Two Russian Bloggers, Atheist and ‘Novorossiya’ Supporter Arrested for LiveJournal Posts

March 3, 2016
Screen grab from video of the arrest of Tyumen blogger Aleksei Kungurov . Via @shultzmax

LIVE UPDATES: Chechen school-teachers are putting little children up to supporting leader Ramzan Kadyrov, asking him not to leave when his term expires in April.

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:

– Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Investigation by Novaya Gazeta
– How Stalin Returned to Russian Contemporary Life – Meduza


Did Uzbek Nanny Who Beheaded Child Have Ties with ‘Extremists’ and a Tajik ‘Islamist’ Boyfriend?

As we reported this morning, a source within Russian law-enforcement told Interfax that the Uzbek nanny suspected of murdering a 4-year-old child and parading with her severed head had the telephone numbers of two foreign extremists in her cell phone.

Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee, denied any such extremist contacts were found in the phone saying “it does not correspond to reality.”
The independent media has been torn between dropping this story of Gulchekhra Bobokulova, an Uzbek nanny murder suspect reported to be mentally ill, and following up on suspicions that there is more to her story implicating Islamist extremists. Russian state broadcasters have maintained a blackout on the story, fearing incitement of ethnic unrest, and the Investigative Committee often issues misleading statements, so they dig deeper.

Today, a Just Russia faction member in the State Duma filed a protest with the prosecutor over a symbol now being used by the Communist faction in their anti-migrant campaign: a ban sign of a woman holding up a severed child’s head, Novaya Gazeta reported.

2016-03-03 22:01:40

After the complaint was filed, the image was removed but is still visible in Google cache and has spread around social media.

While there has been ample news suggesting Bobokulova could have been under the influence of drugs or suffering from a delusional attack, a number of details in the story don’t check out.

Initially, officials said that she committed the murder because she was upset because her husband had cheated on her with another woman. But it turned out she was divorced in 2002, and that her three children had been sent to live with either relatives or their father. Subsequent reports indicated she had a boyfriend she met in Moscow, a Tajik, who may have been the figure in question, and who was said to have gone to another woman. 

Meanwhile, her father has given a lengthy interview to in which he describes his daughter’s many incidents of displays of mental illness, including her hospitalization for two weeks and diagnosis of schizophrenia. He said she did not attend services at mosques, did not read the Koran, and had never worn a hijab until the day that she donned a veil and long dress and traveled to the Oktyabrskoye Pole metro stop to walk up and down with the child’s severed head, crying “Allahu Akbar” and threatening to blow herself up. She had heard voices, however.
Yesterday, Uzbek authorities arrested her 19-year-old son in Samarkand Region and are still holding him, and it is not clear why — possibly to interrogate him and force his cooperation with the investigation or perhaps for more serious charges. No information is available.
An unnamed law-enforcement source told Interfax that Bobokulova had two friends who were “related to an international extremist group” whose numbers were in her cell phone.
They said the contacts were added this year in January, when she was on vacation in her native Samarkind from her job as a nanny for a Moscow family.
At the time of the murder and the fire started at the apartment on Narodnogo Opolcheniya Street, one of Bobokulova’s cell phone contacts shut off his phone, says the source. Investigators are now determining their location and whether they met with Bobokulova before or during the murder of the 4-year-old disabled girl.
During the court hearing yesterday, March 2, Bobokulova was placed under arrest for two months, a representative of the Investigative Committee said they believed there were “instigators” to her horrific act, and that if she was left free, she might get in touch with them.
Before the hearing, Bobokulova replied to journalists’ questions that “Allah had ordered” the murder of the child. 
A law-enforcement source told Interfax:

According to our information, during the period of her stay in Russia, Bobokulova cohabitated with a citizen of Tajikistan, who was subjected to a work-over with the ideas of Islamist extremism.

He said that while on a visit home in January, she behaved aggressively and showed fellow villagers a hijab she had been given by her boyfriend although she did not give his name.
Yuliya Latynina, a columnist for both Novaya and Ekho Moskvy, has published a post in which she analyzed the fresh claim from law-enforcement that the nanny’s Tajik boyfriend was known as an Islamist and had now gone missing.
She quipped that when the nanny cried that she “hated democracy” in the court room, she must have been insane as there is none in Russia. Says Latynina:

In a tape that has appeared on the Internet, Bobokulova herself confidentially explains to the investigator her act as revenge against Putin for bombing Syria.

Latynina does not provide a link to the alleged tape; a LifeNews tape of her purported interrogation has a number of parts muted. Latynina writes:

How is Bobokulova, with a severed head in her hands, different from the fighters in Syria with severed heads in their hands? Because she’s crazy and they aren’t? Answer: because they are part of an organization. But now it turns out that she is also a part of one.

Oh, no, people, this is not insanity. Insanity is not collective. When it is collective, it is called idelogy. And whether some number of the bearers of this ideology were not quite psychiatrically healthy to start with is a separate question.

So far, there’s no evidence that her Tajik boyfriend is part of any organized terrorist group, however. And that’s a major difficulty in assessing this story, given the propensity for not only Russia, but especially Central Asian governments, to find “terrorists” when they may not exist.

UPDATE: Here is the link to the video referenced by Latynina; Currentime.TV ran a transcript (in Russian).

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Churov, Former Head of Russian Central Elections Commission, Falls Out of Restructured Commission

Vladimir Churov, the long-time head of the Russian Central Elections Commission and the constant target of opposition leaders charging fraud in Russia’s ballots, is missing from the newly-restructured commission, Novaya Gazeta reports, citing a decree published today from President Vladimir Putin.

The five new members of the CEC are: Aleksandr Kinyev, deputy head of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service; Vasily Likhachyov, a State Duma deputy; Boris Ebzeyev, a former Constitutional Court judge; Ella Pamfilova, ombudsperson for human rights; and Yevgeny Shevchenko, a member of the Patriots of Russia party.

In the Russian system, the president appoints five members, but 10 others must be chosen and confirmed by the State Duma (5) and Federation Council (5), respectively, for the total of 15.

Unlike other former Soviet republics where opposition parties have gained seats in CECs, in Russia a formula has not been created to enable this, given the docile nature of the parliament. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September 2016.

Back in December, Churov had told TV Rain he would leave his post if told to, and in January, Vedomosti had predicted Churov might leave the high-pressure post but there is also said to be a “planned rotation,” according to a source.

Churov was appointed in 2007, re-elected in 2011 and saw the consolidation of Putin’s power and his controversial re-election in 2011. He was then elected again. 

Ella Pamfilova is believed to be Putin’s choice to head up the newly-constituted CEC, but this will not be clear until the final composition of the CEC is confirmed by parliament.

Translation: The CEC without magic: what to expect from Vladimir Churov’s successor.

Churov was nicknamed the “Magician” after then-president Dmitry Medvedev said he was “practically a magician.”

Pamfilova, an engineer by training, currently the human rights ombudsman and formerly the head of the Presidential Council for Human Rights and Civil Society Development, had occasionally taken positions against the Kremlin, such as defending NGOs accused of being “foreign agents.” Her influence is limited, however; when she believed she had overturned the designation for Golos, the independent elections monitoring NGO, ultimately it remained on the Justice Ministry’s list and was later closed.

By installing Pamfilova, who is seen as a liberal in the Russian context, Putin may hope to forestall complaints that the elections are not free or fair.  It will be another matter whether Pamfilova herself will agree to play this role.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Two Bloggers, an Atheist and a ‘Novorossiya’ Supporter, Arrested in Russia for LiveJournal Posts
Two Russian bloggers have been arrested in recent weeks, illustrating the Kremlin’s worsening crackdown on free expression — but also revealing both intervention from the Russian Orthodox Church and a possible wish to curb the backlash at home from Russia’s support of separatists in Ukraine.
The first case is of Viktor Krasnov, who is on trial for allegedly “offending the sentiments of Russian Orthodox believers” in online chat, the Guardian reported:

Viktor Krasnov, 38, who appeared in court Wednesday, is being prosecuted under a controversial 2013 law that was introduced after punk art group Pussy Riots was jailed for a performance in Moscow’s main cathedral, his lawyer Andrei Sabinin told AFP.

The charges – which carry a maximum one-year jail sentence – centre on an internet exchange that Krasnov was involved in in 2014 on a humorous local website in his hometown of Stavropol.

“If I say that the collection of Jewish fairytales entitled the Bible is complete bullshit, that is that. At least for me,” Krasnov wrote, adding later “there is no God!”

Krasnov was forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for a month for saying he didn’t believe in God, but ultimately was declared fit to stand trial.
The case has received a lot of international as well as Russian attention, even covered in the fashion magazine

In an interview with Open Russia, Andrei Sabinin, Krasnov’s lawyer from the legal defense organization Agora (itself recently closed by court order in Tatarstan) explained that the people who originally complained about his client have dropped out of the case. He dubbed them “disposable people,” used by the prosecutors to collect a denunciation and then discarded. Both of them were anonymous to the defendant, and because the text of the conversation was removed, it could not be presented in court, said Cosmo.

One of the petitioners never adequately explained why he felt Krasnov should be prosecuted if he also advocated forgiveness and another, a soldier never confirmed that he was even a religious believer and there was no independent confirmation he had attended church services, said Sabinin. Nevertheless, on the strength of these two vague testimonies, Krasnov could serve time in labor colony.

The next hearing in Krasnov’s case will take place March 15; he has pleaded not guilty and protested the pressure placed on him by investigators.

The second case concerns a locally popular blogger, Aleksei Kungurov of Tyumen, who was just arrested today, Radio Svoboda reported.

Translation: Aleksei Kungurov was detained by agents after search of his home, now he is being taken to investigation-isolation prison. 

Kungurov’s wife said on her LiveJournal page that their apartment was searched but law-enforcers didn’t inform her husband of the articles of the criminal code under which he was arrested. She said one of the policeman said “You’re not allowed to write everything.”

A fellow blogger, Yevgeny Sergeyev, said on his LiveJournal page that he had learned Kungurov was being charged under an article concerning “terrorist acts.” A pro-separatist blogger M_Kalashnikov has written that Col. Igor Strelkov (Girkin), the former commander of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” forces, and now co-chair of the January 25 Committee, said Kungurov was being tried “on an entire five articles of the Criminal Code.” 
The January 25 committee was announced on that date this year by Strelkov and other radical nationalists and Stalinists including National-Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov and Yegor Prosvirnin,  editor of the ultranationalist web site Sputnik & Pogrom, reported. The goal is the “in-gathering of Russian lands” extending to Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan — a particularly ambitious “Novorossiya” concept. 
But Strelkov condemned Kungurov and said in recent days, the January 25 Committee had discussed expelling him because he had called Strelkov and another leader, Stepan Sulashkin, “conditional” and said that out of political and economic expediency, if they came to power they would be “surrendered” to Ukraine. Now that he is arrested, Strelkov said the suspension should be put off until he is free and he will be supported.
Statements by Strelkov are often challenged because there are many imitators, but in this case, the blogger linked to Strelkov’s verified “secret” forum on
Other forum participants said the arrest of Kungurov and charges related to terrorism were a negative development for the committee and prospects of creating a “Novorossiya” party.
Kungurov has 20,000 subscribers to his blog, which classifies him as “mass media” under the Russian “bloggers’ law” setting the threshold at 3,000. His traffic is even greater, ranging from 60,000 to 200,00 per day and 7 million unique visitors per year, according to
The Interior Ministry refused to comment on the case when they received an inquiry from Znak, saying it was “outside our competency” — a reference to the likelihood that the FSB is handling it as it does all article 205 cases which are punishable by fines up to 500,000 rubles ($6,389) or up to 3 to 5 years of compulsory labor or imprisonment. Recently a young Siberian woman was sentenced to community service for uploading the ISIS flag.
More research is needed — as well as official explanations — to understand why Kungurov is being charged with terrorism. Under Russian law, “public calls to commit terrorist activity or public justification of terrorism” can be prosecuted under Art. 205-2, the terrorism statute. The Kremlin has never called their subsidized “volunteer” war in the Donbass “terrorism,” unlike the Ukrainian government which forthrightly fights Russian intervention with its “Anti-Terrorist Operation.”
The trend in the last 18 months since Strelkov and other Russian leaders of “Novorossiya” were removed was to generally leave them alone, but curb them on some occasions so they do not pose a threat. Last year, reported that another organization of former fighters, “Union of Donbass Volunteers” was founded by former “prime minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” Aleksandr Boroday, who is believed to cooperate with the Kremlin, in an effort to control former fighters.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick