Last week, a Greenpeace-organized, volunteer-effort to extinguish fires in Russia’s Krasnodar region raised suspicions among nationalist-minded locals. Greenpeace Russia volunteers and activists arrived in the Primorsko-Akhtarsky District of Krasnodar on September 5 to help put out fires in the delta of the Kuban River and on the coast of the Azov Sea. They also trained volunteers from the local group “Environmental Watch on North Caucasus.”

On the night of September 9, a group of approximately eight you men, in masks, paid a visit to the campsite where the activists and volunteer firefighters were staying. As The New York Times reported, they attacked the volunteer group, shouting, “Get out of here and go back to your America.” According to the online outlet, Meduza, one of the activists, Gregory Kuksin, said “[the attackers] pointed their guns at us … put us down to the ground, kicked us a little, shot us near our heads, and poured some chemical rubbish over us.”

Several of the volunteers, including a senior Greenpeace lawyer, Mikhail Kreindlin, were severely injured. The attackers stole expensive equipment, destroyed tents, and damaged cars. According to Kuksin, they also threatened the volunteers, saying if they did not go away by morning, no one would ever be able to find them again.

Meduza reported that before the attack, the activist group encountered several men who identified themselves as “Cossacks,” and who threatened them with being traitors. Cossacks or Cossack militia are known for targeting those whose views are out of line with the Kremlin’s anti-Western narrative.

In today’s Russia, violent attacks against independent groups, activists, and journalists have become a sad reality. Just last week, several journalists and victims’ mothers were attacked during a memorial service marking the twelfth anniversary of the deadly Beslan school siege. Earlier this year, on April 28, organizers and participants in a historical research competition were harassed and attacked by nationalists who accused them of distorting Russia’s history. On March 9, a group of human rights defenders and journalists was violently attacked in Chechnya, following inflammatory statements about Kremlin critics from Chechen leader and Putin ally, Ramzan Kadyrov.

These are just a few examples of attacks in Russia motivated by anti-Western sentiment. These sentiments have spread rapidly among nationalist-minded citizens and pro-Putin supporters, since the 2014 pro-European Maidan revolution in Ukraine ousted that country’s Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych. Since then, the Kremlin has adopted an ideological narrative according to which liberal views and dissent are traitorous, foreign-funded NGOs are puppets of the West, and the United States seeks to overthrow the current Russian leadership. This rhetoric has inevitably created a dangerous divide within Russian society, with patriotic-minded citizens viewing the slightest divergence from Russia’s increasingly nationalistic agenda as traitorous.

The recent attack on Greenpeace activists, whose only wish was to help protect Kuban’s ecosystems from local fires, is appalling and ludicrous, and underscores the absurdist attitudes and paranoia at play in today’s Russia.

Greenpeace Russia, the organization’s local arm, has urged police to conduct a thorough investigation into the attack, and posted a petition on its website, noting that “peaceful activists should not suffer for trying to protect the nature.”

You can sign the petition here. Demanding justice for these activists is the least we can do.

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