Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here, and see also our Russia This Week story The Guild War â How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features âManaged Springâ: How Moscow Parted Easily with the âNovorossiyaâ Leaders, Putin âThe Imperialistâ A Runner-Up For Timeâs âPerson of the Yearâ and It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy, It’s Putin.
Protesters who have demonstrated on behalf of opposition leader Alexey Navalany and in solidarity with the victims of the terrorist killing of Charlie Hebdo journalists as well as the bus passengers killed at the Volnovakha checkpoint in Ukraine have been rounded up by Moscow police.
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Vladimir Putin will not be traveling to the event on January 27 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis’ concentration camp Auschwitz, gazeta.ru reported.
Polish organizers of the event are believed by Moscow to have deliberately not invited heads of state so that they would not have to invite Putin, says gazeta.ru.
This year, not the government of Poland but the leadership of the Auschwitz-Berkanau Memorial Museum have issued a general invitation to all leaders of European countries and the US, without indicating specific names. Russia’s envoy to Poland, Ambassador Sergei Andreyev will attend the ceremony on behalf of Russia.
President Barack Obama will not attend, but has organized a delegation which has been announced on the White House web site. Jacob J. Lew, Secretary of the Department of Treasury, will lead the delegation.
Nicholas Dean, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues of the Department of State is also included along with other officials responsible for European and religious affairs, and two Holocaust survivors.
French President Francois Holland, Austrian President Heinz Fischer and German President Joachim Gauck will all attend.
Today January 19, numerous Muslims around Russia turned out for officially-sponsored demonstrations to counter the scattered “Je Suis Charlies” protests in support of the Charlie Hebdo journalists killed by terrorists in Paris on January 10.
Only one Russian outlet — Ekho Moskvy — risked publishing
some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons offending Muslims, Christians, and
Jews. For this, Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov threatened Aleksey
Venediktov, the editor-in-chief.
Most other independent publications either did not wish to run the
cartoons as they believed it would be an act of collective punishment,
as Novaya Gazeta‘s editor Dmitry Muratov explained, or they
didn’t want to face punishment under Russia’s harsh “anti-extremism”
laws — which can be used against extreme Islamists as much as liberal
A lone “Je Suis Charlie” protester who had also demonstrated in
defense of opposition leader Alexey Navalny was sentenced to a total of
38 days of prison. Thus, it didn’t seem like there would be any mass
demonstrators or groundswell of public expression around the Paris
Even so, official Muslim leadership of Russia decided to respond with the mass rallies.
Kadyrov wrote several messages on Instagram about the marches in defense of the Prophet. The Interpreter translated an excerpt:
Today a wonderful event occurred in our country, to which there is no
analogues in Europe. In the central square of Grozny, and the avenues
adjacent to it, simultaneously, more than one million Muslims said the
noon prayer together. There has never been such a thing in Russia or
Europe. The participants condemned the immoral acts of those who drew
the cartoons. In their prayer, they asked for peace, stability,
prosperity and unity for all Muslims and for our Fatherland Russia!
#Kadyrov #Chechnya #Prayer #Europe
Kadyrov also posted these images of the march:
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was critical of the Muslim march:
Translation: Rotting and loss of moral guideposts.
In his blog post today, Navalny quoted from a BBC Russian Service report of the mass rally today [translated by The Interpreter]:
The participants of the rally heartily accused the West of attacking Islam and losing their moral guideposts.
“The Western world is rotting, unfortunately! They are losing their moral values! They pass laws that allow same-sex marriage! They raise their children so that they don’t know which sex they are!” one of the speakers proclaimed from the podium.
“Our contemporaries called Akhmat-hadji Kadyrov and Ramzan Akhmatovich Kadyrov great sons of the Chechen people and great sons of our Russia!” the same speaker said, and added, “Dear brother, Ramza Akhmatovich. Mulsims look with pride upon you. They heed you, they love you, they believe in you.”
The “rotting West” was a trope of Soviet propaganda which the current Kremlin propagandists have revived. Navalny adds this point:
The truth is, there is no creature in the world who strive more toward the West (physically) than the Putin bureaucrat. Closer to Holland and Merkel, further from bearded men in Astrakhan hats.
His point is that Russian officials like to vacation and buy properties in Western Europe, not at home.
Then, to complete the messaging today, President Vladimir Putin’s favorite Russian Orthodox biker, Night Wolves’ leader Aleksandr Zaldostanov, known as “The Surgeon” came to Grozny to celebrate his birthday today and attend the mass rally.
Novaya Gazeta pointed out today
that “The Surgeon” is among the leaders of the new “Anti-Maidan” group
that has vowed to show up at all opposition rallies and pickets and
counter-demonstrate so that no Maidan-like protest movement will get
started in Russia.
This is a good example of how the Kremlin orchestrates symbolic events that show the purported unity of the Russian Orthodox and Muslim communities around the conservative themes of the Russian state and values.
There is a lot of pressure from Russian officials to condemn the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, not only because they offend Muslims but Christian believers and conservatives as well.
Translation: the actor who played the role of the priest in Leviathan condemns the acts of Pussy Riot and Charlie Hebdo.
Russian blogger Rustem Adagamov, who lives outside of Russia in Europe now, was quite critical of the march:
Translation: at the rally in Grozny, the Muslims called for not buying iPhones, because “their creator is gay and he admits this.” #SteveJobs #facepalm
He also retweeted a barbed remark from a reader referring to the Chechen police and soldiers loyal to Kadyrov who are now fighting in the Donbass; some have been killed at the Donetsk Airport:
Translation: @adagamov Muslims…I don’t understand why these coalminers from Makeyevka and Gorlovka don’t speak the Russian language?
Translation: Leader of the dissenting Muslims: why Kadyrov gathered a million people in Grozny.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Translation: The column has set off. They are shouting, “I am Stas Markelov” and “I am Nastya Baburov”. Well, and other names, too.
Markelov was the lawyer for the family of Elza Kungaeva, a young Chechen woman abducted and killed by Russian colonel Yuri Budanov, who was released from prison in mid-January, 15 months before the completion of his sentence. Budanov himself was later shot dead by an unknown assailant in 2011.
Baburova was a journalist who covered the case and other human rights issues.
The march has been an occasional to remember others in the anti-fascist movement in Russia who were killed by far-right extremists.
Translation: Boards from the Je Suis series.
Lyosha or Aleksey Krylov was an anti-fascist activist murdered by ultranationalists in 2008. Timur Karachava was a Russian rock musician of Georgian heritage who was murdered by ultranationalists in St. Petersburg in 2008.
Translation: At the procession in memory of Markelov and Baburova. There are 400 people here.
Memorials such as these have been held every year, as Russian intellectuals were shocked by the cold-blooded murder of their own.
This year, the posters have taken the template from the “I am Charlie” demonstrations in Paris.
Translation: “I am Stas Markelov”, “I am Nastya Baburova.” We continue our coverge of the anti-fascist march.
Translation: the procession has reached Arbat. The slogans “Our name is Stas Markelov,” “Our name is Nastya Baburova” “Down with Fascism, Homophobia, Sexism”; “Antifascism is Ours”.
Some of the perpetrators of these murders have been tried and
sentenced; some others in a group called BORN [Battle Organization of
Russian Nationalists] are still facing trial.
Recently some of the activists in the Russian antifascist movement
got together to discuss similar movements in Europe. Some of the leftist
“anti-fa” movements in Europe are not critical of the Kremlin or even
pro-Putin. In Russia, the movement has opposed both Putin and those to
the right of him.
Translation: #Markelov #rashizm #Nazism #anti-fa #Azov Listen to activists from the anti-fascist movement in the program “Freedom in Clubs”.
The movement and others opposing ultranationalism in Russia have adopted the term “rashism” — a combination of the words for “Russia” and “fascism” to describe the problem in Russia.
Demonstrators in St. Petersburg also planned to convene a march to commemorate Markelov and Baburova.
There have been no arrests reported so far.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Activists from an art performance group called the “Blue Horseman” were detained today for sprinkling holy water on the doors of Lenin’s tomb on Red Square and shouting “Get up and walk!,” OVDinfo, the police-monitoring group reported.
The activists said they had dubbed their performance “Exorcizing the Devil.”
Oleg Basov and Yevgeny Avilov were reportedly taken to the Kitai-Gorod Police Precinct and Irina Dumitskaya, a representative of the group, says she has lost touch with them.
The Blue Horseman are named for a German impressionist art collective of the early 1900s known for a painting of blue horses by Franz Marc
In November, the group were detained and fined for an anti-war art action near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Aleksandrovsky Garden where one activist lay on the ground wrapped in a Ukrainian flag, and another offered passers-by symbolically to drink the blood of Ukrainians killed by Russia’s war.
Grani.ru captured the performances on video. The first one is the November action by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:
Ildar Dadin, a demonstrator who participated in the action in support of Alexey Navalny and his brother Oleg on January 15, was sentenced to 15 days of jail for “disobeying the lawful demands of the police,” OVDInfo reported today. He joins several other protesters who received 15 days for the action, two of whom have already served their sentences and been released.
On January 15, several hundred people turned out to protest what was widely viewed as a fabricated suspended sentence against Alexey of 3.5 years and an actual sentence of 3.5 years labor colony for his brother, Oleg. The two were implicated in an alleged mail-order business fraud related to the French company Yves Rocher East, which in fact had no claims against the brothers.
Supporters of Navalny who gathered in a cafe last Friday, January 16, to discuss his case and a search of his Anti-Corruption Foundation were themselves detained after thugs broke into the cafe to harass them, OVDInfo reported. They were released after questioning.
The supporters had gathered at Bobry i Utki [Beavers and Ducks] when a group of ultranationalists broke into the cafe, overturning tables, says OVDInfo.
Translation: They overturned tables, and pushed people out by force. The police came. They want to detain us all.
In this picture tweeted by activist Andrei Bystrov, we can see men wearing distinctive knit caps with interwoven orange stripes. These are St. George ribbons, worn by ultranationalists in Russian extremist groups as well as Russian-backed fighters in the Donbass.
We also noticed the same caps in the livefeed on January 15 during the Navalny support demonstration — these young men were chanting “Maidan Shall Not Pass”:
Grani.ru has done some research on this group and says it is a new organization calling itself “Anti-Maidan,” which appears to be made up of activists from past ultranationalist movements, including Cossacks and war veterans.
The group believes that any Maidan-like protest in Russia would be “destabilizing” and has vowed to prevent it wherever they see it occurring.
Asked by a Grani.ru reporter why Anti-Maidan believed it needed to discourage protesters they didn’t like when the Moscow police had coped just fine and arrested 250 people on January 15, the activist replied that just as the liberal people arrested had the right to express their opinion, so he and his group had the right to express their opinion.
Only those from the first group were detained and taken to the police station, however; the Anti-Maidan protesters were only briefly held on the square and then let go.
And the Anti-Maidan opinion-expressing has come with some force — a journalist and several demonstrators were beaten up after the Navalny action on January 15. That incident, and the recent cafe break-in which led only to detentions of Navalny supporters are both examples when police have not intervened.
The video shows Navalny supporters chanting, “If there is no freedom,
there will be Maidan!” implying that continued disruption of peaceful
rallies may lead to more determination for urban camp-outs.
The Anti-Maidan thugs then shout back, “Leave Russia and go to the USA!”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Buddhist monks who had also gone to the Ukrainian embassy to pray for victims of Russia’s war against Ukraine were detained over the weekend, reports OVDInfo.
Feliks Shvedovsky, Timur Makhamatov, Sergey Yakushev and Yevgeny Svhedovsky were detained at a memorial action for the 13 victims of the Volnovakha bus shelling in Ukraine.
They were questioned at the Presnensky police station. Officers at first demanded that they provide fingerprints, but they refused, and ultimately were released.
Lenta.ru reported that activists had called for a laying of flowers at the Ukrainian Embassy, but that because the event did not have a permit from Moscow authorities, participants were subject to arrest.
Ekho Moskvy reported that a few dozen people came to lay flowers and candles, and then dispersed.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
A Moscow demonstrator who wore a “Je Suis Charlie” t-shirt and picketed in solidarity with slain French cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo and in support of opposition leader Alexey Navalny was arrested on January 18 and sentenced to a total of 38 days in jail, OVDInfo, the police monitoring group reported.
Ukraine Today published some video footage in a news report:
Galperin was taking to a police lock-up and then sentenced to 38 days as a “repeat offender” because of past pickets on January 10 and 15, according to OVDinfo, the police monitoring group.
Thus, for his “Je Suis Charlie” picket on Manezhnaya Square on January 10, he was sentenced to 8 days of jail at the Tverskoy District Court because he was demonstrating without a permit.
Then he was sentenced to additional 30 days for taking part in the demonstration on behalf of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and his brother Oleg on January 15, for a total of 38 days. He was also sentenced to a fine and community work for amounts still to be determined.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick