Russia This Week: Low Turnout in Moscow Municipal Election, Opposition Loses to Ruling Party (September 8-14)

September 14, 2014
Low turnout at Moscow municipal elections 14 September 2014. Photo by Ilya Azar.

Updated Daily. This week’s issue:

TV Rain’s Chief Producer Assaulted in Moscow
In Moscow City Legislature Race, United Russia Leads with Close Vote Between Independent and Nationalist
Low Turnout in Moscow Municipal Elections, Difficulties for Opposition Candidates
Gay Tango Instructor Found Murdered in St. Petersburg
Leading Russian Human Rights Group Declared ‘Foreign Agent’
‘There Are Things More Important Than the Stock Market’
Putin Lights Candles in Church ‘For Those Who Gave Their Lives to Novorossiya’
Consumer Agency Opens Up 80 More Cases Against McDonald’s Restaurants
Opposition Gearing Up for Peace March, but Polls Show Apathy about Protest
Russian Parliamentarian Calls on Gazprom to Halt Deliveries to Europe
Russian Journalist Describes Detention, Torture of Detainees By Russian-Backed Separatists
Moscow Court Overturns Decision for Election-Monitoring Group Golos to Register as ‘Foreign Agent’
Moscow Legislator Calls for Ban on Apple Even as Russian Tech Blogger Previews iPhone 6
Anti-War Picket in Nizhny Novgorod
First Russian State TV Show about Paratroopers Killed in Ukraine, Packaged with Lies
Local Russian Media Report More Paratroopers’ Deaths in Combat in Ukraine

Last week’s issue:
Presidential Human Rights Council Members Appeal to Investigative Committee on Missing Soldiers
Russian Defense Ministry Meets with Soldiers’ Mothers, Human Rights Advocates
Russian Soldier ‘Fighting as Insurgent’ Killed in Ukraine: Kyiv Post
Persecuted Russian Parliamentarian Ponomarev Decides to Remain Abroad
Cell Phone Messages of Moscow Municipal Candidate Leaked to State Media
– “There’s No Such Thing as a Former Paratrooper
Russian Blogger Asks Hard Questions about Death of State Photographer Stenin
Russian Journalists Ordered Not to Write About Reports of Stenin’s Death
Reactionaries Propose ‘Anti-Maidan’ Patrols to Counter Russian Opposition Protests
On 10th Anniversary of Beslan Tragedy, Russian State Media Re-Write History
Anti-War Protesters Arrested in Moscow for Candlelight Vigil
Lone Anti-War Pickets in Moscow, Yekaterinburg

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TV Rain’s Chief Producer Assaulted in Moscow

Ksenya Batanova, TV Rain’s chief producer and anchor, was assaulted in Moscow and hospitalized, TV Rain reported.

Although the attack took place on the night of Friday, 12 September, for some reason the independent TV station did not report it until today, 14 September.

Batanova said two unidentified persons approached her near her home on Milyutinsky Lane and struck her more than a dozen times in the face.

She lost consciousness and the assailants took her earrings and cell phone. She noted that the assailants did not say anything as they beat her.

Batanova was hospitalized with a concussion and facial fractures.

Today is election day in Moscow, and Batanova is a member of the electoral commission at polling station no. 64 in the 45th electoral district in Meshchansky District. She was supposed to work at the polls today.

An investigator came to question her in the hospital.

TV Rain did not comment on whether they believe this attack was related to her work, or TV Rain’s critical position in investigating the unexplained deaths of soldiers in Ukraine. TV Rain started a list of such cases, already numbering 34.

Recently Lev Shlosberg, a deputy from the Yabloko party in the regional legislature in Pskov Region, was attacked by two men outside his home and was hospitalized with a skull and nose fracture and lacerations. He is expected to recover. Shlosberg said he believed the assault was related to his investigation into the Pskov 76th Guards whose soldiers were killed in action in the war in Ukraine.

In the case of Shlosberg, no valuables were taken and the attack appeared to be a clear “message”; in the case of Batanova, the taking of jewelry and a phone may mean the incident is a common crime, but the timing is suspicious.

TV Rain fell under heavy pressure from the government earlier this year after broadcasting a controversial poll on the Leningrad Blockade. Since then, some cable operators dropped their program and the station has struggled to survive.

In Moscow City Legislature Race, United Russia Leads with Close Vote Between Independent and Nationalist

The turnout picked up in the Moscow municipal elections, after the mayor’s office sent out SMS texts urging people to vote and trucks with loud-speakers drove around.

Translation: There is a little car with a loudspeaker driving
around Novokosino calling on people to go to the polls! The turnout in
Moscow at 15:00 is 12.79%

Translation: Turnout at 15:00 is 12.79%. In 2013, 18.65% turned out for the mayoral elections 2014 from 2013 68.58% turnout for this hour.

Translation: Turnout at the elections to the Moscow City Duma by 6 pm was 17.48%

Translation: In St. Petersburg, turnout is 25.76%, of this, 9% early voting.

Some people thought it was better not to take part in elections in which the mayor’s office and ruling party have such an advantage.

Translation: 18% for contemporary Moscow is a big turnout. In a healthy society, it would be 1-2%.

The race was particularly close in some districts. Sergei Baburin, vice speaker of the State Duma and leader of the Narodnaya Volya [Popular Will] Party of National Revival, is a prominent Russian nationalist. Oleg Soroka, is the ruling United Russia party candidate.

Translation: Baburin, Soroka and Morozov are going neck and neck.

Each candidate ran their own exit polls:

Translation: Exit polls from Katz: Sergei Baburin: 23% Vitaly Zolochevksiy: 7% Maxim Katz: 32%; Yelena Morozova: 10%; Oleg Soroska: 28%.

Translation: exit poll data at 19:00. Details here [Ilya Varlamov’s Live Journal].

Konstantin Rykov, the top Kremlin web propagandist, was happy to see independent opposition candidate Katz fall, and Baburin, the nationalist, get ahead. Rykov himself, while not a United Russia party member ran on the United Russia ballot in 2007 to become a member of parliament for a time.

Translation: 12 of the 94 precincts are counted! Katz has fallen to third place. Baburin has broken ahead to first place!

Translation: Intrigues in the counting of votes at the Moscow City Duma. Data from the SMS Central Election Commission District 5, Baburin vs. Katz vs. Soroka.

Districts showed their ballot counting live online.

Katz seemed to be conceding defeat and taking condolences.

Data from votes from 40 precincts: Baburin: 3,819; Katz: 3,476; Soroka: 4,502.

Translation: 68 precincts: Baburin: 7,233; Katz: 6,990; Morozova: 3,126; Soroka: 8,615.

Interestingly, a liberal candidate who campaigned for urban improvements, was unable to get the nomination from the opposition party Yabloko in the end, and ran from his own platform, was able to make a very close showing to Baburin, an established nationalist in the State Duma, but the Moscow mayor party machine of the ruling party seems to have bested them in the end.

Low Turnout in Moscow Municipal Elections, Difficulties for Opposition Candidates

Muscovites voted today for legislators in the Moscow municipal legislature. There was also voting in other towns for the legislature and also heads of districts.

The elections seemed to offer an opportunity for the opposition to try to capitalize on the showing of 30% by opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny in the Moscow mayor elections. Yet there proved to be hurdles, not the least of which was the “municipal filter” requiring existing members of the legislature to endorse candidates for the future.

Candidates faced confusing informal “primaries” that threw off their campaigns.

And it was hard to get ordinary people interested.

Translation: Turnout is close to 10%

Translation: at 12 pm in Krasnogorsk the turnout was 3%. In the rural vilages of the district, 7-8%, but there besides deputies they are voting for the heads of the districts.

Opposition candidates continued to find themselves under attack. One candidate, Olga Romanova received direct death threats in a film aired on state TV. 

Max Katz, an independent candidate who had his cell phone messages hacked and published in the state media, was accused of possessing dual Russian and Israeli citizenship, and evading Israeli draft.

Translation: Novaya gazeta: Maxim Katz is wanted by the army in Israel. He is threatened with prison. Poor thing.

For some reason Diana Khachaturyan, a journalist at Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper usually not joining in with state media’s attacks on the opposition, decided to go after Katz and print the expose on the eve of the elections.

Katz denied the claims, saying he had emigrated to Israel as a child with his parents, but returned to Russia in 2002, and had no residence in Israel.

Khachaturyan persisted and found a source described as “reliable” in Israel, although it is not clear what relationship the person had to the Israeli government, who said the following:

“Katz really did submit an application to renounce Israeli citizenship, but the bureaucratic procedure was not finalized. It is possible the ‘dodger’ does not even suspect that the State of Israel does not consider him its citizen. However, lack of knowledge does not remove his responsibility.”

President Vladimir Putin has launched a campaign against the opposition in recent years, imposing a “foreign agents” law and in June signed into law a requirement that by 7 August, all residents had to register their dual citizenship or pay heavy fines. Human rights groups protested that the requirement seemed designed to humiliate people with foreign ties and place them under more scrutiny.

Popular blogger Ilya Varlamov blamed in-fighting among opposition leaders for the poor showing of opposition candidates.

Translation: He [Navalny] has a lot of angry idlers hanging around who even a year ago held a grudge against Katz, for which they were kicked out. The atmosphere is rotten.

Translation: In a year, they destroyed everything and
quarelled with everyone. Of course, this is very bad. Everyone pulls the
blanket on himself. Gobbling up those close to them is their favorite

Translation: Now Navalny, for understandable reasons, cannot act appropriately and independently. He relies on his team. The team, in my view, is weak.

All of this was only exploited by the Kremlin’s top web propagandist Konstantin Rykov who reprinted the Novaya Gazeta slam on Katz.

Navalny’s account, which is run by his wife and assistants while he is banned from Internet use, had this to say:

Translation: This sums up everything about our government and all elections: Gorbunov, who has undeclared real estate in Croatia is shouting that Golos are foreign agents.

Golos, an election monitoring group harassed by the authorities due to foreign funding, recently had a successful court appeal launched by Human Rights Ombudsman Ella Pamfilova to remove its “foreign agent” status.

The mayor’s office was able to use its considerable “administrative resources” — like obtaining people’s cell phone numbers to send them text messages — to advantage.

Navalny’s wife Yuliya was surprised to get one of the robo-texts from the mayor urging her to go out and vote:

Translation: I didn’t know the mayor was like this. Things are probably very bad with the turnout if they write me. #Heywhat #Ishouldgomushroompicking

Translation: the call back isn’t working.

Voters were offered low-cost produce at the voting precincts if they came to vote.

Translation: “The main thing Moscow! The main thing is vegetables! Everyone to the elections of the Moscow City Duma deputies’ potato congress.”

Sign:  14.09.2014 You can get any VEGETABLES for low prices (carrots, cabbage, potatoes, onions, beets) at election precincts.

Gay Tango Instructor Found Murdered in St. Petersburg reports that Yekaterina Khomenko, a St. Petersburg woman who gave dancing instruction to gay couples, has been found murdered in her car.


Via VKontakte

Khomenko, 29, was found by a janitor with her throat slashed at about 7:25 am on 6 September.

LGBT activists have said they believe her murder was related to her work. The St. Petersburg site wrote 9 September:

“We are shaken by the horrible murder of Yekaterina Khomenko, teacher of queer tango in St. Petersburg. Yekaterina was a bright person, a wonderful professional, daughter and friend. She was only 29. We express our condolences to relatives and friends of Yekaterina. We will remember her for what she did — give joy and wings to many of us.”

But said authorities were not looking at the possibility that her murder may have been a homophobic hate crime.

In fact, detectives at first said they believed her death was a suicide and did not seem to be in a hurry to look for murder suspects, said

Her father said police asked him whether his daughter used drugs or had any financial worries or suffered from depression. Yet in the end, police did open up a case under Art. 105 of the Russian criminal code, “murder,” says the online news site Petersburgskiy Dnevnik.

Her father Valery Khomenko appeared on his daughter’s page on VKontakte (VK), a popular Russian social network, with the grim news and urged friends to provide him with any information about her work or residence.

Khomenko, a graduate of Moscow State University’s Faculty of Psychology had recently moved from the Moscow suburb of Fryazino to St. Petersburg where she rented an apartment and taught the art of dance, specializing in gay couples.

A closed VK group called Tango Queer also mourned her death.


Via VKontakte

Leading Russian Human Rights Group Declared ‘Foreign Agent’

The Human Rights Center of the Moscow Memorial Society lost its court
appeal against the prosecutor’s designation of “foreign agent,” the
organization reported in a press release on its website this afternoon.

Translation: The court pronounced the Memorial human rights organization a foreign agent.

The Moscow City Court reviewed the group’s appeal and rejected
an appeal filed 29 April 2013 against the prosecutor’s designation
requiring “foreign agent” registration due to funding from foreign

The director of the center, Aleksandr Cherkasov, wrote the following in a statement on Memorial’s website (translation by The Interpreter):

The court session, which lasted almost an hour, opened up many new things to us.

presiding judge right from the start began to discuss lists of
political prisoners which are kept and published by Memorial Human
Rights Center, but about which the prosecutor had not said a word in his
“submission,” and about which we had heard nothing in the court of the first

The prosecutor and the presiding judge stubbornly
confused Grigory Okhotin, the head of the OVD Info project [a separate police abuse monitoring group–The Interpreter], with Sergei
Davidis, head of the program to aid political prisoners, ascribing the
actions and testimonies of the first to the second.

The city
court ignored the decision of the Constitutional Court which on 8 April
2014 had clearly indicated that the organization does not bear
responsibility for the activity of its member in his personal capacity
(or within the framework of another organization).

We learned
that reporting to a grant-giver means acting in his interests, which
“places in doubt the action of the authorities” – which means to engage
in political activity — and that to inform society of political
persecution means to incite people.

For the first time, we saw a
prosecutor who proved that the prosecutor’s submission is a useless
scrap of paper meaning nothing, not compulsory to fulfill and not capable
of violating any law.

Finally, we learned much new about the
peculiarities of our time — that a grant received in 2013 could somehow
influence mass demonstrations in 2011-2012. Actually, the prosecutor
from the outset used fact and events in his “submission” that took place
before 21 November 2012, before the “foreign agents’ law” went into

We were given visible proof that the prosecutor’s
“submission” can be lawful and grounded only in a world refuting the
laws of humanity and physics, including the law of causality. Perhaps,
in that distorted world, we could be someone’s “agents.”

The Human Rights Center is part of a complex of organizations
within the Memorial movement started in the Gorbachev area to research
and publish the crimes of the Communist era, and to advocate against their legacy in  the Chechen wars and other human rights violations continuing
to the present day.

This week, another court ruled that the designation of ‘foreign agent’ should no longer apply to another organization, Golos, the election-monitoring group, after appeal from the Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson Ella Pamfilova.

But last week, the Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg, long under a prosecutor’s investigation instigated by a conservative politician, was suddenly given the “foreign agent” designation on the Ministry of Justice’s website after the Soldiers’ Mothers publicized their inquiry into missing soldiers believed to have been killed or captured in the war in Ukraine.

Such arbitrary actions suggest that the authorities will both split the human rights movement by attempting to co-opt some, punishing others, and keeping everyone off-balance in expectation that the status could be applied at any time.

‘There Are Things More Important Than the Stock Market’

A photo taken by popular blogger Ilya Varlamov has drawn a lot of re-posting and discussion.


The sign says “There are Things More Important Than the Stock Market,” and below is a drawing of a new Russian history textbook with the dates “2014-2114”.

The MICEX, the Russian stock  market has plummetted terribly in recent weeks with confirmation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and soldiers’ deaths in the Western media, reaching an all-time low. It has rallied since the ceasefire.


Bloomberg reported that the Russian bond market fell to a four-year low to 5.8 trillion rubles ($157 billion), the worst performance among 31 nations in the Bloomberg Emerging Market Local Sovereign Index. The cease fire helped the bonds to rise last week.

Even so, there is likely to be lasting damage from the war on Ukraine, which has dragged on six months already since the stealth invasion of Crimea in February.

In related news, after a high of $31 billion last year, lending to Russian companies also dried up; no Russian companies received loans in US dollars, Swiss frances or euros in July, said Bloomberg.

“Russia is not likely to be a good place to do business for quite some time,” Philip Hanson, an associate fellow at the Chatham House research group in London, said by phone on Aug. 1. “We’re going to see continuing trouble that’s going to have its economic consequences particularly for international banks.”

Paul Roderick Gregory of Forbes believes that Western sanctions are “strangling” the Russian economy.

Capital flight reached $75 billion in July, Reuters reported.

Putin Lights Candles in Church ‘For Those Who Gave Their Lives to Novorossiya’

As we noted earlier about a planned opposition peace march next week, President Vladimir Putin has figured out how to co-opt some of the protest.

The public — especially the Soldiers’ Mothers groups — have begun urgently inquiring about soldiers fighting and dying in Ukraine, and going missing or having their bodies returned home.

At first authorities tried to suppress and deny the news and keep the funerals secret, claiming that either the soldiers died in “accidents” or had “lost their way” while patrolling the border.

But as the number of deaths reported increased — at least 34 confirmed by independent TV Rain and hundreds suspected — state television got into the act and managed the news, claiming falsely that relatives who didn’t know where their loved ones had gone in fact had known.

Now Putin has ensured favorable domestic — and foreign — coverage by going to the Holy Trinity Church on the Sparrow Hills in Moscow and lighting a candle.

The Kremlin propaganda outlet said that when the president was asked by reporters for whom he was praying, he said “”For those who suffered, and for those who gave their lives, defending people in Novorossiya,” using the term for the areas of Ukraine that Russian-backed separatists want to carve into an independent state.

Last week, protesters placing candles and flowers by the Ukrainian
Embassy in memory of the war dead were arrested and two weeks ago some demonstrators were beaten and jailed.
Consumer Agency Opens Up 80 More Cases Against McDonald’s Restaurants

After inspections of 200 McDonald’s restaurants around the country, Russian consumer agency Rospotrebnazdor has now found 80 of them supposedly in violation of code and has opened cases against them, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported.

Authorities said they found 17% of the food products not to meet Russian standards and 6.5% to “go beyond danger indicators.” Inspectors also claimed to find infractions involving failure to make certain pension payments last year.

The inspections begun last month with a demonstrative closure of 4 restaurants including the flagship store in the center of Moscow and are widely believed to have been contrived by the Kremlin in retaliation against Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its war on Ukraine.

A court turned down an appeal of the fast-food corporation to re-open its restaurant on Mira Avenue, citing health code violations. A total of 22 stores have been closed for 90 days.

In recent years, McDonald’s invested $5 billion in upgrading and opening new stores in Russia.

Opposition Gearing Up for Peace March, but Polls Show Apathy about Protest

The Russian opposition is preparing for a peace march on 21 September to protest the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine, much like the rally in March after the forcible annexation of the Crimea.

Some small pickets are already being held in Moscow and some provincial cities such as Voronezh.

But a number of factors including deterrence by heavy prison sentences of past marchers; beatings and jailing of single picketers in recent weeks; sympathy for the Russian-backed separatists promoted by ultranationalist groups; and Putin’s own promotion of peace talks and a shaky ceasefire may contribute to low turnout.

Defendants are still being tried for the 6 May 2011 demonstration, as, the police monitoring group writes.


On 16 August, Aleksei Gaskarov, Aleksandr Margolin, Ilya Gushchin and Yelena Kokhtareva were sentenced to 3.5 years of prison. “An atmosphere of planned, inevitable injustice reigned in the courtroom,” said Far fewer people came to attend their trial than in February, when police battled large crowds and opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained — then put under house arrest where he remains.

A Levada Center poll 8 September found that only 7% of those polled were prepared to take part in political protest actions, although 12% said that they were likely to take place. According to Levada’s sociologists, “this was the lowest result in the entire history of observations” — which goes back to the Soviet era in 1988. They explain this result by saying “people have virtually ceased to believe in the possibility of their influence on political processes in the country.” In February, before the war, 10% were willing to take part in protests.

Economic protests were a somewhat different story, however; 17% say they expect such demonstrations, and 8% said they’d take part in them.

Levada contrasted this with the peak of anti-government protests in late 2011-early 2012 when the rallies “For Honest Elections” took place, and 33-35% said they expected them and 15% said they’d personally take part in them.

Political analyst Nikolai Petrov said Russians were experiencing a “siege mentality” — “We are surrounding by enemies, everyone must get behind the leader.” Putin’s ratings have risen, as have the governors loyal to him in the regions. The higher Putin’s rating, the less people want to go to rallies. But this can’t last forever, says Petrov. “The problems that drove people out on the squares in 2011-2012 have not gone away,” he says.

Even so, people are still willing to express their intent publicly to take part in risky protests.

Another 1,000 “maybe” will attend.

A Facebook group popular in 2011-2012 called
My byly na Bolotnoy ploshchadi. My pridyem eshche! (“We Were On Bolotnaya Square. We Will Come Again!”) in its hey-day had 20,000-30,000 members and many of them actually showed up at the demonstrations, which was an interesting correlation between “couch protesters” and those willing to risk possible arrest — although the numbers were so high precisely because the opposition had permits for their rallies then.

Today, the Bolotnaya group is down to only 3,124 members — still significant in an era where politically-active groups can be declared “foreign agents” and face searches, interrogations and even jail time.

The group is still a place — at a time when Russian web sites are being blocked and bloggers forced to register — where video bloggers like Dmitry Zykov can post YouTubes like this one of a demonstration yesterday 10 September in Moscow against police brutality and corruption. Protesters wore striped prison suits and carried the posters of the political prisoners arrested for the Bolotnaya demonstrations.

Another video showed a protest 16 August against the war in Ukraine where even the policeman remarked “rather few people have turned out.”

This demonstration was actually staged by neo-communists who were waving the pro-separatist #SaveDonbassPeople signs, calling for “proletarians of the world to unite,” and aiming their anti-war sentiment at the “fascist junta” in Ukraine.

When demonstrators have gathered in recent years, they have been separated into corridors of liberals, national-bolsheviks and Orthodox ultranationalists.

The rally in March drew 50,000, according to generous estimates by AFP, and attracted ultranationalist counter-demonstrations numbering several hundred. A recent protest in support of “Novorossiya” in Moscow featuring posters of Col. Igor Strelkov only attracted about 1,000 people.

Because of denials of permits for larger events, a number of protesters have been staging just one-person pickets — and even that is no guarantee of success, as some who have been arrested and sentenced to 10 or 15 days in jail have found.

Last month when several hundred people gathered to place candles and flowers in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow to honor those killed in the war, some 30 of them were brutally rounded up and beaten and at least one was hospitalized; others got jail sentences, according to, a police monitoring group.

In St. Petersburg last weekend, a woman artist who goes by the name Kado staged a dramatic enactment on the street, running blind-folded with simulated bloody hands, to show Russia’s staggering into war with Ukraine, reported.

Dressed in a robe with the colors of the Russian flag and St. George ribbons, she went along Nevsky Avenue and turned up Malaya Sadovaya Street and then collapsed at the wall of the old Yeliseyev store.

Police soon arrived and called an ambulance for Kado, then released her.

Pyotr Pavlensky, another Aktionist, as such artists are known in Russia, famous for his other dramatic actions, reportedly tried to hang himself in Red Square recently. But he denied that he made such an attempt, although he said he was trying to read a freedom manifesto.

Such “happenings” ensure that the anti-war movement is seen as marginalized — and the authorities are happy to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin has figured out cleverly what to do about the growing concern over Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine, the news of whose funerals was at first suppressed, with rocks thrown at journalists trying to cover them, and assault of a local legislator who tried to investigate the deaths.

Putin has decided to admit rather than hide the deaths, then become the Mourner-in-Chief and convert what might be a burgeoning anti-war movement of people outraged over young men giving their lives to make war on a neighbor into a patriotic movement for “Novorossiya,” as the Kremlin-backed insurgents call the territory they would carve out of Ukraine.

Translation: “Nobody is zombifying us!” Assortment of a shelf at a book store in Moscow.

Translation of titles by The Interpreter:

Ukraine: Chaos and Revolution, Weapon of the Dollar
Stpean Bandera and the Fate of Ukraine
The Whole Truth about the Ukrainian Liberation Army (UPA)
How Ukraine was Sicced on Russia
Euromaidan: Who Destroyed Ukraine?
Defense of Donbass: Igor Strelkov
Blood of Donbass
Bandera and Banderovism
Novorossiya Rising from the Ashes
The Origins of Spontaneous Nazism
The Failed Ukrainian State
Ukraine — Eternal Ruin
Stepan Bandera’s EuroMaidan
The Whole Truth About Ukraine: Who Profits from Collapse of the Country?
Ukrainian Revolution and Russian Counter-Revolution
Renouncing Russian
The Whole Truth About Ukraine

Russian Parliamentarian Calls on Gazprom to Halt Deliveries to Europe

According to a report today September 11 in Izvestiya, Vladimir Gutenev,  first deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on Industry and the first vice president of the Union of Machine-Builders of Russia has sent a parliamentary inquiry to Aleksei Miller, CEO of Russia’s state gas monopoly Gazprom, asking whether the reserves deliveries of Russian gas by EU countries to Ukraine comply with existing agreements with EU partners.

He also asked to discuss whether it was prudent to restrict or stop fuel deliveries via the Ukrainian route to the countries involved in the reverse flows.

Yesterday, as we reported, Gazprom announced that for “maintenance reasons” they were cutting the gas supply to Poland by 20-24%. Russia sends about 15% of its gas supply to Europe across Ukraine, but halted the flows in June due to a dispute about debt and price.

Gutenev, 48, a deputy from the ruling United Russia party, formerly worked in the defense industry and has a PhD in technical sciences as well as numerous patents and publications.

“Recently the number of appeals of voters to the [industry] committee related to Russian-Ukrainian gas relations have sharply increased,” wrote Gutenev in his letter, and also asked for details on which countries were engaged in the reverse delivery and in what amounts. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:

“While an answer has not been received from Gazprom yet, and the information about the re-export of Russian gas by Europe buyers to Ukraine is being confirmed, I believe that we must discuss the prudence of restricting or halting deliveries along the Ukrainian route. In order to ensure the ongoing export of gas to European countries, the reserved and unused capacities of Nord Stream may be used in accordance with the EU Third Energy Package…If the European need gas — they as consumers cannot dictate how they want to receive it. I think these proposed measures will seriously motivate European partners toward implementation of the South Stream project.”

Mikhail Krutikhin, a partner in the RusEnergy company said that Gazprom was breaking its contracts. At first Gazprom had tried to put a clause in its agreement with the EU forbidding re-sale of gas, but several years ago the European Commission said such restrictions “violate the rules of the WTO and civilized market.” Said Krutikhin:

“Thus, if gas becomes the property of the country to which it ends up in, it is impossible to separate it from gas from other countries. Therefore, when Gazprom threatens restriction of deliveries of gas due to re-export to Ukraine, this is a violation of contractual obligations. Clients then have grounds for compensation and a lawsuit in arbitrate court.”

Russian Journalist Describes Detention, Torture of Detainees By Russian-Backed Separatists

A Russian journalist who spent some weeks covering the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) — including from inside their notorious dungeon in the basement of the former Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) building after his arrest — has now published his experiences., a regional online news site covering the Urals, published an account 25 August by Nikolai Mokrousov, the pseudonym for a resident of Kurgan.

Mokrousov went to cover DPR headquarters during the summer, interviewing the leadership and the ordinary “militia” fighters. But then he was accused of espionage, detained, and interrogated — and along the way, witnessed the torture of other people.

He decided when he returned to break the “non-disclosure agreement” he had made with the DPR to get a press pass, and describe his experiences.

Tales of the DPR chopping off heads have circulated since the ISIS beheaded two American journalists, and have not been confirmed. There are numerous accounts of the torture of detainees, although this is the first we have heard of tooth extraction. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt.

A Cossack, a fighter from the wolf sotnya [term for Cossack brigades–The Interpreter] with the nom de guerre of “Buratino” [the Russian name for “Pinocchio”–The Interpreter] as he introduced himself, began his tale about a bet which he had organized in their division, and which consisted of cutting off the heads of Ukrainian POWs. The winner was supposed to get a BMC X6.

“…In two weeks, I had one cut-off head, and a second one not completely cut-off, it was dark out. When you cut off a Uke’s head, at first he says “Mama” and “Mamochka,” and then starts gurgling and wheezing. Notice, not “Mamo” [in Ukrainian], but “Mamochka” in Russian.”


It would have been better if they had released me earlier. Somewhere around 9 pm, they brought three guys into the counterintelligence cellar. From what I heard, they were about 16 years old. They were all in civilian clothing, beaten and frightened. Then the prison guard came downstairs, holding a transparent yellow bag in his hands, inside of which I could see the armbands of Right Sector.

“Who is this?” one of the counterintelligence officers asked.

“We brought in some Right Sector members,” the guard answered, holding out the bag with the armbands.

“Right Sector?”


“Well, alright, bring me the ‘meat’ then.”

They brought the guys upstairs, and within five minutes through the ceilings of three floors above, I heard terrible sc
reams, lasting without end for about an half hour.

“What is that?” I asked.

“They’re putting in ‘crowns,” the guard replied, laughing.

“They’re pulling their teeth out,” another one replied, completely calmly.

I was sent to sit in the adjacent office, but the screams were no quieter there. I don’t know who came into this territory, controlled by the militia, or for what reason, with these armbands in their baggage. I couldn’t find another explanation except “in search of a long and torturous death.” but the guys didn’t seem like suicides or masochists.

When the screams died down, someone came down the hall, and from their conversations I understood that one of the guys they were torturing was “deathless” and would not confess that he was Right Sector. Later I learned that someone was dragged by the hair to the cellar, where once again I heard blows and suppressed yells. The smell of feces hung in the air. That did not prevent those sitting in the hallway from laughing.

Soon the boss came. He came down into the celler after the screams died down. Next he came up to me and told me I was free to go home. A militia man with the nom de guerre of “Musician” led me up to the foyer. He shook my hand and apologized “if anything wasn’t as it should be.” I had no anger or fear, but upon exiting, my hand automatically reached for the little cross which I had been handed earlier during the procession. And I, a person always treating any religious with skepticism, kissed the cross. Not for myself, but for those unfortunates who remained there.

Moscow Court Overturns Decision for Election-Monitoring Group Golos to Register as ‘Foreign Agent’

The independent election monitoring group Golos (Voice) says a Moscow city court has overturned a decision that the non-governmental organization had to be registered as a “foreign agent,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Grigory Melkonyants, deputy director of the group, said the 400,000 ruble (approximately $10,700) fine imposed on his group should also be reversed.


The group had received funding from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee which it was compelled to return.

Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsperson Ella Pamfilov had asked the court to review the decision in June, saying the law was over-broad and even if a group gave up foreign funding would “wear the ‘foreign agent’ stain for the rest of their lives.” She obtained the court decision 8 September

The group is still showing on the Justice Ministry’s registry and it will be interesting to see if the Ministry complies with the court ruling. As the Ministry has a column, “Removal from Registry,” it seems the capacity for stigmatizing remains.

Under a law imposed by President Vladimir Putin last year, fourteen groups are currently on the Ministry of Justice’s list as “foreign agents” required to submit to more state scrutiny.

The successful appeal for Golos is a reversal of a general trend of crackdowns on critical human rights groups. But what the Justice Ministry takes away can be given: last week the Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg, an organization that has recently begun calling for answers about Russian soldiers missing after deployment to Ukraine, was also placed on the “foreign agents” list.

Yesterday, another group, PIR Research Center for International Studies, an organization that has been monitoring international security and nuclear non-proliferation for 20 years, was entered into the Justice Ministry’s registry, although it has enjoyed government praise in the past.

Golos was fined for refusing to register as an agent after criticizing election rigging. In 2011,  at a conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) following flawed parliamentary elections in Russia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “serious concerns about the conduct of the election” that put Putin’s ruling party United Russia in parliament. At that time protesters were rounded up and Golos’ web site came under attack.  Clinton criticized the attack on Golos, saying it was “totally contrary to what should be the protected rights of people to observe elections and participate in them and disseminate information.”

This prompted Putin to accuse the US of fomenting protest in Russia, saying Clinton had “set the tone for some opposition activists”; she “gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work.” Golos at that time had received a grant from the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy along with other funding from the European Union, and had documented numerous electoral violations.

Fearful  of a “color revolution” breaking out as in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia in previous years, Putin then launched a crackdown on US foundations, expelling the State Department’s USAID programs from Russia and forcing other private foundations to leave, and allso inspecting and intimidating Russian groups, causing some to close. In November 2013, the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies became the first group to have to register as a “foreign agent”. In April 2014, the Constitutional Court upheld the “foreign agents’ law” as constitutional.

The state-run NTV, which has become notorious for hounding dissidents in collaboration with investigation and intelligence agencies, came to film a search of Golos’ offices in April 2013. Melkonyants then became famous for patiently answering all the provocative questions of the NTV reporters with the same phrase, “You Are Surkov’s Propaganda,” a reference to the control of media and civil society by Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov.

Moscow Legislator Calls for Ban on Apple Even as Russian Tech Blogger Previews iPhone 6

In one of the ironies of the age – some people might think of it as Putin versus Medvedev – a Moscow legislator has called for a ban on Apple’s iPhone6 and other American products, even as a Russian tech blogger has been the first to publish an early preview of the much-anticipated product before the official launch date.

Aleksey Lisovenko, a deputy in the Moscow municipal legislature and head of the Babushkinsky region council, called for a boycott of the iPhone6 yesterday September 9.

Translation: Let’s impose #sanctions. Let’s ban the import of the iPhone6 to Russia. I am preparing an appeal to the State Duma.

Such an appeal may find a ready audience in the docile and conservative parliament, already determined to counter Western sanctions imposed on Putin and many top officials and business people close to the Kremlin over Russia’s forcible annexation of the Crimea and war on Ukraine.

But meanwhile, last week a Russian tech blog Rozetked was the very first to leak the early news of the new iPhone6, scheduled for release 19 September. A video explaining the new iPhone’s features, even with stilted subtitles, has already garnered more than 8 million views.

The iPhone is very high-priced for Russians, and the leading cell company MTS’s refuses to sell it due to local laws banning the subsidy of the price through subscription prices. That means that there isn’t that much of an iPhone market in Russia; last year an estimated 100,000 sales of the iPhone5 were made. But it is a gadget eagerly sought after by elites and the growing tech start-up community; President Dmitry Medvedev famously got himself an iPhone during his trip to Silicon Valley in 2010, in a friendlier era of the US-Russian “reset.”

Now, the first to respond to Lisovenko’s call for a boycott was a Twitter account supporting “Novorossiya,” the name for the Russian-backed separatist cause of the “Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.”

Translation: I personally am for this, I’m happy with the Samsung smart phone.

It’s hard to know how much popular support there is for this boycott call, although it found ready resonance on Twitter. Lisovenko himself doesn’t enjoy any mass base; he is just a convenient political figure for the Kremlin to promote its desire to rein in the Internet.

In 2011 after Putin swapped positions with Medvedev and ran for president again in elections widely viewed as unfair, mass street demonstrations were launched precisely because of the growing popularity of smart phones, Twitter and Facebook.

Since then, authorities have used a variety of measures to thwart dissent, from beatings and jailings to blocking of web sites. Pavel Durov, the original developer of Russia’s most popular social media site, VKontakte, left Russia rather than turn over user data to the Federal Security Service (FSB), which under another new law has more powers to require storage of communications and real-time monitoring of them.

Translation: Aleksei Lisovenko, deputy of the State Duma [sic] plans to propose for review a draft law on the ban of imports of the iPhone6. Response to the sanctions.

Translation: uh-huh, and also Mac, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and so on.

Lisovenko is most notorious in Russian for proposing the idea of requiring all foreign Internet companies and social media providers to place all Russian citizens’ data on servers on Russian territory. And he got his way, as that measure was signed into law by Putin this year, to go into effect 1 September 2016.

Now Facebook, Twitter, Google and others are confronting the reality of obeying this law or facing blocking of their service by Roskomnadzor, the state communications agency which serves as a censor. Facebook appeared to hold out the prospect it may cooperate; Twitter seemed clear that it would not; and there were rumors recently that Google might be in talks to put servers in Russia. That seems unlikely, given that Google removed its servers from China after the government hacked into them.

Lisovenko said he was motivated by the revelations of fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance — yet remained silent on his own government’s powerful snooping apparatus — which frequently leads to accessing the messages of opposition or human rights activists and broadcasting them on state TV to humiliate and intimidate them.

The Duma has already happily passed anti-Western laws such as the
“foreign agents’ act” to punish civic groups that had ties and funding
to Western foundations.

Lisovenko is also the same deputy who sued opposition leader Alexey Navalny for libel over a critical blog post — and won, forcing the blogger to pay a fine of $8,000.

Anti-War Picket in Nizhny Novgorod

Stanislav Dmitrievskiy, a Nizhny Novgorod human rights advocate, reports  on his Facebook page.a small anti-war picket on 6 September in Nizhny Novgorod.

His group was able to get permission to stage the protest and there were no incidents.


Photo by Andrey Sankov

Signs: Nizhny Novgorod Citizens’ Movement. Get Out of Ukraine! Newspapers: Novaya Gazeta: Did the Tanks Also Come on Holiday?
Novaya Gazeta: Paratrooper


Signs: No to War with Ukraine! Citizens, the Fatherland is in Danger! Our Tanks are on Foreign Soil! Ukraine Without Putin! Photo by Marina Aleksandrovskaya

Signs: Propaganda Incites Hatred! Don’t Forget to Turn Off Your Television!

Stanislav Dmitrievskiy said that by comparison to a similar picket in the spring, he felt there was less aggression and more support and sympathetic words from passers-by. He also thanked two other local activists who share views opposite to his on how to resolve the war in Ukraine for nevertheless shaking his hand during the picket.

Meanwhile, a picketer in St. Petersburg who came out to celebrate Ukrainian Independence Day two weeks ago, was greeted with enormous hostility, and people even ripped up her signs.

Translation: Aggressive Colorado beetles attack picketers! They tore posters, beat people! One attacked a TV-live cameraman, injured his hand, ripped his jacket and tapes.

“Colorado beetles” is a pejorative turn some Ukrainians use about Russians, due to the orange-and-black striped St. George ribbons they wear, which have traditionally commemorated World War II and now are used by both Russian nationalists and Russian-backed separatists.

The tolerance for protesters wrapped in the Ukrainian flag seems to be about zero, given the high level of anti-Ukrainian propaganda on state television, but protests against the war on more thematic grounds seemed to gain more support.

Opposition groups in Moscow have applied for a permit for a “March for Peace” on 21 September, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov reported on his Facebook page.

The slogan is Khatit’ vrat’ i voyevat’ which translates to “Enough Lying and Fighting!”.

First Russian State TV Show about Paratroopers Killed in Ukraine, Packaged with Lies

Kremlin TV has run its first broadcast regarding the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine (see the broadcast from Channel 1 on 4 September embedded at the top of the stream).


As Halya Coynash has reported from the Committee for Human Rights in Ukraine (KHPG), Russia’s Channel 1 (Pervy Kanal) aired a carefully-edited program about Anatoly Travkin, a soldier of the 98th Paratroopers Airborne Division based in Kostryoma (translation by The Interpreter):

Today in Kostryoma, people bid farewell to paratrooper Anatoly Travkin. About a month ago, he headed off to Donbass and died in battle. He did not inform either his wife, whom he married not long before his departure, or the command of the unit where he officially served. He simply took a vacation. His funeral took place with military honors, next to the grave of his mother. His relatives, including his grandmother came to pay their last respects as well as his fellow servicemen from the organization. Anatoly Travkin was 28 years old.

Mikhail Kozlov, an Airborne Troops Devision veteran himself, then appears on camera and in a very halting speech that seems rehearsed, he expresses sorrow at the loss of such young persons:

“But I’m glad that in our small Russian provincial towns, there are growing up such young guys who are not indifferent to what is happening today in our world.”

The program also mentions the death of Sergei Zhdanovich, one of the
first cases of a soldier killed in action in Ukraine which we covered,
at the Donetsk Airport battle on 26 May

In covering the commemoration organized by a national veterans’ group Boyevoye Bratsvo [Combat Brotherhood] for Zhdanovich, who was an Afghan war veteran, TV1 made the false claim, “His relatives knew where he was going.”

But in fact, according to his wife’s account to Novaya Gazeta back in June, she did not know his whereabouts.

She eventually stumbled on the truth about his mission by finding a war game buddy with whom her husband had spoken in code within the game about his real trip to the Donbass.

But by the time the 4 September NTV show was made, Lyana was portrayed as implying to the state journalists that she did know where her husband was going. She, too, speaks haltingly, with long pauses:

He went to war…consciously. It was pointless to hold him back, because the man took the decision immediately. He did what a real man should do…. We really miss him. But for the rest of our lives we will be proud of him.

At the time, some media reports claimed Zhdanovich was an FSB agent, but there was no evidence of this claim, or evidence that such information had been removed from his social media page, as the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported at the time. The original claim of an FSB connection was made by an Ekho Moskvy reporter who linked to a page that in fact didn’t support that claim, and she did not later claim that the page was tampered with; subsequently other independent journalists reported directly on the scene and interviewed relatives and did not substantiate the claim. Participation in a spetsnaz battalion does not equate FSB affiliation.

While back in June, journalists were invited by Aleksandr Boroday of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” to see the return of the bodies to Russia, they were never shown the full list of names, and only caught a glimpse of one and were able to reconstruct a few others. They could not be certain that the claim of 31 killed was the total number.

As Coynash commented, the purpose of the broadcast appeared to be “damage control.”

Indeed, successful propaganda and disinformation campaigns always contain some measure of truth, because it is easier to get people to believe a story when the truth is admixed with lies, instead of trying to maintain a complete cover-up.

Public pressure over the unexplained deaths of soldiers has been mounting in Russia as more and more bodies are returned to families in provincial towns. Last week, the Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg and members of the Presidential Human Rights Council obtained a meeting with the Russian Defense Ministry to raise their concerns about missing soldiers.

But they were greeted with the news that the Defense Ministry was dealing with the problem of soldiers failing to contact their relatives by sending out SMS messages to all the soldiers with a public service announcement, “Call Your Mom” — as if forgetfulness was the problem. The military officials took the mothers’ lists but have not provided any answers yet on the cases.

The Channel 1 broadcast on Travkin is part of an overall propaganda surge, as Coynash points out, with “plausible explanations” provided for battles in Ukraine — for example there is an NTV show with the claim that “English and Polish were spoken” at the Donetsk Airport battle, with even an American tank supposedly on the runway.

We could also point out a claim of “five NATO officers” conveniently “seen in Mariupol” before the NATO summit — although there were no such personnel. Stories about “American mercenaries” numbering 150 or 300 or 450 have also repeatedly appeared in the state-run Russian media.

Local Russian Media Report More Paratroopers’ Deaths in Combat in Ukraine

Regional media is reporting about still more Russian paratroopers killed in combat in Ukraine.

Translation: In Russia they found yet another paratrooper who “lost his way” in Ukraine and died.

A local TV news site called (“Three Pines”) carried a news report and a TV broadcast about the killing in action of Aleksandr Belozyorov.

But it was removed for reasons unknown, a troubling matter that local people discussed on a forum.

The show is still retained in Google cache and has already been replicated on numerous other social media sites like this one.

The broadcast is titled “Cargo 200,” the Russian military code term for transport of bodies of soldiers killed in combat back to the homeland.

The Interpreter has a translation of the script:

On 2 September, it will have been 9 days [it is a Russian custom to honor the dead on the 9th day–The Interpreter] since the death of our fellow countryman Aleksandr Belozyorov. The young man died while serving as a contractor.

A “Cargo 200” was brought to Novaya Mayna in late August, where Aleksandr had studied and lived. His death is a tragedy for the whole village.

Aleksandr Belozyorov was only 22. The young man was killed on 25 August while fulfilling his military duty. That is what is written on a display in the Novaya Mayna school where Sasha [nick-name for Aleksandr] studied just a few years ago.

Elena Troshina, Aleksandr Belozyorov’s class supervisor.

“Yes, from fifth grade, when I had that class, and then from ninth grade, Sasha was my child.”

The teacher had only the warmest memories:

“He never did any harmful pranks, he was always a good boy, clever, but kind.”

Aleksandr served under contract in the paratrooper’s division. But regrettably he never returned home after service. He was killed. Fate did not spoil Sasha. He was an orphan from an early age and was raised by his aunt.

“He ended up in his aunt’s family, they raised him like one of their own, they had three daughters and he was like their youngest sun. They raised him from the age of 9.”

It turned out to be hard to learn the circumstances and place of the death of this Novaya Mayna man. At the cemetery where Aleksandr Belzyorov was buried, we saw his relatives, but they did not want to talk to us. It’s too difficult.

“They say such funerals are very hard funerals, when there are a lot of people gathered, a lot of young people. School friends, and friends who studied together at the technical school, and army buddies came, and then relatives of course and friends and acquaintances. A young man, when someone departs this live so early, of course, everyone is very, very sad.”

The military draft board would not provide any comment. According to Internet web sites, Sasha apparently was sent for training with his fellow soldiers to Rostov Region, but the soldiers got lost and wound up under mortar fire…But no version of the story will ever bring Aleksandr back. He leaves behind a pregnant fiance at home…

Note that this story does not ultimately verify that Belozyorov’s death occurred in Ukraine. But it is consistent with other reports about the finding of Russian Federation armored vehicles with documents showing missing soldiers’ names in Lugansk Region; phone calls from soldiers to their families that they were in Ukraine; the capturing of POWs in Ukraine by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU); social media accounts of deaths in late August; and independent Russian media accounts of their verification of the deaths at cemetaries.

We also found Aleksandr Belozyorov’s page on VKontakte, which corroborates some of this information, e.g. that he was 22 years old and had no parents and was deployed in the armed forces.

In one post, where he is shown sitting on a tank, a friend asks if he is going off to war, and he replies in the affirmative.


His girlfriend sent him a greeting card on Paratroopers’ Day, which was celebrated 2 August.


Another local news site reported on Belozyorov’s death and noted that another soldier, Nikolai Bushin from the 31st Paratroopers’ Assault Guards Brigade, as still another soldier from the 31st Guards, Ilnur Kilchenbayev, were buried in Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan. They were evidently with other soldiers based in Kostroma who fought in Ukraine.

Relatives have gathered at the Kostroma base seeking answers about dozens of paratroopers who are missing and have not gotten in touch with their families. Soldiers’ Mothers met with the Defense Ministry in St. Petersburg to present lists of names but have not yet received answers.

Two others from the 31st Guards, Arseny Ilmitov and Ruslan Akhmetov, were reportedly still in Ukraine. Ulnovosti sought comments from Akhmetov’s wife and from the 31st Guards press office, but got nothing.

These stories have been hard to check. Relatives are reporting privately to journalists that they are threatened by army commanders and told they will lose any compensation or benefits they might expect from these deaths if they publicize them.

A local legislator from the Yabloko opposition party, Lev Shlosberg, who has persisted in trying to investigate the deployment of the Pskov 76th Assault Guards first in Crimea, then in southeastern Ukraine — and their deaths in combat — was brutally assaulted by unknown assailants last week and hospitalized. He believes his attack was related to his investigation.

Another local paper, Pskovskaya Guberniya, which has published information about the deaths, and an audiotape purporting to be of two soldiers talking about them (excerpted by The Interpreter), has had its pages deleted by the Russian censor, although a Moscow independent paper has re-published the story.

The independent TV station and web site TV Rain has started a list of all soldiers killed, captured or missing, currently numbering 34 cases. Soldiers’ mothers groups and human rights activists have placed estimates of anywhere from 300 to 2,000 such cases, but it is very difficult to confirm them.