Russia This Week: Justice Ministry Launches Lawsuit Against Memorial Society (October 6-12)

October 11, 2014
Memorial Society offices, 12.01.2012.. Photo by Kirill Kallinkov/RIA Novosti.

Updated Daily.

This week’s issue:

Belarusian Dictator Challenges Putin’s ‘Russian World’ With Support of Ukrainian Integrity
Dozens of Ukrainian Soccer Fans Detained in Belarus for Anti-Putin Song
Russian Justice Ministry Files Lawsuit to Liquidate Russian Memorial Society
What’s Going On With Major-General Igor Bezler of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’?
Russian Journalists Mark 8th Anniversary of Assassination of Anna Politkovskaya

Last week’s issue:

5 Policeman Killed Detaining Suicide Bomber in Grozny; Terrorist Identified
Russian Ultranationalist Web Site Owner Summoned to Police in ‘Extremism’ Investigation
Despite Further Refutations Even From Separatist Leaders, Mass Graves, ‘Organ-Trafficking’ Disinformation Still Circulates
OSCE Representative on Human Trafficking Purveys Russian Propaganda Story of ‘Organ-Trafficking’ in Ukraine
Veteran Russian Human Rights Group to Curtail Operations
Putin’s Girlfriend to Head Russian Media Group
Russian State Media Continues to Distort News of Mass Graves in Ukraine
RT Plagiarizes Breitbart Story On Obama’s Intelligence Briefings
Russian Ruble Hits All-Time Low
The Mystery Surrounding the Death of Russian Journalist Andrei Stenin
Pro-Government Russian Groups Rally at War Memorial to Denounce Ukrainian ‘Fascists’
Russia Accuses Ukraine of Atrocities; Media Distorts OSCE Report

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Belarusian Dictator Challenges Putin’s ‘Russian World’ With Support of Ukrainian Integrity

While his police were arresting soccer fans who sang an anti-Putin song popular on YouTube, Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenka also had a viral YouTube hit last week.

A video uploaded on 5 October surprisingly reveals that the Belarusian leader is not as cozy with President Vladimir Putin as believed from his readiness to join the Eurasian Customs Union.

Lukashenka makes the following points at odds with the Kremlin’s official “Russian World” ideology these days (translation by The Interpreter):

– “We did not want the destruction of Ukraine’s statehood.”

“Many say that it was wrong that Crimea went to Russia, that this is a
territory that was Russia’s from time immemorial — that’s not the correct

– “We have passed a great number of legal international
normative acts that determine the stability of borders, the
inviolability of borders. This [changing of borders] should not be done.”

“We do not intend
to recognize anybody — in fact these are unformed territories and
there’s a war there, why would we interfere in these processes.”

dramatized his point by suggesting that if we start playing around with borders, we should return to the time of
the Mongol Yoke, and give Kazakhstan and much of Russia back to
Mongolia along with some of Western Europe — but Belarus could stay as it is because
“we weren’t touched.”

But while these statements are welcome, it should be remembered that Lukashenka himself is hardly a guardian even of Belarusian sovereignty given the cross-border business deals and “Union of Belarus and Russia” machinations he has engaged in over the years.

And Belarus is host to the Minsk talks of Russia, Ukraine and the “People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk,” which have endorsed an agreement giving certain regions of Donetsk and Lugansk autonomy and which is still haggling over the demarcation line — an agreement Belarus accepts. Fighting continues despite declaration of a ceasefire.

Dozens of Ukrainian Soccer Fans Detained in Belarus for Anti-Putin Song

On Friday 11 October, more than 100 Ukrainian soccer fans were detained in Belarus for singing a popular bawdy song in Ukraine, Putin Khuylo which translates as “Putin is a Dickhead.” The song originated with soccer fans in Ukraine and has spread to Russian and other countries.

A video has been uploaded to Youtube by Erich Hartmann with the title, “Fraternal Belarus Chants Putin #uylo! Long Live Belarus! Glory to Ukraine Borisov Arena 09.10.” Both teams’ fans were chanting the song:

Translation: A hundred Ukrainian fans were detained for a song about Putin.

Fans on both sides also chanted “Long Live Belarus” and “Glory to Ukraine” and sang another popular regional song by Lyapsis Trubetskoi, “Warriors of Light,” which was the anthem of Maidan:

There are hundreds of variations of this song on Youtube with tens and
hundreds of thousands of viewers, from the campfire guitar sing-along:

…to the DJ re-mix:

to the mariachi version:

to the German band Hardwell’s House version

Charter 97, the online Belarusian news service, reported that all the Ukrainian fans were released, and some facing more serious charges of “hooliganism” and facing 15 days in jail  — a total of 15 fans — were let go and returned to Ukraine after intercession by the Ukrainian ambassador to Minsk and President Petro Poroshenko.

Several Belarusian activists detained even before the match were also released;  some Ukrainians had been barred from entry to the country.

Novaya Gazeta Charged with ‘Extremism’ Over Latynina Article on Nations
Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian online news site and newspaper, has just been issued a formal warning over alleged “extremism” in a letter from Mikhail Ksenzov, deputy head of Roskomnadzor, the Russian state censor.


The complaint concerns one article by Yulia Latynina, a writer know for her radical criticism of the government, titled “If We are Not the West, Who Are We?”

The editors believe they can challenge the warning in court by bringing in their own experts; they also note the hypocrisy involved in a government that is daily inciting war against Ukraine and disparaging various social groups from dissidents to migrants elevating itself to the position of moral critic about what constitues “incitement.”

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group (KHRG) has translated some of the offending paragraphs:

“The Russian official authorities, deputies … have discovered the existence of a particular “Russian culture” which counters European soullessness…. They haven’t in fact come up with anything new. Hitler back in Mein Kampf countered austere Nordic culture to the current European debauchery and soullessness. This is typical ploy of fascism: under the pretext of liberating a nation from alien culture’ to liberate them from any culture whatsoever and to plunge them into the times and customs of barbarism.”

“Only three contemporary developed nations – the Jews, Chinese and Indians – can claim a thousand years of indigenous culture.  All others are offshoots, mixes, mixed-blood [literally: dirty blood]”.

Coynash added that Novaya Gazeta editor Sergei Sokolov fears the publication could be closed if it receives a second such warning within the space of 12 months.

Russian Justice Ministry Files Lawsuit to Liquidate Russian Memorial Society

Russia’s Justice Ministry opened up a lawsuit 24 September against one of Russia’s oldest human rights and history organizations, Russian Memorial Society, RFE-RL reported.

Observers have reacted with condemnation because it indicates not only a crackdown on civil society — which has been ongoing in recent years — but a possible unwillingness to accept the legacy of the exposure of Stalin’s — and Lenin’s and other communist leaders’ crimes. said the court hearing will take place soon, but was unable to get any more information from justice officials.

The Supreme Court has now placed the Justice Ministry complaint on its docket for 3 November.

Historian Arseny Roginsky, the chairman of the board of International Memorial Society, told RBC (translation by The Interpreter):

“We don’t have the lawsuit of the Justice Ministry in hand ourselves, we have only a telegram from the Supreme Court, which we received three days ago, in which it is stated that at the request of the Jutice Ministry, a suit on the liquidation of Russian Memorial Society will be reviewed.”

3AB679AC-530F-483A-B863-E70E3E7E5A26_w64Arseny Roginsky. Photo by RIA Novosti

The Ministry appears to be insisting that Memorial should have a head office which will incorporate each branch, rather than loosely joining together numerous local groups under one umbrella.

Roginsky said that after losing previously court appeals, Memorial was going to conduct a conference to try to see if they could change their organizational structure, but before they could do this, they were hit with the lawsuit.

Roginsky noted that even if the Justice Ministry were to liquidate the Russian Memorial Society per se, that wouldn’t mean all the organizations that were its components would also be closed — some could re-register locally, and then eventually decide how they might re-unite nationally. The International Memorial Society is also registered separately.

Even so, the purpose seems to be to disable and disorganize citizens’ self-organization in the way they see fit to suit their needs, which the Russian state is seeing as a challenge to its top-down model for organization civil society under its wing.

It’s important to note that this current lawsuit isn’t about the content of the work on Stalin’s crimes per se or even the status of “foreign agent” — a separate court case a ruling was made to declare Memorial’s Human Rights Center a “foreign agent” and force it to register as such, which it has refused. And earlier, the St. Petersburg Memorial Society, also separately registered, was closed down due to the “foreign agent” ruling.

The cases are separate because these groups within the overall umbrella movement of Memorial, begun 25 years ago in the late perestroika era, have all registered separately.

Groups sprang up on their own at different times with different focuses, and then ultimately banded together in a national Russian organization.

They stayed this way due to complicated political and regional reasons, which in part were dictated by the need to try to create “watertight compartments”  as in a ship (hopefully not the Titanic) so that individual regional offices could in theory function independently.

When the organization got started in the 1980s, it was impossible to do simple things taken for granted in the West like mail a check or wire money as an individual or as a group without approval. There were also different priorities. Some groups wanted to deal strictly with the compensation to Stalin’s victims and fight for them to get pensions recognizing their time in the GULAG as a work history, and memorialization of them as people.

They didn’t necessarily want that work jeopardized by more critical work monitoring Chechen war crimes, for example, or historical research examining the guilt of the Kremlin’s rulers. Other groups wanted to take a more critical stance because they saw mass crimes against humanity like the Chechen war — or one could add, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine currently — as emanating organically from the Lenin’s and Stalin’s mass crimes against humanity which were never tried or punished as an institution.

International Memorial Society cooperates with organizations from Germany to Poland to Kazakhstan to Armenia to Ukraine, as the crimes of the Soviet era are far-flung.

Memorial avoided making a heavily centralized master Moscow organization with controlled regional satellites – something Western donors also discouraged them from doing in their popular belief in the 1990s that more funding was needed of “the provinces” and not “the center.”

And that is exactly what the Putin administration has fastened on now, charging the group with not having a centralized structure controlling its satellite offices — even though, as they explain, there is no law requiring this as such to run an organization.

Here’s a statement from Memorial Human Rights Center issued today by e-mail and on Facebook (translation by The Interpreter):

On the Lies of NTV and Justice Ministry’s Claims:
Statement from the Memorial Human Rights Center and Russian Memorial Society

On 10 October, NTV broadcast a show on its program “Emergency” contain one deliberate lie and one ignorant lie.

The deliberate lie relates to describing the activity of Memorial Human Rights Center which was supposedly caught supporting extremists and terrorists. The ignorant lie consists of claiming that the Ministry of Justice has launched a lawsuit to liquidate Memorial Human Rights Center.

In reality, the Justice Ministry has sent a lawsuit to the RF Supreme Court regarding the liquidation not of the Memorial Human Rights Center, but another organization, the Russian Memorial Historical, Educational, Philanthropic Human Rights Society (known as “Memorial Society”).

The Russian memorial Society was registered by the Justice Ministry in 1992, and ever since has united various “Memorial”  organizations operating in various regions of Russia and involved in human rights, philanthropic and historical educational work.

In 2012, 20 years after the first registration, suddenly the Justice Ministry began to have doubts about the “all-Russian” status of Memorial — even though virtually all the very same regional organizations continued to be members, and the law on this issue had not changed at all.

What changed was the Justice Ministry’s position, which decided once again to impose “democratic centralism” even though this concept seemed to have lost its relevance after the abolition of “the leading role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union” [Art. 6 of the Soviet Constitution].

Moreover, the requirement of the law that the status of all-Russian for an organization presupposes the existence in it of structural subdivisions in more than half of the subjects of the Russian Federation is now interpreted by the Justice Ministry as saying these sub-divisions must compulsorily have the status of regional branches. From the current perspective of the bureaucrats, the presence in this or that region of city or district branches of an organization is not proof of its activity on the territory of that region.

The Justice Ministries claims are completely groundless — it is no accident that in reply to our puzzlement about this suit we could not obtain any references to legal requirements. To us, it seems that the Justice Ministry cannot be allowed to unlawfully try to restrict the Constitution right of citizens to association. That is why back in 2012, Russian Memorial Society decided to appeal this in court.

But we have yet to obtain citations to the law in our complaints of the Justice Ministry’s requirements at the Zamoskvorechny District Court and Moscow City Court during the course of hearings in 2013 which — quite predictably — took the side of the Justice Ministry.

Therefore in the near future Russian Memorial Society will send a complaint to the Constitution Court. As for the Justice Ministry’s suit, we hope that the review by the Supreme Court will show more respect to the law than the lower courts.

This isn’t an entirely misplaced hope, as the Russian Constitutional Court has surprised human rights advocates before in making rulings about oppressive measures by leaders.

‘But this is a civic law system not based on precedent, not a common law system in which the Supreme Court, as in the US, plays the role of setting precedents. For example, the same Constitution Court ruled earlier this year that the “foreign agents” law should be upheld although it restricts freedom of association —  without acknowledging that the formulations of “political activity” were vague and the standards of proof that even political action was in fact on behalf of a foreign entity were even more vague.

What’s Going On With Major-General Igor Bezler of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’?

Major-Gen. Igor Bezler, formerly of the Russian Federation armed forces and now a commander of forces in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” has kept a low profile in recent months, as the Muscovite leaders of the DPR have been “retired” one after another and replaced with those native to the Donbass.

Bezler seemed to go underground after his name came up as a possible suspect for the rebel group that shot down MH17, due to an intercept about a “birdie” that fell which he said was authentic but didn’t mean what it sounded like.

There were rumors that he was wounded or killed or fled, and then a story that he got a promotion.

That’s how the news sounded from Western journalists yesterday October 7:

The problem in the DPR is that promotions or promises of promotions can
mean that a figure is on the way out — so it happened with Vladimir
Antyufeyev, who was in charge of security for a time and then made
“acting prime minister” and then finally forced out. Col. Igor
Strelkov was dismissed, and then promised a job “reorganizing the
Novorossiya army” — and nowadays explains that he is not going back to

There was a strange seeming attempt at a coup in the DPR
when a “United Army of Novorossiya” was announced and headed up by a
general no one had ever heard of, supposedly with Bezler’s signed
consent. But the next day, Bezler was said to have detained this general,
and then there was no more talk of this “United Army of Novorossiya.”

Bezler, known as “Bes” which is Russian for “Demon” has led a reign of terror in Gorlovka (Horlivka in Ukrainian) since taking over the police force — and the town. The blogger @Ystriya has a good round-up on Storify of some of the atrocities for which he was infamous in April and May; he was also known to stage mock executions.

The most harrowing tale to come out of Gorlovka recently is that in honor of his promotion, Bezler decided to release a hostage — who turned out to be Irina Boyko, who had been arrested 20 June and held captive for 99 days. She was detained with three others for bringing food to Ukrainian border guards in Lugansk.

As reports, Boyko reportedly suffered a knee-capping and the loss of her little finger while tortured in captivity in Bezler’s dungeons.

A man named Vitaly Kovalchuk who had served in the Afghan war with Bezler and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel kept trying to reach Bezler for weeks and convince him to free these hostages. Finally, he was able to do so last week.

So what is really happening with Bezler? Chances are he is on his way back to Russia, if the fate of other Russian Federation leaders of “Novorossiya” is any indication.

This round-up of tweets gives a sense of the wide range of rumors and “versions” about Bezler, none of which are confirmed:

Translation:  Bezler is wounded in Gorlovka. His homies got less lucky.

Translation: Lt. Col. Bezler despises the political leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic and calls the republic itself “banana.”

Translation: It was Bezler who interrogated the National Guardsman Kudryavtsev who confirmed the information  about torture and murders. He then executed him.

Translation: Lt. Col. Igor Bezler, who supposedly hates journalists let us come visit him.

Translation: A little humor to start the day: Bezler arrested the “commander-in-chief of the Novorossiya army,” announced Sergei Petrovsky, “deputy defense minister of the DPR for intelligence.”


Translation: Bezler’s group conducted a number of operational actions.

The link is to a story about Bezler rounding up a number of people charged with robbery and murder and bringing them to justice. A picture shows him with some victims of crimes, returning them their jewelry.

Translation: Major-Gen. I.N. Bezler thanks the Communist Party of Russia for aid.

Translation: Tales from the Crypt: Gubarev and Bezler called me and threatened to kill me. Semyon has outdone himself ) ) )

The link is to a news story about Donbass Battalion Commander Semyon Semyonchenko who says he received these threats.

Translation: Bezler “Bes” is in a conflict with the ringleaders of the “DPR” over Russian aid – Tymchuk.

The blogger Colonel Cassad, who is close to the Russian-backed separatists and often has good analysis of their actions had the following comment on Bezler:

Regarding Bezler. The planted story about his appointment as DPR defense minister did not emerge in a vacuum, the position of Tsar, that is, the DPR defense minister Kononov, has now weakened and Bezler is being looked at as one of the possible candidates (for some, as the main candidate) for the minister of DPR defense minister. The decision is not yet made, but it is not ruled out that there will soon be shuffles in the military leadership of the republic. In all likelihood, Kononov turned out not to be prepared for this post — while an excellent tactical commander, he did not entirely cope with the responsibilities of the post of defense minister.

Colonel Cassad also had another interesting comment about Aleksandr Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok regiment:

The question has been asked who commands the other units of Vostok besides Khodakovsky. We reply, one of the units of Vostok is commanded by a man with the nick-name “Kadet” who is acting autonomously. Khodakovsky as before does not answer to anyone except [oligarch Rinat] Akhmetov, but since he has been stripped of all political power and can’t manage all of Vostok, he is considered a “lame duck,” and fairly harmless. His people maintain certain territories and that suits everyone, as long as he doesn’t stick his nose into politics.

Russian Journalists Mark 8th Anniversary of Assassination of Anna Politkovskaya
Today is the 8th anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who worked for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta who was famous for her coverage of the Chechen wars and investigations into the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s successor Politkovskaya was shot dead in the elevator as she returned home on 7 October 2006.

Politkovskaya was assassinated on Putin’s birthday, which has always fueled speculation that some figure wanted to make a tribute to the authoritarian leader, known for his suppression of the media and civil society since coming to power in 2000.

Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazepa
in New York City of Ukrainian parents who were UN diplomats. While she obtained a US passport, she never relinquished her Russian citizenship and rarely traveled abroad even after being threatened for her work.

Journalists gathered today near  a memorial plaque with an engraving of her image at the editorial offices of Novaya Gazeta and placed flowers made out of newspapers, reported.

On 9 June of this year, Moscow City Court sentenced Lom-Ali
Gaytukayev, who confuessed to organizing the murder and Rustam
Makhmudov, believed to be the killer, to life imprisonment in a
special-regime labor colony. Also sentenced were Sergei Khadzhikurbanov,
a former officer of the organized crime department, to 20 years of
strict-regimen imprisonment, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, 14 years of
strict-regimen and Ibragim Makhmudov to 12 years of strict regime.
Another defendant, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, who had turned state’s
evidence, was sentenced to 11 years of strict-regime. Lawyer Murad
Musayev maintained that the charges against his clients were fabricated.

editor Dmitry Muratov said they welcomed the verdict, but
justice was incomplete. “The mastermind has not been found, so we can’t
speak about the case being closed,” he said in the videotaped interview above with

In a tribute to Politkovskaya today, Novaya Gazeta recalled a number of well-known sayings by Politskovskaya, including (translated by The Interpreter):

The strength of evil is in anonymity. That’s why everything must be called by its name. Fear really has rooted out shame in us.

People have stopped being ashamed due to fear.

Xenophobia is hatred of God. If God conceived of all of us as equal, who are we to say…

You can’t fake being free.

Love for the Motherland knows no bounds? Excessive patriotism is harmful like anything excessive. I am for a patriotisim that is with bitterness and pride.

War is a repulsive thing. But it has purified me of everything unnecessary and cut out the excess. Should I not be grateful to fate?

Life ends in a second. And tomorrow is a too blundering a beast to rely on it. It may not come to you ever. Everything is only here and only now.

Novaya Gazeta recalled that when terrorists took over the theater in Moscow during the play Nord-Ost on 28 October 2002, the first person that they thought to bring in as a negotiator was Politkovskaya.

Here is an excerpt of Novaya Gazeta‘s article based on her reporting from that fateful night:

An incomprehensible blur of an unfolding tragedy follows: some “masks” come and other leave — the time receding into nowhere squeezes your heart with stupid premonitions…And the leader isn’t coming yet. Perhaps, they are going to shoot everyone?

Finally the leader comes and raises his mas to his forehead. His face is open, with high cheek bones, typically militarized. On his knees is a machine gun. His name is Bakar.

“How old are you?” asks Anya.


“Did you fight in both wars?”


“Let’s get down to business?” Anya proposes.

“All right.”

Anya asks about the children. Let all the children out — after all, they’re children.

“Children? There aren’t any children here. You take our children during sweeps from the age of 12, we will hold yours .”

“In order to get revenge?” asks Anya.

“So that you feel what it is like.”

She manages to get an agreement only about bringing in water and juice.

That is, she will bring them in, and shout from downstairs that she has brought them, and then they will let her in.

Anya comes out on the street. It is raining hard.

We collect money from our pockets and purses, whoever has some — those who are nearby. Journalists are the first to kick in some, and the firemen as well. Someone runs to the nearest store for the juice. It turns out that there isn’t any juice “in the name of the state” available nearby from government representatives at that moment. It’s strange, but there’s no time to think. There is only one thought: faster! faster! Before “they” don’t shoot people!

Together with Roman Shleynov (a colleague and department head at Novaya) they take two containers of juice and carry them back. They don’t have an umbrella. And besides, their hands are full. (Later she would say to me, “I was like a wet hen.”)

Then Dr. Roshal was for the first time trying to gain entry, and two officers — from the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) began arguing over them all. The Interior Ministry officer had orders to let them go in with the juice, as this was help for the hostages. But the FSB officer had orders not to let them in.

They kept arguing. The rain was pouring down, we were standing around like idiots, among all the snipers, and waiting, it seemed to me, when someone would start shooting. Finally the FSB gave the go-ahead. “Go in.”

They made one trip with water and juice, then another, then a third…

(The crisis ended in tragedy as Russian agents stormed and gassed the theater, killing all 40 of the terorists but also 130 of the 850 hostages, because they had failed to provide an antidote to the gas and provide timely emergency medical care.)

After her death, a comment was found on Politkovskaya’s computer which was published by her newspaper, referencing the harassment she had suffered, including an attempt to poison her:

So what in fact have I, such a bad person, done? I only wrote about what I was witness to. And nothing else. I deliberately didn’t write about all those other “pleasant things” from my chosen path. About the poisoning. About the detentions. About the threats in letters and on the Internet. About the promises to kill me over the telephone. I think that this is all trifles, the most important is to have a chance to do the main thing. To describe life, to receive visitors at the editorial office every day who have nowhere else to go with their troubles: they are bounced from here to there by the government, but what has happened to them doesn’t fit into the Kremlin’s ideological conception, therefore the stories of their troubles cannot appear practically anywhere, not in a single publication, except our newspaper.

Valeriya Novodvorskaya, who died earlier this year of complications following surgery, said about Politkovaya’s murder back in 2006:

boat sank, the hostages were poisoned, the children of Beslan were
burned alive and Anna was shot….what else can you compromise Putin
with? He already has nothing to lose in this life or the next. Anya was
killed by the baseness of politicians, the indifference of people, and
the cowardice of her “colleagues” like Vitaly Tretyakov. Meanwhile the
president is sitting at the window, despondent, looking sorrowfully at
his still-living enemies, the democrats and journalists of Anya’s
profile. And sings, “Sadly, your birthday only comes once a year!”  But you need not be upset. There is still your angel’s day and family
holidays. And we have no shortage of patriots and pistols. If there were
only enough journalists for such significant and memorable dates.