Zelyonka, the green paint used to target opponents in Russia

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The latest in chronological order is the attack on the journalist of Novaya Gazeta Elena Milashina, but the story of the green paint attacks on Moscow’s opponents begins a few years ago. The substance is called Zelyonka – literally “the green thing” – and on several occasions it was used to target not only Russian but also Ukrainian dissidents during the February 2014 revolution, which culminated in the flight of President Viktor Yanukovych and the fall of the Mykola government Azarov.

What is Zelyonka

Zelyonka is a type of triarylmethane antiseptic dye that is very popular in Russia and Ukraine, countries where it can be easily bought at pharmacies or drugstores. It is very difficult to wash off the skin, it can take even a week and the use of an acid, and above all if mixed with other substances, becomes dangerous: in contact with the eyes it can even cause blindness. Since the 2010s, the so-called “Zelyonka attacks” attributed to pro-Kremlin activists have spread, attacks during which the victims – always opponents of Moscow – are spilled with dye. Attacks that have spread both due to the ease of finding the substance and because in many cases they are not prosecuted.

The attacks at the time of the Ukrainian revolution

Between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, Ukraine experienced several months of tensions, which culminated in the annexation of Crimea by Russia. During the period marked by the Euromaidan protests and subsequent revolution, several Ukrainian politicians who were openly opposed to Moscow were hit with Zelyonka attacks. Among these were Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the then president of the pro-European Ukrainian opposition faction Batkivshchyna, and Yuriy Lutsenko, Yulia Tymoshenko’s former interior minister.

The Navalny cases (and not only)

Putin’s best-known opponent, Alexei Navalny, also fell victim to attacks with Zelyonka. The first time it happened in March 2017 in Barnaul, Siberia, and the dissident did not suffer physical damage, so much so that he posted his photo on Twitter with his face and hands completely green, ironically: “I will open the Barnaul office in the guise of the film The Mask”. It went differently with the second attack, which took place on April 27 of the same year: the dye, probably mixed with a caustic chemical substance, caused a burn to his right eye and the loss of 80% of his vision. The opponent accused the Kremlin of organizing the attack, and members of the national radical group Serb (South-East Radical/Russian Block) were identified in some videos of the time. In Russia, before Navalny, Michail Kas’janov, Il’ja Varlamov, Galina Sidorova and Artem Izgagin had also suffered attacks with Zelyonka: many of them were participating in demonstrations against Putin or are opponents/dissidents.

The ambush of Elena Milashina and Aleksandr Nemov

The most recent is the attack in Chechnya on the journalist Elena Milashina and the lawyer Aleksandr Nemov, brutally beaten. The reporter considered among the heirs of Anna Politkovskaya – the journalist murdered in 2006 who on the pages of Novaya Gazeta attacked the authoritarian drift of Putin’s government and the abuses of Russian forces in Chechnya -, for years he has denounced the abuses committed by Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime. It was she who a few years ago accused the Chechen police of mass arresting, illegal detention, torture and in some cases even killing people believed to be homosexual. The photo of Elena Milashina in the hospital, covered with Zelyonka – “the green thing” – went around the world. “In the CIS countries, the act of pouring green paint is an offense,” some Chechen activists explained to The Expressor.