Russia Update: Police Detain Special Cases Investigator After Alleged Drunken Brawl

October 26, 2015
Ultranationalist activists attack Vladimir Ionov, 75, a lone anti-Putin picketer, dousing him with disinfectant and flour and tearing up his sign, "Putin Exists/You Don't Have to Think". Screen grab from video by Novaya Gazeta

Police detained a special-cases investigator of the Investigative Committee after he was charged with beating a man in Moscow

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.

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‘East-West Divide’ Seen in Ukrainian Elections; 90% of Votes Counted

An ‘East-West divide” is being reported in exit polls of the Ukrainian local elections, AP reported. This morning about 30% of the votes have been counted from all precincts AP reported, but by 20:00 Kiev time this evening, nearly 90% were counted, reported, citing the Interior Ministry. Police were guarding the remaining 10% until the tally was finished.

As AP reported:

Four exit polls from Ukraine’s local elections released Monday indicated the governing coalition would retain its dominant position in the west and center of the country despite widespread disappointment with the government of President Petro Poroshenko.

In the south and east, voters favored the Opposition Bloc, formed from the remnants of the party of the former pro-Russia president, who was overthrown in early 2014 after months of street protests.

The Central Election Committee said it had received data from only 30 percent of the vote by Monday morning, reflecting the challenge of calculating the results of elections for more than 10,700 local councils as well as mayors. More than 130 parties fielded candidates. Complete results were expected Nov. 4.

Poroshenko’s party and others in his coalition had hoped to expand their influence through the local elections, but this proved not so easy to do, political analyst Vladimir Fesenko said. “The disposition of forces shows that the country is divided,” he said.

The elections also were seen as a test of strength for oligarchs accustomed to holding sway in their own regions.

Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight boxing champion who was elected mayor after the Maidan demonstrations had a “strong lead,” said AP. Others such as a protoge of Ihor Kolomoisky in Dnipropetrovsk faced a second round.

Meanwhile, President Petro Poroshenko himself said that most votes went to democratic candidates, reported (translation by The Interpreter):

I perceive this as a step toward support of reform, in support of decentralization, the increase of responsibility for local councils, and I’m pleased that the majority of voters confirmed and supported these approaches.

He said this was the third election providing Ukrainians a chance to “reset” their system, a legacy of the Soviet era.

On Twitter, the Ukrainian leader put it more forcefully:

Translation: The efforts of Russia to create a fifth column have failed. This is the main achievement of the elections!

“East-West divide” is one of the cliches most disliked by Ukrainians,
as they feel it does not explain the complexities of a country where
about 10% of the population lives in the areas of the Donbass controlled
by the Russian-backed separatists, and opinion polls show that even
people who live in the Donbass do not support the separatists who have
brought destruction, poverty, and displacement to their towns.

In the
Russian-speaking areas not involved in the conflict, there are people
who have fought on the side of the Kiev government and support Kiev,
although they are unhappy about continuing corruption and the hold of
oligarchs over the economy and politics.

Some Western reporters
have too casually characterized Ukraine as split down the middle, although in this election, support by people disaffected by weak reforms for the Opposition Bloc is a real phenomenon.

Eristavi, a Ukrainian journalist, published a piece on Medium recently
describing the myths about Ukraine which are in part fueled by Russian
propaganda. Eristavi points out that Westerners are schooled to think of
“truth as somewhere in the middle” when they encounter biased situations, but
in fact, there’s a difference between bias and the actual fabrications
of the Russian state media. “The truth is always in between two biases,
but never in between bias and pure lies,” he comments:

Because of
Russian propaganda and Ukrainian media bias, the balkanization of the
news market has reached unbelievably horrible proportions. In one
remarkable study by New York University’s assistant professor Leonid
Peisakhin, he used quasi-random variation in the availability of the
analog Russian television signal along the Ukrainian-Russian border.
Using precinct-level data from the two national elections in 2014, he
found that Russian television significantly increased electoral support
for pro-Russian parties at the expense of pro-Western parties. However,
he also found that Russian television affects different types of voters
very differently: it persuades voters with pre-existing pro-Russian
political preferences, but pushes away those with pro-Western political
preferences. The overall effect of exposure to biased media is therefore
increased voter polarization.

Eristavi also criticized the
self-censorship of Ukrainians and what he saw as “Russian-style tools”
of media warfare by banning foreign journalists and creating a “Ministry
of Information” which evoked Orwell.

The problem of lack of
media diversity directly affected the coverage of campaigns and how
people voted, and was called out by OSCE observers who faulted the
“vested interests” of the oligarchs. Oligarch television isn’t the only
problem, however, as Peisakhin found — Russian TV has a significant
influence. The US government recently gifted Ukraine with radio
to help Kiev reach the Russian speakers in the Donbass who
have become alienated from the capital. As in the past with Central
Asia, a plan for independent Internet-based TV seemed elusive.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

150 Migrants Detained in Russia on Suspicion of Involvement in Islamist Group Hizb-ut-Tahrir
Today October 26, 150 migrants were rounded up by police on suspicion of
involvement in Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group banned in Russia as
well as some European countries, LifeNews and The Insider reported.

Translation: The leader of one of the cells was detained in Moscow.

Many of those detained were found to possess a book banned in Russia called Krepost’ Musulmanina or Muslim Fortress and images of extremists’ flags. Most of the migrants had been living in workers’ dormitories and about 30 of them were said to be living in unsanitary conditions in home-made shacks. The migrants are currently being held at the police precinct in the Western Administrative District of Moscow.

On October 19, the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) first jointly detained 22 people said to be related to a Hizb-ut-Tahir group, then on October 22 detained a man whom they said was leader of a cell of Hizb-ut-Tahir, according to a press statement by the Interior Ministry.

The alleged leader, a 25-year-old Tajik man whose name was not provided, reportedly resisted arrest. Hizb-ut-Tahir advocates the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, and this man was said to urged such a caliphate be established in Russia, and distributed leaflets and attempted to recruit others to his cause.

Police said that among the 22 detained were “active members of the international terrorist organization, including leaders of cells.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Pensioner in Lone Anti-Putin Protest Attacked by Ultranationalists Near Kremlin

A 75-year-old demonstrator who staged a lone protest against President Vladimir Putin was attacked by ultranationalists who tore up his sign and deluged him with zelyonka (green disinfectant) and white powder, Novaya Gazeta reported.

On October 23, Vladimir Ionov was standing by the Historical Museum near Red Square with the sign, “Putin Exists/You Don’t Have to Think” when six members of SERB (South East Radical Bloc) approached him and began shouting, seized his poster, then splashed him with the substances which burned his eyes.

SERB, unrelated to Serbia, was founded by a retired actor from Dnepropetrovsk who goes by the name Gosha Tarasevich (his real name is Igor Beketov) who recruited fighters for the Donbass last summer and supported Col. Igor Strelkov (Girkin).

Ionov is known as the first person to be charged with breaking the law on rallies for “repeated violations.” His case is currently being reviewed at Preobrazhensky Court. Russian law allows for solo pickets as long as no others gather with them. But when provocateurs move in, police have a pretext to make an arrest.

The SERB activists are the same people who have repeatedly disrupted efforts by supporters of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov to maintain a memorial at the murder site on Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge by the Kremlin walls.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Police Detain Special Cases Investigator in Moscow After Alleged Drunken Brawl

Police detained a special-cases investigator of the Investigative Committee after he was charged with beating a man in Moscow, Moskva news agency and Novaya Gazeta reported.

According to a source, the investigator, whose name was not provided, was intoxicated and got into a fight with a man near the pond at Shmitov Lane, breaking his leg.

When police arrived at the scene, the alleged assailant showed his ID, revealing he was a senior lieutenant of justice, serving in the position of senior investigator of the first investigative department for special cases in Moscow.

TASS reported
that Yurlia Ivanova, a spokeperson for the Investigative Committee said her agency has begun an examination of the incident, and will make a decision on whether to open a case pending the results of the probe.

The suspect was detained by police then turned over to the custody of a representative of his agency.

The Investigative Committee, headed by Aleksandr Bastrykin, is
responsible for the major criminal cases of Russia, and is most
frequently associated with politicized and fabricated cases such as
those against opposition leader Alexey Navalny

The case is being watched closely by opposition and independent press due to repeated allegations of corruption within the Investigative Committee involving cover-ups of their own wrong doing.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick