Yevhen Karakashev, a 41-year-old left-wing activist from Yevpatoria in Russian-annexed Crimea, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Russian court on April 19, with the charges based solely on years-old private messages on the social-media network VKontakte. Russia's FSB security agency claimed that the posts fell under Article 205.2 of the Russian criminal code, which imposes penalties for "public calls to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism." The sentence was three years less than that demanded by the prosecutor, and also includes limits on Karakashev's online activities for two years after his release. Russia's independent Memorial Human Rights Center stated that there is a strong likelihood "the criminal proceedings against Yevhen Karakashev were initiated in the context of his opposition civic and political activities as a frequent participant in protests in Crimea." They view this as part of a mounting attack on left-wing activists and anti-fascists in Russia since January 2018.
Russia has announced plans for a "rehabilitation center" in the annexed Crimean Peninsula to "re-educate" Muslims considered to be under the influence of "extremist ideology." The move comes less than a week after Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) carried out raids targeting Crimean Tatars thought to be linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist party that is legal in Ukraine. Detained in the raids were 23 civic activists and journalists, all now facing what monitoring group Human Rights in Ukraine calls "fundamentally flawed charges." Human Rights in Ukraine calls it "profoundly disturbing" that the Crimean Muftiate, or Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Crimea, is apparently cooperating in the "rehabilitation center" plan, which was announced this week by Ruslan Balbek, a member of the State Duma's Social and Religious Organizations Committee. Human Rights in Ukraine calls Balbek "one of the first Crimean Tatars to have collaborated with the Russian occupation regime." The plan is moving ahead despite that fact that Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner pledged last month to review the legality of a 2003 court order labeling Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in 13 countries around the world, including countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. It operates legally in the United States and United Kingdom. (More at Moscow Times)
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) raided the homes of several Crimean Tatars on March 27, officially as part of an investigation of activities linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned as a "terrorist" organization in Russia although operating lawfully in Ukraine. FSB agents carried out at least 25 searches and detained at least 20 people. The searches were conducted in the Crimean capital Simferopol, the nearby village of Strohonivka, and the village of Volodymyrivka in the Bilohirsk district. In Simferopol's Kamyanka district, officers of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs cordoned off the neighborhood and ordered residents who assembled during the operation to disperse. According to reports, residents were not allowed to enter their homes and their lawyers were not permitted to be present during searches.
The Ukraine Security Service (SBU) appears to be targeting the country's anarchist youth following an attack on a leader of the neo-fascist Right Sector last year. In December, SBU agents carried out searches at the homes of seven anarchists in the cities of Kiev, Brovary, Dnipro and Lviv. SBU officers reportedly forced two anarchists to sign a "cooperation agreement," and one of the activists had her passport confiscated. Those targeted were members of the groups Black Banner and Ecological Initiative. The searches were carried out as part of an investigation into an attack on Right Sector militant Dmytro "Verbych" Ivashchenko, a veteran of the war in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region.
A 24-year-old Crimean Tatar was sentenced Jan. 23 by a court in Russian-annexed Crimea to 10-and-a-half years' imprisonment for supposed involvement in a volunteer force patrolling the border of Crimea and mainland Ukraine to help enforce a blockade. Video evidence introduced in the trial only showed the suspect from behind. Nonetheless, Fevzi Sahandzhy was convicted of being a member of the Asker Battalion—also known as the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion, in honor of the martyred president of the short-lived independent Crimean Republic of 1918. The Battalion began participating in the blockade of Crimea in 2015 to press demands for the release of political prisoners and the restoration of freedom of speech and assembly on the peninsula. (Human Rights in Ukraine, 112 UA, Kiev, Jan. 28)
Numerous media sources are reporting that Vladimir Putin has dispatched a team of private mercenaries to Venezuela to help back up the besieged government of President Nicolás Maduro. Reuters cites claims that some 400 military contractors from the Wagner group have arrived in Caracas. Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) is a Russian firm already contracted by Moscow's Defense Ministry to provide personnel for the wars in Ukraine and in Syria. Moscow Times quotes Yevgeny Shabayev, ataman (commander) of the Khovrino Cossack paramilitary group, as saying that the mercenaries were flown to Havana on two chartered aircraft, where they were transfered to commerical flights to Caracas. Shabayev said Cossacks had been recruited for the force to serve as a kind of Praetorian Guard for Maduro. "Our people are there directly for his protection," he said. The Russian news site Lenta.ru cited Shabayev saying a "military conspiracy had been discovered in Maduro's inner circle, and therefore it was necessary to replace his personal security with loyal people."
Russia this week completed a high-tech security fence along annexed Crimea's border with mainland Ukraine. The fence, more than 60 kilometers long, is topped with barbed wire and equipped with hundreds of sensors. Russia's FSB security agency in a statement called the fence a "boundary of engineering structures," and said it is necessary to prevent "infiltration attempts by saboteurs," also citing traffic in drugs, arms and other contraband. The statement boasted of "the most complicated system of alarm sensors in the Isthmus of Perekop," the stretch of land where annexed Crimea borders the Ukrainian mainland.
In Episode 20 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the forgotten legacy of libertarian socialism—considered by many today a contradiction in terms. While the word "socialism" is suddenly viewed as legitimate in American political discourse again for the first time in generations, the word "libertarian" continues to be associated with the free-market right—despite its origins on the anarchist left. Weinberg discusses his own involvement in New York's Libertarian Book Club—founded by anarchist exiles from Europe in the 1940s, to keep alive their ideals and pass the torch to a new generation. Libertarian socialists seek inspiration in such historical episodes as the Zapatistas in Mexico (1910-19), Makhnovists in Ukraine (1917-21), Spanish anarchists in Catalonia (1936-7), and Zapatistas in Mexico again (1994-date)—peasants and workers who took back the land and the factories, building socialism from below, without commissars or politburos. Other movements inspired by this vision on the world stage today include anarchist-influenced elements of Syria's civil resistance, and the autonomous zone of northern Syria's Rojava Kurds. Weinberg argues that far from being an irrelevant anachronism, a libertarian socialist vision is necessary for human survival. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.