Did the FSB use a neo-Nazi agent provocateur in their case against Russian anti-fascists?

After the first defendant in a high-profile terrorism investigation is sentenced, new evidence emerges that security services may have used an agent provocateur against Russian anti-fascists.

Tatyana Likhanova
31 January 2019


Ilya Shakursky. Source: Personal archive.

Since autumn 2017, the Russian security services have been conducting an investigation into alleged terrorism offences by Russian anarchists and anti-fascists. As a result, eleven people in St Petersburg and Penza have been charged in what is now known as the “Network” case – the security services claim that these men were part of an underground terrorist group seeking to sow disorder ahead of the 2018 Presidential Elections and Football World Cup.

Several of those detained claim that they were subject to torture by the Federal Security Service (FSB). For example, Viktor Filinkov describes how he was tortured with an electric shocker after being detained at St Petersburg Pulkovo Airport in January 2018. After being detained, Filinkov states that FSB officers placed him in a minivan, and then drove him around the city while torturing him into learning a forced confession.

In January 2019, the first sentence was handed down in this case. On 17 January, defendant Igor Shishkin received three and a half years for participation in a terrorist organisation. The defendant admitted his guilt and came to a pretrial agreement with the investigation. Most other defendants in this case have refuted their confessions, referring to the fact that they were tortured by FSB officers.

The following text, by Tatyana Likhanova of independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, describes the use of what appears to be an agent provocateur in the “Network Case”. This agent, who has attended the same sports club as one of the case’s investigators in Penza, previously gave information to Ilya Shakursky, one of the defendants, and appears to have encouraged Shakursky to radical measures. We translate it with the author’s permission here.


Following the conviction of Igor Shishkin, his lawyer Dmitry Dinze published several extracts from the case materials in a Facebook post. According to this post, a certain “V.I. Kabanov (an agent who possesses audio files of conversations with members of ‘The Network’)” features among the list of witnesses who testified against the defendants.

Ilya Shakursky, one of the Penza-based defendants in the “Network Case”, previously reported that this agent came into contact with the anti-fascists in a statement last April. Having introduced himself as “Vlad Dobrovolsky”, the agent encouraged them to take radical measures against the Russian authorities and engage in violent acts against law enforcement officials. Shakursky’s statement was filed to Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev and attached to the case files. But this evidence was not verified by law enforcement.

The agent encouraged them to take radical measures against the Russian authorities and engage in violent acts against law enforcement officials

At a recent court hearing on the extension of pretrial restraint for Shakursky, the following statement by the defendant was read out by the presiding officer (the session was open to the public, and journalists made audio recordings):

“...In autumn 2016, I met a young man named Vlad Dobrovolsky on the VKontakte social network. His name and surname may not be real. He was of an average height, with short dark hair, a beard, strong build. I can identify him. I also know that he was studying at Penza State University. Vlad had given me important information about upcoming attacks of neo-Nazis on anti-fascist events. According to him, he did it because of a personal grudge against other Penza neo-Nazis. He also told me that some neo-Nazis maintain close relations with officers from the counter-extremism department, who, in turn, do not prevent the organisation of neo-Nazi events (tournaments, meetings, concerts). Vlad found out later that I play airsoft, and offered to give me a few training sessions on tactics. At one of his training sessions, he showed me his ‘Wild Boar’ firearm.

“Later, he told me that a radical neo-Nazi organisation operates in Siberia; its aim is to fight for the autonomy of Siberia. As a committed anti-fascist, I felt it was my duty to learn more about this organisation in order to expose it later on by writing articles in the media. That is why I deliberately misled Dobrovolsky when I spoke about my views and supported his proposals. My goal was to gain his trust to learn more about the neo-Nazis. In spite of his constant requests to meet, I rarely met Vlad. Communication with him was not a priority for me. I was busy with my studies and my personal life. At the last meeting in summer 2017, he has started to talk about his desire to move on to a radical action and to try to make an explosive device. I thought he was a crazy fanatic and stopped talking to him, ignoring his calls.”

In court, Shakursky clarified that the man called “Dobrovolsky” is known in Penza as a neo-Nazi. Novaya Gazeta found a user with the same name on the Ask.fm social network. His jokes in the comments have a nationalist flavour.

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18 December 2018: Andrey Chernov and Dmitry Pchelintsev, defendants in the "Network" case, at Penza courthouse. Source: VKontakte / Green Block Penza.

Talking with relatives during breaks, Shakursky also said that he recorded conversations with Vlad on his smartphone. He also saved the correspondence with him and photographs of “Dobrovolsky” from several meetings (a friend of Shakursky’s, on his request, photographed them secretly).

Law enforcement confiscated the smartphone and computer. According to Shakursky, the investigating officers showed his correspondence with “Dobrovolsky” was shown to Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant, but this correspondence is not in the file. As for the audio recordings, they were added to the case, but with omissions that allow the remaining phrases to be used against the defendants. The defence has no access to the original records, since Shakursky’s electronic equipment remains in the possession of the investigation.

When Ilya’s acquaintances showed a photo of “Dobrovolsky” to students at Penza university, they recognised a Penza State University student called Vlad Gresko. As Novaya Gazeta has noted, on the Ask.fm social network, users address user “wlad8” as “Gres’”.

Web search revealed yet another coincidence: “Dobrovolsky” trains at the same sport club as investigator Valery Tokarev. Both appear in pictures on the “zavod58_sport_club” online community.

During breaks in court, Shakursky also managed to report that after one of his meetings with Vlad, a sporty-looking man came up to him on the street and started trying to provoke a fight. Subsequently, after his arrest, Shakursky saw this same man in the FSB office. The man turned out to be Dmitry N., an investigating officer of Penza FSB.

Shakursky also managed to report that after one of his meetings with Vlad, a sporty-looking man came up to him on the street and started trying to provoke a fight

According to Shakursky, this officer “listened to Nazi bands (...) and talked to officer Shepelev about his desire to ‘shoot shavki’ (Russian neo-Nazi slang for anti-fascists – Novaya Gazeta). I pretended that I did not recognise him.”

Indeed, according to Shakursky’s statement on torture, it was Captain Shepelev who subjected Shakursky to torture in an effort to force him to confess to terrorism charges. During a court session break, Shakursky said:

“This man (Shepelev) participated in my torture and the torture of Dima (Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant). He threatened that he would rape me… When the human rights ombudsperson (Elena Rogova) visited us… which was a while ago, when Dima and I couldn’t see each other, she asked me to draw the locations (in investigation detention) where I had been tortured. I drew them. In the office next door, Dima drew the same thing. She compared them, and it was the same place. Although I was not being kept there officially (according to the Military Investigative Commission’s investigation into the claims of torture – Novaya Gazeta)... There were three people there – Shepelev held me down, tied me up with black tape… I just wearing my underwear, he took my underwear off and said he was going to rape me.”

Elena Bogatova, Shakursky’s mother, told journalists that when law enforcement searched her son’s apartment, officers went straight to a hole under the kitchen window. There, they found “an improvised explosive device camouflaged as a fire-extinguisher”. When officer Shepelev ordered officers to look under the couch, a pistol was found.

The initial forensic test did not find any DNA or fingerprint traces belonging to Shakursky on these items. Then, after Shakursky gave a saliva test, a second test was conducted. This test showed traces of Shakursky’s DNA on a piece of electrical tape stuck to the explosive device. But, as Elena Bogatova recalls, and photographs of the search confirm, after the device was found, it was left on the apartment floor for a period of time – where, given that Shakursky had lived there for a significant period of time, there were bound to be traces of his DNA.

According to Bogatova, Captain Shepelev also tried to force her to give a “correct comment” to the NTV television channel when they interviewed her. She was recommended not to deny the existence of a terrorist organisation and not insist on her son’s innocence. Otherwise, Bogatova says, Shepelev threatened that he would start a rumour in prison that her son was paedophile.

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