Putin Creates a New Generation of Russian Political Prisoners
Sarah Hurst reports on some of the ‘New Greatness’ activists who are paying the price for dissenting from Putin’s growing dictatorship.
Blood-splattered benches in a Moscow courtroom after two young men slit their veins recently were a graphic reminder of the war Vladimir Putin is waging on his own people – anyone who is critical of the Kremlin.
Ruslan Kostylenkov, 25 and Vyacheslav Kryukov, 20, have been in jail awaiting trial since March 2018.
They are part of a group of young people called Novoye Velichiye (New Greatness) that is alleged to have been plotting to overthrow the Russian Government, but their actions were instigated by an undercover security services agent.
Before making their apparent suicide attempts in response to an extension of their pre-trial custody, the pair shouted “Glory to Russia! Russia will be free!” and “Free political prisoners!”
On the same day, New Greatness member Anna Pavlikova, who was 17 when she was arrested last year, celebrated her wedding in a white dress outside Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina jail, without the groom. He is Konstantin Kotov, sentenced to four years in prison in September for participating in multiple peaceful protests. Pavlikova is still under house arrest awaiting trial, while another New Greatness member, Pavel Rebrovsky, is serving a two-and-a-half year prison sentence.
“Despite all these trials and jailings, and this illegal sentence, I have something they can’t take away from me – my feelings. Love is freedom!” Kotov wrote to Pavlikova in a letter that friends published on Twitter.
Kotov was one of thousands of people in Moscow who protested this summer against the city’s refusal to allow opposition candidates to participate in local elections. He also picketed in support of Ukraine, which is always one of the riskiest activities in Russia.
His long sentence came as a shock because Russians had started to believe that civic activism was making a difference and occasionally getting justice done, as in the case of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who had drugs planted in his flat by police and was eventually released.
Russian protestors are often given prison sentences on charges of injuring police, but only a handful of people, including Kotov, have been prosecuted under Article 212.1, which criminalises peaceful protests. It is known colloquially as the “Dadin article” after Ildar Dadin, who was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in 2015 for his solo pickets opposing Putin and supporting Ukraine.
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Dadin sent a letter to his wife describing torture in prison and had his conviction overturned. Pensioner Vladimir Ionov and single mother Irina Kalmykova fled their trials and are now living abroad. In recent months, with increased protests around the country over environmental issues and other problems, there has been an uptick in Article 212.1 cases.
In the same week as the wedding of Pavlikova and Kotov, another Russian protestor, Aidar Gubaidulin, a 26-year-old computer programmer, announced that he had left the country having seen what happened to Kotov and fearing that he would also soon go to prison on a charge of throwing an empty plastic bottle at a policeman during the summer.