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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 October 13-19

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.
Soldiers' Mothers Activist Arrested, Had Pressed Cases of Russian Soldiers in Killed in Ukraine

Novaya Gazeta reported today 19 October that Ludmila Bogatenkova, a Soldiers' Mothers activist from Stavropol Territory, was arrested by court order in Budyonnovsk.


Bogatenkova, via RFE/RL

According to reports from her colleagues and friends, she has been taken to the Belaya Lebed [White Swan] pre-trial detention center in the city of Pyatigorsk.

Bogatenkova, 73, chair of the group Mothers of Prikumya, has been charged under Art. 159 of the Russian Criminal Code ("extortion"). Prikumye is a region near the Kuma River in Stravropol Territory.

Nothing further has been learned about the charges or a lawyer assigned to defend Bogatenkova; her friends appeared reluctant to speak to the press, fearing worse persecution.

Novaya Gazeta was able to learn that an ambulance was called to the court room yesterday, October 18, during her arraignment, which was halted. Bogatenkova is a registered disabled person and it is believed that she became ill in the courtroom.

Meanwhile, a lawyer who works with the Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg has begun working on her case. Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, said he would monitor her case; Bogatenkova served as an expert for the Council.

In August, Bogatenkova reported on the cases of 9 soldiers of the 18th Motorized Brigade from army unit 27777 based in Chechnya who were reportedly killed in Ukraine. On 25 August, Sergei Krivenko and Ella Polyakova, members of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, presented the list to the Russian Investigative Committee. At the time they said they had compiled a list of some 400 soldiers killed or wounded in Ukraine.

The Council members met with Russian Defense Ministry officials in August to present their lists, but have not heard anything back since then.

Polyakova, third from right and other activists at a meeting in August of the Presidential Human Rights Council and Russian Defense Ministry to discuss missing soldiers in Ukraine.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Gorbachev Confirms There Was No NATO 'Non-Expansion' Pledge

Russia Behind the Headlines, an English-language news site sponsored by the state-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta, ran an interview with the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in which he refutes a common Kremlin propaganda claim about NATO expansion.

Taking their cue from Russian leaders, the pro-Kremlin propaganda outlet (Centre for Research on Globalization) has repeatedly published claims that Western leaders "lied" about plans for NATO, and even historians have interpreted Gorbachev's own memoirs to imply the West broke its promise to Moscow. Putin even blamed the forcible annexation of the Crimea on "NATO enlargement."

This interview shows why we're fortunate such a historical actor is still alive to explain what happened when the Berlin wall fell 25 years ago.

RBTH: One of the key issues that has arisen in connection with the events in Ukraine is NATO expansion into the East. Do you get the feeling that your Western partners lied to you when they were developing their future plans in Eastern Europe? Why didn’t you insist that the promises made to you – particularly U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s promise that NATO would not expand into the East – be legally encoded? I will quote Baker: “NATO will not move one inch further east.”

M.G.: The topic of “NATO expansion” was not discussed at all, and it wasn’t brought up in those years. I say this with full responsibility. Not a single Eastern European country raised the issue, not even after the Warsaw Pact was terminated in 1991. Western leaders didn’t bring it up, either. Another issue we brought up was discussed: making sure that NATO’s military structures would not advance and that additional armed forces from the alliance would not be deployed on the territory of the then-GDR after German reunification. Baker’s statement was made in that context, mentioned in our question. Kohl and [German Vice Chancellor Hans-Dietrich] Genscher talked about it.

Everything that could have been and needed to be done to solidify that political obligation was done. And fulfilled. The agreement on a final settlement with Germany said that no new military structures would be created in the eastern part of the country; no additional troops would be deployed; no weapons of mass destruction would be placed there. It has been obeyed all these years. So don’t portray Gorbachev and the then-Soviet authorities as naïve people who were wrapped around the West’s finger. If there was naïveté, it was later, when the issue arose. Russia did not object at the beginning.

The decision for the U.S. and its allies to expand NATO into the east was decisively made in 1993. I called this a big mistake from the very beginning. It was definitely a violation of the spirit of the statements and assurances made to us in 1990. With regards to Germany, they were legally enshrined and are obeyed.

The idea of "NATO expansion" as a trigger for Russian aggression is a popular one for analysts keen to blame the West for the war in Ukraine, explain Russian alienation, claim the US has treated Russia like a loser, or find something the West can change instead of demanding change from Moscow.

Gorbachev's remarks make it clear that there weren't promises made, that some aspects of the discussion only concerned Germany, and that at best we can really only argue about the violation of "a spirit" not a letter.

Anna Applebaum dispenses with these claims in a piece titled "The Myth of Russian Humiliation" in the Washington Post in which she covers the joining of both EU and NATO by Central and East European nations:

These two “expansions,” which were parallel but not identical (some countries are members of one organization but not the other), were transformative because they were not direct leaps, as the word “expansion” implies, but slow negotiations. Before joining NATO, each country had to establish civilian control of its army. Before joining the European Union, each adopted laws on trade, judiciary, human rights. As a result, they became democracies. This was “democracy promotion” working as it never has before or since.

But times change, and the miraculous transformation of a historically unstable region became a humdrum reality. Instead of celebrating this achievement on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is now fashionable to opine that this expansion, and of NATO in particular, was mistaken. This project is incorrectly “remembered” as the result of American “triumphalism” that somehow humiliated Russia by bringing Western institutions into its rickety neighborhood. This thesis is usually based on revisionist history promoted by the current Russian regime — and it is wrong.

For the record: No treaties prohibiting NATO expansion were ever signed with Russia. No promises were broken. Nor did the impetus for NATO expansion come from a “triumphalist” Washington. On the contrary, Poland’s first efforts to apply in 1992 were rebuffed. I well remember the angry reaction of the U.S. ambassador to Warsaw at the time. But Poland and others persisted, precisely because they were already seeing signs of the Russian revanchism to come.

Indeed, Russia would be hard put to explain why the decision from the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, where Georgia and Ukraine were not given invitations or Membership Action Plan, due to opposition from Russia, Germany and France, and a decision by President Barack Obama not to deploy missiles in Czech Republic and Poland, prior to the reset, could somehow explain aggression against Ukraine 6 years later in 2014.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Poland Arrests Russian Lt. Colonel and Lawyer on Suspicion of 'Espionage'

Poland has arrested two men on suspicion of spying for Russia, Reuters reported, citing a briefing from a Polish parliamentarian:

Both suspects, an officer working for the Polish ministry of defense and a Warsaw-based lawyer, were detained by Poland's Internal Security Agency (ABW) on Wednesday.

Prosecutors have not revealed for what country the suspects are alleged to have been spying.

But following a briefing by the secret services which took place behind closed doors on Friday, a member of the parliamentary intelligence committee said that Russia was involved.

"Actions are being taken in respect of two agents of the Russian state," the lawmaker, Marek Biernacki told reporters.

"This was definitely a successful shot aimed at GRU," Biernacki said, a reference to the Russian military's Main Intelligence Directorate.

The two Russians are a lieutenant-colonel, and a lawyer said to have dual Polish and Russian citizenship, according to a report by Radio Zet which officials did not confirm. Polish Prosecutor Andrzej Sereme said the pair were allegedly "harming Poland's interests," BBC reported.

A Warsaw military court has ordered that the lieutenant-colonel be held in custody for three months, and a civilian court has also ruled that the lawyer should be held for three months pending trial.

Poland may deport all Russian diplomats form the country as the result of the spy scandal, Poland's Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski said today, RIA Novosti reported.

"If all information surrounding the espionage is confirmed, Russian diplomats will be expelled from Poland," Piechocinski told Polish television channel TVN24.

"Most likely as a result, some of our diplomats will return to the country [Poland]," the deputy prime minister said, adding that the expulsion of diplomats is a routine operation.

Poland has been at the forefront of Western countries criticizing Russia for its war against Ukraine and has supported sanctions, an increased NATO presence in the Baltic states and aid to Kiev. But like other NATO members, it has stopped short of directly providing sophisticated military assistance.

Polish General Boguslaw Pacek, the retired former commander of the National Defense Academy, will advise on the reform of Ukraine's military education system.

The spy story comes at a time when Poland has been rocked by a scandal involving the deputy defense minister.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Two American Journalism Professors Detained in St. Petersburg at Workshop

Two American journalism professors were detained in St. Petersburg Russia briefly today although they were in Russia at the invitation of the US State Department. AP has the story:

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting said that its co-founder, Joe Bergantino, and University of South Carolina professor Randy Covington, were detained for several hours by immigration authorities as they began teaching their first workshop in St. Petersburg.

The group quoted Bergantino as saying that he and Covington were in Russia for a two-day training workshop with 14 Russian journalists.

The Federal Migration Service in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, said in a statement the men were taken to court and found guilty of "violating the visa regime" because their activities in Russia "did not correspond to the stated purpose of their visit."

Judging from his colleague's tweet, Bergantino was able to give a lecture two days ago on October 14.

But then for some reason, Russian officials decided to detain them today, October 16, citing "visa incompatibility."

Officials tried to get the two journalists to sign a document saying they were in the country illegally, but they refused, the New England First Amendment Coalition reported.

The two were told they could not teach classes with a tourist visa although the State Department had recommended they obtain this type of visa, said AP.

"Incompatibility" is usually a reference to the fact that a visitor has an ordinary tourist visa, yet is not engaging in typical sight-seeing activities, but is involved in business, education, or journalist. For non-tourist activities, the foreign is supposed to obtain a business or other type of visa with an approved institution's invitation in order to engage in those activities.

The Russian visa procedure for foreigners has not changed all that much since the Soviet era, still requiring multiple layers of approval. What's different now, however, is that  after some relatively uneventful years, now an old Soviet-style claim of "incompatible behavior" springs up  -- which indicates close surveillance of activities. 

A business visa fee is more expensive and the invitation procedure has more steps, so some people just order a tourist visa through a travel agent because it's simpler.

Now after this kind of chilling experience, people will be forced to order business visas to avoid problems.

At the State Department, Jan Psaki took a question from AP's Matt Lee on the detained professors:

QUESTION: One is a non-NATO Russia question, which is about – are you aware of these two American journalists who apparently have been detained in Russia?


QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I actually have something on that, one moment.


MS. PSAKI: Let me just get their names in here.

QUESTION: And then I have a Bahrain question, but also brief.

MS. PSAKI: Of course you do.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


MS. PSAKI: I told him you might ask about that.

Two American professors of journalism, Joe Bergantino and Randy Covington, were detained for several hours in St. Petersburg today and brought before a judge to answer questions about potential violations of their visas. Both were released with warnings and have returned to their hotel. The two are in Russia for a weeklong series of U.S. embassy-sponsored media training workshops which were scheduled to end tomorrow, and officials from the consulate in St. Petersburg were present at the courtroom and have been assisting the professors.

QUESTION: Was there – does this raise any concerns with you? Are you disturbed by the fact that they were detained, or --

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: -- was there anything – other than – I mean, well, is it problematic for the government, for the U.S. Government?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, I think, Matt, obviously they were there to do a training that we sponsored, so I think our preference would have been for them not to be detained, I think it’s fair to say. But they’ve been released. I think we’re ready to move forward.

QUESTION: Are they allowed to leave the country?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s my understanding.

QUESTION: You think it’s – that it’s case closed? So --

MS. PSAKI: We’re ready to move forward.

The US seemed reluctant to protest the interference with the program due to the technicality of visa requirements, yet the Russian government appeared to be signalling that teaching investigative journalism techniques to students in Russia is something they will discourage.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Harassment Continues of Pskov Legislator Who Investigated Soldiers' Deaths

Harassment of Lev Shlosberg, the deputy of the Pskov Region legislature who investigated the deaths of the 76th Pskov Regiment in Ukaine, has continued, Rights in Russia reports, citing Radio Svoboda.

Shlosberg suffered an assault on 29 August by unidentified persons and was hospitalized with serious injuries. He said the attack was related to his probe, but vowed to continue his work.

Now deputies in the ruling United Russia party in the regional assembly have asked the regional prosecutor to investigate the source of Shlosberg's income:

Radio Svoboda reports that the appeal to the Pskov region prosecutor was read out at the latest session of the regional assembly by the leader of the United Russia fraction, Valentin Kalensky.

Before that the deputies were shown a video footage about the investigation of the assault on Mr Shlosberg, which was broadcast in mid-September by TV channel Rossiya 1. Kalensky claimed that the information contained in this footage, in his opinion and that of his colleagues, proves that Lev Shlosberg was engaged in activities incompatible with the status of deputy.

The Regnum news agency reports that members of United Russia have alleged that Lev Shlosberg, who is director of the NGO Renaissance Centre for Social Planning, according to evidence they cite, receives funding from foreign organizations. At the same time a deputy who works fulltime cannot engage in business or other paid work, except teaching, research, or artistic production. But scientific and artistic work cannot, allegedly, be paid for from foreign funds, Pskov deputies claim with no basis in law.

The prosecutor accepted the deputies’ request, pointing out that a review is already underway regarding a similar (!) statement from the head of the LDPR fraction, Sergei Makarchenko, that has been received by his office.

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 in August, Shlosberg continued to publicly press officials for answers, and was the first to publish photos of the graves of soldiers in a newspaper he founded, Pskovskaya Guberniya.