A Million Rally in Support of Chechen Leader Kadyrov, Protesting Against Russian Opposition and West

January 22, 2016
Women at a rally in Grozny, January 22, 2016, holding signs depicting "Traitors" which include (L-R) Aleksandr Potkin, Yevgeniya Albats, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Igor Kalypakin, Mikhail Kasyanov

LIVE UPDATES: About a million people rallied in Grozny in support of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, calling the Russian opposition “traitors.”

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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US Closes 5 Russian Honorary Consulates in Reciprocity for Russian Closure of American Centers and Harassment of Staff

While Secretary of State John Kerry was holding out the prospect of improved relations with Russia in Davos today and even the lifting of sanctions if the Minsk Agreement were fulfilled, today the US closed five Russian honorary consulates in the US, angering the Russian Foreign Ministry, Interfax and AP reported.

According to AP, US spokesman Mark Toner explained that in fact the US action was a form of retaliation for recent closure of American centers in Russia, and the harassment of diplomatic staff:

“We are prepared to take further appropriate measures if there are additional efforts to impede our diplomatic and consular activities in Russia,” spokesman Mark Toner warned.

“This action is being taken in response to continued Russian interference with our diplomatic and consular operations in Russia, including, but not limited to, widespread harassment of our personnel, as well as the forced closure of the American Center in Moscow and 28 American Spaces throughout Russia,” Toner said.

“This does not affect Russia’s formal diplomatic operations, including its embassy, consulates general or its cultural center in Washington.”

The honorary consulates in the states of California, Florida, Minnesota, Utah and in Puerto Rico were an avenue for Russian government to keep in touch with current and former Russian citizens in those areas and organize business connections and cultural affairs. The status of “honorary consul” is not a diplomatic one and does not involve immunity from prosecution.
Mariya Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said “The decision on the honorary consuls by the Obama Administration continues the line of curtailing ties with our country,” Interfax reported.
She claimed that the honorary consults were “even threatened with criminal prosecution” but provided no details and that were not in the US statement. 
Komsomolskaya Pravda reported yesterday that the five consulates had received notices by e-mail that they were to be closed.

Yury Melnik, press attache for the Russian Embassy in Washington, claimed there was “no basis” for the closure and that it was the US “worsening the atmosphere for bilateral relations with such actions” and characterized it as “an unfriendly gesture,” failing to acknowledge the Russian harassment of Americans and closure of American facilities that had preceded it.

According to US Embassy spokesman Will Stevens, the American Center and 28 of its affiliates were closed, RBC.ru reported.

The US has not had much to say about the harassment of its personnel, although ABC News ran a story in October 2014 about the slashing of a diplomat’s tires; the hacking of email; and mysterious break-ins — all practices that were common in the Soviet era.
Said ABC at the time:

The incidents are all signs, U.S. officials and experts said, that aggressive, Soviet-era counterintelligence tactics are back in fashion in Russia.

The number of incidents targeting American diplomats in Moscow has increased in recent years to levels not seen since the Cold War, officials said.

Taken together, they paint an escalating pattern of intimidation and harassment that is believed to be led by Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB), a successor to the Soviet KGB.

The Inspector General mentioned the harassment in an audit of the performance of diplomatic missions abroad.

“Across Mission Russia, employees face intensified pressure by the Russian security services at a level not seen since the days of the Cold War,” the Office of Inspector General wrote. But the section on harassment of US staff was kept classified.

ABC said Russians who made contact with Americans were also affected:

Russians who work or meet with the embassy have also been intimidated, U.S. officials said. Several had been warned by shadowy individuals to discontinue their contacts with American officials or face unspecified hardships. Russians authorities have also stepped up pressure on programs run by the U.S. embassy.

In the last year, a number of US professors and students taking part in exchanges have also been expelled abruptly. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed:

It is commonly known that it is precisely the US which has unleashed sanctions aggression against Russia and is carrying out wide-scale Russophobic propaganda throughout the world.

Even before US sanctions imposed over the annexation of Crimea, there were expulsions of Americans, and other actions such as the end of adoption of Russian orphans by Americans. Despite the “re-set” of US-Russian relations in the first term of the Obama Administration, the US issued the “Magnitsky List” in 2013 of sanctioned officials involved in murder and other serious offenses to address serious ongoing Russian human rights violations after the Jackson-Vanik amendment was abolished. Russia responded by banning US officials, expelling USAID and forcing other US philanthropies to leave and ending other exchanges, culminating in a list of “undesirable organizations.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

A Million Rally in Support of Chechen Leader Kadyrov, Protesting Against Russian Opposition and West
About a million people rallied in Grozny in support of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, RBC.ru reported, citing police reports.
Kadyrov himself didn’t appear at the rally, but Aleksandr “Surgeon” Zaldostanov, head of the Night Wolves motorcycle group supported by President Vladimir Putin, as well as Fr. Ambrosiya, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, were among the speakers. Zaldostanov said:
“The lowest bow to the leader of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov for his honesty and directness. I want to tell you that we can reply to our enemies not only with our solidarity, solidarity with the president of Russia and our unity. We must also fight for freedom against American democracy.”

Just as last year, when Kadyrov rallied nearly a million people in support of Islam to counteract what he saw as blasphemy by the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, this year hundreds of thousands of people not only from Chechnya but neighboring regions packed the central square of Grozny and adjacent areas. They brought posters criticizing the “non-system opposition” and “fifth columnists” in keeping with official campaigns in recent weeks, as we have reported.

Translation: Grozny now.

The official slogan of the meeting was “In unity is our strength.” Chechen Mufti Salakh Mezhiev spoke along with Senator Adam Delimkhanov and Dzhambulat Umarov, minister of the Chechen Republic for national policy, external liaison, print and information.

Yevgeniya Albats, editor of the independent magazine New Times, found a photo of Grozny women holding portraits labelled “traitors.” Among them was a picture of Albats, smoking a cigarette, although she said she had quit smoking five months ago.

Timeline Photos – Yevgenia M. Albats | Facebook

Вот это – слава. Митинг в Грозном : бабушки держат портреты "Предателей", сделанные московским Главплакатом. Не забыли, спасибо. Смотрю: я с сигареткой -…

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Jan 22, 2016 21:51 (GMT)

Translation: Now that’s glory. Rally in Grozny — the grandmothers are holding portraits of “Traitors” made by Moscow Glavplakat [poster printer]. They didn’t forget us, thanks. I see I’m with a cigarette.

Others featured were Mikhail Khodorkovsky, businessman and former political prisoner; Mikhail Kasyanov, former prime minister and finance minister now in the opposition; Igor Kalyapin, the human rights lawyer; and Aleksandr Potkin, the Russian nationalist and organizer of the Russian March, indicating that the campaign is both against liberals and right-wingers.
One of the signs covered by RBC.ru said “Enough Feeding Parnas,” the opposition party; another said “Good-Bye, Non-System Opposition.”

2016-01-22 16:55:30

Fr. Ambrosy picked up the theme of the “illegal” opposition (translation by The Interpreter):

“The ROC does not take part in political life, but every Christian must be an honest citizen of his fatherland. We cannot help but testify to the successes which our country reached in the last 15 years — the growth of the economy, the improvement of the standard of living and much more. But unfortunately, far from everyone in our country rejoices at the undoubtable successes of our state and they try to push us into the abyss of economic chaos. These forces places themselves outside the legal field. Speaking of democracy and freedom., they take the side of those who brought chaos to many prosperous states. We say a decisive no to those who want the collapse of our Motherland, and we do not reconcile ourselves with attempts to destroy our beloved Motherland, no matter what slogans it is covered up with.”

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny filed a complaint to the Investigative Committee, saying that the state employees were forced to attend the meeting. He said a letter was sent January 15 from the Ministry of National Policy, External Liaison, Press and Information telling people that attendance was compulsory. Navalny said this violated Art. 149 of the Criminal Code which bars forced participation in mass actions — a Yeltsin-era reform that was countering Soviet-era practice.
Navalny pointed out that by taking away government employees from their regular jobs and forcing them to go out to a demonstration, the economy suffered because they didn’t do their work.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick