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Nobody is sure who writes one of Russia’s most popular political Telegram channels, but police may have just raided his family’s home in Dagestan

Source: Meduza

With more than 300,000 subscribers and each post averaging an audience of 184,000 views, StalinGulag is one of Telegram’s most popular politics channels in Russia. The author responsible for the content, which is often highly critical of the state authorities, remains a mystery. In July 2018, the magazine RBC reported that the channel belongs to Makhachkala native Alexander Gorbunov. (StalinGulag denied this claim.) There have been other theories about who runs the channel, as well. For instance, Vasily Prozorov, a former official in Ukraine’s National Security Service, said in March 2019 that Ukrainian intelligence officers are the ones behind StalinGulag.

Nine months after RBC’s article about Alexander Gorbunov, police raided his parents’ home in Makhachkala. StalinGulag, incidentally, was the first media outlet to report the incident. “Investigators and armed men are bursting into apartments and looking for Sanya [Alexander] from Dagestan,” the Telegram channel announced on April 27, adding that Gorbunov is suspected of calling in bomb threats. “He supposedly used his own phone number (!) to call about bombs across Moscow.” According to StalinGulag, the police also interrogated Gorbunov’s mother for six hours and searched the homes of his relatives in Moscow.

Gorbunov’s 65-year-old mother, Tatiana, confirmed to the website The Bell that police raided her home, where she lives with her 80-year-old husband, on April 26. She says the men who came to her door were dressed in bulletproof vests and armed with automatic weapons, and started looking for “the young.” The officers, she says, presented neither their badges nor a search warrant. “One of them said something like, hey, say thanks that we came in peacefully and didn’t put you face-first to the floor. After all, we don’t know who’s behind your door,” Tatiana Gorbunova told The Bell. She says the search lasted about 90 minutes (not the six hours that StalinGulag reported).

One of the police officers reportedly told the Gorbunovs that there’d been a call from their address “about a bomb somewhere in Moscow, at an airport or somewhere else,” and officials managed to trace the address, but not the phone number. Gorbunova says she then invited the police to check her phone line, but they apparently refused. She told The Bell that the authorities haven’t returned to her home since.

Speaking to the television station Dozhd, Tatiana Gorbunova said she doesn’t believe her son is involved with any bomb threats, explaining that he “is a sensible person and has a law degree.” She says Alexander Gorbunov is 27 years old and confined to a wheelchair due to a disability he’s had since childhood. She did not tell Dozhd what her son does for a living.

But Gorbunova told the Telegram channel Baza that Alexander works as a blogger for StalinGulag. “I think it’s all because of this,” she said, referring to the police raid on her home. She also revealed that the authorities have not yet searched her son’s home.

Gorbunova also told Dozhd that her encounter with the police raised her blood pressure. “Of course, my husband and I were very frightened, because we live in Makhachkala, where we still have terrorist attacks, obviously,” she said, adding that the authorities also raided their relatives’ homes in Moscow, coming “at an untimely hour, in the middle of the night.”

How StalinGulag found out

StalinGulag told The Bell that it learned about the police raids directly from Alexander Gorbunov, who apparently reached out to the Telegram channel. StalinGulag says it helped journalists from different media outlets get in touch with Tatiana Gorbunova, as well.

Interior Ministry spokespeople in Dagestan have told the public that they cannot confirm or deny reports about the raid on the Gorbunovs’ home.

Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock