They Jump on Anything That Moves, Part 3: The Case of the New Greatness Movement

Arrests Made in the New Greatness Case in Moscow
Grani.ru
March 15, 2018

Arrests and searches have been made in Moscow in the investigation of the New Greatness movement. The first source to report the news was Kremlin Washerwoman, a Telegram channel associated with the security services. More detailed information was soon published by OVD Info.

The detainees included the movement’s leader, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and two female activists, Maria Lapina and a juvenile whose name has not been disclosed. They were taken to the Kuntsevo Interdistrict Office of the Russian Investigative Committee. The female juvenile detainee was escorted by her father.

It is reported that during one of the searches a list containing the names of ten members of the movement was confiscated. According to uncorroborated reports, FSB investigators were present during the search.

There is information the juvenile detainee had earlier been subjected to pressure from Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention), after which her employer demanded she quit her job.

Photos of the search, as published on Kremlin Washerwoman, show campaign material for the so-called Voters’ Strike, a leaflet printed with New Greatness’s platform, and a t-shirt emblazoned with anarchist symbols.

Screenshot from the Telegram channel Kremlin Washerwomen. “Searches taking place at the home of supports of an obscure organization by the name of New Greatness. The guys drink a lot and cannot pin down their views.”

After lunch, Kremlin Washerwoman posted a video showing Kostylenkov’s confession. Out of breath, Kostylenkov recites a memorized text, mentioning in particular plans for “organizing a tribunal for members of the ruling elite” and “practice in shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails.”

Screenshot of Ruslan Kostylenkov’s alleged confession. Courtesy of Grani.ru’s Twitter account

The movement’s website contains only a home page featuring a notification that the site would be launched on March 15, that is, today. It also contains a brief, two-paragraph description of the movement’s objectives.

“We are the ones who will awake a sense of their own self-worth in people and help the nations of Russian acquire the energy for reviving the spirit of victors,” reads the text. “Only together can we build a strong country the rest of the world will respect and take into account.”

At the same time, both “pro-regime” and “opposition” forces are criticized for “divvying up spheres of influence,” while “ordinary people vegetate in poverty and dishonor, having forgotten the plight of the Motherland in which they live is in their hands.”

Screenshot of the homepage of New Greatness’s website

New Greatness began posting on its VK page on December 30 of last year. In late January, the movement encouraged people to take part in a rally demanding the preservation of trolleybus service in Moscow. The capital’s mayor has gradually been replacing trolleybus lines with bus line, which has sparked protests by environmentalists.

In February, New Greatness launched a large-scale campaign to paste anti-Putin leaflets around Moscow. The movement signaled it was in favor of boycotting the presidental election. On February 25, its activists were involved in the Boris Nemtsov Memorial March in Moscow.

On February 26, a pinned post was published on the movement’s VK page that read as follows: “Our young, ambitious, and quickly growing organization needs your help. If you are finally ready for the fight and willing to sacrifice your time and strength for the sake of our Motherland’s future by working in strong team led by an energetic leader, then join us. To do that, you must live in Moscow or Moscow Region and write to the message inbox on this page. If you cannnot help out physically, help us financially!”

The message is followed by an electronic address for transferring money.

On the evening of March 14, the Telegram canal A Copper Spills posted a message that opened as follows: “Evidence that an extremist organization has been established has been uncovered.”

The post’s author claimed Center “E” investigators in Moscow’s Southeastern District had discovered that “unidentified persons” had established “a group accessible to all [VK] users, which posted information about the creation of an informal political association whose main activity is involvement in popular insurrections, revolutionary actions, and clashes with the authorities.”

“The evidence is there, but for now we’ll keep quiet about everything else. When the times comes, we will tell all,” the author of the post concludes.

Kuntsevo is located in Moscow’s Western District, not in the Southeastern District. Besides, none of New Greatness’s posts contain calls for clashes with the authorities. In this connection, it is difficult to give an unequivocal answer to the question of whether the post on A Copper Spills had anything to do with the recent searches.

Thanks to Comrade Sammakko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. Not that anyone much cares (I’m not trying to be smug: I really don’t get the sense there are huge numbers of people either in my reading audience, Russia or the great wide world who genuinely care about any of this), but I think we can extract three takeway lessons rom the war the Russian security services and police have unleased against grassroots activists in recent months.

1. When the director of the FSB or Putin (I forget who) said the other day the FSB had “prevented” fifty or a hundred or six thousand “terrorist attacks” last year, what they really had in mind is juvenile operations and investigations like the one described in the article above. That is, perfectly harmless young people with “funny ideas” and “informal” lifestyles are turned into “terrorist groups” with a little ultraviolence from the so-called security services.

The key is to scare, threaten or torture the harmless non-terrorists into confessing their non-guilt and signing confessions before letting them see a lawyer. Then their gooses are cooked for good, because cases concerning “terrorism” and “public safety” more generally have been removed from the remit of jurors in Russia, meaning they are tried by judges who know in advance what verdicts they are supposed to hand down.

A jury of more or less intelligent people would look at the flimsy evidence and the forced confessions and be tempted to acquit the defendants. If the Bolotnaya Square defendants, for example, had been tried by juries of their peers, I have no doubt most if not all of them would have been acquitted.

2. It has become extraordinarily dangerous to call for a boycott of the March 18 presidential election. Activists who have been calling for a boycott have painted big targets on their backs, and the authorities have spent the last few months shooting at them with increasing ferociousness. Depending on their ideological leanings, the activists have been sentenced to more or less long jail sentences or branded “terrorists,” as seems to be the case with the unfortunates described in the Grani.ru article, above.

I could be wrong, but this “minor terror” alone should be enough to discredit the election in the eyes of anyone with a conscience. By voting on Sunday, you will be saying to the authorities they can terrorize with impunity anyone who criticizes elections in Russia too vigorously and loudly, although that is exactly what needs to happen.

3. The only way to beat this racket is broad-based solidarity, but as we have seen with the accused in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and even with many of Navalny’s nominal supporters sent off to jail or beaten up for god knows what reason, people occupying different political camps are not too eager to show their solidarity.

The poor folks from the utterly harmless and helpless New Greatness movement, I am nearly certain, will elicit no solidarity or support from anyone whatsoever, except maybe the lawyers from Agora or Public Verdict, if they are lucky.

This points up the biggest flaw in the Russian grassroots democratic movement (if such a thing exists): its clannish, extremely partisan notions of solidarity. There are very few political activists who cross party lines to show their solidarity with their nominal opponents, and this is a huge, crippling problem for the anti-Putin, pro-democracy movement if it wants ever to move forward for real.

When it comes to folks like the New Greatness movement, it likely means they will be railroaded and sent off to a penal colony for ten years or twenty years without so much as anyone but their loved ones even noticing it happened.

After all, even silly, harmless people have human rights, such as the right to an attorney, the right to a proper investigation, and the right to a fair trial. TRR

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The Horrorshow Continues: Svyatoslav Rechkalov Tortured in Moscow

Tg4rFSHWUeY“Free Svyatoslav Rechkalov.” Photo courtesy of the VK page Popular Self-Defense

Anarchist Rechkalov Detained in Investigation of Attack on United Russia Campaign HQ, Tortured
Grani.ru
March 15, 2018

Anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, detained yesterday as part of an investigation of the attack on the United Russia party campaign headquarters in the Moscow district of Khovrino, has been remanded in custody to the Temporary Detention Center, as reported in the early hours of Thursday by OVD Info, who cited Yevgenia, a friend of Rechkalov’s who was detained at Rechkalov’s flat along with him and another person whose name has not been ascertained. It cannot be ruled out the person in question was an anarchist named Andrei, who as of Wednesday evening had also not been released from police custody.

Rechkalov informed his comrades that,when he was in the Moscow police’s investigation department, police officers had tortured him, demanding he confess his involvement in the attack. They put a plastic bag over Rechkalov’s head and administered electrical shocks to his legs.

It has not been ascertained whether Rechkalov confessed or not. Yevgenia maintains he had nothing to do with the attack on the United Russia headquarters.

Yevgenia and the unidentifed third detainee were released last night, but on Thursday they were summoned to the investigative department for questioning as witnesses.

On Thursday morning, lawyer Mikhail Biryukov reported he was going to the investigative department to obtain permission to see Rechkalov.

Yesterday, we reported that Left Bloc activist Vladimir Zhuravlov and an anarchist named Artyom had been questioned as witnesses in the case. Both men said they had no information about the attack.

In addition, security services officers searched the Left Bloc’s headquarters, confiscating all the equipment they found there and cracking open a safe. The three activists present the headquarters—Vadim Timergalin, Grigory Sineglazov, and Denis Avdeyev—were detained and taken to a police precinct. They were later released without charge.

The Left Bloc’s VK page reports officers at the precinct had “conversations” with the activists during which they repeatedly threatened them, demanding they testify against their Left Bloc comrades.

It was also noted that, during the search, a lawyer [sic] received messages from unknown accounts, messages supposedly written by the activists. They informed him they did not need his help.

Left Bloc linked the search of their headquarters and the interrogation of Zhuravlov with the ongoing campaign to boycott the upcoming Russian predisdental election. In particular, they mentioned a protest opposite the Nikulin Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard during which a banner emblazoned with the slogan “March 18: Tricks and Clowns” had been unfurled.

We assume that, as the presidential election approaches, the police and FSB want to intimidate everyone who has been calling for a boycott. They are justifiably afraid a low voter turnout is a danger to the political farce wrongly called an “election.” All activists involved in the election boycott are now in danger. We concede the outrageous instances of coercion could continue. However, no crackdown can force us to abandon the fight. Boycott the election! We cannot be intimidated! We cannot be forbidden! 

—Excerpt from a pinned post on the Left Bloc’s VK page

“March 18: Russian presidential election. Dissenters in the cellars of the FSB.” Image from the VK page Popular Self-Defense

The attack on United Russia’s campaign headquarters in Khvorino occurred late on the evening of January 30. Three people, including a young woman, took part in the attack. The attackers broke a window in the office and tossed a lighted flare inside. One of attackers filmed the attack on video.

Antifascists Yelena Gorban and Alexei Kobaidze were detained in the case on February 13, charged with vandalism under Article 214 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The crime entails a maximum punishment of three months in jail and, consequently, does not stipulate that people accused of the crime be remanded in police custody until a verdict has been reached, according to Article 108 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Procedural Code, which covers incarceration. Nevertheless, both Gorban and Kobaidze were sent to the Temporary Detention Center, as Rechkalov has been now.

However, forty-eight hours after they were apprehended, Gorban and Kobaidze were released on their own recognizance. Gorban had confessed her guilt, while it was reported Kobaidze had refused to testify, invoking his right not to incriminate himself under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.

Thanks to Comrades AR and ZV for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

“The Rowdies Have to Be Apprehended Legally, So We Can Have a Celebration in the City on March 18, not Bedlam”

8792CD92-EE28-452C-859C-77B15F02744B_w1023_r1_sThe political performance “Clanking Chains,” March 11, 2018, Petersburg. Photo by Tatyana Voltskaya. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Petersburg Puts Oppositionists on Pause: Eight More Activists Detained
Maria Karpenko, Kseniya Mironova and Anna Pushkarskaya
Kommersant
March 13, 2018 (updated March 14, 2018)

The arrests of opposition activists continue in St. Petersburg. In the last two days, police have apprehended eight activists, three of whom ended up in police custody at the courthouse, where they had gone to support their comrades. The court has already remanded eight people in custody for their alleged involvement in a protest rally that took place a month and a half ago. At Petersburg city hall, Kommersant was told, “The rowdies have to be apprehended legally, so we can have a celebration in the city on March 18, not bedlam.”

On Tuesday, Smolny District Court in St. Petersburg sentenced three opposition activists—Viktor Cherkassov, Yekaterina Shlikhta, and Ilya Gantvarg (son of Mikhail Gantvarg, ex-rector of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and Russian Federation People’s Artist)—to ten days in jail. Police had apprehended them on Monday for involvement in the so-called Voters Strike, a protest rally held on January 28 by supporters by Alexei Navalny. Yegor Ryabchenko, who was also apprehended, was only fined.

On Tuesday, police apprehended another three activists—Vladimir Kazachenko, Alexander Kirpichov, and Darya Mursalimova, who had come to support their comrades—right in the courthouse. Mursalimova and activist Sergei Belyaev, also apprehended on Tuesday, were sentenced by the same court around 11 p.m. in the evening. Mursalimova was given fifteen days in jail for repeated involvement in an unsanctioned rally, while Belyaev was sentenced to seven days in jail and twenty hours of correctional labor.

Kazachenko and Kirpichov’s court hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

The new wave of arrests was prefaced by a flash mob [sic], entitled “Clanking Chains,” during which ten activists marched down Nevsky Prospect in chains and prisoners’ outfits. The [performance], which took place on March 11, was held in support of oppositionists who had already been jailed.

The defense attorneys of all of the activists jailed on Tuesday plan to file appeals in St. Petersburg City Court. If the appeals are unsuccessful, the activists will be released only after the presidential election on March 18, just like the three oppositionists already in police custody on the same grounds.

In early march, the court sentenced Alexei Pivovarov, Open Russia’s regional coordinator, Denis Mikhailov, head of Alexei Navalny’s Petersburg headquarters, and Artyom Goncharenko, an activist with the Vesna (“Spring”) Movement, to twenty-five days in jail for their involvement in the Voters’ Strike.

Moreover, Mr. Mikhailov had just served thirty days in jail for organizing the same event, while Mr. Goncharenko had not attended the rally at all. He had merely displayed an inflatable yellow duck in the window of his apartment building, past which the protesters marched. St. Petersburg City Court rejected an appeal to overturn their jail sentences, despite arguments made by the defense that the “deferred punishment” for violating the rules on rallies was “politically motivated.”

The January 28 protest rally was peaceful. Police detained around twenty people, which was very few compared with previous unauthorized protests in Petersburg. Except for Denis Mikhailov, all of the detainees were released from police precincts after police had so-called preventive conversations with them. They were not even written up for administrative violations.

Our source at Petersburg city hall explained what was happening.

“The rowdies have to be apprehended legally, so we can have a celebration in the city on March 18, not bedlam.”

Thanks to Comrade NN for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader