Russia Update: Soldiers’ Mothers Head Sentenced for Publicizing Combat Deaths in Ukraine

July 3, 2015
Ludmila Bogatenkova

The head of a Soldiers’ Mother Committee has been convicted on fraud charges in what appears to be retaliation for her activism in bringing to light cases of Russian soldiers killed in combat in Ukraine.

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.

Special features:

‘I Was on Active Duty’: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
Meet The Russian Fighters Building A Base Between Mariupol And Donetsk
‘There Was No Buk in Our Field’
With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin

Russia This Week:

Is ‘Novorossiya’ Really Dead?
From Medal of Valor to Ubiquitous Propaganda Symbol: the History of the St. George Ribbon
What Happened to the Slow-Moving Coup?
Can We Be Satisfied with the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
All the Strange Things Going On in Moscow

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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Says Ukraine “Torpedoing” Peace Process

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said today that Ukraine’s decision not to negotiate directly with the separatist leadership is “alarming” and Ukraine is “torpedoing” the peace process. RFE/RL reports:

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on July 3 that the Kyiv authorities have “routinely demonstrated their inability to come to an agreement.”

Lavrov said proposed changes to Ukraine’s constitution did not honor a “single requirement” of the peace deal signed in Minsk in February.

The Minsk agreements signed in September and February do not require a change in Ukraine’s constitution. Furthermore, both agreements call for the demilitarization of the conflict, the restoration of the border to Ukrainian control, the eventual return of Kiev-administered law and order to eastern Ukraine, the holding of local elections there according to Ukrainian law, and the granting of greater autonomy (so-called “special status”) to the Donbass. The aforementioned separatist leadership, however, has rejected each of those points, and evidence shows that the Russian military is continuing its direct support for the separatist fighters who have shattered the Minsk ceasefire.

So what is the significance of Lavrov’s statement? These words match the Kremlin’s rhetoric which was established last summer and fall, though perhaps the words are slightly more pointed than they have been in recent weeks. There has been a clear pattern in Ukraine that a build-up of Russian troops and separatist fighters and the escalation of rhetoric from the Russian government often leads to an explosion in violence. This is, however, only one statement, and taken on its own it may not tell us much about the Russian government’s immediate intentions.

Read our Ukraine coverage here

James Miller

Russian Censor Complains His Post Removed on Facebook

Maksim Ksenzov, the deputy head of Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications supervisory agency that serves as a censor, complained on Twitter that a post he made on Facebook had been removed by the administration.

Translation: That’s just wonderful. Facebook has blocked me for 24 hours. And warned of a possible permanent block.

Russian bloggers and independent journalists couldn’t help delighting in the turn of the tables:

Translation: Does anybody sympathize?

Plyushev nearly lost his job at Echo Moskvy last year when he tweeted a sarcastic remark about the death of the son of Kremlin chief of administration Sergei Ivanov.

Ksenzov was indignant but didn’t say what the post was about.  Judging from the comments on his Facebook page, it was due to the use of the pejorative term khokhly about Ukrainians. This  may be the reason Ekho Moskvy decided to run a poll today asking readers if they thought the term was a slur; 44% said that it was, and 52% said it was not, with 5% undecided.

Translation: do you consider the term “khokhol” to be offensive? SURVEY

The threat of a permanent block was enough to make Ksenzov quit Facebook:

Translation: I wlil remove my account from Facebook. I am annoyed only that I can’t read my friends…But there are other interesting things on excellent sites.

Translation: Facebook bears a grudge. They didn’t forget how Ksensov promised to block them.

Roskomnadzor has threatened to block access to Twitter and Facebook from Russia due to the social media companies’ refusal to comply with all the Russian censor’s requests. Both companies do remove some of the reported hate speech and extremist groups, but they can be viewed if the settings are changed from location in Russia.

Both companies will face the choice of either placing servers with Russian users’ information on Russian territory in compliance with a new law, or being blocked.

Ksenzov’s Facebook account can still be seen but it likely is in the process of being removed from the system as clicking on the pictures gives a notice saying that the content is not available.

Ksenzov also retweeted and posted to Facebook a blog post on Ridus News quoting Komsomolskaya Pravda’s war correspondent Dmitry Steshin.

Translation: Dmitry Steshin: ‘It would be good if Facebook was blocked completely in Russia.”

Steshin called on Roskomnadzor to block Facebook “at least for a week” and ideally permanently, after he himself was banned for a time by Facebook administrators. As we have reported, Steshin, an ardent supporter of Russian aggression against Ukraine, has filmed the torture and interrogation of Ukrainian POWs. Steshin does not say why Facebook blocked him.

Ukrainians have had constant skirmishes with Facebook lately, as some of their posts are deleted or their accounts banned for criticism of Russia, which they believe is done after pro-Kremlin users abuse-report them in a misuse of the system to settle scores. As the BBC reported, President Petro Poroshenko has even asked for a separate office to be set up in Ukraine for Facebook.

Facebook administrators claim they are not biased and have native speakers of Ukrainian and Russian based in Ireland to review the content. But, given the numerous documented reports of Russia’s “troll farms” and the tendency for Ukrainian, not Russian posts to be removed, Ukrainians are skeptical that Facebook is neutral. Russian oligarchs invested in Facebook early, but have sold their shares.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

State Duma Moves Up Elections to September 18, 2018

Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, has passed in the second and third readings a law changing the election date for parliamentary elections in 2018 from December 4 to September 18, reported.

As we reported last month, the point of the move would be to put the national parliamentary elections on the same date as regional and municipal bodies. Authorities are also thinking that the turnout for September elections is low, as people are just getting back from long summer vacations. Evidently that suits the government, i.e. the less chance for alternative candidates to the government’s ruling party or machine candidates is better for Moscow. By December 2016, people may be experiencing the economic difficulties more acutely, and vote for alternatives, they reason.

The vote for the controversial measure was 339 to 102 with no abstentions. The leader of three factions, United Russia, Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia introduced the initiative, which was opposed by the faction of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The initiators cited a recent Constitutional Court decision, which allowed for a one-time moving of the date of elections, in justification.

Serge Obukhov, leader of the communist faction called the rhetoric in its support “elastic.” Those who said the move of a few months was insignificant were “malevolent or deprived of common sense,” and the Constitutional Court’s decision was “politicized” and weakened by the ruling

Yet as Aleksandr Tarnavsky, head of the Just Russia faction, pointed out, the communists themselves had been ready to postpone the elections to November. “Your position is falling apart. You have to know how to lose and now we are playing for the long term,” he said.

The Constitutional Court had ruled that while the election date was set in the constitution, there were exceptional situations when it could be moved such as the dissolution of parliament, declaration of a state of emergency, or scheduling of a second round of elections. The date could be moved “to achievement goals in the interest’s of the constitution,” the judges said, such as to create a single date for national and local elections. Yet the ruling noted that reducing the powers of the State Duma was an extraordinary measure.

Sources close to the Kremlin indicated last month that the government was in favor of amendment the law to move up the dates, and that has been the outcome.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Parliament Draws Up Lists of ‘Undesirable’ Foreign Organizations
The Federation Council and State Duma, the upper and lower chambers of parliament respectively, will draw up a list of groups believed hostile to Russia based on a law recently passed on “undesirable” organization and send it to the Prosecutor General’s office next week, reported. The Federation Council found 15 such groups and the Duma 20. The parliament is calling the registry “patriotic stop-lists” to protect Russia from corrosive foreign influences that “harm the country.”

Andrei Klishas, head of the Committee on Legislation and Viktor Ozerov, Committee on Defense and Security. Said Klishash (translation by The Interpreter):

“Not all of them will end up in the stop list but each of the NGOs will become the object of a careful review, and any of them may deserve being put in the patriotic stop list.”

Some of the “obvious” candidates for the list, said Klishash were the Soros Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation. the National Endowment for Democracy,  and the National Democratic Institute. The first two are US-based private philanthropies and the last three are funded by the US government to promote democracy and human rights and provide election training. They are viewed by the Kremlin as promoting “color revolutions” which they see as destabilizing to countries.

Gennady Gatilov, deputy minister of foreign affairs who attended a seminar at the Federal Council, suggested that the World Congress of Ukrainians based in Canada be added to the list.

Viktor Ozerov noted that his committee had received an appeal from two motorcycle clubs in the US, the Hells Angels and the Bandidas, although he did not indicate what the appeal was about or why the organizations were harmful to Russia. The US Department of Justice considers the Hells Angels an organized crime syndicate. In 2012, Aleksandr “Surgeon” Zaldostanov, head of the Night Wolves, President Vladimir Putin’s favorite motorcycle club which is included in Western sanctions list for its role in the Crimean annexation, spoke out against the two American clubs saying they were “a drug menace.”

Ozerov said the organizations in the list can be removed if they can prove they are not guilty of anti-government activity or are “useful as a partner to Russia in the good sense”. Klishash said the parliament had “exhaustive” information on the groups’ activities in Russia. Blocking these groups would ensure that Russia’s democracy would be “independent” and ensure “authentic sovereignty” for Russia.

According to an earlier statement by Vitaly Zolochevsky, a member of the committee on public relations from Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, other groups that may be candidates for the list are Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and Memorial Society. Zhirinovsky himself, initiative of the idea of the list, said it should include Russian NGOs such as Memorial Society as well as foreign groups although the scope of the law was clearly only related to foreign organizations.

The Prosecutor General’s office said they would not be able to investigate the activity of groups abroad and would forward Zolochevsky’s request about the NGOs to other “law-enforcement and supervisory bodies.”

Other groups that may be included are the British Council, the Caucasus Foundation of Georgia, IREX, the US international exchange organization, the Open Society Institute (funded by Soros), the American Councils for International Education, the Adam Smith Institute in the US, Bellona (a Norwegian environmental group), and Greenpeace Coucil (the Netherlands).

Zhirinovsky said that “everywhere these organizations were allowed to work, revolutions occurred,” including in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Armenia.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Soldiers’ Mothers Committee Head Sentenced in Retaliation for Publicizing Combat Deaths in Ukraine

The head of a Soldiers’ Mother Committee has been convicted on fraud charges in what appears to be retaliation for her activism in bringing to light cases of Russian soldiers killed in combat in Ukraine.

Ludmila Bogatenkova, 74 of Stavropol Territory was arrested last year and charged with defrauding a man seeking help with his case, although evidence has been found that he was asked by police to set up Bogatenkova with fake claims.

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Commitee on Human Rights has reported the details:


74-year-old head of a Russian Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, Ludmila Bogatenkova was convicted
on July 1 of one of the charges laid against her three days after a
list she compiled of Russian soldiers believed to have been killed in
Ukraine was handed to President Vladimir Putin.  It is a sad indictment
of Russian justice that the first response to the outcome is relief,
since if the prosecution and FSB [Security Service] had had their way it
could have been worse.  The judge acquitted her on one charge, and
reduced the severity of the second, issued a one-year suspended sentence
and immediately amnestied her.  This does not change the fact that she
was convicted even after the case was demonstrated to be a farce during
the court hearings, and there should have been a full acquittal

telling detail was noted by Bogatenkova’s lawyers – Andrei Sabinin and
Vitaly Zubenko. Although the regional media had been extremely active
and biased in favour of the prosecution in covering the trial, none was
present when the verdict was passed, nor were representatives of the
alleged victims.

One of these supposed victims, Vladimir Dubrovin,
had during an earlier hearing admitted that it was the police who
suggested that he lodge allegations against Bogatenkova of fraud.  He
was also forced to admit that he had “informally consulted with people
in the FSB” before lodging his complaint. 

See  Court Convicts Rights Activist Who Probed Russian Soldiers’ Deaths in Ukraine

Coynash said Sergei
Krivenko, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, appeared
as witness for the defense at the trial and is convinced that the case was revenge against Bogatenkova
for her human rights activities.

As we reported, Bogatenkova, who was in ill health, was released from custody pending trial, but the case continued as a means of pressure on her and other activists. While the outcome has been more favorable than in most political cases, it still means Bogatenkova has a criminal record.

The authorities never responded with any information about the 9 soldiers from Chechnya and Dagestan killed in Ukraine. Soldiers from the 18th Motorized Artillery Brigade had given a list of their fellow servicemen to Bogatenkova, saying they had been
killed near Snizhnoye (Snezhne) in the Donetsk Region; 11 others were wounded.

 — Catherine A. Fitzpatrick