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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia This Week: August 25-31

Publication: Russia This Week
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Anti-War Rally in St. Petersburg

A few hundred activists in St. Petersburg held a rally today to protest Russia's war in Ukraine.

Translation: St. Petersburg now. Sign: People of the world, save the world.

Signs: War on War [in Russian and Ukrainian]

"There will be no victors. They are beating their own people." Head of ER, Donetsk

There were also counter-demonstrators who turned out.

Translation: St. Petersburg fascist. Sign: We will not trade the Donbass for parmesan.

This is a reference to the region in southeastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are fighting with Russian support, and a reference to sanctions against Western food imports Putin imposed after the EU put in place sanctions against Russia for aggression against Ukraine.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Shlosberg Recovering, Links Attack to His Investigation of Paratroopers' Deaths in Ukraine

Lev Shlosberg, the Pskov legislator from the Yabloko Party who was assaulted yesterday near his home, believes the attack was connected to his efforts to probe the killings of Pskov paratroopers in combat in Ukraine, TV Rain reports.

TV Rain spoke briefly on the telephone to Shlosberg, who is listed in fair condition in a Pskov hospital. He suffered a concussion, nose fracture, and multiple bruises.

They attacked me from behind. They did not ask who I was. They were well prepared. I lost consciousness from the first blow, then they beat me for several minutes...I don't see any other reasons for the attack except on the part of those forces who want to keep this [investigation] secret...It's a question only of the level of the making of the decision.

Igor Yakovlev, the press secretary for Yabloko, said on his Facebook page that Yabloko founder Grigory Yavlinsky spoke to Shlosberg this morning and he was feeling better. Yavlinsky said Shlosberg was lucky that the attackers ran away after they saw his friend, a reporter from Pskovskaya Guberniya coming to meet him. Apparently they did not know about the meeting.

Acting Pskov Region Governor Andrei Turchak, made a statement about the attack:

The assault and beating of citizens in a law-based state is not permissible! This cannot be! The police agencies must instill order and secure safety on our streets.

I demand that the police agencies conduct a thorough investigation into what happened with Pskov Regional Assembly Deputy Lev Shlosberg, and I take the course of this investigation under my personal oversight.

I have already appealed to Boris Govorun, head of the region division of the Interior Ministry so that he has a 24-hour guard during the period of the investigation.

I personally wish Lev Shlosberg a speedy recovery.

Turchak, a conservative governor allied with Moscow and the ruling United Russia party frequently the target of Shlosberg's criticism, accused Shlosberg of being a "fifth columnist" in May of this year when he criticized the deployment of Pskov's 76th Guards in Crimea. Shlosberg has continued to be an open critic of the war as well as corruption and mismanagement in Pskov Region.

Turchak in meeting with Putin in December 2013.

One commenter noted on Yakovlev's page that guards have also been posted at the cemetery where the paratroopers are buried. Journalists who have sought to cover recent funerals were chased away by thugs with rocks and screws.

Back in 2010, Oleg Kashin, a former Kommersant journalist and blogger who suffered a serious assault which left him in a coma with multiple broken limbs, theorized that Turchak could have been behind his attack, after he blogged that "he had his position only because of his ties to the Kremlin."

Kashin also theorized that the attackers could be related to the Kremlin's youth group Nashi or municipal authorities in Khimki, site of a controversial logging and highway construction project opposed by environmentalists about which Kashin had written.

At that time, then-President Medvedev also said he would "take the investigation under his personal control"; indeed this stock phrase mentioned many times by many officials about attacks on journalists and public figures in Russia has almost become an assurance that such investigations will be buried.

Translation: Shlosberg is not only investigating the story with the paratroopers, but is a harsh opponent of Governor Turchak, with whom the attack on @KSHN is tied.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Lev Shlosberg, Pskov Deputy Who Probed Pskov Paratroopers' Deaths, Assaulted, Hospitalized

Igor Yakovlev, the press secretary for the Yabloko opposition party, reported today on his Facebook page that Lev Shlosberg, a Pskov legislator from their party, was assaulted this evening, evidently in retaliation for his outspoken criticism of the war in Ukraine and public demands for information about the whereabouts of the Pskov 76th Guards, some of whom were buried in Pskov this week. (The Interpreter has summarized his report.)

Shlosberg was taken to the emergency room of the regional hospital, suffering from skull trauma, concussion, memory loss, a broken nose, and multiple bruises.

According to his aide, he was about 400 meters from his home when three unidentified men attacked and beat him.

Grigory Yavlinsky, founder of the Yabloko Party, and Sergei Mitrokhin, its current leader, believe the attack on Shlosberg is directly connected to his attempt to investigate the whereabouts of Pskov paratroopers, Yakovlev and TV Rain reported.

Early in the Crimean war (see Day 11 of our Ukrainian LiveBlog), Shlosberg was the first to raise the alarm about the Pskov 76th Guards missing from their barracks, who were later admitted to be stationed in Crimea. Then with reports of a captured BMD in Ukraine with documents from Pskov soldiers this week, Shlosberg continued to publicly press officials for answers, and was the first to publish photos of the graves of soldiers in the local press.

Lev Shlosberg, deputy, speaking at Pskov Region legislature 30 May 2014. Photo by

Shlosberg has been singled out as a "fifth columnist" by the acting governor of the Pskov Region for his criticism of corruption, poor health care and infrastructure as well as the secret deployment of the armed forces abroad.

Aleksei Semyonov, a journalist from Pskovskaya Guberniya who had made arrangements to meet Shlosberg outside his home today, said he came upon the deputy staggering and clutching his head, his clothing spattered with blood. He managed to say he was set upon by three people who beat him over the head from behind. He was taken to the emergency room with multiple injuries and was unable to open his eyes at first. He is expected to recover from his injuries.

Suspects were detained in the incident, but then released by police, who said they were not involved; Shlosberg's aide agreed they were not likely the assailants.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Activists Form Facebook Groups, Web Sites to Look for Soldiers MIA, KIA

Russians have been forming Facebook groups and web sites to try to track the cases of soldiers fighting in Ukraine who are missing in action (MIA) or killed in action (KIA).

It all started on 21 August when a Ukrainian journalist named Roman Bochkala published information about the documents of Russian soldiers found in a BMD seized by Ukrainian forces in Lugansk Region, and LiveJournal bloggers began to match the names to accounts on Russia's most popular social network, VKontakte (VK).

In the following days, we watched as some of these VK accounts were removed or accessed and pictures deleted from them; most of the soldiers did not log on again.

Since then, the Russian independent press has tried to track down the news of missing, wounded or killing soldiers, facing intense denials from the Russian Defense Ministry, attacks from thugs, and vilification by pro-Kremlin propagandists who claimed they were photoshopping pictures,  faking information, or in the pay of Western intelligence agencies.

Then when the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) announced it had 10 POWs in Kiev and their videotaped interrogations were released, activists were emboldened to began to try to find out more about them and other soldiers missing who had supposedly been "sent for training."

The Soldiers Mothers Committees, a movement formed even before the Chechen wars in the 1990s, originally focusing on rampant abuse, hazing and deaths in the peace-time army, has been particularly active in St. Petersburg, where wounded soldiers were said to be brought to a military hospital, and Kostroma, the base of the POWs now in Kiev. Two human rights advocates, Ella Polyakova and Sergei Krivenko, who are members of the official Presidential Council for Human Rights have come forward to publicize the failure of officials to give them answers to their queries about missing or killed soldiers, said to have died in battle in Ukraine 13 August.

The prosecutor and Ministry of Justice has now registered the St. Petersburg Soldiers' Mothers as "foreign agents" and they are facing intense backlash from conservative politicians and ultra-nationalists on social media.

Despite such harassment, independent media and non-governmental groups have persisted in trying to find answers as to the whereabouts of hundreds of soldiers. Local officials have privately given to families figures of 250 or 300 wounded soldiers brought back to Russia from Ukraine or from Rostov Region in Russia; Ella Polyakova, who is also the head of the St. Petersburg Soldier's Mother has also been told as many as 100 could be killed and 300 wounded, and has heard from a dozen of the parents.

In order to try to get to the bottom of conflicting reports and dispel disinformation. TV Rain started a site posting the names of only those cases their reporters could verify by directly interviewing families and obtaining confirmation.

Another website which sprang up whose managers are not named, registered in Kiev with privacy protection, is called This site already shows 37 cases, but it seems that anyone can submit information, and the site owners don't vouch for its accuracy, although they will try to check it.

They include as "killed," for example, the case of Ivan Maksimov, whose driver's license was one of the items in the photos first publicized by Bochkala, although he has been reported to have contacted his parents now.

According to a report from TV Rain, his father received a phone call from an unknown caller. First a man said that "your son will speak with you now" and then gave the phone to Maksimov. He told his father he was "in training in Rostov." When his father asked him why his license was found in Ukraine and posted on the Internet, he said that he had his license with him and didn't know. When his mother tried to call back the number he had called on, she got a recording about an "international satellite call." Maksimov could be held captive.

A Facebook group called Gruz 200 iz Ukraini v Rossiyu ("Cargo 200 from Ukraine to Russia"), a reference to the military term for dead bodies returned from wars, was formed last week by Yelena Vasilyeva, an anti-nuclear activist and environmentalist from Murmansk, a blogger and opposition member formerly involved in the Solidarity opposition movement and currently on the Opposition Experts' Council.

The group already has 10,603 members as of this writing -- it surged from only 1,700 at the start of this week. Vasilyeva has strictly moderated the group to prevent hate speech and distractive arguments and tried to keep the group to news notices only. Already she has come under vicious attack from pro-Putin commentators on social media who have declared a "hunt" on her. A sister group was formed on Odnoklassniki.

We can get an idea of the daunting task of trying to get information out of a country as large as Russia with tight-lipped officials and Kremlin disinformation agencies working full tilt, trying to sift through the flood of information in this group.

For example, a case that was not on TV Rain's site or Lost Ivan turned up via the Cargo 200 group from a local newspaper report in the city of Vladimir.

A local news site published an article today 29 August about  an area man, Sergei Seleznyov, saying he had been killed on the Ukrainian border. A contract soldier, he had been sent for "training". An army officer came to Seleznyov's home on 28 August and said he was "killed in training in Rostov Region." He left behind a pregnant fiancee.

As with other soldiers went for "training," Seleznyov called friends and told them that their phones were being taken away, that they had changed into field uniforms and painted over with green paint all the identifying marks on their military vehicles. And as with other soldiers, he used a phone one of them had managed to hide from confiscation and told his girlfriend that the soldiers were constantly searched with metal detectors to find unauthorized phones because they did not want them to be located through the devices.

His girlfriend said that when she didn't hear from him after 22 August, she tried calling everywhere and searching the Internet for information. Hospitals in Rostov claimed they had no soldiers, and he wasn't in lists held by the army there. Finally a local army official in Kostroma said that about 200 wounded soldiers were being brought from Rostov Region, but he wasn't in that list. Then came the dreaded visit to their home from a local officer with the bad news.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg Declared 'Foreign Agent' After Query of Deaths in Ukraine
Not surprisingly, soon after the Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg began raising questions about soldiers' wounded or killed in battle in Ukraine, they were first denounced by well-known video blogger Anatoly Shaliy as "foreign agents" in the pay of a US-government due to their 2011 grant from a US-funded foundation, National Endowment for Democracy for educational and legal aid work for draftees.

Then today, very swifly, their organization's name was entered into the registry of the Russian Ministry of Justice  of "non-commercial organizations fulfilling the functions of a foreign agent" along with another St. Petersburg group, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information.

The inclusion in the registry was made "on the basis of submissions by the prosecutor's office of St. Petersburg."

According to the Russian state wire agency RIA Novosti, Soldiers' Mothers had made no comment on the Justice Ministry's move.

The group was not under investigation currently, but last year Anatoly Artyukh, an aide to the conservative and nationalist St. Petersburg deputy Vitaly Milonov, appealed to the Federal Security Service (FSB) and prosecutor's office to inspect the Soldiers' Mother to see if they were obeying the law on foreign agents. Now, due to the concerns the Soldiers' Mothers have raised about Russian soldiers killed or wounded in Ukraine battling Ukrainian forces, the authorities have definitively moved against them.

The "foreign agents" law went into effect in November 2012, sparking the inspections of hundreds of NGOs resulting in the suspension or closure of some. Eleven Russian groups sent an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights protesting the law as unconstitutional and in violation of international standards on free association. At least 6 groups, including Memorial Society's Human Rights Center have been targeted and registered under the law, and the St. Petersburg Memorial Society was forced to close.