Russia Update: State Duma Passes Law on ‘Undesirable Organizations’

May 19, 2015
Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin at a plenary meeting of the Russian government. Photo by

The State Duma or Russian parliament has passed a law on “undesirable” organizations that will enable the Russian government to crack down further on civil society, and other Russian media reported.

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.


Russia This Week:

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

Special features:

With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin
Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo

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Novaya Gazeta Visits Two Russian POWs, Obtains Confirmation One was Contract Soldier; Publishes Further Research

Pavel Kanygin, special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, has visited the two Russian POWs from the GRU spetsnaz captured by Ukrainian forces this week.

He said that two dozen journalists were allowed to visit the
prisoners in groups. They were requested not to ask any questions, with
reference to instructions from the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and
the wishes of the detainees themselves.

But inevitably questions were asked and answers given.

We note that since these soldiers were wounded, and also captured, they
are under duress and their testimony and statements may not be valid.

says the Russian soldiers are being guarded by two men in black masks.
First they were taken to see Yerofeyev. He covered his face with his
hand when cameras were turned on him. But he didn’t refuse to answer
questions. The Interpreter has the translation:

I would like to express gratitude to the doctors who
provided me quality care. To the surgeon. To my relations that
everything is fine. I’m alive and well. Of course, I don’t want all of
this to get in the press.

Kanygin: How are you being treated?

Yerofeyev: Here — well…

The journalists are then taken to another hospital room to see Aleksandrov.

Kanygin: They are saying here that you are contract servicemen of the Russian army?

Aleksandrov makes a long pause.

“We made the agreement — without questions.”

Kanygin added that “the health of the wounded men does not cause worries, which I think is important for relatives and friends to know”

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the men were not in the regular Russian army and didn’t have any information on them. Ukrainian officials said they refused to exchange the soldiers and wished to try them publicly for terrorists acts

As we reported earlier, Captain Yevgeny Vladimirovich Erofeyeyev and Sergeant Aleksandr Anatolievich Aleksandrov were captured near Schastye in the Lugansk region and were transferred to Kiev.

As we reported earlier, Ukraine’s TSN television channel interviewed both prisoners, Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeniy Yerofeyev, in a hospital in Kiev.

While Aleksandrov stated in the interrogation video that he was a
soldier from the 3rd Spetsnaz Brigade from Togliatti, his commander,
Yerofeyev, told TSN that he was a “militia fighter from Lugansk.”

Novaya Gazeta also published its research on the captured men, explaining essentially that regarding the seeming conflicting statements of the soldier being in “the people’s militia” or “the Russian forces” that in fact both could be true.

Sources in the “Lugansk People’s Republic” said that the two men were “people’s militia” but according to Novaya Gazeta’s sources they were deployed as Russian GRU spetsnaz within the “people’s militia”.

They said the Russian soldiers were undermined by their poor knowledge of the locality and mistakes made by the Lugansk command. Sources in the self-proclaimed “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LNR) confirmed the stories of the two Russian soldiers “with some caveats and corrections,” says Novaya Gazeta.

According to the “official LNR version,” a Ukrainian diversionary and reconnaissance group (DRG) was crossing the Seversky Donetsk River when they encountered the LNR fighters and were wounded in battle and then taken prisoner.

They said that while doing reconnaissance of an area near Schastye where the 80th brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces was rotating out, the LNR fighters didn’t realize that the 92nd brigade was rotating in and had been reinforced. They say the clash took place “in a neutral zone” and led to one Ukrainian soldier being killed and Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov being wounded and taken prisoner. Writes Novaya Gazeta (translation by The Interpreter):

The ID demonstrated at the briefing in Lugansk most likely were authentic: Ukrainians, Russians and citizens of other states are taken into service in the “People’s Militia.” The consolidation of all militarized divisions into one structure has continued since the fall of last year and has even cost the positions, freedom and even lives of many of the field commanders and their subordinates. So Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov would hardly have been included in the DRG if they had not formally joined the ranks of the People’s Militia. The Lugansk and the Donetsk command may not possess objective information about their past and even present, including military experience. Recall, for example the scandalous story about the parade in Donetsk which was commanded by a man who was on the federal wanted list in Russia.

Novaya Gazeta
added that they could not find any information on Russian social networks about men with these names nor in databases of Russian law-enforcement agencies.  This opens up the question as to whether these are their real names or are prepared intelligence legends although Novaya Gazeta does not speculate.

Novaya reminds us further that not just the GRU but the FSB have been involved in the war in Ukraine (translation by The Interpreter):

We note that since the first months of the armed conflict, the region most likely entered the sphere of interests of the FSB. Recently we recall two high-profile stories in which the “Office” [the FSB] figured one way or another. In early April in St. Petersburg, Oleg Bugrov, the former “defense minister of the LNR” was detained and later arrested in St. Petersburg. In fact he was charged not with war crimes but under and economic article — for selling counterfeit pipes. And recently officers of the “ministry of state security of the LNR” handed over to Russian border guards a citizen of Ukraine sought on the territory of Ukraine, the former “militiaman” Mikhail Tarasenkov. The border guards who are part of the structure of the FSB, handed over Tarasenkov to their colleagues from the SBU without hesitation.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

How Capable Are Russia’s New Armata Armored Vehicles?

On May 9, at its Victory Day celebrations, Russia unveiled the newest additions to its military arsenal — a tank and armored vehicle platform called the Armata. The Armata Universal Combat Platform is designed to be used by multiple types of vehicles, including the T-14 Main Battle Tank and the T-15 Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle which had their debut performance in the rehearsals for the May 9 parades. The idea is to not only release a new class of tank and armored vehicle, but also — in an idea similar to the development of the U.S. F-35 — to standardize a significant amount of the weapons platform across different vehicles, making them easier to service in the field, and cheaper to maintain and upgrade.

Previously we’ve looked at the Armata’s specs, and it is, in theory and advertisement, a formidable weapons system: 


But that’s all theory. We have yet to see the Armata deployed to the field, but Janes has taken a closer look at the pictures of the Armata vehicles in order to make an educated guess about its true capabilities. Janes also discusses other weapons systems which debuted on May 9, including the Boomerang 8×8 vehicle, and the 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV (Coalition-SV) self-propelled artillery (SPA) system:

The report, which is very detailed, starts with this assessment — the Armata system is a significant departure from previous Russian designs:

While the vehicles’ designs partly involve radical rather than revolutionary innovation, the scale and ambition of the change they embody is nothing short of a revolution. Together, the Armata, Kurganets, Boomerang, and Koalitsiya and other vehicles on show will replace nearly all Russia’s existing vehicle families as, remarkably, Russia is attempting to replace all its main armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) families at the same time.

Additionally, the new vehicles display radical changes in design ethos and incorporate multiple previously unseen active protection systems (APSs). The reported weight and the apparent size of all the vehicles indicates a shift in armoured vehicle design philosophy away from the Soviet emphasis on manoeuvrability and low vehicle profile towards the Western focus on armour protection and crew survivability.

Read the entire article here.

James Miller

‘Moral Degeneration’ Responsible for Russian Space Program Failures, Says Vice Premier Rogozin

The reason Russia’s Proton-M rocket recently failed is due to the “moral degeneration” the top managers of the space program, Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin told the State Duma, reports.

Rogozin, a hardliner who is in charge of defense and space denounced the Russian space leadership in a meeting of the State Duma today:

“With such degeneration in the leadership of the enterprises,” there’s no surprise at such a high degree of accidents, ” said Rogozin who said that “space bosses have long gone into their own space” in whose opinion “the space bosses have long ago gone into their own space.” The vice premier expressed those that the force of “legal gravitation will lead them [those responsible for the failure of the Progress and the Proton] to where they should be,” RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.

Because the same third-stage rockets have been involved in past accidents Rogozin thinks the state commissions that have investigated past failures have not found the true reason.

“That is, there is some kind of structural disease and it is a matter of honor to find this disease now,” said Rogozin.

Judging from the photos posted by the Defense Ministry, Rogozin’s speech at the Duma did not appear to be very well attended by members.


Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has called for the creation of a commission to investigate why the Proton-M failed, reported.

The Proton-M was launched from Baikonur on May 16 but immediately failed. According to a report from Interfax citing an unnamed source, a possible reason for the failure was that third-stage navigational engines failed.

As New Science wrote, the Proton-M has had a string of failures.

Thankfully no one was hurt or injured in the accident, but an expensive telecommunications satellite known as MexSat-1 was lost. Manufactured by Boeing, the satellite had been delivered as part of a $1 billion contract ordered by the Mexican government. It had been intended as a key component in the country’s national security communications infrastructure.

About 10 per cent of Proton-M launches are now said to have failed. As an investigation into the latest incident gets under way, further questions will be raised about the reliability of Russia’s space operations.

Russia’s Progress spaceship went out of orbit on its way to make deliveries to the International Space Station, then disintegrated into the atmosphere when it fell back to earth earlier this month.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

State Duma Passes Law on ‘Undesirable Organizations’

The State Duma or Russian parliament has passed a law on “undesirable” organizations that will enable the Russian government to crack down further on civil society, and other Russian media reported.

The Duma members passed the law in the third reading by a vote of 440 in favor, 3 opposed, and 1 abstained.

It remains for the law to be signed by President Vladimir Putin to go into effect.

A register of “undesirable” foreign groups will be created most likely by the Justice Ministry; it is not yet known what groups will be on it.

Translation: the Duma has passed a law on “undesirable” organizations

From the moment this law first began to be discussed, there seemed little doubt it would be passed.

Under the “foreign agents” law, the Russian government has been able to declare dozens of non-government groups to be “foreign agents” as if they worked for foreign governments, tarring them with a label which drives people away from them and vilifies them in the public eye. This concept is loosely defined and applies to any group that is deemed to be engaged in “political” activity and also receiving grants from abroad. “Political activity” can mean anything from a panel discussion to a petition to the authorities to a street discussion.

But the Russian government still needed a way to pursue groups that did not get any foreign grants. So they conceived of this law in order to create an arbitrary list of organizations deemed “undesirable” in the view of the Russian government, and anyone who contacts them could face a range of punishments from freezing of bank accounts to fines.

 — Catherine A. Fitzpatrick