Photo: Aleksandr Kovalev / Flickr. All rights reserved.In April this year, police in St Petersburg’s historic Kupchino district stopped two men, Otabek Mirsadirov, 42, and Khashimboy Abdurakhmanov, 41, to check their papers. Born in Tajikistan, both men produced ID documents very reminiscent of the 1974 Soviet passport, but updated for the 21st century. The visitors claimed that they were citizens of the Soviet Union – and therefore needed no ID documents to regulate their stay in the city. Neither the police nor the judges were convinced. In July, the two men were deported to Tajikistan.
These Soviet-style documents had been issued by the St Petersburg branch of the Union of Native Peoples of Rus (SKNR) organisation. The men had been told that the Soviet Union had not, in fact, collapsed and that the Russian Empire was still in existence. When Mirsadirov and Abdurakhmanov found themselves in trouble, the SKNR offered them legal support throughout the proceedings.
This sadly farcical case, then, is another reminder of the fact that in Russia today there are people who continue to distribute Soviet state positions, elect one another to Soviet institutions, and refuse their Russian citizenship for the sake of restoring the Soviet Union.
According to the charter of the Union of Native Peoples of Rus, the treaties between the Soviet republics and the USSR’s 1977 constitution are still in force. Members of the organisation are clear that the Soviet Union is still in existence, but temporarily occupied by an external enemy, which they consider to be a private company created by Britain and ruled through PM Dmitry Medvedev.
SNKR activists believe that everyone should consider themselves citizens of the Soviet Union, since no one ever asked them whether they wanted to take Russian citizenship. For identification, they use old-style internal passports, emblazoned with the hammer and sickle, and the organisation provides those who don’t have one with new papers very similar to the original, except for the watermark in the paper.
It’s unclear how many people have taken advantage of this offer. SKNR activists can’t give a definite figure, but claim that there are around a million of them. The organisation’s VKontakte social media page has about 800 followers, but in the video clips they post on their site you see the same people over and over again.
Nina Kokoryshkina, from the town of Kommunar in the Leningrad region, who is one of them, tells me how she became a convert to their cause:
“There was a big banner hanging over the road to Pulkovo, reading ‘Gas belongs to the people’. I used to look at it every day as I went past, and wonder how something supposedly belonging to ordinary Russians, including me, could be constantly going up in price. In 2011 I wrote to Putin, asking him to give me my share of the Russian Federation’s expenditure on gas, and I would settle up at the end of the year, just as the officials do.”
The Presidential Administration replied to Kokoryshkina that “power” in Russia doesn’t belong to her, but the people in general, and that any attempt to seize power would be prosecuted under law. This only inspired Kokoryshkina to make further searches for the truth on the internet, and to become acquainted with Tatyana Barysheva, the SKNR’s chairperson.
Nina Kokoryshkina. Source: Youtube.Barysheva’s role was entirely self-appointed, as were those of her associates Khafiza Lysenko and Evgeniya Khrustaleva. The three held the organisation’s first meeting on 27 January 2011, when they recognised the SKNR as the lawful successor to the USSR. They also confirmed the adoption of a red flag with a crest in the shape of a yellow wreath surrounding a yellow sun on a red background.
Later, as well as heading the SKNR, Barysheva also appointed herself Interior Minister of the USSR and became the only administrator of the group’s VKontakte page. By this time, the organisation had begun to issue Soviet and SKNR ID documents affirming that their holders were “natives” living on their primordial lands.
The fight for the right to a life based on these documents is the group’s current priority. Its members are attempting to use them to buy airline and rail tickets, as well as creating their own bank cards, attending court sessions and accessing health services. Activists claim it sometimes works. Nina Kokoryshkina, for example, says she acquired a bank card using a Soviet ID document issued by the SKNR.
A Supreme Soviet
By 2014, the organisation was strong enough to hold elections to a Supreme Soviet and Council of People’s Deputies. The first comprised 24members (whose names will mean nothing to the wider public) and the second had around 300 members elected from all the former Soviet Republics and RSFSR regions. According to SKNR activists, they deliberately added a few well known names to the candidates’ list, to make the elections seem more interesting and so attract more attention to them. Later, a few well-known media deputies were expelled, including celebrity TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak, who was “outed” as the daughter of an anti-Soviet politician.
In fact, almost all of the current “People’s Deputies of the USSR” whose faces can be seen on the SKNR website are recognisable public figures. Most of them probably aren’t aware of their status. The Leningrad region, for instance, counts not only Ksenia Sobchak, but State Duma member Sergey Zhelezhyak (a member of the ruling United Russia Party) and former St Petersburg legislative assembly members Igor Korovin and Vladimir Dmitriyev. Among other parliamentarians are journalist Sergey Dorenko, ex-gymnast Alina Kabayeva, former Estonian Minister of Culture Urve Tiidus and many other well known Russian politicians, such as Duma member Vera Ganzya. Comedian Garik Martirosyan, meanwhile, represents the “Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic”, while current Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka represents his former Soviet Socialist Republic. The head of Moscow’s City Duma Oleg Adabashyan, who studied in Riga, represents Latvia for the SKNR.
You can find video recordings of the latest, 19th Congress of RSFSR and USSR Soviets (which took place on 7 July this year) on the internet. It occupied a fairly small room, reminiscent of a school classroom, and there were just a few dozen people there, most of them pensioners. They were electing, out of those present, members of the Council of People’s Commissars, the Supreme Court and Central Election Commission of the USSR, as well as debating other questions of national importance.
Connections with reality
Apart from SKNR holding their own, Soviet elections, one of their members tried to participate in the Moscow’s regular mayoral election in September this year.
The city’s Election Commission website holds information on independent candidate Vladimir Kuvshinov, 77, who was denied registration. Kuvshinov tells me that he, as well as oppositionist Dmitry Gudkov, failed to squeeze through the “municipal filter” – the system of collecting signatures for potential candidates. The pensioner refers to himself as a “lifelong Moscow mayoral candidate”. He has tried to register his candidacy at every election since the 1990s, but always without success. And although Kuvshinov doesn’t recognise the fall of the Soviet Union and advocates for the restoration of the Russian Empire, he would happy to be elected as Moscow’s mayor. “We need to improve our material well-being,” he says.
The Union of Native Peoples of Rus is not the only organisation bringing together people who are convinced of the continuing existence of the Soviet Union. There are the supporters of Sergey Taraskin, a dentist in the Moscow satellite town of Zelenograd, who after failing in business announced that he was the “acting president of the USSR”. As the MediaZona website reported, Taraskin began acting as Soviet leader in 2010, having described last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev as a “deserter”. He posts orders on social media and claims that occupied Russia is ruled by its US ambassador. In July this year, the RBC media group announced that FSB investigators had searched the “acting president’s” home in connection with an investigation into public incitement to extremist activity, and Taraskin was questioned as a witness. The SKNR preferred not to discuss Taraskin, instead calling the dentist a “charlatan” and “provocateur”.
Sergey Taraskin. Source: Youtube.Taraskin’s supporters do seem more radical than the SKNR, which is, for example, positive about many current politicians and especially about Vladimir Putin. It also has an ambiguous attitude to Donald Trump. At any rate they view the British government as the occupying power, rather than him. On 23 September, SKNR leaders invited the entire staff of the National Audit Office led by Alexey Kudrin to its Audit Chamber.
Barysheva’s supporters, however, feel that some government bodies are working in the interests of foreign governments: they disapprove, among other things of the work of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the judiciary, which they frequently have to deal with.
An Imperial Twist
Russia’s Imperial Standard, with its black double-headed eagle on a gold background, hangs next to the SKNR’s red banner at all its meetings and congresses. This imperial turn to the organisation became evident in 2017, when certain revealing documents started appearing on its site. On 24 February this year, several dozen people gathered in the village of Aborino, in the Moscow region, for “a ceremony to celebrate the preparation of the Russian people for Empire”.
The idea behind the ceremony was that after the abdication of Nicholas II and his brother Mikhail, the right to rule Russia passed to the Russian people, but there was still no appropriate ritual to enshrine it in law. So after this ceremony finally took place, all SKNR’s supporters began to call themselves co-emperors. They see no contradiction between the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. They say that there are no documents confirming the collapse of the Russian Empire, which means it should be restored to its state in the early 20th century. But since it’s not easy for people to get their heads around this idea, they first need to recognise the integrity of the USSR.
February 2018: SKNR hold a ceremony to celebrate the "preparation of the Russian people for Empire”. Source: Youtube.SKNR’s restoration plans aren’t limited to the Russian Empire. They believe that Russia has the right to inherit the wealth of Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Charles, they say, isn’t a worthy successor, as he sullied his biography with his “morganatic” marriage to Diana, who was far below him in rank. Nicholas II, on the other hand, was a cousin of King George V . The organisation believes that if the powers of the last Russian Tsar were passed to his people, the Russian people have the right to claim the Crown of the British Empire. Kuvshinov, the organisation’s imperial source of inspiration, believes Russians also have the right to rule in Rome, although admittedly he hasn’t shared the details of how he will accomplish the technical unification of these two areas with us.
The question of how to put the Union of Native Peoples of Rus’ ambitious ideas into operation is a difficult one. They insist that they don’t want revolution and a violent change of government. They plan, instead, to restore the USSR by handing out Soviet ID documents to everyone and making complaints to every possible governmental body. Meanwhile, naive migrant workers such as Otabek Mirsadirov and Khashimboy Abdurakhmanov will be deported to friendly republics – the SKNR admits that recently, this has been happening with growing frequency.