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Flying under the radar: Scientology’s unexpected reprieve in Russia

[Ivan Matsitsky’s case ended with a surprisingly light sentence]

Since the 1990s, Scientology has faced both boom and bust in post-Soviet Russia, swinging from lucrative success in the “wild capitalism” era of Boris Yeltsin to facing a ruthless crackdown under Vladimir Putin. The writing seemed to be on the wall for Scientology after the Russian police declared Scientology to be an “undesirable” group, raided the Moscow and St. Petersburg orgs, and charged a number of prominent Russian Scientologists with criminal offences. Yet, against the odds, although Scientology is still severely endangered, the war in Ukraine may have given it an unlikely reprieve.

The five St. Petersburg Scientologists charged in 2020 were put on trial on charges of creating an extremist community, inciting interfaith hatred, and carrying out illegal business activities. They were said to have earned more than 276 million rubles (about $3 million at current exchange rates) over several years. The state also sought the confiscation of “3,600 sheets of paper, similar in appearance to 100 US dollar banknotes” (i.e. $360,000 in cash) found at the St. Petersburg org.

To the surprise of observers and, apparently, the prosecution, the case ended anticlimactically in August 2023. All of the defendants were found guilty and the money was confiscated, but the punishments were far less than prosecutors had asked for. The head of the St. Petersburg org, Ivan Matsitsky, was sentenced to 6.5 years in a penal colony but was released as he had already spent an equivalent amount of time in pre-trial detention. The remaining defendants — executive director Galina Shurinova, Office of Special Affairs (OSA) head Anastasia Terentyeva, her deputy Konstantia Esaulkova, and chief accountant Sahib Aliyev – were fined sums of between 600,000 to 1.3 million rubles ($6,500 to $14,000), despite the state asking for up to 30 years’ imprisonment. The court ruled that the statute of limitations had expired and reprieved the defendants from any further punishment.

The outcome of the case was a disappointment for the investigators of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s domestic security agency (and successor to the KGB), who had carried out the original raid on the St Petersburg org in June 2016. An FSB major who was one of the lead investigators told Evgeny Kolesnikov from the Russian newspaper ‘Versia’ that in his opinion, “the investigation was very weak, formal and lazy. After all, the operational officers provided the investigation with bags full of documents that could have been used to initiate many more criminal cases. For example, incitement to suicide. Several adherents of the Church of Scientology committed suicide because they took out loans for all sorts of training, could not repay them, and were simply squeezed by debt collectors. Terrible things were happening!”


The major expressed incredulity that the statute of limitations had expired and complained that “the investigation chose the most convenient criminal articles lying on the surface” rather than digging deeper. In particular, although the FSB found evidence of the St. Petersburg branch of the Office of Special Affairs carrying out actions against ex-Scientologists, it did not follow it up. According to the major:

“The work of the church security service was not investigated, and it was these people who were scaring the adherents who wanted to leave the sect. It cost a lot of money to leave. Moreover, when we were conducting external surveillance, they managed to establish so-called counter-surveillance, from which we concluded that they had been trained for such work in Western countries. It is not a secret that Scientologists, not their adherents, but those who make money out of naive and unhappy people, receive special training in the United States and England. This includes both specific psycho-training, mastering hypnosis, and purely practical mastering of the work of special services: computer surveillance, outdoor surveillance and counter-surveillance, collecting data on each person, identifying his weaknesses, and all that sort of thing.”

It’s unclear why the investigation appears to have been so half-hearted and the outcome so inconclusive, but the reasons may lie in Russia’s murky and corrupt politics. In 2011, Kolesnikov had experienced the wrath of OSA first-hand when he wrote a critical article on Scientology for the newspaper ‘Arguments and Facts.’ He says that the St Petersburg OSA director, Anastasia Terentyeva, sought to intimidate him into retracting his article: “Various manoeuvres were used in the meeting [with Terentyeva], from carrots to sticks (money for refutation and personal threats).”

Very interestingly, Kolesnikov says that prior to 2016, when the St. Petersburg org was raided, Scientology enjoyed protection from multiple sources. He writes: “I remember the lady’s absolute confidence in her (or rather, the entire organisation’s) impunity. And different “roofs” were mentioned”, presumably by Terentyeva.

The concept of a “roof” (in Russian, a ‘krysha’) is a central organising principle of Putin’s Russia. It’s a principle that emerged from the Russian mafia in the 1990s and has since become central to the entire Russian state. A krysha is essentially protection, provided by powerful individuals or organisations — whether organised criminals or state officials (who may in practice be the same people). An estimated 80 per cent of Russian businesses purchase kryshas to protect themselves from being targeted by criminal gangs or corrupt officials. It is not cheap and can cost anything from 30 to 70 per cent of the purchaser’s profits.

Given the universality of corruption in Russia – which is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world – it is not surprising that Scientology would be involved in buying kryshas. It would be a natural component of Scientology’s ‘safepointing’ procedure which it follows internationally, in which it seeks to obtain protection by recruiting powerful local allies, especially from law enforcement organisations like the LAPD in the US.

The more interesting question is why Scientology’s kryshas did not protect it from being raided in 2016. Kolesnikov writes that he interviewed the same FSB major in 2016 and asked him,” “Why only now, and not earlier?” He answered unexpectedly frankly, but briefly: “Order from the very top.” A krysha can be broken by someone with a superior krysha. In this case, it almost certainly points to the long-serving head of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, likely acting to fulfil Putin’s 2012 call for a crackdown on groups such as Scientology.

But why was the investigation apparently botched from the start and the defendants given such light punishments? The outcome of the case suggests that the Russian authorities were never particularly serious about cracking down on Scientology and had carried out the raids for essentially performative reasons – what the Russians call a “mask show” – to keep Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church happy. The legal pressure exerted by the Russian authorities by declaring Scientology an “extremist” group is likely to have been far more significant than the raids.

Since February 2022, Russia has faced far bigger concerns than Scientology. Its invasion of Ukraine has generated an upsurge in patriotism but also widespread opposition to the war. The Russian government has evolved from mildly repressive to overtly totalitarian, jailing thousands of people for long periods – and killing some, like the late Alexey Navalny – for daring to criticise or oppose the regime. The Russian state’s apparatus of repression has switched its focus from maintaining public order to crushing dissent, leading to an upsurge in unpunished murders, rapes and violent crimes. In the face of such challenges, it’s very likely that Scientology has dropped to the bottom of the priority list.

This may offer opportunities for more than just the official Church of Scientology. Since its foundation by the late Captain Bill Robertson in 1984, the independent Scientologists of ‘Ron’s Org’ have operated a small network of ‘Free Zone’ Scientology groups in various European countries. The Swiss-based independents claimed a considerable amount of success in Russia in particular, where they began recruiting in 1997. They claimed to have 2,000 Russian members by 2006 and a dozen orgs in Moscow alone.

It’s likely that the Russian government’s repression of the Church of Scientology has had some effect on the independent Scientologists, but they have nonetheless managed to keep going. Only recently, Max Hauri of Ron’s Org reported having delivered a three-week Class VII course, translated into Russian, to 18 people in Moscow. The independent Scientologists seem to have had a much less troubled time than the official ones. What could account for this difference?

Mostly, of course, this is likely to be because of the problematic behaviour of the Church of Scientology. It has gained particular notoriety in Russia for its members’ involvement in a variety of scams, its secrecy, its US-based hierarchy (always a source of suspicion for Russia) and its aggressive efforts to recruit Russia’s business and political elites. It ran into the opposition of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church — which is practically an extension of the state — and it may have been this factor as well as Putin’s call for a crackdown that prompted the piercing of Scientology’s kryshas in 2016. The independent Scientologists have had much cleaner hands; this likely meant that they did not become an object of attention from the state in the same way as the official church.

It’s not clear why the FSB apparently lost interest in pursuing the investigation, but the most likely explanation is that its priorities — and therefore the allocation of resources — changed between 2016 and 2024. The war in Ukraine may have been a major factor in this. In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and launched a covert invasion of eastern Ukraine, seizing control of much of the Donbas region. The FSB now had the task of repressing pro-Ukrainian sentiment among several million de facto or de jure new citizens of Russia. That would have been a far higher priority than anything involving Scientology.

The rapid disposal of the case likely indicates that for the Russian authorities, it had become a nuisance that needed to be gotten out of the way. Ironically, the war in Ukraine may end up benefiting Scientology in Russia in the short term. Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, the Russian state has focused on suppressing dissent from opponents of the war (and to some extent from pro-war extreme nationalists as well). Lesser issues such as Scientology and the threat of terrorism have clearly been given a lower priority, with tragic consequences that were visible in the failure to prevent the ISIS attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall in March 2024 that killed at least 143 people.


The St. Petersburg Scientologists have regained their freedom, though not their wealth. This, however, does not mean that they are clear of danger. While the baleful attention of the FSB has turned elsewhere for the moment, Russia’s drift into totalitarianism will mean that Scientology’s long-term future in Russia remains in doubt.

— Chris Owen


Technology Cocktail

“It is significant that hundreds of aerospace technicians, working with satellites and rocketry, broadly used Scientology first. At the same time parliaments in some socially backward countries were busy passing laws against Scientology to protect their psychiatrists whose medieval approach was to seize people without any process of law and castrate them and saw out brains as a “cure” for mental illness. In a world where governments are fighting to dominate men’s minds, mental technology is needed to protect the individual and to prevent the enslavement of all.” — L. Ron Hubbard, 1969



We first broke the news of the LAPD’s investigation of Scientology celebrity Danny Masterson on rape allegations in 2017, and we’ve been covering the story every step of the way since then. At this page we’ve collected our most important links as Danny faces a potential sentence of 45 years to life in prison. NOW WITH TRIAL INDEX.


THE PODCAST: How many have you heard?


[1] Marc Headley [2] Claire Headley [3] Jeffrey Augustine [4] Bruce Hines [5] Sunny Pereira [6] Pete Griffiths [7] Geoff Levin [8] Patty Moher [9] Marc Headley [10] Jefferson Hawkins [11] Michelle ‘Emma’ Ryan [12] Paulette Cooper [13] Jesse Prince [14] Mark Bunker [15] Jon Atack [16] Mirriam Francis [17] Bruce Hines on MSH

— SPECIAL: The best TV show on Scientology you never got to see

[1] Phil Jones [2] Derek Bloch [3] Carol Nyburg [4] Katrina Reyes [5] Jamie DeWolf

— The first Danny Masterson trial and beyond

[18] Trial special with Chris Shelton [19] Trial week one [20] Marc Headley on the spy in the hallway [21] Trial week two [22] Trial week three [23] Trial week four [24] Leah Remini on LAPD Corruption [25] Mike Rinder 2022 Thanksgiving Special [26] Jane Doe 4 (Tricia Vessey), Part One [27] Jane Doe 4 (Tricia Vessey), Part Two [28] Claire Headley on the trial [29] Tory Christman [30] Bruce Hines on spying [31] Karen de la Carriere [32] Ron Miscavige on Shelly Miscavige [33] Karen de la Carriere on the L’s [34] Mark Bunker on Miscavige hiding [35] Mark Plummer [36] Mark Ebner [37] Karen Pressley [38] Steve Cannane [39] Fredrick Brennan [40] Clarissa Adams [41] Louise Shekter [42] John Sweeney [43] Tory Christman [44] Kate Bornstein [45] Christian Stolte [46] Mark Bunker [47] Jon Atack [48] Luke Y. Thompson [49] Mark Ebner [50] Bruce Hines [51] Spanky Taylor and Karen Pressley [51] Geoff and Robbie Levin [52] Sands Hall [53] Jonny Jacobsen [54] Sandy Holeman [55] Mark Bunker [56] Trish and Liz Conley [57] Trish Conley [58] Alex Barnes-Ross [59] Alex Barnes-Ross [60] Alex Barnes-Ross [61] Alex Barnes-Ross [62] Alex Barnes-Ross [63] Alex Barnes-Ross [64] Tory Christman [65] Tammy Synovec [66] Dennis Erlich [67] Alex Barnes-Ross [68] Valerie Ross [69] Kat in Austin [70] Mark Bunker [71] Phil Jones


Source Code

“OK, and this is the 1st of April 1954, little more on simple procedures, basics. The problem which the auditor faces is a very simple problem. That’s what makes it so difficult. He has a human being who is out of present time. Ordinarily this is the target of the auditor, although you can use auditing on cats, dogs and horses, and so forth. As a matter of fact, I was auditing a horse the other day. Got him into present time, too. It’s very easy to audit a horse. All you make him do is reach for you and you retreat until he feels good and dangerous. And his spirits will come up and he’ll be in present time enough to be rid.” — L. Ron Hubbard, April 1, 1954


Avast, Ye Mateys

“OVERTS: In the interests of more truth on board, anyone feeling nattery should write up their overts and witholds and post them on the crew’s notice board with a copy to me. Hiding the real reasons behind natter roughs it up for the rest of us. We are after all a true group. Truth is the basis of group ARC.” — The Commodore, April 1, 1970



Overheard in the FreeZone

“Membership figures in the Freezone — just like in the Church — have been dropping for decades so that the next generation is expected to be nothing but extravagant buildings owned and controlled by US government agencies like CST and RTC in order to increase illegal earnings of controlled intelligence non-governmental organizations (NGOs)….In the west, however, a toothless Scientology — which no longer audits effectively, thus leaving the reactive mind untouched, and no longer produces real Clears and OTs, but instead studies theory (‘The BASICS’) for the most part or, as in the Freezone, replaces the auditor’s training with ‘discussions about Scientology’s aspects in news groups’ — serves a similar purpose as the Freemasons’ lodges centuries ago: a reservoir for critical spirits, free thinkers and intelligent freedom fighters controlled by secret service circles.”


Past is Prologue

1996: Karin Spaink, recent victor in court in The Netherlands when the legality of her Fishman Affidavit web page was upheld, also posted a letter to Judge White. She is protesting the inclusion of her email in the Grady Ward deposition list. “I am a Dutch citizen, a writer, and I am currently being sued by Scientology (in their personae of RTC, CST and New Era Publications) for alleged copyright infringements. I fail to understand why my name is on the list plaintiffs have presented Mr. Ward with. Mr. Ward and I do not know each other, and to the best of my knowledge the first e-mail I ever addressed to him was sent on March 24, 1996, upon hearing that your court had issued a TRO against him at Scientology’s request. I mailed him some advice and later offered him the use of my personal archive of alt.religion.scientology postings, should he need it. Under Dutch Law, Grady Ward would not even be allowed to produce any e-mail communications we might have had. The Privacy law in this country only allows him to do so when a court order has been issued. It is my understanding that US law has an Electronic Communications Privacy Act (section 2700-2707 of Title 18 USC), which also states that lawful access to stored electronic communications requires a warrant or a court order. I cannot understand why Scientology would expect to find any communication between Mr. Ward and me – if it had existed – to be of any relevance to the pertaining case. I can only assume that Scientology either considers all critics to be linked in some kind of global conspiracy, and thus expects us to be scheming deviously, or – worse – that Scientology is hoping to use the mere fact that my name will be mentioned in your court as a means to thwart legal proceedings here and put me at a disadvantage in their upcoming appeal – for instance, by suggesting that _I_ am a part of Scamizdat or was at some time suspected to be connected with it, or with any other copyright infringing person or group. I must therefore protest to being in any way included in this ‘Notice of Deposition’.”


Random Howdy

“Better to be pissed off than pissed on.”


Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker


Criminal prosecutions:
Danny Masterson charged for raping three women: Found guilty on two counts on May 31, remanded to custody. Sentenced to 30 years to life on Sep 7.
‘Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’ (a/k/a Justin Craig), aggravated assault, plus drug charges: Grand jury indictments include charges from an assault while in custody. Next pretrial hearing May 17, 2024.
David Gentile, GPB Capital, fraud.

Civil litigation:
Leah Remini v. Scientology, alleging ‘Fair Game’ harassment and defamation: Some defamation claims were removed by Judge Hammock. Leah seeking to amend her complaint.
Baxter, Baxter, and Paris v. Scientology, alleging labor trafficking: Forced to arbitration. Plaintiffs allowed interlocutory appeal to Eleventh Circuit.
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: motion to file new complaint, hearing on May 29.
Jane Doe 1 v. Scientology, David Miscavige, and Gavin Potter: Case unsealed and second amended complaint filed. Scientology moves for religious arbitration, hearing on April 16.
Chiropractors Steve Peyroux and Brent Detelich, stem cell fraud: Ordered to mediation.



After the success of their double-Emmy-winning, three-season A&E series ‘Scientology and the Aftermath,’ Leah Remini and Mike Rinder continue the conversation on their podcast, ‘Scientology: Fair Game.’ We’ve created a landing page where you can hear all of the episodes so far.


An episode-by-episode guide to Leah Remini’s three-season, double-Emmy winning series that changed everything for Scientology watching. Originally aired from 2016 to 2019 on the A&E network, and now on Netflix.


Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Other links: SCIENTOLOGY BLACK OPS: Tom Cruise and dirty tricks. Scientology’s Ideal Orgs, from one end of the planet to the other. Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society. Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in a weekly series. How many have you read?



[ONE year ago] PODCAST: John Sweeney stops by to chat about Scientology’s ‘dark nonsense’
[TWO years ago] Surviving Scientology’s Sea Org for children was a nightmare of parental abandonment
[THREE years ago] Izzy Chait, renowned art dealer and major Scientology figure, dead at 74
[FOUR years ago] Scientologists are convinced that they can rescue the planet from deadly pandemic
[FIVE years ago] Sword-wielding, Bentley-driving man killed by police at Scientology org identified
[SIX years ago] Scientologists are trying to convince each other that the new TV network is a roaring success
[SEVEN years ago] Scientology’s spies: L. Ron Hubbard’s twisted legacy that proved his sickness
[EIGHT years ago] Augustine: One weird trick every Scientologist needs to learn for real ‘total freedom’
[TEN years ago] Hey, you guys, the new Scientology E-meter is a hit!
[ELEVEN years ago] LEAK: Narconon’s Legal Affairs Director Admits No Scientific Basis for Advertised Success Rates


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Tammy Synovec has not seen her daughter Julia in 2,857 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 3,352 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 3,867 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 3,417 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 2,407 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 2,288 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 5,592 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 3,463 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 5,015 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 4,356 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 12,923 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 8,842 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 5,010 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 4,591 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 4,852 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 3,888 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 3,604 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 3,168 days.
Julian Wain has not seen his brother Joseph or mother Susan in 1,483 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 2,658 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 7,209 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 4,340 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 4,678 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 9,531 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 4,652 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 3,008 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 7,311 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 3,417 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 3,815 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 3,691 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 3,256 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 3,769 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 4,023 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 15,132 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on April 1, 2024 at 07:00

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2022 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2022), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists | GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice | SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts | Shelly Miscavige, 15 years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


Tony Ortega at The Daily Beast


Tony Ortega at Rolling Stone


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