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Fearful of Mass Protests, Putin Moves to Strangle What Was Left of the Independent Media

Mar 03 2022

By Free Russia Foundation Team

More than a week has passed since Putin declared his “special military operation.” The rest of the world refers to it as “war on Ukraine.” Along with Ukraine, Putin is rapidly destroying Russia. The West may be unable to appreciate the extent of the tragedy unfolding inside Russia right now, as its economy collapses, and the society feels the hatred of the entire world.

It’s not a war — it’s a “special operation

This week, Putin has completed his task of eliminating Russia’s independent media. In the late nineties, a fresh TV channel NTV used to broadcast a satirical program “Puppets,” which poked fun at prominent government figures. In the first decade and the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, on the same channel, viewers could watch the protests taking place on Bolotnaya Square and at the polls during the 2012 presidential elections.

Putin has skillfully seized control of the Russian television, depriving citizens of the opportunity to soberly assess the situation both inside the country and the implications of Putin’s foreign policy. Today, only “Putin’s” journalists are allowed on the airwaves. There, they create an alternative reality and suppress the truth. Notably, the name of the opposition leader Navalny is never mentioned on TV. Television is the only source of information for many Russians. This is true for most retirees, for example, who find it hard to “learn the Internet.”

Elections in Russia have also been hijacked. No independent, liberal or democratic candidates are allowed to participate in elections. And if they somehow make it onto the ballot, numerous schemes have been developed by authorities to prevent them from attaining the minimum threshold, leaving him or her with a measly 1 to 4% of the vote. As a result, political forces cannot unite to coordinate a mass protest similar to the Ukrainian “Maidan.” Those who do join protests end up in jail and are even assassinated.  

Right now, the Russian authorities are dealing a lethal blow to independent media. The TV Rain channel has decided to halt its broadcasting. This decision was made in response to the amendments adopted by the State Duma on imprisonment for “public dissemination of knowingly false information about the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation.”

The punishment includes both a fine of 1.5 million rubles and 15 years in prison.

Even the word “war” is considered to be “knowingly false information”. This is why Roskomnadzor issued a warning to “Novaya Gazeta.”

On March 2, “Ekho Moskvy” was forced to stop broadcasting.

The Silver Rain radio station also stopped broadcasting.

As of March 4, 2022, all of the following media outlets have been blocked: “Dozhd”, Taiga.info, DOXA, “Echo Moskvy”, “Present Time”, The New Times, “Crimea. Realii”, “Ukrainian Pravda”, “Gordon”, “Interfax-Ukraine”, The Village, TSN, “Segodnya”, UNIAN, “Zerkalo Nedeli”, Vesti.ua and Zaxid.

Novaya Gazeta, Lenizdat.ru, Mediazone, Svobodnaya pressa, Journalist, and Wikipedia have received warnings.

This is not a laughing matter.  The authorities are imposing censorship, banning the words “war,” “attack,” and “invasion.” Information about the shelling of Ukrainian cities and the deaths of Ukrainian civilians caused by the Russian army has been declared untrue and is prohibited from dissemination. It is now forbidden to call the ongoing operation an attack, an invasion, or a declaration of war.

Kremlin’s media oversight agency Roskomnadzor mandates the media to cite only Russian government sources in their coverage of these events. Journalists breaking with this practice  face real prison sentences.

Along with the blocking of media platforms, Russian authorities are also slowing down Meta social networks, and in particular, Facebook. They are also restricting Twitter. On March 2, RoskomSvoboda reported on the supposed blocking Youtube in Russia. The same “slowdown” is taking place on Youtube. Users from Russia were unable to load static elements of YouTube, such as avatars and artwork. Roskomnadzor denies any slowdown of service.

All Google advertising banners that, in the judgement of the Russian authorities, spread inaccurate information, have stopped working.

These developments do not only cut off the Russian civil society from truthful information, but also deny Russians the opportunity to show the world that they are, in fact, against the war.

Despite Draconian Government Measures, Russian Civil Society Rises in Anti-War
Protests

Mar 03 2022

On the ill-fated date of February 24, 2022 Russians began to protest Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Some protests got off to an early start amid news of the alleged invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops. However, when the reports were confirmed, civil society exploded.

Online petitions and open letters began to appear, appealing to Putin and the world to stop the fighting in Ukraine.

People take to the streets

At the time of writing on March 3rd, a total of 7,634 people have been detained at protests in 115 cities since February 24th. Of the total, 3,608 protesters were detained in Moscow, and  2,599 were detained in St. Petersburg.

Statistics of the human rights projectOVD-Info (updated in real time).

Number of detainees at protests against the war with Ukraine

Due to the intensification of the protests, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation began to issue warnings. Under Article 275 of the Criminal Code “Treason,” Russians now face up to 20 years in prison for providing virtually any assistance to Ukrainians. I would like to provide some specifics, however, as often happens in the Russian Federation, the department’s wording is rather vague. “State treason” can now apply to people who provide advisory assistance (whatever that means), as well as financial, material, technical and “other” assistance. Using the phrase “other assistance,” the Prosecutor’s Office can include anything that it wants.

On march 3, 2022,  the Prosecutor General’s Office made an official announcement promising to initiate criminal charges against those who take part in protests— under Part 2 Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (participation in the activities of an extremist organization).

“Amid an unprecedented information attack on the Russian Federation, appeals to citizens to hold supposedly peaceful “anti-war” actions are spreading on the Internet.

It must be noted that the source of many such appeals are associations that, due to their extremist activities, have been banned in the territory of the Russian Federation by a court decision,” the agency writes.

Russians face from 2 to 6 years in prison under this article of the Criminal Code.

Over the course of the past week, the police visited the homes of activists and participants in anti-war actions on a daily basis. All have been charged with participation in an unauthorized mass event (Part 5 Article 202.2 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation, carrying fines of 10-30 thousand rubles, or arrest for up to 15 days). Some people are charged under part 8 of the article, with “repeated violation of the rules for holding mass events,” for which the punishment is a fine of up to 300 thousand rubles or imprisonment of up to 30 days.

During the rallies, the police are also detaining journalists. This happens despite the fact that the journalists observe the law (by wearing a special vest, and carrying a statement of their assignment, a press card and a media badge). On March 2nd, the police detained two Sota correspondents for more than 7 hours, attempting to charge them with organizing an unauthorized event (part 1 of Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Violations).

The police also detained journalists from Novaya Gazeta, Radio Liberty, 93.ru, TASS, Pskov Gubernia and many others.

The police regularly use violence during arrests. Children, the elderly, and mothers with infants are detained.

Initially, the anti-war rallies were spontaneous, but on March 2nd, the politician Alexei Navalny, who is in prison, called upon all Russians to attend daily rallies against the war with Ukraine.

“Don’t wait another day, no matter where you are – in Russia, in Belarus or on the other side of the planet. Come out to the main square of your city every weekday at 7 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on weekends and holidays.”

Even before the military conflict began, a number of Russian oppositionists, including Alexei Minyaylo and Dmitry Tsorionov (Enteo), had applied to the Moscow City Hall to hold an anti-war rally of 150,000 people on March 5th in Moscow.

The “Vesna” movement from St. Petersburg had also announced that they would hold an all-Russian anti-war rally on March 6th across the country.

“The all-Russian protest rally will take place on March 6th. We will meet at 15.00 in the central squares of all Russian cities to express our protest. We have every right to do so according to the Constitution.”

Green ribbons began to appear on the streets of Russian cities, as a symbol of the protest promoted by Vesna.

From Olympian to deputy

Among those who disagree with the need to send troops to kill are members of a variety of professions.

The organization We are not alone has compiled a list of open letters against the war from members of various professions. The site is updated every day as new letters appear.

Here are a number of examples of open letters:

— IT workers: 32,050 signatures;

Correspondents of Russian media. This letter was penned by “Kommersant” journalist Elena Chernenko, for which she was removed from the Ministry of Foreign Afffairs press pool.

— Doctors: 11,650 signatures;

— Students and university staff: 14, 850 signatures.

In total, “We Are Not Alone” has recorded 62 open letters and more than 160,700 signatures from members of professional communities.

In addition to letters from professional associations and unions, political activists have created several petitions, both for Russians and for the international community. The largest of these is the petition Stop the War on Ukraine! created by Russia’s oldest human rights activist, Lev Ponomarev. As of this writing, 1,166,617 people have signed the petition.

On February 24th, Ponomarev was detained, allegedly for organizing an anti-war protest. He received a fine of 30,000 rubles.

On March 3rd, he went to the prosecutor’s office to have a report drawn up for having failed to note “foreign agent” at the bottom of the petition. He was attacked by journalists of the pro-governmental NTV channel.

The international civil society organization “Avaaz” launched the international petition Stop This War.” At the time of writing, 2,272,973 people have signed the petition.

Civil society activist Dmitry Ratner launched the petition Impeach Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin“. At the time of writing, 273,560 people have signed the petition.

Prior to the start of hostilities, the “Yabloko” party launched the petition NO WAR“. It is also possible to leave a signature in the offices of the party. On March 2nd, the Nizhny Novgorod office was attacked and the premises were vandalized.

Conclusion

Hundreds of thousands of Russians are speaking out against the war. Thousands of Russians are detained every day at anti-war rallies. Government agencies are threatening the media and ordinary citizens with decades in prison.

Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of other Russians have been misinformed through years of brainwashing by pro-government propaganda. The independent media outlets that could fight the propaganda are either blocked, or forced to stop broadcasting, or to leave Russia altogether. The journalists of independent media outlets that have not yet been blocked are being detained.  

Despite the censorship and the threat of criminal charges, Russian citizens are taking to the streets, reporting about the reality of the war on social media and are trying to convince the public that this is no “special operation of liberation,” but the very real war that it is.

Explosions and Confusion: What Is Happening Right Now on the Border Between Russia and Ukraine

Feb 22 2022

By Yury Krylov, Contributing Author, FRF

The situation around Russian threat against Ukraine keeps tensions high globally. The atmosphere in Donbass escalated dramatically on February 18, when the Kremlin-controlled leaders of the self-proclaimed and internationally unrecognized DNR and LNR republics publicly asserted that Kyiv was preparing an assault (the Ukrainian authorities categorically deny such intentions) and announced the evacuation of some residents of these regions to Russia. Shooting resumed on the front line. U.S. President Joe Biden forecasted that “Russia may launch an invasion in the next few days,” and the Kremlin reiterated its demands for security guarantees.

The State Duma’s Appeal to the Russian President

On February 15, 2022, the Russian State Duma appealed to President Putin to officially recognize the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. The resolution was introduced by deputies from the Communist party, but representatives of other parties also voted for it.

United Russia party prepared an alternative draft of the resolution. It was more cautious and stipulated that parliament should first consult with the Foreign Ministry and then apply to the President. In the end, United Russia’s proposal received only 310 votes, while the Communists’ resolution received 351.

“The deputies of the State Duma appeal to you, Mr. Vladimir Vladimirovich, to consider the issue of recognition by the Russian Federation of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic as autonomous, sovereign and independent states, as well as the issue of holding negotiations with the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic as soon as possible to create a legal basis for interstate relations, ensuring regulation of all aspects of cooperation, including security issues,” — it says, among other things, in this document.

After summarizing the results of the vote, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said that the parliament’s appeal to the president to recognize the DNR and LNR would be signed immediately, after which it would be sent to Vladimir Putin.

The Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics declared independence from Ukraine in May 2014 after a majority of participants in referendums held in the regions supported the adoption of acts of self-determination for the DNR and LNR. Diplomatically, the two Donbass republics are recognized only by South Ossetia, a partially recognized state in the Caucasus.

Vladimir Putin himself commented on the Duma address during a press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who visited Moscow for talks on the escalating situation around Ukraine. According to Putin, when voting on the issue of recognition of the DNR and LNR, deputies were guided by “the opinion of their voters,” which they “subtly feel.”

The Evacuation of DNR and LNR Citizens to Russia

On the evening of February 16 and morning of February 17, OSCE observers reported about 500 explosions near the line of contact in the east of Ukraine, which is several times higher than on previous days.

On the morning of February 18, 2022, the leaders of the LNR and DNR republics announced the evacuation of their residents to Russia. Denis Pushilin, head of the DNR, said that women, children and the elderly would be evacuated first. According to him, the evacuees will be accommodated and provided with everything they need in the Rostov region. After Pushilin’s appeal, sirens went off in Donetsk, and city residents lined up at ATMs. Soon the evacuation was announced in the Luhansk People’s Republic. Its head Leonid Pasechnik urged residents who had not been mobilized and were not involved in the provision of social and civil infrastructure to leave for Russia as soon as possible.

A few hours after the announcement of the evacuation, Pushilin said in a new speech that “it is going to full-scale war” and expressed the opinion that the number of refugees to Russia could reach hundreds of thousands. The DNR Emergencies Ministry said that it was planning to evacuate about 700,000 people. First buses with refugees left the republic around 8 p.m.

Both leaders of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass explained the need for evacuation by rising tensions in the region. Pasechnik, citing “intelligence data,” said that the “Ukrainian aggressor” was planning provocations on the line of contact and a “deep breakthrough” into LNR territory.

Putin ordered to provide each person arriving from the self-proclaimed DNR and LNR in Rostov Region with 10,000 rubles. And in the Rostov Region, which borders on Ukraine, an operational headquarters was set up to coordinate the evacuation from the DNR and LNR.

Remarkably, the heads of the DNR and LNR recorded their video messages announcing the evacuation as early as February 16. The timestamp contained in the metadata of the videos was publicized by Bellingcat investigator Arik Toller. The head of DNR Denis Pushilin, in particular, draws attention in his speech that he said it “today, on February 18”. The folder, in which Passechnik’s address was filed, was entitled “Mongoose throw”.

By Monday evening, February 21, 2022, more than 60 thousand people had already crossed the border with Russia. A state of emergency was introduced in the Voronezh region and a state of heightened readiness in the Ryazan region.

Ukraine’s Response

Ukraine rejected accusations of preparing sabotage and invasion operations in Donbass. “We categorically refute Russian propaganda reports about allegedly offensive operations by Ukraine <…> Ukraine does not conduct or plan any such actions in Donbass. We are fully committed exclusively to a diplomatic settlement,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. The commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valery Zaluzhny, said that the statements of the “occupation administrations” of Donbass about the attack of the Ukrainian military are not true.

On February 19, 2022, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky spoke at the Munich Security Conference, emotionally expressing his grievances against both Russia and the West. Western countries, according to Zelensky, are not doing enough to restrain Vladimir Putin.

Zelensky said he was initiating consultations within the framework of the Budapest Memorandum, which provides guarantees of Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity in exchange for its renunciation of nuclear weapons. The Budapest memorandum was signed on December 5, 1994 by Great Britain, Russia, the United States and Ukraine. The document came into force in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Other states pledged to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and refrain from using force against it in connection with the removal of nuclear weapons from its territory.

The Ukrainian president also offered Russian leader Vladimir Putin a meeting. “I don’t know what the president of the Russian Federation wants, so I suggest a meeting,” he said.

International Reaction

On February 18, 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden delivered an address on the situation around Ukraine in which he said that, according to his sources, Vladimir Putin had already made a decision about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. The speech was broadcast live by the White House.

The American leader believes that Kyiv is being tried to be provoked in the Donbass. He is confident that Russian troops remain close to the borders with Ukraine: according to him, they are planning an invasion within days. Biden noted that the U.S. is not going to send its military to Ukraine but assured that Washington will continue to support Kyiv.

“There is no point in Ukraine attacking. Russia continues to fabricate claims that Ukraine is preparing to attack Russia. This is a classic that Russia has already used,” Biden said.

Before his speech, Biden had time to discuss the situation with the leaders of NATO countries —Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Canada, the alliance itself and the EU.

The White House also reminded that in case of Russia’s military aggression, the US would impose sanctions on the biggest Russian financial institutions and state-owned companies, as well as on a number of industrial sectors.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called an invasion inevitable and warned of “the biggest war in Europe since 1945.”

On February 20, French and Russian presidents Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin held telephone talks to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Macron and Putin agreed to intensify diplomatic work— the ultimate goal should be a summit to define a new peace and security architecture in Europe. The presidents also agreed to resume work in the “Normandy format.”

Against this backdrop, the airline Lufthansa announced that it would suspend flights to Kyiv from February 21 to 28, 2022. The carrier will also suspend flights to Odessa. At the same time, Austrian Airlines said it would stop flights to Kyiv and Odessa from February 20 until the end of the month. Suspension of commercial flights gravely harm the Ukrainian economy.

On February 19, the German and Austrian authorities urged their citizens to leave Ukraine due to a possible Russian invasion.

What’s Happening Right Now

Early Monday morning, February 21, 2022, the heads of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize their independence.

“On behalf of the entire people of the Donetsk People’s Republic, we ask you to recognize the DNR as an independent, democratic, legal and social state,” said DNR head Denis Pushilin.

The heads of the DNR and LNR also asked Putin to conclude treaties of friendship and partnership with the republics after the recognition of independence.

Shortly thereafter, Putin commenced an emergency meeting of the Russian Security Council. The Russian leader said that he convened the meeting to discuss the situation in Donbass. All of its participants supported the recognition of the independence of the DNR and LNR.

Head of the Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov spoke about “two sabotage groups” on the border between Russia and Ukraine and “a captured Ukrainian military man,” as well as about the 68,500 refugees arriving in Russia from Donbass.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke about more than 40 bombings in Donbass “overnight alone,” damaged infrastructure, and Donetsk residents left without water.

At the end of the meeting, Putin said that he had heard his colleagues’ opinions and promised that “a decision will be made today.”

On the same day, Vladimir Putin addressed the Russians. He explained why Russia recognized the DNR and LNR. The president spoke for about an hour, during which he shared his own very bizarre history of Ukraine, denying grounds for its statehood. In the first part of the address, Putin spoke in detail about the collapse of the USSR, which resulted in an independent Ukraine; lamented the corruption and high utility bills in modern Ukraine; said that aggressive actions in Ukraine are supported by foreign special services; and added that Ukrainian authorities can build nuclear weapons and that NATO bases are “actually deployed on Ukrainian territory.”

Ukraine’s accession to NATO, Putin said, poses a direct threat to Russia’s security. “That is why I have decided to recognize the independence and sovereignty of the DNR and LNR. I am sure the citizens of Russia and all patriotic forces of the country will support me,” Putin concluded. Immediately afterward, television broadcasted the footage of the signing of treaties with the LNR and DNR in the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin also issued an order for the Russian Armed Forces to “perform peacekeeping functions” in the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass.

On February 22, the United States threatened new sanctions against Russia over its recognition of the LNR and DNR. “Putin wants the world to go back in time, when there was no United Nations and the world was ruled by empires. But the rest of the world has moved on. It’s not 1919, it’s 2022,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. permanent representative to the organization, told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. According to her, with his latest actions, Vladimir Putin “ripped the Minsk agreements to shreds.”

The United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union also announced their intention to impose new sanctions against Russia. The United Kingdom said that it might increase military aid to Ukraine. According to DPA and Der Spiegel, the sanctions could include 350 Duma deputies who voted for the recognition of the DNR and LNR, as well as Russian banks with ties to Donbass. The EU sanctions provide for the freezing of assets on the territory of the association and a ban on entry into the EU.

President Joe Biden signed a resolution prohibiting investments in the DNR and LNR, as well as the import of goods, services or technologies from there. The document implies blocking the US property of people associated with the DNR and LNR, and also allows imposing sanctions against those who decide to operate in the self-proclaimed republics. The document said that Russia’s decision threatens the national security and foreign policy of the US.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address to the nation that Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders would remain the same. He stressed that the country was pursuing a peaceful path but was ready to defend itself. Ukraine demanded an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, the OSCE and the “Normandy quartet.” The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry condemned Russia’s decision, saying that it violated the basics of international law and the UN Charter, as well as Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry also asked Volodymyr Zelenskyy to consider severing diplomatic relations with Russia.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel said that “the recognition of two separatist regions in Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law, Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and the Minsk agreements. Polish President Andrzej Duda called on NATO and the EU to act tough on Russia to “stop the aggressor.” Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Shimonite said that Putin’s actions “put Kafka and Orwell to shame.”

On Tuesday, February 22, Great Britain imposed sanctions against Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg — Russian oligarchs and close personal associates of Vladimir Putin. Five Russian banks also fall under British sanctions.  The assets of these individuals and companies in Britain will be frozen, Boris Johnson said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would be halted indefinitely due to the recognition of the DNR and LNR.

And the final news: the Federation Council allowed Putin to deploy Russian troops to the DNR and LNR. At the same time, the documents signed by Putin and the heads of the LNR and DNR do not specify the boundaries within which the republics are recognized. Representatives of the LNR and DNR stated that it could be the borders of Luhansk and Donetsk regions, some of which are controlled by Ukraine.

FRF Stands in Solidarity with the People of Ukraine; Condemns the Kremlin’s Aggression

Feb 18 2022

Free Russia Foundation, on behalf of the global movement of pro-democracy Russians, stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine in their pursuit of freedom, peace and self-determination.

We condemn the hostile actions of the illegitimate regime of Vladimir Putin and his accomplices threatening Ukraine with military and hybrid operations and upending the European security.

We call on the international community to act decisively to end the Kremlin’s military provocations internationally and its domestic repression against the Russian civil society.

Navalny’s Investigations that Scare the Kremlin the Most

Feb 14 2022

Roskomnadzor’s ultimatum: a new round of censorship in Russia

On February 1, 2022, dozens of independent media outlets received a 24-hour order from Roskomnadzor (Russian Federal Service for Supervision in Information and Communications) to remove news and materials related to investigations by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

TV channel Dozhd was ordered to remove six specific articles.  Radio station Echo of Moscow— thirty-four posts. Meduza media outlet received a list of seventeen items, Znak.com—thirteen, The Village—eight, the Saratov newspaper Svobodnye Novosti —nine, and Bumaga from Saint Petersburg— three. Radio Liberty may have set a record with a notice enumerating 40 posts ordered for removal by Roskomnadzor; letters have also been received by the Ukrainian, Tajik, Kazakh, and Tatar-Bashkir services of the radio station.

The information that the Russian government finds so offensive mainly deals with real estate owned by officials and their families, including the head of Roskosmos Dmitry Rogozin, presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky, State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev. Among the materials that Roskomnadzor demanded to be urgently removed were also FBK’s investigation into a luxury palace near Gelendzhik allegedly custom-built for Putin.

On January 28, 2022, Roskomnadzor also alerted the Office of the Prosecutor General that the outlets “disseminate materials from an organization whose activities are banned under the law against extremism.” In 2021, Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation was designated as foreign agent, extremist organization and banned in Russia.

Many of the outlets complied with Roskomnadzor orders to avoid having their online resources blocked. Tikhon Dzyadko, editor-in-chief of Dozhd, wrote in a Telegram post that he views such developments as an undeniable act of censorship, but “the blocked site would prevent the media from reporting on the following investigations,” he added. In addition, the Navalny investigations targeted by Roskomnadzor have been distributed on many platforms “and in general everywhere on the Internet,” he noted. Meduza, Echo of Moscow, Znak.com and other editorials have also removed publications under the threat of being blocked in Russia.

However, Radio Liberty and Current Time TV channel refused to remove articles about Navalny’s investigations. Jamie Fly, director of the media corporation, said that Radio Liberty would not comply with Roskomnadzor’s demands. “We will not allow the Kremlin to dictate our editorial decisions,” he said. The corporation called the Roskomnadzor’s demands “a blatant act of political censorship.”

Alexey Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh called Roskomnadzor’s demands an act of censorship. “Absolutely pure naked evil that everyone resents by reading about it in history textbooks. And now it’s all in reality before our eyes,” the Navalny associate tweeted.

Roskomnadzor is the Russian federal executive agency responsible for monitoring, controlling and censoring Russian mass media. The service has repeatedly been accused of attempting to censor the Internet and violate freedom of speech by blocking websites and services under the pretext of not transferring data to Russia from foreign web servers or “protecting children from harmful information” or directly criticizing the activities of the Russian Government or Parliament.

Censorship and violations of the right to freedom of speech are expressly prohibited by Article 29 of the Russian Constitution, but Clause 4 contains an exception to the rule that the legislature has the right to restrict the right to disseminate information by a federal law, which is regularly used by Roskomnadzor.

Why the Navalny Team’s Investigations Are Important Not Only to Russians

Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation investigated corruption in the highest echelons of the Russian government, big business, and regional elites.

The Foundation was created by Navalny in 2011. According to its website, its only source of funding over the years has been donations from supporters. The organization employed approximately 40 people who searched for and uncovered corrupt schemes and cases of illicit enrichment, and drafted complaints to the Investigative Committee of Russia, the Prosecutor’s Office, and the municipal services.

Since 2013, the FBK has released over 80 investigations, making serious waves in the public opinion. FBK’s documentary “Putin’s Palace.The Story of the Biggest Bribe” received over 120 million views and became the most viewed non-interactive content on Russian-language YouTube, as well as the record-breaker in the number of positive user ratings in the Russian YouTube segment.

Alexey Navalny has consistently emphasized that corruption is not only one of Russia’s main problems, but also one of the most important issues for the entire world. “After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the global ideological confrontation, it was corruption— in its classic definition of ‘the use of one’s official status for personal gain’— has become the universal basis for the new authoritarian international to blossom, from Russia and Eritrea to Myanmar and Venezuela. And corruption has long ceased to be only an internal problem of these countries. It is almost always one of the main causes of the world’s problems that the West faces,” Navalny wrote in his 2021 column published in major Western media outlets.

An important aspect of corruption in authoritarian countries— and Russia is a prime example here— is its use of the financial infrastructure of the West— 90% of the money stolen by an autocrat is stored there. According to Navalny himself, the FBK investigations should not only open Russians’ eyes to corruption in Russia, but also encourage Western leaders to show determination and political will towards Russian corrupt officials who take their assets to the West and legalize them there.

Alexey Navalny has expressed dismay that the FBK investigations do not seem to trigger action by Western tax authorities and prosecutors. “The US, the UK and Germany have excellent tools and laws for fighting foreign corruption. Guess how many cases were opened after the investigations of our Anti-Corruption Foundation, which is now qualified by Putin’s government as an extremist organization? That’s right, not a single one. Even Western law enforcement agencies behave cautiously with corrupt foreign officials,” Navalny reports.

Navalny’s team’s meticulously documented investigations churn up materials that could serve basis for the introduction of more precise sanctions —not only against law enforcement officials, but also against oligarchs and corrupt businessmen from Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and beyond. This is how Navalny describes it: “Until personal sanctions are imposed on the oligarchs – first and foremost from Putin’s entourage, who is a role model for corrupt officials and businessmen around the world – any anti-corruption rhetoric from the West will be perceived as a game and a hollow talking point. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing the names of colonels and generals of special services no one has ever heard of on another sanctions list, but not seeing the names of those in whose interests these colonels are acting. Putin’s oligarchs who run “state-owned” or formally private companies are not businessmen, but leaders of organized criminal groups. Right now the Western establishment is acting like Pavlov’s dog. You show them a secret service colonel, they shout, “Punish him!” You show them an oligarch who pays the colonel, and they shout, “Invite him to Davos!”

Perhaps this issue will move forward thanks to the Navalny List, a 2021 listing of 35 individuals from the upper echelon of Russia’s elite implicated in corruption and human rights abuses, as well as those directly linked to the poisoning and imprisonment of the Russian opposition leader. The list was compiled thanks to years of hard work by the FBK team. On September 24, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to tighten anti-Russian sanctions in the new fiscal year’s defense budget. The House of Representatives bill calls the list’s members “Russian kleptocrats and human rights violators.”

Five Strikes Against The Kremlin.

Strike One: “Chaika”

Case in focus: an investigation into the business activities of the family of Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika. The investigation mainly focuses on the official’s sons Artem and Igor.

Release date: 12/01/2015

Number of views on YouTube: 25 million

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXYQbgvzxdM   

Contents:

Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) published a huge investigation about the family of Prosecutor General Yury Chaika. It is mainly about his eldest son, Artem Chaika.

Artem Chaika owns the posh Pomegranate hotel in Greece on the Halkidiki peninsula. Olga Lopatina, the former wife of Deputy Prosecutor General Gennadi Lopatin, also owns a stake in the hotel. The FBK staff believes that their divorce is a formal one, as she still wears a wedding ring.

Olga Lopatina is a co-owner of the Kuban Sakhar company, shares in which belong to the wives of Sergei Tsapok and Vyacheslav Tsepovyaz – leaders of the Kushchevskaya organized crime group, who committed the brutal murder of 12 people, including four children, which shocked Russia.

Artem Chaika has a villa in Greece where construction is continuing. Nearby, Olga Lopatina is building a villa for herself. FBK examined her tax returns from her time as the wife of Deputy Prosecutor General (up until 2011) and found that Lopatin earned 18 million rubles – not enough to buy part of a hotel and a villa.

Artem Chaika owns a house in Switzerland worth about three million dollars. At the same time, he lists the Swiss address of his more humble home in all the documents. Artem Chaika keeps money in Swiss accounts.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Artem Chaika seized the Verkhne-Lenskoe River Shipping Company in the Irkutsk region and appropriated 12 ships. That’s how Yury Chaika’s son allegedly earned his first capital, which he exported to Switzerland. The FBK investigation details the entire embezzlement scheme.

Artem Chaika has a holding company with a turnover of hundreds of millions of dollars. He buys assets randomly: he has salt and sand mining, construction, brick-making, and law offices.

The business structures of the youngest son of the Prosecutor General, Igor Chaika, were able to get government contracts worth 300 billion rubles.

Domestic and international reaction:

According to a mid-December 2015 study by the Levada Center, 38 percent of Russians knew about the film “Chaika” in one way or another. At the same time, 82% of Russians who have heard of the film consider the corruption schemes and connections with criminal groups described in the film to be typical for the modern Russian authorities.

In his official statement on December 3, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika called the film a fraud, and the facts presented in it untrue.

On December 7, Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the information from the film did not arouse the Kremlin’s interest.

On December 8, 2015, the Anti-Corruption Foundation filed a complaint against Artyom Chaika with the Swiss Prosecutor’s Office based on suspicions of money laundering. The complaint mentioned Artyom and Igor Chaika, the sons of the Russian Prosecutor General, as well as other individuals, firms, bank accounts, and real estate allegedly connected to them. In order to exclude any bias in the verification, the prosecutor’s office assigned the investigation to a special police unit in Lugano, which investigates “white collar” crime. The investigation confirmed that the individuals named in the complaint were in Switzerland and were connected to the company mentioned in the complaint. However, no money laundering facts were identified. Later, Artyom Chaika received a notification from the Swiss prosecutor’s office that there were no claims against him. Also, based on his own petition, Artyom Chaika received a notice from Greek officials stating that the transaction he had conducted in Greece to purchase a hotel on the island of Halkidiki was legal.

Strike Two: “He Is Not Dimon To You”

Case in focus: An investigation into the multibillion-dollar property and corruption schemes used to enrich Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, formerly President of Russia.

Release Date: 03/02/2017

Number of views on YouTube: 44 million

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrwlk7_GF9g&t=2090s 

Contents:

The investigation “He Is Not Dimon To You. Palaces, Yachts, Vineyards – Dmitry Medvedev’s Secret Empire” deals with the real estate and expensive hobbies of then-Prime Minister Medvedev in Russia and abroad. The film is divided into 10 parts – “chapters”, each lasting about five minutes. The majority of episodes deal with the assets of the “Dar” charitable foundation and its related companies. The chairman of the foundation’s supervisory board is Ilya Eliseev, an old acquaintance and classmate of Medvedev’s, who is referred to in the film as Medvedev’s key confidant. The film shows that, on the one hand, Medvedev is acquainted with the foundation’s management and uses the foundation’s property for recreation, while, on the other hand, the foundation is filled with contributions from Russian oligarchs.

According to the authors of the investigation, the image of an official who no one takes seriously has been created artificially. In reality, Medvedev is “the creator and head of a huge, multi-level corruption scheme. According to the FBK, the house on Rublevka District of Moscow, worth about 5 billion rubles, was a gift from oligarch Alisher Usmanov to structures associated with Medvedev. The FBK called this “gift” a “bribe.”

According to the anti-corruption activists, Medvedev is also connected to another estate on Rublevo-Uspensky Drive, as well as a residence in Kursk region, a mansion in St. Petersburg, two estates by the sea in Krasnodar Krai, a mansion near Sochi, vineyards near Anapa (Krasnodar Krai, Russia) and in Italy, and an estate in Ivanovo region of Russia (already announced by Navalny’s supporters last year).

The FBK investigation also disclosed two yachts registered in the names of people close to Medvedev. Navalny’s supporters claim that the funds of the foundations and companies that the head of the government controls total at least 70 billion rubles. In addition to Usmanov, the sources of this money include shareholders of the gas company Novatek Leonid Mikhelson and Leonid Simanovsky, as well as Gazprombank and Bashneft. Most of the funds, according to FBK, are withdrawn to offshore accounts.

Based on this information, Navalny accused Medvedev of creating a “multi-level corruption scheme” and “taking bribes from the oligarchs.” He said that thousands of people are involved in “servicing the schemes” and that his real estate is “guarded by state security services.”

Reactions:

Following the release of the film, FBK sent a statement to the Russian Investigative Committee demanding that criminal charges be filed against Dmitry Medvedev and billionaire Alisher Usmanov for bribery. Navalny accused the Russian authorities of failing to respond appropriately to the investigation and called for rallies across Russia to “ask the authorities to answer our questions about corruption.” On March 26, 2017, tens of thousands of people marched in several dozen Russian cities for mass anti-corruption protests, which were then repeated on June 12, 2017. The protesters’ main demand was the resignation of Dmitry Medvedev from his post.

On April 5, at a plenary session, the State Duma refused to support the CPRF party’s proposal to contact law enforcement agencies and verify the information presented in the FBK investigation.

On April 4, 2017, Dmitry Medvedev called the FBK investigation “rubbish, nonsense,” collected “according to the principle of compote,” and on April 19, he said that he would not “comment on the absolutely false products of political crooks.” For his part, Alisher Usmanov filed a libel suit against Navalny and FBK. On May 31, 2017, the Lublinsky District Court in Moscow ordered Navalny to retract the information in the investigation and remove the publications about Usmanov.

Navalny refused to comply with the court’s decision and appealed.

At the moment, materials about this investigation have been removed from the websites of most Russian media outlets at the request of Roskomnadzor and under the threat of blocking.

Strike Three: “Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov transports dogs on a private plane”

Case in focus: in two investigations, the FBK found that Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov has a private jet for transporting dogs, as well as a large amount of luxury real estate

Release dates: 07/14/2016 and 03/06/2018

Number of views on YouTube: 2.5 million (1st investigation), 7.5 million (2nd investigation)

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tx8ZqZtjyT4 

Second Investigation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbRoZyuOijk 

Contents:

The Anti-Corruption Foundation published an investigation showing that Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov spends 130 million rubles a year on flights on a private jet and another 40 million on transporting his wife’s dogs to participate in foreign shows.

The FBK staff found that a member of the Russian government may own a $50 million Bombardier Global Express plane, which Shuvalov uses as a private jet. In the summer of 2018, it was also reported that Shuvalov’s family actually also owns a Gulfstream G650 aircraft with an estimated value of about $70 million.

Most often (18 times a year) the plane flew to Salzburg, Austria, where Shuvalov’s wife owns real estate. It was found that sometimes a private plane flew this route several times a week. The FBK investigation noted that the service of a one-way flight to Salzburg on a private plane costs from $40,000.

Olga Shuvalova, the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, confirmed to FBK the fact of flights with dogs on a private plane: “We take our dogs to exhibitions on our declared plane. By the way, of international level, to defend the honor of Russia”.

The investigation also revealed that Shuvalov’s money manager is buying up an entire floor of apartments in a high-rise on Moscow’s Kotelnicheskaya Embankment – 10 apartments worth about 600 million rubles. The fund previously wrote about Deputy Prime Minister’s London apartment of about 500 square meters and costing about 700 million rubles, as well as a luxurious Rolls-Royce for 40 million rubles.

Shuvalov’s family also occupied the former state summer residence of CPSU Politburo member Mikhail Suslov in the Odintsovsky district near Moscow on the area of about 7.5 hectares. The Italian architect Giuliano Moretti was in charge of designing the buildings, and the official’s neighbors include billionaires Roman Abramovich and Suleiman Kerimov.

Reactions:

Some economic observers believed that Shuvalov caused great irritation to the public by his indifferent attitude to the problems of ordinary citizens and the obvious “inter-class gaps.” Negative assessments of Shuvalov were given by opposition politician Vladimir Milov, who once worked with Shuvalov, drawing attention to the fact that he “does not hesitate to show money,” unlike his former boss Alexander Voloshin.

Shuvalov resigned as first deputy prime minister of the Russian government on May 24, 2018, and was appointed by the Russian president as chairman of Vneshekonombank. It was reported that “the investigations did not affect the official’s career and are not related to his possible departure from the government.”

Strike Four: “I Know All Those Who Tried To Kill Me”

Case in focus: A two-part video narrative about the secret group of assassins who tried to poison Alexey Navalny with a deadly chemical agent

Release Date: 12/14/2020 and 12/21/2020

Number of views on YouTube: 26 million (1st investigation), 29 million (2nd investigation)

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smhi6jts97I  

Second investigation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibqiet6Bg38 

Contents:

On December 14, 2020, The Insider, Bellingcat and CNN, with the participation of Der Spiegel and FBK, released a joint journalistic investigation. According to its conclusions, eight employees of the FSB special group followed Alexey Navalny for several years and poisoned him with Novichok warfare agent.

The investigators established the identities of the employees involved in the poisoning by comparing cell phone billing data with offline databases.

By analyzing airline flight records, investigators found that members of the group had flown to dozens of Russian cities where Navalny had flown to since 2017 – usually two or three operatives went on each trip, their lineup constantly alternating. They bought tickets under real and fictitious names, and tried to fly not on the same flights as Navalny, but on parallel ones, often from other Moscow airports. The main activity came in 2017 (when Navalny announced his intention to run for presidency) and then in 2020.

Navalny himself, commenting on the investigation, called what happened “state terrorism.”

At the end of December 2020, the second part of the investigation came out: Navalny called an FSB officer and recorded a conversation with him, saying that this conversation was an actual confession by a Russian special services officer of his participation in an assassination attempt.

Domestic and international reaction:

The poisoning of Navalny caused an international outcry and became a turning point in modern Russian history.

Even before the release of the investigation, on September 3, 2020, the European Union Foreign Affairs Office issued a declaration in which on behalf of all 27 EU member states, as well as Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Georgia and Ukraine condemned in the strongest terms the attack on Alexey Navalny. German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a statement calling the attempt on Navalny’s life an attempt to silence him, “a crime against the basic values for which we stand.” Boris Johnson, for his part, said that the poisoning of Navalny “shocked the world” and called Russia’s use of chemical weapons “outrageous.” On October 15, “for the use of chemical weapons for the attempted murder of Alexey Navalny,” the European Union imposed sanctions against FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov and five other high-ranking Russian officials and security officers, as well as against the state-owned plant that was involved in the development of Novichok. On the same day, the United Kingdom announced similar sanctions.

According to the EU, the poisoning of Navalny was possible “only with the consent of the presidential administration” and with the participation of the FSB. Navalny himself believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally behind the attempt on his life. Putin himself characterized the investigation as “legalization of materials from the American secret services,” and said that if the Russian secret services had wanted to poison Navalny, they would have completed the case.

On December 23rd, a U.S. State Department spokesman accused the FSB of poisoning Navalny and the Russian leadership of creating conspiracy theories around him.

In mid-January 2021, Navalny returned to Russia. He was detained at the airport on suspicion of violating his probation in the Yves Rocher case. According to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, Navalny failed to report to his place of residence several times, as required by law for those sentenced to probation. Navalny himself indicated that he had been unable to do so because he had been undergoing rehabilitation in Berlin after being poisoned. On February 2 the politician was sentenced to two and a half years in a penal colony, after which several more criminal cases were initiated against him.

On August 20, 2021, on the anniversary of the poisoning of Navalny, Britain imposed sanctions on seven FSB officers it believes were involved in the poisoning. The U.S. imposed sanctions against nine FSB officers. In addition, the U.S. announced a second round of sanctions against Russia for the use of chemical weapons in the poisoning of Navalny, under which the U.S. imposed additional restrictions on exports of nuclear and missile-related products and technologies, as well as restrictions on imports of certain Russian firearms and ammunition.

Strike Five: “Putin’s Palace”

Case in focus: An investigative documentary about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal, incredibly expensive “mini-state” on the shores of the Black Sea.

Release Date: 01/19/2021

Number of views on YouTube: 121 million

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipAnwilMncI

Contents:

The documentary “A Palace for Putin” tells the story of a 17,700 square meter palace for the Russian president built on the Black Sea near Gelendzhik. According to the FBK, its construction was financed by state and private companies connected to Putin’s friends through corrupt schemes. The FBK estimated the total amount of money spent on the palace and the vineyards around it to be at least 100 billion rubles.

The authors of the investigation managed to unravel the complex web of property relationships around the palace. The data they collected showed that the palace belongs to Putin’s nephew, and its maintenance is entrusted to old cronies of the Russian president: former KGB employees.

The area of the palace complex is 68 hectares, and 7,000 hectares of land around the palace (including the airspace) is a closed area under the jurisdiction of the FSB.  The film claims that the Russian president’s residence near Gelendzhik was built in 2010 and has an underground ice palace, an “aquadiscotheque,” a concert hall, a church, an 80-meter bridge “for the approach to the tea house” and a tunnel to descend from the palace to the sea.

Domestic and international reaction:

Vladimir Putin, commenting on the investigation, stated that the palace had never been registered in his name and did not belong to his close relatives. In response, Navalny’s team pointed out that neither Putin’s brother-in-law Nikolai Shamalov, in whose name the palace was registered, nor Putin’s great-nephew Mikhail Shelomov, who was managing the construction site, were indeed close relatives under the Russian Family Code. Later, the owner of the facility called himself a businessman longtime acquaintance of Putin’s Arkady Rotenberg. He claimed that he was building an apartment hotel.

According to the Levada Center, of those who have seen the film, are aware of its contents, or have heard about it, the attitude toward Putin has worsened; 3% of those who have improved; 80% of those who have not changed. At the same time, 17% are certain that the content of the film is true; 38% believe that it is similar to the truth, but it is difficult to verify; and 33% are certain that it is not true.

The film caused widespread resonance and outrage in almost all of the world’s major media outlets.  Many Western journalists were shocked by the size of Vladimir Putin’s alleged palace, which is 39 times the size of the Principality of Monaco.

According to experts, the investigation was a serious blow to the position of the authorities and the image of the Russian president. It has also seriously broadened Navalny’s audience, allowing him to collect additional donations from sympathizers.

The investigation about Putin’s palace was a serious hit to the Kremlin, after which any actions by the authorities against Navalny were perceived as retaliation for the investigation. And so it happened: Alexey Navalny was detained at Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, 2021, immediately after returning from Germany, where he had undergone treatment and rehabilitation after severe poisoning. He was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.

In the winter and spring of 2021, there were mass street protests in Russia – protests related to the detention of Navalny and rallies in his support. Police and Rosgvardia officers detained a record number of people at these events. The law enforcement agencies acted harshly; criminal proceedings were instituted against dozens of protesters.

Many of Navalny’s supporters were also put under investigation, or forced to leave Russia in a hurry. The politician’s structures are now considered extremist and banned in Russia. Any individual who has in any way helped or expressed sympathy for the opposition leader is now barred from running for a seat in the State Duma for several years.

On June 9, 2021, the FBK in Russia was recognized as an extremist organization and liquidated by court order.