Maria Eismont: Rules for a Rotten Life

asphalt i'm not match for you“I’m no match for you, pavement. If you ride a bike, wear a helmet.” Public service advertisement in central Petersburg, 13 October 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader 

Rules for a Rotten Life
Any of Us Can Be Detained by the Police and Should Be Prepared for It
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
November 8, 2017

Last weekend, Pavel Yarilin, a member of Moscow’s Airport District Municipal Council, and his colleagues spent several hours at a police station trying to secure the release of young auditors of the Higher School of Economics lecture program. The students had been taken to the police station after exiting their classes and finding themselves in the midst of a massive police crackdown on supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev, fugitive leader of the Artpodgovotka (Artillery Bombardment) movement, banned in Russia by a court order. Police were detaining people who had shown up for the “revolution” Maltsev announced for November 5, 2017. The total number of detainees exceeded 300 people.

Yarilin enunciated the impressions of what he witnessed and his conclusions in a detailed text he posted on the local community’s Facebook page, which he provocatively entitled “Be Ready, or, What It’s Time to Think about If Your Child Is between 13 and 25.”

“This applies to any person walk downing the street. Any person, including your son and you yourself. It is a random inevitability, so you shouldn’t be afraid. You should prepare yourself for the eventuality that, if you are arrested, you must behave the right way,” warns the councilman.

His second conclusion: “You can be named a witness in a criminal case due to an event about which you heard nothing at all.”

His third conclusion follows from the first two. It is addressed to parents of young adults.

“Your child does not necessarily have to be guilty to end up where he or she has ended up,” he writes.

The number of grateful comments under Yarilin’s account and the number of reposts nicely illustrate the relevance of such texts, which explain the unwritten rules of life in Russia to those people who have only just become adults, as well as to those people who for whatever reason have never thought hard about how things really work or were confused about them.

“One is a bit horrified by the fact this affects all of us, and yet there are no absolute rules for defending ourselves from it, nothing that says, ‘Do such and such, and everything will definitely be fine,'” writes Yarilin.

Today there is no simple and clear recipe for counteracting the total vulnerability of individuals before the state. But if we still cannot change the circumstances, we can describe them completely accurately, calling things by their real names and using words in their original sense.

Proceedings for authorizing an illegal, groundless arrest cannot be called a court hearing, just as you cannot call it an illegal event when citizens take to the streets unarmed and peaceably. You cannot speak of defending the country while attacking another country. You cannot call five minutes of hate a lesson in patriotism, and real patriots “foreign agents.” Parliamentary parties from the “systemic opposition” who blindly adopt cannibalistic, absurd laws dropped in their laps by the powers that be cannot be called opposition parties, and the work they do cannot be identified as politics.

The only thing today that could be called an election campaign in the sense that elections involve a real struggle for power, a contest of platforms and ideas, is the campaign Alexei Navalny has been running in the regions. But the authorities have been hassling Navalny’s campaign every which way they can, sometimes using methods that are absolutely unacceptable and illegal: banning peaceable rallies, arresting activists for no reason, firing the relatives of activists from their jobs, and forcing school administrators to threaten schoolchildren. So, the number of people who can benefit from Yarilin’s advice is bound to grow.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

The Great October Conspiracy

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Monuments to the Holy Martyrs Tsarevich Alexei, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. Our Lady of Tikhvin Church, 128a Ligovsky Avenue, Petersburg, 19 July 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader.

The Great October Conspiracy
Conspiracy theories were as useful in 1917 as they are one hundred years later
Fyodor Krasheninnikov
Vedomosti
October 31, 2017

A hundred years ago, Russia stood on the treshold of the Bolshevik coup and the subsequent long-term dictatorship of the Communist Party. How did it happen that society could summon up no forces to stop it?

If you believe conspiracy theorists, in 1917, the forces of darkness managed twice in a single year, in February and October, to pull off the same trick: to hatch a plot and overthrow the existing regime. This take on what happened a hundred years ago has become all but official, and on the anniversary of the Bolshevik coup we will be treated to it again and again.

The story of German agents plotting against Russia was dreamt up a hundred years ago. After the July Days of 1917, a brief revolt in Petrograd against the Provisional Government, an idea emerged in the depths of the counterintelligence service, which had been disfigured by revolutionary purges. The Bolsheviks would be declared German intelligence agents, society would be incited against them, and counterintelligence could take the gloves off. Yet no serious evidence of the charges was presented, and consequently the attempt to save the crumbling Kerensky regime by telling a lie dealt a blow to the regime itself.

After the Bolsheviks came to power and did everything they did, the story about German spies took on a life of its own, eventually fusing with the monarchist theory that Freemasons had organized the February Revolution.

Conspiracy theories are equally useful to the authorities in 1917 and in 2017 for an obvious reason: it lets them off the hook for the state of the nation. Economic downturns, foreign policy failures, and popular discontent are all ascribed to outside forces and their domestic agents. When they turn the talk to spies and conspiraces, the powers that be make their lives easier, for inflating spy mania, and encouraging people to tighten their belts and rally round the current regime, whatever it is like, is much simpler than improving the economic and sociopolitical circumstances at home and thereby raising the popularity of the regime itself.

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“The Russian Economic Miracle.” A stand purporting to prove that all was well with the Russian Empire on the eve of the First World War and the Revolutions of 1917. Our Lady of Tikhvin Church, 128a Ligovsky Avenue, Petersburg, 19 July 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

The main lesson to be drawn from a thoughtful reflection on the events of 1917 is that the government is primarily to blame for revolutions and coups, because it generates the prerequisites for its successful overthrow. We can endlessly mourn the last tsar and his family, but the truth is that it was Nicholas II who brought things to the point where a huge empire collapsed in a matter of days for the most ridiculous reason, and the institution of the monarchy proved incapable of mobilizing its potential supporters to defend, if not the overthrown tsar himself, then at least the Romanov dynasty and the monarchical system.

By hemming and hawing, and proving incapable either of solving the most urgent economic problems or holding elections to the Constituent Assembly until state power had utterly collapsed, the Provisional Government did its all to pave the way for the Bolsheviks and their sympathizers to seize power.

No conspiracy hatched by agents could have led to the seizure of power in the vast country if the program and slogans of the Bolsheviks had not been popular, and they themselves had not been regarded as a force capable of introducing at least minimal order, launching urgent social reforms, and finally holding elections to the Constituent Assembly.

We now know that the Bolsheviks deceived the workers, peasants, and soldiers, while also failing to bring the country social justice, peace or prosperity. But as we look back a hundred years, we must judge the circumustances not from the perspective of what we know nowadays, but from the viewpoint of contemporaries of those events, who saw only growing chaos on all sides and took seriously the promises made by the Bolsheviks.

Fortunately, there is no war [sic], no “land question,” and nothing like the Bolshevik Party, with its radical leftist platform and readiness for violence nowadays, so direct comparisons are completely out of place. But attempts by the current regime to chalk up all its failures and all dissatisfaction with it to the baleful endeavors of foreign agents and fabled Russophobes do, indeed, evoke the saddest comparisons with the past.

Fyodor Krasheninnikov is a political scientist based in Yekaterinburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

You’ve Lost Control Again

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Black Lists and Total Monitoring: Agora’s New Report on the Surveillance of Russians
A person’s life is utterly transparent to the secret services
Damir Gainutdinov
Republic
August 22, 2017

The Agora International Human Rights Group has released a report entitled “Russia under Surveillance 2017: How the Authorities Are Setting Up a Total System for Monitoring Citizens.” Damir Gainutdinov, the report’s co-author, discusses its key points. The Russian state has been harvesting an unprecedented amount of information about its citizens and wants to collect other kinds of information. It maintains a system of black lists that categorize different types of citizens and has been engaged in a relentless assault on internet anonymity. (You can read the full report in Russian.)

In recent years, Russia has been assembling a complex system for monitoring grassroots activists, reporters, and members of the opposition, a system that encompasses at least several thousand people. Under the pretext of public safety, and fighting extremism and terrorism, the security forces have been monitoring people’s movements around the country and when they cross national borders, wiretapping their phone conversations, intercepting their SMS and email messages, staking them out and surveilling them with audio and video equipment, and analyzing and systematizing biometric information. They have made vigorous use of illegal methods, for example, hacking internet accounts.

The key problem is the absolute lack of control over the state’s invasion of our private lives. The courts rubber stamp decisions taken by the security services. There is almost no chance of successfully challenging the decisions in court. Hence, over the past ten years, the courts have on average approved 98.35% of motions by the state to limit a person’s privacy of correspondence. The upshot is that any law-abiding resident of Russia is now constantly exposed to the risk of arbitrary access to her private life through the internet, mobile telephones, video surveillance, random contacts with the police, when using money, pubic transportation, and driving her car, and applying for a job at a number of workplaces, as well as traveling abroad, carrying weapons, and exercising her other rights.

Privacy and the presumption of innocence are meaningless, and the intensity of the interference has been constantly increasing. The number of requests to eavesdrop on telephone conversations and intercept correspondence have alone more than tripled since 2007.  A person is faced with a choice: either accept total surveillance as a given or look for ways of guarding her privacy. The state, however, regards the latter as illegal, the attempt to hide something criminal.

Complusory Biometrics
The Russian authorities have been vigorously engaged in gathering biometric information: fingerprints, DNA samples, and photographs. By law, this can be done without the individual’s consent if it is a matter of national security, for example. Aside from voluntary fingerprinting (anyone can go to a police and submit his fingerprints), the procedure is obligatory for a large number of people ranging from security services officers to people applying to work as private detectives, from suspects in criminal cases to people who have only committed administrative offenses if there is no other way to identify them, from large numbers of foreigners to stateless persons. Since 2015, anyone over the age of twelve who applies for a biometric foreign travel passport must also submit prints of two fingers. Meaning that, currently, we are talking about at least 25 million people. [Russia’s current population is approximately 143 million.]

Despite the clear list of grounds for compulsory biometric registration, there are regular reports of patently illegal attempts to fingerprint, photograph, and do saliva swipes for DNA tests. Participants of public events such as protest rallies, political activists, and reporters have been the victims of these attempts.

For example, on March 23, 2017, in Moscow, police detained supporters of Alexei Navalny who were handing out stickers in support of his campaign to be allowed to run in the 2018 presidential elections. The detainees were all taken to the Arbat Police Precinct for “preventive” discussions, during which the information in their internal passports was copied and they were fingerprinted. In another incident, which took place on April 6, 2017, at a market in Simferopol, around fifty people of “non-Slavic appearance” were detained, allegedly, because they were mixed up with Crimean Tatar activists in Crimea. Lawyer Edem Semedlyaev said all the detainees were forcibly fingerprinted, photographed, and swabbed for DNA samples.

Video Surveillance
As of 2015, the so-called Secure City complex has begun to be installed in all regions. Secure City is an extensive system of video surveillance and facial recognition. In Moscow alone, 184.6 billion rubles [approx. 2.6 billion euros] have been allocated on implementating the program until 2019. As of 2016, 86.3% of residential neighborhoods in Moscow were covered by CCTV systems. 128,590 cameras had been installed, 98,000 of them in stairwells. The Secure City video archive is stored for five days, and direct access to the recordings is enjoyed not only by the Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] but also by other state agencies.

Under the pretext of getting ready for international sports events, the authorities have improved their surveillance capacities. Sports complexes are equipped with CCTV systems featuring facial recognition functions, even in towns not hosting sporting events. Moscow’s railway stations have been expanding the areas covered by cameras that identify faces and record car license numbers. The Russian government has issued a decree ordering local authorities to draw up lists of places where more than fifty people can gather. They all must be equipped with CCTV systems. The recordings will be stored for thirty days.

Special systems for identifying people have been used at authorized public events [i.e., permitted protest rallies]. For example, officials have admitted they could have identified absolutely everyone who passed through the inspection line on June 12 on Sakharov Avenue.

Tracking Movements
When you buy a ticket, stay at a hotel or use public-access Wi-Fi in Russia, you are informing the regime about your whereabouts.

When you have anything to with with almost any form of long-distance public transportation, the authorities will at very least learn your name, date of birth, type and number of identity card, sex, nationality, departure and destination points, route, and other information using a round-the-clock interactive system.

The practice of scanning passports is widespread in hotels, since management is obliged to inform the Interior Ministry about the registration of guests within twenty-four hours.

The information obtained is sufficient to determine the whereabouts of a person of interest at any moment. The information is used, among other things, to track the movements of activists and human rights workers, and exert pressure on them. This was how Agora lawyer Alexander Popkov was followed when he arrived in one of the regional centers of Krasnodar Territory to take part in the trial of a police officer accused of rape and murder. Arrivign at the train station, Popkov was swiftly met by police investigators, who immediately informed him he was listed in a Russian Interior Ministry database, and so they wanted to know his purpose for visiting the city. The policemen knew his route and means of transportation, his place of residence, and the particulars of his documents.

Eight Years of Administrative Supervision
In May 2017, the use of administrative supervision for persons released from imprisonment increased. A court has ordered that an acknowledged political prisoner, Tatar activist Rafis Kashapov, will be placed under administrative supervision for eight years after being released from prison. In 2015, Kashapov was sentenced to three years in a prison colony for publishing texts critical of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Now, after he is released, Kashapov must register with the police within three days, inform them of all his travel plans and changes of places of residence and work, and report to a police station to give testimony when required by the police. Police officers can conduct individual preventive work with him, ask his employer about his behavior, freely enter his house, and forbid him from making short trips even, for example, when a relative dies.

In addition to administration supervision, which is on the record, there is also clandestine surveillance. Formally, putting someone on preventive registration is part of the beat cop’s routine work. In practice, it has turned into a means for surveilling “suspicious” people, which includes not only ex-cons and registered drug addicts but also people who have committed crimes against public safety at mass events [i.e., committed minor or wholly fictitious infractions at protest rallies], as well as members of “informal youth organizations.”

Lists of the Disloyal
Aside from putting people on preventive registration, the Russian authorities maintain a number of different lists and databases, chockablock with “unreliable” people and organizations. If you end up on one of these lists, you are guaranteed increased attention from law enforcement, including constant checks, detentions, and inspections. Here are only a few of these lists.

Rosfinmonitoring (Federal Financial Monitoring Service) publishes a list of organizations and peoples involved, allegedly, in extremism or terrorism. The list includes the names, dates and places of the birth of the people, and the relevant information about the organizations. A court order banning an organization or sentencing someone for a crime is not required for inclusion on the list. The list features not only people convicted of terrorism but also people suspected of terrorism. It suffices that a prosecutor or the Justice Ministry has suspended an organization’s work or brought charges or declared someone a suspect in the commission of one or more of twenty-two crimes listed in the Criminal Code, including the most “popular” anti-“extremist” crimes. Currently, the list includes 7,558 Russian citizens, 411 foreign nationals, and 182 organizations.

Inclusion in the list means the state has total control of your financial transactions and disposal of your property. All transactions to which a person on Rosfinmonitoring’s list is a party are subject to mandatory control by banks. If they fail to exercise this control, they will be punished by the Russian Central Bank. By default, all transactions are frozen, but you can spend 10,000 rubles per month per family member [approx. 143 euros]  from the wages you earn, and you can also spend the welfare payments you receive. It often happens that people placed on the list discover it after the fact, when they call the bank to find out why a transaction has not been completed.

Of course, there is also the list of NGOs declared “foreign agents,” which the Justice Ministry requires to submit additional reporting on property, expenditures, and management. The Justice Ministry also keeps lists of “undesirable” and “extremist” organizations (currently, there are 11 and 61 of these organizations, respectively). When they are accorded this status, the authorities are obliged to identify their rank-and-file members. When it is a matter of large organizations, thousands and, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of people find themselves targets of surveillance. Thus, in the wake of the banning and forced closure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia in 2017, up to 150,000 of its followers in Russia face the prospect of criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions.

Groups that used to be on the periphery of public life, for example, football fans, have also faced increased attention from the authorities. After a law was amended in 2016, the Interior Ministry began publishing lists of people banned from attending sporting events. The listed included 319 names at the the end of July.

Schoolchildren are yet another group that has faced increased police surveillance. Thus, in the Education Ministry’s recommendations on criminal subcultures [sic], schoolteachers are practically delegated the role of police investigators vis-à-vis minors. They are obliged to divulge information to the police about the private lives of their pupils and their families. This means that the children are entered into the record and put in various police databases.

The Attack on Anonymity
In 2016, the authorities launched a vigorous campaign against anonymity on the internet. The so-called Yarovaya anti-terrorist package of amendments to existing laws could have supplied the secret services with unsupervised access to all communication among users if it were not for the resistance of some providers and standard end-to-end encryption. The Yarovaya package continued the policy of nationalizing and deanonymizing the Runet, which could provide full control over the information flows inside Russia.

The next steps were the laws on messengers and anonymizers, signed by the president on July 30, 2017. The first law, in particular, stipulates the obligatory identification of users by mobile telephone numbers. The second law is essentially an attempt to establish total control over anonymizers and VPNs.

In August 2017, the Communications Ministry published draft requirements for internet providers, as listed in the register of information distribution companies. The draft includes a list of information that must be accessible to the FSB (Federal Security Service): the date and time the user was registered, and the latest update of the registration form; nickname, date of birth, address, full name, passport particulars, other identity documents, languages spoken, information about relatives, and accounts with other providers; the receipt, sending, and processing of messages, images, and sounds; recipients of messenges; financial transactions, including payees, amounts paid, currency, goods and services paid for; and client programs and geolocation information, among other things. Providers are required to store and transmit to the security services not only sent and received messages, but draft messages as well.

And yet public opinion polls show the majority of Russians are not terribbly worried about maintaining privacy for the time being. [Russian opinion polls are worthless as measures of real opinion—TRR.] For activists, reporters, and members of the opposition, however, the refusal of internet companies to cooperate with the authorities and the capacity to withstand hacking are the only guarantees of their security.

Without access to encrypted correspondence, the Russian state, apparently has had to resort to the services of hackers. Thus, on October 11, 2016, Google and Yandex warned several dozen activists, reporters, and NGO employees about an attempt by “pro-government hackers” to hack their accounts.

The Burden of Information
Despite establishing legal grounds for harvesting information about nearly everyone in Russia, there is a huge amount of evidence the regime is technologically and financially incapable of gathering, storing, and qualitatively processing it.

The most obvious example of this is, perhaps, the Yarovaya package itself. During an economic crisis, the authorities are clearly not willing to incur the huge expenses required to implement the entire range of e-surveillance of the populace, which, according to various estimates, could cost from 130 billion rubles [approx. 1.86 billion euros] to 10 trillion rubles [approx. 143 billion euros]. Consequently, the duties of collecting and saving traffic have been sloughed off onto the telecoms and internet providers, who are likewise not at all happy about such a “gift” and have already begun to raise their rates. Meaning that the surveilled themselves have been asked to pay for the ability of the secret services to read their correspondence and view their personal photographs, to pay a kind of “shadowing” tax. Meanwhile, since more than half the world’s internet traffic is already transmitted in encrypted form, the regime, even though it has access to exabytes of user correspondence, has been forced to demand that providers supply them with encryption keys.

Aware of its limited resources, the Russian state has focused on more diligent work with specific groups. Hence, the enthusiasm over different types of black lists, as well as the delegation of surveillance duties to telecoms, internet providers, banks, and transportation companies. On the one hand, they have access to the information; on the other hand, they depend on the state, make their money from government contracts or receive their licenses and permits from the state.

The authorities are willing to chuck the black lists, which have proved ineffective, just as they gave up on the bloggers register. This would enable them to focus resources on various risk groups. When necessary, they could include people of special interest in the groups while surveilling the populace as a whole.

Consequently, the security departments of many commercial organizations have been ratting on their clients to the security forces, headmasters have been forced to gather dirt on schoolchildren, and internet providers to monitor the traffic of users. Even as it stores this growing mountain of information on Russians, the authorities care little for their safety. Increasingly, user data has become publicly accessible, often deliberately.

Damir Gainutdinov is a legal analyst at Agora. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Petersburg Enviromental Rights Center Bellona Declared “Foreign Agent”

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Petersburg Environmental Center Bellona Declared Foreign Agent 
Interfax
January 16, 2017

On Monday, the Russian Federal Justice Ministry placed the Petersburg enviromental organization Bellona on its list of “foreign agents,” according to the ministry’s website.

“The fact that the organization bears the hallmarks of a non-profit organization, performing the functions of a foreign agent, was established during an unscheduled site inspection carried out by the Justice Ministry’s St. Petersburg office,” read the message on the website.

In March 2015, the Justice Ministry placed the non-profit public environmental organization Bellona Murmansk on the list of “foreign agents.” Six months later, the organization closed.

The non-profit public organization Bellona was formed in 1986. Its central office is in Oslo. Two branches of the environmental organization operated in Russia, in Murmansk and St. Petersburg.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader; the emphasis is mine

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Environmental Rights Center Bellona called a ‘foreign agent’ by Russian government
Charles Digges
Bellona
January 16, 2017

In a troubling development for international ecological groups that deal with questions of Russia’s Cold War nuclear legacy, Moscow’s Justice Ministry on Monday named the Environmental Rights Center Bellona as a “foreign agent.”

ERC Bellona, founded by Alexander Nikitin in 1998, became the 158th organization tarred with the foreign agent label since the restrictive 2012 Law on NGOs came into effect.

Nikitin said the group had been undergoing a so-called unplanned check since before the New Year, and had been told it would receive written notification about its status from the Justice Ministry by December 25.

But that date came and went with no notice. Nikitin first learned of the new designation Monday, when Russia’s state newswire TASS began reporting on the organization’s designation as a foreign agent.

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ERC Bellona Chairman Alexander Nikitin (Photo: Bellona)

Nikitin was undeterred by the news.

“We expected this decision,” said Nikitin. But he also said it would not impede the organization’s mission.

“This means that we will continue working,” Nikitin said.

“We won’t throw aside our very important work over such small change,” he said. “All of our projects remain, all of our people will remain, and we will find ways to continue our work.”

The group has long had a turbulent relationship with officialdom. When it was founded, Nikitin was on trial for supposedly revealing state secrets in a Bellona report on the decrepit state of Russia’s northern nuclear fleet.

In 2000, Nikitin was fully acquitted by the Russian Supreme Court and became the only individual to ever be cleared of treason charges leveled by Russian or Soviet security services.

The report he and Bellona wrote then became a guidepost document for western governments that wanted to invest in helping Russia secure its Cold War legacy of decommissioned nuclear submarines and military nuclear waste, programs that continue successfully to this day.

ERC Bellona has helped target more than $3 billion worth of international funding to dismantle 200 derelict submarines and other floating nuclear hazards in the Arctic region, like the Lepse nuclear service ship.

The group has also been instrumental in decades-long joint efforts between Norway and Russia to clean up the notorious submarine maintenance base at Andreyeva Bay.

Bellona’s efforts were jeopardized in 2012 when the Russian government passed its NGO law stipulating that non-profits operating in whole or in part on foreign funding must register themselves as “foreign agents” with the Justice Ministry if they engage in broadly defined “political activity.”

The Ministry in 2014 was given broad powers to name foreign agents on its own.

The law has shuttered more than a third of NGOs in the country, one of which was Bellona’s oldest Russian office, Bellona Murmansk.

That group decided to disband itself rather than undertake considerable legal costs to have its name removed from the foreign agent registry.

The decision by the Justice Ministry to list ERC Bellona as a foreign agent dashes considerable recent hopes that the government might cease targeting environmental groups with the foreign agent label.

The Justice Ministry’s report said ERC Bellona was engaged in political activity for “publishing, including via contemporary informational technologies, opinions on decisions taken by the government and policies that it has adopted,” apparently a reference to Bellona’s Russian website, Bellona.ru.

The Justice Ministry also accused ERC Bellona of attempting to “form socio-political opinions and convictions.”

Nikitin has long said ERC Bellona has nothing to do with any kind of political activity. But amendments to the NGO law last year impossibly broadened the notion of political activity.

Those amendments, which were signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June, “maximally restricted” what NGOs could do, said Nikitin.

Among the more exotic interpretations of what political activity is are the popular practice of sending open letters to Russian politicians at any level of government; participating in gatherings or demonstrations; criticizing laws passed by any level of government; using websites to air opinions about any decision made by the government, and any attempts to influence the drafting of legislation.

The police department in St. Petersburg had recently launched a campaign of demanding financial information from the city’s 158 nonprofits that accept some amount of funding from foreign sources.

How Hybrid Warfare Really Works

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This is how hybrid war really works.

Whenever the US and EU make a (usually milquetoast) move the Kremlin doesn’t like, the Kremlin responds by punishing its own citizens, either collectively or individually, through measures like the counter-sanctions against produce imports (involving the massive confiscation and destruction of perfectly good food in a country where the populace spends 80% of its income on essentials) or the “foreign agents” law, which the wildly misnamed Russian Justice Ministry has been implementing with sheer abandon the last couple of years, doing palpable damage to Russian civil society and social research in the process.

The latest victim in this war of attrition or “cold civil war” against what should be the Kremlin’s home team but which it treats as its sworn enemies is Moscow’s estimable SOVA Center. If the SOVA Center had not existed all these years, we would know 500% less about homegrown racism, discrimination, neo-Nazism, and the Russia state’s quirky battle against “extremism” than we actually do know thanks to the terrific research, monitoring, and analysis carried out by the SOVA Center.

But all the clueless blowhards currently having fun mocking and sending up the so-called red scare gripping, allegedly, the US and Europe, know nothing (or pretend to know nothing) about how the Putin regime has been chewing up the scenery at home for years, leaving an institutional and organizational void in its wake, and the grassroots pushback against this academic, cultural, and political scorched earth campaign. They could not care less about the “white” menace (if we’re getting our political colors right) that was unleashed years ago when Putin took over the country, and they are way too lazy to investigate the myriad of ways the Kremlin has been exercising its imperialist hard and soft power for years right out in the open.

So does it matter whether the Kremlin responded immediately or not to the expulsion of its diplomats? No, it doesn’t. It “gets back” at the Great Satan every single day by relentlessly pounding Russia itself into an unpalatable meat patty.

Now that’s “smart.”

Thanks to Comrade SH for the inspiration and Comrade GV for the heads-up. Drawing by Helena Rönkä, as published on the website of Verkauden Lehti newspaper on June 12, 2015.

“We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Yekaterina Schulmann

Yekaterina Schulmann. Photo courtesy of Andrei Stekachov and The Village

Political Scientist Yekaterina Schulmann on Why You Should Vote
Anya Chesova and Natasha Fedorenko
The Village
September 16, 2016

This Sunday, September 18, the country will vote for a new State Duma, the seventh since the fall of the Soviet Union. The peculiarity of this vote is that it will take place under a mixed electoral system for the first time since 2003. 225 MPs will be elected to five-year tears from party lists, while the other 225 MPs will be elected from single-mandate districts. Several days before the elections, The Village met with Yekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist and senior lecturer at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). We talked with her about why you should vote if United Russia is going to win in any case, as well as about the changes in store for the Russian political system in the coming years.


The Upcoming Elections

The Village: On Sunday, the country will hold the first elections to the State Duma since 2011. The social climate in the city and the country as a whole has changed completely since that time. Protests erupted in 2011, and the people who protested on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue believed they could impact the political situation. Nowadays, few people have held on to such hopes. What should we expect from the upcoming elections? And why should we bother with them?

Yekaterina Schulmann: Everything happening now with the State Duma election is a consequence of the 2011–2012 protests, including changes in the laws, the introduction of the mixed system, the return of single-mandate MPs, the lowering of the threshold for parties to be seated in the Duma from seven to five percent, and the increased number of parties on the ballot. These are the political reforms outlined by then-president Dmitry Medvedev as a response to the events of December 2011. Later, we got a new head of state, but it was already impossible to take back these promises. The entire political reality we observe now has grown to one degree or another out of the 2011–2012 protest campaign, whether as rejection, reaction or consequence. It is the most important thing to happen in the Russian political arena in recent years.

The statements made by Vyacheslav Volodin, the president’s deputy chief of staff, on the need to hold honest elections, Vladimir Churov’s replacement by Ella Pamfilova as head of the Central Electoral Commission, the departure of someone more important than Churov from the CEC, deputy chair Leonid Ivlev, and the vigorous sacking of chairs of regional electoral commissions are all consequences of the protests. If they had not taken place, nothing would have changed. We would still have the same proportional voting system, the same seven-percent threshold, the same old Churov or Churov 2.0. Continue reading ““We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Yekaterina Schulmann”

Ivan Pavlov: Ripping Up the Russian Constitution

Vladimir_Putin_with_Boris_Yeltsin-Russian-Constitution
“Before leaving the Kremlin, the first Russian president handed over a copy of the Russian constitution, used to swear in the head of state, and the Presidential Emblem to Mr Putin as a symbolic gesture.” “Boris Yeltsin handed over power to Acting President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin,” December 31, 1999, kremlin.ru

Article 6

1. The citizenship of the Russian Federation shall be acquired and terminated according to federal law; it shall be one and equal, irrespective of the grounds of acquisition.

2. Every citizen of the Russian Federation shall enjoy in its territory all the rights and freedoms and bear equal duties provided for by the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

3. A citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deprived of his or her citizenship or of the right to change it.
—The Constitution of the Russian Federation, “Chapter 1: The Fundamentals of the Constitutional System”

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The Constitution Does Not Count: How the Duma Has Planned to Strip Russians of Citizenship
Ivan Pavlov
RBC
June 22, 2016

Anti-terrorism legislation is a legal grey zone in any country. The balance between protecting public security and preserving civil rights is elusive and unsteady. However, Russian MPs, already inclined to shoot from the hip, have surpassed themselves this time by having a go at no less than the foundations of the Russian Federation’s constitutional system.

One of the measures included in the packet of “anti-terrorist” amendments tabled by a group of MPs led by Irina Yarovaya (which should be adopted in its second reading on June 24) would strip Russians of their citizenship. This punishment would be meted out for terrorist and extremist crimes, joining the civil service in other countries, and working with international organizations in which Russia is not involved.

This list, I am sure, will expand as a matter of political necessity.

Previously, a person could waive his or her citizenship only on their own behest by making a written statement. Now the actions listed above have been made equivalent to this personal initiative. The relevant amendments, if adopted, would be incorporated into the law “On Citizenship.”

Depriving a person of his or her citizenship is banned by Chapter 1, Article 6 of the Russian Constitution. Chapter 1 is entitled “The Fundamentals of the Constitutional System,” meaning the ban is among our country’s most basic laws. A Constitutional Convention would have to be called to amend them. Trying to push through a initiative like this via ordinary legislative procedure looks surprisingly brazen even amid the Sixth Duma’s other legislative feats.

The wording of the bill merits special attention.

“Citizenship of the Russian Federation is terminated on the basis […] of the person’s freely declared intent, as expressed in the commission of acts stipulated by this Federal Law.”

The rationale of legislators is extremely farfetched in this case. The point is not to comply with the Basic Law but to come up with a way of bypassing the mandatory prohibition established by the Constitution.

To get a sense of how crooked this end-around would be, imagine similar wording for bypassing the moratorium on the death penalty: “The person’s voluntary departure from life on the basis of his freely declared intent, as expressed in the commission of certain acts.” This is a case when Lenin’s adage (“technically correct, but basically mockery”) applies.

Against this backdrop, the possibilities for interpreting the proposed rule broadly do not appear so dramatic, but they do exist, and they are dangerous.

“Renunciation of Russian Federation citizenship, as expressed in the commission of acts, is not allowed if the Russian Federation citizen has no other citizenship and no guarantees of obtaining it.”

What would be meant by these guarantees in practice? Anything whatsoever: relatives or even just contacts abroad, employment in foreign organizations, etc. We end up with yet another legal cudgel against “foreign agents” and the “fifth column.”

“Work in international organizations (associations) in whose activities the Russian Federation is not involved, without the consent of the authorities, unless otherwise stipulated by an international treaty of the Russian Federation”: this language provides unprecedented scope for stripping undesirables of Russian citizenship.

It is not just a matter of NGOs, although employees of Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and similar organizations risk being the first to be run over by this steamroller. Any commercial company can be construed as an international organization: all that matters is that its operations extend to several countries.

The new legislative initiative is another step toward isolating Russia from the rest of the world.

Ivan Pavlov is an attorney at law and director of Team 29. Translated by the Russian Reader