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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: September 3, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Buryat Woman Fined for VKontakte Post about ISIS; Dagestani Authorities Call off CTO; Car Bomb Not Confirmed

A young woman was sentenced to a heavy fine of 200,000 rubles ($2980) for supporting ISIS on her VKontakte page, Baikal-Daily and reported.

The Buryat woman was a resident of the village of Khoronka Kyakhtinsky District and investigated by the FSB, says Baikal Daily. The name of the woman was not provided by the media.

An official notice from the FSB cited by the daily said (translation by The Interpreter):

During the period of September 9, 2013 through February 12, 2014, aware of the criminal nature of her actions, she deliberately placed on her personal page on the social network VKontakte materials, the content of which was related to justification of terrorist activity. All the information was accessible to an unlimited number of registered users of the social network.

In particular, the woman placed materials containing calls for comprehensive support of representatives of terrorist organizations and also to armed resistance against representatives of the non-Islamic religious tendencies. Also, on her personal page of the social network there were depictions of the symbols of ISIS and other organizations of an extremist radical bent.

In December 2014, Russia's Supreme Court declared ISIS an "international terrorist organization" and banned its activity on its territory. This formed the basis to charge the woman.

"Thus in the actions of the resident there were contained signs of Art. 205.2, part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code, "Public calls to commit terrorist activity or public justification of terrorism."

Furthermore, the local media revealed that a special commission from the Moscow District Military Court traveled to Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic, to examine the woman's case and pronounced her guilty -- that's how much a post on VKontakte got the attention of the top brass in Moscow. One commentator on named "Ulug-Khem Oglu," said "Why don't I see the comments of the so-called liberals on freedom of speech?"

Buryats are mainly Buddhists. They have been in the news recently as several fighters from Buryatia joined the Russian-backed separatists and one was severely wounded. This poorer republic has been hard hit by Russia's economic crisis and massive forest fires that have raged through the region this summer.

The independent media in Buryatia has been intimidated by the FSB and reports are difficult to obtain.

Several weeks ago the editor-in-chief of was assaulted by an unknown attacker who broke his neck. The attack was believed to be related to his critical articles. Khamagan is now recovering in the hospital and told the banned media site that he believes a corrupt police chief whom he had exposed could be behind the attack.

Russian media have published a number of stories about women attracted to ISIS, such as one Russian student who went off to Turkey to join the terrorist group, hoping to marry the man who recruited her.

The few liberals in Russia have not rushed to take up such cases, although Novaya Gazeta has provided in-depth coverage of the issue of recruitment to ISIL; the editor of Ekho Moskvy, Aleksandr Venediktov, supported Charlie Hebdo and published the controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammad, and the Chronicle of Current Events, a group of former Soviet-era dissident, has included the Islamists in their political prisoners list, as has Memorial Human Rights Society.

Yesterday, Dagestan authorities announced cryptically that they had "called off the CTO," i.e. the counter-terrorism operation wihch had been declared in the city of Derbent and the Derbent Region, Tabasar, Suleyman-Stalsk, Magaramkent and Khivsk.

In the past the CTOs have been cancelled when riot troops can declare "mission accomplished," i.e. surrounding and killing the lastest Islamist militant suspect. Sometimes the regimens are cancelled if they don't accomplish their mission but townspeople begain to complain about streets being blocked off, gunfire in residential areas and the inability to get to stores or schools. Officially, there was no further information on yesterday's report.

But residents of Dagestan denied the claims of ISIL's attack upon which this report was based, Caucasian Knot reported.

Both police and residents of the area told Caucasian Knot that  no such car bombing had occurred at a Russian military police barracks in Magaramkent in southern Dagestan. Caucasian Knot said the claim had originated on the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, a monitor of terrorist attacks. An area resident told Caucasian Knot:

"There was no attack on the border guards. We don't have other military or police units. There is an FSB base in the village of Belidzhi in Derbent District, but no one has heard anything about any attacks."

Another resident of Magaramkent said:

"Apparently, they conducted a CTO. But there are no permanently-deployed bases here except for the border guards in our district. The CTO was held in five southern regions. If there were killed or wounded among the siloviki [police], I think it would become known."

Another resident did note that "the movement of military convoys from South Dagestan to Makhachkala has been visible.

Caucasian Knot did say that police had killed two militants in Magaramkent who had refused to stop when officers demanded, and then shot at them. The officers returned fire. The charred bodies have not been identified and police said they would conduct a DNA test.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Investigative Committee Reports Russia Has Spent $60 Million on Refugees from Ukraine

Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee that handles Russia's chief criminal cases said Russia has spent more than 4 billion rubles (about $60 million) on hosting refugees from Ukraine, reported.

The Investigative Committee chief and not a Federal Migration Service official was giving this figure because Russia is suing Ukraine for damages from the war, evidently heedless of its own role in launching separatist warfare with Russian military command, troops and armor. Russia has also opened up cases on charges of "war crimes" against Ukraine.

In the report released today, Bastrykin said that the various subjects or constituent regions of the Russian Federationhave  turned in data about their expenditures in placing refugees from Ukraine, which totals "more than 4 billion rubles." There was no way to check this figure for now as Bastrykin is the only source for it.

Bastrykin did refer to the Federal Migration Service's figures: more than one million Russian-language residents of Lugansk and Donetsk regions were forced to leave their permanent residence and flee to Russia. He didn't mention that many were fleeing conditions under the self-proclaimed "Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics" (DNR and LNR) themselves, or that the estimate for those internally displaced within Ukraine, not counting Crimea, is 1.45 million.

These include people who formally lived within the Donetsk and Lugansk regions but fled to other Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine including the capital of Kiev.

Reliable figures on the refugee situation are difficult to obtain because Russia is the only source for them. The UN usually gets its statistics from Russia, which is its practice when dealing with member states in humanitarian crises. Non-governmental organizations have found it difficult to work in the DNR and LNR areas; for example, the DNR kidnapped and held workers from the International Rescue Committee, claiming they were spies, and released them only in connection with a trip by Secretary of State John Kerry to Moscow.

Russia has sometimes included all travelers in its figures -- there is a lot of cross-traffic between the countries, both before the war and, even now, there is more movement back and forth than may be realized. This has especially been the case now that Ukraine has lost control of its southern border, which is essentially in Russian hands.

While Russia has made much of receiving the refugees and incorporated their plight into its war propaganda, only 114,000 people have actually received the legal status "refugee" from Russia, which in general does not accept as many refugees as other countries of the world, and have now applied for citizenship. Some groups in Russia have pressured the government to speed up the citizenship process but it remains slow.

Dmitry Polikanov, a Moscow-based researcher, wrote recently in the pro-Kremlin publication Russia-Direct that local residents in Russia were becoming "more and more reluctant to host Ukrainians," i.e. Russians and Russian-speakers who were Ukrainian citizens.

He cites a figure from the United Nations of "over 660,000" who have fled the Donbass in April and have "officially registered as refugees," by contrast with Bastrykin's figure of "1 million" having fled, yet there hasn't been a surge of refugees since April; if anything, some people have returned with hopes of the ceasefire, although they have been repeatedly dashed, as they were again today.

Polikanov sums up the problem, in the eyes of Russians:

Many of them stay in the southern and central regions of Russia, benefiting from government support and traditional Russian hospitality. They get accommodation in hotels and sanatoria and receive substantial financial help. The problem is that they have nothing to do as they wait out the Ukrainian crisis.

This lack of activity results in permanent claims for even better standards, internal conflicts over distribution of humanitarian aid and tensions with the local population and the local authorities. These authorities are responsible for providing care under strict supervision of Moscow but their irritation grows, as they have to fulfill higher and higher demands.

Members of the local population, having been put in a tight corner by the difficult economic situation, are envious about the financial assistance and “laziness” of the refugees, many of who are strong and apt men suitable for full-time employment.

Separatist leaders such as Col. Igor Strelkov (Girkin), who continues to make popular YouTubes and appear on various alternative ultra-nationalist talk shows online, also targets the able-bodied males among the refugee population, castigating them for not taking up arms in the Donbass.

Polikanov notes that a VTsIOM poll said 24 percent of Russians believe the government "did too much" for refugees; the figure was higher in areas where the refugees were actually housed, where 45% said they should be "sent back as soon as possible when favorable conditions emerge."

Locals have complained that refugees "take away jobs," says Polikanov:

A curious example mentioned in the media is a petition by Siberian prostitutes who feel rising competition from their Ukrainian colleagues, ruining the market by lowering the prices they can charge.

It is clear that refugees – after passing proper formalities – could be readily used as part of the development projects in the Far East. However, many of them have the image as a sort of “parasite.” According to this view, their only dream is to stay relaxed in Moscow or in the warm and rich southern regions.

As Polikanov points out, increasingly, the economic crisis in Russia -- in part engendered by the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions -- pits locals against refugees and creates situations vulnerable to violence as with migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick