Russia This Week: Military Parade on Red Square Re-enacts November 7, 1941 (November 1-7, 2014)

November 7, 2014
Red Square, November 7, 2014. Photo by RIA Novosti

Updated Daily.This Week’s Issue:

Ekho Moskvy Journalist Fired for Tweet about Death of Kremlin Administration Chief’s Son, Broadcast on Donetsk Airport
Russian Reserves Down 20 Percent As Ruble Tumbles
US Prosecutors Open Money-Laundering Investigation of Putin Associate Gennady Timchenko
Suspects in Murder of Moscow Region Policemen May Have Fought in the Donbass
Actor Aleksei Devotchenko Found Dead In Moscow
Russian Human Rights Activist Barred From Entry to Ukraine
Russia Test-Fires Submarine-Launched ICBM In Barents Sea
Low Turnout for ‘Russian March,’ High Turnout for ‘National Unity Day’
Facing Some Reprisals, Ultranationalists Split on Eve of ‘Russian March’
Thriving on Forums, Paid Kremlin Trolls Move Into New Offices

Last Week’s Issue:

The Value of the Ruble is Falling, Along with the Price of Oil
Russian Censorship Agency Strikes Ekho Moskvy News Site, Removes Article on Donetsk Airport
Russian Reporter Publishes List of ‘Most Authoritative Russians’ – from Human Rights Heroes to Victimizers
Russian Actor with ‘Press’ Identifier Filmed Shooting at Donetsk Airport
France Denies It Agreed to Ship Mistral to Russia; Bulava Nuclear Test Missile Launches
Chechen Political Exilee Abducted, Tortured by Russian Agents in Strasbourg: Time
Memorial Activists Recall Victims of Communist Regime — and Count Today’s Political Prisoners
Kremlin Spokesman Refutes Rumors of Putin’s Ill Health
Putin’s Ratings Decline for First Time This Year
Two Russian Mercenaries Sentenced For Fighting For Assad In Syria
Anti-War Intelligentsia Protest TV Hatred Against Ukraine; Activists Launch Anti-Fascist Video Campaign
Russian Nationalists Granted Permit to March in Moscow Suburb

Previous Week’s Issue:

TV Rain Selects Most-Discussed Quotations from Putin’s Speech
At Valdai, Putin Lauded by Sycophants and ‘Realists’
Russian Soldiers Still in Ukraine; Kremlin Announces Compensation for Missing and Killed Servicemen
Former Editor Launches Medusa in Riga; TV Rain Evicted in Moscow
Putin’s Neo-Imperialism and the Price of Oil

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Latvian Foreign Minister Announces He’s Gay

Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs has come out as gay. The Washington Post confirmed that the tweet below is genuine:

The announcement sparked the following response from the Russian state-operated news agency RIA Novosti (translated by The Interpreter’s Catherine A. Fitzpatrick):

Perhaps, it would be more correct and humane to not pay any attention to this at all. In the end, everyone has his faults. Although not everyone tries to elevate them into virtues. But if the foreign minister proudly announced his non-traditional nature, then whether you like it or not, the entire statehood has to be looked at from another perspective.

“I know that a mega-hysterics will start now, but I’m proud that I’m gay,” writes Edgars Rinkēvičs in a tweet that was reprinted by the news agencies.

The reasons that prompted him to such a candor are not know. But it was hardly likely to be just the wish to hear “our numbers have grown” from the mouths of other such political figures prominent from afar including his former colleague in the diplomatic trade, former German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle and Klaus Wowereit, the governing mayor of Berlin.They just live their lives, and not brag about their tendencies. Rinkēvičs, on the other hand, seemed to want to prove that he was capable of a masculine act. Although, few will be found wanting to go with him on a reconnaissance mission after that.

Rinkēvičs incurred the Kremlin’s wrath recently when he banned three Russian performers, Iosif Kobzon, Oleg Gazmanov and Valeriya (Alla Perfilova) from performing in  a music festival in Yurmala due to their pro-war stance on Ukraine.

James Miller/Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

LGBT Rights Magazine Names Putin ‘Person Of The Year’

In a surprising decision, and with a picture comparing him to Hitler, the LGBT rights magazine The Advocate has named Putin as their “Person of the Year.”


Interestingly, in the article explaining their decision The Advocate cties the work of both NYU professor Mark Galeotti and The Interpreter’s  Andrew S. Bowen:

This is a man hardwired to intimidate.

Nowhere is this tendency more apparent than in his crusade against LGBT Russians. Since winning a third term in 2012, Putin has become ever more autocratic, and his antigay ideology ever more extreme. In June 2013, he signed the infamous antigay propaganda bill that criminalizes the “distribution of information…aimed at the formation among minors of nontraditional sexual attitudes,” with nontraditional meaning anything other than heterosexual. Individual violators are fined anywhere between $120 and $150, while NGOs and corporations can incur fines as high as $30,000. International outrage flared in the months before the Sochi Olympics, in response to which Putin reassured the gay and lesbian community they had nothing to fear as long as they left Russia’s children in peace.

Such incendiary rhetoric is a staple of Putin’s political playbook. And in Russia, where the majority of media are state-owned, there’s little public pushback. Tanya Cooper, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, argues that the average Russian is unlikely to seek diverse viewpoints. “When politicians, celebrities, and respectable journalists in Russia tell you repeatedly, either on television or in print, that gay people are perverts, sodomites, and pedophiles, you just believe it,” she says.

According to Pew Research’s 2014 Global Attitudes Project, 72% of Russians think homosexuality is morally unacceptable. This hints at the increasing domination of the Russian Orthodox Church, which between 1991 and 2008 saw the number of adults calling themselves adherents increase from 31% to 72%. In July 2013, Patriarch Kirill I, leader of the church, deemed same-sex marriage “a very dangerous sign of the apocalypse,” a sentiment that appeals to Putin’s conservative base. Julie Dorf, a senior adviser at the Council for Global Equality, argues that Putin relies on the church to legitimize his rhetoric, and in turn, the church gets greater political access. “Without [Putin’s] personal agenda of using homophobia as a tool to keep himself buoyed domestically, I don’t think the church’s own homophobia would have risen to the same level,” Dorf says.

A September 2014 poll from Russia’s state-run Public Opinion Foundation found that of the two-thirds of respondents who said celebrities can be moral authorities, 36% cited Putin, putting him far ahead of Patriarch Kirill I, who was cited by just 1%. Indeed, Putin’s statecraft and overarching political vision have become staunchly Manichaean, as a struggle between diametrically opposed forces. As Mark Galeotti and Andrew S. Bowen wrote in Foreign Policy, “He does not see himself as aggressively expanding an empire so much as defending a civilization against the ‘chaotic darkness’ that will ensue if he allows Russia to be politically encircled abroad and culturally colonized by Western values at home.” Framed like this, Russia’s assault on LGBT rights is really just opposition to American hubris.

James Miller

Russian Lawmaker Raises Issue Of Terminating Mistral Contract

The Russian state-operated news agency RIA Novosti is reporting that a senior Federation Council member has suggested that the Russian government should cancel the controversial $1.6 billion arms deal which would have Russia purchase two Mistral amphibious assault ships from France.

“The Russian Federation itself should raise the issue of terminating the contract, with all the proper compensation, because of its non-fulfilment,” First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on Defense and Security Yevgeny Serebrennikov said.

“If we do this, we’ll benefit from it,” Serebrennikov added.

The senator also recalled that when the Mistral contract was being prepared experts evaluated the decision as “very controversial” with some saying that it would be difficult for the Russian Armed Forces to use the carriers.

“There is no threat to our security if the contract fails,” Serebrennikov said.

As we’ve been reporting, many in the West are also looking for a way to halt the deal. At this point, however, it’s just not clear whether the deal will go forward as planned, whether the ships will go elsewhere, or how long we may have to wait before we find out.

James Miller

France’s Mistral Ships May Not Be Headed to Russia After All

Perhaps nothing is a better symbol of Europe’s economic entanglement with Russia than a $1.6 billion arms deal which would send two French Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia. The deal was negotiated years ago, but since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine is has become far more controversial.

Under pressure from Europe and the United States, France postponed the sale of the warships.  French President François Hollande has said that while current EU sanctions do not prohibit the sale of the ships, the deal would only go through under two conditions:

The first condition is for there to be a ceasefire, an actual ceasefire. The second condition is for there to be an agreement on a political settlement, and one which makes sufficient headway for us to be sure that it clearly paves the way to a resolution of the crisis in Ukraine. So I’ll base my decision at the end of October on the situation.

Foreign Policy reports that a bipartisan group of U.S. Congressmen are advocating that NATO buy the ships from France, thus alleviating France’s financial burden while simultaneously strengthening NATO against further Russian aggression:

“Sensitive to the financial burden that France may incur should it rightly refuse to transfer these warships to Russia, we renew our call that NATO purchase or lease the warships as a common naval asset,” the November 4 letter to new NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reads. “Such a decisive move by NATO is not without precedent and would show President Putin that our rhetorical resolve is matched by our actual resolve and that this Alliance will not tolerate or abet his dangerous actions in Europe.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (D-NY), Mike Rogers (R-AL), Mike Turner (R-OH), Bill Keating (D-MA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and Steve Chabot (R-OH) all signed the deal.

As we’ve been reporting, there have been reports this week which suggest that the Mistrals could wind up in Canada. International Business Times reports:

The possibility of a Canadian solution appeared in French media after French President François Hollande began a state visit  to Canada this week. While Hollande has yet to make a decision on whether Russia has met the criteria to receive the ships, the presence in the French delegation to Canada of the diplomatic advisor to the chairman of DCNS, the company that manufactures the ships, offers the first indication that France could actively be seeking an alternative buyer…

The idea of Canada buying the ships is not a new one. In May 2014, Canadian Senator Hugh Segal  publicly suggested that France should sell to Canada instead of Russia. “Canada or NATO should buy these ships from France, leaving the Russians to await a further slot on the list, which good behavior would assure,” Segal said. “Being silent as French technology is afforded to an adventurist Russian military stance makes no sense at all.”

 — James Miller

Russian Human Rights Activist Barred from Ukraine Now Permitted Entry
Vitaly Ponomarev, a member of Memorial Society’s Human Rights Center, has now received permission to enter Ukraine, Markiyan Lukivsky, advisor to the chief of Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), has stated.

Ponomarev was stopped at the border November 5 and told his name was in a no-entry list.

It turned out it was a relic of the Yanukovych regime’s blacklists. Aleksandr Yakimenko, the former chief of the SBU, had made lists of persons to keep out of Ukraine that included not only Ukrainian but Russian opposition members. Ponomarev was put on that list.

“I publicly beg pardon for this unfortunate situation,” Lubkivsky in a statement to the press.

He said such incidents “might occur again” as the Ukrainian government struggles to address Yanukovych’s legacy.

Military Parade on Red Square Re-enacts November 7, 1941 – and Projects Russia’s Military Strength

Some 6,000 Russian soldiers marched today on Red Square, re-enacting
the famous military parade from November 7, 1941 during the Battle of Moscow,
when the Soviet Union was attempting to repel the Nazis’ Operation
Barbarossa, which was supposed to capture Moscow, and failed.

Painting of November 7, 1941 Red Square parade by Konstantin Yuon, 1949

November 7 used to be Revolution Day in the Soviet Union, celebrating Lenin’s October Revolution (by
the old calendar). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the official
celebrations stopped, but when President Vladimir Putin came to power
he instituted “National Unity Day,” celebrated on November 4, to commemorate the day when Polish occupation forces were expelled from Moscow in 1612.

Now this year, the staging of the re-enactment of the 1941 parade
even on an odd year (73rd anniversary) for the first time is likely
meant to imply that  once again Russia has “fascist” enemies as it did
in World War II, only this time, the “Kiev Junta” as the Kremlin
disinformation campaign dubs the new democratically-elected Ukrainian
government in Ukraine.

As with all the other saber-rattling going on with Moscow these
days, such as the flying of planes close to NATO borders, forcing
Western states to scramble jets in response, the show of tanks and
troops marching in Red Square was supposed to convey a sense of military

The parade was staged even as Ukrainian officials reported that 32 Russian tanks were entering Ukraine, as we reported on our Ukraine Liveblog.

There were still Communists celebrating November 7 as Revolution
day. One parade was in Donetsk, Ukraine, under control of Russian-backed

In recent years, Putin has also instituted a new tradition at this
time of year, which is to have people march with photos of their
relatives who died in World War II.


The action seems to be a counterpoint to similar events that
Memorial Society has held recently to recall the names of the victim of
Stalin and other Communist leaders. While all losses are deserving of
memory, the Soviet government used to accentuate the losses of World War
II, and suppress the memory of the victims of Stalin and Lenin. Putin
seems to be returning to that emphasis.

Investigators Change Versions for Cause of Russian Actor’s Death — Now It’s a Heart Attack

There have been some widely conflicting stories regarding the death of Aleksei Devotchenko, a popular Russian actor who had taken part in protests against Putin who was found dead November 4. At the time, police told journalists he was found in a pool of his own blood, with all the windows in his home broken.

Friends said he was drunk the previous day, they had helped him to recover, then when they returned the next day, they found him dead.

Yesterday LifeNews, the pro-Kremlin TV channel with close ties to police and intelligence, were first on the scene as they often are.

They said there were “signs of a fight” in the actor’s apartment.

But later they hypothesized that the actor had some kind of fit of fury before his death, had gone around smashing the windows to cabinet doors with his fists, and then died of blood loss.

Later investigators said that in fact there no marks of violence found on him. Then how could he be found in a pool of his own blood?

Now today, the investigation says he could have died of a heart attack, Ekho Moskvy reported, citing Interfax, which had a law-enforcement source.

This news item says that forensic experts did in fact find external injuries, but they could be related to the fall of his body, which could have been caused by the heart attack.

That doesn’t sound like his body was covered in lacerations from shards of glass.

But wait, what about the “pool of blood” he was said to be found in?

Devotchenko was well known both for his roles in theater and film and for his civic activism. So colleagues and fans are concerned that his death may not have been accidental.

Translation: Well-known actor and activist Aleksei Devotchekno died in Moscow.

Sign: “No”.

Understanding Georgia’s Political Shuffle And The Collapse Of The Pro-Western Coalition

A new political crisis in Georgia is threatening to slow, halt, or even reverse Georgia’s move towards Western integration. This week the Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania has been dismissed and Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze resigned, as did several other ministers, in protest. The Georgian government has accused Alasania of turning a blind eye to fraud in the procurement process in the Defense Ministry which led to the arrest of five senior Defense Ministry and General Staff members. RFE/RL reports:

The Our Georgia–Free Democrats party headed by former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania has withdrawn from the ruling Georgian Dream coalition of which it was the second-largest member. The loss of its 10 lawmakers leaves the Georgian Dream parliament faction with just 73 of the 150 mandates, three short of a majority. The opposition United National Movement of former President Mikheil Saakashvili has 51 mandates.

On November 4, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili dismissed Alasania as defense minister following the arrest one week earlier of five senior Defense Ministry and General Staff personnel in connection with a controversial Defense Ministry tender. Gharibashvili implied that Alasania turned a blind eye to the rigging of the tender in favor of a company in which a relative of one of his deputies served as finance director.

Gharibashvili also held Alasania publicly responsible for a widespread outbreak of food-poisoning among military personnel last year. Three army medical officers and three employees of a company that provides food for the armed forces have been charged with negligence in connection with the incident, which Gharibashvili adduced as evidence of Alasania’s “inefficiency”  and unsuitability to continue serving as minister.

But critics of the Prime Minister and supporters of Alasania claim that the charges are political, stemming from the fact that Alasania has been leading a pro-European coalition which Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is resisting. Either way, the pro-Western coalition in the Georgian government is falling apart. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The departing ministers said Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili was veering from a European path, a claim he denied. The personnel shifts are entangled in Georgia’s complex political infighting, but EU officials worry they could portend a slowdown or even reversal of the country’s move toward Europe.

“Since many responsible European-related officials are leaving, this is really alarming,” said Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s foreign minister. “Many could be considered as pro-European, and this could harm the overall situation.”

Carl Bildt, a former Swedish foreign minister and an architect of the EU’s Eastern outreach toward its eastern neighbors, said Georgia’s path toward Europe is under threat. “The entire team that has been associated with the Western policy direction has either resigned or been fired,” Mr. Bildt said.

Russia may not be directly behind the moves, he added, “but there is no question there will be people in the Kremlin applauding.”

Meanwhile, a new draft treaty between Russia and the breakaway province of Abkhazia has some asking whether Russia is trying to “pocket” the territory like it did Crimea. EurasiaNet reports:

In an interview with Ekho Kavkaza, the speaker of Abkhazia’s de-facto parliament, Valery Bganba, complained that the document “in many places” amounts to a “loss of sovereignty.”

The cornerstone of the treaty is the formation of a collective military force, with Russia appointing an ad-hoc command in times of crisis. Many Abkhaz think such force is necessary to repel any attempt from Georgia to retake the territory; an event which Abkhazia has been expecting ever since its 1992-1994 war with Tbilisi. Many believe that events in Ukraine have increased the likelihood of such an attack.

The treaty further proposes setting up a joint center for law-enforcement coordination and requires Abkhazia to endow the center with broad powers. Under the treaty, Abkhaz who also hold Russian citizenship — believed to be the majority of the region’s adult population —  will be allowed to serve as contractors with Russian troops stationed in the breakaway region.

Abkhazia will also have to harmonize its tax and customs regulations with those of Russia and its planned Eurasian Economic Union. Perhaps to sweeten the deal, Moscow will partly foot the bill for a required hike in Abkhaz pensions and salaries for public officials to match rates in neighboring southern Russia.

RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore and David Kakabadze discuss the crisis and its implications:

— James Miller
Ekho Moskvy Journalist Fired for Tweet about Death of Kremlin Administration Chief’s Son, Broadcast on Donetsk Airport

Aleksandr Plyushchev, a journalist of the radio station and web site Ekho Moskvy was dismissed today, leading to speculation that Aleksey Venediktov, editor-in-chief, might also be forced to resign if he could not agree to the dismissal, reported.

Mikhail Lesin, the
chairman of the board of Gazprom-Media, the holding company that owns
Ekho Moskvy, said it was “quite possible” Venediktov would leave if he
objected to Plyushchev’s firing. He said the matter of Plyushchev’s
dismissal was final.

The dismissal comes after a sardonic tweet, and in the wake of a warning from Roskomnadzor, the state censor about investigation of Ekho Moskvy on charges of “extremism” related to a radio program on October 29 on the Donetsk Airport battles.

Plyushchev told colleagues this morning November 6 that he had been summoned to the office of the station’s general director, Yekaterina Pavlova, and told he was fired after he refused to provide a written explanation for both the Donetsk Airport program and statements about the death of the son of Kremlin administration chief Sergei Ivanov.

Plyushchev had made a remark on Twitter about Aleksandr Ivanov who drowned in Saudia Arabia yesterday, then later removed the tweet.

Translation: I beg pardon of those who were offended by the form of my
question regarding the death of Aleksandr Ivanov. The tweet has been

It wasn’t long before the deleted tweet was kept circulating on Twitter:

radio program involved Plyushch, Sergei Loyko of the Los Angeles Times,
TV Rain’s Timur Olevsky and Sofiko Shevardnadze, a host of the Ekho
program Svoimi Glazami (“Eyewitness”). They discussed the Ukrainian
military’s defense of the Donetsk Airport while under siege by
Russian-backed fighters.

The transcript has been blocked on
demand of Roskomnadzor, but republished on the site of Russian blogger
Oleg Kashin, who lives abroad after he was forced to leave Russia after a
brutal attack. Russian journalists are trying to figure out just what
it was about the program that caused censors to conclude that it
constituted “justification of a war crime.”

Journalists are accusing Lesin of violating a
requirement of the company’s charter that employees may be fired only
with the consent of the editor-in-chief.

Plyushchev said
Venediktov only learned of the dismissal from him, but Lesin claims that
Venediktov knew of his decision the night before.


Venediktov for his part said he would not resign over Plyushchev’s dismissal, said RBC.

“I will not submit a resignation, I can’t abandon Mikhail Yuryevich in
such a difficult situation,” Venediktov told RBC, using Lesin’s first
name and patronymic in the Russian custom.

Venediktov said that only he had the right to fire employees as
editor-in-chief. “My war here consists of the fact that they went over
my head with this decision.”

“I understand who is
pressuring him and how, but he must understand, that violation of the charter is
the end of the corporation, the end of Gazprom Media,” said Venediktov.

himself was fired from his position as an advisor in the Russian
government in 2009 by then-president Dmitry Medvedev for “systematic
disciplinary violations” including “non-compliance with the rules of
state service and ethics for behavior of civil servants.”

from his past decisions to remove bloggers when threatened with closure of the entire
station over controversial posts by figures such
as opposition leaders Aleksey Navalny and Boris Nemtsov, Venediktov may
be forced to accept the sacrifice of a journalist in order to keep his
radio station open.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Reserves Down 20 Percent As Ruble Tumbles
The Russian ruble continues to hemorrhage value:
The ruble against the US dollar:

As a result, Russia’s international reserves have shrunk 20% in the last year. RFE/RL reports:

Russia’s international reserves, which have shrunk by a fifth since last year’s peak, are in the spotlight after the central bank shifted its currency intervention policy as the ruble plunged to a record.

The value of the stockpile has declined for 11 straight weeks, losing $10.5 billion in the seven days through Oct. 31 to $428.6 billion, the central bank said today on its website. The ruble weakened to a record low, depreciating 1.9 percent against the dollar as of 3:17 p.m. in Moscow.

Under new rules announced yesterday, the Bank of Russia can conduct large-scale discretionary interventions to defend against what it deems to be threats to the nation’s financial stability. Such operations will be restricted only by the size of the reserves, central bank First Deputy Governor Ksenia Yudaeva said yesterday. The holdings are now in a “comfortable zone” that allow the regulator to act without any “substantial limits,” she said.

And let’s also keep in mind that the Russian economy is heavily reliant on high energy costs. The price of oil is in near free fall. Even if oil recovers in price, it may take a long time, and that will be a major problem for Russia in the short and medium term.

If there’s any good news for Russia it’s that China is important a significant amount of oil, a trend which will continue.
The problem, though, is that demand is rising slowly while supply is rising rapidly.
— James Miller
US Prosecutors Open Money-Laundering Investigation of Putin Associate Gennady Timchenko

US prosecutors have opened a money-laundering investigation into prominent Russian businessman Gennady Timchenko, a close member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources familiar with the probe.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, aided by the Justice Department, is investigating whether Gennady Timchenko transferred funds linked to allegedly corrupt deals in Russia through the U.S. financial system, the people said.

The prosecutors are probing transactions in which the Geneva-based commodities firm Mr. Timchenko co-founded, Gunvor Group, purchased oil from Russia’s OAO Rosneft and later sold it to third parties, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Investigators have in recent months requested information about the prices Gunvor charged, the person said.

In March, Timchenko was placed on the list of persons sanctioned by US Treasury in punishment for his role in Russia’s forcible annexation of Ukraine. But the investigation is looking at transactions that pre-date the sanctions, and may constitute money-laundering if the funds were found to have originated in illegal activity such as irregular sales of state assets like oil, said the Wall Street Journal.

Timchenko sold his stake in Gunvor the day before sanctions were announced.

Timchenko’s friendship with Putin goes back to St. Petersburg, where Putin went to law school and served as an official in the St. Petersburg city council. They were members of the same judo club. reported that Timchenko announced he had not received any notices about the start of the investigation by American prosecutors. The Volga Group issued a statement that that harassment of its shareholders in the Wall Street Journal was a “provocation”:

Gennady Timchenko is not informed regarding an investigation conducted by the prosecutor and other investigative agencies of the USA with regard to its activity. It has not received official notices in this regard.

We view this publication as a provocation and can only call for extreme caution regarding the position expressed, particularly taking into account the political context which has emerged regarding Russian business in the American media.

The Volga Group, whose chief shareholder is Timchenko, manages Timchenko’s assets and makes investments in financial services, industrials and construction, trading and logistics, consumer goods, and energy.

Timchenko said he was no longer involved with Gunvor and “cannot comment on the operations of the company neither in the current period or in the past.”

Volga Group said Timchenko was not involved in trader operations and was not in the company’s leadership. “

Gunvor said in a statement, “Any claims about violations regarding our trading activity are unfounded and completely false,” and reiterated that Timchenko had no stake in the company. Gunvor has published a rebuttal to the Wall Street Journal article in English here.

In a blog post today, Russian anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny said (translation by The Interpreter):

Finally they have taken action on Gangrene. It’s good news, but as usual, I feel like saying: it’s too bad the Americans are investigating, and not Russia.

“Gangrene” is a nickname Navalny has used for Timchenko ever since documents were published in 2010 by the New Times about Putin’s wealth and construction of lavish personal palace, and a claim of a conspiracy in which various figures close to Putin took nick-names, and Putin himself was named “Mikhail Ivanovich,” like the senior lieutenant in the legendary Soviet film, “Diamond Arm,” about an operation to catch some smugglers. Said Navalny:

For 14 years, Gennady ‘Gangrene’ Timchenko has been robbing the citizens of Russia, having become the main middleman for selling our oil. He has earned billions at this and has bought up real estate all over the world. And he is being prosecuted by the Americans for money-laundering, and not Russia for embezzlement of these very Russian funds.

                                                                      — Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Suspects in Murder of Moscow Region Policemen May Have Fought in the Donbass

Two men who reportedly fought with the Russian-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine have been charged with murder of two traffic policemen in Moscow Region, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported.

Denis Konstantinov, 26, a native of Gorlovka in Ukraine, and Denis Zhukov, 28 a native of Lisichansk in Ukraine have been charged with the shooting deaths of two traffic policemen in Solnechnogorsky District of Moscow Region.

The two policemen on patrol were found dead the night of November 2 on the highway in Perepechino, a suburb of Moscow. Their colleagues noticed they had stopped responding to radio calls and went to look for them.

The cops were in the middle of writing up a ticket on the operators of the vehicle for driving while intoxicated when they were shot; one  policeman was found dead still clutching the ticket. The other was found to have a bullet missing from his gun, and may have tried to shoot back.

A third suspect, Mikhail Konstantinov of Krasnogorsky District in Moscow Region, 35, is wanted by police. According to investigators, Denis Konstantinov and Zhukov came to visit Mikhail Konstantinov. They are still trying to determine why they went to the nearby Solnechnogorsky District and whether they were involved in the murder of the traffic policemen.

According to one witness, the men may have been drinking and decided to visit prostitutes, as they had indicated such plans the previous day.

A fourth man in the car with them, a native of Ukraine, was wounded in the shoot-out with police and has been hospitalized. Police have ruled out a connection between this case and another incident in which two bodies were found in a burn-out car in Solnechnogorsky District.

Photos on the popular Russian social media site VKontakte show Denis Konstantinov posing by an armored vehicle in camouflage.


The same news story appeared on Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP), but seems to have been deleted.

A cached version in Google search says that the three men now being investigated for murder of the policemen fought in the Prizrak (Ghost) unit in the war, according to investigators.

The ticket in the dead policeman’s hand showed the license plate number of a UAZ owned by a retired man in the village of Arkhangelskoye in Krasnogorsky District. Through him, detectives found the suspects who were operating the vehicle at the time of the murder.

KP was also able to find a number of recent photos of the suspects indicating they had been fighting in Ukraine.


Aleksey Mozgovoy, commander of the Prizrak battalion, told KP that the men had in fact served with him (translation by The Interpreter):

But then they went over to the Avgust Battalion, they
couldn’t take our harsh discipline. I recall Mikhail Konstantinov well.
The guys called him ‘Bear,’ he served with us as a sniper. In July, he
was ordered to go to the Prapor (Private) division, was wounded,
treated, then returned to service. I can’t say anything in particular
about the other two. Yes, they served, then they left.

Vladimir Demchenko, author of the article in KP, notes further:

I was in the Prizrak Battalion in late July of this year. Then the
division was based in Lisichansk in Lugansk Region. Perhaps I even saw
one of the trio mentioned. Discipline in the battalion really was rather
harsh. But nevertheless, the fighters didn’t complain. But later
Prizrak split — some of the fighters went to the Avgust Battalion in
late summer. It is commanded by a former deputy of Mozgovoy’s, Aleksandr

So it turns out that people who really took part in the battles of the militia are suspected of shooting policemen.

“Militia” is the term used by the separatists to describe Russian-backed fighters.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Actor Aleksei Devotchenko Found Dead In Moscow

Russia’s LifeNews reports that Aleksei Devotchenko, a celebrated film and theatre actor, has been found murdered in Moscow.

Devotchenko’s body was found “lying near his front door in a pool of his own blood” by a close friend, the report says.

The Russkaya Planeta news site reports that a source in law enforcement has said that the main scenario being considered at the moment is murder. All of the windows in Devotchenko’s apartment were broken and traces of blood were found in his room.

LifeNews, which is widely suspected of close ties to Russia’s security services and often has the first reports from the scenes of terrorist incidents and accidents, reported that Devotchenko’s friend had told them that the last time he had seen the actor, he had been drunk. Devotchenko’s friend helped him to recover and visited the next day, only to find him dead.

Photo: V.G. Zimin

Devotchenko had been an active figure in political opposition to the Putin government. In March this year, he signed an open letter by the film union KinoSoyuz in support of Ukraine, titled “We are with you!

The actor had, in fact, been attacked beforehand.

On January 30, 2012, Devotchenko was beaten, “almost killed” in his own words, by two Dagestani men in the Shabolovskaya metro station in Moscow. According to Devotchenko, neither the police nor station attendants intervened to help him. The men, he wrote, were offended by his earring.

In 2010, Devotchenko wrote an appeal to Russian artists to cease accepting money from the state, calling for them to protest against the government.

Here is a translation by RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson:

Can We Do Anything?

Dear friends and colleagues, actors, musicians, artists! On March 20 in many Russian cities there will be a national protest action against the criminal, deeply depraved, and cynical regime that was established in our country 10 years ago. Many of us, I think, support the demands and arguments that will be voiced on March 20. But at the same time we are shrugging our shoulders: “Can we do anything? Should we also go out into the streets?”

I believe it is a personal choice for everyone whether to go out or not. After all, doing so is by no means obligatory. Some will feel the urge to do so and others won’t. We are all different in terms of our convictions, our temperaments, our psychological and physical makeup. But there are things that can unite us in our drive to resist the shameful situation that has taken shape in Russia. Understanding fully the naivety of my suggestions, I nonetheless present them here. What can people who have tied their fates to art and culture do?

Refuse to take part in scenes in ultra-patriotic, propagandistic, chauvinistic, anti-Semitic, or pro-Stalinist feature films and television projects;

Refuse to take part in recording soundtracks for semi-official, agitprop documentaries and clips;

Refuse to participate in any theatricized celebrations organized by the Kremlin, St. Petersburg’s city hall, the United Russia party, and so on;

Refuse to participate in any broadcasts by the lying and tendentious television channels Channel One, Rossiya, NTV, or Moscow’s TV Tsentr;

Refuse to show up at high-society receptions and banquets attended by “public servants”;

Refuse to take part in government shows at all levels and, even more importantly, in the corporate celebrations of such monsters as the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry, LUKoil, Gazprom, and so on;

Refuse to participate in ceremonies to congratulate governors and mayors on their birthdays, anniversaries, on the births of grandchildren, and so on;

Refuse to give interviews to pro-Putin/Medvedev print media.

This list, of course, could go on. Of course, many of you will ask: “How are we going to earn a living? You know what they pay in theaters that aren’t servile to the authorities.” I know – 7,000 to 10,000 rubles a month maximum. I also know that for 10 minutes at some sort of Kremlin party you can earn as much as you’d make working in a theater for a year. I also know that many of you will shrug and say, “Money doesn’t stink.” Well, I think this money DOES stink – it smells of dank prison cells, of neglected hospitals and homeless shelters, of the acrid smoke of burnt-out architectural monuments and historical buildings and night clubs and homes for the elderly. It smells of the boots of the OMON riot police.

As for earning money…. There are many honest, professional means and this isn’t a secret to anyone. You can earn your way with solo concert programs; you can create original plays based on high dramaturgy that has been tested by time; you can appear in films that have no ideological or propagandistic subtext; you can take part in radio productions or the dubbing of foreign films, although this work is getting scarce.

Excuse me, please, for taking the liberty of writing all this, but God knows it is not a declaration or a manual for action. It is just my (and only my) personal appeal to everyone among us in the cultural sphere.

And maybe we can answer the banal and trite Soviet-era question, “Whose side are you on, Mr. Master of Culture?” A master of culture is always on the side of his audience, of his culture, and of his conscience. Thank you for your attention. For Your Freedom; For Our Freedom.

Pierre Vaux

Russian Human Rights Activist Barred From Entry to Ukraine

Radio Free Liberty/Radio Free Europe reported today that a Russian human rights activist has been barred from entry to Ukraine:

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center said on November 5 that Ukrainian border guards did not allow Vitaly Ponomaryov to pass through passport control at the airport in the western city of Lviv on November 4.

Ponomaryov arrived in Lviv to attend November 6 court hearings on the cases of two Russian citizens, who applied for asylum in Ukraine.

Could this be a name mix-up as occurred last month between TV director Dmitry Kiselyev and TV host Yevgeny Kiselyov?

There’s Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the “people’s mayor of Slavyansk” who was part of the Russian-backed separatist leadership, rumored to have been executed by his fellow leaders in July, although there have been some sightings of him since then.

Memorial issued a press release on its web site about the denial of entry, saying that Olena Vishnyakova, captain of the Ukrainian border service said Ponomaryov was denied entry “by decision of the authorized state agency of Ukraine” — without any indication which agency this was. Ponomaryov commented:

“In more than 20 years of work in journalism and human rights, several times I have encountered a deny of entry due to my professional activity. The bans were introduced by dictators’ regimes in the countries of Central Asia. It is regrettable that an analogous problem has come up in Ukraine. The border services agents who discovered my last name in a data base themselves don’t have information what caused this ban. They asked if I had ever faced administrative action. My answer was unambiguous in this regard: I have never violated any laws of this country.”

Memorial has called on Ukraine to provide more detailed information about the incident which they regard as unlawful.

Memorial Human Rights Center has monitored human rights in Ukraine and issued a number of reports critical of the Ukrainian government for excessive use of force, but also debunking Russian government disinformation.

For example, Memorial issued a report questioning Russian state TV claims that Tochka U missiles were used on Donetsk on October 20
by Ukrainian forces, comparing their experience in Chechnya with these
missiles, and reports from Donetsk, which could not be confirmed.

Memorial has also published reports exposing the abuses of separatist fighters.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russia Test-Fires Submarine-Launched ICBM In Barents Sea

RFE/RL reports that Russia has test-fired a Sineva intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the Barents sea.

The launch, from Tula, a Delfin-class (NATO reporting name Delta-IV) submarine, is, they report, the second submarine-launched ICBM test in the past week. 

The Sineva ICBM was aimed at a testing range in the Kamchatka region, on Russia’s northern Pacific coast.

Tula has also conducted tests of the reported replacement for the Sineva, the Layner missile. According to Barents Observer, the submarine test-fired a Layner in September, 2011.

Pierre Vaux

Low Turnout for ‘Russian March,’ High Turnout for ‘National Unity Day’

Yesterday, November 4, the annual “Russian March” of ultranationalists attracted only about 1,000 to 2,000 participants on the outskirts of Moscow, and even they were splintered among competing platforms and two separate events.

Meanwhile, the “National Unity Day” sponsored by President Vladimir Putin attracted at least 75,000 marchers in the center of the city.

If last year, the Russian March organizers had called for Russia to invade Ukraine, forcibly annex the Crimea, and invade the Donbass, people would have been shocked at how extreme the ultranationalists had become. Instead, they focused on hatred of migrant laborers — as they did again this year.

Yet now the “mainstream” nationalists supporting Putin support annexation of the Crimea and war in Ukraine — unthinkable last year — which has become a staple of the political establishment now.

“The government has intercepted our agenda, and many have accommodated to this,” Dmitry Demushkin, leader of the “Russians” movement, admitted to journalists, Novaya Gazeta reported.

So the ultranationalists were exiled to the suburbs of Moscow while others who may have even marched with them last year melted into the large crowds marching down the main street of Tverskaya in the center of Moscow. Putin has indeed succeeded in co-opting them.

“Ultranationalists” these days include Aleksandr Dugin, an ideologue of reactionary Eurasianism who meets with parties from the European far right and supports the armed struggle of “Novorossiya” in the Donbass as well followers of Russkiye, the ethnic Russian racist group who co-organized the “Russian March.”

Dugin’s dismissal from his post at Moscow State University in July and the arrest just days before the march of a Russian March co-organizer, Aleksandr Potkin, on charges of fraud and inciting racial hatred may have contributed to the low turnout, as followers began to see these groups’ leaders as marginalized and even criminalized.

The Russian March was further confused by the appearance of splinter groups that actually condemned the war in the Donbass and did not support “Novorossiya.” These may have been sponsored by the authorities.

Translation: This march very much looks like a national funeral for what we had become accustomed to calling the Russian Federation in recent years.

At the National Unity Day march, there were more signs in support of Putin, some with his statements at the Valdai International Discussion Club speech, for example, “The bear will not give up his taiga.”

“I am the greatest nationalist,” Putin said at Valdai.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Facing Some Reprisals, Ultranationalists Split on Eve of ‘Russian March’

Tomorrow the annual “Russian March” will take place, and there
is some indication of a split among the ultranationalists. For some time, groups like Serge Kurginyan’s “Essence of Time” and Aleksandr Dugin’s Eurasianism movement who have been in sectarian wars among themselves, anyway.

But as the Russian
government has reined in some figures, dismissing  Dugin from his Moscow State University post, and
summoning Yegor Prosvirnin, head of the popular “Sputnik & Pogrom”
web site, for interrogation and threat of
prosecution, some groups have become more subdued and some have wanted to
disassociate themselves from others they see as more radical.

A recent editorial on
is titled “On the Eve of Russian March, Oh, What a
Shame, Division in Russian Nationalism.”

we stopped supporting Russian March last year due to its turning from a
political action into a sub-cultural festival, a bazaar of vanities, of “which
movement turned out more people.” But the audience of Sputnik &
Pogrom — the Russian middle class, 21-34 years of age, turns out poorly
for street actions making little sense. Our format is either club
meetings in tea houses (like the Black Hundreds at the turn of the last
century), where, smoking a pipe at the fireplace you could speak about
bitter things, about our Russian man, or to make a trip at once to the
Donbass for setting Mazepa straight, kipping the intermediate stages in
the form of marches, attacks on janitors, and drunken parties in the
courtyards, Healthy Life Style pull-up bars, and so on.

“Janitors” is a reference to Central Asian migrants, who fill the jobs of sweepers in buildings.

makes a distinction between those “righteous” nationalists who support
the forceful annexation of the Crimea and the war in “Novorossiya,” the
notional territory for Russians in southeastern Ukraine — and perhaps
other countries — and others:

…neo-Nazis and white racists who
make it a priority to fight for the Union of Aryan Socialist Republics
and other “Aryans of the world, unite!” who, just as logically supported
the Ukrainian ultrarightists, with the timid hope that the Azov
Battalion will overthrow Poroshenko and  begin to build the “Fourth
Reich in Ukraine.” True, at the moment the construction  of the Fourth
Reich hasn’t begun after all, and most of the ultrarightists perished at
the front (did Poroshenko really guess your plan?), but those are

It will be interesting to see which
groups show up, and whether they will be muted due to the threat of
reprisals or whether they will be more militant because of the
sanctioning of the war against Ukraine.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

National Unity Day and Nationalist ‘Russian March’ to Take Place November 4

Tomorrow, November 4 is “National Unity Day” in Russia. 

It’s a day when the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, the most sacred icon in the Russian Orthodox Church, is celebrated.

Translation: Celebration of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God. Let the intercession of the Heavenly Tsarina protect Russia!

Although from the sound of it, it should be a day when different
ethnic and religious groups come together, in fact it’s become a day
when patriotic groups turn out, with the
‘Russia for Russians’ sentiment — a slogan already painted on a mosque
in Vladimir, causing fear among Muslims in that and other communities.


There’s been some confusion between “National Unity Day” state festivities and “Russian March” which is being held the same day.

National Unity Day is an official state holiday. The streets in the
center of town such as Tverskaya, Mokhovaya and Teatral’ny Proyezd will be closed off and some kind of events will be held.

“Russian March,” an annual parade of nationalists,
ultranationalists and even neo-Nazis, has been given a permit to gather,
but outside of Moscow, in the suburb of Lyublino, where it has held the
march before.

That’s of concern, because it’s an area where a lot of Central
Asian and Caucasus labor migrants live, and the posters in the march in
past years have been decidedly xenophobic and hateful. Moscow
authorities turned down the request of the Russian March groups to hold
their event in the center of town, but they may show up at the other
state-sponsored rallies.

Already some nationalist groups are putting out calls to meet at metro stops downtown, not in Lyublino:

Translation: On November 4, National Unity Day, a rally of
the Motherland Party will take place at 14:00. Meet at the Pushkin
statue (Pushkinskaya Metro).

Events are planned all over Russia:

Translation: National Unity Day in Omsk: flags, creativity and sports.

There’s been a number of “explainers” of the holiday in the Russian media, as evidently some people are confused or skeptical — or concerned others will be:


Translation: National Unity Day is an invaluable holiday!
But will people speak of it as they do Melon Day [Turkmenistan’s
holiday]. That’s sad.

Translation: We must prepare a new Peace March. 50,000 people who came out in September didn’t stop [the war].

Translation: I’ve been told that Bezler is returning.

Igor Bezler, a major-general in the Russian armed forces, was one of the leaders of the Russian-backed separatists who resigned recently.

Translation: for some reason everybody is saying that tonight war is going to start.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Thriving on Forums, Paid Kremlin Trolls Move Into New Offices

The independent Russian news site (Delovoy Peterburg, or “Business St. Petersburg”) published an article October 28 about the “Kremlin Troll Army.”

(We’ve covered these paid trolls flogging the Moscow line in past issues.) says the trolls, based in Olgino, a historic district of St. Petersburg, are now moving into new offices in a four-story building, somewhere along  tree-lined Savushkina Street.


The trolls needed more space as they have a growing staff already at 250, working round the clock to produce posts on social media and mainstream media comment sections, mainly in Russia, but also in the West.

According to a former employee, the total payroll for the staff of 250 trolls is $229,594, with each getting paid about $917 per month for managing a stream of invective against targets from President Barack Obama to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko. was able to get an interview with a former paid Kremlin blogger who worked at International Research, Ltd (Internet Issledovaniya OOO), the name of the company created to perform this task.

EuroMaidan Press has translated most of the article here:

Around 250 people work 12-hour shifts, writing in blogs 24/7, working mostly in the Russian blogging platform Livejournal and a Facebook-esque social network Vkontakte. This is a full-cycle production: some write the posts, others comment on them. Most often they comment each other in order to boost the ratings. The refrain is always the same: the good Putin, the bad Poroshenko and the ugly Obama. The former workers at the Internet loyalty factory told about its inner workings.

They sit at an ordinary kitchen in an ordinary apartment. No portraits of the leaders on the walls. There’s a smell of soup. A cat gets under everyone’s feet. A young man and woman who met there and quit on the same day. They don’t regret this decision one little bit

W: We worked 12-hour shifts for two days with two days off. A blogger’s quota is 10 posts a day, 750 characters each, a commenter has to write 126 comments and two posts. A blogger has three accounts to manage. You have to distribute the 10 assignments between them. An assignment consists of a talking point, most often news, and a conclusion you should reach. So you have to fit the solution to the answer. Roughly, you write that you’ve baked tasty pies which means that life in Russia is great and Putin is a good guy. Visit Russia Today’s website – all our assignments are there.

Read more at The Sad Life of Putin’s Troll Army.

This piece follows up on an investigation done by Max Seddon of Buzzfeed.

Before that, Russian journalists investigated the first troll farms which they found were paid for out of United Russia coffers, working with an ideological formula which they deployed at home and abroad. Their research was first covered in Wikipedia in an entry on “Web Brigades,” then became the target of an editing war and was removed when Kremlin operatives intervened and got the text changed to marginalize them.

The first study of Kremlin manipulation of the burgeoning Internet goes back to 2003, when researchers first identified and called out these firms and their paid trolls.

All of these original authors were forced into exile from Russia, and appear to have gone silent since.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick