Artist Pyotr Pavlensky Freed With Fine After Being Found Guilty By Moscow Court

June 8, 2016
Photo: Noah Sneider

LIVE UPDATES: Actionist artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been freed by a Moscow court after being found guilty and issued a $7,750 fine for “damaging a cultural site” when he set fire to the doors of the FSB building.

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?
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Has Invented A Version Of History To Meet His Needs
Getting The News From Chechnya – The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed


Putin Complains of Lack of Sleep in Meeting with Belarusian Leader Lukashenka

On a visit to Minsk to meet with Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Russian President Vladimir Putin complained of a lack of sleep, RBC reported. Lukashenka asked Putin if everything was alright, and Putin replied that he had only slept five hours the previous night, and only four hours the night before that.
“That’s bad,” said Lukashenka.
The flight from Moscow to Minsk is about one hour and 20 minutes, and the two cities are in the same time zone.
A video of the conversation between the two leaders during a photo opportunity before their summit was made by TV Zvezda, the TV station of the Russian Defense Ministry.

The conversation is barely audible but can be picked out.
Putin is often described to be on a punishing schedule. Yesterday, June 7, he met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is said to be warming to Russia, for the second time this year, despite some friction over the conduct of the war in Syria.

On June 6, Putin traveled to St. Petersburg where he participated in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. He also spoke at a media forum featuring Kremlin propaganda Dmitry Kisilyev which purported to be devoted to “alternative media” although it was sponsored by the state newspaper of record, Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

In between he met with a number of governors and officials. 

Last year when he disappeared for some weeks, it was discovered that some of his televised meetings had been pre-recorded. Rumors spread that he was at a secret government retreat or foreign clinic getting Botox treatments.
The topic of the meeting in Belarus is likely to be gas pipelines that bring Russian gas across Belarus to Germany and other European countries. Sources said the issue of possible Russian air bases in Belarus is not to be discussed.
Belarus is a close ally of Russia and the two countries are in a formal union which provides customs and trade benefits. But at time Lukashenka has been critical of the Russian war in Ukraine. Belarus hosts the Minsk talks on a settlement of the conflict. Belarus is dependent on Russia for subsidizes and purchase of its goods.

Russia characterizes its relationship with Belarus as “the most advanced in the post-Soviet space”.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Russian State Censor Bans Web Site Vice But for Report on Shoplifting, Not for ‘Russian Roulette’ on War in Ukraine

Roskomnadzor, the Russian state censor, has moved to ban the web site for a story which was about stealing from stores, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing a statement on Roskomnadzor’s page on VKontakte, Russia’s largest social network.

Romkomnadzor said (translation by The Interpreter): 

On the basis of a decision of the Tobol City Court of Tyumen Region, the URL address of the major media company, containing information about the propagandizing of stealing of goods from shopping centers and stores, has been placed on the Register.

Our notice to the administration of the site went without warning. We had hoped this was a misunderstanding and the editors of the site would still respond to us and restrict the access to the materials by Russian users, which a court had pronounced illegal for distribution on the territory of the Russian Federation.

Roskomnadzor urged readers to turn into them any information about “so-called shoplifting,” a word transliterated from English, to law enforcers as stealing is illegal.
The gif used by Roskomnadzor with this post is not taken from the Vice film.
The measure was odd, because the video in question didn’t “propagandize” shoplifting but described the life of heroin addicts who stole to support their habits, and the desperate measures of store owners trying to curb this new form of theft. In its notice, Roskomnadzor didn’t say anything about heroin addiction, which would also be illegal. The show was from November 2015.
We suspect what may really bother the Russian censors isn’t this one episode about heroin addicts and their stealing, but a series called Russian Roulette with some 90 episodes about the Russian-sponsored war in Ukraine.
But in order to ban that series, the state would have to admit there is a war in Ukraine in the first place, which is not part of the official policy.
By having an obscure provincial court move against an episode that in fact doesn’t glorify shoplifting but reports on it, and likely calculating that wouldn’t censor themselves over this ruling, the Russian government then orchestrated the blocking of the entire site.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Prosecutor General Chaika Proposes Allowing Regional Prosecutors to Block Web Sites on ‘Mass Disorders’
Prosecutor General Chaika, speaking during during the “government hour” at the State Duma, proposed allowing regional prosecutors to block web sites with information about preparations of mass disorders without a court order, RBC and Novaya Gazeta report.
The Prosecutor General’s Office is prepared to draft amendment an to the law if deputies and senators support it.

“We will insist on an extrajudicial procedure on analogy with the already-existing procedure to ban calls for extremism which enables the more rapid reaction to violations of the law.”

Currently, only the Prosecutor General and his deputies are authorized to tell Roskomnadzor, the state censor, to close access to sites. The problem is that while the necessary documents are issued, “the moment for the prevention of illegal actions can be lost,” said Chaika.

“We propose providing prosecutors of the subjects [constituent members of the Russian Federation] the right to appeal to Roskomnadzor for the extrajudicial closure of access to information about the organization of mass disorders and unlawful public actions.”

By including not just mass disorders but any illegal public action, Chaika is proposing that any local prosecutor could close a news site or blog for mentioning even a picket by one person or a small group of persons deemed unlawful if they did not obtain a permit.

Chaika said he has found support for this proposal with a number of deputies of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, and members of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, although he does not name names.

Russian authorities have already closed down a number of web sites run by liberal opposition including and and have also closed down sites deemed to be related to extremist groups from ultranationalists to ISIS supporters. A number of media sites including Ekho Moskvy have been warned if they did not remove objectionable content or authors from their site, they could face closure.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Artist Pyotr Pavlensky Freed With Fine After Being Found Guilty By Moscow Court

The Meshchanskiy district court in Moscow has found actionist artist Pyotr Pavlensky guilty of “damaging a cultural site” and issued him with a 500,000 ruble ($7,750) fine.

On November 9 last year Pavlensky set fire to the doors of the FSB building on Lubyanka square as a performance he titled Threat.

Pavlensky, who was arrested on the scene and has been held in detention since then, was set free in the courtroom today.

Translation: Pavlensky has been found guilty and issued a fine

Translation: The guards have removed Pavlensky’s handcuffs, but they’re afraid to let him out into the courtroom because of the army of journalists.

The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford documented the number of journalists at the court today ahead of the verdict:

But just over half an hour after the verdict was issued, Pavlensky has been allowed to leave:
— Pierre Vaux