Ukraine: “Condemn Russia’s Imperialist Threat”

Ukraine: ‘condemn Russia’s imperialist threat’ • People and Nature • 24 January 2022

Ukrainian socialists are urging international unity against the Russian government’s imperialist policies that threaten a new war.

The Social Movement, a group of mainly labour activists in Ukraine, calls in a statement for “solidarity with people who have suffered from the war that has lasted almost eight years, and who may suffer from a new one”.

The statement expresses “gratitude and solidarity to Russian left-wing activists who oppose the imperialist policies of the Kremlin and are fighting for democratic and social transformations in their country”.

“Our house was stolen by war”: one of Ukraine’s 1.5 million internally displaced people. Photo from commons.com.ua

The Social Movement denounces the “myth, popular among some Western leftists”, that the Russian-supported “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk are “the result of popular will”. Their statement says:

The heads of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” are integrated into the ranks of the ruling elite of the Russian Federation and have become the mouthpiece of the Kremlin’s most aggressive predatory sentiments. In the “republics” themselves, any opposition political activity, even the most loyal to the Russian government, is suppressed.

In my view, this statement would be a good place to start discussion about how to build solidarity in the face of war, with working-class communities in Ukraine, and with labour and social movements there. So would the principled statement of opposition to Putin’s war drive by the Russian Socialist Movement, which I posted just before the new year.

The (Ukrainian) Social Movement statement concludes with a call for “complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Donbas”. It says that “one of the best means of pressure on the leaders of the Russian Federation would be the seizure of the property and assets of Russian oligarchs and officials in London and other places”.

It calls for “revision of the socio-economic course proposed to Ukraine by the West: instead of destructive neoliberal reforms under the pressure of the IMF – the cancellation of Ukraine’s external debt”. And it urges “more inclusive and progressive humanitarian policies in Ukraine, ending impunity for the Ukrainian far right, and abolition of the ‘de-communisation’ laws”.

One thing many Ukrainians find grotesque is the sight of their country’s fate being discussed by the US and Russia, as though the Ukrainian state did not exist. This is the focus of an article, “Moscow and Washington should not determine Ukraine’s future”, by socialist activist Taras Bilous.

Bilous’s earlier analysis of the breakdown of the Minsk accords is also worth reading.

So is a facebook post written on 20 January by Marko Bojcun, the socialist historian of Ukraine, which I reproduce here with his permission:

Though Putin, the artful player, has several options in his hand, his ultimate objective has been to get the US to join an expanded Normandy format and the Minsk negotiations, and there to help force Ukraine to accept further limitations to its state sovereignty. Basically, that means Kyiv would accept the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” as internationally recognised autonomous state institutions within Ukraine, but in reality bodies that continue to be run by Russian state ministries – as they already are in a concealed manner. Russia would use them to lever Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policies.

Putin recognises that he can achieve his main goal only with US endorsement. He needs the US to join him in twisting the arms of the stubborn Ukrainians. That has been the point of all these Russian troop movements to Ukraine’s current borders: to get the Americans to weigh in, to keep Ukraine out of any direct talks and to conclude a deal over their heads.

Ukraine is critical to Russia’s long term project of economic, military and diplomatic recovery, its resumption as a Great Power. That means Russia will not stop its drive until it achieves much more. The present conjuncture resembles in some way another historical moment, in 1938, when Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, met Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Nazi Germany’s foreign minister, over the Czechoslovak crisis. Chamberlain came out of that meeting, waved a scrap of paper in his hand and declared peace in their time. I wonder what US foreign secretary Anthony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will have to say after their meeting tomorrow?

The answer to that last question turned out to be: nothing much. Blinken offered Lavrov the carrot of a meeting between the US and Russian presidents, something Putin has long craved in his efforts to claim Russia’s “great power” status.

For a substantial analysis from a Marxist standpoint, Bojcun’s 2016 article on “The causes of the Ukrainian crisis” is essential reading.

More things to read in English

Friends are asking where they can find alternative, radical analyses, and views, of the war danger in English. Here are some more suggestions.

□ The Russian sociologist Greg Yudin’s view of “why Putin’s Russia is threatening Ukraine” is on Open Democracy Russia, which features a range of alternative viewpoints from across the former Soviet Union.

□ A recent comment article by the journalist James Meek is on the London Review of Books web site, on open access. Meek and Paul Mason are among the panelists appearing at an event organised by the Ukrainian Institute in London about the war danger, on Wednesday 16 February. (The Institute, run in the distant past by cold-warrior right wingers, is now managed by liberal, post-Soviet Ukrainians. Its educational and informational events are well worth looking out for.)

□ The London-based, official-labour-movement-focused Ukraine Solidarity Campaign regularly publishes information.

□ The biggest gap in English-language coverage is about what is going on in eastern Ukraine. I have occasionally translated and published stuff on this blog (see e.g. a recent post here, and, from further back, herehere and here).

□ The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group web site has excellent, and accurate, coverage of an appalling range of repressive state and military activities – see, e.g., their tags on Crimea and “terrorism” (which includes those “people’s republics”), but note, too, their more general reporting on human rights abuses in Ukraine and Russia.

□ It is a job of work to counter the stream of deceit and misinformation from Putin-ists in the UK labour movement. I summed up the arguments in a recent blog post here. I even wrote to the Morning Star, about one of its more grotesque lies – that “hundreds of trade union leaders” were killed by the post-2014 Ukrainian government. Accuracy about dead bodies is not their big thing, it seems. My letter is reproduced below. SP, 24 January 2022.

False reporting of “hundreds” of trades unionists’ deaths goes uncorrected

I sent this letter to the Morning Star newspaper, which claims its favours “peace and socialism”, two weeks ago. The editor has neither published it, nor corrected the gross fabrication to which it refers

Dear Editor,

In the article “Opinion: US and NATO play with fire in their latest anti-Russia campaign”, 9 December, John Wojcik stated: “Hundreds of trade union leaders and activists were murdered by the new right-wing Ukrainian government shortly after it came to power [in 2014].”

This is incorrect. The two major Ukrainian union federations reported no such deaths of union leaders. Nor did the detailed reports by the UN High Commission for Human Rights on civil rights in Ukraine. Some activists were killed in this period, during numerous civil disturbances, but there is no evidence that the government was responsible. (Many people were killed, by Ukrainian, Russian and separatist forces, in the military conflict that began in the summer of 2014. This is not what Wojcik is referring to.)

Many of your readers will have mourned the death of friends and comrades killed for their trade union activity. It would be disrespectful to them to leave uncorrected the statement that hundreds of union leaders were killed.

The article also states that the new Ukrainian government “banned the use of the Russian language”. This is incorrect. A law making Ukrainian the single state language was adopted in 2019. It requires Ukrainian to be used – but not exclusively, i.e. it can be used together with other languages – in certain public spaces. It will be applied to educational institutions and the media, but not to private or religious life. Many Ukrainian socialists are opposed to it. But exaggerating its effect can only help to exacerbate differences between working people on grounds of nationality and language, that historically the labour movement has endeavoured to overcome.

Simon Pirani, London. 

Brainwashing vs. Reverse Language Localization

“Brainwashing” California-style, from my morning post

“Brainwashing”, “an old Soviet tradition,” and the absence of inconveniences: why are Russian speakers in no hurry to get vaccinated against the coronavirus?

The share of native foreign-language speakers among the unvaccinated residents of Finland continues to grow. The Yle newsroom found Russian speakers who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19, and found out their reasons

Jevgeni Bogdanov • Yle • 19 January 2022

With the advent of omicron, the Finnish authorities expressed particular concern for the republic’s foreign-born residents: there are many infections among them and a noticeable number of people who have refused vaccination.

Special attention paid to native foreign-language speakers

The vaccination rate continues to grow in Finland, including among residents whose native language is not the official Finnish, Swedish, or Sami. According to estimates by THL (Department of Health and Social Development), this indicator does not differ much among Russian speakers than from other native foreign-language speakers.

At the same time, the proportion of native foreign-language speakers among the unvaccinated has increased.

“In October, people who speak foreign languages [as native languages] accounted for 21% of all unvaccinated people in Finland. In mid-December, this figure rose by a couple of percent points,” said Natalia Skogberg, research director of THL’s group on COVID-19 among people of foreign origin.

Skogberg notes that the reasons for refusing to be vaccinated can be very different: doubts about the safety of the vaccines, confidence in one’s own health and the lack of risk from the virus, distrust of public officials, difficulties with the Finnish language, and the inability to distinguish misinformation from reliable information. She argues that the opportunity to get answers in one’s native language is a “big plus.”

“The authorities have published a lot of information in different languages. Information and recommendations have varied depending on the stage of the epidemic and, for example, the level of vaccination,” Skogberg assured us.

A Finnish health service video about coronavirus vaccines with Russian voiceover

THL’s travel recommendations in Russian have been viewed 16,000 times during the pandemic. More than 4,000 people have viewed its Russian-language page about the coronavirus, and a video about the vaccines with a Russian voiceover has garnered almost 1,700 views. THL noted that they have been trying to convey information through Russophone organizations and targeted advertising on social networks.

Russophone anti-vaxxers have their say

Kymsoten koronarokotuspistellä istuvia henkilöitä Kauppakeskus Hansassa Kouvolassa.
A vaccination center at a shopping mall in Kouvola. Photo: Antro Valo / Yle

The topic of vaccination is raised not only in THL bulletins. Heated debates for and against vaccinations take place on forums and online communities for Finland’s Russian-speaking residents. A Yle News journalist sent dozens of messages to those who opposed vaccination on the internet, asking them to substantiate their position for this article. Many of them turned us down. One person explained that they had rejected our request because our questions about vaccinations were “quite provocative.” Another person said they did not want to be involved in “brainwashing.” A third person called the work of the authorities and the media during the pandemic “one hundred percent misinformation” and “a crime against [human] rights and humanity.” One of our interlocutors was hospitalized with the coronavirus during our correspondence.

However, there were also those who were willing and able to express their opinions.

Tatyana (her surname has been withheld at her request), who is a Finnish citizen and lives in Kuopio, said that she did not want to be vaccinated “for personal reasons.”

“I’m not going to get vaccinated either in Finland or in any other country. […] I believe that before they are vaccinated, people with certain health problems or with a history of heart surgery should at least be given a complete physical” said the woman, who works in the cleaning industry.

According to her, this decision has already begun to affect her work, as her boss had threatened to cut her hours. In other areas of life, she did not feel any problems, since she had “no need of pubs and discos.” The woman also noted that she did not need information about vaccination in Russian, as she speaks Finnish.

Vladimir, an information and communications technology specialist living in Porvoo, has also refused to be vaccinated. (He also requested that his last name be withheld.)

“The vaccine is new and the side effects in the long term are unknown, as well as the number of vaccinations that will need to be done,” the young man said when asked to substantiate his position.

He also pointed out that even with three vaccinations, one can get sick with COVID-19, and a vaccinated person can infect people with whom they come in contact.

“I think it is more important to be able to do a test and be sure that you don’t have the virus, that you don’t have the asymptomatic form and won’t infect anyone. I consider [good] hygiene and a medical mask sufficient precautions,” Vladimir argued.

He also pointed out that being unvaccinated did not cause “critical inconveniences” to life in Finland. Among recent difficulties, the ICT specialist recalled that he was not able to eat at a particular restaurant due to the QR-code mandate. The man found a way out: he went instead to a nearby fast food outlet, where he was not asked for a code.

Vladimir argued that dividing people into “the vaccinated with their privileges” and the unvaccinated did not encourage them to sign up for vaccination in any way. He admitted that his position would change only if his employer “obliged” him. The man noted that some of his friends had been vaccinated for this reason.

“News about the coronavirus has turned into background noise, I don’t follow it in detail,” said Vladimir, adding, however, that he had read official recommendations and Yle’s news reports.

THL responds and even agrees

Yle asked THL chief medical officer Hanna Nohynek to comment on the stance of our unvaccinated protagonists. She even agreed with some of their points.

Thus, one of THL’s main COVID-19 spokespeople said that mRNA vaccines were not in widespread use until 2021. At the same time, she noted that the technology itself had been researched for about twenty years, and today hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines had already been produced.

“Detailed safety monitoring is carried out, so even rare side effects are known. And there has been constant reporting,” Nohynek assured us.

According to her, some restrictions were made for safety reasons. People under the age of forty are better off not getting adenovirus vector vaccines (AstraZeneca, for example), and the Moderna mRNA vaccine is not recommended for men under the age of thirty.

Nohynek also acknowledged the truth of the claim that even with three doses of the COVID-19 drug [sic], one can get sick.

“This is true, but the vaccinations are primarily aimed at preventing severe forms of the coronavirus. […] None of us can know how badly they will suffer from the disease when faced with omicron,” THL’s chief medical officer argued.

Nohynek said that having a medical examination before getting a vaccination was an “old Soviet tradition” that is not considered necessary in Finland. However, she noted that it was important to be aware of allergies. Perhaps it was not worth getting an mRNA vaccine if one had them.

THL’s chief medical officer commented on a specific problem that, judging by the discussion on the internet, Russians face. If a person has already been vaccinated with Sputnik V, can they be vaccinated in Finland?

“It is effective and safe to use different vaccines. Of course, when a large number of doses is involved, more local symptoms may occur, such as short-term fever, muscle pain, and fatigue.”

Nohynek concluded by saying that the protection provided by the vaccine is considerable even for healthy young people.

Thanks to Tiina Pasanen for the heads-up. The lead image, courtesy of Montage Health, was not part of the original article. Translated by the Russian Reader



Yle’s Finnish translation of its original Russian-language article is a brilliant example of what I would call “reverse” language localization. Here is a telling passage:

THL:n ylilääkäri Nohynek: rokotteet ovat turvallisia ja niiden tärkein tehtävä on suojata vakavilta tautimuodoilta
Novosti Yle pyysi THL:n ylilääkäri Hanna Nohynekiä kommentoimaan Tatjanan ja Vladimirin väitteitä.
Nohynek kertoo, että mRNA-rokotteita ei ole ollut laajassa käytössä ennen vuotta 2021, mutta itse tekniikkaa on kuitenkin tutkittu jo parikymmentä vuotta. Tähän päivään mennessä mRNA-rokotteita on annettu satoja miljoonia annoksia.

This is my English translation of this excerpt:

THL chief medical officer Nohynek: the vaccines are safe and their main function is to protect against severe forms of the disease
Novosti Yle asked THL’s chief medical officer Hanna Nohynek to comment on Tatyana and Vladimir’s claims.
Nohynek explains that mRNA vaccines were not in widespread use until 2021, but the technology itself has been studied for some twenty years. To date, hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines have been administered.

Here is the “same” passage in the original Russian article:

THL отвечает и даже соглашается
Редакция Yle попросила главного врача Ведомства здравоохранения и социального развития Ханну Нохинек прокомментировать позицию наших невакцинированных героев. С некоторыми пунктами она даже согласилась.
Так, один из главных спикеров THL по вопросу COVID-19 сообщила, что вакцины, произведенные с использованием технологии мРНК, не были в широком использовании до 2021 года. При этом она отметила, что сама технология изучалась около 20 лет, а на сегодня сделаны уже сотни миллионов доз мРНК-вакцин.

This is my English translation, as above:

THL responds and even agrees

Yle asked THL chief medical officer Hanna Nohynek to comment on the stance of our unvaccinated protagonists. She even agreed with some of their points.

Thus, one of THL’s main COVID-19 spokespeople said that mRNA vaccines were not in widespread use until 2021. At the same time, she noted that the technology itself had been researched for about twenty years, and today hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines had already been produced.

All It Takes

As a “foreign agent,” the liberal Russian current affairs website Republic has to attach this disclaimer to every article it posts online. Screenshot by the Russian Reader

Justice Ministry Explains It Designated Republic a ‘Foreign Agent’ Because Foreign Embassies Subscribed to the Publication • Novaya Gazeta • 20 January 2022

The Russian Justice Ministry has explained that it placed the news and commentary website Republic on its register of media “foreign agents” because foreign embassies and Russian branches of foreign organizations had paid for subscriptions to the publication’s paywalled articles. The news was broken by Republic editor-in-chief Dmitry Kolezev on his Telegram channel.

The ministry claims that the publication received funds from the “Embassy of the Swiss Conference” [sic], as well as from the foreign missions of Finland, France, Lithuania and Kazakhstan in Russia. In addition, according to the excerpted statement, the Wall Street Journal, the Russian office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, and the Kazakh firm Eurasia Metals Company had transferred money to Republic‘s account.

“As we guessed, the formal reason was that foreign legal entities such as the embassies of France and Kazakhstan, the Wall Street Journal, etc., had paid for subscriptions in the amount of 14,800 rubles [approx. 170 euros] per year. Over two years, the Justice Ministry found a total of 178,500 rubles [approx. 2,000 euros] worth of such ‘foreign financing’ — we calculated that it was about 0.18% of our overall turnover,” Kolezev wrote. 

On 15 October 2021, the Justice Ministry added Moscow Digital Media (Republic) to its register of Russian media outlets functioning as “foreign agents.” Kolezev told Novaya, then, that Republic was funded exclusively by subscribers, and that its founding organization did not have any sources of external financing.

Full disclosure: I’ve subscribed to Republic for several years running. And, on many occasions, I have translated and published their articles here, especially ones by their perpetually clear-eyed and sardonic editor and commentator Ivan Davydov. I translated this article too. If you want this “media outlet functioning as a foreign agent” to keep on chugging, share my posts on social media and make a donation via PayPal or Ko-Fi. ||| TRR

Foreign Agents

Lyudmila Savitskaya • Facebook • December 28, 2021

A year ago, the Russian authorities labeled me a foreign agent. THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) WAS CREATED AND (OR) DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT. During these 365 days, one of my bank cards was blocked on suspicion of money laundering, I was fined over ten thousand rubles for the Journalist-Foreign Agent LLC that I created by order of the Justice Ministry, and I was deprived of the opportunity to work on certain projects. Antidepressants appeared in my medicine cabinet, and a psychiatrist became one of my friends.

My husband Dmitry Permyakov was turned into a family member of an enemy of the people: as a person affiliated with a “foreign agent” he was summoned for questioning by Center “E” and threatened with torture in prison. And another person close to the police called to solicitously warn us that our home had been bugged. You can read this year’s other sad particulars in my column for Sever.Realii – “Luda, the floor is burning under your feet!” (See the link in the first comment.)

But here you can admire my super agent photo shoot, which was cold but quite a lot of fun. No time to die, happy new year!


Russia Labels Pussy Riot Activists, Satirist ‘Foreign Agents’ • Moscow Times • December 30, 2021

Russia has added members of the Pussy Riot art activist collective, a prominent satirist and an independent journalist its registry of “foreign agents” Thursday.

The designations close a year in which Russia labeled nearly every major independent domestic news outlet, as well as dozens of individual journalists and activists, a “foreign agent.”

Founding Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and fellow member Nika Nikulshina have been added to the Justice Ministry’s “foreign agents” registry.

Tolokonnikova, 32, was among the Pussy Riot members who were sentenced to prison for their 2012 protest performance in central Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral that criticized the Russian Orthodox Church’s close ties with President Vladimir Putin.

Anti-Kremlin satirist Viktor Shenderovich; Taisiya Bekbulatova, chief editor of the independent Holod news website; and art collector and former Kremlin advisor Marat Gelman have also been added to the list.

“These people systematically distribute materials to an indefinite circle of persons, while receiving foreign funds,” the Justice Ministry’s statement said.

The ministry’s registry now includes more than 100 entities and individuals, most of which were added in 2021.

Rights advocates denounce the country’s “foreign agents” law, saying it seeks to silence groups and individuals that dissent from state narratives by branding them with a label that carries dark connotations from the Soviet era.

Labeled individuals and entities must submit regular financial reports and detailed lists of income and spending, as well as prominently display a wordy disclaimer on all articles, social media posts and other publications — or else face criminal charges.

But officials defend the law, pointing to what they say are harsher equivalent laws in Western countries.

On Monday, prominent BBC Russian investigative journalist ​Andrei Zakharov said he left the country two months after being labeled a “foreign agent,” saying he faced “unprecedented surveillance” following his designation.

And Russian courts this week ruled to liquidate the two main structures of Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights group and a key pillar of its civil society, citing repeated violations of the “foreign agent” law.


Alexander Morozov • Facebook • December 30, 2021

After seeing today’s list of “foreign agents,” I thought: is any more proof required that this status is exclusively political, that its legal aspect does not matter at all? These are not foreign agents in the sense of “lobbyists of a foreign state.” They are “agents of the West” (in the broad sense of “the hostile West”). In this respect, their status directly depends on the Kremlin’s conflict with the outside world. The next stage of escalation (which, in my opinion, is inevitable) will automatically mean that, regardless of their legal status as “foreign agents,” the people on the list will be criminally prosecuted. After all, the list is “good to go”: it exists and therefore should be put to work. So the list is no joke at all. Anyone who does not leave the country before the Kremlin’s conflict with the West accidentally escalates will end up behind bars. Therefore, I won’t congratulate people dear to me on having this label conferred on them. It’s a very dangerous and grim business.


Pussy Riot • Facebook • December 30, 2021

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) CREATED AND DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT

two of Pussy Riot, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Nika Nikulshina, were added to the government list of “foreign agents” & required to start every tweet w this disclaimer.

OFFICIAL REACTION:

1. lol

2. we will not label my posts, the government can label their asses if they’d like.

3. we will appeal in court.

4. Russia will be free.


Matvey Ganapolsky • Facebook • December 30, 2021

I want to say what will happen with the Russian media in 2022.

1. Domestic opposition media outlets will be destroyed and gutted. TV Rain and Echo of Moscow will have huge problems, including closure or reformatting, because they broadcast oppositional viewpoints. Neither [Alexei] Venediktov nor [Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry] Muratov will be able to save them.

2. Under various, poorly concealed pretexts, the local offices of Radio Svoboda [Radio Liberty] and the BBC will be closed. Radio Svoboda’s internet broadcasts and podcasts will be blocked, as well as the websites of these companies. VPNs will also be blocked.

3. The West will find itself in a paradoxical situation in which it will be necessary to resume short-wave broadcasting. Russia will respond by jamming them. Young people will run to their grandparents to retrieve old radios.

4. The media situation will be at the level of the late USSR. It will change only with Putin’s departure or death.

Items 1, 3, and 5 translated by the Russian Reader

The Siege

Monument to workers and staff at the Ivan Fyodorov printing plant in Leningrad who gave their lives during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad by the Nazis. Photo by Alexey Chernov

Hello, dear friend!

You may have already run into problems when you tried to visit the OVD Info website, or seen disturbing news headlines about our project. We would lie to ell you what we know about the problem at the current moment.

What happened?

On Saturday morning, our website was blocked by decision of the Lukhovitsy City Court. Later, Roskomnadzor sent a request to social networks to block our accounts. We have not received any official notification.

Later, comments made by a Roskomnadzor official to the media made us aware of the reason Roskomnadzor had ordered our website blocked, and had also sent a request to the administrators of social networks to block our accounts.

It follows from the Roskomnadzor official’s statement that our site has been placed on the registry of sites featuring prohibited information, although it is not on the list yet. It does NOT FOLLOW from this same statement that our project has been deemed “extremist” or “terrorist,” nor does it follow from the court ruling. At most, some of our publications have been deemed prohibited matter. We do not yet know which publications these are.

We still have not received any official notification. Grigory Okhotin, OVD Info co-founder and the website’s proprietor, was not informed about the investigation, the court hearing, or the blocking of the site, although his lawyer responded on December 14 to a summons by traveling to the Lukhovitsy prosecutor’s office, which filed the lawsuit, where he tried to obtain information about the details of the complaint.

We regard this as a continuation of the Russian state’s attack on civil society. There is nothing surprising in the fact that OVD Info has now been targeted, since our project is probably the largest human rights project in Russia. In addition, OVD Info is the driving force behind the campaign to abolish the law on “foreign agents.” After our petition calling on the authorities to abolish the law went public, we were placed on the list of “foreign agents”; after a bill that would abolish the law was submitted to the State Duma, our website was blocked. We can conclude that this is how the authorities consult with the professional human rights community.

We cannot say that we did not anticipate this attack. After the attack on the Memorial Human Rights Center and the lodging of similar claims against it, we realized that we would be next. However, unlike the Memorial case, where formal legal procedures have been followed, at least, our website was blocked in violation of all possible norms.

What’s next?

  1. We will seek to clarify the situation and defend ourselves in a legal manner. Naturally, we do not promote or condone terrorism or extremism. OVD Info is an independent human rights media project and we are confident that all our information is reliable and does not violate laws. We have always operate and will continue to operate in compliance with the law.
  2. We will continue our work. You can still read us on social networks. Even if all our social networks are blocked, we will still provide legal assistance to people who are persecuted for political reasons, receive calls and messages via our bot, and provide legal advice. And we will find a way to convey necessary and important information to you.
  3. We are still counting on your help. The project has existed for over ten years only thanks to public support. No court and no prosecutor’s office can block the help of hundreds of thousands of people. For now, it’s still safe to support us in any way possible. You can subscribe to our social media accounts to follow the news, or you can make a small donation, preferably in cryptocurrency. If something changes and a method of support becomes unsafe, we will immediately tell you about it.

We hope that we will be able to gladden you with good news this year! Thank you for staying with us!

Yours as always,

Grigory Okhotin and the OVD Info team

The indepedent human rights media project OVD Info
https://donate.ovdinfo.orgdonate@ovdinfo.org 

You received this letter because you support OVD Info.

 On 29 September 2021, the Russia Justice Ministry placed OVD Info on its “registry of unregistered public associations performing the functions of a foreign agent.” We include this disclaimer, among other things, so that your donations do not go towards paying fines for its absence.

But you can help us get rid of it.

Source: OVD Info email newsletter, 25 December 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader


Five hundred years ago, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that it is best for a ruler to be both loved and feared, but ‘it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both’. The Kremlin seems to share this belief. Since the government’s economic policy is aimed at maintaining ‘stable stagnation’ rather than economic growth, it won’t be able to buy the population’s complacency. On the other hand, although the government’s propaganda is still working, its long-term performance is questionable. The share of Russians who obtain information through television has decreased by 25% in the seven years since March 2014. At the same time, citizens’ trust in information from social media and online publications is growing. Against this backdrop, along with the consolidation of online censorship, the politics of fear is becoming an increasingly attractive tool for controlling public sentiment.

Lauren Young, a professor at the University of California, Davis, demonstrated in her recent study how repression works and what dividends a dictator can reap from it. Citizens are more likely to feel fear when witnessing violence used by the authorities. Fear, in turn, leads to pessimism about the prospects for collective action (‘no one will take to the streets, and I won’t either’) and a lower willingness to take risks. All of this diminishes citizens’ desire to express disloyalty to the authorities. In the case of Russia, the politics of fear is also amplified by the fact that many Russians depend on payments from the state budget. As studies show, state-sector professionals, all other things being equal, are less likely to protest and are also less supportive of democracy.

Yes, repressions undermine the legitimacy of state institutions and can even, albeit with very low probability, lead to the opposite effect when people lose patience and pour into the streets. But the year 2021 showed that the Russian regime will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.

Source: Mikhail Turchenko, “One year in the life of a consolidated personalist dictatorship,” Riddle, 20 December 2021

Like Share Fine Jail

GUIDE

How do I avoid going to jail for a repost?

1. Be cautious about what you say

When making statements about someone else’s ethnicity, race, religion, or gender, you need to adhere to basic norms of politeness.

2. Maintain your privacy

People are held accountable only for public statements, so you need to consciously chose your status when posting on social networks. There are probably entries that only your own friends, people you trust, but not outsiders should see.

3. Check the register of extremist materials

The list of extremist materials is available on the Justice Ministry’s website.

4. If you don’t approve of the content of the post you are sharing, then say it

You can write, for example, “I disagree with this material and voice my sincere indignation.”

5. Take into account the features of the social network where you publish information

Anyone can look at information that is in the public domain. Keep this in mind when you post something on your page.

What should I do if I’m targeted in a criminal investigation?

1. Say nothing

A preliminary investigation on “extremism” charges does not differ from other criminal cases in the way it unfolds and is regulated by the Criminal Procedure Code. If you are implicated in such a case, you must be notified in writing about it.

2. Be prepared for a police search

A search of your home or office is also possible, during which the “instruments of the crime” — computers and electronic devices — can be confiscated from you.

3. Get a lawyer

The presence of a lawyer is highly desirable during all criminal investigative procedures.

4. Do your own due diligence

The defense’s goal in any trial is to break down the arguments of the prosecution, which tries to prove the defendant’s guilt.

5. Order an alternative expert examination without waiting for the court to order one

Unfortunately, it is impossible to guarantee that it will be included in the case file. The decision on this is made by the judge, who is guided by their own considerations. Anyone can find information in the public domain. Keep this in mind when you post something on your page.

You’ve been found guilty. Now what?

1. Your devices will be destroyed

If the court finds you guilty of extremism, you face not only punishment, but also an order to destroy the “instruments of the crime.”

2. You will lose your savings and the ability to receive money through a bank

A serious consequence of extremism charges and convictions is inclusion in the the so-called Rosfinmonitoring list.

3. To lose your livelihood it is enough to be named a suspect in a case

If you are declared a suspect in a case, your name is simply published within a few days on Rosfinmonitoring’s official website.

4. You are not notified when you are put on the list

You just won’t be able to withdraw money from an ATM one day.

5. Not only bank accounts are blocked, but also access to electronic payment systems

You might not be able to access Yandex Money and Kiwi, for example.

Valeria Parusnaya, Like Share Fine Jail (Mediazona, 2021)

Our book is a collection of stories of Russians who have faced prosecution for statements they made on social networks. There are more and more guilty verdicts for posts, reposts and likes every year.

The Russian internet is under strict state control, as evidenced by the entry into force of laws on the “sovereign internet,” “fake news,” and “disrespect for the authorities”, which give greater leeway to the authorities in holding people criminally liable for their opinions.

The book consists of news stories, articles and specific cases published by Mediazona, along with commentary by IT lawyers, but with no personal opinions or value judgments on the part of the editors. It is meant for those who want to know what all of us can face and how to avoid it.

Source: likesrok.ru.tilda.ws. The 224-page book, in Russian, can be downloaded in four different electronic formats on Ridero, where you’ll be asked to register with an email address and social media ID before downloading. Translated by the Russian Reader

All in the Family

In his profile of badass Petersburg photojournalist David Frenkel, published today in the Globe and Mail, Anthony Feinstein focuses on Frenkel’s father (Alik, unnamed here) as the source of his moral courage and love of photography, not deigning to mention his equally badass mom (Lika) and badass wife (Varya). Or, for that matter, the “family business”: the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center, one of the most incredible and welcoming places in the city, which Alika and Lika have run for many, many years. I miss all of them and the Center more than I can say.

Below the quotation from Feinstein’s article I’ve posted links to David’s, Lika’s and Varya’s numerous appearances over the years on this website. Thanks to Lika (Leokadia) Frenkel for the heads-up. ||| TRR

David Frenkel and Varya Mikhailova at their wedding on 23 October 2020. Lika and Alik Frenkel look on proudly in the background. Photo courtesy of Varya Mikhailova’s Facebook page

That Mr. Frenkel came to find himself with a camera recording voting irregularities may be traced in large measure to his outrage at Mr. Putin’s increasingly dictatorial rule and the unravelling of the rule of law in Russia today. “For some people in Russia, it has become uncomfortable just to do your job,” he said. “Being a scientist, it’s not enough. You do your job, you do it well, but it’s not enough to be a good person any more.”

[…]

In trying to understand Mr. Frenkel’s evolution from physicist to photographer, it is helpful to look at his early, formative influences. His family is Jewish, and his father is a Yiddish scholar and translator who photographed his suppressed religion and culture during the Communist era. Jewish religious holidays were forbidden, and therefore celebrated secretly. Mr. Frenkel’s father documented this underground resistance to Soviet orthodoxy – activities that came with their own risks. For example, his work provides a pictorial record of the life of refuseniks, Jews who were persecuted by the state for wanting to emigrate to Israel.

___________________

More Die of Heartbreak

St. Petersburg Photo Diary
Facebook
October 23, 2021

Orthodontist jumps from 9th floor of Elizabeth Hospital

The young woman made the jump in front of her fellow patients in the ward. The fact was that she had buried both of her parents in the past two weeks. They were also doctors, by the way.

Darya Khorovskaya followed in the footsteps of her parents: she had worked in her field for 10 years.

She was admitted to the Elizabeth Hospital with complications from an infectious disease just a few days after her mother’s death.

Her fellow patients in the ward said that the young women was heartbroken. She constantly talked about the deaths of her loved ones, blaming the coronavirus.

After the fall, she was taken to the intensive care unit, but they could not save her.

Photo courtesy of St. Petersburg Photo Diary. MK.RU Sankt-Peterburg reported this same story on 17 October 2021. They made clear, however, what is not clear from the Facebook post above: that Khorovskaya was being treated for covid-19 when she took her own life, and that her parents had also died of covid-19. P.S. This is a more typical post on St. Petersburg Photo Diary, which partly explains the self-censorship in their post about Khorovskaya’s suicide. Translated by the Russian Reader

Solidarity

Courtesy of PADI Pros

Yesterday, the Russian Justice Ministry placed several more publications and more than two dozen people on its register of “foreign agent media outlets.” This time the label was given to Mediazona and OVD Info media outlets that, among other things, continue to cover protest events and speak out in support of convicts. The media outlets and journalists included in this list there are 72 of them so far are required to report their income every quarter, are required to undergo an audit, and are required to accompany each of their messages or reports with a loud disclaimer. This year alone, 54 new names have been placed on the list, including Meduza, VTimes and The Insider.

The editors of Inc. Russia empathize with their fellow journalists who find themselves in a difficult situation. We look anxiously into the future and expect that the law on foreign media, as well as the registry itself, will be at least revised. As our texts of the week, we suggest reading the work of the newly minted “foreign agents” from Mediazona and OVD Info. For each of these articles their authors were awarded an Editorial Board journalism prize. The prize was established by Boris Zimin’s Sreda Foundation.

The Editors, Inc. Russia

A sea of hermitages: How a US citizen, on the advice of her Old Believer relatives, came to “see Russia” and was imprisoned in a taiga monastery for 15 years [8 March 2017]

This is the monologue of a young American woman who managed to escape from an Old Believer settlement. Elizabeth’s story was recorded by Yegor Skovoroda for Mediazona (included in the list of foreign agents).

“There were rumors in the village.” Why are women killed by their relatives in the North Caucasus? How are honor killings investigated? [28 July 2017]

Journalists Maria Klimova and Yulia Sugueva reveal how women in the North Caucasus are murdered for “immoral” behavior. Neighbors and loved ones do not turn to the police for help, and the standing in the community of families capable of killing for the sake of honor only grows. The text was published on Mediazona (included in the list of foreign agents).

“I wanted to howl, to shout to them, What are you doing with my daughter at all? Are you human beings or not?” [29 May 2018]

In 2018, Kommersant journalist Alexander Chernykh did an interview for OVD Info (included in the list of foreign agents) with Yulia, the mother of Anna Pavlikova, a defendant in the New Greatness case. At the time, Pavlikova was 18 years old and had already spent several months in jail. The trial in the case ended only in 2020: Pavlikova received four years of probation.

Nemtsov’s unknown killers: What the investigation missed while investigating the attack on the politician [2 November 2020]

An investigation by Mikhail Maglov, Yegor Skovoroda, Alla Konstantinova and Polina Glukhova for Mediazona (included in the list of foreign agents), published jointly with the Scanner Project. The journalists re-examined the entire case file in the murder of politician Boris Nemtsov to figure out whose possible involvement the Russian Investigative Committee could not or did not want to investigate.

Source: Inc. Russia email newsletter, 30 September 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader. Since today, September 30, is International Translation Day, it would be more than appropriate for you, the readers of this and other translations on my website, to share it with your own colleagues, friends, relatives and neighbors. Or pick another translation on this site that has moved you and share it. In any case, doing this much reading and translating — for free, during my “free” time — is only worth it if you’re reading what I publish here and encouraging others to read it. Judging by my viewer numbers this year, that’s not happening so much as it did last year, for example, when I had nearly 175,000 views on the year, as compared to a little over 48,000 so far this year (with only three months left in the year). When International Translation Day comes around this time next year, this blog might not be around to celebrate it. On the contrary, with better viewer numbers and more donations (which have never been frequent, alas), I would have the motivation, the time and the resources to translate the intriguing articles listed above, or pay a small honorarium to a translator colleague to translate them. ||| TRR

OVD Info Named “Foreign Agent”

The amazing and indispensable OVD Info has been placed by the Russian Justice Ministry on its list of “foreign agents.” OVD Info broke the news in this email to its supporters, sent an hour or so ago, as translated by me.

“This message (content) was created and (or) distributed by non-commercial organizations and/or mass media outlets demanding the total repeal of the law on foreign agents.”

We have disturbing news. Today, the Russian Justice Ministry has placed OVD Info on its “register of unregistered public associations performing the functions of a foreign agent.”

There’s nothing terrible about this, but there’s nothing good about it either.

The attack on our project hasn’t taken us by surprise: for almost ten years we have been writing about politically motivated persecution every day, and it is difficult to surprise us, especially this year. We have seen what the weather is like outside the window: independent media and journalists have been labeled “foreign agents” one after another, and there are few human rights projects in Russia that have not yet received the status of “foreign agent.”

“Foreign agent” status does not impose any additional risks on you. Nothing changes for you: it is safe to support us and other initiatives identified as “foreign agents.”

Are we really someone’s agents?

OVD Info has been and always will be an independent project. This means that we do not depend on any other organizations, be they political movements or international foundations. We do not have major donors either: we are supported by thousands and tens of thousands of small donations, most of which do not exceed 500 rubles [less than six euros].

We are not agents: we don’t do anyone else’s work or do anyone else’s bidding, especially those in foreign countries. We are not foreigners. On the contrary, we are probably the most popular human rights project in Russia. The only thing that OVD Info depends on are the hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens who support us with donations, reposts, volunteering and kind words.

OVD Info appeared on the map in December 2011 as a personal initiative and a response to what was happening in police departments to people detained at protest rallies, and it operated exclusively on a volunteer basis for several years. To this day, OVD Info has remained an initiative powered a huge community of caring people.

To label us “foreign agents” means devaluing ten years of work by a huge number of people — the readers, volunteers, donors, and lawyers who have created this project along with us.

Why is this happening?

The Russian authorities apparently consider our project hostile to them, but we are not fighting the authorities or fighting to take power. We protect the right of Russian citizens to assemble freely, and we assist everyone whose right to assemble freely has been violated. The reasons for protest rallies and the political views of their participants don’t matter to us. We defend everyone who faces a violation of their right to public protest, regardless of the issues they raise and the demands they make. We defend environmental activists, defenders of squares and parks, opponents of the residential housing renovation program and the Plato road tolls system, leftists and rightists, opposition activists and pro-government activists, Navalny supporters and Communist Party supporters, independent journalists and journalists from Russia Today. There are no shades of gray when it comes to human rights protection, there are no good and bad people: there are only people whose rights have been violated.

And we are certain that no country is capable of stable growth if it does not protect the rights of its citizens. The campaign launched by the authorities against civic groups and the media is disastrous not only for Russian civil society, but also for the country itself.

What happens next?

1. We will go on working as we always have. Perhaps, due to the new circumstances, things will be more difficult for us, but society’s need for what we do has not gone away: freedom of information still must be protected, and individuals must still not be left to face the system alone. In order for us to do this, we will have to put a banner on the top of our website notifying readers that we have been placed on the register of “foreign agents.”

2. We will legally challenge our project’s inclusion on the register of “foreign agents.” We have little hope of a quick victory in the Russian courts, but we believe that sooner or later justice will prevail in the European Court of Human Rights.

3. We call for solidarity with all the initiatives, media outlets and journalists who have been subjected to this same attack in recent months. We are not asking you to support us: thanks to you, we have sufficiently robust resources. But projects that don’t have your support are in particularly dire need of it.

Therefore, we ask you to support with a donation any of the projects that work with us side by side, and that you not be afraid to do it.

We will more and more zealously demand the repeal of the law on “foreign agents” and urge you to join this campaign as well: to begin with, please sign our petition. It is also important to support those who face government pressure. On the website Solidarity.Support, you can choose who you want to support with your rubles: so far, “foreign agent” status does not entail any additional risks for donors and beneficiaries.

Despite the fact that there is no direct threat to us right now, we take what is happening as seriously as possible. The “foreign agent” law enables the authorities to first throw a lasso around any objectionable initiative, and then arbitrarily tighten it. Since 2012, when the first version of the “foreign agent” law was adopted, the requirements for organizations placed on this register have been constantly expanding, while their opportunities for doing their work have been narrowing. In fact, any “foreign agent” can be forcibly liquidated at any time, and its leaders can be arrested.

“Foreign agent” status is not a “seal of approval.” It is a black mark. It not only complicates the life of the “foreign agent,” but divides everyone into “friends” and “strangers” via the most opaque decision-making process. By forcing us to identify ourselves as a “foreign agent,” we are forced to deceive everyone who trusts us, and you are forced to divide the world into black and white. But there are no “friends” or “strangers.”

Don’t forget this, don’t be afraid of anything and stay on our side! You and your trust are the most valuable thing we have.

We are always on your side,
The OVD Info team

Source: OVD Info email newsletter, 29 September 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader