Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here, and see also our Russia This Week story The Guild War â How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features âManaged Springâ: How Moscow Parted Easily with the âNovorossiyaâ Leaders, Putin âThe Imperialistâ A Runner-Up For Timeâs âPerson of the Yearâ and It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy, It’s Putin.
The Moscow Section of the Russian Red Cross has expressed concerns about how the Russian Emergencies Ministry, a “militarized agency” has ended up in a foreign country — Ukraine.
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The Facebook group Vstrecha na Manezhnoy 30 Dekabrya [Meeting on Manezhnaya Square on December 30] shows 15,000 guests, 2,500 “maybe” for this event and 114,000 “invited.”
Note that some people are already calling this action “EuroManezh” in an echo of “EuroMaidan,” the protest in Kiev last year, and even calling it “Evromanezhka,” which is an affectionate Russian diminuitive.
Translation: the Russian media are blocking info about Euro Manezh.
Translation: EuroManezhka – on Manezh Square in Moscow, police have organized and put up [barricades].
Activists are expecting a heavy police presence as the protest organizers do not have a permit.
Agitators are already appearing on social media trying to talk people out of going.
Translation: This is in the Meeting on Manezhnaya Group.
Text: Petr Pi
Friends, this event is not authorized, and in fact there was deliberately no application!! that is, it is known in advance that it will be brutally dispersed. Paid activists are leading you into a blood-bath to obtain impressive photographs for Western media to support military actions against you in fact, and those who aren’t involved at all. This is a brutal provocation and it will end in blood-shed…your blood, our blood!! Suppress your emotions, take a deep breath, sit home with your loved ones and drink tea with candies!!
Translation: Meeting on Manezhnaya – at 19:00 30 December – White Riot
But Russian-speaking activists in Ukraine were also sharing advice — and it wasn’t clear if this, too was designed to radicalize some people and then get them into trouble:
Translation: I liked this post in Facebook in the group for today’s protest on Manezh Square. A guide. But it will not go that far.
Andrey Gaydut of Kiev
A few pieces of advice:
– don’t piss on the OMON [riot police], they’re not prepared for that
– pull them out of their group and f**k them, especially effective for this are ropes with hooks (like Scorpion and Mortal Kombat)
– if they pull out one of yours, fight them off immediately
– the OMON are working for wages and are not prepared to die for you, this has been tested on the Berkut
– ‘Molotov’ cocktails are very effective, prepare them in advance, dissolve some foam plastic in acetone and add in a little silver wool
– ordinary protests don’t have any result, they are expecting a peaceful rally
– prepare above all to spill your blood, otherwise there is no point in even going out
– if you think up something serious don’t write that ‘for everyone,’ make a mini-group. Invite into it only people you know.
– patrol the area in cars, rescue the detainees.
All of the above may sound a little wild for you, but it works.
Your main mistake is that you are going out ‘for Navalny’. You have to go out against the system.
Nothing will be achieved with ‘for Navalny’; ‘with ‘against the system,’ there is a chance.
Don’t pay attention to bots/trolls/Olginos [Kremlin troll farm in suburb of Olgino] who tell you that you are wasting your energy for nothing. That’s obvious, but yet you still fight them in the comments.
Above all, turn to the ultras [soccer fans]. You’re the only ones who can do that. All the rest rae ordinary hipsters who will scatter at the first attack of the riot police.
They are prepared to go very far. Be prepared to go even further.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Strilchenko is an expert for the Permanent Commission on Military-Civilian Relations of the official Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, and head of the First City Independent Military Medical Expert Commission in St. Petersburg.
Krivenko posted a notice signed by himself and Yelena Polyakova, head of the St. Petersburg Soldiers’ Mothers, on his Facebook page, about the beating of Strilchenko on his way to work at 9:00 am on December 24:
The Interpreter has a translation:
The incident took place at the entrance to the clinic — two unknown men fell on the doctor from behind and began to beat him with metal rods on the head and over his body. Altogether, Strilchenko suffered several dozen blows, and numerous bruises and lacerations.
No one managed to detain the assailants — the men were disguised as construction workers, and disappeared from the crime scene, to which police were called. Strilchenko himself, who was hospitalized in the Mariinskaya City Hospital, is convinced this attack was planned. According to Strilchenko, the attackers hid their faces with raised collars and hats, and they were dressed in dark clothing and construction workers’ vests. Repair and construction work is underway on the grounds of the hospital, and the assailants apparently knew about this in advance and prepared accordingly. Strilchenko survived only due to the fact that he managed to jump away from the blows and run into the clinic.
Unquestionably, we connect the attack on Strilcheko to his active anti-corruption work related to the military draft. In 2012, he exposed a corrupt scheme involving the draft, the result of which were massive inspections of draft boards in 2012 and 2013.
One month ago, on November 25, 2014, at a Presidential Human Rights Council meeting at which two Defense Ministry deputies were present, Strilchenko read a report on facts of corruption in the draft board in St. Petersburg. He estimated the amount of corrupt capital involved in St. Petersburg to be about US $20 million a year.
But despite the available facts, it has not been possible to get a full investigation of them. All appeals from Strilchenko and human rights advocates sent to the district command, the district military prosecutor and the Defense Ministry and Chief Military Prosecutor’s office, including numerous facts of corruption in the St. Petersburg draft board in which the name, patronymic and last name of citizens are indicated who have been released from service via fake medical documents have received only formal replies.
The attack on Strilchenko is the latest revenge and act of intimidation on the part of corrupt forces who have unleashed an undeclared war in recent years against human rights defenders and civic activists.
Krivenko also posted the statement on a website about the Presidential Human Rights Council, although it did not appear on kremlin.ru.
Desperate parents are prepared to pay large bribes to military officials and physicians to keep their sons out of the draft, because not only are conditions in the Russian military poor and abusive, with rampant hazing, assaults and suicides, now there is the risk of being sent into combat in Ukraine.
Activists have sought membership in the Presidential Council, which, while considerably coopted, retains some degree of authority, as a means of protection against persecution. This has not worked very well in recent months as another member was beaten in Voronezh, and Polyakova of the Soldiers’ Mother group had her organization declared a “foreign agent.”
Both Krivenko and Polyakova have been active in probing the deaths of Russian soldiers in combat in Ukraine, but have been stone-walled by Defense Ministry officials.
Strilchenko, giving a lecture at Memorial Human Rights Center about the draft in 2011.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Leonid Volkov, the activist who started the Facebook event page to protest the verdict in the case of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, has made a new page for December 30. So far, there are no complaints that this page has been blocked (yet), as his original (but not subsequent) event page was blocked by Facebook after the Russian state censor filed a complaint.
Already, Volkov has 99,000 people invited on the new page, 12,000 responding that they are “going” and 1,900 that “maybe” they will go.
Translation: I made a new event. And I’m going to the airport.
Navalny has already posted a tip for demonstrators to keep in touch even if the Internet is shut off in the area — a technique sometimes used in the region to foil rallies.
Translation: You should install FireChat on your mobile telephones, it works as a messenger even if Internet and mobile connections are shut off.
FireChat was used by Hong Kong demonstrators.
Translation: How to invite all your Facebook friends with one click. Important instruction, RT, please!
In the end, Twitter, Firechat and other new Internet technologies will not determine the success of the action, but the willingness of people to show up on a cold holiday morning and risk arrest for at least 5 days or more.
Translation: it will be fun and terrifying. And very cold.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The US government has added more individuals to the “Magnitsky List,” the list of persons sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in relationship to the unlawful imprisonment and death of Sergei Magnitsky and other massive human rights violations in Russia.
The following individuals have been added to OFAC’s SDN List:
ALAUDINOV, Apti Kharonovich (a.k.a. ALAUDINOV, Apt
Aaronovitch; a.k.a. ALAUDINOV, Apty); DOB 05 Oct 1973; POB Stavropol,
Russia; Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of the Chechen Republic and
Major General of the Police (individual) [MAGNIT].DAUDOV, Magomed Khozhakhmedovich (a.k.a. DAUDOV, Magomed
Hojahmedovich; a.k.a. DAUDOV, Magomed Hozhahmedovich); DOB 26 Feb 1980;
POB Shpakovskoe, Shpakovsky District, Stravopol, Russia; Chief of Staff
of the Executive Office of Head and Government of the Chechen Republic;
Chief of Presidential Administration for the Russian North Caucasus
Region of Chechnya (individual) [MAGNIT].GRIN, Victor Yakovlevich (a.k.a. GRIN, Viktor); DOB 01 Jan 1951 (individual) [MAGNIT].
STRIZHOV, Andrei Alexandrovich; DOB 01 Aug 1983 (individual) [MAGNIT].
The State Department has issued a further explanation of the sanctions today, in conjunction with the Annual Report on the Implementation of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act:
As part of this report, the State Department, in concert with the Treasury Department, added additional names to the list of persons who have been determined, based on credible information, to meet the criteria described in the Act.
The criteria include persons involved in the criminal conspiracy uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died of medical neglect on November 16, 2009, after a year in pre-trial detention in a Moscow prison, after he uncovered a large tax fraud scheme perpetrated by Russian officials. The criteria also include individuals responsible for Magnitsky’s detention, abuse, or death, and those who engaged in subsequent cover-up efforts.
Additionally, the criteria also cover persons responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights against whistleblowers and individuals attempting to exercise, defend, or promote their internationally recognized human rights and freedoms in the Russian Federation. The list now comprises 34 names, including 16 individuals added in the past year.
Persons on the list are ineligible for visas and to be admitted to the United States. Their property and interests in property subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and transactions in such property or interests in property are prohibited.
A parody account for LifeNews, a TV channel close to intelligence and law-enforcement, has also posted some pictures of vans on Manezh:
Translation: A correspondent reports that several vans have broken down on Manezh and Pushkin Squares. They are just standing there.
Some people are also worried that tactics will be used to foil demonstrators that have been used before, notably in December 2010 by Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka, when faced with a mass rally in the main square of Minsk.
Translation: Tomorrow they will pour another skating rink on Manezh Square in Moscow. The water trucks are already on their way.
Note that many of these tweets are hearsay or speculation, and we still do not have live reporting directly from the scene.
Large decorations filling up the square were already in place.
Translation: Gigantic tree ornament on Manezh Square.
Translation: They other day they blocked off Tverskaya.
Kireev, a photo-correspondent who often covers demonstrations and riots in Moscow, covered the protest on Tverskaya, a main street of Moscow, which some saw as a warm-up for the demonstration originally planned for January 15 on Manezh.
OVDInfo, a police monitoring group, says the people arrested in the Tverskaya protests are already being sentenced: Marina Goncharova was given 5 days of jail and Danil Boyarkov was given 8 days.Both are charged with “insubordination to the lawful demands of a police officer” (Art. 19.3 of the administrative code). This is what protesters who attend an unauthorized rally can expect.
OVDInfo is already gearing up for tomorrow:
Translation: Don’t forget to write down our telephone! Tomorrow we will be working full tilt: we are collecting information and handing it to our lawyer friends.
One lawyer, Max Krupsky who showed up to defend the Tverskaya demonstrators found himself charged with “non-compliance of bailiff’s order” for failing to present his identification to a police officer and court bailiff because he believed it was not justified.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The ruble is once again collapsing, down nearly 9% since the start of trading today. As of 17:46 GMT, the ruble is trading at 58.59 to the US dollar. As you can see from the chart below, the collapse may not have stopped there, and there is no signs that the ruble is going to stabilize.
The Central Bank has made efforts to fix the problem, but their efforts have not stopped the ruble’s decline, and as AP reports, the Russian government is running out of options:
The fall came as the Economic Development Ministry issued a report showing the economy shrank by 0.5 percent in November compared with a year earlier. The ministry attributed the year-on-year decline in the economy, Russia’s first in five years, to a sharp drop in manufacturing and investment…
The bank’s foreign currency reserve has now dropped below $400 billion for the first time since August 2009, as the government has been selling the currency on the market to support the ruble…
The government on Monday announced new steps to prop up the banking sector. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a government session that he has just signed a decree to provide a total of 1 trillion rubles ($19.6 billion) to Russian banks. The list of the banks and the amount that each of them will receive is expected drawn up by mid-January, according to Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.
— James Miller
The verdict for opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny was scheduled for January 15th, after both Western and Russian Orthodox Christmas celebrations and New Years, times where both Russians and Western observers are often on vacation or paying less attention to the news.
Today, however, in a surprise announcement, the official website of Navalny has posted a statement that the verdict has been moved up to tomorrow at 9 AM. The Moscow Times reports:
Navalny announced the news on his official website late Monday afternoon. “Five minutes ago we were all informed (my lawyers, myself and Oleg) that the verdict will be tomorrow, Dec. 30 at 9 a.m.,” Navalny wrote…
The date of the ruling had originally been set for Jan. 15, with supporters of the prominent anti-corruption campaigner planning a mass protest the day of the decision.
More than 12,000 people said on Facebook earlier this month that they would attend the rally in support of Navalny, but the Facebook page was blocked on Dec. 21 at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office. Critics said the move demonstrated the authorities’ determination to crack down on any opposition sentiment in the country amid the current difficult economic situation.
The organizers of the Jan. 15 rally reacted quickly, however, moving up their protest to Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Manezh Square. Police appeared to respond quickly too: On Monday evening, many Muscovites reported on Twitter that police vans were already parked at the square.