Friday, May 5, 2023

Moscow Closing SOVA Center for Actions It Earlier was Awarded Presidential Grants to Take, Verkhovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 1 – The Putin regime is seeking to close down the SOVA analytic center which carefully tracks developments in Russia regarding radical nationalism, religion and society, and the application of anti-extremist legislation in Russia invoking as justification SOVA activities for which the human rights organization earlier received Presidential grants.

            In the measured language that characterizes all of SOVA’s reporting, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the head of the embattled group, reports the authorities are seeking to close his group precisely because it is registered as a regional organization but has acted beyond the borders of the Moscow region (

            He notes that this is the third such case in which the powers that be have used this argument. Earlier, they applied it against the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Chelovek i Zakon organization. And he says that “many have the impression that the authorities are trying to liquidate all functioning human rights organizations.”

            But according to Verkhovsky, it isn’t likely that the powers have set themselves such an ambitious goal, especially as those who are active in these organizations will continue to function under different titles. To stop all this, he points out, will require a completely different level of repression” than the Kremlin is now deploying.

            More likely, he suggests, the Kremlin wants to “constantly increase pressure on these people, prevent them from working, and intimidate both activists and those who are thinking about joining them. Doing that is a more achievable goal, and it will reduce the volume and quality of criticism of the regime from the perspective of human rights.”

            In each case, of course, Verkhovsky continues, one needs to ask precisely what is going on. It could be that attacks on groups like SOVA are random or partof a plan to develop a new method of repression. It could be because SOVA has increased its criticism at a time when the authorities have become less tolerant of any criticism.

            “Or it could be that the defense of those who do not conform to the official notions of “tradition,” as in the religious sector, have become more annoying to the regime.” But “maybe it’s something else entirely: we often find it difficult to understand what motivates people whose idea of reality is shaped almost exclusively from memos from law enforcement agencies.”

            Because there are so many possibilities, Verkhovsky concludes, it is important not to “get carried away with extrapolation” from any particular case. That works only in the very short term and may not explain what is really going on.

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