Federalization as a ’Terrorist’ Act
Moscow, which has demanded ‘special status’ for so-called ‘separatists’ in Ukraine, as well as wide-reaching Ukrainian ‘federalization’, is coming down hard on any activists seeking greater autonomy for regions within the Russian Federation.
Three Krasnodar residents who tried to hold a peaceful march in support of ‘federalization for Kuban’ have been placed on Russia’s Federal List of Terrorists and Extremists. One is presently in custody, two have fled the country.
The calls for greater local powers were first made in early August when Siberian artist Artem Loskutov and some others announced plans to hold a march in Novosibirsk under the banner “Enough of feeding Moscow”. Unlike the Kremlin-backed militants in Ukraine who reject Kyiv’s authority, the Siberian activists were basically calling for nothing more than greater autonomy within the Russian Federation. This they hoped would enable the people of Siberia to introduce special benefits and incentives for people living in a harsh environment and to ensure a fairer divide between local and federal budgets and a greater role in decision-making. At present the region effectively hands over its natural riches while being governed from Moscow.
Similar initiatives emerged in Kuban [Krasnodar krai] and a small number of other cities. The Russian public are generally passive, the media submissive, and it is likely that had the authorities done nothing, little would have been heard about any of the marches. Instead the marches were banned, but only after the prosecutor’s office prompted by Russia’s effective censorship body Roskomnadzor began threatening to block media resources which published information about the planned events. Not only in Russia either, with a number of Ukrainian websites targeted. In one particularly disturbing case a German web hosting provider Hetzner Online AG informed the Ukrainian information agency Glavkom that the latter would be blocked within 24 hours if it didn’t comply with Russia and remove the material. Glavcom refused, and the horrendous publicity caused Hetzner Online to consider its reputation and turn down the Russian prosecutor’s demand.
Russia has not demonstrated any concern about the damage to its reputation, and has continued its heavy-handed methods. On Sept 22 Roskomnadzor again demanded that the Ukrainian site Novy Region remove two items about the march, published in August. One of the reports suggests that “the Kremlin is in a panic” and describes the Russian authorities’ actions in response to the planned march. By Sept. 23, the Moscow-based Sova Centre reported, the material could not be accessed in Russia.
The claim each time was that the material contained ‘calls to mass riots, extremist activities, etc. It was not only Ukrainian websites that looked very carefully but could not find any such extremist elements. The BBC also stated that it had found nothing that could justify deletion of the material.
The Russian authorities have now deployed more potent weapons against those intrepid enough to demand what is only their right.
In August a small number of Kuban activists were prohibited from holding a march in favour of federalization. They declared a ‘Kuban people’s republic. Unlike the militants in Ukraine whose armed seizures of official buildings, hostage-taking, looting and, later, open warfare, are supported by the Kremlin, the Kuban activists went no further than some talk on social networks. The name of the ‘republic’ did, however, echo the anti-Bolshevik republic which existed for 21 months until Nov 7 1919. There are also strong historic links with Ukraine.
OVD.info cites Mikhail Savva from the Kuban State University as saying that the movement probably began as no more than a retort to the Russian authorities, that “those living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”. However, it began to take on the features of a real protest, mainly because the authorities ignore their own laws when it comes to citizens’ rights.
The application to hold a march was lodged by Darya Polyudova, a left-wing activist who has been detained on political grounds before. The application was turned down, and she herself was detained on Aug 15 after being approached by an obvious provocateur, then jailed for 14 days for what the court decided to consider ‘petty hooliganism’.
It appears that she has not been released although the criminal proceedings in connection with which she is now in a SIZO, or a pre-trial detention centre, were only initiated on Sept 15. They are under Article 280.1 of the criminal code for alleged public calls to actions aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity. On Sept 26 Darya Polyudova, together with Viacheslav Martynov and Petr Lyubchenkov were included in the List of entities and individuals believed to be involved in extremist activities or terrorism.
Martynov was one of around 10 people who actually took part in a protest on Aug 17. He arrived at it wearing a yellow and blue ribbon around his wrist, these being the colours of the Ukrainian flag. The peaceful protesters were surrounded by Cossacks, police and provocateurs. The incident used to jail Martinov for 15 days on a charge of ‘petty hooliganism’ can be seen here Unless you’re in Russia, of course, where the video is blocked.
Martynov and Lyubchenkov are now believed to be in Ukraine, with some reports suggesting that they have asked for political asylum. Attempts to suggest that the Ukrainian government would be inconsistent if it granted asylum miss a fundamental difference. The Kuban – and Siberian – federalists were effectively asking only for a greater say in the running of their regions, and were doing so peacefully, without machine guns, abductions, torture or killing. Nor is Polyudova the first Russian national to be imprisoned for freedom of expression. Three men in Kaliningrad have been held in custody since March 2014 when they placed a very modest German Flag in a jar on the roof of the Kaliningrad FSB building. They were, in fact, protesting over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, not demanding secession.
Russia’s suggestion that any of the recent initiatives have anything to do with ‘terrorism; or ‘extremism’ is absurd and ominous.
Questions regarding the point of making the Russian authorities look so very stupid and how many of the 2449 items now prohibited in Russia are of the same ilk are also likely to be blocked by Russia’s information shield. Or, of course, registered as extremist.