Lately, there has been increasing talk in russia about the revival of SMERSH (an acronym for "Death to spies!" phrase in russian). In particular, the russian "leader" of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, has put forward such an initiative. And he is not alone in that.
So-called "advisor to the acting head of the DNR" Yan Gagin has also stated that it is time to recreate SMERSH in the russian federation. In his opinion, it is time to "reissue the order of Supreme Commander Joseph Stalin to create SMERSH".
"Then it was created to combat saboteurs, traitors and also saboteurs in the cultural sphere", - the occupier believes.
Russian military correspondents and propagandist Telegram channels advocating for war against Ukraine actively write about this as well.
There are dozens of russian social media groups with the abbreviation SMERSH. The largest and most popular one operates in Crimea.
In addition, Crimean media actively promote the topic of the SMERSH revival: they publish analytical articles that speak favorably of this initiative and air television stories about it. But the most important and perhaps dangerous development is the creation of the Crimean SMERSH movement, which has been gaining momentum lately...
What is SMERSH?
SMERSH stands for "death to spies" and was the name of the main counterintelligence agency under the Supreme High Command of the USSR during World War II.
The organization was created in 1943 by Stalin’s order. SMERSH's main tasks were to suppress the activities of enemy intelligence and sabotage groups, prevent desertion and betrayal within the ranks of the Soviet army and ensure the security of internal state structures.
In addition to obvious successes in the fight against foreign intelligence, during the war years, SMERSH gained a notorious reputation due to its system of repression against the civilian population, which was either under occupation or forced to work in Germany. Even the slightest suspicion of collaboration often led to unfounded arrests and the execution of many military and civilian personnel.
According to some historians, from 1941 to 1945, Soviet authorities arrested about 700,000 people, with about 70,000 of them being executed. According to other sources, several million people passed through SMERSH, and about a quarter of them were also executed.
In the conditions of war, investigations were often not carried out, and large groups of people were illegally and often groundlessly repressed. SMERSH also used killings and terrorist acts to eliminate its enemies, both inside and outside the country.
After the end of the war, SMERSH was disbanded, and many of its members were transferred to the Ministry of State Security. However, their methods and approaches to counterintelligence remained in demand and were later used in other organizations.
SMERSH also played a major role in spreading the Stalinist system of terror to Eastern European countries, where friendly regimes to the Soviet Union were established.
Thus, in Poland and Germany after the war, some Nazi concentration camps continued to function under the auspices of SMERSH as places of repression for ideological opponents of the new regimes. For example, the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald housed more than 60,000 opponents of socialist choice for several years after the war.
SMERSH in Crimea
Recently, the public movement Crimean SMERSH has been gaining popularity in the territory of occupied Crimea.
The description of the Telegram channel Crimean SMERSH, which has almost 40,000 subscribers, reads: "Register of russophobes, Ukrainian Nazis, and traitors to the Motherland. Please consider publications in this channel as official appeals to law enforcement agencies".
According to OstroV’s sources in Crimea, many people are aware of the movement, which is being promoted not only on social media but also on local television.
"Of course, I've heard of it. I first heard about it about three weeks ago. My colleagues were talking about it, and I saw a sticker for 'Crimean SMERSH' in the city center. They talked about it on television too, saying that it's a public organization, and called upon to join", - a resident of Simferopol named Ekaterina told OstroV.
The creator of the Telegram channel, Alexander Talipov, who is also a blogger and political commentator, says that the initiative is aimed at identifying russophobes, Ukrainian Nazis and traitors. He also admits to working in conjunction with russian law enforcement agencies.
"The expecters (for the return of Ukrainian authorities to Crimea – ed.) must be punished... The activity we are conducting is undoubtedly supported by law enforcement agencies. I often address "Comrade Major" - a collective image, primarily a staff member who conscientiously performs all his functional duties. This could be an employee of the FSB, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Investigative Committee and other law enforcement agencies responsible for public safety... Gradually, other regions are now joining the Crimean SMERSH movement, reporting that "Comrade Major" is visiting the expecters in the territories of other Russian regions. We already have more than 20 branches across the country", - Talipov said in an interview with a Sevastopol TV channel at the end of March.
As Talipov notes, "expecters" who are hunted by the Crimean SMERSH include not only Crimeans leaking coordinates of military facilities to the Ukrainian Armed Forces but also those who "publish anti-russian songs and slogans, perform "Nazi songs" (such as Ukrainian song titled "Oi u luzi chervona kalyna").
"We don't tie anyone up or beat them. Every citizen has the right to collect and disseminate information. We identify anti-Russian elements, conduct our own investigation to establish these individuals, and publish information for law enforcement agencies to react in a timely manner", - he justifies.
The content of the Crimean SMERSH Telegram channel can be conditionally divided into two parts. The first is user complaints (reports) about "anti-russian manifestations". Photos, videos or screenshots with comments in social networks are published.
Mainly, the complaints concern publications or comments on social media where the russian government or the war against Ukraine is criticized in one way or another. Sometimes there are even more absurd claims, for example, a complaint about a doctor who wrote "Autonomous Republic of Crimea" in a medical certificate.
There are even cases when private chats in messengers are leaked, where criticism of the war is voiced. Sometimes complaints arise simply because a person has relatives with a pro-Ukrainian or anti-war position. One of the reports was about the fact that the "authorities" of Sevastopol painted the railings in yellow and blue colors.
The second part of the publications in the Telegram channel is videos of "repentances" by those who were previously reported on. It should be noted that almost all such videos are recorded against the backdrop of the same russian flag. As a rule, the "repentance" text is the same for everyone as well.
"I apologize to all residents of Sevastopol and Russia for my social media posts. I promise not to do such things again", - a girl says in one of the videos.
Some of those who "repented" hold logos with the letter "Z", which symbolizes russia's aggression against Ukraine. But there are exceptions. For example, the inscription "Glory to Ukraine" recently appeared in one of the parks of the occupied Sevastopol. The woman who wrote it was detained the next day. Yes, in the published video, she "repented" of what she had done, but also stated her position against the war in Ukraine.
"I committed the mentioned actions due to my disapproval of the special military operation conducted by our country on the territory of Ukraine. I repent of my actions and apologize to the residents of Sevastopol and citizens of Russia", - she said.
As for punishments (in addition to video apologies), according to the information of the Crimean SMERSH Telegram channel, the majority of those people fall under the article on discrediting the russian army. For the first "offense", administrative liability follows, and the person may be fined; for a repeated "offense", criminal liability and imprisonment for up to three years may follow.
According to Alexander Talipov, there have been several cases of repeated violations by the "expecters".
"Another animal has been de-Nazified, Dmitry D***** from Sudak. He was arrested as part of a criminal case under Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation for discrediting the army. This violation was repeated, so now he faces a sentence and imprisonment. His example is a lesson for others", - the message from Crimean SMERSH reads.
Judging by the published "photo evidence", the above-mentioned man made several critical comments on social media.
Russian propagandist Talipov promotes a different system of punishments. He advocates for the deprivation of russian citizenship and deportation from the country.
"Since the start of the channel, I conduct surveys. The majority of subscribers believe that "expecters" should be stripped of Russian citizenship and forcibly expelled from the country. With or without confiscation of property, depending on the severity of the offense. If people hate their homeland so much, the country where they receive social benefits, salary and pension, let them go to Ukraine and taste happiness among the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine", - he says.
He proposes sending "expecters" to Ukraine by swimming.
Local occupation authorities support the Crimean SMERSH’s activity. The so-called head of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, even advocates for the revival of SMERSH at the state level.
"I am in favor of the revival of SMERSH. With regard to the fifth column - undoubtedly. We live in such times. I am not even talking about military actions, but about peaceful life. We have many fifth columnists: it is unclear who they work for and what they do. Sometimes I notice that during some public events, there are those who demonstratively do not stand up for the Russian anthem. Such people should be identified and the evidence should be passed on to the FSB", - he said.
"You can disrespect the authorities, disagree with something, but showing disrespect for your own country is direct hostility. Why should such people receive social support from the state? Radical decisions need to be made here", - the occupier believes.
On April 11, it became known that the administration of the city of Simferopol and its public council had joined the Crimean SMERSH movement. The corresponding sticker appeared on the office of the so-called mayor of Simferopol, Mikhail Afanasiev.
"I was glad to meet with the public activist and blogger, the author of the civil initiative Crimean SMERSH Alexander Talipov. The residents of Simferopol fully support our President's decision to conduct a special military operation on the territory of Ukraine", - he said.
By the way, the so-called "head of the administration" of Yalta, Yanina Pavlenko, had previously joined the movement and acquired the trademark sticker of Crimean SMERSH.
Those stickers are actively promoted on social networks and sold on russian trading platforms. They are not cheap and cost 250 rubles.
"I often see cars in the city with such stickers. They were initially distributed for free, but then they started selling them. They are large enough, so they are visible even from afar. Once I saw it even on a regular bus. All this is presented beautifully, the fight against spies and saboteurs, but in fact, it is just snitching and nitpicking about some words or comments on social media. The authorities benefit from this. They pretend that they are not involved, but obviously, the organization would not have become so popular and influential without their patronage. Spies are now seen everywhere and in everything, it's a new amusement. But it's unlikely to save us from drones and missiles", - said Irina, a Sevastopol local, to OstroV.
Local bloggers actively support and advertise the activities of the Crimean SMERSH. For example, russian propagandist Alexander Gromov promotes this Telegram channel through his social networks. It is noteworthy that he manipulates the upcoming tourist season, which has already failed even without detecting saboteurs and spies.
"The Crimean SMERSH, founded by Alexander Talipov, has already shown itself and received support from the masses. This is a bottom-up initiative, thus it is very important to support it. The tourist season is coming. No matter how many tourists there will be, their safety is important. Many of my interlocutors are afraid of the actions of saboteurs more than some drones. God forbid, if an explosion on the waterfront or a sabotage on the railway occur, and that's it, tourism is over for a couple of years ahead. In such a situation, we cannot rely solely on the work of law enforcement agencies, every resident of Crimea must be the eyes and ears of our intelligence. Don’t be afraid to promptly report any suspicious fact", - he wrote on one of the russian social networks.
He suggests not only actively helping, but also expanding the work of the Crimean SMERSH.
"Talipov is a real hero. He created a mechanism for identifying expecters that works effectively and helps our security forces, who are processing all the information that appears on the Telegram channel. I am sure that we should expand this work and help Alexander and his team. I am sure that Crimean businesses are obliged to participate in this", - the propagandist added.
Moreover, the occupiers propose creating a kind of blacklist of companies that "quietly sat out" during the war – a "Crimean SMERSH of organizations".
"I am convinced that it is necessary to create a list of those Crimean companies that showed an active position, those who supported our guys during the of the special military operation, those who did not sit out quietly. It is no secret that many Crimean enterprises have Ukrainian owners, albeit not in the founding documents. We need to expose all of this, and sentence the accomplices. This should not turn into a witch hunt, but it should be well-organized", - Gromov wrote.
The Crimean SMERSH continues to gain popularity, not only in the peninsula but also in russian regions. Russia, along with the occupied territories of Ukraine, is increasingly sinking into the era of Stalinist repressions.
By Andriy Andrieyev, OstroV