Kremlin Propagandists Claim Browder Complicit in Magnitsky Death; He Sets Record Straight

April 15, 2016
William Browder at the World Economic Forum in 2011/Photo by Michael Wuertenberg

LIVE UPDATES: Kremlin propaganda has reached a new low, claiming William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital who has spent years campaigning for justice in the murder of his tax specialist Sergei Magnitsky, was somehow complicit in his murder.

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.

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Suspected Murderer of St. Petersburg Journalist Arrested; Associated with Stalking Gays and Neo-Nazi Symbols

When we reported April 1 that St. Petersburg journalist Dmitry Tsilikin was killed, although we noted that no one had speculated that his work was the reason for his death, a number of readers assumed he met the fate of other reporters who uncovered facts that Russia’s ruler didn’t want publicized.

When some people saw that he wrote reviews of music, theater and ballet, they assumed he was gay; Masha Gessen, a Russian journalist, recently wrote for the New York Times of the way in which gay men’s obituaries are read. Although she didn’t mention Tsilikin by name, she referenced the recent murder of a St. Petersburg journalist. She wrote of how men killed in “gay dates gone wrong” would never see this fact publicized, nor would their loved ones see justice for their murders.

Tsilikin was not publicly gay, but his close friends knew of his sexual orientation. And his death wasn’t “a gay date gone wrong” but something more sinister — as subsequent reports by St. Petersburg’s Komsomolskaya Pravda indicate, he fell victim to an apparent gay hunter who posted neo-Nazi symbols on his VKontakte page.

Sergei Kosyrev, 21, a student of the Hydrometeorological University in St. Petersburg was arrested soon in his home after the murder and confessed that he had committed it while under the influence of drugs, says Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP). He told interrogators at the Investigative Committee that he knew that Tsilikin was secretly gay and planned to blackmail him over this issue.

But investigators said on March 31 he went to meet Tsilikin, with whom he had corresponded online for two years, carrying a hunting knife and a trauma pistol in his backpack. He deliberately avoided metro stations where he knew there were surveillance cameras, and got off a stop early and walked to Tsilikin’s home. Ultimately, after an altercation, he slashed Tsilikin’s tendons and stabbed him seven times, leaving him to die. He took only his laptop and a small sum of money — items he threw away at two different locations afterward but were retrieved by police.

Kosyrev also said he had met Tsilikin on March 27.

KP said Kosyrev had chosen a “serious specialization” – ship armaments — and was studying naval information systems. Investigators believe he knew enough to wipe out the evidence of his correspondence online with Tsilikin. 

Reporters also examined his pages on social media (they do not provide links) and say he “adhered to nationalist views, loves guns, and fighting dogs,” and posted neo-Nazi symbols — we have seen the same symbol used by Russian pagan neo-Nazi fighters in southeastern Ukraine. He also “displayed his masculinity in every way.” Kosyrev had a “common-law marriage” to a woman with whom he lived in an apartment he also shared with his parents.

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The Moscow Times writes of the climate in which Tsilikin lived and worked. He was associated with the liberal perestroika paper Chas Pika and subsequent liberal papers and was considered part of the “Silver Age” of Russian journalism — and a critic of culture he believed took a bad turn recently, earning some enemies.  There was also the more deadly climate of anti-LGBT activism.

As The Moscow Times explains:

As well as being the cultural capital, St. Petersburg is also home to Vitaly Milonov, one of Russia’s most relentless anti-LGBT campaigners and co-author of the so-called gay propaganda law, which went into force nationwide in 2013.

The Kremlin’s backing of the law, which criminalizes the distribution of information on homosexuality in the vicinity of children, has widely been criticized as lending legitimacy to widespread homophobic prejudice. And that prejudice runs deep: According to the independent Levada Center pollster, more than half of Russians think gay people should be either “liquidated” or isolated from society. That poll was conducted in November 2015. Six months earlier, the pollster reported that 37 percent of respondents considered homosexuality a disease requiring treatment.

In some cases intolerant views are put into action. Between 2012 and 2014, the vigilante group Occupy Pedophilia infamously used social media and dating sites to lure gay men, whom they conflated with pedophiles, into meetings before proceeding to attack and humiliate them on camera.

Though the group’s leader, Maxim “Tesak” Martsinkevich is currently behind bars — on charges not related to his anti-LGBT activities — most of those who participated in the attacks still walk free.

St. Petersburg investigators and police have not been particularly successful in deterring such murders. Nikolai Girenko, a prominent ethnographer and human rights activist who had given testimony against neo-Nazis was shot to death when he answered his door in 2004; 12 men in a neo-Nazi gang were convicted for his death. In 2007, Timur Karachava, 20, an anti-fascist activist, was stabbed to death; his killer was sentenced to 14 years. Each year, dozens of people fall victim to such hate crimes, although the number has fallen in recent years as less Central Asian workers seek jobs in Russia since the economic crisis.

Whether for reasons of hatred of ethnic minorities, gays or liberals, the neo-Nazis continue to create victims indicating that they enjoy a certain tolerance from officials.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Kremlin Propagandists Claim Browder Complicit in Magnitsky Death; He Sets Record Straight on Actual Culprits

Kremlin propaganda has reached a new low, claiming William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital who has spent years campaigning for justice in the murder of his tax specialist Sergei Magnitsky, was somehow complicit in his murder.

Magnitsky blew the whistle on corrupt officials for tax fraud, uncovering a complex network that led to top authorities, and was himself jailed in an effort to silence him. Prison wardens refused him medical care, and he was beaten and left to lie. Browder’s efforts led to the Magnitsky Act passed by the US Congress to end impunity for serious human rights violators in Russia.

When Alexey Navalny, an opposition leader and anti-corruption crusader uncovered suspicious indications of wealth far beyond the means of the children of Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, Chaika retaliated by claiming that Browder had supposedly put Navalny up to it as some kind of Western intelligence “project.” Pavel Karpov, a former Interior Ministry investigator who already lost a libel case against Browder in British court, also persisted with the claim. 

As we reported, a crude TV program which aired this week fueled the smear in prime time for millions of viewers, claiming that Browder worked for M16 in a CIA plot titled “Quake” to discredit Russia via Navalny’s exposes.

Navalny decided to fight fire with fire and urged the Investigative Committee to launch a probe into the claims; the Kremlin’s top propagandist Dmitry Kiselyev made the same demand, although for different motivations. Navalny is confident any honest investigation would prove the flimsiness of the charges; Kiselyev knows that instead, the axion of Stalin’s prosecutor general, Andrei Vyshinsky may prevail: “Give us the man, and we’ll find the case to try him.”

Novaya Gazeta reported citing Interfax that Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee said the investigation was assigned to the special cases department based on an appeal by Pavel Karpov, a former Interior Ministry investigator who has made the claim about Western intelligence related to Magnitsky’s death.

Karpov is included in the Magnitsky List passed by the European Parliament.

Russian authorities have already launched a string of contrived cases against Navalny and he is serving a suspended sentence in one case in one case involving a mail order company contracted to the French company Yves Rocher — which brought no claims against Alexey Navalny or his brother, the latter of whom is currently serving a 3.5-year sentence. 

The propaganda barrage appears to be the direct result of Navalny’s exposes, some of which have been confirmed by the Panama Papers leak published by Suddeutsche Zeitung. The attack on Browder followed the publication of an article by Michael Weiss, senior editor of the Daily Beast and editor-in-chief of The Interpreter, showing the link between a firm implicated in the Magnitsky affair as well as the Panama offshores.

For his part, Browder released a statement yesterday providing the actual facts on Magnitsky’s death.

Last night, the Kremlin’s main TV pro­pa­ganda chan­nel, Rossiya-1, dis­trib­uted a video show­ing fake doc­u­ments claim­ing that the CIA had organ­ised the with­hold­ing of med­ical care to Sergei Mag­nit­sky in a Russ­ian deten­tion cen­ter to cause his death. To sup­port this claim, the TV chan­nel showed a CIA report dated 20 Sep­tem­ber 2009, which accord­ing to one of the program’s par­tic­i­pants, was authen­ti­cated in a foren­sic report by a UK com­pany headed by a senior ex MI-6 agent.

“The Kremlin’s pro­pa­ganda is in con­tra­dic­tion with all offi­cial Russ­ian doc­u­ments describ­ing the tor­tur­ous con­di­tions that had been cre­ated by Russ­ian author­i­ties for Sergei Mag­nit­sky dur­ing his 358 days in deten­tion and the fact that senior offi­cials in the Russ­ian Gen­eral Prosecutor’s Office refused his writ­ten requests for med­ical atten­tion,” said a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Mag­nit­sky Jus­tice Campaign.

As a result of his mis­treat­ment for the first six months in deten­tion, Sergei Mag­nit­sky lost nearly 20 kg, and devel­oped pan­cre­ati­tis and gall­stones, which were diag­nosed on 1 July 2009, as shown by reply from Matrosskaya Tishina deten­tion cen­ter. He was pre­scribed surgery. But one week before the sched­uled surgery, Sergei Mag­nit­sky was moved to a new deten­tion cen­ter, Butyrka, which did not have any med­ical facil­i­ties. The deci­sion was sanc­tioned by Russ­ian Inte­rior Min­istry inves­ti­ga­tor Silchenko and serv­ing head of the Russ­ian Pen­i­ten­tiary Sys­tem Petrukhin. All requests from Sergei Mag­nit­sky and his lawyers for med­ical care were refused by offi­cials from the Inte­rior Min­istry, Gen­eral Prosecutor’s Office, deten­tion sys­tem, and judges (see The Tor­ture and Mur­der of Sergei Mag­nit­sky report).

Browder also noted that Evgeny Popov, the state journalist who works for Rossiiya-1, is on Ukraine’s blacklist for his war propaganda. He also traveled to London to film Browder’s office, and police were called due to his disruptive behavior.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Lithuanian Border Guard Reports 3 Russian Helicopters Crossing Border; Joint Staff Unable to Confirm

Yesterday, April 14, during Putin’s marathon call-in show, there were a number of disturbing events that highlighted Putin’s powers to reach out and touch places both near and faraway, as well his ability to distract from their implications. These included the buzzing of the USS Donald Cook; a search of Oneksim, owner of the independent news site RBK; a search of Ikea; and the arrest of a fish plant owner.

News also was published yesterday about the violation of the Lithuanian border on April 12, reported by Novaya Gazeta, citing

Lithuania’s state border agency reported that 3 helicopters had headed from Kaliningrad Region in Russian territory and crossed into Lithuanian territory at the Vishti Outpost defended by the Lazdausko Squad. Then they turned around and flew back to Kaliningrad.

Renatas Pozhela told Delfi that a border guard had recorded the helicopters from the ground and had passed on the information to the military (translation by The Interpreter):

“It is possible, we recorded it visually and sent the information to the air force. The borderguard assessed the situation, that this was a violation of the border, but we are speaking of a possible violation, and the military have to confirm or deny this.”

Novaya Gazeta then reported that the unified headquarters of the Lithuanian Armed Forces said they could not confirm the encroachment because radar had not recorded the helicopters, there was only the visual sighting.

The incident should be seen in the context of a number of provocations Russia has launched against its Baltic neighbours, including the flight of a Russian AN-26 plane into Estonian airspace in March, which led to an Estonian note of protest to the Russian ambassador to Talinn, and the arrest of an Estonian law-enforcer claimed to be a spy, who was later traded for Russian spies, as well as two incidents where Russian helicopters and jets harassed the USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea on April 11 and April 12.

Lithuania has expressed concern in the past about Russia’s unannounced military exercises by its border and has even issued a manual for citizens to survive a Russian invasion.

On April 13, the Kalingrad Regional Court sentenced Yevgeny Mataitis, a dual citizen of both Russia and Lithuania, to 13 years of strict-regimen labor colony on charges of treason against the state, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing a court press release.

Mataitis plead guilty to gathering and transmitting to foreign intelligence information that was classified as a state secret. Mataitis is also being stripped of his military rank, and has to pay a fine of 200,000 rubles ($3,019).

Russia continues to claim, as it did with the incident involving theUSS Donald Cook, that it was strictly adhering to international law.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick