FORUM

Jan 12 2021

Sentences of ‘extremist’ group that planned armed takeover of Russia slashed weeks after Putin intervenes on human rights grounds

Four men at the center of a plot to overthrow the Russian government by force have had their sentences reduced by a Moscow court on Tuesday. All but one are currently serving a long term in a penal colony for their involvement.

The group, which went by the name ‘New Greatness’, was labeled by prosecutors as an extremist cell. However, during a widely publicized trial last year, the defendants insisted they had been encouraged to set it up by undercover operatives from the police and Russia’s top security agency, the FSB.

Ruslan Kostylenkov, Peter Karamzin, and Vyacheslav Kryukov each had their prison term reduced by between three and six months. However, all are still serving terms of more than six years. Another activist, Maxim Roshchin, had been handed a suspended sentence, and similarly had six months shaved off its length. This came in response to challenges from their lawyers, who insist the verdicts didn’t take into consideration the motives behind their actions.

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Two teenage New Greatness members, Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik, were also handed probation terms. They were accused of planning to set “revolutionary fires” as part of the group’s insurrectionist aims. A total of 10 people were initially arrested in the police investigation into the organization.

Details of the case revealed in the press at the time showed New Greatness had been born out of a series of group chats online, with young people from Moscow and the surrounding area meeting up in branches of McDonald’s to share their political beliefs. Before long, the group was participating in rallies, printing literature, and renting a space for meetings in the capital. They also took trips out of the city to practice firing shotguns and making Molotov cocktails.

According to prosecutors, they were found to have published a manifesto proposing the creation of a provisional government after a national revolution, and the installation of a new constitution. However, the group’s lawyers insist the impetus and financing of their movement was from a shadowy figure known only as Ruslan D., who they say was an undercover security officer. Another acting policeman admitted to joining their ranks, but says he only did so to turn them over to the authorities.

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During the trial, the mothers of the two girls among the accused, Pavlikova and Dubovik, filmed a heartfelt appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin. They called for their daughters’ release, and for the prosecution of those who supposedly framed them.

In December, Putin weighed in on the case when allegations the defendants had been tortured or beaten were put to him during a meeting with members of the country’s Human Rights Council. He agreed an inquiry was needed, saying that, “in terms of investigating the facts of illegal methods used against people who were under investigation, I’ll definitely do it, I promise you. I’ll definitely do it.”

As a result, the prosecutor general was asked to look into the accusations, but he told the defendants’ legal representatives the facts of the case remained broadly unchanged, arguing that “when it comes to New Greatness, I have discussed it many times, but as far as I understand, all the courts have given their rulings: [they] found them guilty. And when we talk about serious violations related to their potential use of violence, these are serious things.”

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