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‘What to Do!’ How eleven alleged members of a little-known Telegram network became the prime suspects in a criminal case for instigating ‘mass riots’ amid Russia’s 2021 elections

Source: Meduza

On the eve of Russia’s 2021 parliamentary elections, the Investigative Committee launched a criminal case for “inducing mass riots” using Telegram. According to investigators, “at least eleven people from seven regions of Russia” are considered suspects. But the authorities have only named one of them so far — 44-year-old Dmitry Chebanov, a Moscow resident who created a Telegram channel called “Chto-Delat!” (“What to Do!”). In turn, human rights activists and journalists identified several other people who are facing felony charges for allegedly trying to instigate mass riots during September’s vote. If convicted, they will face a maximum punishment of ten years in prison. As Meduza uncovered, these defendants are also associated with Chebanov’s little-known Telegram network. To piece together the story behind this criminal case, Meduza special correspondent Kristina Safonova spoke with the lawyers, family members, and friends of the accused.

Please note. This article was originally published in Russian on October 19, 2021, and has been abridged for length and clarity.

Dmitry Chebanov, a 44-year-old Muscovite with a long, dark beard, was serving 15 days in a Moscow special detention center when he was informed that he was also a suspect in a criminal case.

Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court jailed Chebanov and three of his acquaintances — Nikita Kreshchuk, Alexander Kuranin, and Alexander Poruchenko — on September 6, on misdemeanor convictions of disobeying police. They had been arrested a day earlier near the Central Children’s Store, a shopping mall on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square — where the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters is located.

Dmitry Chebanov planned to hang an “anti-regime” banner on the FSB headquarters, reported the human rights media project OVD-Info. But before he could do anything, he found himself in the back of a police van along with his acquaintances. Police also arrested one Natalya Poruchenko, but the court issued her a 4,000-ruble ($57) administrative fine rather than sentencing her to jail time. (Poruchenko has an underage child and Russian law prohibits jailing the mothers of minors for misdemeanors). 

The detainees were represented by Oksana Borodina, a lawyer who works with OVD-Info. According to her, there were a lot of violations in the administrative proceedings and the police reports drawn up over the defendants’ arrests were completely identical. Borodina says the defense got the feeling that they were missing some information: she even asked an inspector if the police were withholding any evidence from her. The inspector assured this wasn’t the case. 

While in jail, Dmitry Chebanov complained about experiencing rights violations, the lawyer says. Shortly thereafter, on September 16, the Russian Investigative Committee announced that he was a suspect in a criminal case. According to the investigation, Chebanov and at least ten other people from across seven Russian regions created a network of Telegram channels, where they carried out “agitation aimed at organizing mass riots.” Allegedly, they also posted video clips, in which experts found “incitements to violent actions.”

Dmitry Chebanov during his arraignment hearing. September 17, 2021.
Basmanny Court Press Service / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Nikita Kreshchuk, who was arrested alongside Chebanov on Lubyanka Square, was also charged with “inducing mass riots.” A Moscow court jailed both men for two months, pending trial. The other detainees arrested on September 5 (including Natalya Poruchenko) are considered witnesses in the criminal case and were made to sign non-disclosure agreements. 

Most of the lawyers working on the case are also under agreement not to disclose information about the investigation. This includes Oksana Borodina, who is representing one of the witnesses (she spoke with Meduza before signing the gag order). 

‘Now let them play by our rules’

In its press release, the Russian Investigative Committee didn’t name the “network of Telegram channels” allegedly used to “induce people to riot.” But according to the indictment (obtained by Meduza), the name of this “network” is “Chto-Delat!” (a phrase that translates as “What to Do!”). 

As follows from Dmitry Chebanov’s social media, he really does have a Telegram channel with this name. He created it in early February 2021, but its first post didn’t appear until May. 

“Russia is falling ever deeper into a strict dictatorship. The ‘rats’ who are in power steal from each of us, and we (the people) allow them to do this,” says the first message, posted on May 6. “We have many different opposition groups and movements in our country, but they’re all disunited, and it’s very easy to crush us one by one. [...] In this regard, there’s a need to create a real Alternative Russia [sic] without Putin and United Russia. Let’s unite, no matter who you are for, the main thing is [to be] for everything good and against everything bad!”

For a month after that, the Telegram channel posted almost daily, sharing advice on what to do if faced with persecution for attending a protest rally, and resharing posts from human rights organizations. At this point, the channel had a very small following — on June 7, its administrators proudly announced a slight spike in subscribers. “At the moment there are 32 of us here, yesterday morning there were four,” the post read. This is when, for the first time, the administrators wrote about the need “to attract as many people as possible to the movement,” in order to proceed “to the next stage.” (The post didn’t explain what exactly this meant).

It wasn’t until the end of July that Chto-Delat! posted a six-point action plan, which listed broad strokes aims such as “unite people across the country” and “[form] units and groups that will carry out their own specialized activities.” Another point in the plan called for holding a nationwide protest rally — “without crime” and with a stated main goal of “completely overriding the information and news agenda.” The plan didn’t mention any details about the rally, but the channel’s administrators warned potential protesters that they’d have about a “98 percent chance” of getting arrested. Accordingly, they started to raise funds to pay for anticipated fines, publishing account numbers for cryptocurrency wallets and online payment systems. 

Around the same time, the channel created dozens of “regional chats” — ones for subscribers in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Chelyabinsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Altai and the Altai Krai, Irkutsk and the Irkutsk Region, Surgut, Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Kostroma, Krasnoyarsk, the Krasnodar Krai, the Adygea Republic, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and the Far East.

By August, Chto-Delat! had amassed some 6,000 Telegram subscribers and the channel announced plans for the “biggest rally in Russia in the last 30 years.” Supposedly, it would involve protests in 77 Russian cities. However, once again, the channel didn’t disclose any further details.

But on September 5 — the day Dmitry Chebanov tried to hang a banner on the FSB headquarters in downtown Moscow, — the Telegram channel simultaneously posted video clips of people (mainly with their faces covered) standing with lit flares. Allegedly, the videos were shot in various cities across Russia (this claim is difficult to verify, because the people in the videos are standing against the backdrop of nondescript buildings). 

Immediately after getting arrested, Dmitry Chebanov and his associate Nikita Kreshchuk — a young man wearing a black cap with the word “alterrussia” (a name linked to the Chto-Delat! Telegram channel) — recorded several videos on their cellphones while in the back of the police van and in the corridors of the courthouse. In the clips, they called on their supporters to take to the streets on September 18 (the second day of voting in the State Duma elections). These recordings were then published on the Chto-Delat! channel.

According to the indictment, one of the videos contained calls for mass riots and resisting the authorities, “under the pretense of national unity, cohesion, and solidarity, as well as out of alleged feelings of patriotism.” The investigation maintains that Chebanov and his associates “systematically” disseminated this video outside of the Chto-Delat! Telegram channel, and did so “deliberately, recognizing the public danger of their actions, and foreseeing the possibility of socially dangerous consequences.” This, in the opinion of investigators, constituted “inducement and other involvement of persons to commit mass riots” — a felony offense.

Before the criminal case was launched, Chebanov and Kreshchuk’s appeal caught the attention of political analyst Valery Solovey. During a broadcast on the radio station Ekho Moskvy on September 6, Solovey described Dmitry Chebanov as a “very well-known activist,” who “made appeals not to wait for the results of the vote, and to go out to protest on September 18.” “I thought that if you don’t believe in the result of the vote, then perhaps there’s some sense in this,” Solovey said. Exiled right-wing politician Vyacheslav Maltsev also spoke about Chebanov, as did bloggers Mark Feygin and Alexander Sotnik.

That said, several experts and opposition figures later told the business newspaper Kommersant that they had never heard of the Chto Delat! Telegram channel before — they also conceded that the calls to protest could have been a provocation orchestrated by the security forces. 

On September 16, the day Dmitry Chebanov was indicted, Chto Delat! posted a new video with the caption, “Gromov, is this what you wanted to hear?”. 

In the clip — allegedly recorded in advance — Chebanov made another appeal to his supporters. “We need to stop all traffic ourselves and shut down downtown. Now let them play by our rules. Use self-tapping screws and wood screws. Not a single paddy wagon should leave with our comrades. Let’s create a traffic jam the likes of which our cities have never seen before. All those who support us, please don’t use private vehicles in the city center in the near future. We’re starting to act.”

Meduza wasn’t unable to find out who’s representing Chebanov in the criminal proceedings. One of his friends — a long-time Chto Delat! subscriber, who was questioned as a witness — claims he doesn’t know. “I don’t even know where they [Chebanov and Kreshchuk] are being held,” he adds. This insider is reluctant to talk about the two suspects: “I think the less is known about them, the better it is for them.”

Asked if Chebanov and Kreschuk could have been “provocateurs,” Meduza’s source once again replies that he doesn’t know. “In today’s disgusting world, perhaps [they could be]. Even more so in our country, where now, being cowardly and corrupt is a national idea. I think we won’t find out how it was in reality.”

‘Hi. The cops just came again.’ 

Very little is known about Dmitry Chebanov and the other suspects under investigation for allegedly trying to instigate mass riots.

Who stands accused?

Charges have been brought against the following people across Russia:

  • Moscow residents Dmitry Chebanov, Nikita Kreshchuk, Zhanna Chernova, Alexey Kurlov, and Maria Platonova;
  • Tomsk resident Igor Kuznetsov; 
  • St. Petersburg resident Vyacheslav Abramov; 
  • Krasnoyarsk resident Alexey Yanochkin;
  • Urengoy (Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug) resident Dmitry Lamanov.

Two other names also appear in the indictment: I.I. Sadriyev and I.G. Nagibin.

Judging by his social media profiles, Chebanov grew up in the city of Shakty in the Rostov Region, but has been living in Moscow in recent years. His social media also shows that in 2018, he started attending seminars run by Pro100business, an apparent pyramid scheme that promised to help “anyone get rich.” 

In a September 2018 Instagram post, Chebanov (who uses the handle @chednotdead) writes that he used to “worked for hire” and was involved in “entrepreneurial activities in various directions, from construction worker to director of a psychological center.” He also says that he has two children, but hasn’t been involved in their upbringing. Chebanov then goes on to explain how he decided to change his life, began studying “everything related to the crypto industry,” and spent the last six months travelling. “I have a decent income level with great potential,” he writes, adding that he’s happy to share his “way of making money.”

In January 2020, Dmitry Chebanov gave an interview at an expo for marketing and advertising technologies. Speaking as a representative of a company called Mirror-PR, he said that they were working on “a unique indoor advertising medium that will revolutionize this market.” “In the near future, we will become leaders in the advertising industry,” Chebanov asserted. But by February, he was complaining to his Instagram followers about his “deplorable financial situation.” Judging by his posts on TikTok, he went back to working construction in late March. 

Chebanov regularly shared his views on current affairs in Russia on social media. Beginning in 2014, he spent several years posting Instagram photos from the regions — snapshots of dilapidated buildings, homeless people, and trash bins, often under the hashtag “Russia get off your knees” (#россиявстаетсколен). Based on his posts, Chebanov also appears to have attended a number of protest rallies, including a 2014 “March for Peace,” opposing Russian aggression towards Ukraine, a 2015 memorial march for assassinated opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, and a 2018 rally in Moscow commemorating the victims of a deadly fire in Kemerovo.

In 2020, Chebanov actively spoke out against amending the Russian constitution. This year, he threw his support behind imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny — he attended street rallies and was arrested several times. On April 20, 2021 — the eve of the last pro-Navalny demonstration, — Chebanov complained that his “former family” had been under pressure for more than two months. In a tweet, he shared a screenshot of the following message: 

“Hi. The cops just came again. Three [of them], one in uniform, two in plain clothes. They didn’t say what the issue was. They said they needed to convey something personally. The district police officer has already come by twice about the rally, he noted everything and said he wouldn’t disturb [us]. And [now] someone’s here again! What is this? Who is this and why [are they here]?”

‘A very shy girl’

In addition to Dmitry Chebanov and Nikita Kreshchuk, three other Moscow residents are suspects in the case. 

On the morning of September 16, law enforcement raided the apartment of 33-year-old Zhanna Chernova, Dmitry Chebanov’s girlfriend (one of Chernova’s relatives reported the police search to OVD-Info, but she declined to speak to Meduza). The next day, Chernova was jailed for two months pending trial, despite the fact that she reportedly has a young child. 

Alexey Kurlov was also jailed that same day. According to the state-controlled news network RT, he worked as a mover and was the administrator of a Telegram chat that posted one of Chebanov’s video clips (RT didn’t name the channel). Citing an unnamed source, RT reported that both Chernova and Kurlov have pleaded not guilty.

Defendant Maria Platonova, a 20-year-old student at HSE’s Art and Design School, also denies any involvement in the case. Moscow law enforcement raided her apartment on September 16, and then took her in for questioning. “We spoke with her literally the night before, everything was normal, she went to the movies with her aunt (my sister). There was no hint of trouble,” her father, Andrey Platonov, tells Meduza.

Before moving to Moscow for university, Maria Platonova lived with her parents in Snezhinsk — a closed town in Russia’s Chelyabinsk Region that’s under the jurisdiction of the State Atomiс Energy Corporation Rosatom. “We talked practically everyday [after she moved to Moscow],” Andrey Platonov says. “Her work has to do with the Internet, social networks, she’s constantly online. And we keep track of her drawings, her cartoons.”

Maria Platonova worked as a graphic designer for political strategist Maxim Kats and for the campaign team of State Duma lawmaker Anastasia Brukhanova. She also ran a VKontakte group called “Higher School of Memes.” 

Eighteen months ago, she created a cartoon titled “...About you, Moscow!”. In the video, the protagonist is eating lunch while a protest rally passes by. The cartoon ends with the protagonist getting arrested for accidentally dropping their fork and being accused of violently resisting a police officer. 

Andrey Platonov tells Meduza that his daughter is “very creative” and “a very shy girl.” The Platonovs first found out about Maria’s arrest from her friends. Later, she called her parents from an investigator's phone. “She said that everything was okay, no one hurt her. I asked what she had been accused of. She said that [according to the investigation,] she allegedly is or was in some kind of Telegram channels that somehow urged people to organize mass riots during the elections,” Andrey Platonov recalls. 

Maria Platonova (left)
“Higher School of Memes” on VKontakte

Maria Platonova’s father claims that she didn’t subscribe to the Telegram channel Chto Delat! and that she herself doesn’t understand why charges were brought against her in this criminal case. “She doesn’t know the people who named her,” Andrey Platonov adds. “She provided access to all of her devices. She said her passwords [...] That is, she has absolutely nothing to hide.” 

According to Platonov, law enforcement agencies have taken an interest in his daughter before: she’s been arrested in connection with protest rallies twice. Once in June 2019, at a march in support of Meduza journalist Ivan Golunov, and again on January 23, 2021, ahead of a rally in support of Alexey Navalny — she was handing out flyers for the rights group Apologia Protesta, with instructions on how to behave if you’re being detained.

Regarding politics, Andrey Platonov says this is a topic that his daughter talked about more often with her mother. “I wouldn’t say I’m apolitical, but I haven’t been very keen on all these issues,” he explains. “Masha is really very interested in this. Perhaps I don’t entirely share her views, but I support her. Because the arguments that she made in conversations about politics, about the government and power, are well reasoned.”

At the same time, he calls the notion that his daughter may have been involved with the Chto Delat! network “nonsense.” He claims that Maria hasn’t actually participated in any protest rallies since the summer of 2019. Although, Platonov adds, law enforcement continued to take an interest in her “ahead of some significant events” — apparently police officers spoke to both Maria and her parents.

Maria Platonova is the only suspect in the case from Moscow who was placed under house arrest instead of in pre-trial detention. 

Solo flash mobs 

Another four suspects in the criminal case live in different parts of Russia. (As for the final two defendants — suspects number 10 and 11 — Meduza wasn’t able to find out any information about them, except for their surnames and initials: I.I. Sadriyev and I.G. Nagibin). 

On September 16, law enforcement in Tomsk raided the apartment of local oppositionist and RusNews journalist Igor Kuznetsov. The next day, a district court jailed the 56-year-old, pending trial. He was later transferred to Moscow. Kuznetsov’s lawyer, Sergey Badamshin, told Meduza that his client is facing the same charges as the other defendants in the Chto Delat! case.

Igor Kuznetsov’s Facebook

A week and a half before Kuznetsov’s arrest, on September 5, the Chto Delat! Tomsk channel posted a video with the caption: “The protesters were attacked — the guy with the fire was able to escape, but the camera operator was taken.” The video itself is less than a minute long; it shows a closeup shot of a man (judging by his voice) wearing a t-shirt with holes over his head. He’s holding a handwritten poster that says, “Hurray! For the ‘Chto Delat’ Movement,” and a lighter. “Hello friends, RusNews here, this is the city of Tomsk,” says Igor Kuznetsov, from off camera. “We’re filming a flash mob.” The man with the lighter goes on to explain that he’s taking part in an “international action of the Chto Delat movement in the form of solo flash mobs.” 

In a written statement — published in full by the news site TV2 — Igor Kuznetsov confirmed that he participated in and was the administrator of a Chto Delat! Telegram channel, but said he did so “exclusively as a journalist within the framework of a RusNews editorial assignment, the purpose of which was to obtain exclusive information [about] protest events.” “I didn’t carry out any organizational activities, I didn’t publish any appeals,” Kuznetsov maintained. 

The day of Igor Kuznetsov’s arrest, September 16, Dmitry Lamanov was arrested in Urengoy, a small town in Western Siberia. OVD-Info connected his arrest to the Chto Delat! Telegram channel; there is indeed a person with the same surname and initials mentioned in the indictment. Law enforcement officials took Lamanov to Nadym (another town in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug). He was supposed to be sent from there to Moscow, but there haven’t been any reports about his current situation. A friend of Lamanov declined to speak with Meduza’s correspondent.

Vyacheslav Abramov — a suspect from St. Petersburg — was sentenced to nearly four years in prison in 2012 on criminal charges. Little else is known about him. According to the Unified Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg, Abramov has already confessed

‘Let’s take a picture, you look like a maniac’

“I went to the door and there, [in the corridor], stood a crowd in masks. [They shoved] documents in my face and said ‘You just don’t worry’,” says Krasnoyarsk resident Lyudmila (who’s name was changed at her request).

It was the morning of September 16. Lyudmila — who was eight months pregnant at the time — could see her common-law husband Alexey Yanochkin standing behind the operatives. “He was all wet and dirty. I couldn’t understand what was happening,” she recalls. “Blood was running from his nose.”

The officers spent the next five hours raiding Lyudmila and Alexey’s apartment. In response to all of her questions, they tried to convince Lyudmila that her partner had been plotting mass riots ahead of the parliamentary elections. “They kept repeating: ‘Well, you don’t know, you don’t really know.’ And I said to them ‘I don’t know you. But I know the person I live with. And I know what this person is capable of’,” Lyudmila says.

Lyudmila and Alexey met in the summer of 2020, through mutual friends; they volunteered at a local animal shelter together. The couple moved in together shortly after meeting and, Lyudmila adds, live with their three cats and a kitten, and three dogs who stay at their dacha. “Not every man will be with a woman who can’t resist and takes in some [animal] off the street,” Lyudmila tells Meduza. “But this person who accepted me, he understood. He’s the same way himself.” 

Alexey Yanochkin’s personal archive

Alexey Yanochkin is 42 years old and has worked in construction for about 20 years. At the age of 19, he was drafted into the Russian army and spent nine months serving in Chechnya. According to Lyudmila, this had a serious impact on his health, but he never registered for disability, fearing he wouldn’t be able to find a job. Lyudmila is convinced that her partner’s tour in Chechnya is one of the reasons why he stands accused of “inducing mass riots.” “[Alexey] didn’t end up there [in Chechnya] of his own free will. But now he’s accused of allegedly getting some kind of special training there, in order to organize civil unrest 20 years later. It’s just idiocy,” she underscores. 

But the main reason for the criminal charges brought against Alexey is his connection to the Chto Delat! Telegram channel. Lyudmila says that her partner was never interested in politics, and “someone added him” to the chat group over the summer. “From what I understood, he’s been charged with being an administrator [of a regional chat] and allegedly provoking people,” Lyudmila says. “[After Alexey’s arrest] I read all of his comments. There’s no incitement to riot. Moreover, there are 67 people in this group, this isn’t exactly large-scale participation.” 

Lyudmila also maintains that her common-law husband didn’t take part in protests (“He worked, he had no time for all that”) and wasn’t planning to attend a rally on September 18. “He said that we’ll go to the polls and spoil our ballots, so as not to vote for the party for which we ‘need’ to vote,” she remembers.

Law enforcement officers also raided Alexey and Lyudmila’s dacha. According to Lyudmila, they brought dogs to search for explosives. They photographed Alexey’s military certificates and seized his phone, along with Lyudmila’s computer. The police also seized a can of pepper spray (“it’s old and small, for scaring away dogs,” Lyudmila says); a balaclava that Alexey wore when working outside in the cold; his knife and a canister of used engine oil dregs; a plastic flare grenade for scaring away bears (“We live in Siberia, there’s a bear who wanders around our dacha”), and a red-colored smoke flare that the couple planned to use in a photoshoot. 

“They put the flare and the grenade in his hands and said: ‘Let’s take a picture of you, you look like a maniac, ha-ha.’ I was against it but they did it anyway,” Lyudmila says, remembering the police raid. She adds that she’s only mentioning the picture in case it surfaces at a later date. “The handcuffs could be covered up in Photoshop,” she worries. 

After the raid, the officers tried to convince Lyudmila that it would be better for Alexey to “sign something.” “They smiled and said: ‘We’ll release him in a month. Just let him sign, let him confess, you tell him,” she recalls. “Thank God he didn’t do that. He wrote to me that he wouldn’t confess to something he didn’t do.”

On September 17, a Krasnoyarsk court jailed Alexey Yanochkin, pending trial. Ten days later, in a response to a letter she had sent Alexey, Lyudmila was notified that he had been transferred. It took her four days to locate her partner, who is now being held in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow. “It was hell, honestly,” Lyudmila says. “I didn’t even have a chance to hug him goodbye. We didn’t realize this would take so long [...] I think this is a sign that anyone can be imprisoned so that others will be discouraged. But we will fight to the end.”

‘Why is your door open?’

At least two other cases were launched in connection with the Chto Delat! Telegram channel and its administrators’ plans to hold a rally on September 18. The first was a misdemeanor case opened against a regional activist — who asked Meduza to protect his identity for fear of criminal prosecution — on charges of organizing an unsanctioned public event. During a different public event ahead of the State Duma elections, he announced that he planned to “go for a walk around his city” on September 18. He was subsequently arrested and jailed for several days.

The second case was launched against the founder of the Telegram channel Protestny Novosibirsk, 33-year-old Anton Fedotov. Criminal charges were brought against him under Article 212, section 3: calls for mass riots and violence against persons. This is punishable by up to two years in prison. A court placed Fedotov under non-custodial restrictions, pending trial. 

Eight armed operatives broke down the door to Anton Fedotov’s apartment early in the morning on September 18. “I was in my bedroom and I heard shouts: ‘Everyone down, hands above your head’,” recalls his 67-year-old mother Olga Fedotova. “They burst in with a cutting torch and sledge hammers and then said: ‘Why is your door open? There could have been robbers.’ I said: ‘You know, in the 30 years I’ve lived here, only you broke in, no one else’.” 

Olga describes the operatives’ actions during the search as “excessive” and the situation itself “cruel.” She says she even had to call an ambulance because her blood pressure skyrocketed: “The doctor ran into the Russian Guard officers downstairs and when he got up to [our apartment] he asked what had happened. I showed him the room after the search. He came out with wide eyes and said: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. Except in the movies’.”

After the search, Anton Fedotov was taken to the police station. He was kept in a temporary holding center until September 22. According to his mother, Anton stands accused of inciting mass riots because of posts on his Telegram channel, Protestny Novosibirsk. Three days before the raid, he uploaded two screenshots from a video published by a YouTube channel called Navalny’s Protest (this channel is in no way connected to Alexey Navalny’s team). “September 18 is a day of popular uprising,” one of the screenshots reads. “Arm yourself, everyone. The situation in this country can only be changed for the better by force on the barricades.”

Сторонника КПРФ задержали в Новосибирске
KPRF Novosibirsk

“He just wanted to find out the public’s opinion on this, so to speak,” Olga Fedotova tells Meduza. “His chat is an open discussion platform. That’s to say there was no appeal, he didn’t express his own opinion. And there was no reaction [to the screenshots]. But the situation has somehow escalated to him being accused of calling for some kind of aggressive actions, God knows what.”

Olga says that her son only confessed to publishing the screenshots and had no intention of urging anyone to riot or taking part in riots himself. According to his mother, Anton found out about the Chto Delat! Telegram channel no earlier than September 10, from messages on other channels and an interview with political analyst Valery Solovey. Anton, she says, “didn’t really know” who Dmitry Chebanov was and “where he crawled out from all of a sudden.” The names of the other defendants in the case are completely unfamiliar to him.

Anton is a long-time supporter of Alexey Navalny, his mother says. In 2020, he volunteered at the opposition politician’s Novosibirsk campaign office, helping out during the city council elections. He also attended pro-Navalny demonstrations earlier this year. After Navalny’s political movement was outlawed in April 2021, he decided to set up his own Telegram channel to cover protest activities in Novosibirsk and throughout Russia, as well as to promote Team Navalny’s strategic voting initiative “Smart Vote.” “I also knew he set up this discussion chat. I said to him: ‘Discussion is a good thing, after all, the truth is born in certain debates.’ I didn’t see anything wrong with it,” Olga Fedotova says.

Anton Fedotov continues to work as a security guard, but his every move is monitored by an electronic bracelet. He’s only allowed to leave home between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., and he’s banned from using the Internet. “He can’t even go to the dacha to help us,” his mother laments. “We just don’t know what will happen next or how it will happen. It’s difficult to imagine because we’ve never faced such a situation in our lives. Though, of course, there’s different sources of information about what actions our repressive government can take against dissidents.” 

* * *

In a press release on September 16, the Russian Investigative Committee said its continuing to look for people involved in “inducing mass riots.” At the time of this writing, the Chto Delat! Telegram channel is still up and running. It currently has more than 10,000 subscribers. 

“Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Ufa, St. Petersburg and Moscow came out,” reads a post from September 18, lamenting the group’s failure to inspire mass protests on the second day of voting in the State Duma elections. 

“People walked the streets, trying not to group together, and they did the right thing. Propaganda accused us of organizing a new ‘Network Case,’ working for Ukrainian intelligence, and linked us to Islamic terrorists. Our comrades who initiated the process will certainly spend some time in jail. They knew what they were doing, and we were also prepared for such developments.”

The message goes on to say that the Telegram channel’s administrators plan to continue their “protest” activities — without offering any further details. 

Story by Kristina Safonova

Abridged translation by Eilish Hart

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