Logging truck driver Ruslan Zinin grabbed a sawed-off shotgun when, in the wake of the “partial” mobilization’s annoucement, a summons arrived for his brother. On September 26, Zinin went to the military enlistment office in Ust-Ilimsk (Irkutsk Region). Military commissar Alexander Yeliseyev was giving a speech as he dispatched dozens of people to the slaughter. His disdainful attitude towards the mobilized men, as well as his remarks that they themselves were to blame, that they had “piled up loans” and “had heaps of children,” outraged Zinin to the depths of his soul. At that moment, someone in the room asked, “Where are we going?” “We’re all going home now!” Zinin shouted back and fired twice at the military commissar.
Consequently, Zinin’s brother was not mobilized (and, perhaps, the mobilization was temporarily suspended in the district), and military commissar Yeliseyev spent a month and a half in the hospital.
Zinin himself was remanded in custody and charged with “encroachment on the life of a law enforcement officer” (per Article 317 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).
The charge was incommensurate with Zinin’s actions [and the circumstances]: the military commissar is not a law enforcement officer and was not performing tasks to protect public order.
However, police investigators went even further and reclassified the charge to “commission of a terrorist act” (per Article 205.2.b of the Criminal Code).
Formally speaking, this is a lesser charge since it does not stipulate life imprisonment, unlike the previous one. However, there cannot be a jury trial for those charged with “terrorism,” judges cannot impose sentences below the statutory minimum, and part of the sentence must be served in a closed prison [as opposed to a penal colony, in which inmates live together in open-plan barracks]. This is not to mention the mass of smaller infringements on the rights of a person convicted as a “terrorist.” Person convicted under this article must be sentenced to between twelve and twenty years in prison.
Currently, we do not know Zinin’s opinion on the matter, nor the specifics of the indictment, because the defense lawyer was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement. However, the Solidarity Zone team in any case considers the accusation unfounded, regarding it as nothing other than lawlessness on the part of law enforcement agencies and an attempt to intimidate society. One of the main points of the criminal code article on “terrorism” is to terrorize the populace. In this case it is not Zinin’s actions that constitute “terrorism,” but, on the contrary, the actions of the authorities.
As before, you can support Ruslan by sending him a letter or parcel. If your letters are not passed by the censor or you do not receive a reply from Ruslan, let us know and file a complaint. Templates for complaints can be found on our Telegram channel.
Address for letters and parcels:
Zinin Ruslan Alexandrovich (born 1997)
63 ul. Barrikad, SIZO-1
Irkutsk 664019 Russian Federation
You can send letters electronically from anywhere in the world via the FSIN-Pismo service (subject to payment with a Russian-issued bank card) or the free, volunteer-run resource RosUznik (which allows you to remain anonymous).
Solidarity Zone is providing comprehensive assistance to Ruslan Zinin and his family.
Source: Solidarity Zone (Facebook), 9 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. People living outside Russia will find it difficult, if not impossible, to use the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s FSIN-Pismo service. It is also probably impossible or nearly impossible to send parcels to Russian detention facilities from abroad. But you can send letters — translated into Russian (if you don’t know a competent translator, you can use a free online translation service such as Google Translate) — to Ruslan Zinin (and many other Russian political prisoners) via RosUznik, as mentioned above. You can also ask me (email@example.com) for assistance and advice in sending letters.
Yesterday, during a dinner conversation, I was asked why I’d been silent, why I hadn’t been writing anything about the war. Was it because I was afraid of going to jail, or was it something else? These questions were posed point blank albeit sympathetically.
I’ve been asking myself this question for many months. On the one hand, it’s stupid to deny that watching as my acquaintances are given devastating prison sentences does not affect me in any way. It makes an impression, of course.
On the other hand, I wonder what would I write or say now if the level of state terror had remained at least at pre-war levels. I realize that I would still write or say nothing. I can hardly squeeze this text out of myself. I’m just explaining myself because yesterday was not the first time I’ve been asked why I haven’t been writing anything about the war.
I feel that words have lost their meaning.
One of the ideologues of the war, who constantly makes allegations about the “genocide of the Russian language,” writes bezpilotnik, obezpechenie, na primer, and ne obezsud’te. [Instead of the correct spellings bespilotnik, obespechenie, naprimer, and ne obessud’te — meaning, respectively, “drone,” “provisions,” “for example,” and “don’t take it amiss.”] No one corrected him for a year. Compared to him, I’m a total expert on the Russian literary language, but I don’t have the words to stop cruise missiles or send soldiers home, while his bezpilotnik turns residential buildings into ruins in a second.
I do not know what words to find for a mother who, conversing with her POW son, regularly interjects “bitch” and “fuck.” Or for a mother who, as she sees off her son, smiles at the camera and says what actually matters is that she didn’t raise him to be a faggot, and basically, if push comes to shove, she has another child. Moreover, the supplies of such people are really endless.
Now, sadly, only the Ukrainian Armed Forces can “explain” anything. I am not trained in military affairs. So I am silent.
Separately on Friday, police briefly detained Yevgeny Levkovich, a reporter for Radio Svoboda, RFE/RL’s Russian service, at his home in Moscow, and charged him with “discrediting the army,” according to newsreports and Facebookposts by Levkovich.
In Moscow, police detained Levkovich for about five hours at the Teply Stan police station and charged him under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative code for allegedly discrediting the army; convictions for that offense can carry a fine of up to 50,000 rubles (US$613).
Levkovich wrote on Facebook that his trial was scheduled for Monday, but he did not plan to attend because he did not “see the point” in contesting the charge.
Radio Svoboda wrote that the charge was likely related to Levkovich’s posts on social media, but did not say whether authorities had specified any posts prompting the charge. On his personal Facebook page, where he has about 36,000 followers, Levkovich recently wrote about Russia’s war on Ukraine.
These are the numbers. I want to do something so that people don’t get caught, and even more actively support those who do get caught. But in the first case, it is unclear what these people are reading, and where the safety recommendations should be published so that they are accessible to such people. And we are already working on the second case, but we lack the human resources.
Those arrested for radical anti-war protest are heroes, although sometimes the charges are completely trumped-up. In any case, all of them deserve support. Solidarity Zone regularly writes about such political prisoners, publishes addresses where you can send them letters, and raises funds to pay their lawyers. Sign up to get news of what is happening to these people and, if possible, get involved in supporting them.
112 people are being prosecuted on charges of carrying out or planning radical anti-war acts.
Solidarity Zone counted how many people have been criminally charged with setting fire to military enlistment offices, sabotaging the railroads and other militant anti-war actions, or planning them, in the year following [Russia’s] full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
What police investigators allege these people have done to warrant criminal prosecution:
1 — “other”
7 — torched vehicles marked with the letter Z
17 — planned arsons of military enlistment or other government offices
36 — sabotaged the railways
51 — torched military enlistment or other government offices
Articles of the Russian criminal code under which these people have been charged:
36 — Article 205: Terrorist Act
31 — Article 167: Destruction of Property
15 — Article 281: Sabotage
14 — Unknown
12 — Article 213: Disorderly Conduct
4 — Other Criminal Code Articles
Of these people:
78 are being held pretrial detention centers (remand prisons).
5 have been sentenced to parole.
4 are serving prison sentences.
1 is under house arrest.
1 has been released on their own recognizance pending trial.
There is no information about 23 of them.
Our statistics are incomplete because the Russian authorities do not always report new criminal cases. Sometimes we only get reports that people have been detained, with no mention of their names or the charges against them, and these reports are thus extremely hard to verify.
Our statistics do not include people who were killed by the security forces during arrest or people prosecuted on administrative charges.
Total defendants: 465 in 77 regions (we include occupied Crimea and Sevastopol in our data because we monitor activities of repressive Russian government authorities that operate there).
Women among the defendants: 90 (19%)
Minors among the defendants: 6 (1%)
(Section 3, Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code) Prosecuted for “spreading fakes about the Russian army” (ie talking about the war in an unsanctioned manner): 141 (30%)
(Section 3, Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code) Prosecuted for “discrediting the Russian army”: 54 (12%)
Convicted: 119 (26%)
Imprisoned upon conviction: 26 people
In pre-trial detention: 108 people
Under house arrest: 17 people
Convicted and given a non-custodial sentence: 62 people
It thus follows that a total of 577 Russians have faced criminal prosecution for anti-war actions of all kinds (violent and nonviolent) since the start of their country’s invasion of Ukraine. As Ivan Astashin, a former political prisoner himself, argues, above, all these people are, indeed, heroes. It’s another matter that they constitute a statistically insignificant segment of the world’s ninth most populous country. Again, by way of (invidious) comparison, at least 1,003 Americans have been charged with crimes for their alleged involvement in the 6 January 2020 riot at the US capitol.
I would argue that those who were forced to leave Russia due to Putin’s unleashing of illegal aggression against Ukraine could file a class action lawsuit against the Russian Federation or the ruling elite of the Russian Federation demanding compensation for the moral anguish and economic harm suffered as a result of these events. The Russian federal authorities must fully compensate them for expenses incurred by forced relocation, such as the cost of airplane and other tickets, accommodation in hotels and rented accommodation abroad, and other expenses. Compensation could also include the irreparable losses suffered by citizens within the country due to forced relocation — for example, the loss of a job or a business. Compensation for emotional suffering is a separate issue.
Payments could be made from the Russian federal budget, through the sale of the property of officials directly responsible for unleashing the war, or at the expense of business income from entrepreneurs who have directly supported the illegal aggression. Naturally, compensation for this damage is possible only after full payment of the reparations necessary to restore Ukraine’s economy and civil infrastructure. What do you think about this? #nowar#netvoine
[two selected comments + one response by the author]
Zmey Gurevich A difficult question. It’s true that the monstrous war forced me to leave Russia. But to my incredible surprise, I have have become happy here [in emigration]. Perhaps it’s immoral to be happy when rivers of blood overflow their banks. It’s been eating at me. But the painful departure has led me a new happiness. Some vital knots have been untied… No, I have nothing to bill [the Russian authorities] for. My friends empathize with me and ask me how things are going here. I can’t tell them the truth. I am ashamed. But my departure has turned into a happy time for me. I don’t know what will happen next.
Vlad Shipitcyn Zhenya! Did you go to at least one protest rally against Putin in Russia over [the last] 22 years? No, you didn’t. Did you ever stand on the stand on the street holding a [protest] placard? No. So no one owes you anything, not a kopeck. You too are responsible for both the regime and the war. You let them happen. So calm down.
Evgeny Krupitsky Hi! Yes, I am responsible for this war: it happened due to my connivance, indifference and cowardice. And I said it right away: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsAFChc2HSI And my protest was that on March 6, exactly a year ago, I left the Russian Federation having abandoned everything, because I felt sick and ashamed. Okay, maybe it’s not such a big deal in terms of significance and courage, but I am proud of my little protest. I know you went to the rallies long before the start of the war, that you were detained, beaten and fined, and I respect and admire you for that! But someone will say that they suffered more than you did, that they did more to prevent this war, etc. We need to consolidate, rather than argue about who is more to blame!
Some people in Russia are living a normal life, but they feel the lack of real normality, and this causes them discomfort. Others live with a sense of catastrophe, but they feel the absence of a real catastrophe, and this also causes discomfort. Consequently, everyone is on edge. The sensible approach is to live normally with a sense of disaster. But this useful attitude is hard to achieve, and if you don’t have it, then I do not even advise you to start. When it takes shape, it will no longer be relevant.
The four members of this “countryside hub” are among hundreds of Russian opposition activists of various political leanings who have fled their country to Georgia throughout the past year. Some left in the months prior to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last February as repression grew to unprecedented levels in the Putin era. Others came after the war began, realizing that with their dissenting opinions, they could no longer live in what they deem a fascist totalitarian state.
In Tbilisi, they have created or joined new anti-war resistance organizations, which operate on Western grants and employ hundreds of volunteers. Working around the clock, these groups offer services in real time to Ukrainians refugees as well as Russian activists and military deserters fleeing their respective countries. The help comes in the form of evacuation routes, therapeutic services, legal guidance, shelters and resettlement plans.
From her volunteering as an election monitor in Russia’s 2011 elections to offering pro-bono legal support to activists arrested during protests in subsequent years, Burakova’s career followed a linear trajectory. Degrees in political science and law equipped her with the legal know-how to aid political opponents, and now exiles, over how to wrestle with and escape an authoritarian system that often invents new laws to persecute citizens. As of 2022, “discrediting the Russian army” is now an offense that has landed countless people in prison for sharing anti-war posts on social media.
“To conduct these types of congresses and host mock parliamentary votes on Russia’s future while in exile just looks a bit cringe-ova,” Burakova tells me, using the popular English word that has been appropriated into the Russian language. Her husband Egor Kuroptev shares the sentiment.
M., one of my smartest interlocutors, arrived from Moscow Time. “Well, what is your final conclusion? Why?” he asked me. I told him that now I see three points that we simply missed, that ended up in our blind spot. The first point is that of course everyone worked hard during these years, enthusiastically; everyone had an articulated mission in life, etc. But it was seemingly taken as a natural given that each of us was the client of someone a few floors above us. Now everyone looks back and discovers that their mission has been burned for a long time, and their belonging to one or another Moscow (or regional) clan shines forth in their biography. For some reason, it was automatically believed that, in the nineties, we operated in a world in which, when difficulties arose, we should turn to “the man from Kemerovo” (in the words of Grebenshchikov’s song). In the noughties, however, all this was allegedly vanquished. In reality, nothing was “vanquished”: it was simply transformed into large-scale state clans. That is why now everyone who was engaged in charity, book publishing, media development, etc., has suddenly shifted the emphasis in their reflections on life: wait a second, I worked for Abramovich (or Gusinsky, or Potanin, etc.). The system consisted entirely of a network of clients.
The second point: the language of pragmatic communication. It was a completely abusive language. The smash-mouth jargon permeated everything. Roughly speaking, the country was governed in the language of American rappers (i.e., the Solntsevo mob). All communications! Not only the special communications among those in power, but also all communications in the liberal, academic realm, in civil society. The cynical jargon of abuse reigned everywhere, and it was absolutely acceptable even in highly cultured milieux. And we did not see what consequences this would have.
The third point: “populism.” The automatic perception of the “common people” [narod], which had its origins in the late-Soviet and perestroika periods, was a colossal mistake. It was tacitly assumed, first, that there was a “common people”; second, that the “common people” would determine their own fate; and third, that the “common people” naturally triumph over evil because they themselves are good. It was this “populism” that served as the basis for the compromise with the state when it began to take institutional shape in Yeltsin’s wake.
All three of these points were “organic” in some sense. They were a part of ontology: they were taken for granted without any reflection and criticism. And all three played a fatal role in the process of “slowly boiling the frog alive.”
I had problems,
I had gone way too far.
The lower depths of the deepest hell
Didn't seem so deep to me.
I called my mom,
And Mom was right.
She said, "Straightaway you've got to call
The man from Kemerovo."
He is a man of few words, like de Niro.
Only a wacko would argue with him.
You can't pull one over on him,
He knows all the insides and outs.
The sky could crash to the ground,
The grass could stop growing,
He would come and silently fix everything,
The man from Kemerovo.
Adam became a refugee,
Abel got on a mobile connection,
Noah didn't finish what he was building,
Got drunk and fell face down in the mud.
The history of humankind
Wouldn't be so crooked,
If they had thought to get in touch
With the man from Kemerovo.
I got a call from Kyiv,
I got a call from Kathmandu,
I got a call from the opening of the plenum —
I told them I would not come.
You have to drink two liters of water at night,
To have a fresh head in the morning.
After all, today I'm going to drink
With the man from Kemerovo.
Only one conclusion follows from Stalin’s death: woe is the country where tyrants die natural deaths while still in power.
Source: Roman Osminkin (Twitter), 5 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. Mr. Osminkin’s remarks were occasioned by the social media commemoration of the anniversary of Stalin’s death, yesterday, which often as not consisted of replicating the meme “That one croaked, and this one will croak too.” This means, apparently, that the entire “plan” of the “Russian anti-war movement” and the “anti-Putin opposition” consists in waiting for the current Russian tyrant to die a natural death. It’s a frank admission to be sure. ||| TRR
Takeaway: The countries to which “anti-war” Russians have fled in the greatest numbers since February 24, 2022, also figure prominently among the list of countries which have significantly increased their exports to Russia since its invasion of Ukraine. I’ve never seen this issue addressed, much less mentioned, by the “Russian diaspora” or the “Russian anti-war movement.” I wonder why. ||| TRR
I have been in police custody since April of last year. I was formally charged in early June, and since then I have been an “accused” man. I see this word in paperwork, I sign statements containing it, and that is how the prison authorities address me. “Accused” has been my new social status for the past nine months.
A criminal change can be a serious burden. I have met people in prison, albeit a few, who are plagued by a sense of guilt for what they have done. In this sense, though, my case is simple. All the accusations against me are ridiculous and absurd, and the article [in the criminal code] under which I am being tried should not exist, basically. I find it easy and pleasant to take a consistent stance and to tell the truth. I have always adhered to this principle both in public life and in personal matters.
The investigation, whilst trying to accuse me of spreading “fakes,” has constructed one giant fake. Literally the entire indictment, from the first word to the last, is at odds with reality. I subscribe to every word I wrote a year ago. All my emotional assessments have retained their force, and all factual claims have been borne out many times. So there can be no question of any sense of guilt on my part in terms of the present case.
Life, though, is much more complicated than a trumped-up criminal case. A year ago, events happened that shocked the world. In a matter of days, the foundations of life, which had seemed to us unshakable, were destroyed. The most terrible pictures stepped off the pages of history textbooks, reviving the nightmares of bygone years and wars whose fury had long ago been stilled. Unable to stop this ongoing tragedy, tens of millions of Russians have come face to face with an oppressive sense of guilt. It is a normal reaction to the monstrously abnormal situation in which all of us find ourselves.
If you feel guilty, it means that you have a conscience. It means that you cannot see the suffering of innocent people without feeling pain in your heart, that you are able to empathize with someone else’s grief. What is more, a sense of guilt for the actions of one’s country is impossible without a sense of belonging. It means that no matter where you are now, you maintain an emotional connection with your homeland, you realize that you are a citizen of Russia and worry about its fate. You — we — are real patriots of Russia in the true sense of the word! We love our country, and so we are especially hurt and ashamed that this inhuman war is waged on its behalf.
It is vital to remember that the guilt that we cannot help but feel is irrational per see. After all, we are not actually to blame for what is happening. The blame is on those who unleashed and wage this war, on those who issue and carry out criminal orders, on those who commit outrages on foreign soil, as well as on those who condone these crimes by cracking down on their own people and generating an atmosphere of fear and intolerance.
On the contrary, we want to live in a free and peaceful country. We want a better future for ourselves and our neighbors. In order for our hopes to come true, we must move away from a passive sense of guilt, focused on the past, and strive to realize our own civic responsibility. We must move away from regrets about what has happened to solving existing problems and making plans for the future. Yes, right now we are unable to stop the war, but this does not mean that we are powerless. I want each of you to think about what you can do personally. The answer “nothing” is not acceptable. First, if you are not on the side of the scoundrels, if you have remained true to yourself, have kept your wits about you, and have not fallen into despair, if you are listening to me now or reading this text, this is much more than nothing. And second, even I can do something and am doing something. I keep talking, communicating the truth about events to people. I have been using this trial as a platform for public anti-war statements. To the best of my ability, I have been helping those who, due to their civic stance, have found themselves on the same side of the bars as me. You have many more opportunities to act today for the sake of our common better tomorrow.
Our problem is the inability to take the initiative and find allies. We are used to following leaders and waiting for instructions. Don’t wait — act! Become volunteers, help refugees, support political prisoners, form horizontal ties. Get to know your neighbors, colleagues and classmates, set common goals and achieve them together. When someone needs your help, don’t ignore them. Make this world a better place for us and for our children.
We like to repeat, like a mantra, the words “Russia will be free!” But Russia is us, and what it will be depends only on us. The war will inevitably end, and then the regime that unleashed it will cease to exist. This is the law of history. We have a lot of work ahead of us, work which we must start now. This work of ours, I am sure, is bound to succeed. Russia will be free — because we will make it so.
Source: Darya Kornilova (Facebook), 1 March 2023. Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Originally published on the website of the movement For Human Rights. Translated by the Russian Reader. The verdict in Mr. Ivanov’s case is scheduled to be announced on March 7. The prosecutor has asked the court to find him guilty as charged and sentence him to nine years in prison. See my translation of Mediazona‘s detailed account of the case and trial against Mr. Ivanov, below.
Russian lawmakers on Thursday voted in favor of a bill that would make it a criminal offense to “discredit” anyone fighting on Russia’s side in the war in Ukraine, not just the Russian military.
The legislation aims to expand current laws criminalizing the discrediting of the Russian Armed Forces to include mercenaries serving in the ranks of Russia’s growing number of private military companies, such as the Wagner Group.
The bill was unexpectedly introduced by State Duma deputies Wednesday in the form of amendments to two largely unrelated bills that were already due to be voted on in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament.
If signed into law, the amendments would introduce sentences of up to seven years in prison for “public acts aimed at discrediting volunteer formations, organizations or individuals” that are aiding the work of the Russian Armed Forces.
The proposed amendments also increase the maximum punishment for violating the existing law against spreading “false” information about the army.
Those found guilty of “spreading fake information” about the army or a volunteer military formation would then face up to five years in prison instead of the three years outlined in the current law.
The new law would also raise the maximum fine from 700,000 rubles ($9,250) to 1.5 million rubles ($19,830).
In cases in which the dissemination of “false information” is deemed to have had “grave consequences,” violators could face up to 15 years in prison, under the new legislation.
The bill must now pass its third reading in the State Duma on March 14 before going to the upper house of parliament for approval and then finally to the president for his signature.
The trial of Dmitry Ivanov, a mathematics student and creator of the Telegram channel “MSU Protesting,” is nearing completion in Moscow’s Timiryazevsky District Court. Ivanov is accused of disseminating “fake news” about the army. (The investigators claim that reports of war crimes, the killing of civilians and the destruction of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure are “fake news,” as well as Ivanov’s refusal to call the war a “special operation.”) Today, Prosecutor Yulia Pravosud asked the court to sentence Ivanov to nine years in prison. Mediazona examines the grounds for the case against the activist and how investigators have tried to prove his guilt.
“Don’t betray the Motherland, Dima” was the message painted on 16 March 2022 on the door of the Moscow flat in which the Moscow State University student Dmitry Ivanov had lived all twenty-two years of his life. The message was embellished with three huge Z’s. At the time, Ivanov joked: “We have already washed off the door — a simple Soviet acetone helped us make short work of the paint.” The Telegram channel “MSU Protesting,” which he had created and ran, continued to write about the war and anti-war protests inside Russia, until its author was detained on April 28 as he was leaving the university. He has not been released since.
On April 29, the Nikulinsky District Court jailed Ivanov for ten days for “organizing a rally” — this is how the security forces deemed one of the posts in his channel. He served his jail sentence in the Sakharovo Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Nationals outside of Moscow, but on May 9 he was detained as he was leaving the facility and sentenced again under the same article of the Administrative Offenses Code — this time for twenty-five days. The student missed the state exams and was unable to submit his honor’s thesis. After serving the new sentence, he was immediately detained again on June 2, this time on a criminal charges. He was taken from the detention center to the Investigative Committee for questioning.
Ivanov managed to transfer the admin of “MSU Protesting” to his friend Nikita Zaitsev. Ivanov’s friends later created a separate channel in his support, “Prison MSU.”
“From the very beginning of my imprisonment, I have lucked out in terms of symbolic dates. I was tried on Victory Day and on the day the mobilization began, and I was transferred to the pretrial detention center on Russia Day. Another hearing will be held on the anniversary of Navalny’s return to Russia. Back then it seemed that all the masks had been doffed and there was nothing more that could shock us. If only we had known what would happen a year later,” Ivanov wrote in a letter to our correspondent.
What Dmitry Ivanov is accused of
The case against Ivanov was handled by the Investigative Committee’s First Major Case Department. Like most cases investigated under the article on “fakes about the military,” it was launched on the basis of “law enforcement intelligence.” Еhe report on the student was written by Lieutenant Colonel A.L. Kapustin, a field officer in the FSB’s Moscow and Moscow Region directorate.
Kapustin copied several posts from “MSU Protesting,” and Captain K.A. Myagkov, a major case investigator, concluded that they were sufficient to launch a criminal case.
The prosecution argues that the activist, “motivated by political hatred” and “foreseeing the inevitability of socially dangerous consequences in the form of undermining and discrediting the current state authorities,” is alleged to have disseminated the following claims on Telegram between 4 March and 4 April 2022:
— the Russian army attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant;
— The Russian armed forces have been destroying cities and civilian infrastructure and killing civilians in Ukraine;
— Russia is waging a real war, not a “special military operation”;
— Russian aviation has suffered significant losses in the war;
— Russian soldiers committed war crimes in the towns of Bucha and Irpen.
Most of the posts that investigators attributed to Ivanov were reposts of allegations made by other people, including politician Alexei Navalny, Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky, BBC journalist Ilya Barabanov, blogger Maxim Katz, and the writers on social media news page Lentach.
From a broken phone to a canceled thesis defense: how field officers and MSU officials persecuted an undesirable student
In 2018, Ivanov was a student majoring in computational mathematics and cybernetics. Along with dozens of other students and lecturers, he protested against construction of a World Cup fan zone outside Moscow State University’s main building. The inhabitants of the building complained that the construction work prevented them from working during the day and sleeping at night, and that the crowds of fans would make their lives unbearable.
It was then that Ivanov launched the initially anonymous Telegram channel “MSU Protesting,” in which he described in detail the struggle of students and lecturers against developers. He would go on to write about other protest actions. On 16 December 2018, Ivanov was detained at a rally outside the FSB building in Moscow: the infamous Center “E” officer Alexei Okopny did not like the fact that the student had photographed him.
The very next day, Ivanov’s channel ceased to be anonymous. “Hi, my name is Dima, I’m 19, I study at Moscow State University, and today I became a victim of torture,” the student wrote. He said that after his arrest the security forces had demanded that he give them the password to his phone; when he refused, they beat him and threatened to rape him with a police baton. Having failed to achieve their goal, they simply broke the phone, and access to “MSU Protesting” was lost. Ivanov created a new channel with the same name and recounted his experiences in detail in his inaugural post.
Ivanov thus became one of the well-known activists whom the security forces snatched from the crowd first during protests. On 2 February 2021, he was detained at a rally in support of Alexei Navalny, who had returned to Russia after recovering from poisoning. It was then that, for the first time, the Meshchansky District Court sent the student to the Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Nationals in Sakharovo for thirty days. At this center for migrants facing deportation, where Moscow opposition activists were taken to serve their administrative sentences that winter, a second charge sheet was drawn up against Ivanov because he argued with the guards. Ten more days were added to the thirty days he had got for attending the rally.
Ivanov’s friends estimated that he spent a total of 101 days under administrative arrest.
Ivanov was scheduled to defend his honor’s thesis on 1 June 2022. The student was supposed to be released from the detention center on the second of June. Ivanov’s defense team asked the court to shorten the term of arrest by at least one day and requested a postponement from the examination commission, but to no avail. In July, Ivanov was expelled from Moscow State University for not having passed the state final certification.
“I got out of the subway, saw a building with paddy wagons, and decided to give evidence”: the prosecution’s witnesses
The investigation into the Ivanov case was completed in two months. During this time, several witnesses were questioned at the Investigative Committee. Only one of them, Yuliaslava Korolevich, a school friend of the activist, testified in his defense. The security forces searched the home of Korolevich and her mother, and then brought the young woman in for questioning. She said only that she knows Dmitry “as a person who can listen and help out in difficult times, and who is intelligent, rational and logical by nature.”
The other witnesses in the case did not have their homes searched. All of them unfailingly identified themselves as “patriots” during questioning, and the wording of their testimony against Ivanov overlaps almost verbatim. All of them described the arrested student “negatively as an anti-Russian fascist,” and his posts in the Telegram channel as “not corresponding to the position of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation.”
The most verbose among the witnesses was the former dean of the Faculty of Fundamental Physical and Chemical Engineering at Moscow State University Lyudmila Grigorieva, infamous for her confrontation with student activists. In 2021, she was forced to resign after she called the Initiative Group at the university “western liberasts” who “grunt, crawl and shit constantly for scraps.”
During questioning, Grigorieva labeled herself “a patriot and a person who loves her country very much, and also stands for kindness, state power, unity, and public order.” She thus considered it her duty to testify against a student who, in her opinion, is a “fascist” and “belongs to a political sect.”
“Ivanov hates people who do not share his liberal views, and defends all the dregs of society,” she said.
Later, at the trial, Grigorieva voiced the hope that not only Ivanov, but also another opposition mathematician from Moscow State University, associate professor Mikhail Lobanov, would pay for “anti-Russian activities.”
Three more prosecution witnesses are Grigorieva’s former subordinates Alexander Krasilnikov, Daniil Afanasyev, and her former graduate student Kirill Borisevich. In court, none of them (like the ex-dean herself) could explain how they had ended up in the investigator’s office and had decided to testify against Ivanov.
“I was walking from the subway, I had got out of the subway. I saw a building with paddy wagons, and decided to give evidence,” Krasilnikov said uncertainly. Each of the three repeated verbatim Grigorieva’s epithets for the student, and in court they read their testimony from a phone or a piece of paper.
What connects the unemployed man Ivan Lyamin and Kolomna Philharmonic musician Mikhail Zhuravlev with the case of Ivanov is not at all clear. In court, Lyamin explained that he had “accidentally stumbled upon” the Telegram channel “MSU Protesting.” He would sometimes read it. He then told an acquaintance about it, who advised him to contact the Investigative Committee.
Zhuravlev claimed that he had decided to testify so that justice would prevail.
“Because freedom of speech has become too much,” he said.
During questioning, Zhuravlev said that Ivanov “is trying to disorient his readers about the events in Ukraine and impose a sense of guilt for the conduct of the special operation not only on Russian citizens, but on all ethnic Russians. He is also trying to shape public opinion among citizens of the Russian Federation about the need to stop the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in Ukraine in order to preserve the power of the nationalists.”
The witness could not repeat such a long statement from memory, so in court the prosecutor had to read out his written testimony .
The evidence and witnesses for the defense
The prosecution argues that, since the posts on the Telegram channel “MSU Protesting” diverged from the official reports of the Defense Ministry, meaning that they were “deliberately false,” this is sufficient proof of Ivanov’s guilt. This conclusion was reached by linguists from the FSB, who testified in court.
Defense counsel Maria Eismont asked psychologist Veronika Konstantinova and linguist Igor Zharkov to prepare an independent expert analysis of the activist’s posts. They concluded that, at the time of their publication, the information in Ivanov’s posts was not “knowingly false” from his point of view. The prosecutor retorted that the experts were only “trying to discredit the actions of the investigation.”
In addition to the expert analysis, the defense presented the testimony of seven people in court. Unlike the prosecution witnesses, all of them were personally acquainted with Ivanov. Andrei Stroganov taught Ivanov computer science at school. Ivanov worked on his honor’s thesis with Alexei Borodin, a senior researcher at the Institute of System Programming. Ivan Shmatin, a fifth-year student at Moscow State University is not only friends with the defendant, but also knows Lyudmila Grigorieva, whom he called “a person hyper-concentrated on people who espouse democratic values.”
All of them described the accused as an honest individual and a talented mathematician. This was said by activists Irina Yakutenko and Konstantin Kotov, with whom Ivanov had been involved in solidarity campaigns for political prisoners — the mathematician Azat Miftakhov and the defendants in the New Greatness Case.
Mathematician and leftist politician Mikhail Lobanov, for whose election campaign to the State Duma Ivanov had worked, was also summoned to court. He talked about defendant’s involvement in the life of the university. According to Lobanov, “Uniquely, Dima was not embittered, even as he was being persecuted for his views.”
Grigory Mikhnov-Voytenko, a bishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church and a human rights activist, helps Ukrainian refugees who find themselves in Russia. Their accounts fully confirm the veracity of Ivanov’s posts, the clergyman said in court.
A billy club and a dog in court, summonses to the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry
On January 19, Ivanov was beaten by a guard. The reason was that the defendant did not immediately exit the “fish tank” after the court hearing, but stayed to find out from Maria Eismont when she would visit him in the pretrial detention center. It later transpired that the escort guard’s name was Alexei Nikolayevich Zhalnin.
Without giving the defendant a chance to talk to his lawyer, Zhalnin dragged Ivanov into the escort guard room. The next day, Ivanov told Eismont that the escort had taken him downstairs, turned off his body cam, and kicked him in the head and ribs and beaten him with a billy club. Zhalnin tried to put Ivanov’s head into the toilet and threatened that he would “insert a stick in his anus.” The second escort guard “watched” this and “did nothing.” The bruises suffered by the activist were documented at the detention center’s medical unit.
The defense has filed complaints about Zhalnin’s actions to numerous authorities, but so far to no avail. At the subsequent hearings, however, Ivanov was escorted by emphatically polite guards, and Judge Daria Pugacheva asked whether he had any complaints about the escort. Meanwhile, bailiffs stopped letting members of the public who could not recall the judge’s surname into the courthouse. Previously it had been enough to name the defendant’s last name at the entrance. A continuously whining service dog appeared in the courtroom.
Coincidentally, all these security measures were introduced when Eismont persuaded the court to call as witnesses Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya.
“Ivanov is charged with a serious crime based on a comparison of his texts with statements made by Nebenzya, Lavrov, and Konashenkov. This means that these people are essentially witnesses for the prosecution, and so he has the right to question them in court,” the lawyer argued.
Eismont had attempted to use this trick before, at the trial of the politician Ilya Yashin, but the court did not even issue summonses to the high-ranking officials then. In the Ivanov case, the summons reached their addressees, but the witnesses ignored them.
What else Ivanov was asked in court
Before oral arguments were made, Ivanov was himself put on the witness stand. While answering the questions posed by Prosecutor Yulia Pravosud, he explained why, as a student, he had written about pension reform, how he had checked his sources of information for reliability, and which media outlets he trusted. The prosecutor then tried to get Ivanov to talk about allegations that the Russian language has been banned in Ukraine.
“Do you know anything about Zelensky’s attitude toward the Russian language?” she asked.
“It’s his native language, basically. He’s completely fluent in it,” Ivanov replied.
“Is the Russian language banned or not banned [in Ukraine]?”
“I had not heard that the Russian language was banned in Ukraine. As far as I know, many regions used it as the primary one. The Mariupol City Hall maintained all its social media and websites in Russian even after 2014.”
“I see, and what about Zelensky’s position? Does he allow [Ukrainians] to communicate [in Russian]?”
“Probably, if he forbade communication in Russian, the mayor of Mariupol would not have spoken publicly in Russian, and would not have maintained online resources in Russian.”
Prosecutor Pravosud then read aloud a post from “MSU Protesting” in which Ivanov admitted that he could face criminal charges for his statements about the Russian army’s actions in Ukraine.
“Why did you, knowing of the criminal liability, still write on your Telegram channel?” she asked Ivanov.
“‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.’ That’s a quote from George Orwell,” he said. “Should I explain it to you?”
Pyl spoke with Asians of Russia cofounder Vasily Matenov about how the campaign has been helping people despite hounding from the Russian Interior Ministry, and why the residents of Russia’s ethnic republics are the most vulnerable to the Russian state.
How a social media page about ethnic cultures grew into a mutual aid project
Asians of Russia came into being five years ago. I am Buryat myself, and my wife is Tuvan. We lived in Novosibirsk for a while. It’s a city where there are many migrants from Central Asia, and yet the locals often have a negative attitude to this. When you say that you come from Irkutsk, they don’t understand how that could be. Five years ago, we decided to create a social media page that would promote the culture of different nations, so that people could see which nations live in Russia and what their lives are like.
At some point, our social media followers started contacting us for help. We began raising money to treat children with serious illnesses, or to pay for tours by ethnic children’s ensembles. The posts that hit home with the public were reposted thousands of times. We recruited volunteers and raised money to fight the forest fires in Yakutia. People began to trust us more and more.
We somehow got the idea to help manufacturers of local products: furniture, clothing, and jewelry. We began traveling to the regions, filmed stories about their enterprises, talked about what products they produce, and how production is organized. This went on for several months. They paid us small amounts of money, and so we earned a little. But we didn’t have any funding or grants at all.
How Asians of Russia helped its followers after the war’s outbreak
On February 24, I immediately started posting photos from the war, images of soldiers and prisoners, on our Instagram page. At first, users wrote that none of it was true. Then people from the regions began to recognize their relatives among the soldiers. A panic arose.
Lawmakers and officials wrote to us and threatened us. Then the law on “fake news” about the military was passed. One follower telephoned us and said that an acquaintance of his at the Interior Ministry’s Department K (which deals with information technology) had told him that they were very interested in us.
After some time, unknown people started knocking on our door. We didn’t open it: we pretended that no one was home. This went on for three days. On the third day, we exited the apartment late at night and left the country. The Zimin Foundation offered us help in getting out of Russia and a little financial support. My wife and I now live in Poland.
We do crowdfunding campaigns as needed. We raised money to pay the fines people had to pay for making anti-war statements and going to anti-war rallies. These fundraisers raised the amounts of money needed in a matter of minutes.
When the mobilization began, we raised money for buses so that people could leave for Kazakhstan or Mongolia. We were able to evacuate a lot of people in concert with other organizations: we joined forces with with both ethnic movements and the Feminist Anti-War Resistance. Together, we looked for taxi drivers or private carriers who would take people to the border.
We also hired lawyers to help contract soldiers legally refuse to do military service, and we helped conscientious objectors and those whose requests to be dismissed from military service were not approved. Over the past year, we have raised fourteen thousand dollars to pay lawyers and get people out of Russia.
From a follower:
Hello dear ones! You can publish my letter, because a lot of people look at your page and the problem I want to write about is very dire for all of us right now!
We live in a small village, and my husband and I have two underage children. My husband and I were orphans, so we live in a private house that we received from the state. I will not describe what terrible quality these houses are: I hope everyone knows and understands this.
During the mobilization, they tried to take my husband to fight. They were not stopped even by the fact that he has a group-three disability.
After consulting with friends, we decided that it would be better for him to go to Kazakhstan than to go to kill and most likely get killed. Our children love Dad very much, they just wouldn’t survive it. We’d rather he be alive far away than dead in the neighborhood cemetery.
He and a friend quickly packed and left for Kazakhstan. Our little ones call him every evening by video link. Everything has gone well for them in Kazakhstan. They found a job that provides them with a room in a hostel, for which I am very grateful to the Kazakhs!
Our small household has now fallen entirely on my shoulders. We have chickens and a cow, which is about to bear offspring. The house is heated by a stove. We burn coal, which costs about three thousand rubles per ton with delivery. There is no water in the house: we have to go to the nearest water pump for water.
I take the children to school myself, because I’m afraid of dogs. We have had several cases of dogs attacking children, it is very scary. The temperature here is now minus thirty degrees. It was minus forty the previous two weeks.
Don’t get me wrong. We are not in the habit of complaining. We were taught that one must endure no matter how hard life is. But if you think about it, do we deserve such a life?
The children and I like to watch travel shows on YouTube and see how people in other countries live. Watching such programs, you begin to realize that we too could have better lives.
I look at the children and imagine what awaits them, what the future will be like, and I cry at night. 😭 I want to give up everything and leave, but where can I go with two small children and with no money? It’s very scary.
I want to appeal to all those who have not yet lost their minds: may you have strength and patience. Take care of yourselves.
How the authorities have been trying to divide the ethnic community
We have always tried to produce high-quality content, to shoot high-quality videos. So, we initially attracted a very high-quality audience: there were almost no supporters of the war among them. The average age of our audience is between twenty-five and forty-five, and it has been growing even since Instagram was blocked in Russia.
There were bot attacks on our public page. At the same time, there was an influx of followers who would disappear after a couple of hours. They could write racist comments, about which they themselves might file complaints so that our public page would be blocked, or so that it would be subject to a shadow ban and would not show up in the feed.
I know people who are mixed up in such things. First, they organize bot attacks, and then they become aides to lawmakers.
The purpose of these bots is not just to block our profile, but to divide society so that there is no consensus on any issue. You can write any old nonsense. One of our followers admitted that he had worked in such a troll factory. They were told that they could even write that they opposed the authorities. What mattered was that they avoided coming to a unified stance in the comments.
Why Russia’s ethnic regions are the most vulnerable
The authorities understand that if there were a unity of opinion and a common cause in the ethnic regions, everything could flare up like a match. Therefore, propaganda is stronger here: there is not a single independent media outlet. We were in Georgia, and the Georgians said that god forbid the authorities would do something that the people did not like: everyone would immediately go to the parliament to protest. This happens because there is a national cause in Georgia.
There are very close family and friendship ties in the ethnic republics. It is customary in our part of the world to be in touch with fourth cousins and go visit them . It is vital for us to stand up for each other. The authorities have been doing everything possible to destroy this unity in the regions.
That is why all discontent and all protest in Russia is nipped in the bud. For example, when Dmitry Trapeznikov, who had been among the leaders of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” was appointed acting mayor of Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, the whole region rose up to oppose him. The residents of Elista packed the city’s main square every day for a month. Consequently, Russian National Guardsmen from Moscow were brought to Kalmykia to break up the protest, and then all the protest leaders were put on trial. Since then, people in other regions have simply been afraid to take to the streets in protest.
The residents of the Russia’s ethnic republics are the most vulnerable part of the country’s population. They don’t know their rights well. There is no internet in the villages, and people speak Russian poorly. If the authorities go to the villages to mobilize young men for the war, how can they protect themselves? So, we must develop democracy in Russia, starting with the regions.
I’m not a politician or a political scientist. I don’t know exactly how to restructure Russia after Ukraine’s victory, or whether the ethnic republics will secede and how to do that. But I do know that, without independence, nations perish. For example, there are fewer than ten thousand Shors left in Russia, although they are an ethnic group that has existed for two thousand years, since before there were ethnic Russians.
If Russia wins the war, it will only get worse. We must not just turn out for rallies for a free Russia. We must make sure that Ukraine wins. Only then can we take up the vital task of preserving the independence of the nations living now as part of Russia.
Artist and activist Yelena Osipova holding a handmade placard that reads, “PUTIN IS WAR. WE DON’T WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN/WE DON’T WANT TO DIE FOR PUTIN,” and standing next to a Russian flag emblazoned with the slogan “NO WAR.” Ms. Osipova is standing outside Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral in downtown Petersburg, but it is unclear when, exactly, this photo was taken. Photo courtesy of Astra and the St. Petersburg Aid to Detainees Group.
The St. Petersburg Aid to Detainees Group reports:
“The elderly artist and activist Yelena Osipova was detained in Petersburg after taking to the streets with anti-war posters. The police promise to take her home, while stopping along the way at the police department to ‘sign papers.'”
Meanwhile, in other news, one of Petersburg’s most well-known “opposition” political scientists reported earlier today that personally he was having a fantastic day today (which is the first anniversary of his country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine for no other reason than it could) because one of his grad students has had an article accepted for publication in a prestigious academic journal.
That’s everything you need to know about the Russian liberal intelligentsia today: they’re continuing to live their best lives (at home, and abroad) while social “losers” and nobodies like Yelena Osipova fight the good fight. ||| TRR
19-year-old Valeria Zotova was detained in the wee hours of February 17. She is accused of planning to set fire to a warehouse from which supplies are sent to military personnel involved in the war against Ukraine. According to the security forces, the young woman has been charged with committing a “terrorist act” (per Article 205 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code).
You can support Valeria Zotova right now by writing her a letter!
Address for letters:
Zotova Valeria Igorevna (born 2003) 53 ul. Portovaya nab., SIZO-1 Yaroslavl 150001 Russian Federation
(It is possible to send letters via the electronic services FSIN-Pismo and Zonatelecom.)
Source: Solidarity Zone (Facebook), 21 February 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Ogurtsov for the heads-up.People living outside Russia will find it difficult or impossible to use the FSIN-Pismo and Zonatelecom services. In many cases, however, you can send letters (which must be written in Russian or translated into Russian) via the free, volunteer-run service RosUznik. As of this writing, however, Ms. Zotova has not appeared on their list of supported addressees. You can also ask me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assistance and advice in sending letters to Russian political prisoners.
The Yaroslavl District Court has remanded in custody 19-year-old Valeria Zotova, accused of attempted terrorism (per Article 30.3 and Article 205.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), reports TASS, citing the press service of the Yaroslavl Regional Court.
A day earlier, Zotova’s mother told OVD Info that her daughter had left the house on the evening of February 16, saying that she was going for a walk with friends, but did not return home. At about one o’clock in the morning, security forces came to search the Zotov home. The officers did not identify themselves and did not state the grounds for their investigation.
The young woman was taken to Yaroslavl’s Pretrial Detention Center No. 1. On February 20, a Telegram channel linked to the local security forces posted a video of Zotova’s arrest. The report said that she had been charged with terrorism (per Article 205.1 of the Criminal Code). If convicted on this charge, she could face between ten and fifteen years in prison.
Following the footage of the detention, a “confession” appears on the video: Valeria Zotova says that she transmitted information, coordinates and photos of a building for a monetary reward. According to her, [the people who paid her the money] “wanted to set fire to this building,” in which “parcels for the mobilized are collected and sent to Donbas.”
Svetlana Zotova said that in October of last year she herself had been fined for “discrediting” the army (per Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code) over a “No war” message, graffitied on a local kiosk. During the search, the security forces threatened to make her a suspect in her daughter’s case, claiming that she had been involved in anti-war rallies. The woman stated that she was not involved in anti-war protests, despite her views. Before the invasion of Ukraine, she had picketed in support of politician Alexei Navalny and the Khabarovsk protesters.
On Friday, January 27, 2023, the Russian Justice Ministry placed Telo Tulku Rinpoche (Erdni-Basan Ombadykov) on its registry of “foreign agents.” Rinpoche is еру president of the Association of Buddhists of Kalmykia and the 14th Dalai Lama’s official representative in Russia, Mongolia and the CIS countries. The ministry’s press service said that the Buddhist leader had been placed on the list because he had “spoken out against the special military operation in Ukraine and openly spoken in support of Ukraine,” and also because he “is a US citizen and lives outside the Russian Federation.”
The following day, January 28, Telo Tulku Rinpoche announced that he had resigned his post as the Supreme Lama of Kalmykia.
“In the last two days, many people have expressed concern and sympathy over my inclusion in the registry of foreign agents. I am sincerely grateful to them for their involvement in and appreciation of my work. In these difficult times, I would like the people of Kalmykia and all followers of Buddhism to maintain courage, steadfastness and commitment to the ideals of compassion, love and nonviolence that form the basis of the Teaching of the Buddha that we profess. […] In my thoughts, deeds and prayers, I remain entirely with the Kalmyk people and Buddhists all over Russia, to whose service I have devoted my life,” the monk said.
Who Is Telo Tulku Rinpoche?
Telo Tulku Rinpoche (Erdni-Basan Ombadykov) was born in the United States in 1972 to a family of Kalmyk immigrants, according to the lama’s biography on the Kalmykian Buddhist community’s website.
In 1991, Rinpoche visited Kalmykia for the first time as part of a delegation led by the 14th Dalai Lama. Shortly after the visit, which the website refers to as “the starting point for the restoration of Buddhism in the republic,” Rinpoche was chosen as the supreme lama of the region, the Shajin Lama.
“While serving as the Shajin Lama, Telo Tulku Rinpoche has made great efforts to strengthen the religious and cultural ties that have existed for centuries between the traditionally Buddhist regions of Russia and the Tibetan community, led by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama XIV,” the website notes.
Another highlight of Rinpoche’s tenure as the Shajin Lama has been, according to the website, “comprehensive support for peaceful coexistence and cooperation among members of Kalmykia’s traditional confessions — Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.” In addition, under the lama’s leadership, more than thirty temples and prayer houses were erected in Kalmykia.
Rinpoche is a US citizen. He was applying for Russian citizenship, and was scheduled for an interview on February 24, 2022, but it was canceled due to the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian Buddhists and the War
In an interview posted on the YouTube channel Alchemy of Soul on September 30, 2022, Rinpoche openly opposed the “special operation.”
“I think it’s wrong,” he said. “This war is needless. […] I think that the Ukrainian side is in the right. It is defending its country, its land, its rights, its Constitution, its people.”
The lama explained that he had not spoken out against the war earlier because he had been worried about the safety of Buddhists in Russia and their families.
“I didn’t want to spoil the relationship between the authorities and our Buddhists. I didn’t say anything, but nevertheless, every morning I always prayed for everyone, both Buddhists and non-Buddhists,” Rinpoche explained.
The monk said that he had left Kalmykia and was in Mongolia, where he was helping Russians fleeing the military mobilization. Rinpoche was negotiating an extension of the visa-free regime for Russian nationals and helping with their accommodation and the purchase of sleeping bags.
However, not all Buddhists share Rinpoche’s opinion about the “special operation.” Damba (Vasily) Ayusheev, head of the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia, explained that the lama’s anti-war stance had to do with the fact that he is a US national.
Ayusheev himself voiced his own support for the war in Ukraine on February 28.
“We live in a single Russian state and defend the interests of our country, against which a dirty information war is being waged. […] We must have a strong and reliable home front. Our sahyusan [dharmapala] are on our side, our Great Khambo Lamas are on our side, and Buddha is on our side,” Ayusheev said on Buryad FM Radio on February 28, according to Infpol.
“It is a sacred duty. We Buddhists must defend our homeland. […] In our system, in Buddhism, the man must defend [the homeland, and] if necessary, go to war, be victorious, and return to his family, to his homeland,” Ayusheev said on September 30 in a conversation with Izvestia. The Buddhist added that he was proud of his co-religionists’ involvement in the war, and called the annexation of the Ukrainian regions to Russia a “historic moment” and a “great event.”
Jampa Donied (Buda Badmayev), the deputy head of the Buddhist Traditional Sangha for Russia’s Northwestern Federal District, also argues that Buddhists are involved in the “special operation” to defend their spiritual values.
On March 16, 2022, an “initiative group of Buddhists and sympathizers of Buddhism” published an open letter in support of [the Russian government’s] military actions in Ukraine on a VK group page.
“Buddhism — which is undoubtedly a peaceful doctrine — teaches us to calm the mind, maintain internal balance and find peace in all worlds. But Buddhism is not a doctrine of non-resistance to evil, if evil is ready to destroy everything its midst. […] In response to evil, we must not trigger negative emotions of anger and malice in ourselves, but we should be able to resist aggressive attacks from external forces in a calm state of mind. We must defend ourselves without letting evil into our hearts.”
The activists called upon people to sign the letter to “express solidarity with the President of Russia’s decision to pacify Ukraine, making it possible to establish peaceful and neighborly relations with this country.”
As of March 26, 2022, forty-two people from different regions of Russia had signed the letter. Three more people have signed it since then.
According to Alchemy of Soul presenter Anzhela Kalsynova, Rinpoche is the only [Russian] Buddhist leader who has publicly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And yet, the lama himself suggests that his co-religionists do not support the war, but are not openly opposing it due to concerns for their own safety.
The law on “foreign agents” in Russia is discriminatory and is used to combat those who have fallen out of favor with the authorities. All “foreign agents” are required to report their activities, income and expenses to the Russia Justice Ministry. They are restricted in their ability to disseminate information and find sources of funding. They face increased official oversight and lose their working partnerships. Like Rinpoche, they are deprived of the opportunity to continue their life’s work.
Source: Galina Artemenko (Facebook), 31 January 2023. Captions by TRR. Yesterday (1 February 2023), Ms. Artemenko wrote that the security forces were removing Ms. Osipova’s posters from the Petersburg offices of the opposition Yabloko party. So, her exhibition there lasted all of one day. ||| TRR
Police seized anti-war paintings by 77-year-old artist Yelena Osipova from an exhibition that had opened the night before at the offices of the Yabloko party. Interior Ministry officers came allegedly because they had received a call that a bomb had been planted in the building, and as a result they took all Osipova’s work. The ministry wants to check whether the posters discredit the Russian army. The artist herself is very upset and is afraid that her paintings will not be returned.
On 11 October 2022, amidst the recently announced military mobilization, Roman Nasryev and his friend Alexei Nuriyev broke a window on the first floor of the municipal administration building in the town of Bakal in the Chelyabinsk Region and threw Molotov cocktails into it. There was a military enlistment office in the building.
Local pro-government media outlets dubbed the young men “the rockers who threw Molotov cocktails at city hall.”
Initially, Nasryev and Nuriyev were charged with “destroying or damaging property” (per Article 167.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). Later, however, after the FSB had homed in on the case, the charge was revised to “committing a terrorist act” (per Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code).
Roman and Alexei were also later accused of “undergoing training in order to carry out terrorist activities” (per Article 205.3 of the Criminal Code).
Law enforcement claimed that the accused “took courses on carrying out terrorist activities via the Internet and by phone.” In response to such a strange and dubious claim, a subscriber to one of the Telegram channels ironically quipped, “Apparently, they did not train well. Distance learning is still not as good as in-person instruction.”
Roman and Alexei face from fifteen to thirty years of imprisonment or life in prison if convicted as charged. To date, these are the most serious charges brought against suspects or defendants in anti-war arson cases.
On October 21, Rosfinmonitoring added Nuriyev and Nasryev to its list of “extremists and terrorists.”
27-year-old Roman Nasryev worked as a driver in the Interior Ministry’s extra-departmental security guard service (now overseen by the Russian National Guard). He and Nuriyev played in the Bakal rock band Room 32. Relatives tell us that he liked to learn to play musical instruments on his own, including guitar, mouth harp, harmonica, dombra, and flute. Roman’s other hobbies were sports, especially running and calisthenics, skiing, writing poetry, cars, and fishing.
Both of the accused men hold anti-war views. Politically, Nasryev describes himself as a libertarian. (Earlier, we mistakenly wrote that he held left-wing views.) Roman explains that he did what he did to protest the war in Ukraine and the military mobilization.
Roman is married and has two children, a four-year-old daughter and a son, who was born in November, when Roman was already in remand prison.
On January 27, the young men’s remand in custody was extended for six months, until 4 August 2023. Both prisoners of conscience are currently being held at Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in Chelyabinsk. Nasryev is being held in solitary confinement.
You can support Roman by sending him a letter or parcel. (There is no limit on the number of parcels inmates at the pretrial detention center can receive). Letters not only cheer up inmates and strengthen their spirits, but also show the security forces that people are paying keen attention to what happens to them, and this can prevent the security forces from engaging in lawlessness and torture.
You can also start a correspondence with Roman — his wide-ranging interests are listed above.
Address for letters and parcels:
Nasryev Roman Raifovich (born 1995)
53 ul. Rossiyskaya, SIZO-1
Chelyabinsk 456006 Russian Federation
(It is also possible to send emails to inmates via the Zonatelecom service.)
Solidarity Zone supports Roman Nasryev.
Source: Solidarity Zone (Facebook), 31 January 2023. Translated by Thomas Campbell. People living outside Russia will not be able to use the Zonatelecom service. It is also impossible or nearly impossible to send parcels to Russian detention facilities from abroad. In many cases, however, you can send letters (which must be written in Russian or translated into Russian) via the free, volunteer-run service RosUznik. As of this writing, Mr. Nasryev has not appeared on their list of supported addressees. You can also ask me (email@example.com) for assistance and advice in sending letters to Russian political prisoners.