Felonies galore A comprehensive guide to all the criminal cases launched against activists in Moscow's crackdown on opposition protesters
The ongoing conflict between Moscow’s Election Commission and a group of unregistered independent City Duma candidates has led to some of the largest protests in years, as well as several criminal investigations targeting political activists. In addition to the widely publicized “Moscow Case” against supposed rioters at an unpermitted rally on July 27, there are at least five other election-related probes now in progress. At Meduza’s request, Mediazona journalist Maxim Litavrin compiled a complete guide to all the various criminal charges.
Obstructing the election commission’s work (Criminal Code 141)
The Investigative Committee launched its first elections-related criminal case back on July 24, in connection with protests in Moscow on July 14 and 19. Investigators say an “organized group” staged these demonstrations to try to pressure members of the city’s election commission through “signs and slogans inciting violence.” It’s unclear what signs or slogans the authorities have in mind, however, because they’ve yet to name any suspects and refuse to share case materials with witnesses who have been summoned for questioning.
The first unpermitted protests against Moscow election officials’ refusal to register independent candidates for September’s City Duma race began on July 14, when demonstrators assembled in central Moscow on Tverskaya Street, banged on the doors of the Mayor’s Office, and then marched to the Moscow State Art and Cultural University, where they demanded a meeting with Moscow Election Commissioner Valery Gorbunov. (They didn’t get one.) That evening, the police forcibly dispersed the crowd, when activists tried to set up tents. Officers arrested 39 people, including the independent candidates Ilya Yashin, Lyubov Sobol, Yulia Galyamina, and Ivan Zhdanov.
Over the next two days, demonstrators assembled without permits at Trubnaya Square, where they were dispersed by the police. The authorities arrested two participants from the July 15 rally on charges of setting off a smoke bomb, but the stunt turned out to be the work of Anton Buzaev, the director of a charity foundation called “Antoshka.”
In connection with this case, the police started raiding people’s homes late at night on July 24, searching the apartments of the unregistered City Duma candidates Dmitry Gudkov, Alexander Solovyov, and Ivan Zhdanov, as well as Moscow municipal deputy Nikolai Balandin. On July 26 and 27, officers raided the campaign headquarters of these politicians and several other candidates, and searched the homes of their parents. In total, investigators carried out at least 15 raids. While these searches were underway, the Investigative Committee summoned multiple people for questioning.
The case has been assigned to Police Captain Dmitry Smadich, who’s supervising at least four detectives: two from Moscow’s Central Investigations Department, and two from regional Interior Ministry offices.
The team has apparently encountered some coordination problems. According to Sergey Badamshin, an attorney with Open Russia’s human rights project, a detective from Moscow’s Eastern Administrative Okrug with the surname Borzunets had no idea he was supposed to interrogate someone, when Yabloko candidate Kirill Goncharov reported for questioning. “I sent the flabbergasted detective to his supervisors. [...] We’re waiting for the investigative team’s chief to drop Goncharov’s questioning. The detective is being respectful and seems very depressed,” wrote Badamshin.
In these interrogations, detectives inquired about the independent City Duma candidates’ livelihoods and how often they travel abroad. Officials also asked people what they know about the conflict involving Moscow’s Election Commission, and what they plan to do, if the independent candidates are kept from September’s ballot. Next, detectives asked specific questions about the protests: Who organized them? Who paid for the demonstration materials? Had anyone committed “acts of provocation,” and were activists planning to stage more rallies? Not a single person summoned for questioning agreed to answer these questions, exercising their constitutional right not to be compelled to testify against themselves.
Investigators also tried to capture voice prints of several City Duma candidates, which suggests that there are wiretap records in the case evidence, says “Agora” human rights group director Pavel Chikov.
It’s unknown if officials plan to indict anyone in this case. After several days of searches and interrogations, there were no further investigative actions. Sources told the news website RBC that the case is being “supervised” by the Federal Security Service’s Department for the Protection of Russia’s Constitutional System, and intelligence agents are still looking for links between the opposition and the West.
Mass rioting, aka “the Moscow Case” (Criminal Codes 212 and 318)
The Investigative Committee opened its biggest case involving Moscow’s election protests in July 29, two days after a large, unpermitted rally. Echoing Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, investigators say the demonstration amounted to “mass rioting.” According to detectives, unknown persons used the Moscow Election Commission’s refusal to register certain candidates as a pretext to threaten the foundations of Russia’s national security by organizing “riots” through “armed resistance against the authorities.”
According to Russia’s Criminal Code, mass rioting (or “mass unrest”) is an event accompanied by violence, ethnic tension, arson, property destruction, the use of weapons, explosive devices, poisonous or otherwise dangerous substances, or armed resistance against the authorities.
Lawyers question the claim that the events of July 27 constitute rioting as it’s described in Criminal Code 212. Members of the Presidential Human Rights Council also say there was no rioting. “Burning tires, the ‘Heavenly Hundred’ at Institute Street, attacks on the Berkut, storming the Trade Unions Building in Kyiv — that’s mass rioting. The rest is bupkis,” explains attorney Maxim Pashkov.
The main evidence against supposed rioters is video footage from the demonstration and testimony from National Guard troops who say they experienced physical pain as a result of the suspects’ actions. Not a single video or officer’s testimony, however, supports claims that activists used weapons or explosives. Russia Today editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan and a TASS correspondent both reported that protesters used “firecrackers,” but they offered no evidence or further details.
The case is being investigated according to three parts of Russia's rioting statute: organization (section one), participation (section two), and incitements to participate (section three). So far, the suspects actually named in the investigation are all charged with violating section two, and the riots’ supposed organizers and agitators remain “unidentified.”
The same day that officials launched this investigation, the television station REN-TV aired a news segment about certain “protest coordinators” who allegedly directed the protesters who marched on July 27. After the broadcast, the police brought charges with the exact same wording against three activists: Sergey Fomin, Vladislav Barabanov, and Egor Zhukov.
Another two demonstrators — Samariddin Radzhabov, Sergey Abanichev, Aidar Gubaidulin, and Valery Kostenko — have been accused of throwing paper cups and plastic bottles at police officers. Investigators have also charged Kirill Zhukov and Danila Beglets with using their hands to harm members of law enforcement. Zhukov allegedly grazed the face of a National Guardsman, when lifting the visor on his helmet, and Beglets supposedly shoved an officer. The specific charges against Alexey Minyailo, Ivan Podkopaev, and Daniil Konon remain unclear.
The current defendants in the “Moscow Case” are all ordinary protesters: students, businesspeople, activists, and volunteers working for the city’s independent candidates. All these people are now in jail, awaiting trial — even Valery Kostenko, the only suspect who’s confessed. Detectives even wanted to put diabetic Dmitry Vasilyev behind bars, but he ended up in intensive care, after officers confiscated his insulin. Vasilyev was ultimately released, but he’s still a suspect in the case. If they wish, investigators can have him jailed again in a heartbeat (the courts never ruled on his arrest, returning the matter to detectives without consideration because Vasilyev was unable to attend his own arraignment).
The rioting investigation is also connected to Criminal Code 318 charges against individuals who allegedly used violence against members of law enforcement. Kirill Zhukov, Samariddin Radzhabov, and Evgeny Kovalenko are suspects in related cases. Police arrested Kovalenko on July 27, before the “Moscow Case” was formally opened, and he has confessed to violating Criminal Code 318. So far, police have not named Kovalenko as a suspect in the rioting case.
The “Moscow Case” was initially assigned to Police Captain Dmitry Smadich (the same official reportedly charged with investigating “efforts to obstruct Moscow’s election commission”), but Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin transferred it to his agency’s Central Investigation Department, where it’s now reportedly being handled by detective Rustam Gabdullin, who previously supervised the infamous “Bolotnoe Case” against activists who joined an anti-Putin protest in May 2012. Lawyers defending suspects in the Moscow Case say Gabdullin has already brought on three of his former colleagues.
We’ll likely see more arrests in this case, where the evidence includes testimony from several officials who say they were injured by “unidentified persons.” Procedurally, the investigation won’t wrap up until January 2020 at the absolute soonest.
Money laundering by the Anti-Corruption Foundation (Criminal Code 174)
Technically speaking, the money-laundering charges against members of Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) aren’t related to Moscow’s upcoming elections. These charges aren’t mentioned anywhere in the Moscow Case’s evidence or the Investigative Committee’s press releases. Nevertheless, FBK project manager Leonid Volkov says the probes are connected: “The network [of Navalny’s headquarters] has enraged them for a long time, and now — with all these raids — the moment has apparently come to get the green light from top officials. They said, ‘Okay, wipe the floor with them,’ and it was geronimo from there.”
According to a press release by the Investigative Committee, FBK staff laundered roughly 1 billion rubles ($15.2 million) in ill-gotten gains between January 2016 and December 2018. Volkov says the authorities apparently added up all the money donated in recent years to fund FBK’s operations and Navalny’s 2017 presidential campaign.
But the warrant to search FBKs’s office — the only document that’s been presented so far in the case — cites a far smaller sum of money: 75.5 million rubles ($1.1 million), which was donated in cash to FBK between 2016 and 2018.
Volkov says these funds were received in bitcoins: “That’s how crypto-exchanges work. They donate bitcoins to me, I send them to the buyer, and he gives me cash through an ATM.”
On August 8, Russian officials raided FBK’s office and the homes of several staff, while freezing bank accounts belonging to the foundation and several employees (mainly the organization’s lawyers). Everyone named in the case so far is only a witness, and officials have yet to charge anyone specifically.
Sources tell the website RBC that Police Colonel Alexander Lavrov is responsible for the case against Navalny’s anti-corruption workers. Lavrov previously supervised investigations into Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh and “Seventh Studio” stage director Kirill Serebrennikov. According to RBC, officials want to name Leonid Volkov as their primary suspect.
The case against Pavel Ustinov
A 24-year-old participant in Moscow’s August 3 demonstration, Pavel Ustinov is charged with dislocating a National Guardsman's hand. He was arrested on the day of the protest, placed in a pretrial detention center, and later charged with violating a more serious section of Russia’s statute against attacking police officers (Criminal Code 318), and he now faces up to 10 years in prison. Ustinov maintains his innocence, and his lawyer says he even served as a conscript in the National Guard last year, working a security detail during the FIFA World Cup.
The case against Konstantin Kotov
On August 14, a Moscow district court jailed 34-year-old Konstantin Kotov, who works for the company “DSSL,” which designs products like facial-recognition software. Kotov is a committed oppositionist who attends nearly every major protest in the city, and he’s charged with violating Russia’s controversial Criminal Code 212.1, which allows the authorities to bring a felony case against anyone convicted of breaking public-assembly regulations three times within a six-month period.
The case against the Prakazovs
Olga and Dmitry Prokazov are being investigated for two felonies: child endangerment (Criminal Code 125) and failure to discharge the duties of raising a minor (Criminal Code 156). Officials opened the case after the couple brought their one-year-old son to Moscow’s July 27 protest, and then handed him off to Sergey Fomin, who would later be charged with “rioting.” After the investigation was opened, the Prokazovs revealed in a press conference that Fomin is a relative and close family friend, disputing reports on national television that he left the demonstration with their son to evade police.
Before prosecutors threatened the Prokazovs’ parental rights, police searched their home in connection with the July 27 “mass rioting” case. They were later questioned as witnesses in the parenting investigation, and released without charges. A source told the news agency TASS that officials will likely drop the case. Moscow’s Perovsky District Court is scheduled to review the district attorney’s lawsuit on August 28, but Children’s Rights Commissioner Anna Kuznetsova has vowed to persuade the Attorney General’s Office to withdraw the case before then.
The case against Vladislav Sinitsa
Police arrested Vladislav Sinitsa, a financial manager outside Moscow, for a tweet about police officers’ children. In a thread about deanonymizing Moscow’s riot troops, Sinitsa wrote, “They’ll look through their happy family photos, study the geolocations, and then one day the valiant law-enforcement officer’s child just doesn’t come home from school. Instead of the kid, there’s a compact disc in the mail with a snuff video.” Sinitsa is charged with inciting extremism and threatening violence (section two of Criminal Code 282). He admits writing the tweet, but denies that it was meant as a threat, and insists that he was only discussing the possible consequences of Moscow’s crackdown on protesters.
P.S. Excessive force by police officers (Article 286)
State investigators have responded rapidly to supposed crimes by demonstrators, but officials have been far slower to bring charges against police officers suspected of unjustified brutality.
Dozens of activists in Moscow say they’ve been injured by police officers and National Guard troops who either hurt them during their arrests or beat them deliberately while in custody. The “Zona Prava” human rights organization has filed 12 reports with the Investigative Committee from demonstrators who were attacked by police at the last three rallies in Moscow, but not a single complaint has led to a criminal inquiry. For example, officials have refused to investigate the arresting officers who broke Konstantin Konovalov’s leg, arguing that “members of law enforcement acted lawfully.”
Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council and the Public Verdict Foundation have asked the Attorney General’s Office and Investigative Committee to assess video footage of police officers’ behavior at Moscow’s demonstrations. Even if these agencies are suddenly inspired to track down the city’s abusive cops, however, identifying individuals responsible for excessive force could be difficult: The officers who responded to Moscow’s last few protests have started masking their faces and hiding their badge numbers and other insignia, to protect their anonymity.
Translation by Meduza’s Kevin Rothrock