The sentence is especially chilling as Russia is presently applying the same measures to instil an entirely false version of its war of aggression against Ukraine
A court in Russia has convicted architect Sergei Volkov of so-called ‘rehabilitation of Nazism on the Internet’ and imposed a 2 million rouble fine. The charge was especially shocking as Volkov was prosecuted over his entirely accurate account of the collaboration between the USSR and Nazi Germany for the first two years of World War II, and his criticism of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in connection with the Siege of Leningrad. The current Russian regime, under president Vladimir Putin, has long used dubious legislation and increasingly politicized enforcement bodies and courts for its efforts to try to forcibly rewrite history. This ‘trial’ is especially worth noting since Russia is presently applying the same measures to instil an entirely false version of its war of aggression against Ukraine both at home and on occupied Ukrainian territory.
As well as running the Portal architectural firm in Ivanovo, 45-year-old Volkov also had a Telegram channel with about two thousand subscribers. In May 2021, he posted on Telegram part of a discussion that he had had on the social network Odnoklassniki about Stalin and the Siege of Leningrad. He had accused Stalin of having abandoned the city, “as unneeded and virtually taken [by the Nazis]. Although there was the possibility of getting food supplies in.” He further asserted that the Nuremberg Tribunal had withdrawn charges against the Nazis over the blockade, and asked why that was likely to have been.
He also wrote that “Stalin and Hitler were firm allies and German national socialism was hailed in a fairly upbeat manner in the USSR until 1941” [specifically 22 June 1941 when the Nazis invaded Soviet Ukraine]. “And not merely lauded. Colossal resources went to Germany for it to wage war in Europe. Comrade Stalin himself stirred up that turmoil, not anticipating that it would backfire against him.”
The words about the Soviet Union’s collaboration with Nazi Germany are entirely factual and can be backed by any amount of evidence. It may be harder to prove or disprove Volkov’s position regarding the Siege of Leningrad, but that is true of very many historical events, and hardly a reason for criminal prosecution.
In May 2022, the FSB carried out a search of Volkov’s home. He was charged with ‘rehabilitation of Nazism on the Internet” under Article 354.1 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code. The Law on ‘Rehabilitation of Nazism’, introducing this new criminal charge, was signed into force on 5 May, 2014. The new article envisaged a sentence of up to three years imprisonment for what was termed ‘public denial or approval of the facts established by the sentence of the Nuremberg Tribunal’. The same norm made it possible to prosecute somebody for “spreading knowingly false information about the activities of the USSR during the years of the Second World War”, without providing any clarity as to how something was determined to be “knowingly false”. The same norm has, for example, been used by a court in Perm and upheld by Russia’s Supreme Court, to prosecute Vladimir Luzgin for writing, quite correctly, that both Nazi Germany and the USSR invaded Poland in September 1939. The law had been condemned by the Sova Centre as aimed at stifling historical discussion and restricting freedom of speech, and this has, indeed, proven to be the case. The excuse that something was not said at the Nuremberg Trials is absurd, both because of the political grip that Stalin’s Soviet Union had over the proceedings and simply because many of the events required years of extensive investigation. The current regime is, however, using this as a means of preventing investigation, and is moving backwards, for example, towards full denial of Stalin’s responsibility for the Katyn Massacre, as well as other crimes committed during WWII. In April 2022, Putin signed into force legislation imposing a ban on any public statements likening the roles played by the USSR and Nazi Germany in World War II and prohibiting “the denial of the decisive role of the Soviet people in the defeat of Nazi Germany and the humanitarian mission of the USSR in liberating the countries of Europe”.
Volkov asked for trial by jury (8 jury members in regional courts), with the first jury passing its verdict in February 2023. This was clearly not to the liking of ‘judge’ Alexei Plyukhanov from the Ivanovo Regional Court. He refused to read it out, and then claimed that one of the jury members might be biased, dissolved the entire jury and ordered a new trial. Volkov is surely not alone is suspecting that the jury had acquitted him, with this being the reason for such irregular behaviour.
In June the second jury found him guilty but deserving of a milder sentence. It is not clear whether the massive 2-million rouble fine which Plyukhanov imposed on 26 September was the sentence demanded by prosecutor Maria Budayeva.
Volkov will, of course, be filing an appeal, although the present climate and punitive measures applied to enforce Moscow’s false historical narrative leave few grounds for optimism.