Persecutions have occurred in Kamchatka Kray, Magadan, Sakha, Vladivostok, Birobidzhan, Khabarovsk, Kemerovo Oblast, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Omsk, Orenburg, Ufa, Perm, Kirov, Kostroma, Tatarstan, Saratov, Penza, Ivanovo Oblast, Kabardino-Balkaria, Smolensk Oblast, Oryol, Belgorod, Murmansk Oblast and Pskov.
Notably missing on this list are Moscow and St. Petersburg.
There are at least three reasons for this, all of which are important. First of all, groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses have historically had more success in smaller cities and more remote locations than in metropolitan centers; and consequently, there are relatively more of them in many of these areas than in Moscow or St. Petersburg.
At the same time, while the Jehovah’s Witnesses may be more successful in these areas, they are also likely to have fewer people beyond their ranks who support their rights, given the difference in views of the population in many parts of the periphery of Russian than of those in the major cities.
Second, the Putin regime, often but not always mindful of Western coverage of human rights abuses, finds it far easier to orchestrate such things far from the capital – and thus far from the prying eyes of Western journalists and diplomats almost all of whom live in Moscow and only rarely travel elsewhere.
As a result, many of Moscow’s most repressive moves – in the periphery – remain under the radar of all but those who are most focused on human rights issues.
And third, to the extent that the Stalin precedent holds, it is likely that the Kremlin views crackdowns against such groups in the periphery as a training ground for future repression in the center and then back to the periphery again. That possibility is the most insidious and dangerous, and it is one the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses suggests must be taken especially seriously.