Swastikas and Porn or: How Russian Cops Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet Crackdown

“The War Room” scene from the 1964 classic “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

“The War Room” scene from the 1964 classic “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

When the news website MediaZona reported in January 2016 that Russian police pad their solved-crime statistics by targeting young men who share pornography on social networks, it seemed like the quintessence of how Russia’s onerous new Internet regulations misallocate the country’s law-enforcement resources. But now this problem has a new perfect example, and it has to do with the Web’s other favorite obsession: Nazis.

Last month, a court in the Rostov region convicted a police officer of abusing his authority and forging evidence. According to his trial, Detective D. Eliseev reached out to a local man named A. Minaev on January 16, 2015, asking him to find someone in town who would agree to publish a swastika on their Vkontakte page, on the promise that the punishment would be the absolute minimum fine. (It’s unclear what monetary reward Eliseev offered in exchange.) Minaev had some experience in this sort of thing, having been fined twice the year before for sharing “extremist content” online, including images of swastikas.

Three days later, Eliseev asked Minaev to come to his office, where the detective told him that police were preparing to charge him with publishing a video online that allegedly violated Russia’s laws against extremism. Eliseev warned him that he would be jailed for at least 15 days, unless he accepted a strange deal: post another swastika online and accept a fine of 1,000 rubles ($15), which Eliseev promised to pay himself. When Minaev agreed, the detective took the man’s laptop, loaded his Vkontakte page, published a picture of a swastika, and then handed back the computer. Afterwards, Eliseev wrote up a police report and took a statement from Minaev, drafting the documents with the next day’s date.

Unbeknownst to the detective, however, Minaev recorded the whole exchange with a hidden microphone. A few days later, Minaev went to the district attorney’s office, which he learned wasn’t building any case against him. Prosecutors then convinced him to file charges against Detective Eliseev, and a new criminal investigation was underway.

Eliseev wasn’t out of tricks, though, and he soon persuaded Minaev to drop the charges, with the help of a little financial incentive. He even gave Minaev another microphone, asking him to record his next conversation with the prosecutors. Finishing this comedy of errors, Minaev then told the prosecutors about the microphone from Eliseev, and the district attorney outfitted him with yet another recording device (now the third one in Minaev’s arsenal), which he used to tape one last conversation with the detective.

According to the judge, Eliseev wanted to advance his career and win bonus pay by faking “time-consuming inspection work.” Nevertheless, he remains a free man. On June 17, 2016, a Rostov regional court sentenced Eliseev to two years and three months of probation, then granting him amnesty on the spot.

The human rights agency Sova, which tracks different kinds of hate crimes, says Detective Eliseev’s approach to policing extremism is typical in Russia. “Law enforcement officials on the ground are interested primarily in improving their quantitative measures,” the group writes.

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