Russia This Week: Siberian Group Seeking Greater Autonomy is Censored (28 July – 2 August)

August 2, 2014
Artyom Loskutov. Photo by ITAR-TASS/Stanislav Krasilnikov

Updated Daily. A group seeking greater autonomy for Siberia found its web page, VKontakte community and Twitter account censored as well as an interview with its leader in A rally organized by Russian ultranationalists in support of the separatists fighting in southeastern Ukraine had a very low turnout. Young Russian men cheered a Russian tank convoy on its way to the Ukrainian border. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny expressed intolerance for Muslim labor migrants in Russia. Muslims in Russia celebrated the end of the holy fasting period Ramadan, with plenty of police in attendance. The British government announced the opening of a Public Inquiry 31 July into the poisoning death of defector Alexander Litvinenko.

For last week’s issue go here for these stories: Opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev in the long-running Bolotnaya Case were found guilty by a Moscow court of “inciting mass riots” in protests against President Vladimir Putin on 6 May 2012 and sentenced to 4.5 years forced labor. Russian and Ukrainian bloggers confirmed the sighting of the Buk anti-aircraft missile system. The Russian Justice Ministry has entered five leading human rights groups into the registry of “foreign agents” against their will. The Russian Defense Ministry held a press briefing to present their claims about MH17, but their geolocation of a video showing a Buk by a billboard issued has been debunked as false.

For previous week’s issue go here for these stories: on ultranationalist Sergei Kurginyan’s boast that an electronics specialist was sent to repair a Buk anti-aircraft system for the separatists in Donetsk; the citizen reporter at the lake in Gukovo who filmed Grad rockets launching from Russian territory in Ukraine has had his VKontakte page removed; the fifth anniversary of the murder of Chechen human rights activist Natalya Estemirova; the worst accident in the Moscow metro’s history, with at least 21 dead and 160 injured; opposition candidates hear their private conversations aired on LifeNews, then find a bug in a campaign worker’s car; a new low for Russian state TV in its broadcasting of lurid war propaganda against Ukraine and Kiev’s response; and Facebook executive’s secret trip to Moscow leaving open the question of how social media companies will comply with a new regulation requiring all Russian customer data to be located on servers on Russian territory.

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August 2, 2014

1925GMT: A local event planned by a small group of Siberian regionalists to push for more autonomy has turned into a national story as authorities have not only blocked the group’s march, its VKontakte group and its web page but also a story on a major independent Moscow online news site and other web sites.

An interview with march organizer Artyom Loskov published 2 August in about the “March for the Federalization of Siberia” planned for 17 August led to getting a notice from the Prosecutor Generals’ office and removal of the page by the state censor, Roskomnadzor. Now only the “Removed” notice is viewable, although it can still be found in Google cache. Under a new law, calls for separatism or secession within Russia, or vaguely-defined “extremist” statements can lead to criminal prosecution and also media censorship.

Translation: "This material has been removed from at the demand of the Prosecutor General."

Translation: “This material has been removed from at the demand of the Prosecutor General.”

Artyom Loskutov. Photo by ITAR-TASS/Stanislav Krasilnikov

Artyom Loskutov. Photo by ITAR-TASS/Stanislav Krasilnikov

In fact, state censors are seeing how the “Streisand Effect” works now as more and more people talk about the march — and the removal of the interview and other Internet pages.

Navalny gave it a lengthy treatment on his blog, and tweeted (translation by The Interpreter)

Translation: To the statement by the Siberian and militiaman Igor Ivanovich Loskutov I can only add one thing: Amen.

Loskutov’s name is actually Artyom, but Navalny is making an allusion to Igor Ivanovich Strelkov (Girkin), commander of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” separatists, who call themselves “militiamen.”

Navalny’s tweet contained an excerpt from Loskutov’s censored interview (translated by The Interpreter):

“Does only Siberia deserve federalization or other regions also need more autonomy.

“They all have deserved it. Our Constitution provides for independence of regions, the law simply has to be drafted. There should be as much independence as possible. It is stupid to live in Siberia and follow laws which are initiated somewhere in St. Petersburg by some Milonov. We give up our resources, and in exchange, we get a bunch of idiotic laws.”

On his blog, Navalny commented:

“You would think that in Siberia there’s an outright march for secession going on. But actually no, in a country called ‘Russian Federation,’ some dudes are holding march for federalization. So that more money and powers remain in the region.”

The group “March for Federalization of Siberia,” which indicated contact information has also been blocked on VKontakte, Navalny reported.

As our Windows on Eurasia columnist Paul Goble reported in June, authorities have been cracking down for some time on Siberian regionalists. A significant portion of the population no longer identifies with Russia.

As we have reported, Loskutov, a Novosibirsk-based performance artist who has led this literalist take on “federalization,” is known for staging many “happenings.” He was fined last year for putting up billboards with his own poster of the Virgin Mary in a colored balaclava like Pussy Riot.

Re-worked Pussy-Riot style icon by artist Artyom Loskutov.

Re-worked Pussy-Riot style icon by artist Artyom Loskutov.

1801GMT: As we reported this morning on our Ukrainian LiveBlog, the rally called today by 20 ultranationalist organizations in Moscow in support of “Novorossiya” — the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Lugansk People’s Republic” — attracted only about 500-1,000 people at the most. and did not report on the rally. estimated about 200 people turned out.

Despite big-name speakers like Aleksandr Dugin, the Eurasianist recently fired from Moscow State University for his extreme anti-Ukrainian statements, and several “militia” live from the field, people just didn’t show up. The permit was for 10,000 people, but a tenth of that number was there at the peak. Although VKontakte group messages gave contacts of people who could “help with transportation,” it seems the neither the Donbass insurgency supporters — nor the various state front groups arranged through the ruling party United Russia — didn’t spend money on busing people in from other Russian towns.

Translation: And where can we see reports about today’s loudly-announced rally for Novorossiya? Somehow it’s hard to believe there are only 1,000-1,500.

There’s also this:

Translation: At the rally in Moscow, there’s a total #loadofcrap.

As we reported, the sign in this tweet says: “I.I. Strelkov and V.V. Putin: Our commanders in chief in the people’s struggle against Western intervention in the Donbass — an uncomfortable comparison for the Kremlin:

The low attendance may suggest that the Russian government is not going out of its way to promote the separatist leaders, as pro-government rallies are usually reinforced by bussed-in protesters. Indeed, given some reports of fears of Strelkov’s possible role as a rival to Putin for the affections of nationalist Russians, the Kremlin may not wish to endorse a rally dominated by such adulatory portrayals of the separatist military leader.

Grigory Studnev, writing for the citizens’ reporting portal which is generally pro-separatist, covered the rally but didn’t describe the numbers. The story is accompanied by a lot of tight shots so that the size of the crowd is not visible.

Supporters certainly have their own unique understanding of things, as Studnev reports:

“What Strelkov is doing now is in fact real Russian human rights activity. After it, those who violate human rights should not remain alive,’ said Roman Silantyev executive director of the human rights center of the World Russian Popular Assembly.”

Some people had signs saying, “Putin, Bring in Forces!”

Moscow police guard demonstrator with sign, "Putin - Bring in Forces!" 2 August 2014. Photo by Elena Gorbacheva.

Moscow police guard demonstrator with sign, “Putin – Bring in Forces!” 2 August 2014. Photo by Elena Gorbacheva.

Two separatists from Donbass brought out on stage the Tikhvin Mother of God icon (which they now call the “Militia Icon”), which Russian warriors at the Battle of Borodino carried. Tomorrow 3 August, a church procession with the icon to be headed by Col. Strelkov is planned.

Pro-Russian separatists in Moscow carry Mother of God icon 2 August 2014. Photo by Elena Gorbacheva

Pro-Russian separatists in Moscow carry Mother of God icon 2 August 2014. Photo by Elena Gorbacheva

They collected funds for the rebels’ “humanitarian aid.”

Collection of funds for "Novorossiya" cause at rally 2 August 2014. Photo by Elena Gorbacheva.

Collection of funds for “Novorossiya” cause at rally 2 August 2014. Photo by Elena Gorbacheva.

Some reporting has characterized the “Novorossiya” supporters and armed separatists as “using the Conferederate flag,” from the old Confederate South in the civil war in the United States, still associated today with reactionary causes in the US.

Novorossiya flags at Moscow rally 2 August 2014. Photo by Elena Gorbacheva.

Novorossiya flags at Moscow rally 2 August 2014. Photo by Elena Gorbacheva.

But this is a misunderstanding of the history of this flag, which is based on the centuries-old St. Andrew’s Flag for the Russian Navy in St. Petersburg and which has been used by marchers for the last 20 years, some benign monarchists, others violent extremists. The “Donetsk People’s Republic has used a variation of this flag with blue and red colors — just like the Russian Naval Jack from 1701-1924 — that indeed make it look like the Confederate flag, but there is no evidence for their association with US conservatives — they are far more extreme than them, in fact, and anti-American, and their grasp on geopolitics is tenuous at best. To be sure, some of them appear to have ordered what appears to be a Confederate flag online because it’s simply easy and cheap to get, but they are using it on their tank convoys and occupied buildings as their own chosen flag for Novorossiya.

After the rally, there was a concert with a group called Bakhyt-Kompot where lead singer Vadim Stepantsov sang their new hit, “God Has Left Ukraine.”

He may be missing in Moscow, too.

July 31, 2014

1919GMT: The casual conversation of two excited young Russian men heard in a video uploaded to YouTube yesterday, across the street from the Aisberg (Iceberg) Cafe in Stary Oskol, is chilling as they record a military convoy passing through their town. They’re cheering the convoy — which includes the anti-missile Buk system — saying the Ukrainians are going to “get it,” and are happy that the traffic police are stopping all motorists to let the convoy through.

Over on our Ukrainian Liveblog we were able to geolocate the Russian convoy moving through Stary Oskol yesterday afternoon Moscow time, about three hours away from the border of Ukraine.

The Iceberg (blue) and the store called “Moskva” (red) are clearly visible in the video, as are the nine-storey apartment buildings on Molodyozhny Avenue in the video, and easily found on Google Street View.

Screen grab from video taken of Russian military convoy with Buk in Stary Oskol 30 July 2014.

Screen grab from video taken of Russian military convoy with Buk in Stary Oskol 30 July 2014.

Cafe Aisberg and Moskva Store in Stary Oskol, current Google Street View.

Cafe Aisberg and Moskva Store in Stary Oskol, current Google Street View.

The Interpreter
has translated the dialogue in the video:

First Young Man: Once again!
Second Young Man: Let’s go, let’s go.
Second Young Man: Ukraine is going to get it, the f**ckers, for sure. They have the right to go through. Hey, why are they honking? They have the right to go through.
First Young Man: They get to go through as a column.
Second Young Man: They should be coming, somehow.
First Young Man: Wave at them! Fuck, look what’s going on! [Traffic police go by with sirens on.]
Second Young Man: Once again they’re going to war. They’re going to f**k them over. The traffic police should let them through.
First Young Man: Everyone should get to the side, what kind of sheep are they.
[Voice: saying “Respected Drivers!” urging them cars to pull over.]
Second Young Man: Listen, they’re letting them through. Did you hear that?
[Voice: Respected Drivers!]
First Young Man: They’re not so many for some reason. More over there.
Second Young Man: Now those are open trucks.
First Young Man: That’s an anti-missile system [at 1:12] A new one, I see.
Second Young Man: Now those are covered up.
First Young Man: There’s a surprise! [laughter]
Second Young Man: They’re rattling. Can you hear it?
First Young Man: There’s some BTRs. Not tanks, but BTRs. There’s a BTR.
Second Young Man: I see.
First Young Man: There’s some [Mercedes] Benz. There’s a BTR. [inaudible]
Second Young Man: It’s from Moscow. [inaudible] Region. They’re huge. They’re going through the red light.
Second Young Man: For the first time in my life. Film it!
First Young Man: Some sort of chain fell, shit. And those are following them, do you see.
Second Young Man: Well, let’s go.

1539GMT: This Saturday 2 August, supporters of the Russian separatist movement in southeastern Ukraine will hold a rally in Moscow, as some 12,000-15,000 Russian troops amass on the Russian border.

Poster for ultranationalist rally in Moscow 2 August made by Sputnik&Pogrom

Poster for ultranationalist rally in Moscow 2 August made by Sputnik & Pogrom

The VKontakte group Sputnik & Pogrom, related to the website run by ultranationalist Yegor Prosvirin, published a call for the rally on VKontakte which has been echoed on many other VKontakte and other social media pages supporting the separatists, notably the newly-renamed “Dispatches from Novorossiya Militia” (formerly “Strelkov’s Dispatches”) which was also reportedly started by Sputnik & Pogrom.

“The purpose of the rally is to demonstrate public support for Novorossiya and Donbass, to push the government to more active help for Russian rebels. Therefore, showing up is so important — the more people come, the faster the government will understand that Russian society demands active help for Donbass. Moreover, humanitarian assistance will be collected for Donbasss at the rally. We are not rallying “for everything that is good,” we are providing the maximum promotion of the Donbass rebellion, here and there.”

The notice goes on to specify that the rally has been granted permission by the Moscow mayor’s office to go along Tvetsnoy Blvd. and Olympic Avenue from 15-19:00 in the center of Moscow.

The rally is organized by “a broad coalition of 19 Russian national organizations along the spectrum from national-democrats to Eurasianists.” Demonstrators are urged to bring only Russian and Novorossiya flags, not party flags.

Ekaterina Gubareva, wife of “people’s governor” Pavel Gubarev has taken part in organizing the rally, as has ANNA-News, a pro-separatist media organization that also covers Syria, Transdniestria and Southern Ossetia, says the notice.

The post contains a videotaped address from Col. Igor Strelkov uploaded 15 July, in which he states that all the money collected by Gubareva’s fund went to buying items like bullet-proof vests, infrared cameras, binoculars, knives etc. and reached their destination to the rebels in Donbass, mainly to help the reconaissance agents in the DPR.

When the liberal opposition staged a “Peace March” 15 March, about 50,000 people reportedly took part. There were counter-demonstrations to that march by some of the ultranationalists, which only numbered in the hundreds or thousands. The organizers note that they only had about one thousand participants at their rally 11 June and hope for greater participation on 2 August.

The organizers appear paranoid about “Ukrainian provocations” and aside from police protection, are bringing “our own, additional security,” they said.

“All attempts to unfurl Ukrainian flags or organization other provocations will be cut short swiftly and brutally.”

Leaflets were available at the site.

1408GMT: On 26 July (last Saturday), before the battles of Shakhtyorsk and before his 6-minute press conference on 28 July, Col. Igor Strelkov issued a notice to the VKontakte group “Strelkov’s Dispatches” that he was making his last dispatch:

“There will no longer be any dispatches ‘from me.’ Follow the official dispatches of the militia of the DPR.”

Interestingly — given the controversies swirling around the authenticity of his statements — what Strelkov didn’t do in his “last dispatch” is say “all my other previous dispatches in this group were unverified” or indeed anything at all about how to view statements in this group. He also had nothing to say at his press conference in Donetsk on the question of where one can read reliable dispatches from him from the battlefield.

The group marked his last notice with the banner showing a sketch of his head which they had reiterated on 17 July would indicate which posts came directly from Col. Strelkov himself, after removing the post about the downing of a plane believed to be an AN-26 at the time, which in fact was MH17.

Col. Strelkov's last dispatch to VKontakte group 26 July 2014.

Col. Strelkov’s last dispatch to VKontakte group 26 July 2014.

Strelkov didn’t specify where these could be found, but there are a number of competing web sites and social media accounts issuing news from the separatists, including, which has claimed to be the “official” Strelkov and militia site; its rival; and news sites such as,, @dnrpress and The Vineyard of the Saker which publishes English-language translations of separatist media.

This week Col. Strelkov was said to issue a command to all fighters to cease swearing — a rather impossible task for these men, as anyone who has read our translations of their intercepts can see. There was no way to tell if this widely-reported command was authentic, although it was published on the site claiming to be the “official” site. The order is signed as “Commander of DPR Militia,” not “Commander-in-Chief,” which reinforces reports that Vladimir Antyufeyev has now been made “Acting Commander-in-Chief”.

Strelkov’s Dispatches posed a question to the group:

“From the administration: Since Strelkov will no longer publish dispatches then it seems that name of our community loses its point. Should we re-name the community or leave the name as a good tradition?”

The community then had a vote, where 9,931 people voted to change the name (37.3%) and 16,720 people voted to keep the name everyone was used to (62.7%). The group currently has 167,455 members.

So…in good “people’s democracy” fashion, the administrators have now changed the name of the group to “Dispatches from the Novorossiya Militia.”

To be sure, even after Strelkov said no more dispatches were coming, one did come, marked with his banner, on 30 July, with his commentary about the lies in the Ukrainian media. Perhaps this was merely an old habit dying hard. And before his last dispatch, there was one saying that “there are almost no Cossacks left. At least Kozitsyn’s.”

As we noted in our analysis at the time, and reiterated as the debate about authenticity continued, the VK group had frequently and reliably published dispatches directly from Strelkov and his fellow separatist fighters. It was widely and frequently used by both official Russian state media and pro-separatist media.

When the group administrators removed the post constituting an admission of downing MH17, there was considerable effort to discredit the group and its posts as fake or merely an inauthentic fan group. But as we also noted, the Russian state media and pro-Kremlin media reported the exact same story of the “downed AN-26” independent of the VK group.

Furthermore, for days after 17 July, the group continued to post bannered dispatches from Strelkov that matched information available from other sources.

The supporters’ site had denounced the VKtontakte group on 18 July for enabling the US State Department to accuse Strelkov, and by extension the separatist movement of shooting down MH17 with a Buk in their possession.

But again, Vzglyad established they themselves stated they had a Buk in their possession in stories on 14 and 17 July, without reference to the VKontakte group.

Speculation persists about the origin of the report that was posted 17 July at 17:50 Moscow time. According to some sources, the post was made in, a site for collectors and historic re-enactors frequented by Strelkov, and considered by some the “only” place where he makes posts directly. The post in the group copied by the VKontakte group came from “Margo from Donetsk,” said to be an associate of Strelkov’s:

Screenshot of post bragging about the downing of a plane, said to be taken from on the day of the shot-down of MH17, and copied to Strelkov's Dispatches on VKontakte.

Screenshot of post bragging about the downing of a plane, said to be taken from on the day of the shot-down of MH17, and copied to Strelkov’s Dispatches on VKontakte.

July 30, 2014

1409GMT: Remember when everyone was worried about opposition leader Alexey Navalny being a nationalist? We covered the debate last year when Navalny was released from prison following his five-year suspended sentence for embezzlement charges, and ran in the mayoral elections.

Navalny didn’t win, but got nearly 30% of the vote, which was significant.

But concerns remained about his views on foreigners and migrants, Russia-for-Russians and “not feeding the Caucausus.” Last year, he told his supporters to “go to the Russian March without me” — an event that annually attracts ultranationalists and was infamous for a lot of antisemitic, anti-migrant, and xenophobic sentiment as well as hatred of the US and the West.

Navalny didn’t go because he felt he had to represent his electorate, which included Moscow liberals uneasy with his pandering to nationalists. In this essay as in past statements, he articulated his idea that in order to accommodate what he sees as legitimate concerns of conservative patriots, it is better to participate in such mass events and bring people around to more moderate positions than leave them to marginals and extremists.

Since Putin launched his aggressive military campaign against Ukraine, with forcible annexation of Crimea and obvious support for armed separatists in southeastern Ukraine, we haven’t heard much from Navalny. He hasn’t so much been a voice routinely condemning Putin’s action, such as figures like Boris Nemtsov and the late Valeriya Novodvorskaya, but he hasn’t been waving around KrymNash [Crimea is Ours] hashtags either.

In general, Navalny has been muted in recent months as he has seemed to be preoccupied with fighting off various libel suits, complaints of his violation of an Internet ban, and a court case related to Yves Rocher which appears to be another attempt by authorities to trump up some kind of financial case against him — there’s even a bizarre “art theft” case. Navalny is best known for his anti-corruption blogging, and it seems the Kremlin wants to try to discredit him on the very grounds for which he is able to discredit others, starting with Putin himself, in commissioning the most expensive Olympics in history ($51 billion).

Earlier this year, Navalny’s blog was dumped by Ekho Moskvy, where it got more visibility (and gave more traffic to Ekho) when editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov had to make some sacrifices to keep his overall site from being blocked by the prosecutor’s office due to “extremist” blogs like those of Navalny, Nemtsov and others. And Navalny’s own LiveJournal blog is blocked by state censors as well. But he has moved to “” — and while under an Internet gag as part of the terms of his house arrest, has his wife and colleagues at his Anti-Corruption Fund do the updates.

There’s a larger reason why Navalny’s nationalism, such as it is, has been less in evidence, however, and that’s because since Putin’s covert war in Ukraine backing pro-Russian separatists, another set of far more extreme figures have come to the fore — like Aleksandr Dugin, who has called for Ukrainians to be “killed, killed, killed,” or Sergei Kurginyan who has gone around admitting that the separatists get military assistance from Russia and drumming up more of it; or ultranationalist Internet publisher Yegor Prosvirin, who keeps up a steady stream of cynical hipster hate invective on his web site Sputnik & Pogrom — not to mention Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who called for female journalists who asked difficult questions to be raped, or Aleksandr Prokhanov, who said the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves on Russian state TV.

Suddenly, by contrast with all those odious figures — not to mention the “legendary” Col. Igor Strelkov, Aleksandr Boroday, Pavel Gubarev and other extremist heroes of the insurgency in southeastern Ukraine associated with the “Novorossiya” movement — Navalny seems tame, doesn’t he? At least he’s been out of view for months.

Then yesterday, Navalny reminded us of why people complain about his nationalism, when he made some objectionable commentary on the end of Ramadan. It immediately elicited an exaggerated response, using the photo from his blog post:


It wasn’t all of the liberal opposition, just Navalny, and Navalny wasn’t mocking Muslims per se, so much as expressing his intolerance — shared by a lot of Russians in Moscow and elsewhere — for more labor migrants, and more visibility of Islam in Russian society.

Here’s what he actually said (translation by The Interpreter)

“Today is a day when once again people post photos of mass prayer on the streets of Moscow. Each year it’s the same (and there is more and more), and we cannot get used to it and we gasp. […]

I also congratulate all Muslims with Eid Al-Fitr and believe that our traditional Russian Muslims (Tatars, Bashkirs, Dagestanis, etc.) should agree with the fact that such things on the streets of Moscow clearly indicate to us, among other things, a crisis of migration policy. This is not good or healthy — such a stream of a foreign religious population into a large city, which (whether this is good or bad is another question) is not distinguished for great religiosity.

For those who are thinking of commentary with the words ‘migrants are everywhere,’ I will tell you about Barack Obama. Although he is a democrat, close to liberals, he has now totally let himself go. He is proposing the children of illegal migrants be deported, and asking for money from Congress to strengthen the south borders.”

Navalny then cites an Ekho Moskvy article which was evidently based on news reports and a speech by President Obama after meeting with Central Asian leaders, saying that the US cannot take in all those who want to come into the US; the US is undergoing a crisis now and numerous children have sought refuge in the US from drug wars and other unrest in Latin America.

“‘Do you see, to what evils enlightened North America goes to. We have far to go to reach that point. We don’t have to send children back, but just not let some people in. After all, we have a non-visa regimen with Central Asia and the Caucasus, and there are virtually no illegal migrants from there. They have all come legally.

US citizens don’t want to allow into their country people without visas from Honduras, Guatemala and Salvador, but for some reason we are a public thoroughfare for citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and so on.

And this despite the fact that not nasty Wahhabists with heroin are going to the US, but only some nice Catholics with cocaine.”

Let us not offend children (like Obama is doing) and begin with the adults and elementary, basic measures without which a migration policy is not possible — introduction of a visa regime for those countries from which people are coming to us to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr.'”

Navalny then links to a Russian public initiative site which shows 68,715 people or nearly 69% of those polled on the site have voted for introducing such a visa regimen — the numbers went up from 67% indicated by Navalny on his blog, which might indicate its very impact. He calls on readers to register at the site and try to reach 100,000 votes, which, like the site, is supposed to get an answer from the Russian government. He also cites his own dedicated site on the issue,

“The whole country fears Banderaites and Right Sectorites,” comments Navalny, using the term the Russian state media uses for EuroMaidan supporters, as if they were all followers of the controversial historical figure Stepan Bandera and Right Sector, an ultranationalist group whose members have been fighting in the Ukrainian National Guard against separatists. “The Right Sectorites are far away, but this is close,” says Navalny — posting a picture of many Muslims at prayer — “and it is already with us forever.”

The “heroin/cocaine” comment sparked a Twit-fight between whoever is running Navalny’s account with Buzzfeed foreign correspondent Max Seddon:


Translation: what, isn’t he right?

Translation: He is a racist — about won’t even mention the prevalence of women and children on the Mexican border.

Translation: Where’s the racism? The persecution of heroin and the support of cocaine?

Translation: in the accusation of the entire mass of migrants of drug-trading.

Translation: Usual wrenching out of context by Western media representatives unhappy with the return of Russia to the international arena. How many lies can we stand?

For more responses see the thread on Twitter.

Many of the people Navalny is calling “foreign religious” are actually citizens of the Russian Federation from the North Caucasus, so they should be able to travel and worship freely in any city. But he’s mainly talking about the flow of labor migrants from Central Asia and former Soviet republics in the Caucasus, which has sparked a fierce and at times even violent backlash in Russia.

It’s interesting that the game of invoking the ideological foe’s actions to shame one’s own government is one played not only by US liberals but by Navalny in Russia. The invocation of “heroin” and “cocaine” was obviously a joke, but not the kind of joke that is acceptable for politically-correct Westerners.

Ultimately, Navalny is far from the worst in the pantheon of Russian conservatives, nationalists, ultranationalists and violent extremists, but precisely because he seems to draw from universal liberal values, Westerners criticize him more, perhaps in the belief he is teachable, unlike a figure such as Dugin or Kurginyan.

July 29, 2014

1936GMT: Popular blogger Ilya Varlamov has a striking photo report of Muslims celebrating Eid Al-Fitra, the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting known as Uraza Bayram in Russia.

Muslims praying at the end of Ramadan in Moscow, 28 July 2014. Photo by Ilya Varlamov

Muslims praying at the end of Ramadan in Moscow, 28 July 2014. Photo by Ilya Varlamov

The photo above with tens of thousands of Muslims bent in prayer — and thousands of police standing above them — sums up neatly the uneasy relationship that the Kremlin has with Islam.

Public prayer was allowed this year in Moscow, and tens of thousands of people assembled at the Soborny Mosque near Prospekt Mira (Peace Avenue). Varlamov writes that more people than ever seemed to gather this year.

Soborny [Cathedral] Mosque in Moscow 28 July 2014. Photo by Ilya Varlamov

Soborny [Cathedral] Mosque in Moscow 28 July 2014. Photo by Ilya Varlamov

He quoted some phrases from an address to the faithful by Grand Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gaynutdin, the Chairman of the government-approved Russian Council of Muslims:

“Raising children, youth in the age of scientific and technical progress, information technologies and the ubiquitous Internet is very very difficult. After all, through the Internet, television and all possible forms of spending leisure and pass-times, youth draw both the useful and the harmful; the mass media product served up in a pretty wrapper at times becomes destructive for the individual, deadly for the very soul of humanity. Lack of spirituality, immorality are inculcated, and that leads to a spiritual crisis.”

Muslims celebrate end of Ramadan in Moscow 28 July 2014. Photo by Ilya Varlamov

Muslims celebrate end of Ramadan in Moscow 28 July 2014. Photo by Ilya Varlamov

“These dregs of modern civilization have penetrated the life of people not only in the West, but in our country and in the Muslim world. Millions and millions of people are in poverty, starving, children die from a lack of food and medicine but at the same time the most wealthy individuals spend millions and millions on empty pass-times.”

Muslims at end of Ramadan in Moscow, 28 July 2014

Muslims at end of Ramadan in Moscow, 28 July 2014

The photo essay sparked more than 2,000 comments with a furious debate raging now throughout all Russian social media about whether Moscow should limit the entry of Muslim labor migrants from elsewhere in Russia or in Central Asia and the Caucasus, with some readers saying that they should be welcome because they were law-abiding, hard-working, and didn’t drink, and others saying they ostensibly took jobs away from Russians — with still others pointing out that Russians were still working in marketplaces.

Paul Goble reported at Windows on Eurasia on 25 July that Russian prison officials were preventing Muslim prisoners from celebrating Ramadan:

“’s Gulya Arifmezova reports about one particularly horrific example, a case in a Vologda prison camp where an Uzbek was beaten and then put in punishment cells for reading the Koran during a time when he was supposed to be working. The guards tore out pages of the Koran, Umar Buttayev says in Facebook, and then they beat the man.

According to the Facebook post, ‘any manifestation of Islam’ has the effect of provoking “extreme aggression.” Praying, reading the Koran, or trying to grow a beard can all lead to beatings or confinement in punishment cells.”

President Vladimir Putin had a careful and terse message of greeting to Muslims in Russia which accentuated its place in cooperation with Russia’s state religion of Russian Orthodoxy, and its role in furthering the goals of the state:

Uraza-bayram, one of the main holidays meaningful to Muslims signifies the completion of the holy month of Ramadan, turning believers to the spiritual and moral sources of Islam. From time immemorial, it has been marked by the doing of good deeds and concern about the needy, personifying the yearning of people to self-perfection.

The Muslim community of Russia actively participates in the life of the country and makes a weighty contribution to the development of inter-confessional dialogue, fruitfully interacts with state and civic organizations in the causes of charity and education and raising the next generation, fostering the preservation of the richest patriotic cultural and spiritual heritage.”

July 28, 2014

1745GMT: In an article titled “Marina Litvinenko’s Victory” for, Alexander Goldfarb, a biologist and former advisor to Boris Berezovsky, had this comment on the news that British Home Secretary Theresa May will re-open the public inquiry into the death of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by a polonium-spiked tea in 2006. The Interpreter has provided a translation:

“This is a great personal victory for Marina who has campaign for a full-fledged investigation for 8 years.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who supported us, above all our lawyers: Ben [Emmerson], Henrietta [Hill], Adam [Straw] and Lena [Tsirlina], and also all those who helped pay the expenses related to the case.

What does this mean from the practical perspective?

In the open part of the inquest, materials from the police investigation will be aired, including the evidence against the suspected perpetrators, on the bais of which the British authorities want to arrest Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun on suspicion of murder.

In the closed part of the investigation, the commission will study materials from intelligence agencies about the masterminds [of the murder] who, as we know, contains evidence of the involvement of the Russian authorities in this crime. On the basis of the results, the verdict will be published — without disclosure of the details.

In order for Marina to take part in the closed session of the hearings we must hire yet another, fifth lawyer who has permission to access secret files. Therefore we will be grateful for donations to Marina’s legal fund.”

With this unexpected news of the public hearing of a case that many thought would never re-open due to the Cameron government’s political exigencies, there has been much speculation that the case became viable due to the shock over the downing of MH17 and willingness of the EU to set sanctions against Russia.

But Goldfarb denies that there is any connection to the re-opening and events in Ukraine, as it has long been expected. Maria Litvinenko herself also said in an interview with Reuters that she did not see any connection between her husband’s case and MH17 and Ukraine. Comments Goldfarb:

“It’s another matter, however, that in the current situation, within the framework of these hearings, the government could resolve to de-classify part of the materials that will be very unpleasant for Putin. These materials concern the work of Litvinenko as a consultant to British MI-6 intelligence, during which the connection was established between the Kremlin leadership and Putin personally with Russian organized crime which served, as we believe, as the reason for the murder.”

The public inquiry is scheduled for 31 July. Such inquiries take place only once every few years in Great Britain; recent inquiries were into the Iraq conflict in 2009 and the tapping of journalists’ phones in 2012.

There is one wrench in the works; the younger brother of Alexander Litvinenko, Maxim Litvinenko, who once blamed Putin for his murder, has unexpectedly made an about-face and charged British MI-6 with his murder, the Daily Telegraph reported:

“He told The Mail on Sunday yesterday in the Italian city of Rimini where he now lives: ‘It could have been the English, the Israelis, the Americans. Why would British secret services want my brother dead? To build public opinion against Putin.’

He claims MI6, who had worked with Litvinenko after he defected to the West, had uncovered his brother’s plans to return to Russia.”

Maria Litvinenko has denounced Maxim’s comments:

“Last night, Litvinenko’s widow Marina rejected them out of hand, accusing her brother-in-law of spreading lies that she said echoed the views of the Russian state.

In the days after his brother’s death Maxim told the world he believed he had died by the orders of the Russian state, saying: ‘My brother was one of Putin’s most dangerous enemies.’”

The Daily Telegraph hints that Maxim, a half-brother, has been motivated to change his story as after his restaurant business collapsed, went to work for a company that helps wealthy Russians find tax havens in San Marino.

It’s also possible that Russian authorities have put pressure on Maxim; he denies receiving any favors or cash from the Russian government.