In 2021, there was no major uptick in new criminal cases brought over speech. However, 2022 definitely saw one. And that does not have so much to do with the new Criminal Code articles on “fakes” and “discrediting the army” (on March 4, 2022, new repressive statutes were adopted and signed into law – among them are two criminal articles on spreading knowingly false information about the Russian army and government officials abroad generally and about discrediting them) – as there are still few cases. According to Ministry of Internal Affairs data, there were 40% more cases solved under the article on “incitement to terrorism” and “justification of terrorism” than the year before. Meanwhile, the number of solved cases dealing with “calls for extremist acts” also rose, but to a much lesser extent.
The SOVA Center was able to collect data on 244 convictions for “extremist statements” against 260 people in 62 regions of the country ( this is about half of all those convicted in 2022, calculated as a projection of the Supreme Court data on the first half of 2022) ,. Still, even based on this we can see the qualitative shift that has taken place since 2020, when such persecution started to pick up.
This trend continued through 2022.
There is good reason to believe that this trend will continue when the 2022 cases are sentenced. That said, in most cases we are aware of, a call for violence did take place, though the danger it presented to society, in terms of form and circumstances, was most often minimal: for example, the person’s audience was rather small or his statements were vague, like “we need a revolution.”
It is impossible to determine the proportion of nationalists among the total number of those accused and convicted for making “extremist statements,” but they are clearly not the majority. Note that there have also been cases when nationalists were convicted not for their rather radical, xenophobic agitation, but for vague calls for regime change.
Besides the political activism of nationalists, a milieu of “autonomous neo-Nazis” who are keener on violence as a political means has to some extent continued to exist in Russia. Such groups have the attention of law enforcement agencies as well.
Prosecution of hate crimes and organizations committing hate crimes
The number of violent hate crimes is 8-10 times lower in 2022 than the peaks at the end of the 2000s: since 2016, the number of victims we are aware of (no official data exists) has fallen to 100 or fewer per year. In 2022, according to SOVA Center data, 27 people suffered from ideologically motivated violence (though the figure will be updated).
However, law enforcement has not stopped there. In 2021, the number of people convicted of violent hate crimes known to the SOVA Center rose: in 10 regions, at least 10 such convictions were handed down, with 35 people were found guilty. In 2022, we already know of about 10 convictions, with 22 people found guilty.
Some of these convictions are for very old cases. For example, in 2022, veterans of the ultra-right movement Sergei Marshakov (who started out as a member of the Skin Legion group) and Maxim Aristarkhov (Format-18 group) received additional terms for a murder captured in a popular neo-Nazi video in 2007. Members of new, only recently destroyed, neo-Nazi gangs also ended up behind bars in 2022. For example, in Belgorod, three members of the White City 31 group were sentenced to prison for a number of racist attacks on foreigners from Syria, China and other countries in 2019-20. In Astrakhan, the leader of the Astrakhan National Movement group received seven years in prison, including for hate-motivated attacks.
Ever since the Artpodgotovka movement was shut down in 2017, the authorities have been most actively going after organized groups of nationalists. One of their main tools is to ban the organizations as “extremist” or “terrorist,” which makes any continuation of their activity a crime.
In 2021, several well-known far-right organizations were banned at once. The most notable was the Male State movement, which promotes “national patriarchy,” racial purity, and radical misogyny. Also banned were the neo-pagan Siberian Sovereign Union, the group Citizens of the USSR (the name of an amorphous combination of conspiracy groups who believe that the USSR still exists) in Krasnodar – infamous for its attempt to organize the murder of a rabbi – and two neo-Nazi outfits that made waves in the 2010s, NS/WP and Nevograd.
In 2022, there were fewer injunctions against Russian ultra-right organizations – only the People’s Union of the Russian Movement (NORD) in Omsk and Project Shturm in Perm. Two groups affiliated with Citizens of the USSR and four Ukrainian organizations, including the Azov regiment, were also banned.
Overall, the number of convictions for involvement in extremist and terrorist communities and organizations – when that was the main charge – rose by almost a quarter to 233 people in 2021, according to Supreme Court data, and by about a third in 2022.
In 2022, the SOVA Center knew of 78 people convicted of involvement in extremist and terrorist communities and organizations, excluding those who were clearly unfairly convicted. There were 26 Russian nationalists among the 78, roughly a third. In 2021, with the same approach, we put the proportion of Russian nationalists at about two thirds, 19 out of 32 convicted.