A study into repression under Putin

Ekaterina Reznikova, Alexey Korostelev
February 22, 2024 года

Russians are often criticised for not opposing the regime. In reality, however, the number of people convicted on political charges during Vladimir Putin’s most recent presidential term alone exceeded the figures recorded in the USSR under Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev. About 116,000 people have been subjected to direct repression in Russia over the past six years. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: if we take into account those who have been punished for disobeying law enforcers and “violating COVID restrictions”, the real scale of repression could actually be many times greater.  

In memory of Alexei Navalny,
a dear friend of Proekt, who was killed by Vladimir Putin

1. How Putin surpassed the Soviet leaders – study results

2. Number of people repressed for speaking out

3. 600,000 people who disobeyed the authorities

4. Why a homeless person was arrested 130 times

5. Number of people punished under “COVID restrictions” after the pandemic was over

Русская версия

What and how we counted it

For our analysis, we used software to compile information from the websites of Russian courts of general jurisdiction, Moscow City Court and military courts on cases brought for consideration between 2018 and 2023 (during Vladimir Putin’s most recent presidential term) concerning criminal and administrative offences under the following articles.

Articles of the Criminal Code of Russia (CC)

From the Criminal Code, we took articles in the chapter “Crimes Against State Power” not directly related to the use of violence

Introduced into the Criminal Code after 24.02.2022 due to the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

275 Treason
275.1 Название
276 Treason
280 Confidential Cooperation with a Foreign Power, International or Foreign Organisation
280.2 Espionage
280.3 Public Appeals for the Performance of Extremist Activity
280.4 Violation of the Territorial Integrity of the Russian Federation
281.1 Discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation
281.2 Public Appeals for Actions Aimed against State Security
281.3 Aiding Sabotage
282 Undergoing Training for Acts of Sabotage
282.1 Organising a Sabotage Group and Participation in It
282.2 Incitement of Hatred or Enmity, as Well as Abasement of Human Dignity
282.3 Organising an Extremist Community
282.4 Organising the Activity of an Extremist Community
283 Financing of Extremist Activities
283.1 Repeated Propaganda or Public Display of Nazi Attributes or Symbols
283.2 Disclosure of a State Secret
284.1 Illegal Collection of Information Conducting State Secret
284.2 Violation of Requirements for the Protection of State Secrets
284.3 Providing Assistance in the Execution of Decisions of International Organisations in Which the Russian Federation Does Not Participate, or Foreign State Bodies
285.5 Activities in the Russian Federation of a Foreign or International Non-Governmental Organisation Whose Activities Have Been Declared Undesirable in the Russian Federation
285.6 Calls for the Imposition of Restrictive Measures against the Russian Federation, Citizens of the Russian Federation or Russian Legal Entities

In addition to articles from the chapter “Offences against State Power” , we have included criminal articles from other chapters:

148 Obstruction of the Exercise of the Right of Liberty of Conscience and Religious Liberty”. Commonly known as “insult of religious feelings
207.3 Public Dissemination of Knowingly False Information about the Armed Forces and State Bodies of the Russian Federation
205.2 Public Calls for Committing of Terrorist Activity or Public Justification of Terrorism” – included in the list of repressive articles because of the number of politically motivated cases initiated under i
212 Mass Riots
212.1 Repeated Violation of the Established Procedure for Organising or Conducting an Assembly, Rally, Demonstration, March or Picket
330.1 Evasion from Fulfilment of Obligations Provided for by the Legislation of the Russian Federation on Foreign Agents
354.1 Rehabilitation of Nazism

Articles of the Code of Administrative Offences (CAO)

To analyse administrative penalties, we selected articles of the CAO related to fundamental freedoms – the freedoms of speech, conscience, and assembly:

5.26 Violation of the Laws on Freedom of Conscience and Freedom of Belief
6.17 Breaching the Legislation of the Russian Federation on Children’s Protection against Information Which Is Harmful to Their Health and/or Development. Used to persecute, among others, entrepreneurs for selling socks with obscene inscriptions, makers of a candy with the name Zombie, and creators of children’s quest rooms. The court once even fined the Ministry of Emergency Situations for playing an announcement in public transport saying that 30 animals a day die in fires
6.21 Advocating Non-Traditional Sexual Relationships among Minors
6.21.2 Dissemination among Minors of Information Demonstrating Non-Traditional Sexual Relationships or Potentially Causing a Desire for Sex Change
6.26 Organising Public Performance of a Work of Literature, Arts or Folk Arts Containing Obscenities
13.15 Abusing Freedom of Mass Information. Used to prosecute both media outlets and bloggers, mainly for not labelling the names of foreign agents and undesirable or extremist organisations correspondingly.
13.48 Violation of the Prohibition Established by Federal Law against Publicly Identifying the Goals, Decisions and Actions of the Leadership, Military Commanders and Servicemen of the USSR with the Goals, Decisions and Actions of the Leadership of Nazi Germany
19.34 Violation of the Procedure for the Activities of a Foreign Agent
19.34.1 Violation of the Procedure for the Activities of a Foreign Media Organisation Acting as a Foreign Agent (ceased to be in force in December 2022)
19.34.2 Participation in the Activities on the Territory of the Russian Federation of a Foreign or International Non-Profit Non-Governmental Organisation, Information on which is not Included in the Register
20.1 Disorderly Conduct and, in particular, Parts 3 to 5, which are used to punish people for insults to authority and disrespect expressed on the Internet
20.2 Violating the Established Procedure for Arranging or Conducting a Meeting, Rally, Demonstration, Procession or Picket
20.2.2 Organising Mass Simultaneous Stay and Movement of Citizens in Public Places Resulting in a Disruption of Public Order. Used to persecute opposition members participating in rallies and pickets
20.2.3 Failure to Discharge the Duties Involved in Informing Citizens, Executive Power Body of a Constituent Entity of the Russian Federation about the Organiser’s Decision to Refuse to Hold a Public Event. Applied extensively throughout the country as a punishment for incorrectly following the complicated and confusing algorithm for the authorisation of
20.3 Propaganda or Public Display of Nazi Attributes and Symbols or Symbols of Extremist Organisations
20.3.1 Incitement to Hatred or Enmity, as well as Humiliation of Human Dignity Often used against those who express dissatisfaction with the actions of the authorities: their statements are qualified as incitement to hatred against such social groups as “officials”, “military personnel”, “Cossacks” and others
20.3.2 Public Appeals for Actions Aimed at Violating the Territorial Integrity of the Russian Federation
20.3.3 Public Actions Aimed at Discrediting the Use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation
20.3.4 Calls for the Imposition of Restrictive Measures against the Russian Federation, Citizens of the Russian Federation or Russian Legal Entities. Used to persecute those who call for sanctions against Russia.
20.28 Organisation of Activity of a Non-Governmental or Religious Association in Whose Respect a Decision Has Been Taken to Suspend Its Activity
20.29 Production and Dissemination of Extremist Materials. Used to persecute those who post or repost pictures, books, songs or videos classified as extremist material on social networks
20.33 Participation in the Activities of a Foreign or International Non-Governmental Organisation in Whose Respect a Decision Has Been Taken to Declare Its Activities Undesirable on the Territory of the Russian Federation.

Other articles

We also studied war-related repression among the servicemen and civilians living in the frontline regions. For this purpose, we analysed cases under the following articles of the Criminal Code:

332 Failure to Execute an Order
337 Unauthorised Abandonment of a Military Unit or a Place of Military Service
338 Desertion
339 Evasion of Military Service Duties by Pretending to Be Ill, or by Any Other Method
352.1 Voluntary Surrender
356.1 Looting

We also separately analysed the articles under which people are tried for crimes against law enforcers (CC Art. 318 “Use of Violence Against a Law Enforcement Officer”, CC Art. 319 “Insult of a Law Enforcement Officer” and CAO Art. 19.3  “Failure to Follow a Lawful Order of a Law Enforcement Officer”), as well as the articles under which people are tried for violation of quarantine rules introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic (CAO Art. 6.3 “Violation of the Law in the Area of Securing the Sanitary-and-Epidemiological Well-Being of the Population” and CAO Art. 20.6.1 “Failure to Comply With the Rules of Conduct during an Emergency or Threat of Emergency”). 

However, our calculations are not exhaustive, and here’s why:

1. The servers of the Russian courts, which are scattered all over the country, are unstable, and it is not always possible to collect data in full. 

2. Some of the criminal and administrative offences we analysed – for example, those under CC Art. 319 “Insult of a Law Enforcement Officer”, CAO Art. 6.21.2 on “LGBT propaganda” among minors, as well as some of the CC and CAO articles relating to “foreign agents” – are considered in magistrate courts, which were not included in our analysis.

3. Information on some of the criminal cases is not made public at all, especially when it comes to treason and articles related to terrorism and extremism.

Some Russians have been convicted for anti-war or opposition stance under articles that are usually related to everyday crimes, such as hooliganism (CC Art. 213) or vandalism (CC Art. 214), which, however, have parts that stipulate harsher punishment if the offence is committed “on the grounds of political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred”. In order to select from all cases of “hooliganism” and “vandalism” those related to war and opposition, we analysed the sentences by key words . After re-reading the selected sentences once again, we found at least 20 cases where people were tried for political reasons. They have been included in our statistics.

Other articles that have been used at least once as means of political repression were not included in our analysis because the verdicts in these cases are not published on court websites and it is impossible to even approximate how often these articles were used to punish dissenters. A prime example is CC Art. 205.6 “Default on Provision of Information About a Crime”, which has been used at least twice to punish war-related posts. One of the few published verdicts under this article indicates that Veniamin Bobukhov, a resident of the village of Zhigansk in northern Yakutia, was the administrator of a small Telegram channel with an audience of about one hundred people . In March 2022, the channel published a series of posts about Russian prisoners of war preparing to fight on the side of the AFU as part of the “Freedom of Russia Legion”. The appearance of these posts in Bobukhov’s Telegram channel could have led to a real sentence – by that time Russia was in the process of putting people in jail for “discrediting the army” and “disseminating knowingly false information” about it. Yet the defendant got off with only a 20,000-ruble fine. The court ruled that the posts were published by someone else, and Bobukhov was only guilty of not reporting them to the police or the FSB. Perhaps, such a mild sentence was due to the fact that Bobukhov had previously worked in the court of his native village as an informational support specialist.

On the other hand, due to the high degree of censorship in extremist, terrorist and similar cases, we cannot guarantee that our list of analysed cases does not include those who were rightfully convicted for their actions. We did, however, try to exclude from the sample those cases where, in addition to extremist offences, there were other violent and generally dangerous offences – murder, intentional harm to health, mugging, robbery, terrorist acts, sabotage, and offences against sexual inviolability. 

We did not exclude from our study the cases where in addition to extremism there were criminal but non-violent acts – possession of weapons or drugs, distribution of pornography, fraud, extortion, property damage and others. The first reason is that we know of cases when “political” people have been accused of all of the above. Secondly, accusations of extremism and terrorism add considerable “weight” to the evidence in a case, which makes justice turn into repression. A simple example: if a person leaves a personal insulting inscription on someone else’s car, this is an offence. He could be convicted of wilful damage to property – and that would be a just punishment. But if he writes “No War!”, in today’s Russia his act may fall under the article on “spreading misinformation about the army”, which will result in a real prison sentence and thus constitute repression.

For the same reasons, we decided not to exclude the cases concerning preparation for or complicity in a crime, because due to the censorship of such cases we cannot know for sure what these preparations and complicity comprised.  

A more complete number of those repressed before and after 24 February 2022 will be available later and only from the archives of law enforcement agencies; our study is merely an attempt to approximate their number and compare it with the scale of repression at other points in Russian history.

Conclusion One

Worse than in the Brezhnev era

Over the six years of Putin’s most recent term, more than 10,000 people were tried under repressive criminal articles, and more than 105,000 under administrative ones

Given his [Putin’s] enormous authority, it is a stabilising factor for our society, for the development of the country, for the implementation of transformations, it is a guarantee of stability both inside the country and on its external contour.

With these words, 83-year-old Valentina Tereshkova, who flew into space under Nikita Khrushchev, justified from the rostrum of the Russian parliament the resetting of presidential term count, which allowed Vladimir Putin to essentially rule Russia for life. In truth, the “stability within the country” of which the cosmonaut spoke was not achieved by the authority of the president. The “stabilising factor” was repression, essentially identical to that practiced during Tereshkova’s space flight. However, in those times the state did not hide its motives and tried all dissidents under special, “political” articles.

In the 1926 Criminal Code of the RSFSR, the first substantive chapter was “State Crimes”, which consisted of many variations of the infamous Article 58. Its subparagraphs contained all the offences under which millions of Soviet citizens were repressed – from treason to anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation. The Code was significantly changed under Khrushchev – the main “political” article became Art. 70 “Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda”, with the later addition of Art. 190 “Dissemination of Knowingly False Fabrications that Defame the Soviet State and Social System” . In 1991, those convicted under these articles were recognised as victims of political repression and rehabilitated .

In modern Russia, everything is much more complicated – it seems as if there are no “political” articles just for dissenters. The real motives of the state can be hidden behind a wide variety of offences: from economic (Alexei Navalny’s first trial was under an economic article) to everyday crimes such as hooliganism or vandalism. Nevertheless, the “extremist” articles are considered today’s analogues of the Soviet repressive articles. Extremism is a complex concept that is not clearly described in the law, and any action or statement that the authorities do not like can be labelled extremist. In addition, signs of modern “anti-Sovietism” can be seen in other articles – first of all, Art. 205.2 on “justification of terrorism” as well as Art. 280.3 on “discrediting the army”, Art. 284.2 on “calls for sanctions” and Art. 207.3 on “disseminating misinformation”.

We have analysed all of the above articles and revealed that at least 4,667 cases under them were brought before Russian courts in 2018-2023. 5,613 people were accused in these cases. Some have already been convicted, some are still awaiting their fate. However, it is unlikely that the latter will be able to avoid a guilty verdict, since the number of acquittals in Russia is much lower than 1%.

This number of people accused and convicted under repressive articles is more than those convicted for anti-Soviet offences during a similar six-year period under Nikita Khrushchev and many times more than those tried for offences against the Soviet regime during the Brezhnev era. 

In Putin’s Russia, more people are being tried for “extremism” and criticising the authorities than were tried for “anti-Sovietism” under Khrushchev and Brezhnev

Source: Proekt’s calculations based on the data of Russian courts and data of the State Archive, published in the journal “Istochnik. Documents of Russian History. Bulletin of the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation”, Issue No. 6, 1995, p. 153.

But in reality, the victims of modern repression may be much more numerous, because Putin’s authorities, like the Soviet authorities, use a wide range of articles for their purposes – treason, espionage, cooperation with foreign organisations, disclosure of state secrets, participation in a subversive community and others (see our methodology). By the way, some of these articles are used more often in modern Russia than in Brezhnev’s USSR. However, nowadays those convicted under them are at least not shot.

Number of people prosecuted for certain other offences against the state

Number of cases per 100 million people per year on average

* In the USSR, this article also included the refusal to return to the country after leaving abroad; the Russian Criminal Code does not include such an offence in this article

Source: Proekt’s calculations based on data from Russian courts and state archive documents published as part of the compilation “The Regime and the Dissidents. From the Documents of the KGB and the CPSU Central Committee” by the Moscow Helsinki Group in 2006, p.62.

With the outbreak of the war, repression also began in the army, affecting those who refused to fight in Ukraine. The punishments for disobeying an order , abandoning a military unit or faking an illness were severely toughened in 2022. If we include convictions under the above-mentioned articles, it turns out that during Putin’s last term, more than 10,000 people were subjected to repression – 10,187 criminal cases were brought to the courts, in which 11,442 defendants were tried. 

Compared to the horrific terror that the country experienced between the late 1920s and the early 1950s, with millions of victims, the times of Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Putin look relatively mild. However, criminal cases for “anti-Sovietism” were just a small part of the repressive system deployed in post-Stalinist times, the main emphasis of which was on so-called “prophylaxis” . People who “had suspicious connections with foreigners,” “harboured treasonous intentions,” or “allowed politically harmful acts,” were put on a special list by the Chekists, and official warnings were issued to them. In addition, the “public” worked against them: their words and deeds were discussed at meetings, brought before comrades’ courts – all this put pressure on people, spoilt their lives and careers. According to the KGB, more than 120,000 people were subjected to such “prophylaxis” between 1967 and 1974. 

The modern Russian authorities are actively using similar methods. As in the USSR, dissenters are expelled from universities, fired from their jobs, forced out of the country, and those who do not want to leave are forced to publicly apologise and swear allegiance to the authorities. Yet it is practically impossible to calculate how many people have gone through this type of repression: even if centralised statistics exist, they are only kept covertly, somewhere in the bowels of Centre E or the FSB.

What can be counted, however, is the number of cases in which citizens have been brought to administrative responsibility under articles related to freedom of speech, conscience and assembly . We found that the figures are comparable to the number of those subjected to “prophylaxis” in Soviet times – in the six years from 2018 to 2023, more than 105,000 such cases were brought before the courts, the vast majority of which ended in punishments – fines, arrest or compulsory labour. .  

Thus, the total number of those repressed in Russia for criminal and administrative offences in 2018-2023 can be estimated at about 116,000 people.

Over 116,000 people have been tried under repressive CC and CAO articles in Russia over the past six years 

Data from the websites of Russian courts of first instance

But that’s not all. In 2021-2022, the number of criminal cases for verbal threats against law enforcement officers (offence under CC Art. 318) increased sharply, as did the number of cases for “disobeying the lawful demands of law enforcement officers” (CAO Art. 19.3). These are very ambiguous offences, which could include both opposition activists who were aggressive towards the authorities and ordinary troublemakers (which, apparently, are in majority). Therefore, we did not include people punished under these articles in the total count. It is important to note, however, that there are a lot of such people – 600,000 cases were brought to the courts over the past six years. Therefore, we will pay a separate attention to these articles in our study. 

There is one more corpus delicti that the authorities could use for repressive purposes: after the lifting of COVID restrictions and even after the WHO announced the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the courts continued to fine citizens for non-compliance with quarantine measures. As it turned out, between April 2022 and late 2023, some 159,000 people were fined in COVID-related cases. These articles were also often applied to opposition activists for attempting to organise mass protests. 

All this cannot be explained by demographics, let alone the epidemiological situation. The only explanation is that in addition to the widely discussed repression of opposition and anti-war activists, Russia has a system of social pressure where citizens are severely punished for the most insignificant misdemeanours. 

We will now describe the different types of repression under Putin in more detail.

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Conclusion Two

“Don’t Chatter!”

Between 2018 and 2023, more than 50,000 people have been repressed for speaking out

As mentioned above, in Soviet times people were punished for speaking out under articles on anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, as well as for ” disseminating knowingly false fabrications”.  Nowadays, improper statements are punished under articles on extremism and justification of terrorism. 

At the beginning of Putin’s most recent term, the main repressive article was the “extremist” Article 282 “Incitement of Hatred or Enmity, as Well as Abasement of Human Dignity”. In 2018, three-quarters of the total number of repressive criminal cases were brought under it. After winning re-election, Putin initiated a “thaw” and partially decriminalised this article.  However, this decriminalisation was incomplete – it hardly led to any of the previously initiated cases being closed , while a similar article appeared in the code of administrative offences (CAO Art. 20.3.1). In absolute terms, the number of people prosecuted for “incitement of hatred and hostility” has not decreased, but rather grown. Over the past six years, a total of 948 people have been tried in criminal courts on charges of incitement of hatred, while 4,995 people have been fined for administrative offences. In total, over the past six years, more than 45,000 people have gone through the courts under CAO articles that imply punishment for public statements.

282 20.3.1

Decriminalisation of “incitement of hatred” has led to an increase in repression for speaking out

Number of defendants under CC Art. 282 and CAO Art. 20.3.1. Data from websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court. First instance.

By 2023, another “extremism” article of the Criminal Code took the lead in terms of repression under it – Article 280 “Public Appeals for the Performance of Extremist Activity”, which is also used to punish people for their words .


The first year of the war broke the record for the number of cases for “appeals for extremism”

Number of cases under CC Art. 280 “Public Appeals for the Performance of Extremist Activity” brought to courts . Data from websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court. First instance

This is a highly classified article – there are practically no published verdicts under it. The exact reasons for which Russians are tried are only known in isolated cases, mostly when the trials are monitored by journalists and human rights activists. Among the small number of published verdicts there are cases in which the defendants wrote Islamophobic slogans on the Internet or expressed dislike for Caucasus nationals or Jews in comments. However, it is impossible to establish with certainty what each person was actually tried for. Among the trials anti-Semitic statements, for example, one story stands out: a man from Astrakhan was convicted for his comments about Jews, one of which mentioned Putin. In the VK group “Science and Technology”, under a post about Mikhail Bulgakov, a certain Alexei Mamaev left the comment “Bulgakov, albeit a Freemason. Gipsies belong on a stake! And Putin to is Freemason” (original grammar and spelling reflected). It is likely that the president’s surname was the determining factor in initiating the case. Calling Putin a Jew apparently constitutes extremism as far as the Russian authorities are concerned. At least, in the list of extremist materials compiled by the Ministry of Justice, the distribution of which is a criminal offence, there is a video with the title: “Putin publicly admitted at a meeting of Jews that he is a Jew”. The video with this headline is publicly available on YouTube – it is an ordinary report from Putin’s visit to the Jewish Community Centre to celebrate Hanukkah in 2000.

Where have you been for the last eight years?

Many of the extremism cases we have studied look dubious. In 2019, a court in the annexed Crimea sentenced Simferopol resident Dmitry Lazarev to four days of arrest for posting Nazi symbols on his VK page . In court, the defendant pleaded guilty, but in his defence he noted that the post for which he was being tried had been written eight years before the trial, when Crimea was under the control of Ukraine , and Dmitry himself was only 15 years old at the time.

By today’s standards, Dmitry got off scot-free, because since 2022, Article 282.4 “Repeated Propaganda or Public Display of Nazi Attributes or Symbols” has been added to the Criminal Code, the punishment for which is up to four years. The authorities have also expanded it to include an additional offence of “demonstration of symbols of extremist organisations”. These include, for example, the Anti-Corruption Foundation and the non-existent “international LGBT movement”.

In recent years, Article 205.2 on “justification of terrorism” has become increasingly important. It was introduced in 2006, when Russia ratified the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism and had to bring its national legislation in line with European norms. Fifteen years later, after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia was expelled from the Council of Europe, but the article stayed in the Code – and is now one of the main repressive tools of the Putin regime. Over the past six years, from 2018 to 2023, 1,560 people have been tried under it. This is despite the fact that back in 2018 Putin claimed near total victory over domestic terrorism, and a few months before that ordered the withdrawal of troops from Syria, where Russia was formally fighting international terrorism. 

205 205.2

Before the war, the increase in convictions for “justification of terrorism” did not correlate with terrorist activity

Number of cases brought to trial under CC Art. 205 “Act of Terrorism” and number of convictions under CC Art. 205.2 “Public Justification of Terrorism”. Data from websites of military courts of first instance

The way law enforcers, especially the FSB, use the “terrorism” article to fight the internal enemy is vividly illustrated by the story of the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk. On 31 November 2018, 17-year-old college student and anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky carried a bomb into the regional headquarters of the FSB in the Arkhangelsk Oblast and blew himself up. Three FSB officers were wounded, the student himself died on the spot.

Shortly before the attack, Zhlobitsky’s alleged suicide note appeared in an anarchist Telegram chat room. In it he spoke about his motives: “[The FSB] trumps up cases and tortures people”. After the explosion, a wave of repression against those who sympathised with Zhlobitsky, either in reality or only according to the FSB, swept across the country (and still continues). One of the most famous episodes is the criminal case under CC Art. 205.2 against Svetlana Prokopyeva, a journalist from Pskov, initiated in February 2019 after her speech on Echo of Moscow and the release of an article on the website of Pskovskaya Lenta Novostey. The court has ruled that Prokopyeva justified Zhlobitsky’s actions, which including with the phrase “the FSB is out of line”, and that her attitude to the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk was expressed in a “personal negative attitude towards law enforcement agencies” . In the end, Prokopyeva was only sentenced to a fine of half a million rubles, possibly due to a widespread campaign in her support.

According to Proekt’s calculations, since 2018, 105 people have been persecuted in one form or another across the country because of the terrorist attack on the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk. Most of them were prosecuted under criminal articles.


How Russians were persecuted after the terrorist attack on the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk

Data: OVD-Info, Mediazona, Kommersant, 7×7, Roskomsvoboda, news agency reports

In almost all cases, administrative proceedings were initiated against those who went on pickets in support of Prokopyeva and other people who were tried for “justifying” Zhlobitsky’s actions . Anarchists and journalists, who may have been members of the same VK groups as Zhlobitsky, were searched and questioned. Repression under the “Zhlobitsky case” has spanned over many years: in the first year of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as many criminal cases related to the terrorist attack were initiated as in its immediate aftermath back in 2018.

How the FSB persecutes Russians after the explosion in Arkhangelsk

Since 2018, law enforcers have initiated at least 56 cases on justification of terrorism related to the Arkhangelsk bomb attack, dozens of people have been subjected to administrative prosecution, searches, checks and other types of pressure from the state. In many cases, verdicts are still pending and the FSB is still initiating new ones years after the terrorist attack. 

There is another particularly high-profile recent repressive story connected with the Zhlobitsky case. Almost five years after the Arkhangelsk bombing, Moscow mathematician Azat Miftakhov became a defendant in a case of justifiying Zhlobitsky’s actions. First, back in 2021, he was sentenced to six years in prison for setting fire to a United Russia office. Due to the time spent in the pre-trial detention centre and the reduction of his sentence on appeal, his term ended on 4 September 2023. Right as he was leaving the colony, Miftakhov was detained again by law enforcers on a new criminal case under CC Art. 205.2 for justifying Zhlobitsky’s actions. 

According to the testimony of prosecution witnesses, the mathematician defended Zhlobitsky while watching TV in the colony, and after serving time he allegedly intended to go to Ukraine to fight against the Russian invasion there. Miftakhov allegedly said all this to two cellmates, Yevgeny Trushkov and Rufan Gadzhimuratov. Their testimonies became the basis for the new case . Apparently, both witnesses were manipulated by the law enforcers. 

Trushkov was serving time for gang rape . By his early thirties, he had accumulated a collection of convictions for carjacking, petrol theft, and stealing a TV set . Having become close to Miftakhov in the colony, Trushkov gave the FSB the necessary testimony against the mathematician. Why he did this is unknown, but the second witness was generously rewarded.

In March 2023, Gadzhimuradov was sentenced to two years and two months in a penal colony for robbery and beating a woman . But just six months after his conviction and 10 days after Miftakhov’s arrest in the new case, he was granted parole . Miftakhov, in turn, now faces up to five years in a penal colony.

The scheme looks well-established: in 2019, prisoners were also used to initiate a case against St. Petersburg resident Pavel Zlomnov . Zlomnov’s cellmates claimed that he recited poetry about Zhlobitsky while watching a report about him on TV. 

Convicts are not the only source of dependent witnesses for the FSB. Servicemen have been used in the same way. In 2018, Maxim Smolnikov (aka Xadad), an artist from Khabarovsk, published a comment on social media in which he questioned the reasons for Zhlobitsky’s actions: “He [Zhlobitsky] was pushed to this suicidal act by state repression,” and called the death of the assailant “too high a price” .

To punish the artist, the FSB brought in two young servicemen from the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya) – 24-year-old conscript Stepan Zyablitsky and 20-year-old contract serviceman Vladislav Kanakaev, who joined a military unit in Khabarovsk in July 2020, that is, two years after the Arkhangelsk bombing. Judging by their testimony, neither one nor the other was acquainted with Smolnikov or even interested in his work. During their testimony to the investigators and confrontation with Smolnikov, they were unable to recall the approximate content of the comment in question and the accompanying picture . In his testimony, Kanakaev even spilled the beans on how he found out about the comment. In his own words, Kanakaev “was summoned by FSB officers to their office, where they showed him a post on the VK social network, consisting of a drawing and some text” in which “the actions of [Zhlobitsky] were justified by the fact that the FSB officers were trumping up cases, threatening and pressuring him, leaving the man with no other choice but to blow up the building”. In other words, over the two years since Smolnikov published his comment, the only people who saw it as a justification of terrorism and incitement of hatred towards the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs were members of the Rosgvardia, who had learnt about the comment “in the office of the FSB officers”. 

As a result, Smolnikov was fined 300,000 rubles, which he cannot pay – his bank accounts were blocked, as after the verdict he was put on the list of terrorists and extremists.


Criminal cases for mentioning Zhlobitsky are being initiated everywhere, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok

Data: OVD-Info, Mediazona, Kommersant, 7×7, Roskomsvoboda, news agency reports

The FSB caught people justifying Zhlobitsky’s actions all over the country. But not once did the investigation report that they had detained his accomplices or instigators. All publicly available criminal cases were initiated for public statements.


Reasons for initiation of criminal proceedings on justification of the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk

Data: OVD-Info, Mediazona, Kommersant, 7×7, Roskomsvoboda, news agency reports

The cases of Prokopyeva, Miftakhov and Smolnikov are at the very least widely known. Some of the defendants in the Zhlobitsky-related cases remain nameless, as do hundreds of other Russians convicted of “justifying terrorism”. Russian courts conceal information about nearly a third of such cases – the names of the defendants are replaced with <Information concealed> and the verdicts are not published.  For example, in September 2021, the Chita branch of the FSB reported that a local resident had been convicted for commenting online about Zhlobitsky’s terrorist attack – allegedly, “the person under investigation repeatedly expressed threats to representatives of the law enforcement bloc, related not only to the life and health of employees, but also to the integrity of buildings and structures” . However, neither his name nor the name of his lawyer or the relatives of the man who was sentenced to six years in a penal colony could be found in open sources. There is a criminal case, but against whom and for what it was initiated remains unknown.

The article on “justification of terrorism” became particularly popular with law enforcers after the outbreak of the war – it is now used more often than many other articles, which will be described in the next chapter.

205.2 207.3 280.3

“Justification of terrorism” remains the main article for “military censorship” 

Number of people convicted under the respective articles. Data from websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court, first instance

Conclusion Three

War to some, 10 years in penal colony to others

More than 13,000 people have already been tried under the laws introduced in Russia in connection with the war, 4,500 of them military personnel

Russia introduced “military censorship” after the start of the war, but the authorities were preparing for it well in advance. The State Duma first considered a law on the dissemination of “fake news” about the army back in May 2018. That seemed strange, because officially the army was not fighting at that time: the troops had been withdrawn from Syria for almost six months, and the authorities continued to deny the presence of Russian soldiers and military equipment in Donbass. Apparently, this is why the bill was sent for revision after its first reading and soon forgotten. 

But in early March 2022, on the tenth day of the full-scale war against Ukraine, it was not only pulled out of oblivion, but also supplemented with a penalty for disseminating “knowingly false information” about embassies, prosecutors’ offices, the Rosgvardiya and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The whole process, from voting to the President’s signature, only took two days. 

By the beginning of 2024 , 273 criminal cases had already been initiated under this article , with 145 cases reaching the courts (and thus being included in our count) and 148 people being charged. Apparently, the remaining 130 cases have not yet reached the courts. Despite the very vague wording of this article, there have not yet been any acquittals under it so far. Cases that were dismissed during the trial or returned to prosecutors for further investigation were always returned to the courts and sentences on them were eventually handed down. 

Lawmakers later introduced seven more new articles from the “military censorship” package into the Criminal and the Code of Administrative Offences. In 2022-2023, 8,797 people have been tried under them.

How people in Russia are tried for speaking out about the war

Criminal Cases

Administrative cases

Data: Number of people convicted for respective criminal and administrative offences. Data from the websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court, first instance

With the advent of wartime, in addition to the fight against dissenters, the Russian authorities faced many other challenges for which there were simply no suitable articles in the modern Criminal Code – they had to be invented anew or reconstructed from old Soviet practices.


How Ukrainians fighting against Russia are declared terrorists

Judging by criminal case statistics, there have been almost as many terrorist attacks in Russia in 2023 as during the Chechen wars.  “From 1990 to 2006, more than 70 brutal terrorist attacks were committed in our country. They have included blowing up houses, planes and trains, mass hostage-taking, and bandit raids on the country’s regions,” FSB head Alexander Bortnikov said in 2021. There are no more precise statistics on terrorist attacks in Russia: the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, which is headed by Bortnikov, does not publish such data. Instead, they regularly report on the work done to prevent “acts of terrorism”: law enforcers allegedly prevented 146 of them in 2023. This is a record in the history of such reports. .

The number of criminal cases for “acts of terrorism” in Russia has risen sharply since the start of the war

Number of cases under CC Art. 205 “Act of Terrorism” brought to the courts of first instance between 2018 and 2023

Of the 111 criminal cases on “acts of terrorism” in 2023, at least 63 cases are directly related to the war . The defendants include those who set fire to military commissariats, members of intelligence and sabotage groups, residents of the occupied territories who were allegedly preparing to blow something up or allegedly did blow something up. According to Mediazona’s calculations as of July 2023, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, military commissariats and administrative buildings have been set on fire at least 113 times in Russia.

Almost one in five people tried for acts of terrorism in Russia in 2023 are Ukrainian natives .

For instance, in the summer of 2022, Article 275.1 “Confidential Cooperation with a Foreign Power, International or Foreign Organisation” was added to the Russian Criminal Code. The reason for that may have been the widely discussed case of journalist Ivan Safronov, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison under the article “Treason” for writing several analytical memos for a Czech client based on open data. Now you can get eight years for any secret contact with a foreigner – roughly the same as you could get in Soviet times for “suspicious connections” with foreigners. In 2023, seven cases have already been brought to court under this article. 

In September 2022, the article for voluntary surrender also returned to the Criminal Code – just like during and after the Great Patriotic War, when Soviet soldiers who returned from German concentration camps were immediately sent to the Gulag. The punishment under this new article is quite in Stalinist fashion: up to 10 years . However, no one has been tried under this article in 2022-2023. There are also practically no cases under Article 356.1 “Looting”, which was introduced at the same time.

Articles other than “military censorship” introduced into the Criminal Code after the outbreak of the full-scale war against Ukraine

Number of people tried under corresponding Criminal Code articles. Data from courts of general jurisdiction, Moscow City Court and military courts, first instance.

By 2023, one of the main problems was the mass refusal of contract and mobilised soldiers to fight in Ukraine. Therefore, in late 2022, the authorities toughened a whole set of articles under which people are tried for breach of discipline in the troops. Harsher penalties were now introduced for offences committed during “mobilisation”, “martial law”, “wartime”, “armed conflict” or “hostilities”.

Criminal Code articles toughened after the start of the war

Data: Criminal Code of the Russian Federation dated 13.06.1996 No. 63-FZ (as amended on 25.12.2023)

It didn’t help, though: the number of cases under articles related to dereliction of duty rose sharply in 2023.

332 338 339 337

Russian soldiers refuse to fight in Ukraine en masse

Abandonment of military unit
Failure to execute an order, desertion or evasion of military duties by pretending to be ill

Data: Military courts, first instance

In total, 4642 people have been tried under the new, repressive parts of the Criminal Code articles in the army in 2022-2023 . The courts are not deterred by the fact that Russia is not formally engaged in any war, martial law has never been introduced in the country, and the mobilisation was described as only “partial”. Sentences under the pretext of “armed conflict or hostilities” are handed down in the harshest terms. 

For example, in 2023, soldier Roman Egorov escaped four times from a unit located in the Khabarovsk Krai. Three times he, after taking a break from service, “domestic problems” and “quarrels with his wife”, would voluntarily come to turn himself in at the military commandant’s office, and on the fourth time the military police found him earlier. Egorov was drinking at the house of his acquaintance L. when he heard a knock on the door. Frightened, he jumped out of the window, but was caught in the street and taken into custody. Apparently, the prospect of being sent to war in Ukraine did not frighten Egorov: in his last word he asked for a non-custodial sentence “so that he could prove his correction by continuing his military service in the zone of [the special military operation]” . But the court, located 6,500 kilometres from the front line in Ukraine, cited a “period of partial mobilisation” sentencing Egorov to ten years in a strict regime penal colony.

Even the servicemen who escaped in November 2022 from a firing range in the Luhansk region with their service weapons received a lesser sentence of 6.5 to 7 years in a strict regime penal colony. Drafted from the Kaliningrad region during the “partial mobilisation”, the eight men initially tried to challenge the conscription in court. But after being sent to the Donbas, on the eve of their deployment to the combat zone, they escaped from the unit together with the weapons they had been issued. The first thing they did was to go to the market, buy some civilian clothes and change into them. Then they hitchhiked to the Moscow Oblast, where “realising the impossibility of leaving for the Kaliningrad Oblast due to the geographical peculiarities of its location”, they went to the police and handed over their entire “arsenal”:

— three AK-74 assault rifles with 10 magazines;

— one PK machine gun with 4 magazines; 

— one PKM machine gun with a spare barrel;

— one bayonet knife.

Their sentence is a document of an epoch. It shows how things really are in the Russian army: the mobilised men were issued weapons manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s with a very meagre supply of ammunition. The expert acknowledged that the machine gun, which was supposed to have a spare barrel, was inoperable and only capable of firing single shots.


How Russia strives for discipline in the army

Before the war, courts often gave lenient punishment to those soldiers who were late for formation, did not return from leave or went AWOL – they were tried under Article 337 “Unauthorised Abandonment of a Military Unit”. Conscripts were sentenced to a short arrest, and contract soldiers could be suspended from service altogether, which many took advantage of. However, over time, the courts have become harsher towards this type of offence. While in 2018 the courts dismissed every tenth case under this article, this proportion has decreased over the years, and become negligible in wartime.

In 2023, 4,379 cases on abandonment of a military unit were initiated and only 6 of them were later dropped

Data: military court websites, first instance

It was through going AWOL two months before the war that Ivan Sergeev (name changed for the safety of the hero) left the army. He signed a contract in 2019, but soon realised that he did not want to continue his service. For abandoning the unit, he was sentenced to a six-month ban on serving in the army with a 10% deduction of earnings in favour of the state. . After the announcement of partial mobilisation, Sergeev, having recently completed his military service, could have re-enlisted in the army and gone to Ukraine. But another criminal case helped him avoid this fate: he was sentenced to a 300,000-ruble fine under the article on “justification of terrorism” for his comments under YouTube videos . And terrorists are not accepted into the army in Russia.

Another interesting observation is that Russian courts impose relatively mild penalties for an open refusal to fight in Ukraine, voiced at a formation when an order is given. The average sentence in such cases is two years and three months in a penal colony . Before the war, the number of cases for disobeying orders was negligible: between 2018 and 2021, only five such cases were brought to the courts, resulting in fines ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 rubles

Among those who were tried for disobeying orders in 2023, only one serviceman, fearing criminal punishment, changed his mind and went to war after all. Adilkhan Magomedov, a contract serviceman from Buryatia, twice refused to be sent to Ukraine for health reasons. However, experts deemed Magomedov fit for military service with minor restrictions, and in December 2023 he went to the front, after which the criminal case against him was dropped. 


How Donbas residents get fined for trying to get to the “real Russia”

A curious group of cases has turned up in the bowels of Russian court data. Residents of the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine – the territories that in autumn 2022 were solemnly incorporated into Russia – are being tried for attempts to enter or pass through this very Russia. The thing here is that there is a martial law in effect in the Donbas, introduced by Putin immediately after the annexation, and one can only cross the border towards Rostov and Belgorod oblasts through official checkpoints. The penalties in these cases are relatively small – from 500 to 900 rubles in fines or a few days of arrest . But one Donbas resident had his “instrument of offence” – a moped – confiscated by a Russian court. The most absurd thing in these trials is that when making a judgement, the court refers to the border treaty signed by Ukraine and the Russian Federation in 2003. In total, courts of general jurisdiction in Rostov and Belgorod oblasts have considered at least 20 such cases.

There are probably many more repressive cases related to the war: not only do the courts conceal information about the defendants and do not publish sentences on repressive articles of the Criminal Code, but also not all cases in general appear in the records of Russian courts.

Conclusion Four

Pillars of society

The number of cases for insubordination, insult and violence towards law enforcement officers is growing in Russia – over the past six years the courts have received almost 600,000 cases involving such offences.

6 May 2012. One of the largest street protests of the entire period of Vladimir Putin’s rule. During the rally on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow, the police provoked a crowd crush, which turned into clashes, followed by mass detentions and the so-called “Bolotnaya case”, i.e. a series of criminal cases against opposition activists designed to dampen the fervour of anti-Putin protests. 

In the May clashes on Bolotnaya Square, only law enforcement officers were injured – one of the articles of the Criminal Code under which defendants in the “Bolotnaya case” were tried was for violence against law enforcement officers (CC Art. 318). For example, Maksim Luzyanin was sentenced to 4.5 years in a penal colony under this article . According to the prosecution, he “broke through the cordon”, “kicked police officers” and “used strangulation techniques”. The only documented damage to health was “chipped tooth enamel” of a policeman with whom Luzyanin got into a scuffle. The phrase “chipped tooth enamel” became a symbol of police brutality at that time. Now such cases no longer surprise anyone. 

CC Articles 319 and 318 (insult and violence against a law enforcement officer), as well as CAO Article 19.3 (failure to follow a lawful order of a law enforcement officer) were and still are used to punish not only and not so much “political criminals”. The bulk of those convicted under these offences are ordinary debauchees, drivers who cause traffic accidents, and those who resist arrest. Here is a typical example of one of the published verdicts. In 2018, a young man surnamed Rzhanitsin was waiting for the night train at the Anapa railway station. Police officers approached him and asked him to show his documents. Rzhanitsin refused, which constituted an offence under CAO Art. 19.3. The police detained the man and took him to the station. There he suddenly “grabbed the uniform shirt of police officer P.I.A. with his hands, and then grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground, which caused bodily injuries to P.I.A. in the form of a bruise on the left side of the front surface of the chest and an abrasion on the back surface of the right elbow joint”. This, in turn, constitutes a criminal offence under CC Art. 318. As a result, Rzhanitsin was fined 100 thousand rubles. 

The above-mentioned articles are an important marker of aggravation of relations between citizens and the authorities. 

Criminal cases are often brought to court under two articles at once – for insult and subsequent violence against a law enforcement officer. And there has been a very indicative change here. In recent years, there has been a growing bias in favour of the article on violence against a law enforcement officer over the milder article on insult. In other words, it’s either that citizens have become angrier towards the law enforcers, or that the authorities have started to punish people more often under the heavier article as an admonition to all those who might raise a hand against them.

318 319

Up until 2022, the number of cases for violence against police officers has been rising, while the number of insult cases has been falling

Data: Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation

There is another very likely reason, however, which is the lowering of the threshold of what law enforcers and courts consider violence against themselves. This applies to both everyday and political cases. Since 2018, the number of cases under CC Art. 318, where defendants are tried not for specific actions, but only for verbal threats, has increased. Moreover, a sharp spike in their number occurred in 2021 – after Putin’s presidential term count has been reset.

318 319

On average, 475 court cases per year are initiated not for violence, but merely for  verbal threats against a law enforcement officer

Based on analysis of more than 27,000 published sentences collected from the websites of regional courts and Moscow City Court, first instance, 2018-2023

The criminal case against Samariddin Radzhabov, a participant in protests for the admission of opposition candidates to the Moscow City Duma elections in 2019, is a striking example of the lowering of the threshold of violence against law enforcement officers (at least in relation to political prisoners). Radzhabov was convicted merely for threatening a police officer – he threw a plastic bottle near the law enforcers and thus frightened them. “Linnik D. A., Kombarov A. A. and Vnukov A. Yu. […] perceived the actions of Radzhabov S. S. as a real threat of violence against them, because the bottle thrown by him [Radzhabov S. S.] […] created a sharp impact sound when it fell on the pavement, which mimicked the sound of destruction of an unknown object with the danger of causing bodily harm,” read the files of the criminal case against Radzhabov, who was eventually sentenced to a fine. At the time, this was tantamount to an acquittal – Radzhabov did not even have to pay anything because of the time he had spent in pre-trial detention, and the court handed down the sentence against the backdrop of a widespread public campaign in his support.

Several other disturbing trends have emerged in recent years.  Firstly, courts have become less likely to drop cases under CC Art. 318

Secondly, the proportion of women being tried in Russia for insult and violence against law enforcers is growing . In 2023, one in five people tried under this article was female. 

Here is an example of one of the criminal cases. Perm resident Nina Tyurina had a conflict with a traffic police officer near her own home . Tyurina was charged under CC Art. 319 for shouting obscenities at the officer, and under CC Art. 318 for “hitting [the officer] in the chest area”. The patrolman “suffered physical pain”, and neither Tyurina’s repentance, nor compensation for damages, nor a letter of apology to the police chief was enough to mend it. The prosecutor was adamant and objected to closing the criminal case without a verdict, because “in this case the aims of the punishment will not be achieved” . The end result was a 30,000 ruble fine and a criminal conviction for the fact that the woman had an argument with a policeman.

318 319

People are most often tried for insults and violence against law enforcement officers in Chukotka and Sakhalin, the Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs, and Magadan Oblast

Number of cases per 100,000 adults

Data: number of cases – websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court, first instance; population – Rosstat, January 2023.

Crimea has been annexed by Russia since 2014

The number of cases under CAO Art. 19.3 “Failure to Follow a Lawful Order of a Law Enforcement Officer” is also growing. Over the past six years, more than 543,000 cases under this article have reached the courts of general jurisdiction.


The number of people punished for disobeying law enforcers grew at an average annual rate of 7% until 2022

Data on the number of cases from the websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court, first instance

The punishment under this article was toughened in February 2021, after mass protests in support of Alexei Navalny. Previously, the minimum fine for disobeying a police officer was 500 rubles, but now it is 2,000 rubles. . For comparison, the fines under the first parts of COA 20.1 “Disorderly Conduct” have not changed in any way during Putin’s most recent term: gross violation of public order is still punishable by a fine of 500-1000 rubles.

The percentage of cases under CAO Art. 19.3 dismissed for various reasons has also decreased in recent years – from a paltry almost 2% to an even more paltry 1%. 


How a “concentration camp” for alcoholics was created in the Altai Republic

When examining cases under CAO Art. 19.3 “Failure to Follow a Lawful Order of a Law Enforcement Officer”, we noticed a number of anomalies. For instance, the leaders in terms of the absolute number of cases are no only the densely populated Krasnodar Krai and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast , but also for some reason the sparsely populated Altai Republic. It became the absolute leader in the number of cases per capita. . Over the past six years, the courts of this region with a population of 147,000 adults as of 1 January 2022 have received more than 25,000 cases under CAO Art. 19.3. And in the record year of 2023, each judge in the Altai Republic had an average of 170 such cases. .

The Altai Republic became the absolute leader in the number of cases for disobeying law enforcement officers per capita: from 2018 to 2023, the region’s courts have received 25 thousand such cases

Number of cases per 100 thousand adults

Data: number of cases – websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court, first instance; population – Rosstat, January 2023.

Crimea has been annexed by Russia since 2014

But such productivity of judges is not the most surprising thing in this region. Many people there have been convicted under CAO Art. 19.3 dozens, and some – more than a hundred times . Here are just a few local “record holders”. Fifty-year-old homeless and alcoholic Sergei Astanin was brought to administrative charges at least 130 times over the past six years by the Maiminsky district court of the Altai Republic – consistently one or two times each month. Each time the court gave him several days of arrest. Construction worker Leonid Abulov has been tried for drunken behaviour more than 90 times. Alcoholic and thief Sergei Kadochnikov – more than 70 times. 

To be fair, it should be noted that similar cases occur in other regions of Russia as well. Marat Zhumabaev from the Orenburg Oblast and Nikolai Laskovenko from the Komi Republic have each been convicted under CAO Art. 19.3 more than 80 times. Among women, the first place is held by Svetlana Udaltsova from the Kursk Oblast, who has repeatedly appeared in criminal reports for theft, death threats and infliction of injuries – she has also been arrested for drunken behaviour more than 50 times.

The more frequent application of articles on violence against law enforcers cannot be attributed to either demographics or the peculiarities of statistical accounting. Over the five years from 2018 to 2022, Russia’s adult population fell by more than 1 million people.

Changes in Russia’s population

Millions of people

Data: Rosstat, 2018-2022 – population recalculation from the results of the 2020 All-Russian Census, 2023 – number of men and women, excluding territories annexed in 2022

Almost 90% of the “victims” are Interior Ministry staff (police and traffic police officers) and members of the Rosgvardiya. Their number has hardly changed since 2018, so the increase in cases cannot be explained by the logic that police officers get beaten more often because there are more of them. 

Another hypothesis that could explain the increase in both criminal and administrative cases is that people in Russia have become so angry that they are attacking law enforcement officers more often. To test this hypothesis, we examined the number of cases under another common administrative article – CAO Art. 20.1 “Disorderly Conduct”. More than 1.03 million cases have been initiated under it over the past six years. And, as you can see from the graph below, there is now less “disorderly conduct” in Russia compared to 2018.

20.1 19.3

There were 23% fewer cases for “disorderly conduct” in 2023 than in 2018

CAO RF. Data – websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court, first instance

Moscow stands out in particular: the capital, where almost one seventh of the country’s population lives, has almost no cases of disorderly conduct. It accounts for about 2% of cases brought to the courts under CAO Art. 20.1. 

Thus, the absolute number of hooligans has decreased since 2018, while the number of administrative cases for disobedience to law enforcement officers under CAO Art. 19.3 and criminal cases for violence against law enforcement officers under CC Art. 318 has increased.

20.1 ч. 3−5

How the number of people penalised for insulting the authorities on the Internet is growing

Among those convicted for “disorderly conduct”, the number of people fined for insulting the authorities on the Internet (parts 3,4 and 5 of CAO Art. 20.1, which was introduced in March 2019) has increased. In total, courts have received at least 792 cases under this offence for the entire period, with only 10 of them in Moscow.

The number of cases for insulting the authorities online has doubled in the first year of the war as compared to the previous year

Data: courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court 

212 212.1

Who and how is being tried for mass riots in Russia

“We don’t want Paris-like event happening here.” This is how Vladimir Putin commented on the arrest of 77-year-old human rights activist and dissident Lev Ponomarev on 11 December 2018. The court sent him to a detention centre for 25 days for his Facebook post calling for a rally in support of the defendants in the “New Greatness” and “Network” cases. By “Paris-like events,” Putin was referring to mass protests by the so-called “yellow waistcoats,” primarily against higher petrol taxes in France. The protests turned into months-long riots, during which 11 people were killed, protesters rampaged through buildings, threw Molotov cocktails at police, and security forces used water cannons. During the riots, the Arc de Triomphe museum was looted

“Paris-like events”, i.e. protest actions similar in number, duration and destructiveness, have never happened in Putin’s Russia. At the same time, criminal cases for mass riots are initiated regularly. Between 2018 and 2023, 294 people have been tried under them.


2021 set a record for the number of “mass riots” in Russia.

Data: number of cases – websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court, first instance; population – Rosstat, January 2022.

Of the nearly fifty cases that went to court in the record year of 2021, only half have had verdicts published. They shed light on what Russians were prosecuted for:

* In Moscow, where the largest rallies in support of Navalny took place, people were not tried for mass riots.

For instance, Nikolai Volkov from Kostroma was sentenced to 10 months in prison for, among other things, making negative comments about the family of Vladimir Putin’s friends and the president himself: “Truth be told, our president and his subordinates are pussies, thieves, thieves, crooks, who should be publicly burned like Fascists, and so is Rotenberg, who gets 560 billion rubles a year from the State Treasury off the Platon system. I want to vomit on all these assholes. Putin, you cocksucker, while all this is happening, you’re too scared to take real questions during the direct line…” . In his other comments, Volkov was outraged about the economic situation and called for a crackdown on the country’s leadership, but among the posts published as part of the verdict there was not a single call to take to the streets at a specific time or hour. Of course, no one smashed shop windows or threw Molotov cocktails after these posts. Moreover, these are not independent posts, but only comments on other news on VK, for example, in the “We are from the USSR” group.

Conclusion Five 

The land of never-ending COVID

Up until recently, Russia continued to try citizens for violating COVID restrictions – between April 2022 and December 2023, courts have handed down sentences in 159,000 such cases.

In mid-August 2022, Ksenia Serebryakova returned home to Magadan from Turkey. Almost a year later, in June 2023, she was summoned to court for violating COVID restrictions. It turned out that before flying to Russia, Ksenia had forgotten to fill out a questionnaire from the Russian Federal State Agency for Health and Consumer Rights (Rospotrebnadzor) for Russians arriving from abroad. 

By the time the judgement was handed down, COVID restrictions had already been lifted for over a year in both the Magadan Oblast, where Ksenia lives, and in Moscow, where she made a transfer (in both regions this happened in early March 2022). And in May 2023, a month before the trial, the World Health Organisation announced that COVID-19 was no longer a worldwide emergency threat. Despite all this Serebryakova was fined 15 thousand rubles.

6.3 20.6.1

Between April 2022 and December 2023, courts have penalised 159,000 people for violating COVID restrictions

Number of cases per 100,000 adults

Data: number of cases – websites of courts of general jurisdiction and Moscow City Court, first instance; population – Rosstat, January 2022.

Crimea has been annexed by Russia since 2014

Rospotrebnadzor, police and courts continued to penalise Russians for violating quarantine measures across the country until last summer (and legal entities are still being fined to this day). Between April 2022 and the end of 2023, about 159,000 individuals and legal entities have been penalised in Russia in cases related to COVID-19 .

Naturally, the authorities used anti-COVID measures to combat civil activity. For instance, in March 2023 a court in Krasnoyarsk fined a local resident Pavel Emelyanov, who in autumn 2022 went out on a solitary picket with a poster “Hug me if you feel bad”. After only 20 minutes, local police patrols received instructions to “check the citizen”. Emelyanov was detained under the ban on public events due to COVID-19. At the same time, just three weeks before the picket, a rally in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was held in Krasnoyarsk – and no one even raised an eyebrow at such an event.

* * *

In 2013, Alexei Navalny received his first politically motivated conviction in the Kirovles case under the “economic” Article 160 (“Misappropriation or Embezzlement”). Had he not later been prosecuted for extremism and rehabilitation of Nazism, he would not have been included in our statistics – politically motivated cases under economic and violent articles were not included in our study. But they do exist. And we can only guess how many political prisoners are actually sitting in Russian pre-trial detention centres and penal colonies on far-fetched and most unexpected charges. Only one thing is clear: in terms of repression, Putin has long ago surpassed almost all Soviet general secretaries, except for one – Joseph Stalin.

Editors – Mikhail Rubin, Roman Badanin
Factchecker – Vitaly Soldatskikh