Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB and Pictures of Putin: The Story of a Couple Seeking Political Asylum in Georgia
August 22, 2018
Kristina Snopp and her husband, Denis. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info
A young married couple from Krasnodar Territory have applied for political asylum in Georgia. So far, they have had two interviews with the immigration service. The couple are certain that if they weresent back to Russia they would face criminal charges and prison sentences. Sofia Rusova discovered how a reporter at a municipal newspaper and her bike mechanic husband attracted the notice of local FSB agents and the police.
Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB
“I am Kristina Snopp, and I am afraid to return to Russia.”
This was how the 32-year-old reporter from Tuapse prefaced her asylum request to the Georgian authorities. Snopp and her husband, Denis Snopp, are currently living in a refugee center in Georgia. Snopp made the decision to leave Russia after she learned her posts on the social media network VK had been examined for “extremism” and “insulting religious believers.”
Snopp never wanted to be involved in politics. She was never a member of a political party, permitting herself to have opinions only on a few issues like religion, the environment, and Russia’s foreign policy. If she did attend protest rallies, they mainly had to do with ecological issues. Like many residents of Tuapse she protested construction of a bulk shipping terminal by the company EuroChem in 2011.
Back in 2014, Snopp received a call on her mobile phone from an FSB officer who introduced himself as Denis. He wanted to talk with her.
“For around two hours, he grilled me about the people with whom I interacted. Moreover, he asked personal questions about my beliefs, what organizations I was involved with, and why,” Snopp recounts.
“I’m a very inquisitive person. I’m really interested in world religions and, at the time, I was hanging out with people from different confessions, with the Hindus (yogis), Muslims, Protestants, and pagans in our area. FSB agent Denis was really interested in information about people who practiced religions other than Russian Orthodoxy. He suggested I cooperate with the FSB in combating ‘cults.’ I turned him down. Denis copied down my details and said we should stay in touch, and I should contact him if I found out something new. He told me people in Russia should be religious believers, moreover they had better be Russian Orthodox Christians, since it was the ‘state religion and the most correct religion,’ as he put it. Denis also asked me questions about my political views. I replied I was basically uninterested in politics.”
As the saying goes, if you are not interested in politics, politics is interested in you. Roughly a month after the first informal meeting, the FSB agent came to the offices of the newspaper Chernomorye segodnya [Black Sea Today], where Snopp worked, and tried to make contact with her coworkers.
In 2012, Snopp officially began working at Chernomorye segodnya, the local newspaper. After Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, the editorial policies of national media outlets changed radically. This change also affected the tiny newspaper in Tuapse. When she publicly criticized Putin’s foreign policies on social networks, local internet forums, and in discussions with friends, Snopp attracted the close scrutiny of her editors and once again came to the attention of Tuapse’s intelligence services.
“I was concerned about it, since I believed Russia’s actions were mean and unfair to Ukraine. Moreover, I had friends in Ukraine, who wrote to me on social networks about the real state of affairs there, about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea and Donbass, and the lawlessness they were perpetrating even as President Putin denied it was happening. I published posts on my page on VK in which Putin was compared with Hitler,” Snopp says.
Her editors at Chernomorye segodnya knew about Snopp’s stance on Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. When she labeled it annexation outright, her editor, Alexei Chamchev, said, “Then, what are you doing here? Leave the country.”
According to Snopp, her job became more and more emotionally complicated. The newspaper published numerous commissioned articles meant to defame specific people, as well as articles that openly encouraged hatred of Ukrainians and praised Russian politicians. Snopp would refuse to work on these articles. She mainly wrote about daily news, and cultural and religious events.
In 2015, under a pseudonym, Snopp published articles about environmental conditions in Tuapse on the website Proza.ru and VK. She wrote about environmentally harmful industrial facilities, the increase in incidences of cancer and high levels of unemployment in the city, and how city hall hushed up the problems.
“At press conferences, I would post straight, tough questions to regional ecologists who argued that all the indicators were well within the norms. My boss knew about it, of course. When I arrived in Tuapse as a student in 2001, the city was still beautiful and thriving. Lots of tourists visited the city. Gradually, the industrial estates expanded so much they literally consumed all the beauty of those places. The ugly oil tanks, the industrial buildings, the fumes, steam, and chemical dust produced by the factories, and the oil waste pouring into the river and the sea have disfigured and poisoned my beloved city. There is a lot to say about the harm caused to the locals,” says Snopp.
Dismissal from the Newspaper
There were no actual reasons to fire Snopp from her job at the newspaper, but immediately after the 2016 New Year’s holiday, she was urged to quit her job on her own, as it were.
The photograph that supposedly led to Kristina Snopp’s dismissal from her job. Courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info
The ostensible cause for her dismissal was a playful, artsy photo shoot in which Snopp and her husband, dressed in black leather, portrayed Satanist metalheads, an inverted pentagram hanging in the background.
“The editor told me privately the real reason I was fired was something else. People in city hall had long been advising him to get rid of such a politically unreliable reporter,” says Snopp.
After her dismissal from the newspaper in Tuapse, Snopp and her husband moved to Krasnodar. Snopp thought she would have no trouble finding work in the big city. At first, she looked for jobs in journalism. She had dozens of interviews and completed various assignments, but she was constantly turned down.
Snopp decided to write for her own pleasure while earning money another way. She got a job as a shop clerk at a tobacco chain store. Soon, however, the proprietor got a phone call from an anonymous caller who informed him Snopp was a member of an “extremist” organization. She was fired.
In February 2018, police officers telephoned Snopp’s relatives and her husband’s relatives, demanding they provide them with the couple’s exact address.
“On February 14, police showed up at Denis’s workplace. They wanted to see me as well. Denis called, and I went there. We were not given an official written summons. Nothing was explained to us. We were told we would have to go to the Interior Ministry’s main office for Krasnodar Territory. Police Captain Denis Polyantsev assured us both it was no big deal. He just needed information from us. However, Polyantsev joked I could have been as famous as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, meaning my amateur punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental, which I founded in 2012. According to Polyantsev, it was the group that had provoked suspicions of ‘extremism,'” says Snopp.
A photo of Kristina Snopp’s punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental. Courtesy of the band’s VK page
The couple were delivered to the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), whose officers asked about posts Snopp had published three years earlier on a social media page that had been deleted. Among the posts was a demotivator in which Putin was compared with Hitler, and parallels were drawn between Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Questions were also asked about post critical of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), for example, a demotivator in which an ROC priest blesses a missile dubbed Satan.
“I regarded these posts and cartoons more as political satire, the reaction of a concerned citizen to events in Russia. I had no intention of insulting anyone. Nevertheless, the Interior Ministry’s forensic examiners decided that by posting the cartoons I had incited hatred toward the president, Russian patriots, and Russian Orthodox Christians. I was shown a thick folder containing screenshots of my posts from various years and forensic findings I was not allowed to read,” says Snopp.
A photo of Kristina Snopp holding what looks to be a skull. According to a police forensic examination, the skull was real. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info
A photograph of Snopp holding a skull, taken in a cemetery during an amateur goth style photo shoot she published on her VK page, also caused suspicion among police officers. Polyantsev told Snopp forensic experts who examined the photos determined it was a real human skull. However, the online album containing the photos was captioned, and the captions clearly explained the skull was a fake. To be more precise, it was a piggy bank, purchased for 500 rubles at a souvenir stand in the railway station market in Tuapse.
Snopp says Polyantsev constantly put pressure on the couple during their questioning. He cited facts from her life and the lives of her relatives, suggesting he knew everything about them.
“Alas, my husband and I were so out of it that we went to the meeting without lawyers. We didn’t think about it from a legal viewpoint. We did not ask for copies of the summons, the forensic examinations or our own testimony. Basically, we had no written proof of what happened to us. However, the Russian police operate this way quite often, aware most people are illiterate when it comes to the law and lose their cool in these circumstances. Besides, we did not have the money to pay the fee the lawyer initially requested,” recounts Snopp.
Almost a month later, Polyantsev telephoned Snopp again. He informed her that the case file, containing her posts on VK, had been sent to Tuapse. She would need to go meet a police investigator on March 20, 2018, a meeting at which she would be given an official summons. Snopp realized if she signed for receipt of the summons, she would also be made to sign a form releasing her on her own recognizance and would probably be charged with several crimes, including “extremism.”
Snopp left Russia on March 18, the day of the last presidential election. Soon afterwards, her husband, who had stayed on in Krasnodar to work, got a call from Polyantsev, who told him that if he did not tell investigators where his wife was, he would be accused of harboring a criminal. Several days later, Denis Snopp left Russia as well.
When they arrived in Georgia, Kristina and Denis Snopp applied for political asylum. They have had their second interview with immigration officials.
Translated by the Russian Reader