On Saturday, August 10, tens of thousands of people took the streets of Moscow in the largest wave of demonstrations to hit the Russian capital since the so-called 2011 Snow Revolution.
Police said that 20,000 people attended the latest in a weeks-long series of protests against the banning of opposition candidates from Moscow municipal elections set for September 8.
The independent White Counter NGO, which monitors crowd sizes at demonstrations, put that figure at between 50,000-to-60,000.
Russian-state television network Rossiya-24 dispatched correspondent Yaroslav Krasienko to cover the event.
Focusing on attendees whom he described as “gypsies, homosexuals, ecologists, communists, supporters of empire, and defrauded real-estate investors,” Krasienko cherry-picked from man-on-the-street interviews to paint the rally as a “farce” attracting politically-disinterested music fans, adolescents, the homeless and non-residents of Moscow.
Questioning the credibility of video and photo documentation showing police violence against protesters, Krasienko speculated in his report that all of the “emotionally charged” digital evidence was nothing more than masterfully staged propaganda.
The report included speculation that a foreign adversary which is well-experienced in staging such provocations and is seeking to destroy Russia had planned and funded the event.
While the Rossiya-24 report is in and of itself a textbook example of propaganda and disinformation, Krasienko’s focus on the music as one of the main pieces of evidence that the protests were neither political, nor organic, does not stand up to scrutiny.
Krasienko ignored the increasingly politicized nature of hip-hop in Russia, the artists who performed at the opposition rally and the political aspirations of younger Russians, many of whom have lived their entire lives under Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It can not be discounted that some young people had come out to watch popular musicians perform, although that does not preclude political involvement, Tanya Lokshina, the Europe and Central Asia associate director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Polygraph.info.
The only people who could hear the performances were the “journalists and VIPs crowded by the stage,” Lokshina said. Due to the acoustics on Prospekt Sakharova, where the organized portion of the rally took place, as well as the last-minute leasing issues with equipment, “the sound system was terrible.”
She said that younger people did not leave despite not being able to hear the music, which was regularly interspersed with speeches from opposition members.
“[They] stayed on despite horrendous issues with the sound system,” Lokshina said.
As for the performers, many have previously faced pressure from authorities, including concert cancellations and other forms of harassment, with rap music in particular increasingly being viewed as a new form of protest music in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin himself had noted a need for the state to “take control” of the genre.
"Rap and other modern [forms of art] are rested upon three pillars - sex, drugs and protest," he said. "I am most worried about drugs. This is the way towards the degradation of a nation."
As noted by HRW, across Russia between October-November 2018, “at least seven young performers, most of them rappers, had concerts cancelled under different pretexts or as a result of law enforcement raids.”
Meanwhile, the political intentions of those performing at the demonstration were made clear.
Speaking from the stage, 21-year-old Ivan Dremin, who performs under the name Face, explicitly supported the goals of the opposition protesters, adding he “wasn’t an orator” and would simply sing his songs, which Krasienko, seizing on Putin’s comments, characterized as being about “narcotics”.
Krasienko, however, did not mention the political themes present in Dremin’s music. One song, “Our Mentality,” includes lyrics about having never lived in a free Russia, judicial corruption and the 2018 World Cup being a pretext for large-scale graft.
Another song refers to Russia as “one big prison camp.”
Music critic Artemy Troitsky told the Moscow Times artists like Dremin represent a deepening political trend among young Russian artists.
“The youth is not afraid of the authorities and they now vocalize the things they want to change in the country,” Troitsky said.
Another rap performer, Oxxxymiron (aka Miron Fyodorov), had made explicitly political statements in calling on his fans to attend the August 10 demonstration, demanding the release of Yegor Zhukov, a Russian university student who was detained on suspicion of “organizing and conducting mass riots” during a July 27 opposition protest, although no such riots occurred that day.
Nastya Kreslina and producer Nikolay Kostylev, who form the electronic duo IC3PEAK, have seen numerous concerts shut down in a censorship battle with Russian authorities. Apart from appearing at Saturday’s rally, IC3PEAK had performed at a protest calling for a free Russian internet earlier in the year.
Krasienko also omitted the fact that the Russian authorities had scheduled their own “Meat&Beat” concert at Gorky Park to coincide with the August 10 protest, while also initially seeking to ban musical performances from the opposition rally.
Authorities had previously rushed to arrange a festival called “Shashlik Live” on August 3, which corresponded with another demonstration for open and fair municipal elections.
Analysts argue these so-called “spoiler concerts” are intended to draw people away from opposition rallies.
Some performers had refused to take part in the state-organized concerts to express their solidarity with the protesters.
Police violence and ‘human shields’
After some of those in attendance broke off to march to the headquarters of Presidential Administration of Russia in the Kitai-Gorod area of Moscow, Russian security services arrested over 200 people.
Regarding that portion of the rally, Krasienko’s report focused on minor acts of jaywalking and traffic obstruction, while claiming the majority of young people were attracted by the “party” atmosphere and “adrenaline,” with “provocateurs and coordinators” leading them on.
Krasienko brushed over acts of police violence, including the assault on Darya Sosnovskaya that has sparked public condemnation, and the detention of a physically-handicapped individual.
Lokshina, who monitored that unsanctioned portion of the demonstration, said “those who were there for the walks and refused to leave despite watching their peers being detained were young.”
Krasienko further stated that bringing young children to protests has become a new “trend.” He further argued that images of children, pregnant women and invalids at a peaceful rally being violently suppressed by security forces “are being used in the service of “the manipulation of mass consciousness.”
The focus on children in particular comes following a proposed law which would target parents who bring minors to unsanctioned protests, itself connected to conspiracy theories pushed by the Russian government that a “provocateur” had used a child as a “human shield” to escape arrest (a claim Krasienko has repeated).
That alleged provocateur was Sergei Fomin, a volunteer at the election headquarters of opposition leader Lyubov Sobol, who filmed masked security officers bursting into her office to detain her prior to the August 10 rally.
During an earlier protest on July 27, Fomin’s cousin Olga Prokazova was filmed handing her baby over to Fomin. Olga and her husband Dmitry faced losing custody of their child over that incident, with Dmitry rejecting the “human shield” conspiracy.
“Sergey [Fomin] is my friend … he’s my wife’s cousin. I just asked him to carry the child. There were no cordons, no police – we all quietly went home together,” Prokazov told Radio Liberty.
Fomin for his part has been charged with alleged rioting, despite the fact media, human rights organizations, and Putin’s own human rights council universally noted the non-violent nature of that protest.
Clips repeatedly shown on Russian state media (including Krasienko’s report) attempting to implicate Fomin in the alleged unrest have shown nothing more than Fomin speaking, waving his hands or directing peaceful demonstrators on which direction to walk.
Krasienko, in an earlier report about Fomin’s case, claimed that members of opposition leader Alexi Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation were wearing masks during police searches stemming from a recently launched money laundering probe which foundation members have called “an absurdity.”
Opposition-minded Twitter users have noted that it was Russian security forces, and not members of the Anti-Corruption Fund, who were wearing masks during that raid.
Krasienko’s reputation among protesters led to him being greeted with chants of “shame” during the August 10 rally, an event which he selectively edited and included in his own broadcast.
Delegitimizing the Protests
As previously reported by Polygraph.info, Russian authorities have gone to great lengths to delegitimize the latest wave of protests, both by blaming the demonstrators for the increased police violence and by falsely claiming Western involvement in the street demonstrations (which Krasienko touches on in his own report).
Due to the manipulative editing, unsubstantiated claims and overall disregard for journalistic standards employed to paint the rally in as negative a light as possible, Polygraph.info finds Krasienko’s characterization of the demonstration to be misleading.