The home of Yegor Prosvirnin, editor-in-chief of a notorious ultranationalist web site called “Sputnik & Pogrom,” was searched this morning by agents of the Investigative Committee and the Anti-Extremism Center of the Interior Ministry, and his computer and electronic storage devices were seized.
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.
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Four residents of Novosibirsk have been sentenced by the Leninsky District Court to terms up to 2.5 years in a labor colony for painting a Lenin monument and a model of a rocket launcher in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag, Chronicle of Current Events reported, citing Interfax.
Three were convicted under Art. 214, part 2 of the Russian Criminal Code for “vandalism” and Art. 244, part 2, par. a, b for “defacement of an architectural structure devoted to the battle with fascism or the victims of fascism committed by a group or by preliminary conspiracy.”
Two of the defendants, Kirill Korzhavin and Vladislav Shipov were sentenced to terms of 2.5 and 2 years in labor colony. The second two whose last names only were available, Belov and Kellektsionov, were sentenced to prison for 1 year, 2 months and 1.5 years, respectively.
Five defendants in the case of the painting of a star atop a Stalin-era building in Moscow were tried last week. Four were acquitted, and the fifth, Vladimir Podrezov, who had been found by police with drugs in his possession, was sentenced to 2 years and three months.
A “roofer,” or building-climber known as “Mustang” who is now fighting with forces in Ukraine declared that he was in fact the culprit, and the others had only base-jumped from the building.
The Interpreter covered the case in-depth, including a summary of an interview with the father of one of the defendants.
As Masha Gessen has pointed out in the New Yorker, the case of the star painters was treated as a “hate crime,” as was the case of the monument painters, so that ideological concerns about promoting Ukrainian “fascists” trumped concerns about defacement of public property or safety.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Translation: Journalists have organized a picket at the Investigative Committee with a demand for the interrogation the contractor of the beating of Kashin.
Journalists from Media Zone, Kommersant, Medusa and other publications are taking turns staging one-person pickets by the Investigative Committee. Under Russian law, permission is not required to make such a protest, but if more than one person gathers it can be declared by police as an “unsanctioned rally.”
Oleg Kashin, a prominent Russian blogger severely beaten in 2010 and hospitalized for some months, recently named three suspects in his attack who worked for the security department of a factory owned by Acting Pskov Region Governor Turchak.
Aleksandr Gorbunov, the manager of Zaslon [Bastion], a defense factory
also owned by Leninets, the holding company owned by the Turchak family, was arrested for unlawful possession of weapons
and explosives. This case was linked to Kashin’s beating by media
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Prosvirnin’s lawyer Matvey Tszen told Kommersant that the search was in connection with a criminal case opened up under Art. 282-1 of the Russian CriminalCode – “carrying out actions aimed at inciting hatred or enmity, publicly or with the use of the media.”
The provocative web site, named for the two words contributed by Russian to English and other languages, has been a key supporter of the Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and specifically Col. Igor Strelkov (Girkin), former commander of the forces of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic.”
A year ago on October 2, 2014, Prosvirnin was summoned for questioning and warned for his “extremism” by officials. He was told that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was evaluating his case. At that time, Prosvirnin refused to answer any questions, citing Art. 51 of the Russian Constitution which says that no one can be forced to incriminate himself.
In February, Sputnik & Pogrom protested what they saw as the “capitulation” of Russia at the Minsk talks which culminated in the Minsk-2 agreement.
The prosecution of Prosvirnin has been seen by some as an effort by the Kremlin to rein in far-right groups that previously were tacitly encouraged throughout the war on Ukraine. Yet similar extremist groups remain active on VKontakte and other social media sites and continue to recruit volunteers who go to fight alongside Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass.
The site is still live at sputnikipogrom.com and no measures appear to have been taken by Roskomnadzor, the censor.
In a news story about the search on the site, Prosvirnin is quoted as saying that authorities were looking for extremist material at his house, but had not found anything, “even a lousy Seig,” a reference to the “Seig Heil” salute to Hitler. The site characterized the search and opening of a criminal case as follows:
A denunciation of Yegor under Art. 282 could have been written by anyone — from Chechen deputies to radical muftis to Kazakh nationalists and Soviet liberal journalists to Dagestani human rights activists, generals of the Belarusian KGB, veterans of the USSR NKVD and [Chechen leader] Ramzan Kadyrov himself.
But the Investigative Committee isn’t interested in any of that. The likely excuse for this probe is the dumping of Novorossiya and our attitude toward that.
“Novorossiya” is an aspirational nation to be made up by ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers out of parts of Ukraine and Moldova and is most often used to refer to the “People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.” Supporters of Novorossiya have long believed that there is a “party of peace” in the Kremlin symbolized by Putin aide Vladislav Surkov, and that Putin plans to “dump” these supporters now that he is “making a compromise” in the Minsk talks.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick