Levada Opinion Polling Center Accuses Anti-Maidan of Libel for Claim It ‘Works for US Defense Department’

July 12, 2016
Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center. Photo: RFE/RL

LIVE UPDATES: The Anti-Maidan movement has appealed in a public statement to the Ministry of Justice to investigate the Levada Center, a respected polling organization, for failing to register as a “foreign agent

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.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

NATO Got Nothing From Conceding To Russia In the Past, Why Should It Cave To The Kremlin Now?
Who is Hacking the Russian Opposition and State Media Officials — and How?
Does it Matter if the Russian Opposition Stays United?


Russia’s Investigative Committee Opens Case Against Leader of Neo-Nazi Misanthropic Division in Germany

The Russian Investigative Committee has opened up a case against Dmitry Pavlov, a citizen of Belarus who is the leader of the neo-Nazi group Misanthropic Division, a group banned in Russia, Gazeta reports, citing the agency’s press release.
Pavlov is currently in Germany, and Russian authorities are preparing an extradition request to German law-enforcement.
The Investigative Committee, in cooperation with the Federal Security Service (FSB), has been conductding searches of a number of persons said to be involved in the Misanthropic Division in Moscow, Arkhangelsk Region, Bashkiria and elsewhere.
Misanthropic Division became known in connection with the war in Ukraine in 2014 and reportedly has chapters in 19 countries including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, France, Poland, the UK and elsewhere.
The Investigative Committee has reported that Misanthropic Division took part in the EuroMaidan protests as well as in combat in eastern Ukraine:
“Along with this, they have conducted a popularization of the Bandera ideology, the national-radicalized and armed forations of Ukraine (Right Sector, the Azov Regiment) and also recruited to their ranks.”
Russian authorities exaggerate the role of the ultraright groups Right Sector and Azov in both Maidan protests and later combat against Russian-backed separatists forces, but these groups have been linked with neo-Nazi ideology and activities.
As we reported last year, Misanthropic Division was involved in a report claiming mass graves of combatants killed in battle in Rostov-on-Don cemetery which was challenged by Gazeta.

Despite the ban, a number of groups with the name “Misanthropic Division” can be found on VKontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, as well as videos and other content.

Set as default press image
Photo of an unidentified chapter of Misanthropic Division published by a number of accounts on VKontakte. The banner says “Death for Wotan [Will of the Aryan Nation],” a white separatist movement.
2016-07-12 14:21:48

These include Misanthropic Division Siberia (Reserve).

But some such as “Misanthropic Division Novorossiya” are shown as blocked by the Russian government.

Set as default press image
2016-07-12 14:07:51

Translation: This material is blocked on the basis of a demand from the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s Office from 7.21.2016 No. 27-31-2015/Id2313-15

The Siberian group for example carried a notice that Right Sector and Azov members mourned the death in battle of a fighter by the nom de guerre Ratibor at Shirokino.

He was described as supporting the nationalists of Ukraine as well as independence for Siberia:

“People bid farewell to Ratibor as was fitting for a nationalist. At the Maidan in Kiev, under the Russian tricolor under which Kolchak led his forces in battle against the communists during the civil war. With the flag of the Siberian state which was the last independent Russian state which fell to the pincer of the Sovok. To the music of the group Kolovrat and Sokir Perun.”

Kolovrat, a group popular among Russian nationalists, takes its name from the word for a swastika-like symbol used by Russian neo-Nazis and neo-pagans.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Levada Opinion Polling Center Accuses Anti-Maidan of Libel for Claim It ‘Works for US Defense Department’
The Anti-Maidan movement has appealed  in a public statement to the Ministry of Justice to investigate the Levada Center, a respected polling organization, for failing to register as a “foreign agent,” Novaya Gazeta reported.
The Anti-Maidan group was founded in 2014 with government support to counter any protest in Russia resembling Ukraine’s EuroMaidan protests that brought down the Yanukovych government. It consists of ultra-rightists, Cossacks, the Night Wolves bikers and others supportive of the Kremlin and antagonistic to liberal groups.
Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, commented on Anti-Maidan’s claim:

For about 10 years, we have worked with Wisconsin University and have conducted the most diver projects [during that time–NG]: on historical awareness, on historical memory of the youth of various groups. Now there is reearch on families’ living conditions. After an inspection and warnings in May 2013, we ceased to receive grants from foreign partners directly, but we continued to work on a commercial basis, there is no criminal offense in this, on the contrary, we are proud that major research centers collaborate with us. It is a nasty lie and falsification that we perform contracts for the USA Department of Defense.

Gudkov is referring to a tactic that a number of groups used to work around the notorious “foreign agents” law passed by President Vladimir Putin in 2013, mandating that any group with foreign funding involved in vaguely-defined “politics” has to register as a foreign agent.

By converting from grants to fee-based consulting or contract work as a business, the law — aimed at non-profit organizations — could be circumvented. The Russian government did not seem to have a problem with profit-making activity involving foreign companies; it was only opposed to NGOs that might be directly or indirectly involved in elections or political work (i,e, anything disliked by the government).

The investigation of the Levada Center signals that the Kremlin may now scrutinize those who switched to commercial contracts.
Dmitry Gudkov, a deputy of the State Duma commented on his Facebook page that the Anti-Maidan statement is like a donos, (a Soviet-style informers’ report to the secret police). He connected the Anti-Maidan complaint to a new law banning foreign companies from measuring and analyzing television audiences in Russia.
He said that the Levada Center created an affiliate that would measure all television ratings, a “monopoly in the purest form.” Said Gudkov:
“Ratings — that’s advertising, and advertising, that’s money. So they are pouring into VTsIOM like a river. It’s hard not to see a connection between the efforts of one competitor on the market of our dying sociology and the destruction of another which would count percentages less than 146%.
And now (if the Ministry of Justice reacts, about which there are no particular doubts), those who do the counting will be those who are needed, and in the way it is needed. And they will get money from where it is needed.”
In other words, the Kremlin will put the Levada Center out of business if it will not do its bidding.

The All-Russian Center for Public Opinion (VTsIOM) is known as the Levada Center for Yury Levada, a political scientist who worked at the Academy of Sciences for many years, was dismissed from his post during the Brezhnev-era purge of sociologists, and who was among the founders of the Center in 1988. Levada directed VTsIOM from 1992 to until 2003, and was subsequently editor of Social and Economic Changes: Monitoring Public Opinion until his death in 2006. VTsIOM is a company founded with 100% of the shares owned by the government.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick