Special Rapid Deployment Force Raids Jehovah’s Witness Gathering in Norilsk

tomsk raidPolice raiding Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tomsk in 2018. Photo courtesy of the website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

Special Forces Raid Recreational Compound in Norilsk Where More Than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses Were Gathered, Criminal Charges Filed
OVD Info
October 22, 2019

On October 20, the Special Rapid Deployment Force (SOBR) raided a recreational compound in Norilsk where more than fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses had gathered, later carrying out searches in some of their homes, according to a report posted the next day on the religious organization’s website. A source in law enforcement confirmed that the raid had happened, according to local news website Tayga.info.

“Masked commandos broke into the building and ordered everyone who was there to surrender their telephones and tablets,” said the report on the Jehovah’s Witness website. Some of the people were then taken away in minivans to be interrogated or have their homes searched. Witnesses noticed the Norilsk Nickel logo on some of the vans.

There is information about searches in five homes. They lasted around five hours. Police confiscated Bibles, computers, tablets, and telephones from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The interrogations took place at the local headquarters of the Russian Investigative Committee. The people interrogated were asked questions from a questionnaire consisting of twenty-five questions. In particular, they were asked about their affiliation with the “forbidden” faith.

According to Tayga.info’s source, criminal charges have been filed against the leader of the local Jehovah’s Witness community.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist” organization, abolishing it and banning it from operating in Russia. In August of the same year, all local Jehovah’s Witness organizations in Russia were banned, setting off a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the church.

In February 2019, a court handed down the first sentence against a Jehovah’s Witness involving a long term of imprisonment: Danish national Dennis Christensen was sentenced to six years in prison. He has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has promised to review it.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Three Years in Prison for Touching a Policeman’s Helmet

fullscreen-1qel
Kirill Zhukov was sentenced to three years in prison for touching a Russian National Guardsman’s helmet. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Number of Guilty Verdicts in the Moscow Case Reaches Five
Anastasia Kornya and Svetlana Bocharova
Vedomosti
September 5, 2019

On July 27, 2019, during an “unauthorized” rally in support of independent candidates to the Moscow City Duma, Kirill Zhukhov raised the visor of a helmet worn by a Russian National Guardsman. Yesterday, September 4, he was found guilty of violence towards a government official, as punishable under Article 318.1 of the Russian Criminal, and sentenced to three years in a medium-security prison colony. The verdict said that Zhukov, acting intentionally and fully aware he was dealing with a government official who was performing his duties, struck him a single blow to the head with his left hand in an attempt to tear off the helmet, causing the victim physical pain.

State investigators conducted a special forensic test establishing, allegedly, that even a slight, upward blow with the hand to the helmet’s visor causes the head to tilt back and the strap to make full contact with the skin in the chin area [sic].

Zhukhov, on the contrary, tried to prove he had only waved his hand in front of the guardsman’s visor since he wanted to draw his attention to a woman injured during the rally. But the court reacted to his testimony “critically.” As the judge explained, Zhukhov’s purpose in testifying in this way had been to mitigate the severity of his crime.

On Wednesday, the Meshchansky District Court sentenced Yevgeny Kovalenko to three and a half years in a medium-security prison colony. He was found guilty of violence against two law enforcement officers. Allegedly, he pushed one of the officers and threw a garbage can at the other.

“Fully cognizant that the man before him, Tereshchenko, was performing his duties, [Kovalenko] pushed him on the right side of the torso with both hands, causing him to lose balance and fall from the height of his own height [sic] on the granite steps and experience physical pain,” the verdict stated.

Continuing to act with criminal intent, Kovalenko grabbed National Guardsman Maxim Saliyev by the body armor with both hands, abruptly pulling him and dragging him towards himself and thus causing him physical pain. After Tereshchenko pushed Kovalenko away, Kovalenko grabbed a trash receptacle and threw it at the guardsmen, hitting Saliyev in the lower back. According to the verdict, the guardsman experienced not only physical pain when falling but also emotional suffering since, at that moment, he remembered he had to perform his duties [sic].

During the trial, Kovalenko explained he had not intended any harm. He had only tried to frighten off policemen who were beating up protesters. However, the judge said the court was skeptical of his claims. They were refuted by the evidence in the case file and were an attempt to avoid punishment.

“The court notes the consistent and purposeful nature of the defendant’s actions, testifying to his criminal intent to employ violence,” the verdict stated.

The judge emphasized that arguments about police misconduct could not be considered during the trial and were not evidence of the defendant’s innocence.

Kovalenko’s defense counsel Mansur Gilmanov pointed out that the crime with which his client had been charged was a crime against the normal functioning of government. It thus followed that beating up peaceful protesters was one way in which the government normally functioned, he argued.

Svetlana Bayturina, Zhukov’s lawyer, called the sentence handed down to her client unprecedentedly severe: usually, such cases had resulted in fines for defendants or, at most, suspended sentences. The speed with which the case was investigated and tried was also unprecedented: the investigation took three days; the trial, one. Bayturina promised the defense would appeal the verdict and intended to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This was the second “judgment day” for arrested protesters. The day before, blogger Vladislav Sinitsa was sentenced to five years in prison for posting a tweet the prosecution had described as a call to harm the children of law enforcement officers. Technician Ivan Podkopayev was sentenced to three years in prison for spraying pepper spray in the direction Russian National Guardsmen, while businessman Danila Beglets was sentenced to two years in prison for grabbing a policeman’s arm. Their cases were tried under the special procedure: neither man denied his guilt.

Gilmanov noted there was no significant difference between the sentences given to defendants who made deals with the prosecution and those handed down to defendants who pleaded not guilty. This testified to the fact the verdicts were political. The sentences were decided by more senior officials and legal nuances did not matter much, he argued.

Protesters arrested and charged under Article 318.1 after a similar “unauthorized” rally in Moscow on March 26, 2017, were given much lighter prison sentences, between eight months and two and a half years. For example, Stanislav Zimovets, convicted of throwing a brick that hit a riot police commander in the back, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison, while Dmitry Krepkin, who kicked a riot policemen’s hip or his billy club, was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Only Andrei Kosykh, convicted of punching one policeman’s helmet and kicking another policeman in the neck and lower jaw, was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison, but he was convicted under Article 318.2, which covers violence that could result in death or grievous bodily harm.

The sentences in the so-called Moscow case have been roughly the same as those handed out in the Bolotnaya Square Case in 2012, only this time the protesters had not resisted law enforcement officers at all, political commentator Alexei Makarkin noted. According to him, the sentences in the current cases were dictated by the new rules of the game.

“Whereas before if someone hit a policemen in the teeth and damaged the enamel, he would do hard time, now people are getting similar, slightly shorter sentences for lifting the visors on riot policemen’s helmets, while people who grabbed a policemen by the arms are getting two years in prison,” Makarkin said.

In the Bolotnaya Square Case, the official charges looked more serious, Makarkin argues. The confrontation on the square was much rougher. In some ways, it harked back to the 1990s, when people fought with policemen without incurring such long sentences, he noted.

“The Bolotnaya Square Case marked a new phase. We realized the state had made it a rule that if you raised your hand against a police officer, you would go to jail. If a policeman raised a hand against you, he would be commended,” Makarkin said.

This time, the security forces also wanted to punish a certain number of people, but they failed to put together a new Bolotnaya Square case.

“So they decided anyone who had raised their hand and somehow touched a policeman should go to jail. But since they failed to dig up anything serious, they chose from what they had to work with,” Makarkin said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Entweder Gehst Du oder Ich Gehe!

friedrichshain police state.JPGGermany has begun implementing the Putinist police state in parts of Berlin to make its Russian partners feel less lonely in their pursuit of absolute tyranny. Photo by the Russian Reader

Council of Europe and Russia Reach Tentative Compromise
Deutsche Welle
May 17, 2019

Russia said it had no desire to leave the Council of Europe and was ready to pay its dues following an apparent breakthrough between Moscow and Western nations. Russia’s delegation had faced sanctions over Crimea.

France and Germany pushed through a compromise that would allow Russia to return to the Council of Europe (CoE), as foreign ministers from the 47 member states resumed their two-day summit in Helsinki.

The Russian delegation has faced sanctions at the CoE over the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. One of the measures included stripping Russia’s representatives of their voting rights, which in turn prompted them to boycott CoE plenary sessions.

On Friday, the body adopted a declaration saying “all member states should be entitled to participate on an equal basis” in the CoE. The declaration also states that its members “would welcome that delegations of all member states be able to take part” in the assembly next June.

“We do not intend to leave the Council of Europe, as some rumors would have you believe,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “We are not evading any of our commitments, including the financial ones.”

Germany’s top diplomat Heiko Maas previously met with Lavrov on Friday. Maas said it was “good that we have agreed that Russia should stay in the CoE Parliamentary Assembly—also to give millions of Russians the protection of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Berlin has actively supported Russia’s full reinstatement into the council, but that did not come without conditions, Maas told DW.

“We have also agreed on a mechanism by which it will be possible in future to sanction members of the CoE who violate fundamental legal provisions.”

In 2017, Russia stopped its financial contributions, leaving the CoE with an annual budget hole of some €33 million ($37 million). Russia could be suspended from the body next month for not paying its membership fees.

Activists Want Russia in CoE
Human rights activists were concerned that suspending or expelling Russia from the assembly, which is a non-EU organization to uphold human rights, could have a disastrous effect on civil society in Russia. The watchdog body is in charge of electing judges for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the largest percentage of ECHR cases comes from Russia. Others worry that revoking Russia’s membership could eventually bring back capital punishment in the country.

Ukraine Warns of “Normalizing” Russia’s Actions
Ukraine responded angrily to the reconciliatory signals between Russia and France and Germany. In protest, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin decided to send his deputy to Helsinki.

In a Facebook post, Klimkin also said that ending sanctions would start the process of “normalizing” everything Russia has done.

“And if some people in Europe respond to Kremlin blackmail and hide their heads in the sand, very soon there might be nothing left of the Council of Europe and ultimately of all European values,” he said.

Thanks to Jukka Mallinen for the heads-up.

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When you make endless compromises with gangsters, you end up pulping your own principles.

The Russian Federation does not honor or observe the European Convention on Human Rights in any way, shape or form, and it knows it.

Keeping it in the Council of Europe at all costs will, ultimately, ensure the collapse of democracy and the rule of law all over Europe.

Kicking it out would speed up the Putin regime’s collapse and finally spark a crisis among Russia’s elites and grassroots in which Russians would have a chance to get rid of Putin and his thugs.

But it is a job they have to do themselves. The dicey argument that human rights defenders in Russia need the European Court of Human Rights to defend human rights in Russia only postpones what has to happen sooner or later.

On the contrary, diplomatic victories like this tell the Putin regime in no uncertain terms to ratchet up the crackdowns at home and the neo-imperialist military adventures abroad, because both its own people and European democracies are too weak to call it on the carpet.

Europe doesn’t want to deal with Putin’s twenty-year-long war against democracy and human rights in Russia, despite the fact that ordinary Russians in faraway places like Yekaterinburg and Shiyes are fighting the regime tooth and nail.

But who cares about them? Who in Europe has ever heard of Shiyes? How many European officials can find Yekaterinburg on a map?

This compromise gives the Kremlin the green light to crack heads in both places, if push comes to shove, knowing it has Europe firmly on its side. {TRR}

Network Trial Begins in Petersburg

filinkov and boyarshinov-komm.jpgNetwork case defendants Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov in the cage at court yesterday. Filinkov (left) wears a sweatshirt emblazoned with the slogan, “Your taser can’t kill our ideas.” Photo by Alexander Koryakov. Courtesy of Kommersant

The Defendants Were Assigned Roles: Network Trial Gets Underway in Petersburg
Anna Pushkarskaya
Kommersant
April 9, 2019

The court trial in the case of the “anarchist terrorist community” Network got underway in St. Petersburg. Viktor Filinkov, a 24-year-old programmer, and Yuli Boyarshinov, a 27-year-old industrial climber, have been charged with involvement in Network. Federation Council member Lyudmila Narusova, who attended the hearing, pointed out the “ability to throw grenades,” which the prosecution included in the evidence against the defendants, was taught officially to members of the patriotic youth movement Yunarmiya.

“This case has nothing to do with the rule of law,” Narusova noted.

Filinkov and Boyarshinov’s case is being tried in St. Petersburg by the Moscow District Military Court. In January, the same court sentenced Igor Shishkin, who made a deal with case investigators, to three and a half years in prison. Subsequently, the FSB placed Network on the Russian federal list of banned organizations.

The courtroom could not accommodate everyone who wanted to attended the trial. Narusova and ex-State Duma member and civil rights activist Yuli Rybakov were in the gallery.

The defendants were applauded by the gallery as armed guards led them into the courtroom.

During the investigation, Filinkov and three young men in Penza also charged in the case publicly stated they had been tortured with electrical shocks. Boyarshinov claimed conditions in the remand prison were tantamount to torture. Both men have filed complaints with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

Lawyer Vitaly Cherkasov motioned the court to let his defendant, Filinkov, sit beside him during the hearing, rather than in the cage, since he had no criminal record or history of conflicts with the law.

The presence in the courtroom of riot police, regular police, and court bailiffs, as well as Cherkasov’s mention of international norms, how things were done at the EHCR, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s order to his underlings to explore options for banning the use of the cage in Russian courtrooms made no impression on the court. Both defendants were kept in the cage for the entire hearing.

According to the indictment, the so-called anarchist terrorist community was established no later than May 2015 by Dmitry Pchelintsev (who was arrested in Penza) and an unidentified person. They recruited the seven defendants in the case who have been investigated by the FSB’s Penza office. After cementing the group, they are alleged to have “assigned roles among themselves and explored ways of committing crimes” in order to overthrow the regime. According to the prosecution, to accomplish this objective, they planned on “establishing combat groups and recruiting individuals who shared their anarchist ideology.”

The FSB’s Petersburg office has claimed the defendants were among these recruits. Filinkov has been accused of volunteering to be the group’s “radioman,” while Boyarshinov was, allegedly, their “sapper.”

After the indictment had been read, Judge Roman Muranov asked the defendants whether they understood it.

“No,” Filinkov replied.

The prosecution claims Filinkov promised to “familiarize himself with the community’s charter, employ a pseudonym, data encryption software,  and conspiratorial methods, and acquire and improve [his] combat skills.”

In addition, Filinkov was supposed to have “supplied members with communications devices,” taught them encryption, “recruited other individuals, discussed and planned crimes during meetings, attended classes on tactics, reconnaissance, sabotage, and combat, and the use of weapons and explosive devices, and acquired the knowledge necessary in extreme circumstances and combat conditions.”

“When the time came to shift to active operations for accomplishing the objective part of the crimes [sic],” Filinkov, allegedly, agreed to “mobilize and be ready to achieve the terrorist community’s objectives.”

“I don’t understand the source of these letters, nor how the indictment could be a fiction, rather than something emerging from the evidence,” said Filinkov.

After hearing similar charges made against him, Boyarshinkov said he admitted his guilt and was willing to testify before the examination of evidence.

After the hearing, MP Narusova said the incidents of combat training, as described in the indictment, had nothing to do with the law.

“The Yunarmiya officially engages in combat training under the patronage of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Children are taught to throw grenades, and they learn combat tactics. Ask Shoigu why the entire Yunarmiya is busy learning combat skills?” Narusova wondered.

“A fellow Federation Council member recently said children should be able to throw grenades,” Narusova continued.

She referred to a recent statement by Federation Council member Viktor Bondarev, who had proposed reinstating basic combat training in Russian schools. He claimed to be outraged children did not know how to throw grenades and were afraid of machine guns.

Ms. Narusova said she was drafting a law bill that would criminalize torture. She also said planned to get to the bottom of the Network case.

“This case has nothing to do with the rule of law,” Narusova noted.

In their testimony, the defendants insisted they were learning the alleged skills as a matter of self-defense, given the numbers of antifascists murdered in different parts of Russia in recent years.

In particular, Filinkov mentioned the murders of Timur Kacharava, Stanislav Markelov, and Anastasia Baburova. He reported that, during his studies at Omsk University, he and his friends had been attacked by “right-wing radicals, neo-Nazis, and fascists,” including provocateurs who, he alleged, had ties with law enforcement agencies.

According to Filinkov, the assailants in these clashes had been armed with “blades and stun guns.”

After the investigation was completed, the headmaster of the school Filinkov attended submitted a glowing letter of recommendation. The letter claims the defendant had always shown respect for the law, and was friendly, conscientious, and responsible. He had been an excellent student and won a prize at an academic astronomy competition at Baikonur.

Kommersant will be following the trial’s progress.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists who have been tortured and imprisoned by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian security state, read and share the articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

Unionized Independent Russian Truckers Persecuted by Putin Regime

Opponents of Plato Road Tolls System Complain to European Court of Human Rights They Have Been Victims of Political Persecution
Their Organization Was Earlier Ruled a “Foreign Agent”
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
December 26, 2018

The Association of Russian Carriers (OPR), an organization of independent truck drivers  the Russian Justice Ministry placed on its list of “foreign agents” late last year, has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) in Strasbourg, claiming its right to freedom of association had been violated and it had been subjected to political persecution, in violation of Article 11 and Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as reported by Alexei Glukhov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group who represents the OPR in Strasbourg.

The OPR emerged during the campaign for the rights of truckers that kicked off after the Plato road tolls payment system went online in November 2015. The OPR brought together independent truck owners and truck drivers. In June 2017, it announced it was planning to nominate its chair, Andrei Bazhutin, as a candidate for the Russian presidency. Shortly thereafter, the Justice Ministry launched an audit of the OPR, resulting in its being ruled a “foreign agent.” The ministry cited four donations from private individuals in Germany, totaling 3,620 euros, as evidence of “foreign financing.”

In a report on its oversight of the work of “foreign agent” NGOs in 2017, the Justice Ministry claimed the OPR had engaged in “political activity” by “organizing and holding  events calling for the resignation of the Russian federal government.” In June of this year, the Krasnogvardeisky District Court in Petersburg fined the OPR 400,000 rubles [approx. $5,755] for failing to voluntarily [sic] register itself as a “foreign agent.”

The complaint says the OPR has been a nuisance to the Putin regime since the organization has led the campaign against the Plato road tolls payment system, which ultimately benefits businessmen closely allied with the Kremlin. The truckers are certain it was their grassroots activism that caused the authorities to persecute them. The fine leveled against the OPR not only was far in excess of the foreign donations it received but has also financially ruined the organization.

Glukhov points out the ECHR has received several dozen complaints from Russian NGOs labeled “foreign agents” by the Russian government, but the court has not yet ruled on Russia’s “foreign agent” law and its application in practice. However, the court has communicated the facts of the first large group of cases to the Russian authorities, while a second group of cases was nearing completion, meaning that a ruling on complaints filed by Russian “foreign agent” NGOs could be expected next year, argues Glukhov. The OPR’s complaint is part of a third wave of complaints filed in Strasbourg. As they await the court’s ruling, Russian NGOs continue to suffer from the harsh law.

Everyone has the right to complain to the EHCR, but the Russian Justice Ministry begins to work with a complaint [sic] only after the court has communicated its consent to hear the case, says Andrei Fyodorov, head of the office of Russia’s representative to the EHCR.

Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky says the EHCR has rarely ruled that Article 18 of the European Convention has been violated. Recently, however, in response to a complaint filed by opposition politician Alexei Navalny, the court ruled Russia had violated Article 18. The ruling was a precedent of sorts. Agranovsky has the sense that, before the Navalny case, the court’s Grand Chamber had postponed other cases in which Article 18 had been invoked, but now it had worked out a common set of rules that could be applied in other cases as well. On the other hand, there was a risk Article 18 would be devalued, Agranovsky warns [sic].

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[Three] Years of Plato: How Russian Authorities Forced Truckers to Pay Road Tolls

fullscreen-118c.jpg[Three] years ago, on November 15, 2015, Russian authorities launched the Plato system (“Plato” is an acronym for “payment for a ton” in Russian) to collect tolls from owners of heavy-duty trucks traveling on federal highways. The authorities claimed their goal was to compensate for the damage the trucks caused to roads. It was decided the toll would be applied to owners of trucks weighing over twelve tons. Photo courtesy of Maxim Stulov/Vedomosti and RBC 

fullscreen-12pmThe right to develop and implement Plato was awarded to RT Invest Transport Systems without tendering. The company is owned on a parity basis by Igor Rotenberg and RT Invest, which is 25.01% owned by Rostec and 74.99% owned by Andrei Shipelov’s firm Tsaritsyn Capital LLC. The Russian government agreed to pay Plato’s developer and operator 10.6 billion rubles [approx. $153 million at current exchange rates] annually.  Photo of Igor Rotenberg courtesy of Nikolai Galkin/TASS and RBC 

fullscreen-123u.jpgOpposition politician Alexei Navalny and Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) lawyer Ivan Zhdanov asked that the courts declare the government’s agreement with RT Invest Transport Systems null and void. Their lawsuit was rejected first by the Moscow Court of Arbitration, and later by the Russian Constitutional Court. Photo of Alexei Navalny courtesy of Yevgeny Razumny/Vedomosti and RBC 

fullscreen-12do Truckers in forty Russian regions protested against Plato in November 2016. They demanded Plato be turned off, a three-year moratorium imposed on its use, and the system be tested for at least a year. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov/Vedomosti and RBC

fullscreen-12suWhen Plato was launched in November 2015, truck drivers paid 1.53 rubles a kilometer. Four months later, the authorities planned to double the toll, but after negotiations with truckers they made concessions, reducing the toll increase to 25%. Since April 15, 2017, the authorities have charged trucks 1.91 rubles a kilometer. Photo courtesy of Sergei Nikolayev/Vedomosti and RBC 

fullscreen-12d8However, even the discounted [sic] toll increase did not sit well with all truckers [sic]. On March 27, 2016, the OPR went on what it called an indefinite nationwide strike. Truckers protested the toll increases and demanded fairness and transparency at weight stations. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny/Vedomosti and RBC. [The slogans read, “Down with Plato!!! It’s Rotenberg’s Feeding Trough” and “We’re Against Toll Roads.”

fullscreen-12jxIn October 2017, the government approved a bill increasing fines for nonpayment of Plato tolls from 5,000 rubles to 20,000 rubles. If passed, the law would make it possible to charge drivers for violations that occurred six months earlier. The new rules were set to take effect in 2018. Photo of Dmitry Medvedev courtesy of Dmitry Astakhov/TASS and RBC 

fullscreen-1ghbPlato’s database has registered 921,000 vehicles weighing over twelve tons. According to the Russian Transport Ministry, during its first two years of operation, Plato raised 37 billion rubles for the Federal Roads Fund. In the autumn of 2017, the government selected three projects that would be financed by the monies raised by Plato: a fourth bridge in Novosibirsk and bypasses around the cities of Chusovoy (Perm Territory) and Khabarovsky. Photo courtesy of Georgy Shpikalov/PhotoXPress and RBC

fullscreen-11h3.jpgVehicles that transport people are exempt from Plato tolls, as are emergency vehicles, including vehicles used by firefighters, police, ambulance services, emergency services, and the military traffic police. Vehicles used to transport military equipment are also exempt from the toll. Photo courtesy of Gleb Garanich/Reuters and RBC

 

Let’s Give In to Russian Blackmail

nod-constitution day-1“The Russian Constitution: The Basic Law or Legal Sabotage?” Front page of a newspaper handed out on the streets of Petersburg by memberx of NOD (National Liberation Movement) on December 12, 2018, celebrated as Constitution Day in Russia. This article argues that Russia’s current constitution, adopted in 1993, was drafted by CIA agents working under the cover of USAID. Their goal, allegedly, was to colonize Russia by subjugating its sovereignty to international law.

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Don’t Let Russia Leave the Council of Europe
Yuri Dzhibladze and Konstantin Baranov
oDR
December 13, 2018

Those who wish to punish the Kremlin for its aggressive actions in Ukraine and elsewhere are missing the target: it is not the Russian government, but the Russian public who will suffer if the country leaves the Council of Europe.

After the Kerch Strait incident, proponents of pushing Russia out of the Council of Europe seem to have got additional justification for their position in a discussion that rages in the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). In fact, the potential costs of this departure appear to be too high and far-reaching—not only for the Russian society, but for the whole of Europe.

More than four years since its delegation has been deprived of voting and participation rights in the PACE, Russia is now a step away from leaving the Council of Europe – either at its own initiative or as a result of expulsion for non-payment of its membership fees. In recent months, the situation has reached a deadlock due to an uncompromising position of both the Russian authorities and their critics in the PACE.

Those who wish to punish the Kremlin for its aggressive actions in Ukraine and elsewhere miss the target: it is not the Russian government, but the Russian public who would suffer the most should the country leave the Council of Europe. Since 1996, when Russia joined the organisation, for millions living in the country (including nationals of other states), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has been an ultimate hope for justice, which they cannot find in Russia. In this period, almost 2,500 judgements have been delivered to Russia. In 2017 alone, the state paid over 14.5 million euros as just satisfaction to victims. The judgments have had a significant positive impact on Russian laws and judicial practice, despite their implementation being far from ideal and counting to roughly one-third of cases. Should Russia depart from the Council of Europe, the scope of human rights problems in the country will grow exponentially, including a threat of speedy reinstatement of the death penalty.

The potential consequences would go far beyond the deterioration of the internal situation. This move would not resolve the issue of the annexed Crimea or put an end to the armed conflict in Donbass. On the contrary, expelling the violating country would demonstrate the weakness of the European system of protection of human rights and the rule of law in dealing with such gross violations.

What is more, Russia’s withdrawal would definitely worsen conditions of citizens of Ukraine and other countries who are held in Russian prisons and face unfair trials, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. It would also result in a denial of the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to inhabitants of Russia-controlled Crimea. It would eliminate effective guarantees from deportation for refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Finally, the practice of expulsion of a member state might trigger other countries to leave the Council and deter Belarus from returning to a special observer’s status at the PACE.

Politicians should assume full responsibility for making the choice that may define Europe’s future and work towards a solution that would preserve the common European legal framework and space for critical dialogue aimed at promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law on the entire territory of Europe, including Russia.

We do not demand to “give in to blackmailing.” Lifting all restrictions on the Russian delegation in the PACE would be indeed unprincipled. However, finding a reasonable solution, in our view, would be a courageous decision to take responsibility and to advance the core values of the organisation by allowing the critical dialogue to continue. Amending the PACE rules of procedure – restricting national delegations’ rights only within the Assembly itself and not depriving them of the voting rights in elections of non-PACE mandates—including ECtHR judges, Commissioner for Human Rights and Secretary General—appears such a legally sound and reasonable solution.

Threats by Russian officials to leave the Council of Europe are not just a bluff to raise the bargaining stakes. There are many influential people in the Russian political establishment in favour of isolationist policies who actually want the country to withdraw. If a reasonable solution is not found before next spring, Russia’s authorities will not wait for the official discussion of its potential expulsion at the Committee of Ministers in June 2019 and will announce the withdrawal from the Council before.

It should be clear to everyone: Russia’s departure from the Council of Europe would not stop human rights violations and halt the authoritarian backslide in our country, or prevent the Kremlin’s aggressive behaviour in the international arena. Instead, it would put an end to a difficult struggle of Russian civil society to make Russia an important part of Europe on the basis of shared norms and values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. It will turn a large territory in Europe into a legal “grey zone” for decades to come.

The authors represent a group of Russian human rights defenders who recently issued a Memorandum on the crisis in relations between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation.

About the authors

Yuri Dzhibladze is a founder and president of Moscow-based Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights and advocacy coordinator at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. He has worked on human rights, democracy, and international organisations since the late 1980s.

Konstantin Baranov is member of the Coordinating Council and international advocacy coordinator at the Youth Human Rights Movement, an international NGO enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe. He is an expert on the protection of civil society space and fundamental freedoms in Russia and the post-Soviet area.

NB. This article was originally published by oDR under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence

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When will Russia stop behaving like the enemy of Western Europe?
Dima Vorobiev, I worked for Soviet propaganda
Quora
Answered Feb 18

Russia is not the enemy of the Western Europe. The disruptive policy of President Putin is aimed at (1) weakening the political and military dominance of the US in Europe and/or (2) full or partial acceptance by the West of the following list of Russia’s political objectives:

  • Recognition of Crimea as Russian territory
  • Total freeze on expansion of NATO. No membership for Sweden, Finland, Ukraine or Georgia.
  • No NATO bases in the Baltics, Poland, Czech republic and Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Removal of the American anti-ballistic bases in Central Europe.
  • Finlandization of Georgia, Ukraine and guarantees of such arrangement for Belarus, in case it gets a pro-Western government in the future.
  • Guarantees of unhindered land connection through Lithuania between the Russian heartland and the exclave of Kaliningrad. The unhindered transit through the Suwalki gap would be very useful for Russia as a gauge of the level of determination on the part of NATO in the case of a swift escalation in tensions.
  • Recognition of Russia’s right to permanent military presence in the Mediterranean (through bases in Syria and possibly in Libya or other places)
  • Repeal of all sanctions against Russian oligarchs, their companies and sectoral interests.

If the West won’t agree to such a new global security arrangement, the current confrontation will continue, with variations only in the level of tensions. Because of the technological gap, the Russian military-industrial complex will increasingly depend on China for high-tech components for our weapons systems. Russian economy will also be more and more streamlined to accommodate the needs of Chinese manufacturing.

This stalemate can continue for many years, unless one of the following happens:

  1. Unexpected massive deterioration of economy in Russia.
  2. Low-probability, high-impact catastrophe in the US or Europe that makes the West seek help from Russia
  3. Power shift in Russia with full revision of national policy. (Highly unlikely with President Putin still in power).

Russia: Great Cops, Wicked People

police vs youthThe Russian Justice Ministry insists there have been no violations by Russian law enforcers at protest rallies, but that complainants broke the law themselves. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti 

Russian Authorities See No Laws Broken in Large-Scale Detentions at Protest Rallies: Justice Ministry Explains to Strasbourg That Detainees Broke the Law Themselves
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
October 8, 2018

Last week, the Russian Justice Ministry’s press reported the ministry had sent a legal opinion to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), explaining the position of the Russian authorities on the merits of twenty formal complaints made to the court concerning administrative convictions handed down by Russian courts for alleged violations of the law on protest rallies during public events in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Barnaul in 2016–2017.

The Justice Ministry’s opinion is encapsulated in the following argument: “The termination of public events held by the complainants and their prosecution under the law do not violate international norms and [were] aimed at maintaining public order, security, and the rights of other persons. The corresponding charges of administrative offenses were ajudicated by [Russian] courts in full compliance with the requirements of procedural laws, and in compliance with the adversarial principle and the equality of arms.”

The Russian Justice Ministry insists there have been no violations by Russian law enforcers at protest rallies, but that complainants broke the law themselves.

“Although they had the opportunity to hold their events in compliance with the law, the complainants knowingly neglected their obligation to coordinate them with the proper authorities,” the Justice Ministry argued.

The Justice Ministry reminded the court that, in the past, the ECHR has acknowledged the right of states to establish requirements for the organization and conduct of public events, as well as the right to impose penalties on persons who do not comply with these demands. The Justice Ministry referred to the ECHR’s rulings in Berladir and Others v. Russia (10 July 2012) and Éva Molnár v. Hungary (7 October 2008).

Last year, complaints to the ECHR regarding violations of the freedom of assembly were second in popularity only to complaints about conditions of detention, and they may come in first place this year. Since the beginning of 2018, the ECHR has fast-tracked its consideration of these cases in keeping with established practice.

Alexei Glukhov, head of the legal service Defending Protest (Apologiya protesta), which specializes in helping people detained at public events, says that, despite fast tracking, the Russian authorities respond at length to each complaint. (In the cases that Defending Protest has handled, there have been over fifty official communiqués alone.) The responses are almost always the same, however. There were no violations of constitutional rights, the Russian authorities explain: law enforcement agencies acted according to the letter of the law, while it was the demonstrators themselves who violated it, even if the authorities sent them deep into the woods to hold their protest rally.

Glukhov argues the Justice Ministry’s current legal opinion is intended for internal use. Law enforcers and ordinary Russians alike should understand it is pointless to invoke Article 11 of the European Convention, which protects the right to freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form trade unions.

Actually, the Justice Ministry is in a pickle, argues civil rights attorney Dmitry Agranovsky. It must export the image of a democratic country abroad, but this correlates poorly with de facto feudalism at home, where all efforts have been made to reduce the numbers of protests and protesters, says Agranovsky. According to him, not only administrative but also criminal punishments are clearly out of synch with the violations that occur and are meant to have a chilling effect on the populace.

Translated by the Russian Reader