Russian Investigators Raid Novorossiya Museum in St. Petersburg; May Be Tied to Bombing of Traffic Police

September 15, 2016
Door of the Museum of Novorossiya in St. Petersburg, Russia, drilled open by law-enforcers. Photo by Aleksandr Kalinin/RosBalt

LIVE UPDATES: A self-styled “Museum of Novorossiya” in St. Petersburg was raided by officers of the Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service this morning, possibly in connection with two IED blasts in the last year near traffic police posts.

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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On Eve of Elections, Parnas Opposition Candidate Beaten in Siberian Town

Unidentified men attacked a Parnas opposition party candidate in the Siberian town of Berdsk, Novaya Gazeta reported, the latest in a string of attacks on the candidates in recent months leading up to the September 18 elections.
Yegor Savin reported that when he went to the local Kalinin Veterans’ Home in order to post notices about a meeting with voters, he found that the building was covered with leaflets from United Russia candidate Aleksandr Karelin, Savin’s rival in the single-mandate Iskitimsky District. Since the Veterans’ Home is the site of the voting booths, such leaflets are prohibited.
Savin said he complained to the electoral commission and they removed some of the leaflets. Then security men arrived, grew indignant, and summoned the police.

While Savin was waiting for the police to arrive, two men in civilian clothing and dark glasses starting beating him. One struck him in the stomach and then grabbed his fingers and tried to break them, injuring one. Then they twisted his arms behind his back and led him out of the building. Meanwhile, the guard rolled his bicycle outside. One of the assailants grabbed his bicycle and hurled it away, cracking the brake handle. The attackers then said, “That’s it, just wait until after the elections. You’ve strutted your stuff quite enough here.”

This wasn’t the first incident for Savin in the election campaign. In August, Novaya Gazeta reported that the Novosibirsk Region Interior Ministry accused Savin of propagandizing Nazi symbols, a crime under Russian law. Savin said that a fake account on VKontakte was made using his name.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Law-Enforcers Raid Novorossiya Museum in St. Petersburg; Possible Tie to IED Blasts
A self-styled “Museum of Novorossiya” in St. Petersburg was raided by officers of the Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service, Russian media reported today September 15.

A source told RosBalt:

The FSB came along with the investigators. There were about 5 or 6 people in masks, armed. A minimum of three people are conducting the operation. Along with them in the museum are the directors and attesting witnesses. The reason for the search has not been given.

At 7:00 am Moscow time, law-enforcers drilled open the locked door. An employee of the museum said (translation by The Interpreter):

“There was a guard there, but he was afraid to open the door, because there had already been cases of pseudo-FSB and pseudo-MVD [Interior Ministry], people who were members of various bandit gangs.”

Employees were not let in the building after police arrived.

Sources told St. Petersburg’s Fontanka that “even the entire investigative department has raided” the museum yet they were not given the reason for the search.

But Ekho Moscow in St. Petersburg said the raid might be related to two explosions in recent years, both near traffic police posts. In one, a woman was injured.

Translation: Officers of the FSB have come to search the museum of Novorossiya in connection with the case of the explosion on Kantemirovskaya Street and the “hunt for the traffic police.”

As Fontanka reported a year ago, remnants of an improvised explosive device (IED) was found at the corner of Kantemirovskaya Street and Bolshogo Sampsonievskogo Avenue after a blast seriously injured a 66-year-old woman. As the woman was found inside a fenced yard, she herself was suspected of planting the IED for some months.

Experts told Fontanka at the time that the IED could even have come from the World War II era, and was triggered by mechanical action, such as a person stepping on it or a car driving over it. A similar IED had previously been found in 2013, also near a traffic police post at the Kamennoostrovsky Bridge in the Petrogradsky Region, prompting speculation that the IEDs were related to someone with an axe to grind with the traffic police.

A concern related to Russia’s support of the war in the Donbass is that returning soldiers would bring back weapons and be inclined to use them. There have already been a number of incidents of such returning fighters shooting and killing police officers.

Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe reported earlier this year that the museum was founded to promote the idea of “Novorossiya,” a term which can mean variously the land Russian-backed separatists have already seized in parts of Donetsk and Lugansk region, or more ambitiously, further parts of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus.

At one time President Vladimir Putin invoked the term and it was championed on Russia state TV, but then dropped during stages of the Minsk talks for a cease-fire. This prompted some ultra-rightist groups led by figures like Col. Igor Strelkov (Girkin), the one-time “defense minister” of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” to complain that Putin had “betrayed the cause.” The Novorossiya is still very much alive in the form of web sites, VKontakte and other social media groups, and notably flags and insignia on fighters in the Donbass.

A number of events at the museum this year commemorated those who died fighting on the separatist side, notably at the Battle of Ilovaisk in August-September 2015 when Russia sent in tanks and troops to fight the Ukrainian armed forces.

In May of this year, unknown persons attempted to burn down the museum in the middle of the night. The arsonist stuffed a rag with inflammable fluid around the wooden window frame and set it on fire. A volunteer guarding the building saw the fire in time but couldn’t put it out with extinguishers himself and summoned the fire department, which put out the blame. 

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick