Amid demands from thousands of protesters, the Russian government on Aug. 16 released two young women they had jailed in March. Anna Pavlikov was 17 at the time of her arrest; Maria Dubovik was 19. They had been charged with what the Russian government described as using social media for “involvement in a terrorist community,” and were part of a group called Novoe Velichie or New Greatness.
The day before the two women’s release on house arrest, protesters took to Moscow’s streets for the “March of the Mothers.” The parents of teens who had been jailed — 10 in all, including Pavlikov and Dubovik — allege that Russian officials entrapped their children, detaining them on false charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
The teens argue that they were not interested in overthrowing the government. While they acknowledge they posted comments critical of the government, they argue that they were merely venting, not plotting.
Authorities may have been particularly irritated because the young women were using the chat application Telegram to vent. Telegram is a media app popular because it encrypts messages so that only the sender and receiver can read them. The Russian government has tried to shut down Telegram recently, because whistleblowers have used the platform to send tips to journalists or to Navalny. But Russians have protested the government’s attempts to block the platform.
The teens’ lawyer insists that the charges that the teens were trying to overthrow the government false. According to an investigation by OVD-Info, an organization that monitors politically motivated arrests inside Russia, a Federal Security Service (FSB) agent actually founded New Greatness, fully funded the group, stirred up the members’ emotions, gave youths meeting space and trained selected members on the use of explosive devices.
Because Telegram doesn’t allow children to create their own account, Anna had to use her mother’s account. This gives her mother, Yulia Pavlikova, full access to the records.
Pavlikova describes the entrapment as a step-by-step process. First, the organizer Ruslan D. began by building trust with the youths. Then, she says, after encouraging complaints about the government, he pushed them to move beyond talking, organized a meeting at a McDonald’s, and bought them a printer. Soon they were making fliers and passing them out. None of it would have happened, Pavlikova claims, if this FSB agent had not organized and provoked them.
The fervor around the arrests are indicative of the growing number of young Russians protesting the government. Will this generation, which has grown up under Putin, be subdued by authoritarian tactics? Or will they react against them, as the Kremlin apparently fears?