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Govt shuffled military command, lawmakers and medical professionals decried imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s treatment, and Western states and Moscow imposed tit-for-tat measures.
Govt made changes to military command and sketched out army reforms. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu 11 Jan appointed Valery Gerasimov commander of Joint Group of Forces; Gerasimov will lead war in Ukraine, replacing Sergei Surovikin who is now Gerasimov’s deputy. Fourth shuffle of Russia’s command structure since Feb invasion indicates Moscow may be preparing new offensive in Ukraine. Shoigu 17 Jan revealed new details about planned military reforms from 2023-2026; changes include forming army corps in Karelia region near Finland, creating new force groupings in occupied areas of Ukraine and strengthening combat capabilities of Navy, Air and Space Forces, and Strategic Missile Forces. Meanwhile, reports 19 Jan began emerging of authorities deploying air defence systems atop several defence and administrative buildings in Moscow, suggesting Kremlin is preparing for possible future attacks on capital.
Concern grew over treatment of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Navalny’s lawyer 9 Jan warned of politician’s deteriorating health at penal colony in Vladimir region; 481 doctors next day signed open letter to President Putin demanding end to abuse and provision of medical care. By 20 Jan, over 80 current and former lawmakers had signed appeal urging end to unjustified disciplinary punishments for Navalny and provision of adequate medical assistance. Meanwhile, crackdown on media and NGOs continued. Notably, Moscow City Court 25 Jan ruled to liquidate Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights organisation; General Prosecutor’s Office 26 Jan declared media outlet Meduza “undesirable organisation”.
Western countries and Russia imposed tit-for-tat measures. Head of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen 17 Jan announced plans to introduce tenth sanctions package against Russia in Feb; Russia same day sanctioned number of European Union security agencies’ leaders, businesses and individuals helping provide military assistance to Ukraine. Moscow 23 Jan ordered Estonian ambassador to leave Russia by 7 Feb; Lithuania and Latvia same day ordered Russian ambassadors to leave their countries and recalled their ambassadors. U.S. Treasury Dept 26 Jan declared Russian paramilitary Wagner Group a transnational criminal organisation.
Govt announced reforms to army, crackdown on dissent continued, and Ukraine struck military bases hundreds of miles inside Russia.
Authorities announced reforms to strengthen military. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu 21 Dec announced increase in maximum number of army servicemen from 1.15mn to 1.5mn. Shoigu also proposed changes to conscription age – currently between 18 and 27 – to 21 and 30 and outlined plans to form new military units. He added that “priority” task for 2023 is continuing “special military operation until its full completion”. Meanwhile, President Putin 9 Dec said Russia could abandon “no first use” nuclear doctrine; Kremlin 12 Dec clarified that Russia does not intend to take “quick actions”.
Crackdown on opposition persisted. Court in Moscow 9 Dec sentenced politician Ilya Yashin to over eight years in penal colony for spreading disinformation about Russian army. Justice ministry 20 Dec filed lawsuit to liquidate Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights organisation. Prosecutor general’s office 22 Dec declared NGO Russian Anti-war Committee in Sweden “undesirable organisation”. Police 29 Dec arrested politician Mikhail Lobanov. Meanwhile, law expanding definition of “foreign agent” to include any individual or organisation that is “under foreign influence” 1 Dec entered into force.
Ukraine launched strikes deep into Russia. Authorities 5 Dec accused Ukraine of attacking air bases in Saratov and Ryazan regions, which killed three and damaged several aircrafts; Kyiv acknowledged attacks but did not publicly claim responsibility. Attacks on military bases hundreds of miles inside country reveal Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, which Russia’s air defence appeared unprepared for (see Ukraine). Further strikes on air base near Saratov 26 Dec, although reportedly intercepted by Russian air defence, killed three. Meanwhile, Belgorod and Kursk regional governors 6 Dec announced formation of “territorial defence units” amid continued Ukrainian shelling in border regions.
In other important developments. Group of Seven 3 Dec agreed to price cap of $60 per barrel of Russian oil, which 5 Dec came into force; Moscow 4 Dec said it would not sell gas to any country participating in cap. Meanwhile, U.S. 9 Dec accused Russia of providing Iran with “unprecedented” level of military assistance in exchange for drones.
Authorities introduced new laws on military service as tensions within army surfaced, Ukrainian shelling continued, and ties with Iran deepened.
President Putin gave updates on mobilisation drive, authorised new laws on military service. Following Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s announcement late Oct that 300,000 people had been mobilised for war in Ukraine, Putin 4 Nov said additional 18,000 soldiers had been mobilised and that 49,000 were engaged in combat activities. No official decree has been issued to end mobilisation despite reaching declared goal of 300,000 soldiers, enabling future mobilisation drives. Putin 4 Nov signed law allowing authorities to mobilise citizens convicted of serious crimes, including murder and robbery; decree exempts crimes such as espionage, terrorism and sexual crimes against minors. Putin 14 Nov signed additional decree allowing foreign citizens to be drafted.
Russian army faced backlash over poor leadership and logistical problems. Over 100 people 1 Nov held protest in western Ulyanovsk city against lack of payments to conscripts, following day announced “total strike” until payments are made. Videos 5 Nov emerged showing soldiers in south-western Kazan city decrying poor conditions and lack of proper training, uniforms and weapons. Soldiers from southern Tomsk city 18 Nov held rally, criticising commanders’ lack of leadership and poor training. Meanwhile, members of Council of Mothers and Wives, which demands return of mobilised relatives from front lines, 14 Nov held protest rally in St. Petersburg city, 22 Nov proposed meeting with Putin; Putin 25 Nov held meeting, but did not invite any member who opposes war and criticises military leadership.
Ukrainian strikes on Russian territory persisted. Shelling continued near border with Ukraine throughout Nov. Notably, authorities in Belgorod region 15 Nov reported two killed in Shebekino town, 18 Nov said shelling killed one in Valuiki city. Ukrainian naval drone 18 Nov attacked Sheskharis oil terminal and naval base in Novorossiysk.
In other important developments. Media outlet The Washington Post 19 Nov reported that Moscow had struck deal with Tehran to produce Iranian drones in Russia. U.S. 10 Nov revoked Russia’s market economy status, European Union 23 Nov designated Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, and UK 30 Nov sanctioned 22 Russian officials.
President Putin introduced new threat-level system across country, crackdown on opposition continued, and Moscow deepened military cooperation with Iran.
Govt introduced new security regime. In signs Russia is preparing for protracted conflict with Ukraine, Putin 19 Oct declared martial law in four annexed Ukrainian regions (see Ukraine) and introduced various “response levels” across Russia. System differentiates depending on threat level in particular regions. Notably, Putin introduced “medium response level” in annexed Crimea and regions bordering Ukraine such as Belgorod, which has seen continued shelling from Ukraine and which 16 Oct encountered “terrorist attack” at military site that killed 11 soldiers. “Medium level” decree gives local authorities right to organise economic mobilisation, ban movement for residents and support military services. Putin also announced new “Coordination Council” to increase supply of weapons and equipment, as well as medicines, food and salaries, to military.
Partial military mobilisation completed. Following Sept “partial military mobilisation” announcement, which prompted rallies across country and mass exile, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu 28 Oct announced 300,000 people had been mobilised, of whom 41,000 have been deployed to military units in Ukraine. Authorities reported around 11 cases of arson during month at military enlistment offices, but overall protest activity decreased.
Crackdown on opposition persisted. Court in Moscow 18 Oct sentenced local resident Pavel Pischulin to two months of pre-trial arrest for “cooperating with foreign state”, first known criminal case handed down for working with foreign govt. Imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny 20 Oct said authorities had opened another criminal case against him for “promoting terrorism”. Former presidential candidate and journalist Ksenia Sobchak 26 Oct became suspect in extortion case against Rostec State Corporation; Sobchak same day left country. News 27 Oct emerged that authorities opened first criminal case against individual for failing to obey wartime order.
In other important developments. EU 6 Oct adopted eighth sanctions package, aimed at “depriving the Kremlin’s military and industrial complex of key components and technologies and Russia’s economy of European services and expertise”. U.S. newspaper The Washington Post 16 Oct reported that Iran agreed to secretly transfer short-range ballistic missiles to Russia.
President Putin announced partial mobilisation, prompting hundreds of thousands to flee, and pledged to annex parts of Ukrainian territory; political volatility and border insecurity could increase in coming weeks.Putin announced partial military mobilisation, fuelling protests and mass exile. Following Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in which it recaptured swathes of territory from Russian forces (see Ukraine), Putin 21 Sept announced partial mobilisation and threatened nuclear escalation. Anti-mobilisation rallies same day erupted across country, including in Russian national republics such as Dagestan and Chechnya. According to OVD-Info, around 2,414 people were detained 21-26 Sept. Over 20 military enlistment offices were torched and over 260,000 Russians had fled country by late Sept. Meanwhile, Putin 30 Sept annexed four only partly occupied regions in Ukraine – biggest annexation in Europe since World War Two – saying “we will defend our land with all our strength and all our means” (see Ukraine). U.S. same day sanctioned hundreds of individuals.Municipal deputies demanded Putin’s resignation, opposition crackdown continued. Ten deputies from Smolninskoye municipal council in Saint Petersburg 7 Sept appealed to State Duma to remove Putin from office and charge him with treason. Deputies from Moscow’s Lomonosovsky municipal council next day urged Putin to resign. Municipal deputy from Saint Petersburg 12 Sept started petition demanding Putin’s resignation; as of 28 Sept, 75 municipal councillors had signed petition. District court in Saint Petersburg 13 Sept approved dissolution of Smolninskoye municipal council. Meanwhile, court in Moscow 14 Sept sentenced opposition politician Leonid Gozman to 15-day jail term for 2013 publication “equating” Soviet-era Russia with Nazi Germany. Ministry of justice 16 Sept labelled comedian Maxim Galkin “foreign agent” for protesting Ukraine war.Russian energy company said major gas pipeline to Europe closed indefinitely. G7 finance ministers 2 Sept agreed to price cap on Russian oil exports. Announcement followed Deputy PM Alexander Novak’s threat 1 Sept that Russia would cease oil and gas supplies to countries that impose such caps. Gazprom 2 Sept announced Nord Stream 1 pipeline supplying gas to Europe would remain closed indefinitely. Four gas leaks were detected 26-29 Sept in Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines; NATO 29 Sept said leaks were “result of deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage”.
Clampdown on opposition persisted, Ukraine continued attacks on Russian borderlands, and govt temporarily halted gas supplies to Europe. Crackdown on opposition continued. Police 22 Aug detained 33 activists and journalists across capital Moscow, according to OVD-Info, in move likely aimed at preventing protests on Russia’s National Flag Day; most detainees released that day. Kira Yarmysh, press secretary of imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, 23 Aug announced authorities had opened criminal cases against her and seven other associates of Navalny for spreading disinformation, or “fakes”, about Russian army. Authorities 24 Aug detained former Mayor of Yekaterinburg city, Sverdlovsk region, and opposition figurehead Yevgeny Roizman for “discrediting” Russian army. Head of human rights group Agora 16 Aug said Russian authorities are investigating 85 criminal cases for “fakes” about Russian army. Authorities 19 Aug included three Canadian organisations in list of “undesirable organisations”, which now includes 65 foreign NGOs. Darya Dugina, daughter of Russian philosopher and Putin ally Alexander Dugin, was killed 20 Aug in car bombing near Moscow. Authorities 22 Aug blamed Ukrainian special services for assassination; Ukrainian govt denied involvement. Ukrainian army continued attacks in Russian borderlands. In Belgorod region, authorities 9 Aug announced discovery of Ukrainian Lepestok mines in Shebekinsky district; ammunition depot 18 Aug caught fire near Timonoyo village, compelling authorities to evacuate civilians. Authorities 16 Aug accused Ukrainian “saboteurs” of repeatedly blowing up electricity pylons running from nuclear reactor complex in southern Kursk region. Elsewhere in Kursk, Ukrainian drones 18 Aug twice attacked Kucherov farmstead in Belov district, injuring one border guard. In Kaliningrad region, security forces 25 Aug announced they had thwarted planned terrorist attack on Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet and Khrabrovo airport, and detained Russian citizen who allegedly supports Ukrainian Azov regiment. President Putin 25 Aug signed decree expanding size of Russian army, bringing total number of servicemen up from 1.9mn to almost 2.04mn. EU foreign ministers 30 Aug agreed to suspend visa travel agreement with Russia, which gave preferential treatment to Russian visa requests. Meanwhile, State-owned gas company Gazprom 31 Aug halted gas supplies to Europe for three days, claiming Nord Stream I pipeline needed repairs.
Crackdown on dissent persisted, Ukraine launched more cross-border attacks and Gazprom imposed further cuts to Europe’s gas supply. Clampdown on opposition continued throughout month. Notably, court in Moscow 8 July sentenced Councillor Alexei Gorinov to seven years in prison for spreading false information or “fakes” about Russian army; authorities 12 July arrested opposition leader Ilya Yashin for same reason and opened criminal case over Yashin's YouTube stream discussing Bucha massacre in Ukraine; 15, 25 July detained opposition politician Leonid Gozman for failing to report his Israeli citizenship; 22 July brought criminal case against Councillor Helga Pirogova for spreading “fakes”. Head of human rights group Agora 18 July said authorities have brought criminal cases against 200 people for anti-war actions since invasion of Ukraine 24 Feb (see Ukraine). Meanwhile, court in Krasnodar 15 July sentenced politician and activist Andrei Pivovarov to four years in prison for cooperating with “undesirable organisation”; authorities 27 July opened criminal case against politician Vladimir Kara-Murza for same reason; throughout month authorities added four other organisations and media outlets to list of “undesirables”. Ministry of justice 21 July filed lawsuit demanding liquidation of Soсhnut Jewish Agency, which helps Jews emigrate to Israel; Israeli delegation 27 July travelled to Moscow to resolve issue. Authorities 28 July filed lawsuit to revoke independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta’s registration. Ukrainian forces continued attacks on Russian borderlands. Notably, missiles 3 July struck Belgorod city, killing five. Governor of Belgorod region 20 July said Ukraine shelled two villages, killing one. Drone 26 July struck border checkpoint in Bryansk region, killing one. UK, Australia, Canada and Japan imposed sanctions. EU 21 July approved seventh sanctions package targeting gold and Russia’s biggest lender, SberBank. At same time, EU unfroze some assets of seven Russian banks to prevent food supply issues. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy condemned EU sanctions for not going far enough. State-owned gas company Gazprom 27 July cut Europe’s gas supply to 33mn cubic metres per day — about 20% of pipeline’s capacity; Zelenskyy accused Moscow of waging “gas war”. Meanwhile, Lithuania 22 July lifted ban on transport of sanctioned goods to and from Russia’s exclave Kaliningrad.
Crackdown on dissenting voices continued, border attacks from Ukraine increased, Western states and allies introduced more sanctions. NGO OVD-Info said authorities 12 June detained at least 67 people during Russia Day celebrations, many previously seen protesting war in Ukraine (see Ukraine). Foreign ministry 28 June announced that two Swedish organisations must cease operations. State Duma next day passed bill expanding criteria for individuals and organisations who can be listed “foreign agents”. This follows European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision 14 June to condemn law on foreign agents adopted in 2012; President Putin 11 June signed law on non-execution of ECHR decisions made after 15 March. Lawmakers 30 June approved legislation allowing fast-track bans on foreign media outlets. Govt continued crackdown on opposition. Court in capital Moscow 8 June handed prison term to politician Lyubov Sobol; news surfaced 14 June that authorities had transferred imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny to Penal Colony No. 6, known for harsh conditions, in Vladimir region; court in Moscow 24, 28 June jailed politicians Mikhail Lobanov and Ilya Yashin respectively, both for 15 days. Authorities reported more attacks from Ukraine in border regions. Governor of Bryansk region 14 June said missile struck Zaimishche village in Klintsy district; governor of Kursk region 19 June reported strike in Belov district; drone 22 June struck Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery. Western states and allies continued sanctions. Notably, EU 3 June imposed sixth sanctions package; U.S. 28 June unveiled new sanctions, including ban on imports of Russian gold. Bloomberg media company 27 June reported that Russia defaulted on its foreign debt for first time since 1918. In response to sanctions, Gazprom 14 June announced it would reduce gas supplies to Europe through Nord Stream 1 pipeline by 40%. Foreign ministry during month banned hundreds of British, Australian, Canadian and U.S. citizens from entering country, including U.S. President Biden’s wife and daughter on 25 June. Lithuania 18 June banned transit of EU sanctioned goods through its territory, cutting off Russian exclave Kaliningrad; Russia warned Lithuania of tough retaliatory measures. Russian hacking group Killnet 27 June claimed responsibility for cyberattack on Lithuania’s govt agency websites.
Amid ongoing crackdown on anti-war protesters, Ukrainian forces continued cross-border shelling, and West and allies imposed more sanctions. Authorities continued heavy crackdown on dissent, charging dozens of citizens for propagating “fakes” about army. Notably, court in Moscow 18 May arrested in absentia founder of Conflict Intelligence Team; Russian human rights group OVD-Info mid-month reported 15,445 people have been detained at anti-war rallies since invasion. Russian human rights group Agora late month reported that 53 criminal cases have been opened in 27 regions for spreading false information about Russian army; by 22 May Russian courts had heard 2,029 administrative cases accused of discrediting the armed forces. Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Nalvany 31 May said investigators brought new charges against him for “creating an extremist group”. Meanwhile, authorities reported continued shelling of border regions from Ukraine. Notably, governor of Kursk region 19 May said one person killed and several wounded from shelling in Tetkino village, marking second civilian death in border regions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 Feb (see Ukraine). Governor of Belgorod region 27 May reported one person killed in Zhuravlevka village in third reported civilian casualty on Russian territory since invasion of Ukraine began. In indication govt may be preparing for long war in Ukraine, Russian parliament 25 May approved bill to abolish age limit for military service, greatly expanding range of potential contract servicemen eligible to fight in war. During month, nine arson attacks targeted military conscription offices in various regions, bringing total of such attacks since Feb to at least 14. Western states and their allies during month imposed various sanctions and visa restrictions on over 2,600 citizens of Russia and Belarus in response to Russia’s war against Ukraine; Russian foreign ministry 21 May published list of 963 U.S. citizens banned from entering country. Russia 24 May imposed sanctions against 154 members of UK parliament’s House of Lords.
Amid ongoing heavy crackdown on dissent, authorities accused Ukraine of cross-border attacks, which injured dozens and reportedly killed one soldier. As Russia continued to attempt to control narrative over war in Ukraine (see Ukraine), authorities targeted scores of activists; NGO OVD-Info 14 April reported at least 993 administrative cases and 84 criminal cases across country on account of discrediting Russian armed forces. Notably, authorities 15 April charged head of Yabloko party’s north-western Pskov branch in Pskov city; 17 April detained Yabloko deputy in Pskov city; 22 April arrested politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, one of founders of Russian Anti-War Committee in capital Moscow; 27 April arrested journalist Maria Ponomarenko in St Petersburg city. Ministry of Justice 8 April also revoked registration of 15 international organisations, including Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Amnesty International, forcing them to close offices in Russia. Meanwhile, authorities during month reported shelling of border regions with Ukraine, which injured at least 25 people according to state media; notably, two Ukrainian helicopters 14 April allegedly conducted airstrikes on village in Bryansk region, injuring seven people. Authorities 23 April reported checkpoint in Kursk Oblast came under fire from Ukraine. Explosions 25 April broke out at oil storage facility and ostensible military facility in Bryansk region. Fires 27 April broke out at ammunition depot in Kursk region and were reported in Belgorod and Voronezh regions. Local media 28 April reported first soldier killed inside Russia in Belgorod region, reportedly due to Ukrainian shelling on 19 April. Defence ministry 20 April successfully tested Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile; President Putin said nuclear-capable projectile will make Moscow’s enemies “think twice”. Internationally, Western states and their allies imposed new sanctions. U.S. 6 April extended sanctions against banking sector and President Putin’s daughters; next day suspended normal trade relations and prohibited energy imports with Russia and Belarus. EU 8 April imposed fifth package of sanctions; notably, EU expanded embargo on all Russian coal imports, starting 10 Aug, affecting 25% of all Russian coal exports. UK, Switzerland, Montenegro, Canada, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand also imposed sanctions during month.
Authorities deepened crackdown on dissent amid widespread but largely small-scale protests against invasion of Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 Feb (see Ukraine), authorities detained at least 15,107 people at anti-war protests held in more than 150 cities nationwide, while opening 60 criminal cases. Small-scale protests took place every weekend during month: notably, authorities 6 March detained 4,640 people in 65 cities and 13 March detained 866 people in 37 cities. Govt 4 March passed laws criminalising opposition to war, for instance punishing spreading false information about Russian military with up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Govt 4 March blocked Facebook and 14 March Instagram; NGO Roskomvoboda 22 March estimated govt had blocked 769 websites and links since 24 Feb. Authorities also piled pressure on last remnants of legal opposition, including 5 March seizing office equipment of opposition party Yabloko and independent newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya. In Bashkiria region, Federal Security Service (FSB) 25 March detained communist member of regional parliament and four left-wing activists accused of plotting violent change of constitutional order. In sign of govt efforts to mobilise support for war, President Putin 16 March warned that Western countries “will try to bet on [...] national traitors” and urged “natural and necessary self-purification of society”. On anniversary of 2014 Crimea annexation, authorities 18 March organised rallies and concerts, with largest rally in capital Moscow attended by 200,000 people. Western states continued sanctions. EU 9 March extended third package of sanctions and 15 March introduced fourth package of sanctions; notably, EU imposed ban on imports of iron and steel products from Russia. U.S. 8 March announced ban on supplies of oil, gas and coal from Russia, and UK same day announced that it would abandon purchase of oil and gas from Russia until end of 2022. Separately, court 22 March sentenced opposition leader Alexey Navalny, imprisoned since Jan 2021, to nine additional years in prison and to pay fine of 1.2mn rubles; U.S. and EU same day condemned “politically motivated” ruling.
Invasion of Ukraine sparked countrywide protests and opposition as Western states imposed unprecedented sanctions; authorities brought new charges against imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (see Ukraine), thousands rallied at anti-war demonstrations in 103 cities countrywide, resulting in police arresting 6,640 people; most people were detained in capital Moscow (3,126) and in Saint-Petersburg city (2,084). In notable instances of dissent, girl 24 Feb threw Molotov cocktail in direction of security forces on Pushkin Square in Moscow; man 27 Feb drove car with anti-war slogans into roadblock on Moscow’s Pushkinskaya Square and then set car on fire. EU and member states, UK and U.S. late Feb imposed range of crippling and unprecedented economic sanctions, while also blocking Russian planes from accessing much of European airspace. U.S. 28 Feb approved departure of all non-emergency staff from U.S. embassy in Moscow, citing “security and safety issues” regarding war in Ukraine. Following allegations of fraud in Dec 2020 and contempt of court in May 2021, authorities 15 Feb initiated two new criminal cases against jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Pokrov penal colony in Vladimir region. Supreme Court 28 Feb upheld ban of human rights organisation Memorial under foreign agents law. In North Caucasus, Chechen officials, including Chechen Vice-PM Abuzaid Vismuradov and other high-level officials, 1 Feb threatened to kill and behead family of Abubakar Yangulbayev, former lawyer of human rights organisation Committee Against Torture, in social media video circulated by Vismuradov. European Court of Human Rights 14 Feb ordered Russia to provide information every two weeks about health of Zarema Musayeva, wife of former federal judge and mother of Yangulbayev; security services reportedly abducted Musayeva in Jan.
Crackdown on opposition supporters and other forms of dissent continued across country. Govt financial agency Rosfin monitoring 14 Jan included opposition leader Alexei Navalny associates Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov on extremist and terrorist organisations list, blocking their bank accounts; Rosfin 25 Jan also listed Navalny and 11 of his associates. Interior ministry 26 Jan issued wanted notice for Oleg Navalny, younger brother of Alexei Navalny, after authorities asked court to replace Oleg Navalny’s suspended sentence with real one. One-year anniversary of Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia 17 Jan saw rallies in multiple countries including U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany and France to demand his release; EU same day reiterated condemnation of “incomprehensible” prosecution, and called for release of Navalny as well as ex-chief of Navalny Support Group Lilia Chanysheva, detained last Nov. Armed men from Chechnya 20 Jan abducted Zarema Musayeva, wife of former federal judge and mother of lawyer working for human rights organisation Committee against Torture, from flat in Nizhny Novgorod city; Musayeva was told she was witness in fraud case and taken to Chechnya, where she was detained for 15 days. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov 21 Jan declared that “this family is waiting either in prison or underground”, and declared entire family “terrorist accomplices”; EU 22 Jan demanded release of Musayeva, “end to the prosecution of human rights defenders” and investigations into violations such as extrajudicial executions and torture.
Repression of dissent continued, notably with dissolution of longstanding human rights group Memorial; authorities reported arresting dozens of “pro-Ukrainian neo-Nazi group” members. Supreme Court 28 Dec ordered liquidation of prominent human rights group Memorial after lawsuit filed by Prosecutor General’s Office alleged systematic violations of law on foreign agents. In joint statement, EU, U.S., Australia, Canada and UK 31 Dec deplored court decision. Police 28 Dec detained former coordinators and employees of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s local headquarters in several Russian cities. Kislovodsk City Court 15 Dec imposed between seven and a half and nine years imprisonment on leaders of organisations in North Caucasus’s Ingushetia for their role in Oct-Dec 2018 and March 2019 protests against change to administrative boundaries between Ingushetia and Chechnya; those sentenced included leaders of Ingush People Council of Teips, Ingush branch of Russian Red Cross, NGO Choice of Ingushetia, Council of Youth Organizations, association Opora Ingushetia and NGO Memorial. Nenets Autonomous Region court 19 Dec sentenced Yury Zhdanov, father of former director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, to three years suspended imprisonment; authorities accused leaders of creating extremist community and organising attacks on law enforcement. Meanwhile, Federal Security Service 13 Dec reported detention of what it described as 106 supporters of “Ukrainian neo-Nazi group M.K.U.” in 37 Russian regions, including two suspected of preparing attacks on educational institutions.
Authorities continued pressure on dissenting political voices and human rights groups, while counter-terrorism operation killed two suspects in North Caucasus. Harassment of supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny persisted. Notably, on 9 Nov, police conducted house searches of several Navalny supporters including in Kemerovo and Bashkiria regions, and detained ex-chief of Navalny Support Group Lilia Chanysheva on charges of establishing an “extremist community”; international NGO Amnesty International 11 Nov dubbed arrest “arbitrary” and “beginning of a new, large-scale crackdown”. Meanwhile, also on 9 Nov, authorities interrogated former State Duma candidate Denis Shakin and searched apartment of opposition activist Fyodor Reguzov in Novokuznetsk city in south-western Siberia. As Prosecutor General’s Office notified human rights group Memorial that prosecutors had asked to liquidate it due to alleged violation of controversial foreign agents law, Memorial 11 Nov rejected any wrongdoings, said move “politically motivated”; Supreme Court 25 Nov began considering lawsuit, with new hearing planned on 14 Dec. In North Caucasus, amid longstanding dispute over border demarcation between Chechnya and Ingushetia, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov 26 Nov warned peoples of both republics against confrontation over borders between republics, citing attempts of “a bunch of provocateurs from the neighbouring republic who are trying to drive a wedge between the two brotherly nations, using the issue of borders as a tool”. Security forces 26 Nov reported killing two suspected militants during counter-terrorist operation in Karachay-Cherkessia. Southern District Military Court same day sentenced Astrakhan resident Artur Satemirov, accused of joining Islamic State and planning attack on police department in April 2020, to 13 years in strict regime colony.
Authorities detained dozens of suspected Islamist militants across country, and harassment of opposition leader Sergei Navalny’s associates continued. Law enforcement agencies 4 Oct detained two leaders and six supporters of international jihadist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir in capital Moscow and wider capital region for allegedly disseminating terrorist ideology. Agencies 14 Oct detained four Central Asian nationals in Vladimir region suspected of affiliation with extremist group Katibat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. Authorities 14 Oct detained 14 individuals suspected of engaging in financing activities for Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in Moscow, North Caucasus and other regions. In North Caucasus republic Karachay-Cherkessia, law enforcement 19 Oct detained five individuals associated with banned At-Takfir wal-Hijra organisation. Authorities 29 Oct reported detention of members of extremist right-wing radical community in Buryatia region who were planning actions against authorities and migrants. Meanwhile, Moscow court 14 Oct sentenced head of Alliance of Doctors trade union Dr Anastasia Vasilyeva, who treated Navalny, to one-year restriction of freedom for allegedly calling for demonstrations in support of opposition leader. Forty-five countries 5 Oct also questioned Russia via Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) regarding Aug 2020 poisoning of now-imprisoned Navalny; govt 7 Oct provided response, which UK Delegation to OPCW 20 Oct argued “makes no attempt to answer the questions”. Eighteen govts, including U.S., UK, France and Germany, 28 Oct issued joint statement condemning “the Russian government’s targeting and harassment of independent journalists and media outlets”.
Ruling United Russia party maintained constitutional majority in parliamentary elections. Ruling United Russia party won 324 of 450 seats in parliamentary elections held 17-19 Sept, slightly fewer seats than 2016 elections; Communist Party of Russian Federation secured second place by boosting seats from 42 to 57. Controversy surfaced after authorities 20 Sept announced results from electronic voters in capital Moscow, whose votes appeared to swing support from opposition candidates to United Russian candidates, prompting Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov same day to refuse to recognise “unacceptable” final results. Hundreds of Communist supporters 25 Sept rallied in protest of election results in central Moscow, resulting in police detaining 60 activists; smaller rallies were held in other cities. Election also prompted international criticism. EU 20 Sept claimed poll took place “in an atmosphere of intimidation of independent critics”, while EU, U.S., Turkey, UK and Georgia rejected recognition of parliamentary elections held in Crimea territory. Meanwhile, Russian Investigative Committee 28 Sept announced third criminal case against imprisoned opposition figure Alexei Navalny since Jan 2021; Navalny could face new sentence of up to ten years in prison for founding “extremist community”. Chair of Duma Commission for Investigating Foreign Interference Vasily Piskarev 19 Sept proposed to prosecutor general to label over 20 unknown foreign NGOs as undesirable on Russian territory for allegedly attempting “to influence the will of the Russian people”. Russia’s Federal Security Service 17 Sept reported detention in Moscow of two leaders and three members of terrorist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, including Russian, Kyrgyz and Tajik citizens. Authorities 22 Sept detained one Russian and four Tajik citizens allegedly preparing terrorist attacks in Yekaterinburg city, and 25 Sept detained five suspected neo-Nazis in Ufa city who were reportedly preparing attack on law enforcement officers.
Ahead of Sept elections, authorities criticised regional body OSCE’s decision not to send electoral monitors, and continued to take steps restricting space for opposition. Ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for 17-19 Sept, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) 4 Aug announced that it will not send election observers for first time since 1993, citing COVID-19-related restrictions on number of observers imposed by Russian authorities. FM Sergei Lavrov 9 Aug accused West of preparing group to challenge election results and using international organisations to complicate elections, while Head of Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights Valery Fadayev 18 Aug accused OSCE of portraying elections as “unfair” and “illegitimate”. Ruling United Russia party 24 Aug held congress, attended by President Putin. Authorities continued to restrict space for opposition. Notably, court 3 Aug sentenced opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s associate to one-and-a-half years’ restrictive freedom for violating health regulations during unsanctioned protest in Jan; authorities 6, 16, 20 and 25 Aug indicted and sentenced six other Navalny associates on similar charges. Investigative Committee 11 Aug also brought new charges against Navalny, accusing him of founding non-profit organisation Anti-Corruption Foundation with aim of “popularising and spreading his convictions”; reports surfaced during month that police in capital Moscow visited citizens associated with his organisation. Marking one-year anniversary of Navalny’s poisoning, UK and U.S. 20 Aug announced sanctions on seven individuals “directly responsible for planning or carrying out the attack”. Human rights centre Memorial 18 Aug reported number of political prisoners had increased from 349 to 410 since early 2021. Meanwhile, security forces in Russian-annexed Crimea 18 Aug detained two leaders and three members of international jihadist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islam.
Authorities continued crackdown on independent media and opposition, and launched security operations against jihadist networks. Authorities continued to impose restrictions on independent media and NGOs operating inside country. Notably, Prosecutor General’s Office 15 July declared independent media outlet Proekt “undesirable organization”, making it first media outlet to receive status. Independent association of lawyers and journalists Team 29 18 July announced its closure, fearing criminal prosecution after authorities blocked its website; Team 29 had represented in court imprisoned opposition figure Alexei Nalvany’s organisations as well as former journalist Ivan Safronov, accused of treason. At request of Prosecutor General’s Office, federal agency for mass media (Roskomnadzor) 26 July blocked access to websites associated with Navalny, citing “promotion” of “prohibited extremist activities”; agency also requested Google to block YouTube channels of Nalvany’s associates. Meanwhile in North Caucasus, security forces 3 July launched security operation in Kabardino-Balkarian Republic, killing total of five militants. Elsewhere, security forces 7 July reported on late June-early July operations in Penza, Ufa and Chelyabinsk cities, which led to capture of four leaders and 11 members of international jihadist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami. Security forces 9 July arrested suspected Islamic State militant plotting attack in Moscow region and 15 July arrested individual allegedly plotting attack in capital Moscow.
U.S. expressed support for imprisoned opposition figure Alexei Navalny, while parliament continued to introduce restrictions on foreign organisations operating in country. At 16 June summit between Moscow and Washington (see U.S.-Russia), U.S. President Biden warned President Putin of “devastating” consequences should opposition figure Alexei Navalny die in prison. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan 20 June said U.S. was “preparing another package of sanctions” related to poisoning of Navalny. Lower chamber of parliament 16 June adopted law criminalising activities of foreign non-governmental organisations as well as participation in and fundraising for such activities. Ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for 19 Sept, ruling United Russia party 19 June revealed candidates for its federal list, which include Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and FM Sergei Lavrov. In North Caucasus, Head of Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov 23 June told Putin that international terrorism in Chechnya has been “completely and forever” eradicated; according to Kadyrov, “security issues are no longer relevant” and main issues now are economic and social development. Kadyrov, who has been head of republic since 2007, 26 June declared that he had agreed to run for new term after receiving Putin’s endorsement.
New legislation could further restrict space for opposition; meanwhile, authorities arrested ISIS supporter in North Caucasus. Lower chamber of parliament 18 May passed first reading of three bills which could further restrict space for civil society and opposition. Notably, third bill intends to target individuals associated with activities of civil society and religious groups later declared as “extremist” or “terrorist”, with sanctions preventing them from running for parliament for several years; two other bills broaden the scope of “undesirable” organisations by banning participation in activities abroad. NGO Amnesty International same day called on parliamentarians to reject bills which include “new muzzles on individuals who criticize the government”, said bills constitute “brazen attack” against movement led by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who currently faces charges of fraud. Lower chamber 26 May however adopted third bill; third bill needs to be approved by upper chamber Federation Council and signed by president to become law. Navalny 25 May said authorities had opened three new criminal investigations against him. In North Caucasus, security forces 15 May detained former member of Chechen militant group accused by Russian authorities of past involvement in armed rebellion and attempted murder of security forces in Yessentuki, Stavropol region. Security services 25 May reported detention of suspected Islamic State (ISIS) supporter in Stavropol region in previous month for allegedly planning terrorist attack.
Nationwide rallies in support of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny resurged; meanwhile, in North Caucasus, authorities killed suspected Islamist militant. Authorities continued to apply pressure to opposition supporters throughout April. Prosecutor’s Office 16 April demanded Navalny’s headquarters and linked organisations be listed as extremist organisations. Police 21 April detained scores of opposition supporters, including over 1,400 people in more than 60 cities, after protesters same day rallied in capital Moscow and other regions in support of Navalny. Moscow’s chief prosecutor 26 April suspended activities of organisations backing Navalny. Navalny 23 April announced end of hunger strike amid medical concerns over his health. In North Caucasus, law enforcement officers in Ingushetia 28 April killed suspected militant with links to Aslan Byutukayev, Chechen commander of Islamic State (ISIS), who was killed by law enforcement in Chechnya in Jan. Amid military build-up at border with Ukraine’s east, federal security service 29 April reported it detained 16 supporters of Ukrainian radical group in nine cities for allegedly preparing armed attacks (see Ukraine). In his annual address to Federal Assembly, President Putin 21 April reiterated proposal for meeting between permanent member of UN Security Council to discuss “issues related to strategic weapons and ensuring global stability”.
Supporters of imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny planned for new mass rally in coming months, while security forces conducted operations in North Caucasus. With dwindling momentum for street protests following Nalvany’s imprisonment, Navalny’s team 23 March announced new drive to demand his release with plans for largest rally “in the history of modern Russia” in Spring, encouraging citizens to register support. In letter publicised 31 March, Navalny announced hunger strike to protest lack of access to medical treatment amid reports of his deteriorating health, and highlighted abuse through “sleep deprivation” during detention. In North Caucasus, head of federal domestic security force 10 March stated that “the main centers of terrorist activity and all gang leaders were liquidated” in region. In Dagestan’s Makhachkala city, security forces 11 March killed suspected militant accused of preparing attack on law enforcement officers. In Adygea, security forces 17 March detained suspected supporter of Islamic State from Central Asia who confessed to suicide attack plot. Security forces 19 March detained 14 participants of Ukrainian youth group accused of promoting neo-Nazi propaganda and provoking inter-ethnic conflict in Black Sea town of Gelendzhik and in Yaroslavl city.
Protest organisers supporting opposition politician Alexei Navalny announced pause, and authorities arrested suspected Islamist militants reportedly planning attacks in North Caucasus. Several hundred protesters 2 Feb marched in capital Moscow and St. Petersburg city in response to Moscow court’s decision same day to replace Navalny’s suspended sentence with two years and eight months imprisonment. Police immediately began to disperse crowds using force and detained 1,463 people, according to independent NGO OVD-info; Navalny supporters 14 Feb took to streets with candles and flashlights in solidarity with politician. Amid police crackdown on protests, Navalny’s Chief of Staff Leonid Volkov 4 Feb announced that major protests will be postponed until at least Spring and attention diverted to Sept 2021 parliamentary elections. European Court of Human Rights 16 Feb demanded that Russian authorities release Navalny; in response, head of Russian Ministry of Justice Konstantin Chuychenko next day said demand was “unreasonable and unlawful”; court 20 Feb rejected Navalny’s appeal. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 4-6 Feb visited Moscow, where he held talks with Russian FM Sergei Lavrov; during visit, Russian MFA 5 Feb announced that it had expelled members of diplomatic missions of Germany, Sweden and Poland for participating in unauthorised protests held on 23 Jan. Meanwhile, Federal Security Service 17 Feb reported detention of 19 individuals in Karachay-Cherkessia, Rostov Oblast, Kuban and Crimea who were allegedly plotting attacks in North Caucasus, recruiting new supporters and promoting ideology of proscribed Islamist group At-Takfir wal-Hijra. Authorities 18 Feb conducted special operation in Voronezh in south west to suppress activities of supporters of Ukrainian youth group accused of promoting neo-Nazi propaganda and provoking interethnic conflict.
Detention of opposition politician Alexei Navalny sparked nationwide protests, which authorities promptly repressed. Authorities 17 Jan arrested opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who had just returned from Germany where he sought medical treatment after being poisoned in Aug 2020 with lethal nerve agent; next day sentenced him to 30 days in custody for allegedly violating his probation as part of suspended sentence he received in 2014 for embezzlement. Subsequently, tens of thousands 23 Jan took to streets in over 190 cities from Vladivostok in Far East to capital Moscow to rally in support of Navalny. President Putin 25 Jan condemned mass protests, calling them “illegal and dangerous”; independent NGO OVD-Info 26 Jan revealed over 3,800 protesters arrested and detained, including over 1,500 in Moscow. Tens of thousands of protesters 31 Jan assembled again in at least 85 cities; OVD-Info same day revealed police detained 5,000. Navalny’s arrest prompted international response as EU, UK, U.S. and Germany 17-18 Jan condemned his detention and demanded his immediate release; FMs of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and U.S. (G7) 26 Jan also called for Navalny’s release and condemned “violent suppression by police forces” of protests. Meanwhile in North Caucasus, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov 20 Jan confirmed that security forces killed Islamic State-affiliated warlord Aslan Byutukayev, involved in preparation of terrorist attacks across country, and five members of his armed group in counter-insurgency operation; Kadyrov subsequently declared that “insurgency in Chechen Republic is completely finished”. In Far East, demonstrations 2, 16, 23 and 31 Jan continued in Khabarovsk city to protest July arrest of former local governor and member of populist Liberal Democratic Party Sergei Furgal; police detained several protesters.
Weekly protests continued in Far East, while several security incidents occurred in North Caucasus. Demonstrations 5, 12, 19 and 26 Dec continued in Khabarovsk city in Far East to protest July arrest of former local governor and member of populist Liberal Democratic Party Sergei Furgal; police 19 and 26 Dec detained several protesters. Russian President Putin 17 Dec said that Furgal’s case was not politically motivated. Meanwhile in Karachay-Cherkessia republic in North Caucasus, suicide bombing 11 Dec outside regional domestic intelligence directorate in village of Uchkeken injured six law enforcement officers. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov 15 Dec announced that member of illegal armed group, Kazbek Baidulaev, was killed during security operation in Achkhoy-Martanovsky district of Chechnya. Interfax news agency 17 Dec reported that Chechen security services killed two unidentified men in return fire who had thrown explosive device at police in Kurchaloevskii district in Chechnya.
Mass protests continued in Far East. Mass demonstrations continued unabated in Khabarovsk city in South East to protest July arrest of former local governor and member of nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Sergei Furgal; protests held on 7, 14 and 21 Nov despite acting Khabarovsk governor Mikhail Degtyarev 6 Nov introducing new COVID-19 measures, including ban on mass gatherings. Police 6-16 Nov detained at least six journalists and bloggers who covered protests. Meanwhile, Moscow District Court 25 Nov extended Furgal’s detention until 9 March 2021.
Weekly mass protests continued in Far East, while security forces led counter-terrorism operations in North Caucasus. In Far East, thousands of protestors in Khabarovsk city rallied on Saturdays throughout Oct to protest July arrest of former local governor and member of nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Sergei Furga for alleged involvement in murders of businessmen in 2005-2006; baton-wielding police 10 Oct cracked down on protest for first time, detaining 25 people for alleged illegal attempt to erect protest tents in central square. Authorities 5 Oct reportedly charged son of detained former Khabarovsk Governor Anton Furgal with organising illegal protests. In North Caucasus region, National Anti-Terrorism Committee confirmed counter-terrorism operations in Chechnya and Republic of Ingushetia. Special forces 11 Oct led anti-terrorist operation near border of Sernovodsk district, in Chechnya, and in Sunzha district, in Ingushetia, killing two alleged militants; clash between special forces and alleged militants 13 Oct killed three officers and four militants in Oktiabrsky district in Grozny city, Chechnya. Kremlin 5 Oct announced that President Putin had accepted Dagestan leader Vladimir Vasilyev’s request to “relieve him from his duties.”
In Far East, weekly mass protests continued while international community called for investigation into alleged poisoning of opposition leader. In Far East, thousands of people continued to protest each Saturday in Khabarovsk city against July arrest of former local governor and member of nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Sergei Furga, accused of involvement in murders of businessmen in 2005-2006; Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu 17 Sept announced increase of military presence in region. Moscow City Court 18 Sept upheld extension until 9 Dec of Furgal’s pre-trial detention; Furgal called charges against him “a persecution” via video link during hearing and demanded all hearings in his case be public. After French and Swedish laboratories 14 Sept independently confirmed that Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned in Aug with lethal nerve agent Novichok, Germany and France same day called on Russia to conduct credible and transparent investigation; UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet 8 Sept also asked Russia for “thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into this assassination attempt.”
Weekly mass protests continued in Far East against July arrest of local governor while security forces led series of counter-terrorism operations in North Caucasus. In North Caucasus region, National Anti-Terrorism Committee confirmed counter-terrorism operations in Republic of Ingushetia. Notably, special forces 7 Aug killed two militants and detained one in Nazran and Sagopshi localities and 18 Aug led operation that killed two militants in Sunzhensk district; armed clash 23 Aug also took place between security officials and alleged Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Troitskoye, killing three militants and injuring two special force officers. In Far East, weekly Saturday protests continued throughout month in Khabarovsk city against July arrest of local governor and member of nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Sergei Furga, accused of involvement in murders of businessmen in 2005-06. Acting governor of Khabarovsk territory appointed by Putin in July, Mikhail Degtyarev, 18 Aug announced creation of People’s Council inviting “those who participated in the mass protests, to a dialogue”. Meanwhile, spokesperson for Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny 20 Aug confirmed Navalny had slipped into coma after falling ill from suspected poisoning; German Chancellor Angela Merkel 24 Aug said that those “responsible must be identified and held accountable.”
Constitutional referendum paved way for President Putin to run for additional terms, arrest of local governor in Far East sparked mass protests, and U.S. imposed sanctions on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Central Election Commission 1 July confirmed 77.9% of voters supported constitutional changes to reset presidential two-term limit, allowing President Putin to run for two or more six-year terms after current one ends in 2024; Putin 3 July said vote results showed “high level of unity in society on key questions that are of national significance”; opposition member Alexei Navalny same day said his supporters would “never recognise this result”. Hundreds of protestors 16 July gathered in capital Moscow to collect signatures to contest constitutional changes in court; police arrested and detained over 140 demonstrators. In Far East, authorities 9 July arrested Sergei Furgal, local governor of Khabarovsk region and member of nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, for alleged involvement in murders of several businessmen in 2005-06; Moscow court 10 July ruled in favour of his detention for two months pending trial. Governor’s detention 11 July sparked mass protests throughout month including rallies in Khabarovsk of at least 10,000 people who believed arrest was politically motivated. In North Caucasus, Kadyrov 1 July expressed support for Putin to seek additional presidential terms. U.S. State Department 20 July imposed sanctions on Kadyrov, prohibiting him from travel to U.S. for “numerous gross violations of human rights dating back more than a decade, including torture and extrajudicial killings.”; Kadyrov 24 July responded by announcing sanctions against Pompeo.
Govt moved ahead with constitutional referendum on extending limit on number of presidential terms, while small-scale protest against police brutality took place in Dagestan. Following April postponement of referendum on constitutional reform aimed at extending limit on number of presidential terms, govt 1 June confirmed vote would take place on 1 July, with remote and online voting starting 25 June; amendments are aimed at resetting presidential two-term limit, which would allow Putin to run again for president in 2024. In North Caucasus, over 1,000 residents of Manas town in Dagestan 9 June protested against violent police arrests of several residents who allegedly violated COVID-19 quarantine measures; police apologised for behaviour and released detainees after issuing fines. Dagestan police 18 June clashed with dozens of Azerbaijani citizens at the border, hundreds of whom were stranded along Russian-Azerbaijani border due to COVID-19 lockdown. Govt 30 June arrested man on charges of suspected terror plot in Vladikavkaz, Republic of North Ossetia.
In North Caucasus, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov 5 May reportedly hospitalised in Moscow for potential COVID-19 infection. President Putin 18 May recognised severity of COVID-19 situation in southern republic of Dagestan, stating health care system under “heavy burden”; his remarks followed local mufti Akhmad Abdulayev’s appeal to devote attention to “catastrophe”. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) 26 May reiterated call for Russia to address “climate of impunity” and “very serious” human rights violations by authorities in Chechnya documented in Nov 2018 OSCE fact-finding report. Internationally, in response to U.S. announcement that it will exit Open Skies arms control treaty, Russian Deputy FM Alexander Grushko 21 May said move would deal blow to “key security interests of the allies of the U.S.” (see also U.S./Russia).
In North Caucasus, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov 5 April closed administrative border with rest of Russia, while reports emerged of police beatings of people violating self-isolation rules within Chechnya; PM Mikhail Mishustin 6 April said closing regional borders was unacceptable, prompting public argument with Kadyrov. In Vladikavkaz, capital of North Caucasus republic North Ossetia, at least 1,500 people joined violent protest against lockdown measures; protestors demanded resignation of regional head Vyacheslav Bitarov and appointment of interim regional govt headed by opposition politician Vitaly Kaloyev; police dispersed rally with teargas and arrested 69 people, of whom thirteen 21 April sentenced to prison. Vote on proposed constitutional changes previously planned for 22 April remained on hold.
Citing COVID-19 as factor, President Putin 10 March put his bid to reset presidential two-term limit, which would allow him to run again for president in 2024, to vote of Constitutional Court; Court 16 March approved bid. Kremlin refused permit for demonstration against changes, citing need to prevent spread of COVID-19. In North Caucasus’ Ingushetia republic, amid widespread discontent with Kremlin’s rule, at least ten clan leaders 22 March urged boycott of nationwide vote planned for April on Putin’s proposed constitutional reforms, citing anger over land transfer to Chechnya in 2018-2019, as well as historical grievances. Putin 25 March announced that vote on proposed constitutional changes scheduled for 22 April would be postponed indefinitely citing COVID-19.
After President Putin proposed in Jan constitutional changes reportedly aimed at shifting power balance between president, cabinet and parliament, working group overseeing voting process late Feb said that parliament would first approve legislation and then citizens would be asked in 22 April vote to say whether they agree with proposed amendments. Russian court 10 Feb sentenced seven members of anarchist and anti-fascist groups to six to eighteen years in prison for alleged plans in 2015 to form militant groups to attack law enforcement authorities, govt buildings, military offices and HQ of pro-Kremlin United Russia party. Defendants at first confessed to allegations, but later retracted testimonies saying authorities had extracted them by torture. Independent body, Public Monitoring Commission, later confirmed suspects had been tortured; lawyers, artists and public figures signed petitions protesting prosecution, while members of Kremlin public councils lodged official complaints. In North Caucasus, twelve more people were detained 5 Feb for taking part in demonstrations in Magas, capital of Ingushetia, in March 2019; nine of them were released after questioning, while three remained in detention end-month.
President Putin 15 Jan proposed changes to Constitution during state of nation address, reportedly aimed at shifting power balance between president, cabinet and parliament as well as expanding powers of parliament in move which appears to open options for Putin to step aside from presidency in 2024 while retaining a degree of power. In response, cabinet resigned headed by PM Medvedev, Defence Minister Shoigu and FM Lavrov among few who remained in ensuing reshuffle; non-systemic opposition (unrepresented in Parliament) led protests in following weeks including in capital Moscow, in St. Petersburg and in Yekaterinburg; numbers were small. Some proposed changes included supremacy of Constitution over international laws, ban on foreign citizenship for President and several other officials, appointment by President of all heads of executive and security agencies and barring of “consecutive” two-term limit for President. In North Caucasus, Islamic State (ISIS) 2 Jan claimed responsibility for 31 Dec attack on road patrol which killed three outside Ingushetia’s capital Magas. Head of Chechen Republic since 2007 Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov 16 Jan ceded power due to “temporary disability” putting chairman of Chechen Republic govt Khuchiyev in charge; spokesperson said he is “undergoing treatment requiring medical procedures” same day. Russian court in Stavropol region 24 Jan sentenced Ingush activist to sixteen months in colony-settlement for assaulting police officers during demonstrations in Magas in March 2019; ninth activist to be condemned for similar activities.
Authorities foiled alleged terrorist plot planned for Constitution Day 12 Dec in Moscow, arresting five suspects (four Tajik nationals and one Russian) reportedly affiliated with Islamic State (ISIS). A gunman opened fire on headquarters of Federal Security Service (FSB) in central Moscow 19 Dec, killing two FSB officers and wounding five other people, four of whom were law enforcement authorities; the attacker, 39-year-old former security guard Yevgeny Manyurov, was killed in a subsequent shootout. Three gunmen attacked a road patrol checkpoint 31 Dec outside Ingushetia’s Magas, North Caucasus, police killed two and wounded a third, one policeman was also killed and two injured.
Authorities announced head of Interior Ministry’s Anti-Extremism Centre in Ingushetia, Ibragim Eldzharkiyev, and his brother reportedly shot dead by unknown gunman in Moscow 2 Nov; Eldzharkiyev was believed to have been previously targeted by gunmen in Jan 2019 near Ingush-Chechen border. Relatives of man arrested in Dagestan capital Makhachkala on charges of weapons possession who claimed he was tortured in prison held rally in his support 29 Nov; court next day placed him and his alleged accomplice under arrest; police claim they are connected to armed militant groups. Chechnya’s Supreme Court 26 Nov began trial over case of eight Dagestanis whose relatives claim they were kidnapped and killed by Chechen law enforcement; latter claim men were planning terror attack and were killed in a shoot-out. European Court of Human Rights in Oct registered complaint from rights activists that case was not being duly investigated; Russian Supreme Court in Aug declined to transfer case outside of Chechnya.
Police 2 Oct raided HQ of independent Dagestani newspaper Chernovik, in move criticised by international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders as “witch-hunt”; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also expressed concern. Search reportedly linked to investigation of reporter Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, arrested in June on terrorism financing-related charges which Human Rights Watch has condemned as move to silence govt critics. Dagestan court 15 Oct extended Gadzhiyev’s pre-trial detention to 13 Nov. Human rights organisation Memorial expressed concern over fate of Chechen man Ramzan Shaikhayev, whose family reported he was abducted from his home outside Grozny 9 Sept, citing fears he may have been abducted by security services. In Ingushetia, authorities mid-Oct reportedly searched homes of three activists opposed to controversial land deal between Insughetia and Chechnya. Reports emerged of repressions in which Chechen govt officials were imprisoned in apparent purge that started with arrest of Argun mayor Ibragim Temirbayev.