewed some of them.

“As helicopters routinely monitoring for wildfires fly over the Moscow region, four-year-old Masha Kislovskaya fears that shelling will follow suit.

‘Grandmother, are they going to shoot again?’ she asks Olga Sadomichenko, 66, in a dacha near the village of Akhmatovo, 90 kilometers southwest of Moscow.

Masha and her grandmother fled from Kramatorsk, one of the strongholds of the pro-Russian insurgency that was captured over the weekend by Ukrainian forces. Provoked by a bomb that hit Masha’s kindergarten but fortunately failed to detonate, the two escaped just before the conflict reached its peak.”

The pair made a grueling trip out of Ukraine through four checkpoints and reached Moscow, but unlike the refugees described by Russian state media, this woman did not openly support the separatists:

“Despite the recurrent sense of anxiety and loss, Sadomichenko has no desire to blame the conflict on either the rebels or the government. While she believes that it would be better for her town and region to stay within a unified Ukraine, she argued that these territories deserved greater political representation.

‘There is a civil war over there that will not end until one side eradicates the other,’ she said.

‘The problem is that even when one side emerges victorious, the defeated side will not forget it. There will be this sense of grief that will not go away,’ she said.”

In the video, Sadomichenko added that the “Novorossiya” concept made historical sense, and explained that some people feel their Russian culture is suppressed there.

Anatoly Kuznetsov, deputy head of the Federal Migration Service, has cited the large number of 480,000 that simply could not be verified; he added that there were 16,000 in Moscow region, and of the total number throughout Russia, only 20,451 have formally asked for temporary asylum.

In keeping with the Russian newspaper tradition of organizing charitable actions, Moskovsky Komsomolets runs a regular section featuring invitations from people in the Moscow region to families seeking refuge.

0521GMT: The Kremlin doesn’t have daily press briefings open to domestic and foreign press; it has occasional press conferences in which interchanges with credentialed reporters are increasingly tightly controlled. The US-funded radio station Voice of America was turned off in Moscow and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has been forced to curtail its broadcasting there, but, the Kremlin’s aggressive propaganda TV and Internet site, freely operates in the US.

Among’s active measures in the US is sending its reporters to the State Department’s noon press briefing to press their agenda. On 7 July, an reporter waved a copy of a Wall Street Journal story which misleadingly reported a figure of “110,000” refugees fleeing Ukraine to Russia. reporter at State Department noon briefing 7 July 2014 reporter at State Department noon briefing 7 July 2014

She also held up large photos of victims of attacks on villages in Lugansk Region, claiming they were “ordered by Kiev.” reporter at State Department noon briefing 7 July 2014 reporter at State Department noon briefing 7 July 2014

The following is a transcript of the encounter:

“QUESTION: Last week, your colleague Marie Harf doubted the sources of a UN report that talks about a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing Ukraine into Russia. Well, I’m with RT; you don’t like RT. What about other news sources, U.S. news sources? And here’s The Wall Street Journal writing about the horrors that people face and why they flee to Russia. Are all these sources exaggerating the scale of the crisis there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s clearly a significant movement of people due to the violence caused by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, though the vast majority have not sought refugee status. That hasn’t changed. There are a few – and I think Matt asked last week what the difference is between here and Syria, and one of the differences is that there are a range of international organizations on the ground in Syria and NGOs who are calculating or validating the number of asylum seekers or refugees crossing the border.

And so this is single-source reporting strictly from the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Government, and that’s one of the reasons that we expressed doubt about the numbers or the range of numbers that were reported in this case.

QUESTION: But it seems that you are downplaying the – honestly, downplaying the scale of the crisis there. These are just – that’s the reason why I would show these pictures. These are shots of civilians blown to pieces in their homes and their backyards, in the village of – in the village in eastern Ukraine last week. And Kyiv ordered these killings, nobody else.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think —

QUESTION: What does the U.S. do to stop Kyiv from doing it —

MS. PSAKI: I think —

QUESTION: — from the village of Kondrashovka. It’s —

MS. PSAKI: Well, you finished – go ahead. I’m letting you finish your question.

QUESTION: Yes, I’m sorry. These are gruesome pictures, but it seems —

MS. PSAKI: I think to be clear, on the ground, the reports that we’ve seen and the vast majority of people who are reporting from the ground report that the Russian-backed separatists are the ones who are not only engaged in violence and efforts to take over buildings and attack people and innocent civilians. They have no place doing that in a country that’s a sovereign country like Ukraine, so that’s our issue.

QUESTION: These people died in air strikes ordered by Kyiv – not by Russia, not by the separatist.

MS. PSAKI: The Government of Ukraine is defending the country of Ukraine, and I think they have every right to do that, as does the international community.

QUESTION: Do the people – and these people have right to live, don’t they?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the people of Ukraine have the right to live in peace and security without Russian-backed separatists attacking their homes and going into buildings. And I think that’s where the root cause of this is and we shouldn’t forget that fact.”

As we reported on our Ukrainian Liveblog last week, LifeNews aired footage taken in Kondrashovka, near Lugansk, which shows widespread damage, reportedly inflicted by Ukrainian strikes 2 July. Nine villagers were killed.

Ukraine denies that the damage in at least one of the villages of Lugansk was done by their armed forces. Despite claims of civilian casualties, they say that their airstrikes were not conducted nearby, and their artillery was firing in a different direction. According to the statement published by, Kiev is blaming the separatists for the shelling that is killing civilians.

Human Rights Watch has investigated
the reported Ukrainian airstrikes, as have a group of Lugansk historians who say air strikes took place against a police station, but villages were shelled by separatist GRADs.

0506GMT: Once again, the State Department addressed the question of the “110,000” refugees as a journalist attending the briefing held up a copy of the Wall Street Journal with the headline citing the UN High Commissioner for Refugee’s use of the Russian Federal Migration Service’s number, and claimed that this meant that this reflected reality.

As we reported last week, the UN High Commissioner of Refugees does not have operations on the ground in Russia in the affected areas or at the Ukrainian-Russian border; OSCE has made a limited number of visits to a few camps. International NGOs have had limited or no access to Rostov Region and Russian journalists have been explicitly barred from the camps because the towns have been placed under a state of emergency.

Then Matt Lee of AP continued to drill the spokesperson on the question of the “110,000”, as he had in past weeks (Russian state media even concocted an entire fabrication of such an exchange). A transcript follows:

Matt Lee of AP at State Department noon briefing 7 July 2014

Matt Lee of AP at State Department noon briefing 7 July 2014

QUESTION: Jen, on the numbers. Are you now – when you say there’s been substantial movement across the border, whether or not these people are technically classified by the UN as refugees or not, are you still saying that you don’t think 110,000 is accurate? That’s the number that the UN gave last week. Do you still take issue with that number, or do you now accept that even though they’re not refugees, there are – and maybe not all classified as refugees – there are a hundred – that the numbers could be as high as 110,000?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the context of what I was trying to explain, Matt, is that there’s single-source reporting here just from the Federal Migration Services of Russia. It’s not independent international organizations and NGOs reporting, as it is in Syria and some other places, because they’re not on the ground. So we don’t have any validation of those numbers, though there’s certainly no question that there are a range – a large number of people who are crossing the border because of the violence they’re seeing on the ground.

QUESTION: So who is it that you’re saying is on the ground in Syria that are collecting these – are you talking about Turkey and —

MS. PSAKI: There are international organizations, NGOs.

QUESTION: But that would be the UN mainly, right?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who was the same person that’s saying 110,000.

MS. PSAKI: But they’re getting reporting from a single source in this case, whereas in other – in Syria, they’re getting reporting from a range of international organizations.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that the UNHCR is being credulous or they’re not looking at these numbers with enough skepticism?

MS. PSAKI: I think – I’m not trying to overstate it. That’s just the reason why we see the circumstances differently.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, when you say you acknowledge that there is substantial movement or substantial migration, whether it’s actual migration or whether it’s refugees or whatever, could that include – I mean, could that – could the number 110,000 – is that a feasible figure?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to guess at the specific numbers, Matt. I’m just expressing what our skepticism is about some of the numbers we’ve seen reported.

QUESTION: All right. And there are no NGOs, no international organizations that —

MS. PSAKI: Not that are reporting numbers on numbers of refugees on the ground to our – that we’re aware of.

QUESTION: In Russia —

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — or in Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, exactly, in the – what’s happening on the ground on the border there.

The issue here isn’t just that people might not want to classify themselves as refugees and formally register as such, or authorities have not classified them as such; the issue is that there just simply do no appear to be that many people crossing the border and remaining.

Until Russian authorities provide open access to international humanitarian organizations and journalists, and adequate numbers can be established through both official and independent reporting, the number should not be cited.

And we are bolstered in this point by the fact that Russian government wire services themselves have stated 18,000 last week and 25,000 this week – and also indicated that thousands are returning.

0446GMT: What’s going on at the Russian-Ukrainian border, exactly?

On the one hand we had a report yesterday from RIA Novosti with a headline that says “More Than 6,000 Refugees Arrived in Rostov Region From Ukraine in Last Day.”

Yet within the article, the regional governor was quoted as saying that “6,223 people crossed the border from Ukraine to Russia, and from Russia to Ukraine, 3,235, and 2,988 people remained on the territory of Rostov Region.”

That suggests that there isn’t a movement of “6,000 refugees” but a general movement of people, some of whom return and some of whom remain for longer, but might return.

The official also said that some people were sent to other regions of Russia in groups of a hundred or so, some to as far away as Astrakhan.

“Now on the territory of Rostov Region there are 25,343 citizens of Ukraine, including 9,259 children,” he added. What isn’t clear is how many of them came before the conflict, and how many of them are actual refugees who may stay. Interestingly, he doesn’t cite at all the figure of “110,000” which has been blared by Russian federal media for weeks. We can also contrast this report with a similar more measured report last week from ITAR-TASS of 18,200.

No doubt among them are refugees fleeing very real destruction and loss of services from the armed insurgency in southeastern Ukraine which is now being rolled back by Ukrainian military.

ITAR-TASS didn’t mention which border crossing points were being used, which is an important question to ask, because in another report by Ukrainain, Ukrainian officials said that Russia had completely closed three border crossings:

“Andrei Lysenko, speaker for the Council of National Security and Defense (CNSD) said since 1 July, Gukovo, Donetsk, and Novoshakhtinsk of Rostov Region were all closed. He noted that fighters had passed through these checkpoints unhindered. ‘Now the Russian government has equipment special checkpoints at these crossings, reinforcing them with heavy armored vehicles,’ he noted. He said there were reports that ‘it is forbidden to let armed fighters who tried to go into hiding from Ukrainian territory.’ Earlier these border crossings were closed after gunfights on the Ukrainian side, but passenger traffic had been restored.”

Another report quoting the same press conference
says that the CNSD spokesman added that Russian border guards shot at a car going from Ukraine to Russia “with mercenaries” which had twice tried to return to Russia.

So are Russian authorities allowing through women, children and elderly, but stopping men of combat age, especially if armed? This report says the checkpoints are closed completely. Russian media has also reported the shelling by Ukrainian forces near border checkpoints.

Interfax reported 2 July that border posts at Gukovo and Novoshakhtinsk were shut down due to gunfire on the Ukrainian side, and shells were fired again 4 July at Donetsk, but Caucasian Knot cited a spokesman for the Border Guard Department of the FSB in Rostov who said the border was reopened 5 July.

July 9, 2014

1453GMT: Fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has filed a petition to extend his stay in Russia, which expires 31 July, his attorney Anatoly Kucherena told a press conference today, reported by the Russian legal news site RAPSI.

Kucherena is a member of the civic board of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s successor, and sits on other law-enforcement related government bodies. He has been brought in by the Kremlin before to handle high-profile cases of interest to the Russian government, such as the charges against an alleged Russian mafia lord for fixing an Olympics skating competition.

RAPSI notes that on June 14, 2013 US authorities charged Snowden under three articles, each of them stipulating punishment of up to 10 years in prison; two of the charges were brought under the 1917 Espionage Act. Yet Snowden’s indictment remains sealed.

Snowden has been trying vigorously to find another country that could grant him asylum, offering to provide information and analysis about the NSA’s spying on those nations. This opens up the question of what his offer might have been to Russian authorities to either gain or extend his asylum in Moscow, although he and his US attorneys have denied cooperating with Russian intelligence.

Russian journalists have been unable to gain access to Snowden since his arrival in Russia, and only the most trusted like-minded foreign reporters have been granted limited interviews. Snowden appeared in April on Russian state TV in a pre-recorded, tightly-scripted video asking President Putin, “Does Russian intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals”?

Putin predictably answered that “this kind of uncontrolled mass surveillance, we do not permit ourselves and I hope we will not permit” — although Russian Internet providers are already required to permit surveillance of their networks and this month, at the Kremlin’s behest, the Duma passed legislation mandating foreign companies with Russian customer data to be located on Russian territory and thereby accessible to intelligence.

Snowden’s efforts to find refuge notably in Brazil and Germany, have failed, despite an active lobby on his behalf by German parliamentarians in the Green, Communist and Social Democratic parties, who would like him to come in person to provide testimony on NSA surveillance.

Despite further spy scandals involving allegations of US espionage, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has been reluctant to defy the US by granting asylum to Snowden. Meanwhile, Germany remains a de-facto haven for three of Snowden’s key associates, US citizens Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras as well as UK citizen Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks, who reside in Germany and continue to issue the most damaging NSA leaks from Germany. All of them say they cannot return permanently to their homelands for fear of additional interrogation and even prosecution.

0732GMT: Russian authorities are investigating the author of a critical report alleging massive corruption in the $51 billion Sochi Olympics prepared by opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

Translation: It has been confirmed: search was made of the parents of Nikita Kulachenkov, employee of the [Anti-Corruption] Fund. He was the main author of the report on the Olympics.

The Interpreter helped to translate the report which was part of an inter-active site on the expensive facilities built for the game by various cronies of President Putin.

It’s not certain if the case will be related to the Olympics study, as the search order is related to a contrived “stolen painting” case now under way against Navalny.

Translation: Search at yet another official of the Anti-Corruption Fund, Nikita Kulashenkov. He is summoned for interrogation regarding the theft of a priceless painting. I am taking on his defense; Lawyer Kushnir.

0724GMT: Rospechat’, the Russian publishing agency has asked Roskomnadzor, the state censor to inspect the Marvel comic book series Avengers for “propaganda of the cult of violence and cruelty,” Izvestiya reports, citing a source in Rospechat’.

Marvel Entertainment was purchased by Disney in 2009, and Disney is now trying to conclude a contract to publish the comic magazines in Russia, after the expiration of previous contract with another company. A contract was signed with Egmont Rossiya, Ltd. for two years to publish Spiderman and they were supposed to come out in August with Avengers. Each series has to be registered separately at Roskomnadzor as “media.”

From Avengers

From Avengers

Rospetchat’ was also concerned about the use of symbols of the USSR, characters related to Russian Federation officials, and the issue of violence.

Izvestiya took a look at the comic books, not yet published, and found one character has the hammer and sickle drawn on his chest and elsewhere in the story there is a reference to Russian Federations employees, but could not get an answer to its query as to whether using such references are illegal in some way.

Daniil Kuzmichev, a teacher of a course on comics at the British Higher School of Design said that communist symbols had long been used in Marvel comic books, and that the violence in them was no worse than the film Transformers, which has been shown in Russia.

Sergei Kopylov, head of the legal department of the Coordination Center for the National Internet Domain said he had never heard of any law forbidding use of symbols from the USSR; “it’s a state symbol of a country that doesn’t exist,” he said. He thought violence could be found in many children’s books including native Russian stories like Malchish-Kibalchish.

Malchish-Kibalchish, children's book by Arkady Gaidar

Malchish-Kibalchish, children’s book by Arkady Gaidar

July 8, 2014

2335GMT: Theorists and practitioners of the “Novorossiya” movement in Russia continued to take sides on the issue of Col. Igor Strelkov, self-proclaimed “commander in chief” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” in southeast Ukraine — and to reproach President Putin for not helping the pro-Russian separatist cause enough.

They also began to speculate whether Vyacheslav Surkov, Putin advisor often dubbed the “Kremlin’s gray cardinal” was involved in once backing separatists — but now pulling away from them to appear convincing in peace talks with Ukraine and the West — and prevent blowback from what has been called by Russian blogger Oleg Kashin a “Wag the Dog” scenario that may end up threatening Putin himself.

Yesterday, Pavel Gubarev, the self-declared “people’s governor of Donetsk” retaliated with a thinly-veiled threat against criticism leveled by ultranationalist Sergei Kurginyan, Essence of Time movement leader against Strelkov:

“Any person who criticizes the Commander-in-Chief during war time is a criminal. All the more because this person has no grasp at all on the REAL facts of the ground war, and is relying on certain mythical ‘facts’ known to him alone. And on the whole, it is hard to accept military criticism from a theater director. Most likely these are other people’s thoughts which were whispered to Kurginyan by enemies of Novorossiya.”

While not immediately apparent, the references Kurginyan is making in a dramatic press conference today that turned into a circus (excerpted by The Interpreter) come from a series of Russian Federation broadcasts, social media posts and articles in recent weeks as various figures among the Novorossiya supporters in Russia — as well as liberal Russian opposition figures — speculate about the role of Strelkov. The Russian blogosphere has been actively trying to parse the meaning of Strelkov’s retreat and Kurginyan’s denunciation.

Opposition leader and former first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov notes on his Facebook page that he finds it odd that Strelkov is never shown on Russian state TV, although he is the hero of the hour, and often references as leading the battle for what are supposedly the Kremlin’s goals:

“This is strange only at first glance. Putin perfectly well understands that after the end of the war (and it will inevitably end) Strelkov and his comrades-at-arms will return to Russia. They will return very angry, since they believe and rightly so, that Putin has betrayed them. He did not take Donbass into its fold, he did not send in forces. He provided some help, but not what had been expected. Except for the journalists, he abandoned those killed in Donetsk and Lugansk and did not help the families of those who died. Putin is a traitor, cad, and fraud.”

Then on Ksenya Sobchak’s talk show, Yegor Prosvirnin, editor of the ultranationalist site Sputnik & Pogrom remarks that Strelkov would make a better president of the Russian Federation than Navalny or Nemtsov.

A prominent journalist Evgenyh Gil’bo , known for his work on education and psychoanalysis frequently covering the nationalist and separatist causes has also written that after Strelkov gets done defending Donbass, he will head up a rebellion against Putin, who has betrayed the Novorossiya cause.

“If a consolidation of forces of the DPR and LPR under the command of Strelkov’s Headquarters and personally Strelkov, then we can expect order will be brought rapidly to Donetsk, purges of it of Akhmetov’s people and the ensuing advance on to Kharkv or in the direction of Crimea. If Akhmetov manages to go on supporting the situation of rivalry of regiments of the militia, the situation will remain a zero-sum game, but with a worsening situation. Under such a scenario by autumn, Strelkov’s people and those detachments who have joined him will be forced to leave Donbass and take Rostov under control in order to make it a base for the Russian uprising.

But today the intentions of the Strelkovites are just the opposite. Strelkov himself and Kurginyan, shuttling around Donbass in attempts to consolidate the resistance groups, are conducting a strict line of cooperation, friendship, and loyalty to the RF regime, limiting the ambitions exclusively to the creation of an independent Novorossiya, friendly and loyal to the RF.”

Ultimately, Kurginyan is a theater director and a politician, and the farce staged in Donetsk seems to have two purposes:

1) Signalling to the Russian separatists that they may start getting more assistance now but only if they make it absolutely clear they have no ambitions to topple Putin;

2) Signalling to everyone else that up to now Putin hasn’t been much involved in helping the separatists beyond some vague rhetoric about Novorossiya, but only the forces of “Red Orthodox” civil society have helped through “private channels.”

Meanwhile, as we reported on our Ukraine Liveblog, the Russian stock market hit a 9-month high and Valery Bolotov, leader of the self-declared “Lugansk People’s Republic” announced at a press conference that his forces had succeeded in pushing back Ukrainian forces:

“He also claimed that the LNR militia had acquired significant military hardware, though did not specify where from (though their claim to control a border crossing certainly suggests Russian imports).

Bolotov said that his forces now had “armoured vehicles and artillery systems” including Grad rocket launchers, howitzers, anti-aircraft systems and mortars.”

July 7, 2014

2121GMT: A Russian prosecutor has requested 8 years of imprisonment for opposition members Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev, charged with organizing “mass unrest” in anti-Putin protests on 6 May 2012 on Bolotnaya Square, TV Rain reported, citing Interfax.

Sergei Udaltsov in court. Photo by RIA Novosti

Sergei Udaltsov in court. Photo by RIA Novosti

Razvozzhayev has been separately charged with unlawful crossing of the state border when he fled Russia for Ukraine. Later, he was kidnapped and brought back to Russia to face charges.

The trial has been under way since 18 February, and another man sentenced in the case, Konstantin Lebedev, has been given early release from prison.

1958GMT: A Russian Orthodox priest known for his conservative pronouncements has declared that soccer is “a homosexual abomination” because of the shoes warn by players, Moscow Times reported.

Photo by Erik Drost

Photo by Erik Drost

“Priest Alexander Shumsky seems to have taken particular exception to the brightly colored footwear on display in Brazil, writing in his column on Christian website Russian People’s Line that players who wear green, yellow, pink or blue shoes helped promote the “gay rainbow.”

‘Wearing pink or blue shoes, [the players] might as well wear women’s panties or a bra,’ Shumsky wrote, adding that he was also offended by the “unthinkable” hairstyles of some of the players in Brazil.

‘The liberal ideology of globalism clearly wants to oppose Christianity with football. I’m sure of it. Therefore I am glad that the Russian players have failed and, by the grace of God, no longer participate in this homosexual abomination,’ the priest wrote in his online column.”

But participation of Russian fans in the World Cup was very much encouraged by the Kremlin, and a large Russian delegation attended the games in Brazil.

Yet as VICE reported, some Russian fans who held up ultranationalist posters with Nazi imagery were being investigated by FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force for racism.

Moscow Times reported that some Russian fans used images of the white Celtic cross associated with white supremacy.

Fr. Shumsky seems to have waited with his denunciation until after Russia left the games in Brazil when it tied 1:1 with Algeria and failed to qualify for the finals.

1617GMT: With the retreat of the pro-Russian separatists from Slavyansk this past weekend, there is a lot of Monday-morning quarter-backing in Moscow among supporters of the idealized “Novorossiya” or “New Russia” to be made up of territories taken away from Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

Signs that the Putin Administration was distancing itself from the most vocal cheer-leaders for its aggression against Ukraine began to appear with the dismissal of Eurasianist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin from Moscow State University, which was ultimately confirmed, and the trolling of Strelkov with a fake story that he “possessed an Israeli passport.”

Various ultranationlist figures are now taking to social media, where they find most of their followers (although they are also occasionally on state TV), to denounce or distance themselves from Strelkov.

Kurginyan followers in Moscow march. Photo by

Kurginyan followers in Moscow march. Photo by

Sergei Kurginyan, a prominent theater director, is head of the ultranationalist and leftist movement “Essence of Time,” known for their distinctive goose-stepping marchers all in red, carrying banners “USSR 2.0” in protest marches in Moscow. He is co-host of the Rossiya TV show “Historical Process” and also runs popular YouTube and Vimeo channels where he makes his pronouncements. This weekend a denunciation of Strelkov was uploaded. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:

“Why did he surrender Slavyansk? Because he did surrender Slavyansk. You artistic people living on the dole of various government agencies, can you explain why? Why did he surrender Slavyansk? Try to understand. Yes, it was a maneuver, Napoleon turned from Egypt, yes. But know they are stabbing people, do you understand? Stabbing people — the remainder of the militia and the civilian population. What kind of Napoleon is this? A magician in an empty place. With whom did he conduct negotiations about that surrender? Did he break out by fighting? Where are the casualties? He was given a corridor — and that’s it. Everybody, including all his militiamen, know that he was given a corridor. So that’s the second question: who gave him the corridor? Why did he give up the city? Who gave him the corridor? He left without losses, without wounded. Now they’re stabbing people there. An unprecedented abomination.

Third. Why did he swear to die there? Why did he give an oath? The 300 Strelkovites. The great Strelkov. King Leonidas of Sparta. The Battle of Thermopylae. That awful Internet system, which is prepared to forget what happened yesterday. It creates a slave. A person who cannot distinguish honor from baseness. Good and evil. An oath is an oath. Is this the Spartacus show? He played King Leonidas, now he’s going to play Napoleon? And then who will he play? Gen. Vlasov?

Next question. What was the minimal motivation? After all, he whined like an old lady, that no one was giving him anything. I take responsibility and I swear: he received everything. All of that pathetic fable that ‘they’re not helping me,’ ‘they’re not helping me, ‘they’re not helping me.” Recently, he began to receive everything. You understand? Everything that is needed for a warrior. I will reply that it was really the case that there was a monstrous military and technical imbalance. The Ukrainian Army, vs. the Popular Liberation Army of Ukraine as I call the militia of Donetsk, Lugansk and other cities. I call them the Popular Liberation Army of Ukraine, liberating people from the Banderaites. That terrible technical imbalance, which was the case, it was ended. Do you hear me or not? It was ended. The Popular Liberation Army of Ukraine, the militia, began to move in a direction that enabled it to give resistance to the Banderaites, a military-technical resistance. To run artillery systems, anti-tank systems, anti-aircraft systems.

And when I thought Strelkov was whining in public that no one was giving him anything because he wants to get more, I thought it was the normal behavior of an officer, who was requesting for himself still more. Any educated officer will request more for himself. But then that bluff that there’s nothing is taken for reality, it becomes embarrassing. Go there and have a look, take a walk around. You couch babblers! I ask you why at this moment, when the military-technical imbalance began to be removed, he surrendered the city, and surrendered it without any pressure from the Ukrainians, no one attacked him.

My next question: why, two or three days before that, various movements could be seen, in the Ukrainian Bandera elite, who began to prepare — do you hear? — prepare camps for the Slavyansk public — just barely three days before the surrender. That means they knew. Where were the talks on this topic help? On what hill? At what geographical location? Let them answer those questions.”

Kurginyan continues to quote the Russian poet Lermonotov about “the pathetic fable of justification” and describes Strelkov’s surrender as “a war crime for which he must answer.” He invited the Right Sector, the “followers of Stepan Bandera” to “come out from behind the backs of normal soldiers that the militia of the southeast don’t want to kill” and settle scores.

The video address had 11,302 views as of this writing.

1417GMT: Another bitter take on Strelkov came from Eduard Bagirov, a novelist and screenwriter who served as one of Putin’s campaign managers, in a post on Facebook. Bagirov is famous for having been arrested and charged in Cisineau in 2011 for organizing demonstrations, and for having escaped house arrest in Moldava in the trunk of a car.

“Returning to Girkin, who is Strelkov. Until recently, I had a restrained attitude toward him, to put it restrainedly. He has a position, it is quite articulate, and he is prepared to die for it; or, to be more precise place any number of any people — soldiers in the cartoonish army of Ukraine, his own subordinates and simply civilians — apparently it makes no difference to him, who he puts in that position.

But I am the campaign manager of Putin, and not Girkin. And I will never have a positive attitude to a person who tries to undercut Putin with obvoius provocations or provocative statements. Really, I’m wildly furious at this rudeness. Girkin is fighting not for Russia there, but for himself. Or fo rthe DPR, or the LDPR, or who the heck knows — for something, but not for Russia in any way. And for me, Russia is more primary than Donbass; in general I believe that Donbass is not our Russian Crimea, and under no circumstances does Russia need this crap at all, and we are not at all obliged to fight there at all. Why should we fight, please explain to me? For what reason should we put our soldiers there? For the ambitions, I’m sorry, of Girkin? For Ukrainian Russians, the borders are always open — come as you please, there are practically entire state programs to help refugees from there, and even without any programs we will always help our own. But Girkin does not seem to be one of ours.

Russia has a leader, he is the Commander-in-Chief, it is the president of the country, Vladimir Putin. And no Girkin can show him or provoke him into a decision with his small-town problems. Russia is greater than the Donbass and much more important, in fact for all Russian Federation people without exception. Therefore Girkin either has to follow recommendations from Moscow, or very soon he will share the fate of Sasha Muzychko — the Kiev junta will destroy him like a flea before he can utter a word. And no one will even feel sorry for him. There are a mass of such precedents in history.”

This post had 166 likes and 252 shares and 121 comments.

1600GMT: Notorious antisemite and provocateur Israel Shamir has an op-ed piece in Svobodnaya Pressa titled “We Lost Slavyansk, At Least Restore Dugin.”

Israel Shamir. Photo by

Israel Shamir. Photo by

And of course he couldn’t get by without telling an old joke combining sentiments against Jews and Americans in one swoop. The Interpreter has translated excerpts of his piece:

“Rabinovich was expelled from the Party, this was under Brezhnev. He came home, he fell asleep, and he had a dream. American troops had entered Red Square. Ahead was Ronald Reagan on a white horse. Led by Brezhnev, the members of the Politburo come out of the Spassky Gates bringing Reagan bread and salt, the keys to the Kremlin and the nuclear suitcase. Reagan looked at them and said, ‘I don’t need the Kremlin, I don’t need the nuclear suitcase, just reinstate Rabinovich to the Party.'”

Shamir adds:

“So I am telling you — it’s sad that Slavyansk fell, but now restore Dugin to Moscow State University. The fall of Slavyansk can be explained in all sorts of ways. Re-deployment, reduction of the front line, reinforcement of the defense of Donetsk, salvation of the surrounded group. Mobility is the first rule of partisan warfare. Mao had to retreat a thousand kilometers before returning to Beijing. The Reds left and came back to Kiev several times, and the Red Army or the troops of Batka Makhno ran all over the place without getting into position battles. If Strelkov retreated and preserved his people — he’s a good man.


But at stake — and I am speaking now about Dugin, and not Slavyansk — are freedom of speech, academic and political freedom, and most of all the future of Russia. Not because Dugin is so wonderful, although, of course, he is an outstanding political philosopher and metaphysician. Dugin is our patriotic Russian intelligentsia’s red line.”

How much influence do people like Shamir or Dugin have? They seem to have tens of thousands of viewers and can dominate social media. But Dugin’s dismissal shows the limits of their advance beyond Putin’s political positions. (For a good background essay on the role of ultranationalist groups in the Russian opposition since 2011, see Andreas Umland.)

And they themselves perceive themselves as being in a minority:

“But the patriots? They are at the back door, not at the front door. They have few newspapers, journalists and site. Not because liberals have won influence over the public — they inherited their control over the media from the Yeltsin regime. They did not leave in the ensuing years — the government remembers the patriots only at a difficult hour. Russia needs a real discussion of problems and ways of resolving them, a discussion in which there would be a place for patriots as well, who now feel as if the pro-Western liberals are holding the commanding heights in the press at the government’s expense with the help of Kremlin contacts. For that, we must save Prof. Dugin. If the patriots can’t defend him — what kind of Novorossiya can we be talking about?”

1357MT: Aleksandr Dugin, the ultranationalist and Eurasianist ideologue recently dismissed from his position at Moscow State University, stood by his hero, Strelkov after he fled from Slavyansk — and posted a picture of him in his new role as “Commander in Chief of the Donetsk People’s Republic”.

Igor Strelkov DPR

In a very long-winded post about Novorossiya, the State and the People on VKontakte today, Dugin concluded that “as in 1612 in the Time of Troubles, the people must take the initiative upon themselves.”

Russian Patriotic Poster in support of Novorossiya: "Popular Militia of Donbass We Stand for All of Us Russia, Awake!"

Russian Patriotic Poster in support of Novorossiya: “Popular Militia of Donbass
We Stand for All of Us
Russia, Awake!”