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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: September 1-7

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.
'There's No Such Thing as a Former Paratrooper'

Graham W. Phillips, a British journalist who was formerly a stringer for the Kremlin propaganda site, and now works as an occasional stringer for Ruptly, another Kremlin propaganda company, has his own YouTube channel where he has been releasing a lot of his pro-Russian videos lately.

Phillips was detained by Ukrainian forces for two days in May, and ultimately deported in July and banned from re-try to Ukraine. Nevertheless, he sneaked back in across the porous border to Lugansk to film scenes of battle there, mainly of the rout of Ukrainian troops and the destruction of their vehicles.

Whatever you want to say about Phillips, he's there. And sometimes, despite himself, you look over his shoulder and see things that contradict the point of his own propaganda shoots.

Today 5 September, he uploaded his video interview of soldiers fresh from fighting at the Lugansk airport.

The label of the video says "Talking with the Novorossiya Militia at the Lugansk Airport."

But it soon becomes clear from watching the video that these are not home-grown militia from Ukraine.

The men have the Russian accents of Russian speakers from Russia, not southeastern Ukraine.

They're wearing the blue berets of Russia's Airborne Troops Division. To be sure, perhaps they bought the caps in an army depot.


But when someone off-camera asks the men at 1:39, "Guys, who's from Russia, exactly?" -- most raise their hands. At 1:46 they say they are "volunteers".


"We bought everything ourselves and came here," says one soldier. "Well, except the machine guns," says another. "They aren't for sale anywhere."

The main speaker, seated left of center, who had raised his hand to indicate he was from Russia, says he ran a company and is a programmer by training.

When asked what their motivation was, this main speaker said he was ethnically Belarusian -- implying that brother Slavs stuck together -- except when they don't. Others said that "a lot of people" were dying. "They propagandized a lot about the Banderaites," said another.

At 2:14, the soldier in the back smoking and holding his gun upright says, "We are fulfilling our oath." what? A soldier in the regular army takes an oath. What is the procedure for volunteers for "Novorossiya"?

"It doesn't matter, wherever they are killing Russian people, here..or in Australia..." says the soldier with the head scarf at 2:19.

The man in the blue beret standing in the back row with the automatic weapon says, "If anyone attacks the Russian people, I have 500 arguments against them," clapping his gun.


Another man at 2:36 also notes in the background that he gave an oath to defend the Russian people.

At 3:30, the soldier shows the chevron of the Ukrainian paratroopers, which he said was given to him as a souvenir by a Ukrainian soldier "who doesn't want to fight."

"They are just like us, we were paratroopers in the past, says the soldier. "There's no such thing as former paratroopers," he adds at 3:35.

"Really, a paratrooper shouldn't fight another paratrooper," says a soldier -- and truly, if they don't come out from under Gogol's overcoat, they come out from under the overcoat of the Soviet Red Army.

When asked what TV channel was filming, a voice says "NTV".

At 4:22 a soldier says,  "Mama, forgive me that I deceived to you, Lil' Sis, too, everything will be fine." Another says, "Grandma, you can understand now, I'm not studying!" as they realize their relatives may see them on TV.

But then at the end, we get a closer look at the flag flying on the armored vehicle, and as in other photographs taken of the same crew, we see it's the VDV flag of the Russian Airborne Troops.


The soldiers are also wearing white arm bands, which is typical of Russian soldiers coming into Ukraine.

Do the Russian Armed Forces really allow irregular soldiers, volunteers in another country's "militia," to use the flags of their regular troops?

It seems much more likely that these are soldiers under the command of the VDV, even if technically they may be contractors.

It also seems misleading to say "NTV" is filming -- when this video hasn't been broadcast on NTV (as far as we know), but is on Phillips' own YouTube channel.

Phillips has indicated that his video may not be used by "the wrong people."
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Blogger Asks Hard Questions about Death of State Photographer Stenin

The controversies surrounding the life, death and work of Andrei Stenin, RIA Novosti photo correspondent continue to rage on Russian social media.

Stenin, who was embedded with Russian-backed fighters from the "Donetsk People's Republic," filmed Ukrainian POWs who were humiliated by the fighters. Not long after filming the POWs, he went missing but then was pronounced dead yesterday after his remains were positively identified with a DNA match. Accusations have been made that Stenin was complicit in torture. As we have noted, the fact that DNR fighters eventually brought at least one POW to the hospital doesn't exonerate their exploitation of his suffering in propaganda videos.

Meanwhile, the Russian state media is denouncing the Ukrainian armed forces for shelling Stenin's car. As we have reported, a burnt-out car was found on a road leading to Snezhnoye, near the site of the downed MH17, where battles took place between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army. A video was taken of this road by Caucasian fighters who appear to be from Russia and outfitted with the latest Russian weapons. A video by the same cameraman shows the fighters traveling in a civilian car.

Oleg Kashin has some questions regarding the death of Stenin for Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee and also Vladimir Sungorkin, head of Kmsomolskaya Pravda and LifeNews' head Aram Gabrelyanov. Translation byThe Interpreter.

Why was the filming by Andrei Stenin done 1 August published only on 5 August, that is, a day before the supposed day of his death?

Yet another set was taken on the 3rd. Does that follow that Andrei went missing on the 3rd or 4th?

On what date did they find Andrei Stenin?

Where did they find him?

KP, in its reports, indicates a placed called Peresyp, but on Google maps there is only Rassypnoye. Is that what is meant?

What are these lenses found in the area of Donetsk, the photographs of which an employee of Rossiya Segodnya named Shtol published in a group for photographers on 15 August?

If Andrei Stenin was found 15 August or earlier, why wasn't that reported?

Was Andrei Stenin's mother informed on the course of the searches?

How fully and in what volume was she told about this?

Where did the version of the story involving tanks and shooting of a convoy of refugees come from?

Were the witnesses questioned? If yes, did officers of the Investigative Committee go to the scene of the tragedy?

Did experts or specialists review the scene of Andrei Stenin's death?

Which ones?

What were their conclusions?

Are their photographs or videotapes with the general diagrams of the place of the tragedy?

Are there other damaged cars in these videos that would confirm the version of the death of Andrei Stenin?

Why weren't they published?

Were there armed persons in the car with Andrei Stenin?

Do you know that he went missing along with two activists from Fyodor's NOD [National Liberation Movement, an ultrnationalist Russian group known for supporting the separatists and their antisemitic TV channel--The Interpreter.]

Do you know that some members of this movement took part in the conflict in Donbass as volunteers?

What was their fate?

Is it true that it follows from the KP reports that Dmitry Steshin and Aleksandr Kots, as well as journalists from LifeNews who found Andrei Stenin touched the items at the crime scene?

Are they witnesses in the case of the murder of the journalist?

Did this hinder the investigation?

Why was the first report of the journalists removed from the web site of Komsomolskaya Pravda?

Did you see the OSCE report about the remains of the journalist found?

What date is indicated there for the finding of Andrei Stenin's body?

How did the story of Andrei Stenin's detention by the SBU appear?

On what date did the remains of the body and the camera lenses end up in the hands of specialists?

Did the Russian government communicate with Ukrainian authorities after the first announcements on the detention of Andrei Stenin? Were their contacts in this regard with the leadership of the Ukrainian battalions?

It is known that Andrei Stenin's telephone was turned on after 5 August, some people answered calls from it and even went on Facebook. Did the Russian government ask the intelligence agencies to trace this activated phone?

Vesti had a program saying that the car in which Andrei Stenin was travelling was not only shelled from Grads but grenades were thrown at it, and also Ukrainian officers came to the scene of the crime and took the personal items of all those killed. Do you know anything about this? Is it true?

Kashin's questions got a predictably harsh response from the head of LifeNews, a TV channel close to Russian intelligence:

Translation: I believe that Kashin with his despicable "questions - half-hints" has violated ethical normas, just as in the situation with Marat and Oleg - Ekho.

Translation: Kashin boldly asks questions from Geneva, while the guys from LifeNews and KP risk their lives to conduct an investigation into the death of Stenin in the Donbas.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Cell Phone Messages of Moscow Municipal Candidate Leaked to State Media

Max Katz, an opposition candidate who is running in elections to the Moscow municipal legislature this month, reports that his cell phone messages have been hacked and published in the Russian state media.

Katz, who previously landed a seat in the City Duma in 2012, was running on an independent platform; he had tried and failed to get the nomination from the opposition Yabloko Party.

Translation: My SMS correspondence for 2 years has wound up in the media.

Translation: But read's really f**ked there truly ("My SMS Correspondence for 2 Years Has Ended up in the Media") and distribute this.

In a LiveJournal blog post, Katz said that whoever hacked his account would have had to have access the cell phone company MTS or access this messages through SORM (the filtration system of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB's successor.). Writes Katz (translation by The Interpreter)

They could not have stolen this from my telephone or from iCloud: then there would be also be my messages in iMessage in the files, and I don't have SMS messages on my telephone for that period. I've changed telephones 3 times, and for a certain time I didn't have an iPhone.

I am not under investigation, and the law-enforcement agencies have not questioned me ever, and I have never conducted any activity on the territory of the RF (except for the City Projects Foundation). I have never met with foreign diplomats, I have not proposed going against the Kremlin, and I am not in any underground organizations. I'm an ordinary man, not particularly distinguished by anything (my City Projects in 2012 would hardly be a reason to place surveillance over me.)

Yet my personal correspondence ends up in the media.

You can say as much as you like, that I am now a candidate for the [Moscow municipal] deputies and I have to be prepared for such things, but damn. They were following me for two years, archiving my SMS messages somewhere through an operator. And it would be fine if truly, the FSB did this in order to understand whether I was a terrorist, and in order to stop a terrorist act in time. Many methods are acceptable in the struggle against terrorist acts and if I knew that some officer reads my correspondence only with that purpose, I would even perhaps not be particularly opposed. My police is protecting me, so to speak.

But damn, to leak such files to the media simply because it is convenient now to dump some sort of compromising materials about me? This just seems beyond comprehension; how could they track the personal SMS correspondence of their citizens and use this then in a situation which not only does not threaten the security of the country but which is not even connected with any crimes in any way?

I can't believe this. Let's come out of the state "yes, everything is lawless in our country" and think concretely about this situation once again: someone tracked my SMS correspondence for a minimum of two years and dumped it into the media. From an ordinary citizen, not someone under investigation, not a suspect, not a terrorist.

Katz then wrote to Nikolai Nikiforov, the minister of communications and mass media, who has a Twitter account:

Translation: According to procedure, you must write a statement to the prosecutor's office, since this is a violation of the privacy of communications, stipulated by federal law.

Translation: Always concerned by any facts of unlawful access to personal data of citizens! I have even spoke about this at the UN.

Translation: I will write. But if a minister would also express concern about this situation, I am confident the case would go much more actively : )

Translation: Not a single Russian Federation journalist has taken an interest in the story of the leak of the SMS messages. Although this is the first time this has happened, it hasn't happened before.

Translation: Friends, only two journalists for now have taken an interest in the leak of my personal correspondence and they are both foreign : (  What's that all about?

Correspondence has in fact been leaked before, likely with involvement of the FSB. The telephone conversations of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, former first deputy prime minister, were leaked to the press to create a scandal, outing his frank assessments of other opposition figures, and the email of opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny has also been leaked.

It is routine for state TV, notably NTV, to follow opposition leaders and record their meetings and conversations and also police searches of their home, and broadcast them in denunciation programs on the news.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Persecuted Russian Parliamentarian Ponomarev Decides to Remain Abroad

Russian parliamentarian Ilya Ponomayev has decided to remain abroad and not return to Russia without guarantee that he will be allowed to travel again, reported.

Ponomarev, a deputy of the State Duma from the Just Russia party, is the sole member of the Russian parliament to have voted against the forcible annexation of Crimea, which has unleashed a flood of hate against him in the state-run media.

In an interview with, Ponomarev said he did not intend to emigrate and would continue to work as a deputy. He is currently in California and plans to travel to China and Malaysia.

The Federal Service of Court Bailiffs (FSCB) issued a decision to ban him from travel abroad in July.

Ponomarev says he has been attempting to get in touch with the FSCB. Back in July, he was assured that no restrictions would be placed on him in connection with a fine from a court case related to Skolkovo, a project started under President Dmitry Medvedev to encourage technical innovation but which began to experience political and legal troubles after Putin replaced him as president.

Ponomarev was charged with receiving lecture fees amounting to $750,000 but failing to perform all the lectures, and was ordered to return the fees. He appealed the decision, which was widely viewed as politically motivated, as authorities claimed Skolkovo was "funding the opposition" in this way. In July, the Supreme Court upheld the fine. 

Meanwhile, Aleksandr Ageyev, the head of Just Russia, told the party would demand that Ponomarev give up his seat, and he had already been informally expelled from the faction.  Ponomarev had already announced he was leaving the part in October 2013, citing a change in the line as conservatives rejected a past opposition platform. Earlier, an attempt had been made to expel Ponomarev when he joined the opposition's Coordinating Council.

On 1 September, a fake account issued a claim on Twitter that "Ponomarev's body was found in the woods." The tweet was subsequently deleted but not before some panic was spread.


The tweet was made by @Vlad_Ryzhkov which is an imposter account of Vladimir Ryzhkov, co-chair of the opposition party RPR-Parnas. The real Ryzhkov's Twitter handle is @respublicanex.

Ryzhkov, who published a notice in explaining that the account was not his, and that reports that he was beaten were not true. "About once a month he writes that someone has been beaten, murdered, blown up, etc. On Shenderovich's birthday, he wrote that he was beaten."

The fake Ryzhkov also tweeted that there was a connection between Ponomarev's statements about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the court action.

Translation: Ilya Ponomarev told CNN that the RF had brought forces into Ukraine back on 15 August. That evening Ilya got a summons to the Investigative Committee.

But Ponomarev was already under investigation before that. His speech about the Russian invasion was widely denounced on pro-Kremlin and state media sites, and he was called a "traitor."

On 29 August, an article appeared in Quarz magazine titled "An opposition Russian deputy has an idea to weaken Moscow’s influence in Europe":

Now, with Russian forces on the march in eastern Ukraine, Ponomarev is offering up his influence to help counterbalance Moscow’s chief leverage in Europe, which is its dominance of the continent’s natural gas supply.

Ponomarev tells Quartz that, to temper Russian influence, Europe needs to develop its shale gas reserves, as the US has—and that he can help by diminishing European political opposition to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the drilling method used to extract gas from shale.

Anti-fracking protests have broken out in Bulgaria, France, Poland, Romania, the UK and elsewhere, leading to bans on the practice in Bulgaria and France.

Critics, including Ponomarev, say that Russia is financing some of the protests. And he was in Washington this week to offer his paid lobbying services to Western energy companies that either are or hope to begin fracking in Europe.

This is sure to make him further enemies in Russia and among liberals and environmental activists in the West.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Soldier 'Fighting as Insurgent' Killed in Ukraine: Kyiv Post

The Kyiv Post has published a translation of a report in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta about another soldier who died fighting in Kiev, Anton Tumanov. This case has been added to those documented as confirmed by TV Rain, bringing the total to 28. In addition, there are cases of 9 other soldiers from Dagestan which is the subject of an inquiry by the Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg to the Investigative Committee, and many dozens more missing which are being investigated.

The article is titled "There Was No Other Job," and describes how Tumanov of Mari El Republic went off to Rostov Region, told his girlfriend in July he was going to war, where Russian soldiers were "fighting as insurgents" in Ukraine, and came home in a sealed coffin. Tumanov was a soldier in the 18th Motor Rifle Brigade, formation 27777, and died in battle 13 August after having his legs torn off from shrapnel.

Racheva interviewed his mother, who said he went into the army because there were few jobs in Kozmodemiansk, his hometown in the southwest of Russia.

Tumanov in Rostov. Photo by Novaya Gazeta.

On Aug. 11 Tumanov got two grenades and 150 machine gun cartridges. On 3 p.m. he sent his mother a message in Vkontakte social network saying: “Turned in my phone. Left for Ukraine.” That was all.

“I can’t understand how they could send them there. It was a big formation – 1,200 people. I didn’t even know who to call to. I didn’t have any of his commanders’ contacts. If I did, I would call and say: ‘Don’t you dare send him!’” Tumanova says.

Tumanov’s fellows from the military unit 27777 told the family what happened next, when they came to Kozmodemiyansk after the funeral to deliver the papers. They brought a notarized document detailing Tumanov’s death.

According to the servicemen, the order to cross the Ukrainian border came on Aug. 11. Those who refused were insulted and threatened by the commanders. They were ordered to turn in their phones and documents, change uniform and paint over number plates on their vehicles. Every soldier received thin white bands for their arms and legs.

Later Tumanova found in Vkontakte a photo of her son wearing such a band, with a comment by his fellow serviceman explaining that soldiers were moving the bands to a different arm or leg every day to signal to other squads that they are on the same side.

On the night of Aug. 12 a column of 1,200 soldiers entered Ukraine and arrived in Snizhne, a town 15 kilometers from the border. Later on that day the column was shelled by rockets from Grad launching systems.

“The boys told me that 120 men out of 1,200 died, and 450 were wounded. My Anton was at the front. No trenches or any protection. They panicked and tried to get out,” Tumanova says.

Read the full story here.