Vlasov army on ice skates

The struggle of the Russian state against foreign influence reaches the point of complete absurdity

When the famous Soviet figure-skaters Belousova and Protopopov fled the USSR in 1979, asking for political asylum in Switzerland, they were called traitors and renegades. There was even a verse: “So you are just deserters, just vlasovtsy [supporters of Soviet general Vlasov, infamous in USSR for collaborating with Nazis during World War II] on skates.”

The rhetoric and poetics of the past are rapidly returning, and the image of a “deserter on skates” has found a real embodiment in the fate of the hockey player Fedotov, accused of “evading the army” (it turned out that he had been on the run for 7 years, hiding right in front of the ice hockey goal of the Russian national team). Fedotov was captured by the military police when trying to sign a contract with a foreign team and sent to serve as a sailor at the base of the Northern Fleet.

The intervention of the military police in sports may still be surprising, but the persecution of all those who in one way or another “choose freedom” and support Western values: democracy, human rights, international law – has long ago become customary.

Here is how Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for the Development of Civil Society Olga Zanko expresses her indignation at the position of the “pro-Ukrainian” composer who she does not like: “When our country is fighting a battle against neo-Nazism, when the Western world is trying to cross out Russia, to crush with sanctions, it is necessary to decide whether you are with your country, with the people, or you are a traitor who has lost his conscience.”

The State Duma never ceases to tighten up the incredible laws against “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations.” So, during the last meeting before going on summer vacation, Russian parliamentarians did not miss the opportunity to supplement the repressive articles significantly expanding the possibilities of criminal prosecution of those who in one way or another cooperated with foreign or international organizations. At the same time, laws become not only stricter, but also more incomprehensible. It is prohibited to cooperate on a confidential basis with a foreign state, international or foreign organization, and to transfer information that can somehow be used “against the interests of the Russian Federation” (Article 275.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Will this article be applied against people informing the Committees of the UN Human Rights Council about violations of certain provisions of international law (after all, the conventions ratified by Russia allow civil society representatives to submit alternative information confidentially)? On the one hand, it seems that there is no reason to talk about the criminalization of human rights work in the UNHRC, because this activity is not directed to the detriment of the interests of the country – on the contrary, monitoring of human rights, of course, is useful for the country, as well as receiving expert recommendations to improve the situation (which human rights defenders aim to achieve by informing relevant Committees about certain violations in the hope that the authorities, having received the right advice, will be able to eliminate systemic problems). But by now we do not know how the new article of the Criminal Code will be applied and whether investigators and courts will consider that criticism “harms the interests of the country”. Experience shows that the authorities often do not separate their interests (and they don’t like criticism) from the interests of society. Only in June 2022 did the ECHR assess the persecution of NGOs, which the authorities recognized as “performing the functions of foreign agents”.

Among the organizations that complained about violations of the right to freedom of association and freedom of speech was ADC Memorial. The court recognized us as victims, rejecting the objections of representatives of the Russian Federation, who claimed that since the NGO was liquidated before being included in the register of the Ministry of Justice (but after the courts of all instances ordered to include ADC Memorial in the proverbial register), there is nothing to complain about. The ECtHR in its decision noted that the liquidation of the private charity organization ADC Memorial was forced, which means that employees, members of the organization and its board are victims of violations of the right to freedom of assembly and association. This decision, unfortunately, is symbolic – the Russian Federation refused to comply with it.

In connection with the new bans, it is interesting to recall that ADC Memorial was accused precisely of informing the UN Committee Against Torture about the violation of the rights of discriminated groups, about police arbitrariness. The report was submitted in 2012 quite openly, published both on the UNCAT website and on the ADC Memorial website – and we were accused precisely of that. The prosecutors saw in this publication “signs of a call to confront the current authorities”. The protocol “extensively cites a human rights assessment of a number of police operations that violate the rights of Roma, cases of extortion and violence, arbitrariness against migrants, as well as the illegal persecution of some activists”.

The accusation consisted precisely in the publication of this information – the courts ruled that ADC Memorial distributed the publication of a human rights report, which proved our “crime”. And now it is impossible to criticize the authorities even without publishing, confidentially, without any calls for opposition and even signs of them?..

At the same time, the legislation on foreign agents does not stand still – it was again “supplemented and improved”. The new law was adopted in the third reading immediately after the decision of the ECtHR on the complaint of NCO-foreign agents.

The absurdity of a number of provisions of the new law exceeds everything known to us in this field. Now a foreign citizen can also be a foreign agent. For this it is enough for him to be under the “influence of a foreign source on a person, including by coercion, persuasion or other means”. That is, a foreigner, in order not to be at risk of stigmatization as an “agent”, must somehow manage to avoid influencing himself (do not force or convince himself in anything, apparently). If a person nevertheless ended up on the lists of foreign agents (by some unknown “other ways”, perhaps, even imperceptibly to himself, he was exposed to an “influence”), then from the day he was included in the register, he cannot teach in state institutions, and educate minors, cannot be published without a special mark, participate in various types of public or electoral activities. And if you violate these strict requirements, then, of course, you will receive “administrative, criminal and other liability” (oh, those mysterious “other” forms of repression).

Civil society, the media, cultural figures and even sportsmen should not be connected in any way with anything “foreign” – this is the only understandable conclusion from all these confusing and indistinct laws. An exception is made only for authorities, political parties, religious organizations and employers’ associations. For some reason they can do anything.

Stephania Kulaeva,

First published on the blog of Radio Svoboda