Russia This Week: Distorting the News (March 24-28)

March 28, 2014
December 2013. Photo by AFP.

Russians continue to protest the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine following a mass march against Putin’s forcible annexation of Crimea last week. (Go here and here for the last weeks’ news.) Defendants in the Bolotnaya Case charged with “instigating riots” remain on trial. The Russian government continues to make moves to suppress dissent, chiefly by blocking alternative news sites. Meanwhile, White House sanctions against Putin’s closest circle seem to hit the mark, although figures in the list claim it is a badge of honor. This blog will chart throughout the week what’s happening in Russia.

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March 28, 2014

1749 GMT: In an interview with ITAR-TASS, Alexey Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, the only independent radio station in Russia, explained why he has decided to ban some bloggers, including Boris Nemtsov, Alexey Navalny and Kristina Potupchik from the radio’s website.

“Mr. Nemtsov refused [at the request of the editor] to make changes in his blog, and this blog was not posted. Ms. Potupchik also refused…The editor of the site has the right [not to post a blog on the site]. The right consists of the fact that if he finds a violation of the law, he warns the author, he cites concretely from his perspect, the violation. Thus Navalny’s blog was rejected twice because he refused to change [the text], there were personal insults, hints about height, names,” Venediktov said at a session of the Public Collegium for Complaints on the Press, which reviewed the appeal of one of the bloggers who was outraged at the rejection for publication on the Ekho Moskvy site.”

Ekho Moskvy has recently come under more pressure from the Kremlin and the site was blocked by Roskomnadzor, the state censor agency, over a blog by Navalny about the Russian invasion of the Crimea. The block was lifted when Venediktov removed Navalny’s blog. Venediktov himself was just re-elected editor-in-chief by the staff and supported by the board of directors; 66% of the shares are owned by the state monopoly Gazprom.

In February, Yuri Fedutinov, the general director of the radio for 22 years, was fired and replaced by Yekaterina Pavlova, the wife of Aleksey Pavlov, who is deputy head of the President’s Department of Press Service and Information, and formerly worked at the pro-government Voice of Russia station.

Yury Kovalchuk, the main shareholder of Ekho Moskvy, was recently put in the US government’s sanction list against Putin and his coterie over the forcible annexation of the Crimea and was dubbed “Putin’s cashier.”

Venediktov said he was against equating the concepts of “blogger” and “journalist”. “Bloggers are not obliged to observe the standards of work of a journalist, to verify information; a blogger has no accountability before his audience.”

For his part, Boris Nemtsov asked on his Facebook page whether his ban was “for life,” which would affect how he viewed the decision. “Ekho in any event is extremely important. Especially in the current situation,” he said.

Translation: No life-time bans, my assistant believes. As she says… On 26 March, Nemtsov wrote on Facebook:

“The Tamanskaya, Kantemirovskaya divisions and the Pskov 76th division of the Airborne Troops are on the Ukrainian border. It looks like depsite all the arguments, Putin is readying an occupation of the East and Center of Ukraine. The Ukrainians’ army, as has been made clear, virtually doesn’t exist, and it is counting on a bloodless scenario. Why an occupation? First, to manage to return the puppet Yanukovych, who acknowledges the annexation of the Crima, before the elections. Second, the occupation will ensure a corridor to the Crimea (the Kerchen Bridge will not be built for a long time) which is now cut off from Russia and the whole world and cannot live normally. I hope to God I am wrong.”


Translation: @aavst Should I go in this vest to the meeting between Lavrov-Hague?

1800 GMT: Russian officials aren’t just taking even greater control over state broadcasting and issuing directives on how to cover the news, they are resorting to the tactic of seizing newspaper print runs, as Sovremennaya Kalmykia [Contemporary Kalmykia] discovered after publishing an article about the Crimea, TV Rain reported.

Kalmyks. Photo by Valery Badmayev.

Kalmyks. Photo by Valery Badmayev.


On 26 March, the provincial newspaper’s editor-in-chief Valery Badmayev picked up 10,000 copies from the printer and took them to the apartment of the head of the local Yabloko party, Batyor Boromangnayev, to bundle them for distribution (the newspaper does not have an office). Police arrived on a tip that night, refused to show ID, and took Badmayev to the station for questioning overnight. He was then fined 500 rubles on charges of “swearing in a public place,” on the basis of testimony from someone he doesn’t know. When he returned home the next day, he found that police had confiscated 7,000 copies of the paper remaining.

Badmayev has vowed to file suit against the policemen in the capital of Elista who confiscated his print run, as it is a violation of Russian press law to interfere with publications. He wrote on his Facebook that the article in question was an appeal by Vladimir Gorbatenko, deputy director of the Koretsky Institute for State and Law of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, regarding the possible invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

We’re glad to hear that it’s all lies, and there won’t be an invasion, right?

1749 GMT: In the wake of a rant in the Russian parliament by a hardline senator about “lack of patriotism, gays, and Maidan” at the famous Taganka Theater in Moscow, the theater director and liberal supporters are fighting back, TV Rain reports.

Earlier this week we reported that Sen. Oleg Panteleyev had attacked the theater, known for its experimental works since the Khrushchev Thaw period, saying that a play not yet written by poet and playright Dmitry Bykov supposedly offended intelligence agencies and that another play produced had promoted “gays, pedophiles and suicides.” (Panteleyv was included on the US sanctions list for calling for the invasion of Ukraine.)

Director Vladimir Fleysher said that many actors at the theater and supportive audience members were outraged. Fleysher said there were two unions at the theater, one that had existed for a long time, with more than 100 members, and a newer one with about 7 or 8 members whose names were not known. It is the alleged head of this second union, Ivan Ryzhikov, an actor who has received the state title of “Merited Artist,” who has been writing letters of complaints about the repertoire to the senators.

An actress on stage in a performance of "Article of Preservation" at Taganka Theater on 16 March. Photo by Anna Ivantsova/Vechernyaya Moskva

An actress on stage in a performance of “Article of Preservation” at Taganka Theater on 16 March. Photo by Anna Ivantsova/Vechernyaya Moskva


Ryzhikov told TV Rain that on 15-16 March, anti-war demonstrators came from directly from marches and read appeals from Maidan Square. The director of the performance said that there were no speeches from Maidan, but the evening was a tribute to Taganka’s own history titled “Article for Preservation.”

Yury Lyubimov, the founder of the famous Theater, said he would not participate in the 50th anniversary of Taganka, scheduled for 23 April. Last year Lyubimov, who broke with his own theater, said he might return only for the anniversary. Lyubimov had a number of disagreements with his actors, who took a wage dispute public during a master class in Czech Republic.

In an interview on TV Rain, theater critic Alyona Karas said she thought part of the stresses at the theater were caused by the Soviet-era liberals leaving the stage and being replaced by bolder Russian directors and actors who “grew up with another mentality and allow themselves more complex and critical moves.”

1718 GMT: Over on our Ukraine liveblog we have the story of how and other Russian media rushed to declare a demonstration by the Ukrainian ultra-right group Right Sector in front of the parliament as a “storming” yesterday — and kept it up today. There wasn’t any storming, although people chanted and sang and a few windows were broken; they dispersed peacefully.

A story on today deplores worsening American attitudes toward Russia indicated in recent Gallup poll (a record 68% consider Russia unfriendly or even hostile) and blames it on US media distortions:




“The Russian opposition, like its colleagues in the West and Ukraine, often accuse Russia of unleashing state propaganda, censorship, lack of freedom of speech and so on. Thus, for example, Kiev has ceased broadcasting Russian state television channels on the territory of Ukraine due to the fact that in their opinion, they undermine the trust of Ukrainians in their authorities. Even so, the broadcasting of the scandalous TV Rain not only does not cease on Ukrainian territory, but it supports the speeches of leading Ukrainian politicians in every way. Moreover, if we pay note the news background which forms such Ukrainian media as UNIAN and UNN, we are surprised that the leading world powers have not exchanged nuclear strikes, and in Moscow there aren’t torchlit processions in support of genocide in Ukraine. That’s approximately the position supported by the mass media in the USA. They were first to sound the alarm, as it seemed to them, that Russian troops are preparing an invasion of Kiev, that the Crimea is already now annexed, and attempts are being made to drag the free-loving Ukrainian people back to the Soviet past.”

We’re glad to hear that all those troops amassed at the Ukrainian border aren’t planning any kind of offensive, at least according to this publication, but everyone remains plenty worried. It’s interesting to see how the same Gallup poll shows a steady increase the perception that Russia is hostile from 2008 to present, despite the best efforts of the Obama Administration’s “reset” with Russia.

1706 GMT: Some 72% of Russians believe that for the sake of state interest, it is acceptable to be silent or distort information in the media about some publicly important issues, Interfax reported. And 54% believe that information can even be distorted for the sake of state interests.

According to the latest poll by the Public Opinion Foundation based on 1500 respondents from 43 subjects of the Russian Federation, 62% basically believe the state media. In addition 54% believe that journalistic professionalism has grown recently and 47% believe that reporters have even more opportunity to express their opinion these days, although 59% of those polled could not name any authoritative journalists.

Of those surveyed, 60% believe Russia media covers events in the country on the whole objectively; 23% disagree and 17% find it hard to say. Most Russians get their news from federal central media (88%), the poll finds.

1615 GMT: Vyacheslav Nikonov, grandson of Soviet Politburo member Vyacheslav Molotov, had a strong rebuttal to the op-ed piece by former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul. John Schindler, professor at the US Naval College and former NSA official specializing in Russian intelligence, has a translation:

Vyacheslav Nikonov, second from right, with Snowden's lawyer Anatoly Kucherena (left), lawyer Genri Reznik and former Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin at Sheremeytovo Airport 12 July 2013.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, second from right, with Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena (left), lawyer Genri Reznik and former Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin at Sheremeytovo Airport 12 July 2013.


“One wonders, what did Russia do that was so monstrous that it must be contained by the whole world? Maybe it bombed Yugoslavia on its own initiative, supporting an internationally recognized terrorist organization — the Kosovo Liberation Army? Maybe it has been waging a war in Afghanistan for twelve years where the death toll is already in the hundreds of thousands? Maybe it occupied Iraq without any kind of mandate, leading to a million deaths? Maybe it uses drones to kill thousands in Pakistan? Maybe it arms al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups fighting against the legitimate government in Syria? Maybe it bombed Libya into the Stone Age, turning it into a paradise for bandits? Maybe it possesses dozens of secret prisons where people are tortured without trial or investigation? Maybe it has sited some 800 military bases and facilities in 128 countries around the world? Maybe it works on the overthrow of legitimate governments in not very friendly states? Maybe it sites its troops and military infrastructure in other hemispheres? Maybe it organized the illegal surveillance of all humankind, including heads of state and government? No, it was not Russia that did all this. Its monstrous crime is that, without a single casualty, it ensured the free and democratic expression of will by the population of Crimea, who saw a threat to themselves in the new nationalist “authorities” in Kyiv, installed by our Western friends.”

We could add a few biographical details on Mr. Nikonov: he is a specialist on the Republican Party and conservatives in the US, and he was among the privileged lawyers and human rights advocates to be admitted to a private meeting with fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden at Moscow’s Sheremeytovo Airport. Read the rest of Schindler’s commentary here.

It’s also important to note that out of the tens of thousands killed in Afghanistan, the overwhelming majority — 85% or more — have been killed by the Taliban and its allies, often in mass terrorist attacks. By contrast, the number of Afghan civilians killed during the Soviet war was over one million. The body count for Iraq is numbered around 100,000 not “a million,” most of which were killed not by US troops but by militants and terrorists backed by Russian allies Iran and Syria, as well as Al Qaeda. Russia had extensive oil interests in Libya, which is why it only reluctantly supported the NATO bombing approved by the US Security Council. Any comparison of bases should note that US bases have been expelled from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan; Russian bases remain in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. As for the KLA, regardless of its nature, Kosovo’s independence was recognized following a length international mediation procedure for years, and followed massive human rights violations by Serb authorities. The US has not “installed” the new Kiev government; if it had that kind of power and influence, would the Crimea have been annexed?

1659 GMT: Regrets, he’s had a few. Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has been expressing his sorrow at what he sees as a serious back-sliding of Russia since Putin forcibly annexed the Crimea; his tweet today is his most dramatic.

Once an enthusiastic author of the “reset” in Obama’s first administration, McFaul has been forced to retrench. In a widely-cited op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “Confronting Putin’s Russia” published 23 March, McFaul made a definitive call:

“The decision by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to annex Crimea ended the post-Cold War era in Europe. Since the late Gorbachev-Reagan years, the era was defined by zigzags of cooperation and disputes between Russia and the West, but always with an underlying sense that Russia was gradually joining the international order. No more.”

But McFaul’s recital of perceived accomplishments — all from the Medvedev alleged “reform” period — could be questioned:

“In my first years in government, I witnessed President Medvedev cooperating with President Obama on issues of mutual benefit — a new Start treaty, new sanctions against Iran, new supply routes through Russia to our soldiers in Afghanistan and Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.”

The new Start treaty is arguably an achievement, but Russia has threatened to quit it as NATO has bolstered its anti-missile defense in Europe even as Russia has grown more belligerent. On Iran, Russia is always invoked as “needed” for US action at the UN Security Council, yet it is not really helpful when threats to sell the Iranians the S-300 system have been made and when Putin discusses the pledge to make the sales with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. To be sure, 60% of the cargo in the Northern Distribution Network, the supply route to NATO troops in Afghanistan, went through Vladivostok, and the Russians had the US over a barrel. But it should have been happy to cooperate in stopping the Taliban from spilling over to its sphere of influence in Central Asia. As for the WTO membership, this didn’t help the big problem of criminality in Russian big business, which was better addressed with the Magnitsky Act and ultimately with recent sanctions against Putin’s business cronies over the Crimea annexation.

1559 GMT: EuroMaidan PR, the Twitter account supporting the new Ukrainian government, reports that it has obtained a copy of Kremlin directives to the press on how to cover events. The page illustrated gives suggestions on how to portray Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s meetings, events in Ukraine, and a state campaign for physical education.

Such directives were routinely issued in the Soviet era, and then made a comeback in fact in Ukraine in 2002 under the presidency of Leonid Kuchma, when Viktor Yanukovych was then Prime Minister. The instructions earned the nickname temniki, or “little themes.” Human Rights Watch reported in 2003 that the temniki were a chill on freedom of express for journalists; now they have come full circle to Moscow.


March 27, 2014


1623 GMT: Lev Shlosberg, a deputy of the Pskov Region Legislature from the opposition Yabloko Party, gave an impassioned speech today responding to Acting Governor Andrei Turchak, rejecting his claims that critics of the war were “fifth columnists” and saying the real “enemies of the people” were those who created companies with state officials and spent budgets unaccountably, destroyed the environment, and were running the region into ruin.   Schlosberg was the one who began to sound the alarm on 28 February and again on 1 March in the local press that the Pskov 76th Airborne Assault Division troops were missing from their barracks and that their commanders could not be reached. His fear that they were in fact the masked soldiers without chevrons turning up in Crimea and attacking Ukrainian bases were later confirmed by journalists.    

Troops of the Pskov Airborne Assault Division outside Belbek air field in Crimea

Troops of the Pskov Airborne Assault Division outside Belbek air field in Crimea

    On 19 March, Turchak picked up the motifs from President Vladimir Putin’s speech on the forcible annexation of the Crimea, Pskov local press reported; The Interpreter has translated excerpts:

“When in our country and yours, our President, and all sane political forces have done everything in order to stop this lawlessness in Ukraine or at least localize it, at that time, our Pskov Yabloko send their prominent representatives everywhere, their bureau members, i.e. the highest governing body in our region, for study in Warsaw, where they learned specific step-by-step actions, the 15 steps of the State Department to legitimize those unlawful decisions which were taken in Ukraine to aggravate the situation, concrete situations related to the referendum in the Crimea and Sevastopol. For them there are only the interests of the USA State Department and they are led in these interests by instructions for specific step-by-step actions. This is the so-called ‘fifth column’ which, unfortunately, has put down roots here in this region. During the recent events in the Crimea, these people essentially dropped their masks and finally showed their real face.”

Shlosberg responded as follows (our translation):

“Once again for the first time in many decades, talk has begun of enemies of the people, enemies of Russia, the fifth column, and traitors. The attempt to restore dictatorship again in the 21st century means that once again, the state has turned into a machine to suppress dissent. This fact alone is very alarming for society because any reviving of the historic matrix of repression against dissenters shows that the Russian state is prepared to destroy immediately people who don’t agree with it. Our country has already once paid very dear for experiments of this type, but apparently there have appeared people who wish to repeat them. What is happening now is a spasm of state obscurantism.”

He went on to say that invoking of enemies came from a “strong desire to switch people’s attention to deliberately invented myths and lies and distract it from the real national tragedy, the social and economic collapse of the Pskov region.”

0107 GMT: The celebrated Taganka Theater in Moscow has been accused of an “amoral life style” and “insufficient patriotism” by a conservative parliamentarian, Interfax and reported. Senator Oleg Panteleyev said in a speech in the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian parliament) yesterday that a show by Kirill Serebrennikov “in the Gogol Center style” (his reference was likely to “Idiots”) supposedly “propagandized violence, homosexuality, pedophilia, and suicide.” Worse, said Panteleyev, a documentary film festival 14-15 March titled “Maidan” had “attracted people with Ukrainian nationalist symbols.”  

Photo by Yevgeny Biyatov/RIA Novosti

Photo by Yevgeny Biyatov/RIA Novosti

  The senator was also outraged that the theater had commissioned a play by Dmitry Bykov that “ridiculed the state security agencies” and had scheduled for 9 May the premier of a play by Mikhail Grinkov called “Dreams of the War” which “asked the question as to whether it was worth defending one’s homeland.” Panteleyev called for action:

“The time has come to influence the situation in our beloved theater, where renowned actors have performed, and stop the process of dissipation and preserve the high traditions of Russian repertory theater.”

He was supported by speaker Valentina Matvienko, infamous for her anti-gay statements, who said she would ask the Ministry of Culture to investigate the theater. Matvienko was included in the US government’s list of persons in Russia sanctioned following the forcible annexation of the Crimea. In his defense, Taganka Theater director Vladimir Fleyshir said no such “Maidan” festival had taken place and that on the dates in question, a festival of documentary plays about the theater itself had taken place. “I’m prepared to provide information to the Federation Council refuting everything said in the session today,” he said. Panteleyev, from the Kurgan Region is known for his anti-Western sentiments.



March 28, 2014


2300 GMT: The Russian justice system does address violent extreme nationalists; it can just take a while. On 25 March, the Prosecutor General sent to trial a criminal case involving four members of the ultra-rightist Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), Vyacheslav Isayev, Maksim Baklagin, Mikhail Vokov and Yury Tikhomirov, reports Sova Center, the independent research center specializing in extremist groups. The four are charged with murder motivated by ethnic hatred, membership in an extremist group, attempt on the life of a law-enforcer and unlawful weapons trade.

Police take Maksim Baklagin into detention. Photo by Gennady Gulyayev/Kommersant

Police take Maksim Baklagin into detention. Photo by Gennady Gulyayev/Kommersant


The defendants are indicted for a series of murders from 2008-2011, including Judge Eduard Chuvashov; the anti-fascists Ivan Khutorsky, Ilya Dzhaparidze and Fyodor Filatov; world boxing champion Muslim Abdullayev; Sosa Khachukyan; the shooting of a student, Rasul Khaliov; and attempted murder of a policeman, B. Benyaminyan; and also of R. Nurichuev. Also included in the BORN case is Ilya Goryachev, former leader of the ultra-right organization Russkiy Obraz [Russian Image] in Serbia, although he was not formally a BORN member; and Nikita Tikhonov, already convicted for the murder of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastiya Baburova. In a profile of BORN published in February 2014, quoted Tikhonov as saying that BORN was “supposed to be a Russian IRA.” Tikhonov and Goryachev became acquainted in an Internet forum in 2002 when they were still history students, then later Tikhonov was active in soccer clubs and state-sanctioned nationalist groups including Mestnyye (Locals). In a broadcast in November 2013 showing his extradition from Serbia, Rossiya 1 said Goryachev, nick-named “Student,” was the ideological leader of BORN, formed in 2008.

2026 GMT: Looks like the $50 billion Sochi Olympics complex that Putin’s favorite oligarchs are hoping to maintain as a resort destination to earn back some of their sunk investments is going to get some competition — in Crimea. Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov announced that he was urging entrepreneurs to invest in the peninsula, and promised assistance to Crimea’s self-appointed prime minister Sergei Aksyonov. On his instagram account on 16 March, he wrote a message about Aksyonov, “I warmly congratulate him personally and all the residents of the peninsula with the finding of their historical Motherland, and return to Russia.” The Chechen strongman had no comment about his fellow Muslims, the Crimean Tatars, who boycotted the referendum in what is their historical homeland. Chechen businessman Ruslan Baysarov has answered Kadyrov’s call and announced that he will build a resort complex for 12 billion rubles ($337 million), including a luxury hotel for 500, a health center for 200, a spa, and several restaurants and other attractions, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. He also intends to build docks with the capacity for 400 yachts, a water park and a golf club. The complex is expected to attract 40,000 people a year and provide jobs for 1,300 Crimeans. Baysarov is the entpreneur who built the Veduchi ski resort in Chechnya. On 20 March, Kadyrov published a picture given to him of a cat embracing a dove, calling for peace and saying it reminded him of the wise men’s stories about a sign of impending Judgement Day


. Chechnya Cat

1956 GMT: After Prof. Andrei Zubov was dismissed from Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) for writing an anti-war article, MGIMO published a notice 24 March on its website indicating there were regulations to be enforced on academics’ writings and speeches. Zubov was accused of “deliberately and repeatedly” violating MGIMO’s Charter, its Rules for Internal Order and its Statute on Fundamental Principles of Corporate Behavior. These are all defined by by the Foreign Ministry of Russia, which controls the university. Zubov was warned repeatedly of “the impermissibility of such expressions and their inappropriateness for the status of a professor at MGIMO”:

“Numerous expressions and interviews by A.B. Zubov about events in Ukraine and on Russia’s foreign policy provoke outrage and bewilderment in a university environment. They are at odds with the foreign policy line of Russia, and subject to careless and unaccountable criticism of the actions of the state, and cause harm to the research education and upbringing process. Leaving on the conscience of A.B. Zubov the inappropriate and offensive historical analogies and characterizations, the leadership of MGIMO has considered it impossible to continue the work of A.B. Zubov at the institution and have taken the situation to end his labor contract.”

Ela Kolesnikova, a researcher at the institute, decided to resign after the dismissal of Zubov and the publication of the restrictive rules, which she said had not been made known in the past. Describing how she was shunned by co-workers after she made her dissenting views known, Kolesnikov commented on her Facebook page, “I have had the opportunity today to see with my own eyes what people of my generation know only from the memoirs or recollections of their parents and people of their generation.” Her description of her departure earned more than 5,400 shares and more than 6,200 likes by Russians. MGIMO, once touted as a leading perestroika think-tank, has distanced itself from reformers and stayed out of politics in recent years.

1956 GMT: Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire who owns the Brooklyn Nets, says he is moving the company that runs the basketball team to Russia, in keeping with Vladimir Putin’s call on business to repatriate their assets, the NY Post reported. At a time when capital flight is at its highest at an estimated $70 billion, Prokhorov, who has run a presidential campaign in loyal opposition to Putin in 2012, is now bucking the tide. But after the sensational news came out yesterday, Prokhorov played it down, saying it was a long-term plan and would not violate any NBA rules. A cartoon in the Daily News showing basketball players being dragged away by men in trenchcoats and players with t-shirts saying “Brookly Nyets” was indicative of the outcry of some New Yorkers about the plans. Prokhorov was among those honored by Putin in Moscow this week for their roles in the Sochi Games; Prokhorov served as president of the Russian Biathlon Team. Meanwhile, Prokhorova’s sister Irina, who has been active in the opposition, attended the anti-war Congress of Russian Intelligentsia and has been included in a conservative Russian Internet site’s list of “traitors.”

Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/ EPA

Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/ EPA


1940 GMT: President Vladimir Putin met with Siemens CEO Joe Kaesert today, reported. Siemens has been in the Russian market for 160 years and has invested 800 million euros in the last two years; last year Siemens and other German companies had a record trade turnover with Russia of $75 billion, said the Kremlin.

Photo by

Photo by

Germany is now facing the challenge of maintaining long-established business ties with Russia yet implementing the European Union sanctions against some top business figures close to Putin in response to the forcible annexation of the Crimea. One deal being watched carefully is the $48 billion South Stream pipeline involving Stroitransgas, where blacklisted oligarch Gennady Timchenko is a main shareholder. With the crisis in Ukraine, talks were delayed by the EU even before the sanctions were announced. Timchenko denies business ties with Putin. Some Germans are concerned that sanctions against Russia could hurt Germany, which gets 30% of its natural gas from Gazprom and even accepts Gazprom’s €10 sponsorship of the German soccer team Schalke. Germany also exports €36 billion to Russia. BMW, Volkswagen and MAN all have factories in Russia, with VW planning to invest around €1.8 billion in its Russian operations by 2018, says Automobilwoche. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has warned Russia of further sanctions if Moscow attempts to annex eastern Ukraine or other former Soviet countries.

1925 GMT: Are the rent-a-crowds back? The English-language St. Petersburg Times of Russia is investigating reports that officials forcibly turned out some of the estimated 35,000 demonstrators in favor of annexation of the Crimea in their city.

Photo by St. Petersburg Times

Photo by St. Petersburg Times

  A letter was found circulated to workers ordering them to turn out to a rally on 17 March. Opposition activists report that they received such letters at work, and that institutions were even told to meet quotas of participants. Alexander Shurshev, a municipal council deputy and a member of the Civil Platform party, posted a letter by by the Admiralteisky District Administration to local municipalities instructing them to organize a turnout.

“On Mar. 24, Tatyana Dorutina, the chairwoman of the League of the Women Voters, posted on Facebook a letter reportedly sent from City Hall to Lyudmila Kochetova, the director of the Admiralteisky District’s Family and Children Support Center. The text was identical to that of the letter posted by Shurshev, but the number of people requested to be allocated for the rally was set at 80. It bore the signature of Tatyana Smirnova, the acting chief of the city committee on social support, and handwritten instructions by Kochetova, ordering the heads of departments to allocate the requested number of people to the rally, excluding those on duty.”

Formally, the rally was organized by “an obscure new version of the Rodina (Motherland) party” in support of the 16 March referendum, said St. Petersburg Times. But state institutions helped ensure a large turnout, and many of the placards appeared to be similar, as if mass-produced.

1619 GMT: A small group of 10 people in Ulan Ude, the capital of the Republic of Buryatia in the Russian Federation (some 5600 kilometers from Moscow) held a protest against the war in Crimea. According to reports from and Voice of America Ukrainian Service, 150 policemen turned out to maintain order. Nadezhda Nizovkina, one of the picketers, put out a handwritten sign that said, “We will not suffocate other’s freedom.” She gave a speech comparing the issues of language and culture rights in Buryatia with those in Ukraine. The Buryats, descendants of the Mongols, are the largest indigenous group in Siberia.

“As we know, very serious amendments are being made in legislation. Our Criminal Code likely seemed too soft to them. Now will be forbidden, first of all, a justification of fascism, second, discussion of the Crimean question, and third, revision of the results of the Great Patriotic War [World War II]. For some reason they do not recall that the incitement of aggressive war is also an article in the Code. And now it could quite well be applied to our government and to our pro-government news.”

A law on “Russophobia” designed to quell criticism of the Crimean war was in fact withdrawn after its alleged author, Igor Ponomarev, the sole parliamentarian to vote against the annexation of the Crimea, disavowed it as a provocation. But other recent ill-defined laws forbid calls for separatism, extremism, or the LGBT lifestyle.

1618 GMT: At the height of the Russian invasion of the Crimea, a Russian-language website appeared, which translates to “”. The sponsors of the site are not indicated, and little is known about the server host beyond the commercial name The site currently lists 21 people who are viewed as “traitors” to Russia because they have opposed the forcible annexation of the Crimea. To add to its KGB-informers’ feel, the site enables you to denounce the “traitors” on Twitter, Facebook or VKontakte, the popular Russian social media site (and tens of thousands have already). You can also file an anonymous denunciation of someone you feel should be added to the list.



  In recent weeks, the site has been widely shared on Russian and Western social media, and it was difficult even to get the pages to load. Finally we did, and we see that the site explains its goal as follows (translation by The Interpreter)

“We believe that Russia must help Ukraine, which has ended up under the government of pro-fascist-minded politicians. We believe that Russia must provide security to the Russian-language population of Ukraine and Crimea. We believe, that the citizens of Russia who offend our soldiers and place under doubt the need to fight neo-Nazis are traitors. No matter how talented they are as journalists, writers and directors.”

The site’s animus toward the popular liberal TV hosts, columnists, and bloggers listed seems to come from their refusal to adopt the Kremlin line, which is that the new government in Ukraine is “fascist.” And a key motivation for ferreting out “traitors” who refuse to fight Ukraine seems to have been stimulated by a quotation from Dmitry Jarosz, head of the ultranationalist group Right Sector, one of whose leaders, Sashko Beliy (Oleksandr Muzychko) was shot dead yesterday while being captured by Ukrainian law-enforcers. (See Anna Nemtsova’s in-depth interview with Jarosz in Newsweek.) We were unable to verify the quote but here is our translation:

“We are against the Russian people in the Crimea. Because the Russian will never glorify Bandera, respect our Greek-Catholic faith, our rebel history and our language. The Russian will always respect and love Russia. He is impossible to assimilate. That means for the flourishing of Ukraine, the Russian must be destroyed or expelled from the Crimea. Let Crimea even be completely Tatar!

Here’s the first six “traitors” listed, and their “treacherous” quotations:

Alexey Navalany opposition leader, anti-corruption blogger, lawyer “I do not support such actions (of Russia)…It is important that Russia in general should not in any event support such referendums.” Mikhail Shats, popular Russian television host, comic and actor “I beg forgiveness for literary Russia from my Ukrainian friends. And shouldn’t you go f**k yourself with your war, dear Russians?” Valeriya Novodvorskaya, columnist, video blogger, Soviet-era dissident “Today every decent Russian should wish the defeat of his Fatherland…we are entirely on the side of Ukraine, we are in solidarity with her new democratic government and certain that Russian aggression must be met with armed resistance.” Roman Dobrokhotov, a leader of the opposition movement Solidarity, journalist, teacher “If the khokhly [pejorative name for Ukrainians] beat us — I will not strongly object. Maybe I will even meet them on Red Square with noodles and horse radish.” Sergei Aleksashenko, economist, director of macro-economic research at the Higher School of Economics, former deputy chair of Central Bank of Russia “Lord! How I am ashamed to be a citizen of this country.” Dmitry Oreshkin, Russian political analyst, political geographer, member of the Presidential Council for Development of the Institutions of Civil Society and Human Rights “Occupation — is in fact occupation, no matter what explanations you offer. It can occur with bloodshed — then it is called aggression. It can happen without bloodshed, then it is called an anschluss. Which do you like better?”

Other “traitors” include Oleg Kozyrev, Artyomy Troitsky, Irina Prokhorova, Andrei Malgin, Boris Nemtsov, Anton Buslov, Andrei Makarevich, Kseniya Larina, Nikolai Uskov, Sergei Parkhomenko, Stanislav Belkovsky, Oleg Kashin, Bozhena Rynska, Konstantin Borovoy, and Leonid Gozman.


March 25, 2014


1832 GMT: Moscow City Court upheld the decision of the Zamoskvoretsky Court to keep Mikhail Kosenko in forcible psychiatric confinement, reported. Kosenko participated in the hearing of his appeal by video conference from the psychiatric hospital of Butyrka Prison.

Mikhail Kosenko

Mikhail Kosenko

  Kosenko’s lawyers Dmitry Ayvazyan and Valery Shukharin tied unsuccessfully to appeal for a second psychiatric evaluation as an in-patient, since in their opinion, the ambulatory evaluation made by the Serbsky Institute, notorious for its psychiatric abuse in the Soviet period, was too rapid and not impartial. The prosecutor objected that “the expert had already given answers to all the main questions,” and the judges concurred. Attorneys also objected to other due-process violations, such as the failure of the court to attach exonerating materials to the case and the blocking of Kosenko from meetings with his lawyers. Press was also barred from the courtroom. We have translated an excerpt from his final speech:

“There were no mass riots on Bolotnaya Square, there were only some insignificant clashes with police. There was no element of massiveness. The clashes were caused by the authorities unwillingness to allow demonstrators on to Bolotnaya Square, which had been approved for holding the rally. It was blocked off. At the last minute, only Bolotnaya Embankment was allocated for the rally. In mass riots, asocial behavior is characteristic of people. But after the crowd of demonstrators was squeezed on to neighboring streets, there were no manifestations of vandalism. The demonstrators did not begin to break windows, or break cars, as would have happened in mass riots. this shows that the demonstrators perceived themselves as part of society and not opposed to it. The government depicts the opposition as enemies of the state, as some ‘agents’ although the root of the dislike of the government is in its non-professionalism, callousness and lack of desire to solve problems. With normal political competition, this wouldn’t exist. In our country, the state is not a mechanism of society, but a mechanism pressuring society. The government does not defend society, but itself in the first instance. This is apparently in the Bolotnaya Trial; 450 people were detained because they had come to support the Bolotnaya defendants. “Everything that is not allowed is forbidden” is the logic of the police state.”



1614 GMT: Capital flight from Russia is expected to reach a staggering $70 billion, says the Moscow Times. It’s the largest capital flight since the 2008 financial crisis.

U.S. and European sanctions against Russia “are not yet economically significant, but the cooling of relations is by itself a substantial negative factor for economic growth and, consequently, will affect capital flight,” Deputy Economic Development Minister Andrei Klepach said, Interfax reported. Investors will funnel $65 billion to $70 billion, but “most likely closer to $70 billion,” out of the country in the first three months of the year, Klepach said.


1532 GMT: Russian blogger Oleg Kashin has summed up well in an interview what’s wrong with the media in Russia:

“In one form or another, I think, every businessman in Russia is connected to the government, or depends on the government or at least is afraid of the government to such an extent that he will never invest in independent media or indeed in media in general because media for any businessman is a zone of risk, and in the majority of cases, if a businessman invests money in media, it means that he was not just allowed to do so, but he was outright asked to do so — buy this site, or give money to this team, we want this media to be under our control.”

The only two businessmen he could cite as exceptions were Dmitry Zimin, founder of BeeLine mobile phone company, and the founder of Yandex, Ilya Segalovich, who died recently. For a history of Russian media ownership, see a report by Olga Khvostunova.

1527 GMT: In an article published at, prominent Russian blogger Oleg Kashin, who now lives abroad, recalls the forgotten story of Ivan Rybkin, former political prisoner and deputy, who published an open letter as an ad in Kommersant in February 2004, in which he cited “many specific testimonies of Putin’s participation in business”:

“The well-known Abramovich, standing in the shadow of Timchenko, the Kovalchuk brothers and others are responsible for Putin’s business. I maintain that it is now V.V. Putin is the largest oligarch in Russia.”

Rybkin disappeared three days later, and then turned up in Kiev five days afterwards and renounced his candidacy for president, sounding as if he were suffering a mental breakdown. “But a word is sometimes stronger than he who pronounces it,” says Kashin, noting how a decade later, finally the people Rybkin flagged are in the West’s sanctions lists. Kashin describes Rybkin’s thesis still a hypothesis, because it remains to be proved, even though Alexey Navalny picked up on Rybkin’s revelations now finally the US has now called Kovalchuk “Putin’s cashier” and claimed Putin “has investments in Gunvor,” these, too, remain hypotheses until proven. But Kashin thinks that the people in the list are going to flee, and possibly even “tell all.” His candidate for such a “traitor” is Surkov:

Surkov in Stockholm. Photo by natan_d.

Surkov in Stockholm. Photo by natan_d.


 “I would take a close look at Surkov — his Stockholm photographs (and the European Union has also introduced sanctions!) incline one to that, and in general, Surkov has long been out of a job, rumors about his incredible political influence are being leaked largely by him himself and his people, although to this day his role in the organization of protests on Bolotnaya is not known — he will hardly like the prospect of imaginary membership in the Ozero Cooperative [of Putin’s cronies–Intrepreter] with its real consequences…This is a suspense, Putin has turned into the hero of a thriller, who doesn’t know yet from which dark corner he should expect threats. There is expectation of the first betrayal — the Americans have made it so that it has become the chief factor in Russian politics.”


1350 GMT: What about gay rights in Russia, which received so much attention during the Sochi Olympics, with athletes and fans coyly donning rainbow-hued outfits and Google making a rainbow doodle? Masha Gessen, a journalist who was forced to leave Russia due to the persecution of the LGBT community, says an opportunity was missed, and the international gay rights movement failed their Russian counterparts. It will be hard to get that much attention to the issues again — but it is surely needed. According to RAPSI, the legal news agency, Moscow’s Tushinsky District Court on 24 March rejected a defamation lawsuit filed by LGBT activist Nikolay Bayev against popular actor and showman Ivan Okhlobystin, over his outburst that “”gays should be burned alive in ovens.”

“According to the media, the flamboyant actor made the controversial statement during a meeting with his fans in Novosibirsk. Shortly after it became public and controversy in the social media intensified, Okhlobystin publicly refused to apologize and published an open letter in which he called on Vladimir Putin to reinstate criminal liability for sodomy.”

The hysteria around gays in Russia — whipped up by state media — is so great that thugs attacked members of a St. Patrick’s Day flash mob, mistaking them for gay activists. Students and teachers were injured in the fistfight.

1310 GMT: Did the Sochi Olympics in the end help to improve human rights in Russia? With the world’s spotlight on issues that Russian human rights groups had been trying to get attention to for years — prison conditions, suppression of the media and right of association and assembly, LGBT rights, mistreatment of minorities and migrants — there was hope that Sochi might bring some improvement. It didn’t.

Bolotnaya defendants. Caption: "Did you forget about us? Today is the sentence."

Bolotnaya defendants. Caption: “Did you forget about us? Today is the sentence.”

  Putin exploited the legitimacy he obtained from the international community when it failed to boycott his obscenely expensive Olympic show — and launched a war with Ukraine. The international community was unable to use Sochi to decouple Putin from his support of the mass-murdering Assad in Syria, and arrests in Russia and aggressiveness to neighbors then only increased. Human Rights Watch reports that between February 21 and March 4, detained at least 1,264 peaceful protesters, ordering 15 to serve 10 days of detention and others to pay heavy fines. HRW found from interviews of those detained that often excessive force was used. Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director, said:

“The Russian government’s message could not be clearer. If you’re thinking about joining a protest anywhere in Russia that is critical of the government, no matter how small, no matter how peaceful, without government approval, think again.”

While a large anti-war rally was allowed to proceed peacefully on 15 March, the government has continued relentlessly to sentence the Bolotnaya defendants who took part in the anti-Putin rally of 6 May 2012. The brutality of “self-defense” units we have seen in Ukraine is now practiced in Russia, as civil society activists in Petrozavodsk who planned to protest the war in Crime discovered. On their way to a picket site, masked-men jumped out of two cars, and beat and threatened them. In a separate incident, another group of activists were assaulted by thugs in masks who kidnapped them and took them to a forest to beat them with chains and rubber truncheons, threatening to kill them.

“We’re all afraid of filing an official complaint because the attacks were so well organized we are scared the police was somehow involved. We did go to a local clinic and got medical documents confirming the injuries but we just don’t have the nerve to take it further…”


1250 GMT: On 18 March, at a closed meeting of the Presidential Human Rights Council — never without its controversies — a decision was made to ban publication of collective statements by groups of Council members, and reported. Chairman Mikhail Fedotov, and Iosif Diskin, a member, proposed changes to the by-laws, and most of the members voted to remove a clause allowing publication of materials reflecting the group position on various issues. The move appeared to have been prompted by statements from a group of members critical of the Russian government’s actions in the Crimea, which triggered a number of protests from other members disassociating themselves from the group, as we reported earlier this month.

1230 GMT: It wouldn’t be a Congress of Intelligentsia without dissidents against the dissidents; in a post on, recently blocked by Russian state censors, Sergei Kovalev and Lev Timofeyev, both Soviet-era political prisoners, ask the eternal Russian question, “What is to be Done?” and decide that their fellow intellectuals had failed to provide any constructive ideas. “Yes, there were the reports of scholars, who quiet competently gave us all to understand that the impending dangers threaten not only the welfare but the very existence of Russias…Yes, there were several emotional responses of the rally type…Yes, there was read the well-written appeal, already signed by many (which meant that it already existed and hadn’t been subjected to discussion) about how further escalation of the Russian-Ukrainina conflict could not be permitted. And that was it. And then everyone went home. And nothing concrete was said about the future of such an important beginning with the beautiful name of Congress of Intelligentsia of Russia. The the beginning remained only a beginning, and did not gain any concrete continuation. As if it were deliberately, consciously brought to naught.” Yet in a way the two old zeks answer their own question:

“Of course, in their criminal effort to suppress any resistance from society, any dissent, the authorities even now are using and will to an even greater extent use the mechanism of political repression well-established in Russia. But the force of tyranny in our country has always been opposed — and always defeated! — by the force of conviction in one’s own moral correctness. Prisons and labor camps could not suppress people even in the deepest Communist times. But if then, only a few hundred, knowing about the impending repressions, were not afraid to express clearly their disagreement with the authorities’ policy, then now, there are millions of such people…And the people who have given this beginning such an imposing name — the Congress of Intelligentsia of Russia — are simply obliged to understand what ideas exactly these millions are expecting from them.”


1213 GMT: About 200 Russian intellectuals gathered for the Anti-War Congress of Intelligentsia in Moscow on 20 March at the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow, Rights in Russia reported. They signed a simple appeal:

“We have an obligation to warn the President and the government about the historical error which is being committed, namely the attempt to take control over part of another country – Ukraine, which was only recently a sister nation to us – with the help of the Russian armed forces.”

Yevgeny Gontmakher, Alexey Simonov, and Irina Prokhorova at the Congress of Intelligentsia on 19 March 2014 in Moscow. Photo by Vera Vasilyeva

Yevgeny Gontmakher, Alexey Simonov, and Irina Prokhorova at the Congress of Intelligentsia on 19 March 2014 in Moscow. Photo by Vera Vasilyeva

  Many of the figure were well known even since the days of perestroika, such as Alexei Simonov, film-maker and founder of the Glasnost Defense Fund; Ludmila Alexeyeva, chair of the oldest human rights group, Moscow Helsinki Group; Dmitry Bykov, the poet and movie critic; authors Andrei Bitov, Vladimir Voynovich and Alla Gerber. Some have suffered state persecution in the past, such as Soviet-era political prisoners Sergei Kovalev, a former parliamentarian, and author Lev Timofeyev, as well as Yuri Samodurov, a founder of Memorial Society fined by a court for curating several alternative art shows after complaints from the Russian Orthodox Church. While there were many gray heads, there were still significant numbers of younger people such as journalist Tikhon Dzyadko and pianist Nino Barkalaya. While it’s useful to remember that “Russia Will Never Be Like Us” as Anne Applebaum has written in describing the challenges of Putin, and remember Putin’s speech on the occasion of the forcible annexation of the Crimea, that “fifth columnists” and Western-funded “traitors” will have to be silenced, in fact, they won’t go down without a fight. And there are more of them than often conceded, and they represent institutions of culture and academia and the non-profit sector that persist despite the withdrawal of Western foundations. To be sure, one man who attended, Prof. Zubov who was published an outspoken piece about the annexation of the Crimea was dismissed from his job as we reported 24 March. But these are the kind of people who persist.

0010 GMT: The Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS has reported that seven of the members of the G8 have suspended their membership in the group. But the AP reports it differently, quoting France’s Foreign Minister directly, “Concerning the G-8…we decided to suspend Russia’s participation, and it is envisaged that all the other countries, the seven leading countries, will unite without Russia.” Earlier today Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov objected that it was impossible to expel Russia from the G8, because no such procedure existed in the group, which is informal. Our translation:

“The G8 is an informal club, no one issues membership cards, no one can kick anyone else out. If our Western partners believe that this format has outlived itself, then that is how it will be. We aren’t going to hang on to it. We don’t see a great problem if it doesn’t meet. Well, as an experiment we can wait a year or a year and a half and see how it is living without it.”

TASS quoted from part of the G7 statement made in the Hague to fit better with Lavrov’s comment and TASS’ own reporting:

“Under these circumstances, we will not participate in the planned Sochi Summit. We will suspend our participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion and will meet again in G-7 format at the same time as planned, in June 2014, in Brussels, to discuss the broad agenda we have together.”

But the rest of the Hague statement stated as follows — which sounds more like the G7 keeping their group, and meeting without Russia:

“We have also advised our Foreign Ministers not to attend the April meeting in Moscow. In addition, we have decided that G-7 Energy Ministers will meet to discuss ways to strengthen our collective energy security.”



: @KSHN TASS is authorized to report… Headline: G7 Countries Suspend Own Membership in G8

March 24, 2014

2035 GMT: When Russian ultra-conservative Alexander Prokhanov was spouting his usual nonsense on Russian TV the other day — the sort of invective against the West, liberals, and Jews he’s been ranting for years as editor of the anti-Semitic paper Den’ [Day] — people may not have looked twice.

But in today’s context of Putin’s increasing aggression, such hate speeches sanctioned on official TV acquire more sinister resonance. And as blogger John Aravosis points out, the anchor on Russia state news channel Rossiya 24 herself makes a comment just as bad as Prokhanov’s. Here’s a complete translation of the relevant segment, which Vladimir Varlamov has posted to YouTube on 23 March:

Alexander Prokhanov: It’s strange that Jewish organizations — European and our Russian — support this Maidan. What are they doing? They don’t understand that they are bringing a second Holocaust closer with their own hands?

Evelina Zakamskaya: They brought the first one closer as well.

Alexander Prokhanov: It is monstrous, it is blindness, outrageous blindness, which, apparently, is being repeated, because before 1933 as well in Europe, a lot of liberal organizations fed the Fuhrer.

Evelina Zakamskaya: Yes.

1959 GMT: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has led the charge to expel Russia from the G8 and coordinate sanctions so that no one country will suffer more backlash than others. So Canada has now have suffered a retaliatory sanctions list by the Kremlin. Among those included are Prof. Irwin Cotler, former Attorney General of Canada and veteran human rights advocate who joined an international group supporting the Magnitsky List of sanctions.



1950 GMT: Said Amirov, the notorious mayor of Makhachkala, whose case we’ve covered in the last year, has a hearing set next month. Amirov is charged with having ordered the 2011 murder of investigator Arsen Gadzhibekov in the Dagestani city of Kaspiys. His lawyers have filed complaints that Amirov, who is in a wheel chair, has been denied proper health care and have claimed he is being held in torturous conditions.

Russian prosecutors also appear to be attempting to close some other cases by implicating the jailed former mayor in them, such as the murder of Amirov’s former bodyguard, Musail Alaudinov, who may have “known too much” about his boss’ capers. They have also charged Amirov with plotting a terror attack with others.


1936 GMT: A professor who opposed Russia’s forcible reunification has been fired from his position, the Moscow Times reported. Prof. Andrei Zubov, who taught at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, or MGIMO, said he was fired for an op-ed piece in Vedomosti that compared a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine with Nazi Germany’s Anschluss with Austria in 1938.

“We need to come to our senses and stop,” Zubov wrote. “Our policies will drag our people into a terrible, horrible venture. Historical experience tells us that nothing costs so much. We should not do what the Germans did in their time on the promises of Goebbels and Hitler.”

Zubov also attended a Congress of Anti-War Intellectuals this past weekend in Moscow.

1910 GMT: Are the US and EU sanctions having an impact? Observers who have long advocated them think so — but are urging Washington and Brussels to coordinate better and implement the sanctions fully.




1909 GMT: The abuse of psychiatry, notorious in the Soviet era, has returned under Putin. We’ve covered the ordeal of Mikhail Kosenko in the past, and now his court case is coming up.


1909 GMT: VOA reports that 9 billion rubles ($248 million) have been withdrawn by account holders at SMP, owned by the Rotenberg brothers, since the announcement of the sanctions which include them.

Arkady Rotenberg, included in the US sanctions list, and his judo partner, Vladimir Putin.

Arkady Rotenberg, included in the US sanctions list, and his judo partner, Vladimir Putin.


It’s important to keep an eye on Russia’s chief trading partners and whether individual deals are pursued. After China, Germany is the largest exporter of goods to Russia ($38.3 billion) and the Netherlands imports $76.8 billion of goods from Russia, more than double what Germany imports ($35.6) , the New York Times reports. As Jewish Business News reports, despite supporting sanctions against some oligarchs, some countries want to keep trade partly open with Russia. A consortium led by Russia’s Stroitransgaz, owned by Gennady Timchenko, who is in the sanctions list, is set to win a $4.8 billion deal for the South Stream pipeline. An announcement about the project expected last week was postponed, the Moscow Times reported. The 2,4000 kilometer pipeline that will supply gas to Europe is supported by Bulgaria’s BEH, Germany’s Wintershall, Italy’s Eni, and France’s EDF in addition to Russia’s state gas monopoly Gazprom. Timchenko owns 63% of Stroitransgaz via his Volga Group.

1430 GMT: Kyle Parker, a senior Russian policy advisor on the Hill, has received a death threat from a Russian via email, Buzzfeed reports. Parker, a staff person on the hybrid State Department and Congressional Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), known as the “Helsinki Commisison” publicized emails he received from “” titled “Burn in hell bitch” (in our translation):

“Well, now, you American bitch, get your tender ass ready, you will definitely be f***ked. And along with you, that rat nicknamed Lyosha, you do realize in your case it is better to say the truth, the whole truth about your mercenary intentions…it’s too bad I can’t personally execute you, you Anglo-Saxon freak…get the vaseline ready, whore hahhahhah.”

Parker was a key author of the Magnitsky Act to sanction Russian officials related to a corrupt tax case and the subsequent death in detention of Sergei Magnitsky. He believes the “Lyosha” indicated is a reference to Alexey Navalny, who has been fending off orchestrated state media exposes and is currently under house arrest. Navalny has exposed many of the same people targeted by US sanctions last week. In 2011, lobbyists representing Gennady Timchenko of Gunvor, one of the Russians in the US sanctions list described as “Putin’s bagman in Europe” visited Parker asking about Navalny’s past appearance before the CSCE to testify about Russian corporate raiders. When Parker protested about the threatening email to the Russian Embassy, the answer he got back contained its own threats against him and Navalny:

“You know Kyle, I don’t share this guy view. We have to be gentlemen despite anything. Though I would agree, Navalny is done. And one more thing – I really doubt you will see Russia again, at least as long as Vladimir stays in Kremlin.”

The Embassy official then linked to a site showing many popular signs applying “sanctions” to Obama and his family, saying “Look at what our civil society is doing. You can take credit.” The site described a motorist’s call on drivers to put anti-Obama signs in every car window and Mikhail Dvorkovich’s call to boycott American products.

"US President Obama is Denied the Right to Enter the Honey Store." Photo by

“US President Obama is Denied the Right to Enter the Honey Store.” Photo by


Perhaps the Embassy is trying to make light of even sinister anti-Americanism, but Parker has brought in the Capitol Police to investigate. We hope he will go to every other US agency with Russian expertise, as this isn’t just a nasty email. Extremist groups in Russia are notorious for holding mock trials and placing “freaks” they don’t like on “execution lists” — and acting on them.

1420 GMT: Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said US sanctions may cause Russia to cancel plans to borrow abroad this year and are already stinging, Reuters reported.

“Any sanctions, whatever they are, have a negative impact on bilateral trade, the forecast and the actual economic growth,” Siluanov told journalists. “That’s why the imposed sanctions will certainly contribute to the overall negative perception of our country’s economy and that has already been reflected in ratings agencies’ forecasts.”

While Visa and MasterCard had halted services to Bank Rossiya and other banks such as SMP whose owners Arkady and Boris Rotenberg were in the sanctions list, TV Rain reported that on 22 March, the credit card companies unblocked SMP Bank, citing the bank’s statement:

“At the present time, MasterCard’s operation is fully restored, transactions on Visa cards will begin to go through in several hours as channels of communication are established and the equipment is re-set. Thus, the payment systems have acknowledged the error of their actions regarding SMP Bank, whose cards were blocked after US sanctions were taken regarding the chief share-holders of the bank.”

“We’re glad that two major international payment systems heard our arguments and changed their decision on the blockage, which did not correspond to legal standards,” said Dmitry Kalantyrsky, president and chairman of the board of SMP.

1415 GMT: The Russian Constitutional Court has completed its hearing in an appeal filed by former Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and Russian NGOS against the notorious “Law on Foreign Agents” which makes it a crime for civil society groups engaged in ill-defined “political activity” to receive funding from abroad. In an interview with Novye Izvestiya translated by Rights in Russia, Russian lawyer Pavel Chikov, chair of the Agora Human Rights Association, says the law promoted by Putin has supposedly created a division between the Prosecutor General’s office and the Ministry of Justice in how to implemen it.

Chikov also says he thinks the hunt for “foreign agents” in Russia is over, and that NGOs will have won regardless of the Court’s ruling because they have curtailed its application. If that’s true — although this may be a case of frogs not noticing the water temperature — it may only be due to the fact that the campaign to intimidate NGOs has succeeded. Chikov himself notes that in order to avoid having to register as a “foreign agent,” he assuaged a prosecutor’s concern by terminating his organization’s project to “monitor public policy on the Internet.” Chikov said that even a group that tried to save cranes in the Murvyovsky Crane Park in the Amursky Region was prosecuted for receiving funding from the International Crane Foundation, and only after multiple appeals was able finally to obtain a ruling that the prosecution was unlawful. Not every group is going to find the courage and resources to repeatedly challenge hostile lawsuits, especially if they compete in an area Putin has grabbed for himself.

1410 GMT: Gerard Depardieu, French actor and film-maker, may have gone in the other direction and even accepted Russian citizenship and purchased a vineyard in the Crimea. But infamous Soviet-era propagandist and popular Russian TV host Vladimir Posner is now leaving Russia for France. He explained his reasons, reports:

“Everyone knows that I am an atheist and believe that I have come from an ape. From that very ape who was made a human being from work and knowledge. Contrary to the deputies who have all to a man become churchified, I think, they believe that they were created by God. And those that marche at the “Russian marches” with Nazi symbols, even signing themselves with the cross every minute and holding icons in their hands, most likely also believe this. Therefore they both more and more begin to remind me of apes. And consequently, they have ahead a long path to evolution. Perhaps, human beings may be gotten even from them.”


Posner, age 78, was known in the 1980s for his fluent English and co-hosting of a show with Phil Donahue, where he rationalized the invasion of Afghanistan and exile of Sakharov. In later years, his criticism of racism on Russian TV and debate of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in a climate of growing nationalism was welcomed by some intellectuals. Now he says he is too old to wait for Russia to change and will live out his days in Paris, where his mother was born.

1400 GMT: Moscow News, an English-language Russian newspaper, closed 14 March, a victim of the reorganization of its parent company, RIA Novosti, in a Russian state media consolidation with a more propagandistic mission, Rossiya Segodnya [Russian Today]. In the Soviet era, Moscow News was the Kremlin’s positive face for Western tourists available in every flight or hotel room, and grew popular in the 1980s for showcasing Gorbachev’s glasnost revelations. It then grew into a more critical paper accessible at least by English-language readers, and likely didn’t fit into the new vision of conformity. Moscow News journalists departed with rather cryptic comments, not directly citing the Kremlin’s make-over. Anna Artunyan wrote “The Last Confession of a Kremlin Stooge” saying her departure “was certainly political to a degree” and pointed to a story on the overhaul of RIA Novosti. The editor of the Moscow News, Natalia Antonova, herself commented mysteriously:

“If you want to work in the Russian media, you should also suspend your understanding of how time operates. Go ahead and assume that there may be no tomorrow. Or else, tomorrow will arrive like a clown car fueled up on mescaline…If you write about Russia with any kind of nuance, you may confuse and anger many people. At first this will scare you, then it will infuriate you, then you’ll get used to it.”