‘Something’s about to go down’. Cossack troops and Donbas veterans might start helping police disperse Moscow’s election protests

The election protests that have rocked Moscow since July are set to continue, and government officials are looking for new ways to contain them. Five sources told Meduza that Cossack groups and members of the Union of Donbas Volunteers are currently negotiating with government representatives about the possibility of helping police and National Guard forces disperse protesters at forthcoming demonstrations. Three sources said that Russia’s presidential administration is responsible for the initiative, but they also added that no funds have yet been allocated for it.

Oleg Sentsov is free. Russia and Ukraine are finally exchanging dozens of high-profile political prisoners

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has been freed as part of a large-scale prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, according to a Facebook post by Ukrainian lawmaker Anna Islamova that was later reshared by Ruslan Riaboshapka, Ukraine’s new prosecutor general. “The exchange is complete: the sailors, Sentsov, [Mykola] Karpyuk, [Volodymyr] Balukh, and [Pavlo] Hryb are flying home,” wrote Islamova. According to unverified reports by the newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda and Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov, the plane carrying these former prisoners is scheduled to land in Kyiv around 5 a.m. on August 30, where they’re expected to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The news outlet Hromadske, however, reports that no planes from Moscow are currently expected at the passenger terminal of Kyiv’s airport.

Why the Russian-Ukrainian prisoner exchange matters. Six takeaways from Meduza’s interview with political scientist Andrey Kortunov

The Russian and Ukrainian governments are preparing for a prisoner exchange that is set to free more than 60 people. Recent reports have indicated that Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director whose imprisonment on terrorism charges galvanized advocacy for political prisoners in Russia, may be among those included in the exchange. We asked Andrey Kortunov, the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, whether the exchange could signal a shift toward the normalization of Russia’s relationships with Ukraine and the West. Six takeaways from that exchange are summarized below.

‘It can’t be that every instance of the word ‘gay’ is propaganda’. After SERB nationalist activists interrupted a play about being gay in Russia, police arrested the play’s director. We asked her what happened.

On the evening of August 28, 12 activists from the SERB movement forced their way into Moscow’s Teatr.doc documentary theater and interrupted a play called Coming Out of the Closet. SERB is a radical nationalist group whose members have a history of similar attacks: In addition to targeting opposition figures, SERB has stormed or damaged multiple art exhibitions. When the group disrupted Coming Out of the Closet, multiple theater employees and audience members called the police. Officers responded by arresting the play’s director, Anastasia Patlai, as well as two audience members. One viewer was cited for disorderly conduct, and the other turned out to be under 18 years old even though he had shown theater employees a 19-year-old’s passport upon entry. We spoke with Patlai about the incident and about the suspiciously close relationship between SERB and the police.

Officials deny another critical vulnerability in Moscow’s online voting system, as they secretly patch the issue

On August 28, Moscow officials conducted the fourth and final test of a new online voting system that will debut in City Duma elections on September 8. The new voting option will be available to roughly 5,000 Muscovites in three okrugi (districts), where the voters make up less than one percent of the electorate in their respective okrugi. Ahead of the final test, the Moscow Mayor’s Office patched a critical vulnerability that would have allowed hacked to track voting results in real time. The election’s organizers never acknowledged this flaw, and they’ve decided to wait until the last minute to release the system’s source code to independent experts. 

What is Center E? A former agent for Russia’s secretive Anti-Extremism Center explains how ‘eshniki’ crack down on protesters and prosecute online activity

At any mass protest in Russia, a careful eye can spot officers in civilian dress pointing video cameras at the crowd. From time to time, the same officers quietly guide police toward individual protesters, who are immediately arrested. Behind the scenes, the very same people are also responsible for bringing criminal cases against Russian citizens who share supposedly extremist posts on social media. These officials work for Center E. The internal structure of the center remains poorly understood, so we talked it through with former Center E employee Vladimir Vorontsov. Since leaving the center, Vorontsov has become known for creating a popular online support organization for police officers.

‘A little human rights buggy’. The rise of ‘OVD-Info,’ Russia’s lifeline for arrested protesters

On December 5, 2011, Russians demonstrated against vote rigging in the State Duma elections. Throughout the winter, Moscow witnessed the largest protests of the Putin era, as tens of thousands of people turned out to chant slogans and listen to speeches criticizing the political system’s lack of power turnover between the country’s different factions. Before dawn on December 6, activists had formed what would become OVD-Info — an independent human rights media project that helps the victims of political persecution. OVD-Info makes it easy for anyone to find out who’s been arrested at a rally, the police station where they’ve been booked, and whether they need any assistance or legal aid. Detainees can call the project’s hotline and get psychological or legal counseling. OVD-Info has been a vital resource for activists during the summer of 2019, as Moscow’s City Duma elections have sparked another round of major protests. Meduza looks back at the project’s origins, and explains how OVD-Info became full-time work for the activists who run it.