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.
The colleagues of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov have provided more details about the report he was working on before his death about the Russian military in Ukraine.
– Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
–Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
–Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo: âIt is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russiaâ
See also our Russia This Week stories:
– Can We Be Satisfied With the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
– All The Strange Things Happening in Moscow
– Remembering Boris Nemtsov, Insider and Outsider (1959-2015)
– Ultranationalists Angry over âCapitulationâ of Minsk Agreement
Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costsâ.
There’s a new set of leaks of Kremlin correspondence from Shaltai Boltai which also calls itself “Anonimny International” (although it is not related to the hackers’ movement Anonymous).
The Insider has a summary of some of the key items. The leaks include emails from Aleksei Anisimov, the former deputy head of the Department of Domestic Policy in the Presidential Administration.
The emails contain evidence of the Presidential Administration’s direct involvement in the war in Ukraine in providing “incentive” awards for the cast of characters later to become the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic.” It sheds light on the meddling of the Kremlin in matters like opposition party registration and the draft laws of the occupied Crimean parliament as well as the unlawful enrichment of administration officials. The emails also reveal the huge Kremlin budget for propaganda.
Last year Anisimov was tapped to head the executive committee of the All-Russian National Front (ONF), the new political vehicle for Putin.
Also evident is the administration’s intervention to stop the registration of the Party of Progress, the party of anti-corruption blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalny. An official named Tatyana Voronova writes to Anisimov about how another former official Timur Prokopenko, gave information to the Justice Ministry and then the party was refused.
Other items include revelations about how “correct” decisions are extracted out of judges under pressure, and how rectors of universities are “elected” with Kremlin help.
The leaks include emails dated March 22 and 24, 2014, indicating the close relationship between the Kremlin and Fighting Brotherhood, the movement founded by former Afghan war general Boris Gromov, former governor of Moscow region, which is now the core of the Anti-Maidan movement.
One of the odd things in the email is a list of people to be honored with awards as “Afghan veterans,” even though they were born as late as 1991 — which means they couldn’t be in the Soviet Afghan war (but, as The Insider jokes, only with the Taliban or the Americans).
One interesting name of a “veteran” is “Konstant Malafeyev” (sic) who is Malofeyev, the Russian Orthodox philanthropist associated with the “Novorossiya” cause. Another is Igor Girkin or Strelkov, who was the former defense minister of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic.” Aleksandr Borodai, the prime minister of the DNR for a time, also gets a letter of gratitude from Fighting Brotherhood.
What’s noteworthy about this list of awards is that it is dated March 22, 2014 — months before Strelkov became famous for taking over Slavyansk but right after the Crimean Anschluss.
The list also includes Senator Dmitry Sablin, who is also now prominent as the leader of Anti-Maidan (and who recently turned up in the news as having visited the Sever Battalion where the Chechen suspects in the murder of Nemtsov served).
One extraordinary email from a certain Brycheva, an official in the presidential administration, to Anisimov contains six attached documents, from which it is clear that the draft documents for the Crimean Rada or parliament, the courts, the prosecutors, and the referendum all originated in the Kremlin and not in local bodies.
The Kremlin also made clear that all their people from controlled social organizations like Fighting Brotherhood and the Union of Women of Russia were the candidates in elections.
Students of the Kremlin troll farms will not be surprised to learn of the massive budget for propaganda — 2.5 billion rubles or nearly $43 million dollars just for “covering the activity of government agencies” the Moscow region. This is a budget separate from Russian mass media itself for Moscow Region with is 2.9 billion for last year and 3 billion for this year. The budgets are also planned as far ahead as 2018.
While these seem like princely sums, one official writes Anisimov to complain that the budget is skimpy compared to the “oligarch’s” site Ura.ru where he says the editor gets one million rubles a month (a claim that is not substantiated).
Another official, Leonid Titov, writes to Anisimov for his help in fixing a court decision favorable to his business. Yet another acquaintance, Sergei Likhtenvald, writes to ask that a rival from the Communist Party be removed from a competition in elections for rector of a university, and asks for the appropriate instruction to be sent to the local ministry of educaiton.
While Anisimov had many such people to accommodate with political or economic favors, he made time for his own brother who needed parcels of land in Yekaterinburg for a gallery and parking lot.
The average salary in the Kremlin bureaucracy is 190,000 rubles a month or about 2 million a year, which is a modest $34,000. How was Anisimov able to build himself a million-dollar dacha on the Crimea shore “after it was annexed (and not without his help)”as The Insider quipped — on such a salary?
While all these revelations show the astounding degree to which Russian society is manipulated directly from the Kremlin, the revelations have not been much of a big story in Moscow, with everything else going on there.Basically, they confirm what everybody already knows about how things work in Russia.
The state media has ignored the leaks and not bothered to respond to them. The independent media has given some coverage, but in a context where there are sensational stories such as the ever-changing investigation of the murder of Boris Nemtsov, the jailing of the Sakhalin governor and the former head of the Federal Corrections service for embezzlement and the searches and trials of nationalists, the leaks don’t grab top headlines.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
In the Russian context, “nationalities” are ethnic groups, but since ethnicity is tied to territory and is the basis for autonomy, “nationality” is associated with political power. The new agency will be responsible for (translation by The Interpreter):
Implementation of measures aimed at strengthening the unity of the multi-national people of the Russian Federation (the [civic] Russian nation), guarantee of inter-national harmony, ethno-cultural development of the peoples of the Russian Federation, the protection of the rights of national minorities and indigenous numerically-small peoples of the Russian Federation.
Observers of the Russian “nationalities” issue will notice in this decree that whereas in the Soviet past and even not-so-distant Russian past, there was a notion of “peoples” (narody) plural of Russia, now there is just one narod that is to be the main “multi-national” or multi-ethnic civic “people,” with an understanding that other “peoples” are the minorities and indigenous of the Russian Federation.
The word used for “Russian nation” in the decree is “Rossiyskaya” which is a term developed in the last 15 years to contrast with “russkaya,” a distinction usually translated as “ethnic” versus “civic” Russian, i.e. not ethnic Russian but any citizen of the Russian state regardless of ethnicity.
The decree also speaks of “inter-confessional harmony” which mainly means relations between Russian Orthodox and Muslim believers.
Interestingly, while the new conception of Russia is as one narod or people in the phrase “unity of multi-national people”, the formulation of the decree also speaks later in the plural of the “ethno-cultural development of the peoples of the Russian Federation” as if by habit.
As Alexander Motyl pointed out about Putin’s year-end speech in December 2014, the president invoked the idea of a single Russian nation (emphasis added):
In addition to ethnic similarity, a [common] language, common elements
of material culture, a common territory unmarked by stable borders, and
nascent common economic activity and princely rule, Christianity proved
to be a powerful spiritual unifying force that helped include very
different blood tribes and tribal unions of the extensive eastern Slavic
world in the formation of a single Russian nation and the creation of
And it was on this spiritual soil that our forefathers for the first
time and forever became conscious of themselves as a single people. And
this gives us the grounds to say that Crimea, ancient Korsun,
Chersonesus, and Sevastopol have enormous civilizational and sacral
importance for Russia. Like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is for those
who believe in Islam or Judaism. And that is how we will relate to it
from now and forever.
Here, Putin is reiterating Joseph Stalin’s famous definition of the nation, says Motyl, to make the point that it was then, in
988 AD, when Kyivan Rus was baptized, that “a single Russian nation”
came into existence. Says Motyl:
Putin specifically says nation, and not people—an
important semantic distinction that is supposed to connote a far greater
degree of identity and solidarity for the former. This is a fundamental
revision of the standard Soviet and Russian ideological line, according
to which Kyivan Rus was the birthplace of three “fraternal” peoples—the
Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. There’s no mention of the latter
two in Putin’s speech. It follows, according to Putin’s logic, that
Kyivan Rus was a Russian nation state. That’ll be news to scholars, who
generally agree that nation states are relatively recent political
entities. Putin’s version of eternal Russia has been a nation and a
state since time immemorial.
Contrast this with Putin’s earlier March 18 speech on the occasion of the recognition of the Anschluss of Crimea:
Literally everything in the Crimea is suffused with our shared history
and pride. Here was ancient Khersones, where the saintly Prince Vladimir
accepted baptism. His spiritual feat of turning to Orthodoxy determined
the common cultural, value-based, and civilizational foundation that
unites the peoples of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Today’s Kherson is a city in Ukraine, and the sacralization of this city is part of what justifies military action against Ukraine – and reveals the vexation that Putin and other Russian state ideologues face when they have to root their national consciousness in a country that is not Russia — unless they can somehow portray it as part of the “Russian World.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Three defendants in the Battle Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN) were declared guilty and one found innocent, TV Rain reported.
The jury reviewed counts of murder, attempted murder, creation of an extremist group, assault of a law-enforcement, banditism, unlawful weapons trade in a number of hate crimes against minorities committed from 2008-2018.
The victims were Judge Eduard Chuvashov; lawyer Stanislav Markelov; a student, Rasul Khalilov, Muslim Abdullayev, world champion in Thai boxing; a taxi driver, Sosa Khachikyan; leaders of anti-fascist groups Fyodor Filatov, Ivan Khutorsky and Ilya Dzhaparidze. The defendants were also found guilty of attempted murder of a policeman, Gagik Benyaminyan and Ramazan Nurichuyev.
Maksim Baklagin and Vyacheslav Isayev were found guilty but deserved lessening of their sentences. Mikhail Volkov was found guilty and was found not to merit lessening of his sentence. Yury Tikhomirov’s guilt was not proven and was pronounced not guilty. In 2012, had been tried separately for the murder of Dzhaparaidze, was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years of strict-regimen colony
Translation: the jury in the case of the BORN has issued its verdict. Let us once again recall people for whom there is no verdict.
— Catherine Fitzpatrick
President Vladimir Putin convened an urgent meeting of the Russian Security Council, TV Rain reported.
The agenda included the situation in Yemen, the talks in Lausanne about the Iranian nuclear program, the current situation in the southeast of Ukraine and the implementation of the Minsk agreement, said presidential administration spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Also on the agent was the internal situation in Russia. The Security Council, chaired by Nikolai Patrushev, meets regularly to prepare decisions for the president.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Ilya Yashin, a close associate of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, has provided more details on a report Nemtsov was working on, right before his death, about the Russian military in Ukraine, news.ru reported.
In a post on his Facebook page, Yashin, a leader of the opposition RPR-PARNAS party with Nemtsov, said he and his colleagues had managed to communicate with Nemtsov’s sources. They were very afraid to speak out when he was alive; his murder “has not added to their bravery,” he said — they had made the contact with difficulty.
Nemtsov’s last written note, made in his office on the day of his death, was to his assistant, Olga Shorina. Concerned about the likely audio surveillance of his office, he wrote a note down by hand and showed it to her. The text said (translation by The Interpreter):
“Paratroopers from Ivanovo found their way to me. 17 were killed, there was no cash paid. But for now they are afraid to talk.”
The sources represent the relatives of some soldiers who were killed in Ukraine, who are not being paid any compensation for the loss of their bread-winners. They informally appealed to Nemtsov in late January so that he could put pressure on the Defense Ministry to get them their payments.
According to the sources, massive deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine took place during two periods.
The first wave of coffins went to Russia in the summer of last year, when the Ukrainian army went on the offensive and liberated one city after another in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. The offensive was stopped after direct interference by units of the Russian army. When it was impossible to hide the presence of Russian military in the conflict zone, the Defense Ministry thought up, post-factum, the story that they had all gone to fight during their lawful holiday.
But they grabbed weapons and armored vehicles with them on this “vacation.” This information, by the way, was publicly mentioned by Igor Girkin [Strelkov] in an interview for the newspaper Zavtra, in which for the first time, the term “vacationers” was coined and he directly acknowledged their decisive role in the counter-offensive of the separatists.
Then, as the first Minsk talks began in September, there were large-scale battles with a lot of losses on both sides, especially near Ilovaisk. Yashin estimated “no less than 150 coffins that returned to our citizens marked with ‘Cargo 200,'” the Russian military term for the bodies of those killed in combat.
This information could not be hidden and journalists began to cover it. This is because the relatives got significant compensation payments — 3 million rubles ($51,533). But to get this payment, they had to sign papers agreeing not to disclose the information under threat of criminal prosecution.
In reality, the relatives never got this compensation and that’s when they began to look for lawyers and ways to complain. Nemtsov believed the highly-publicized case of Svetlana Davydova, mother of 7, charged with “treason” for allegedly reporting on the movements of the Russian army to the Ukrainian Embassy, was meant to intimidate these families. The charges against her were eventually dropped after public outcry and intervention by Russia’s child ombudsman.
The relatives are experiencing constant pressure, and are afraid now not only of criminal cases, but physical reprisals, says Yashin.
“If Nemtsov was gunned down at the walls of the Kremlin, then anything could happen to us in Ivanovo. No one will notice,” say the relatives. They now fear even asking for the money promised.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick