Prison sentences demanded for young Putin critics tricked into FSB-created ‘extremist’ group
Three young men are facing prison sentences as one of Russia’s most cynical attacks on young people criticizing the regime of President Vladimir Putin draws to a close. Even by modern Russian standards, the ‘Novoye Velichiye’ case stands out since the 10 victims, including a 17-year-old girl, were accused of organizing an ‘extremist organization’ which was, in fact, entirely created by an FSB infiltrator.
The age of the two young women arrested and at first held in detention, as well as details about how 10 young people who were innocently chatting on Telegram had been set up, have hopefully prevented the repressive measures proposed from being worse.
In the Lyublinsky District Court in Moscow on 14 July, the prosecutor demanded real sentences against three of the men who have been in detention since their arrest on 15 March 2018: 7.5 years for Ruslan Kostylenkov; 6.5 years for Pyotr Karamzin and 6 years for Vyacheslav Kryukov. Only a 6.5 year suspended sentence was sought against Dmitry Poletaev, although he too has been in detention. In the case of three other defendants who have been under house arrest for some time, the prosecutor asked for suspended sentences: Anna Pavlikova (underage when arrested) – 4 years; Maria Dubovyk (19 when arrested) – 6 years; Maxim Roshchin – 6.5 years).
As reported, one of the 10, Sergei Gavrilov fled from Russia, while under house arrest, sought and was recently granted political asylum in Ukraine.
Pavel Rebrovsky was originally sentenced to 2.5 years on lesser charges, after he agreed to collaborate with the investigators. He says that he was offered a suspended sentence, although it is unlikely that this was the only reason that he unexpectedly changed his testimony when brought into the trial of the above-mentioned defendants in August 2019 as a ‘prosecution witness’. Instead of telling the lies demanded of him, he stated clearly that he had given false testimony under pressure, and that the real ‘organizer’ of the supposedly extremist organization ‘Novoye Velichiye’ had been the FSB infiltrator. His case was sent for retrial.
The tenth person, Rustam Rustamov, agreed to admit to the charges and received a two-year suspended sentence.
What made this case so brutal was that all the defendants were charged under the more serious Article 282.1 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code (creating an extremist organization and being part of its management or structural divisions), as opposed to Article 282.1 § 2 (‘involvement’ in such an ‘extremist organization’). All grounds for laying the more serious charge were carefully orchestrated by the man clearly working for the FSB [Russia’s supposed security service).
As mentioned, the ten ‘defendants’ were essentially just young people who chatted about life and politics on Telegram. These entirely innocuous chats were infiltrated by a person linked with the FSB – ‘Ruslan D, or Ruslan Danilov - who set about turning people who were only a group in the loosest sense of the word into ‘an organization’ with all the features that a Supreme Court decision had named as relevant when laying such ‘extremism’ charges.
‘Ruslan D’ (as he was originally known to the young Telegram users) was initially identified in the case material as Alexander Konstantinov. It was claimed they he had simply turned up at the Investigative Committee in March 2018, having understood the possible illegal activities of ‘the group’ and decided to follow them.
In fact, every part of the creation of a group could be traced back to this individual. who first proposed creating an ‘organization’ and paid the rent on an office for it. It was he who encouraged the others to get a printer and who came up with the idiotic name ‘Novoye Velichiye’ [‘New Majesty/Greatness’’). It was also Danilov who came up with the idea of having an organizational structure, giving people particular areas of responsibility. This came straight out of the Supreme Court document which had noted that one of the identifying features of an ‘extremist group’ is the presence of structural subdivisions with each containing at least two people. It was the creation within ‘Novoye Velichiye’ of five such subdivisions, and the delineation of roles set out on paper, that enabled the prosecution to treat all members of these meetings as ‘organizers of an extremist group’. Danilov also proposed that the group have a political program, or ‘charter’, and offered to write this. An ‘expert assessment’ of this document claimed to find “elements of propaganda of the ideology of violence” in it.
Ruslan D. also tried to encourage the young ‘chatters’ to extend their activities, by starting up their own ‘channel’ on YouTube, for example, and persuaded Pavlkova, who had been planning to leave, to remain – to be there for the armed searches, arrests and detention in March 2018.
Rebrovsky (initially) and Rustamov were partly needed to try to minimize Danilov’s role. Rebrovsky’s retraction in court was particularly inconvenient as he had earlier signed testimony saying that Danilov was not an FSB employee and had not taken an active part in the supposed movement.
Danilov does not appear to have been the only infiltrator provocateur in this case. There were reportedly two other informers, one of whom, Maxim Rastorguyev, was from the criminal investigation department.
Some of the members of the chat took part in a few visits to an abandoned site in the Moscow region where they took part in shooting practice, using the hunting rifle legally owned by Rustamov (who, according to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, was not actually part of the Telegram chat group). Ruslan D. claimed that they had also practised throwing and making Molotov cocktails. He also asserted that at the group’s first meeting in January 2018, they had discussed the future purchase of a standardized military-style uniform, bats and knives, shields, helmets and firearms. All of this seems very unlikely, especially since the ‘group’s’ sole purchase was a printer, and that only because the person that the members of the chat knew as Ruslan D paid a major part of the cost.
In declaring all the defendants political prisoners, the Memorial Human Rights Centre stated that the case material showed that the “civic organization Novoye Velichiye had essentially been created by the law enforcement agencies. It was the latter that had given it its extremist features. <> The security service had deliberately put together the Charter and program in such as way as to correspond to the elements of an extremist organization”.