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.
About 20 activists were arrested after refusing to leave Manezhnaya Square last night following a rally in defense of the Navalny brothers.
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The Zamoskvoretsky Court decided to leave Alexey Navalny under house arrest despite the demands of the Federal Correction Service (FSIN) to take him into custody in prison, OVDInfo, the police monitoring group reported. FSIN filed a complaint in court saying that Navalny violated the terms of his house arrest when he went to join the “people’s assembly” in his defense on Manezhnaya Square on December 30.
Gazeta.ru quotes the document as follows (translation by The Interpreter):
The notice about the violation by Navalny of the terms of house arrest is returned to the agency [FSIN] since he has already been sentenced by the court to a suspended sentence and procedurally, review of such appeals is not stipulated.”
Most of the 255 people arrested at the demonstration on December 30 in defense of Navalny were released the same day; 69 of them had to spend last night in jail and were released this morning, says OVDInfo. They were charged with “failure to comply with the lawful demands of a police officer” and given a summons to appear in court on January 12.
While they were held in jail, police tried to get some of them to give testimony against Navalny, to the effect that he had incited them to commit civil disobedience (the action did not have a permit). Those at Presnensky Precinct were told they’d be held in jail overnight unless they cooperated.
Others detainees held at the Golovinsky Precinct were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their friends and their personal interests before being released.
At Severnoye Izmailovo, 18 people were released without a police report filed although their names were checked in a police data base; five people were released from Mnevniki Precinct also without any police report.
Two of the cases of Navalny supporters were heard today, and Mikhail Kriger and Roman Nemuchinsky were sentenced to 15 days in jail.
Kriger’s Facebook page filled up with New Year’s greetings from concerned friends and from his children, hoping that he might come home. It is not known why he and Nemuchinsky were treated differently than all the other demonstrators.
Mikhail Kriger, center. Translation: Where should a decent person be this evening? Correct. At the police precinct.
Kriger took part in the large Peace March in September against Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Mikhail Kriger at Peace March in September
Seventeen of the eighteen activists who occupied the giant Christmas ornament on Manezhnaya Square, including Pussy Riot’s Mariya Alyokhina have also been released without charge, OVDInfo reports.
The one remaining person is Nikolay Kasyan, a minor, who is waiting to be picked up by his parents.
The US State Department provided a briefing via teleconference on the new additions to the Magnitsky List. A senior State Department official explains that
Viktor Grin, deputy prosecutor general, and Andrei Strizhov,
investigator under the Investigative Committee, were not only involved in Magnitsky’s unlawful imprisonment and death, but also involved in the Bolotnaya Square cases. Two Chechen officials were implicated in the unlawful arrest and torture of a Chechen activst Roman Kutayev.
The following is the transcript:
MODERATOR: Thank you very
much, Laurie, and welcome to everyone who has joined us for this
background call today. As noted, this call will be on background, so no
names or titles. It’s attributable to a senior State Department
official, but just for everyone’s understanding, the person who will do
the background call today is [Senior State Department Official]. But
from here on out [Senior State Department Official] will be Senior State
Department Official, and we will get started now, and I’ll turn the
floor over to our briefer. Go ahead, please.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you,
everyone, for joining the call. Today, Secretary Kerry transmitted to
the Congress the third of our Magnitsky reports, or reports to Congress
pursuant to the Magnitsky Act. This report included a list of four
Russian officials newly added to the list. They will be – in fact, are
as of now – subject to both a visa restriction, a ban on entry into the
United States; and an asset freeze, in accordance with the Magnitsky
Act. I believe you have the four names. Two are Russian officials who
were implicated in the death and subsequent cover-up of the – of Sergei
Magnitsky himself. Two are Chechen officials who were implicated in the
kidnapping, torture, and later framing of a noted Chechen activist – a
Mr. Kutayev — earlier this year.
These four are the latest in – as I said earlier, are the latest in
the – our listings pursuant to the Magnitsky Act. We have said
throughout this process that we will continue to investigate new cases,
both having to do with the death of Sergei Magnitsky himself, but also
having to do with non-Magnitsky-related examples of gross violations of
human rights, including extrajudicial killings, torture, or other
In each Magnitsky list so far, we have combined those designations
associated with Magnitsky himself with those associated with other gross
human rights violations. The same is true in this case. The numbers of
Magnitsky-related designations have dropped, you have noticed. This is
partly – in fact, it is largely due to the fact that the numbers of
individuals whom we can designate, whom we can tie through fact-based
analysis to Magnitsky’s death and the subsequent cover-up of that death,
will drop. We’re not done with that process, but it is going to become
more of a challenge to designate Magnitsky-related individuals. And just
as a matter of reality, our efforts will begin to turn to the gross
violations of human rights, as in the case of the Chechen activist, Mr.
One other thing worth mentioning about the two Russian officials,
Viktor Grin, deputy prosecutor general, and Andrei Strizhov,
investigator under the investigative committee, who were, of course,
designated because of their involvement in the death and cover-up of
Magnitsky’s killing. In their particular case, it was related to the
cover-up. They are also, and in addition to this, associated with
arrests, prosecutions, and other problematic actions with respect to the
Bolotnaya case. You remember the demonstrations in Bolotnaya Square in
the beginning of 2012, after which – during which and after which people
were rounded up and prosecuted. They were not designated under the
Magnitsky Act because of this involvement, but it is a fact that they
were involved in Bolotnaya cases, and one of them – Deputy Prosecutor
General Grin – was also involved in the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev case.
And by the way, with respect to Mr. Grin’s involvement in the
Magnitsky cover-up, specifically Grin was responsible for opening two
posthumous cases against Magnitsky. They put Magnitsky on trial after –
well after he was dead, which astonished us. We didn’t know it was
possible. And in fact, it really isn’t possible under Russian law, as I
understand it, except in response to the request of the family. And
Magnitsky’s family has gone on record saying they did not request their
family member to be put on trial again after he was dead. So Viktor
Grin’s involvement of this strange – in fact bizarre – action was one
that is particularly satisfying to those of us who want to see the
Magnitsky Act implemented fairly.
I will finish up here and – at this point, and happily take your questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, if
you would like to ask a question, press * then 1 on your touchtone
phone. You will hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue. You
may remove yourself from the queue by pressing the # key. And if you are
using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the
numbers. Once again, if you have a question, press * then 1 at this
time. One moment for our first question.
MODERATOR: All right, Laurie. Please go ahead with the first question.
OPERATOR: It is from the line of Leandra Bernstein with RIA Novosti. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Just a question on the effectiveness
of the Magnitsky sanctions. There have been some members of Congress who
have – who’ve claimed that the Administration hasn’t been faithfully
implementing the Magnitsky Act. So just your response on how effective
you believe the implementation is, and then you made reference to
further expanding the conditions to deal with the gross violations of
human rights, so how effective you believe that will be.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I am aware of
various views expressed by members of Congress, but for our part, the
Executive Branch is happy to work with the Congress to see to it that
the Magnitsky Act is implemented – not just once, not but – just twice,
but over time. By the way, I should clarify what I said. This is the
third list, the third time we have sent a list up to the Congress, but
it is only technically the second report. There’s a technical
difference, but I want to be clear.
We intend to continue to administer the Magnitsky Act. Specifically,
we intend to pursue additional designations. I can’t make promises in
advance as to the timing or the extent, but I can tell you that we are
committed to continuing this process.
As to effectiveness, in any – in pursuit of any sustained human
rights policy, results come unevenly and there tend to be tipping
points. That is, our listing of individuals may have the indirect effect
of putting Russian officials on notice that if they are involved in
gross violations of human rights, trumped-up cases, false accusations,
grotesque examples of misappropriate – mishandling of justice, such as
putting a dead man on trial, under this law they may be held personally
Now, this is not an ideal situation. In democracies, in the rule of
law, governments and a free media inside the country are responsible for
correcting mistakes and issuing reports – sometimes embarrassing to the
host government when we make mistakes. But absent that process, the
Magnitsky Act can serve as an admittedly imperfect tool to advance human
rights and ultimately the cause of justice, which was, I believe, its
intent. And it is that tool which we will attempt to advance, working
with the Congress, with human rights communities, inside and outside
Russia, and with the knowledge that now as in the Soviet period, a
sustained, determined human rights policy can, in fact, be effective.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Laurie, would you make one more call for questions and explain how to lodge questions?
OPERATOR: Yes. If you do have questions, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone.
MODERATOR: Okay, very good. We’ll take the next question then.
OPERATOR: And that comes from Carol Morello with The Washington Post. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. So what is the
total number of people, including those whose names you have not made
public, who are on the list? And when you said that number is clearly
going to diminish, I mean, realistically speaking, how many more people
could we expect for you to put on the list in the future? Are we talking
less than a dozen more to come, or can you just give us a ballpark
figure on what might still be coming down the road? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the first
part of your question is easy. There have been 34 individual
designations so far under the Magnitsky Act in the three tranches of
names we have provided to Congress. I won’t speak at all to the number
of classified designations, if indeed there – I won’t even confirm that
there are any, so that’s outside of this number.
I can’t give you a number, obviously, of how many designations there
may be in the future, because increasingly our designations will be a
reaction to events as they occur inside Russia, now and in – starting
now and in the future – well, also in the recent past. But that depends –
what we do depends on what happens in Russia. We’re not working
according to a quota; we are working in response to actual events and
our ability to link individuals with those actual events. We work very
closely – the State Department works very closely with the Treasury
Department, with the Justice Department to obtain information which can
support a designation by linking an individual to actual conduct. And
the factual basis has to be strong. I can’t, as I said, give you a
number, but I can tell you that we will be working on implementing the
Magnitsky Act in the future.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Operator, do we have any more calls in the queue?
OPERATOR: We have no additional questions.
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, then let me wrap up by
thanking our briefer and by thanking all of you who participated in the
call. Oh, let’s see, Senior Administration Official, would you be
willing to entertain one final question?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, I would.
MODERATOR: Okay, very good. Then, operator, why don’t you open the line for that one?
OPERATOR: And that will be from Paul Richter with The Los Angeles Times. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. I’d like to know what kind of response
you expect from the Russians, if any, based on the way they’ve reacted
in the past cases.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I – well, I expect
that they will complain and they may threaten retaliation. They may
actually retaliate. We’re aware – we are aware of retaliation they have
taken in – throughout this year in response to other sanctions,
particularly because of their aggression against Ukraine. So that
wouldn’t surprise us, but it will not deter us from doing the right
thing. And it is also true that the day will come in the future when we
have better relations with Russia. I firmly believe that. It would be in
the interests of both countries. But given Russian actions, that day is
MODERATOR: All right. Well, that’s our last
question, and I want to thank our briefer and thank all of the
participants in the call, and remind once again that this call has been
on background, so no names or titles, and attributable to a senior State
Department official. Thanks very much, everyone, and until next time.
On December 28, we published a post from Paul Goble which was a summary of Ukrainian press, titled, “Moscow Red Cross Official Says Russia Used ‘Humanitarian’ Convoys to Ship Arms to Militants in Ukraine.”
Indeed, this is what the Ukrainian online news site Ukrinform said, but we also published an analysis of this and another similar article in the Ukrainian New Times pointing out that there were discrepancies in the stories. Some of the material contained direct quotes in which the official, Igor Trunov of the Moscow Red Cross, appeared critical of the way in which humanitarian deliveries were made to Ukraine; other parts of the pieces had summaries of his remarks in which he appeared to express concerns about weapons being inside the humanitarian trucks, although the quotes were not confirmed. Now, not surprisingly Trunov is denying he made these comments.
The summary translation of Ukrinform was very popular because it fit with many people’s suspicions that Russia’s “humanitarian convoys” are Trojan horses for military action. We’ve repeatedly reported on the problems with these convoys on our Ukraine Live blog — they are half full, they are not opened for inspection, they are crossing the border without the consent of the Ukrainian government, and often they seem to serve as a decoy for Russian armor invading Ukraine by other routes.
Russian officials and state media have been very misleading in claiming they have the consent of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), or that red crosses on white backgrounds indicate ICRC approval, when in fact the ICRC has not cooperated with Russia on these missions precisely because of the lack of consent and transparency.
We didn’t get a reply from the Moscow Red Cross as repeated emails bounced, but now the organization itself has published a statement on its web site, refuting the article in Ukrinform.
And popular Ukrainian Russian-language video blogger Anatoly Shariy has gleefully debunked the story by posting a YouTube interview with Trunov himself in which he denies ever giving any interview to Ukrinform.
“I never gave such an interview,” he says, explaining that he only gave his business card to Ukrinform.
In the video, Trunov says (translation by The Interpreter):
“The Ukrainian authorities have chosen the unlawful method of
pressure through hunger on the civilian population for political
purposes which is a direct violation of the Second Protocol of the 1949
Geneva Conventions. This relates to the system of crimes against
humanity, and in fact we have submitted an appeal to the office of the
prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Lies and slander have
not interfered with our noble mission of aid to the civilian population
of eastern Ukraine, and we have prepared a new convoy, twice as large,
and in the coming days, we will send it.”
Russia is not a party to the International Criminal Court — it has
signed but not ratified the Rome Protocol — it’s too bad that Prof. Trunov isn’t interested in advocating for Russia to join, and have the ICC look at the case of Chechnya.
Ukraine isn’t a party,
either, but it has submitted an ad-hoc self-referral to
have the ICC apply to Ukraine for the period of November 2013 through
February 22, 2014 — clearly to have reviewed Russia’s unlawful
annexation of Crimea — an act that has been controversial for some.
So the ICC can’t look at a case of purported Geneva Conventions
violation and “starvation of a population” unless the UN Security Council
refers it, but that’s not likely to happen as the US would veto such a mischievous effort to blame Kiev for what is Moscow’s responsibility in
waging war on Ukraine.
What Shariy doesn’t mention in this YouTube is that Trunov is in fact
critical of the way Russia has handled these convoys, as the statement
on the Moscow Red Cross web site — not mentioned by Shariy — notes. Clearly he would prefer the Russian Red Cross — not the Emergencies Ministry — to organize these convoys.
The Interpreter has a translation:
On Thursday December 12, 2014, a press conference took place at
the National News Service (NNS) news agency press center on the topic, “New
Year’s Beyond the Frontline: How the Humanitarian Convoy of the Moscow
Red Cross Brought Aid to Lugansk.”
At the press conference, Igor
Trunov stated the following: ‘Interaction with the Kiev Red Cross should
be organized horizontally, between Ukraine and Russia. We are the
Moscow Red Cross and we conclude an agreement with the regions, with the
Lugansk Red Cross. We don’t jump over our head, it is not right to
violate subordination. Today in general in Russia there is no
understanding of what the Red Cross is, our infrastructure is destroyed.
Russia is the only one of the civilized countries that doesn’t even
have a law on the Red Cross!”
“We are forced to go along with the
Emergencies Ministry, because we don’t have the right to cross the
border ourselves. We can only get through there without paying customs
duties with the Emergencies Ministry. We try to make targeted
assistance, so that our goods do not wind up in the ‘common pot.’ We
will not allow our humanitarian aid to end up on the market place. Now
there are abuses in that regard,’ said Igor Trunov at the NNS press
center, head of the Moscow Section of the Russian Red Cross and
president of the Union of Attorneys of Russia.
We got in touch
with the Moscow City Section of the Russian Red Cross. Igor Leonidovich
Trunov in a telephone conversation categorically denied that he gave
commentary to the Ukrinform agency, especially his words about the
unlawfulness of the humanitarian convoys of the Russian Emergencies
Ministry. He said he only gave his business card to the Ukrainian
We have sent a query to Ukrinform about their articles.
On our Ukraine Live blog, we have reported about the
militarization of the Russian “humanitarian convoys” from the beginning,
when we geolocated the trucks — hastily painted white — on an army
base outside Moscow. We asked whether the army or the Emergencies Ministry (Emercom) was in charge
because for weeks, Emercom had nothing on its web site at all about these
convoys it was supposedly managing. In time, Emercom became more
prominent in the convoys, but distrust in them remains high precisely because Emercom itself is indeed a militarized agency — and because inspections are not allowed.
Recently, the head of a veterans’ society in Russia admitted that
he recruited volunteers for combat in Ukraine and sent them into the
southeast inside humanitarian convoys; the Atlantic Council has a full translation of the piece, which we excerpt:
Q. Who pays all of this?
A. We get
help, for everything except for the salaries, from volunteers and
activists. They find and organize KamAZes [cargo trucks] with
humanitarian aid. They find people willing to help with equipping the
fighters. We don’t have a formal [bank] account for assisting the
volunteers. So often, this is the mechanism we use: We bring our
sponsors with the bills for what we need, After it’s paid, we get a chit
for the goods with which we pick them up. It also can happen that
someone will have 100,000 rubles and will call me and say, “Let’s go buy
them something.” Then we’ll take him with eight volunteers and each one
can choose what he needs.
The context here is not the official “humanitarian convoys” organized by the government from Moscow or Rostov, but humanitarian assistance organized by local church and patriotic groups who send help from civil society in places like Yekaterinbug.
Shariy, a Kiev-born journalist who wrote on crime and sought political asylum in Europe, is popular with Russians and disliked by Ukrainians mainly
because most of his supposedly even-handed propaganda debunking is
directed at Kiev.
Occasionally he will debunk low-hanging fruit like the
“toddler crucifixion” story, but on other stories he can be tendentious
or supportive of the Moscow line, such as his claim that the Soldiers
Mothers of St. Petersburg are some kind of “foreign agents” simply
because they received a grant from the US-funded National Endowment of
Democracy some years ago. The Soldiers Mothers have been active in
investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers in combat in Ukraine — a
story that Shariy generally finds to be Ukrainian propaganda, although
the cases are well documented.
Concerns remain about claims that Kiev is “deliberately starving”
the Donbass as a policy — an issue human rights groups are already
investigating. We could point out that seems to be only part of the
story, however, as we can see even from Russian propaganda itself. As
always with the videos of Graham Philips of the Kremlin video service
Ruptly, if we look over his shoulder, we can learn some useful things:
1) Humanitarian aid is in fact getting through, as people are standing in line and receiving it for New Year’s.
Pensions to the region have been frozen, but pensioners have gotten
around this by obtaining addresses in other cities and having the
pensions sent there. This is cumbersome but it means some funds are
still getting to the elderly.
3) People have lost jobs and
pensions, but they aren’t starving precisely due to humanitarian aid and
assistance from friends and relatives in other parts of Ukraine.
suffering of the people in war-affected areas certainly can’t be
minimized, but as always when humanitarian issues are used for political
purposes, we find that the story is more complicated than propagandists are willing to admit.
Remember the huge, glowing Christmas tree ornamant on Manezhnaya
Square that was in many of the photographs of yesterday’s demonstration?
Early this morning some activists decided to occupy it, Mediazona reports (translation by The Interpreter):
Early Wednesday morning in the huge Christmas tree
globe on Manezhnaya Square, more than 20 activists were detained who had
not left the square after the action against the sentence of Oleg and
Alexey Navalny was over. All night they continued to protest inside the
globe, although in the morning, they were nevertheless detained by the
OMON [riot police]. The activists were taken to the Luzhniki police
precinct, says Mariya Alekhina, who was detained along with them, told
Alekhina is a member of the punk group Pussy Riot.
About 8:00 am police entered our globe from both
sides, they took all our ID, and then literally carried out everyone who
was inside in their arms, says Alyokhina.
Translation: We’re waiting for you in the globe. With @KermlinRussia.
We are in the Globe.
As Long as Navalny’s Brother is in Prison
Translation: Nemirovskaya wrapped in a sleeping bag talking with OMON.
Translation: The most honest panorama of the Kremlin.
The view is through the barred window of a police van.
Others arrested along with Alyokhina include Arseny Bobrovsky, who
is famous as the blogger KermlinRussia, as well as Mariya Baronova,
Polina Nemirovskaya, German Petukhov, Yulian Shilling, Dmitry Serbin,
Sergei Krashevich, Nikolai Kasyan, Galina Borzunova, Nina Voskresenskaya
and others, OVDInfo reports.
Nemirovskaya says the detainees were taken in two police vans to Luzhniki Precinct and are now being booked.
Translation: Photo of the Day: City of Gnomes