Convoyed

convoyedHow is the all-too-common Russian verb etapirovat’ translated into English? Screenshot of the relevant page from the website dic.academic.ru

Yekaterina Kosarevskaya
Facebook
October 30, 2018

Viktor Filinkov has arrived in Petersburg. He’s now in Remand Prison No. 4 on Lebedev Street, but apparently he will be transferred from there to Remand Prison No. 3 on Shpalernaya Street. Yana Teplitskaya and I chatted with him for two hours until lights out.

And yesterday Roma and I chatted with Yuli Boyarshinov.

Viktor’s in a very sad state healthwise.

He took ill at every stop along the way during his convoy without having recovered from the previous stop. In Yaroslavl on Friday, before the last leg of his journey, Viktor was suddenly unable to walk. He doesn’t understand what it could have been, and he has never had anything like it before. His cellmates summoned the doctor. Viktor was taken to the dispensary. He was brought to his senses with smelling salts, given a injection of something, and left there until it was time to go.

It took three days for Viktor to get to Petersburg. They were on the road from Saturday to Tuesday, traveling only at night. During the day, the train car in which he was convoyed stood unheated and idle on the tracks.

He says he was really glad to go to Penza and hang out with [all the other prisoners in the Network case], although he did not enjoy the trip itself. The Penza Remand Prison was at such pains to show that none of the suspects in the Network case was being tortured anymore that every evening all ten suspects were inspected. They were forced to strip and undergo a full look-over, after which they were told to sign their names in a notebook. Viktor got tired of signing his name, so he took to drawing smileys, but no one followed his lead.

I wonder what it will mean when the wardens stop keeping this notebook.

Viktor told us about other remand prisons as well. He told us about Larissa the rat. He thought one inmate had made friends with her, but then he woke up and, finding the rat at the foot of his bed, he moved to a top bunk.

It transpired that the censor at the Nizhny Novgorod Remand Prison expunged not only the phrase “Public Monitoring Commission” from Yana’s letters but everything else he found unfamiliar, including “vegan,” “Homo sapiens,” and “transhumanism.”

Viktor also told us Yegor Skovoroda had written to him in a postcard that he was a nudnik. Viktor wrote a three-page letter proving it wasn’t the case, but then he thought better of it and didn’t mail the latter.

Yana and I tried to recall the latest news. We told Viktor about Saturday’s protest rallies, about our latest report, about who had successfully defended their dissertation (it wasn’t me), and who still hadn’t defended their dissertation and could thus invite Viktor to their defense (that would be me).

Yuli is in Remand Prison No. 3 on Shpalernaya Street and is fine. The only thing is that the prison’s censor has again gone on holiday, so Yuli doesn’t get any letters. So far he hasn’t received a single letter on Shpalernaya.

The censor at Remand Prison No. 4 has also gone on holiday.

UPDATE. I forgot to write that when we were traveling to Remand Prison No. 3 yesterday, Yana and I agreed that if I found out Viktor was there, I would exit the prison and telephone her so that she could travel there, too. I was worried I would waste a lot of time getting my telephone out of the box at the entrance to the prison, turning it on, and entering all the passwords. It transpired that Viktor was not there, but someone had made sure I didn’t waste any time. My telephone was turned on, and the password entry window was on the screen.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and disseminate recent articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

Yevgenia Litvinova: October 28, 2018

october 28Petersburg democracy activist Pavel Chuprunov, holding a placard that reads, “‘Yes, we tasered them, but it wasn’t torture. We were doing our jobs!’ Admission by the Soviet NKVD Russian FSB, 1938 2018.” Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg, 28 October 2018. Photo by Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
October 29, 2018

October 28 was the day chosen for publicly supporting people accused of extremism and locked up in jail, i.e., the suspects in the Network and the New Greatness cases. Petersburgers had no choice but to be involved in this international event, since some of the suspects in the Network case are from Petersburg.

The day before, I had listened to Yekaterina Kosarevskaya and Yana Teplitskaya’s brilliant but very heavy report about the use of torture in the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate. In particular, the report recounts how the young men accused in the Network case were tortured. All we can do is constantly talk about these people publicly, about what happened to them over the last year (they were arrested nearly a year ago), and what is happening to them now.

The rally in support of the young folks locked up in remand prisons on trumped-up charges was not approved by the authorities, although the organizers—Open Russia, Vesna, and Bessrochka (Endless Protest)—suggested a variety of venues in the downtown area. Everywhere was off limits.

You can protest in Udelny Park, in the far north of Petersburg, that is, in the woods. It’s a great place to have a stroll and get some fresh air, but who would be there to see your protest? The squirrels? This proposal is better than the garbage dump in Novosyolki, which the authorities always used to suggest as an alternative venue, but it’s not a suitable place for a political rally.

All that remained was the only form of political protest that doesn’t require prior approval from the authorities: solo pickets.

The protesters had different placards, but all of them were quite persuasive. They got to the heart of these frame-ups, which crush and maim people in order to earn promotions for the policemen and security services officers who dream them up.

Solo pickets had always been safe in Petersburg, unlike in Moscow, Krasnodar, and so on. That was why many people found them monotonous and boring.

“Oh, solo pickets again,” people would complain.

The plan was to take it in turns to stand holding placards on the corner of Nevsky and Malaya Sadovaya. But the folks from NOD (National Liberation Movement) read announcements for the upcoming protests and got there early. We had to move away from Malaya Sadovaya and closer to the pedestrian underpass to the subway. It’s an uncomfortable, narrow spot.

NOD has been a little sluggish lately. What happened to their weekly vigils? When there’s no money, there’s no NOD. But suddenly they had reappeared, which meant they had been asked to take to the streets by people whose offer you can’t refuse.

Recently, solo pickets have ceased to be “boring,” but there’s no reason for rejoicing. Solo pickets started becoming a staple of news reports around a month ago, when Alexander Beglov was appointed Petersburg’s acting governor. Since then, police have made a habit of detaining people at solo pickets. They make up excuses for their actions on the fly.

I knew this, of course, but I naively counted on logic and common sense winning the day. I compiled and printed out a number of laws proving that I and other “favorites” of Lieutenant Ruslan Sentemov, a senior police inspector in the public order enforcement department of Petersburg’s Central District, had to the right to speak out via solo pickets. I was planning to hand these papers to Sentemov on camera. But I didn’t see him at the rally. I thought he hadn’t come at all. Nor did he see me.

I got lucky. Because what logic had I imagined? What common sense? What laws? What right to hold solo pickets?

Sentemov did see another of his “favorites,” Dmitry Gusev. He pointed at him and said, “Detain him.”

Dmitry was not holding anything at all, much less a placard. He had no plans to be involved in the picketing. But that was that, and now he is detained at a police precinct, like dozens of other people. I counted over thirty detainees. But Alexander Shislov, Petersburg’s human rights ombudsman, writes that around fifty people were detained. Around one hundred people were at the protest.

Several detainees were released without charges, while others were charged with violating Article 20.2 Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code, but most of the detainees will spend the night in police stations. They have been charged with violating Article 20.2 Part 2, which is punishable by jail time.*

The detainees were dispersed to different police stations, some of them quite far away. They needed food, water, and toiletries. Police stations usually don’t have any of these things, although they are obliged to provide them if they detain someone for more than three hours.

Over ten people who were present with me at the protest traveled the police stations to check on the detainees. The rest came from the Observers HQ at Open Space. We constantly called and wrote each other, makingsure no one had been left without assistance. I hope that was how it worked out. The detainees should have everything they need for this evening, overnight, and tomorrow morning.

Natalia Voznesenskaya and I had planned to go to the 28th Police Precinct, but all the detainees there had been released.

We went instead to the 7th Precinct. The internet told us it was near the Kirovsky Zavod subway station. We wandered for a long time amidst the nice little houses built after the war, supposedly by German POWs. We arrived at the police station only to find that its number had recently changed. It was no longer the 7th Precinct, but the 31st Precinct.

We went to the real 7th Precinct, on Balkanskaya Street. Elena Grigoryeva, Dmitry Dorokhin, and two other men were detained there. (One of the men had been taken away by ambulance.) Unexpectedly, the 7th Precinct was a decent place. It was no comparison with the 76th and 78th Precincts, in the Central District. The police officers on duty there accepted our food packages and spoke politely with us.

We ran into Alexander Khmelyov at the station. Wielding a power of attorney as a social defender, he had come to see what kind of mattresses and linens had been issued to the detainees. There were no bedbugs. What was more, the police officers brought the detainees supper from a nearby cafe. They were obliged to do it, but their colleagues at other precincts never do it, and detainees usually don’t even get breakfast.

So, now the stomachs of the detainees were full, and they could take the food we had brought with them to court. Court hearings can last eight hours or more, although it happens that fifteen minutes is all the time a judge needs. There is usually no difference. The court’s rulings have been written in advance.

Before leaving the house to go the protest in support of the suspects in the New Greatness and Network cases, I listened to a program on Echo of Moscow about the case of Elena Kerenskaya, sister of Alexander Kerensky, chair of the Provisional Government in 1917. Kerenskaya was executed by the NKVD in Orenburg on February 2, 1938.

I don’t want to blow things out of proportion, but it has become easier and easier to under how the trials of the 1930s happened the way they did.

* Article 20.2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code covers “violation[s] of the established procedure for organizing and holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets.” Part 2 stipulates punishments for people who organize or hold rallies without notifying the authorities in advance. They can be jailed for up to ten days or fined up to 30,000 rubles (400 euros).

Translated by the Russian Reader

How the FSB Tortures Detainees: Stories of the Victims

How the FSB Tortures: The St. Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission’s Report and the Stories of the Victims
Team 29
October 25, 2018

Torture victims and activists say violence has become a common practice in the security services. Anyone whosoever can become their victim: Muslims and atheists, anarchists and entrepreneurs, industrial climbers and police officers. The victims are afraid to talk about what happened to them, while family members, physicians, and eyewitnesses are threatened into staying silent. Members of the St. Petersburg Public Commission for Monitoring Conditions in Places of Detention (hereafter, PMC) have written a report on how the FSB tortures detainees and witnesses in FSB offices, remand prisons, vehicles, forests, and garages. We have excerpted the highlights of their report in what follows, as well as publishing a video (above) in which the victims and their relatives tell their own stories.

“Writhing from the Electrical Current, He Lifted the FSB Officer and Himself into the Air”
In December 2017, the FSB’s Saint Petersburg office announced it had prevented a terrorist attack on Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral, in downtown Petersburg. Seven people were detained on suspicion of involvement in planning the attack. Five of them were remanded in custody. What happened to the other two suspects is still not known.

One of the detainees, Aliskhan Esmurziyev, says his torture began in a minivan, in which FSB officers, their faces covered, kicked and tasered him. He was then taken to an FSB office, where he could hear the other detainees screaming. After he was interrogated by an investigator, he was taken to a separate room, where, according to Esmurziyev, he was handcuffed, a sack was pulled over his head, and crocodile clips were attached to his feet. Esmurziyev was electrocuted while an FSB officer sat astride him. His body writhing from the electrical current, Esmurziyev lifted the FSB officer and himself into the air.

Another detainee, Shamil Omargadzhiyev, was beaten in front of his pregnant wife. According to the PMC’s information, FSB officers broke into his home, which they searched while beating and kicking him, knocking out one of his teeth and demanding he confess to planning the terrorist attack. When he was delivered to court, he fainted several times. In the compartment of the paddy wagon in which he had been transported, it had been difficult for him to breath. Six feet five inches tall, Omargadzhiyev had had his hands tied back in a way that made it impossible for him to sit down and thus breathe.

Both detainees are accused of illegal possession of weapons (punishable under Article 222 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). Esmurziyev filed a complaint with the Russian Investigative Committee about the crimes committed against him, but later rescinded the complaint for “procedural” reasons. Omargadzhiyev’s defense counsel also filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee, but it refused to open a criminal investigation while also not allowing him to see the written judgment that explained the reasons for the refusal.

“If I Didn’t Know the Answer, I Was Electrocuted”
Eleven young men in St. Petersburg and Penza were accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” and arrested. Most of them are antifascists and anarchists. The FSB claims they were members of an underground organization known as the Network, which planned “to incite the popular masses in order to subsequently destabilize the political circumstances” in Russia during the March 2018 presidential election and this summer’s 2018 FIFA Football World Cup, held in Russia. The case is currently under investigation. Most of the suspects have been in remand prisons since October 2017 and January 2018, respectively, and several of them have reported being tortured.

Novosibirsk native Arman Sagynbayev was detained in Petersburg in November 2017. He would later recount that he had been put in a minivan and had a sack pulled over his head. Two wires were attached to his hands, and he was electrocuted while being beaten over the head with something resembling a day planner.

“The torture lasted approximately four hours, but I cannot say for certain, because I had no way of telling the time and I was in a lot of pain,” Sagynbayev recounts.

Petersburg resident Yuli Boyarshinov was jailed in an overcrowded cell at Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo, located just beyond the Petersburg city lines in neighboring Leningrad Region. In the cell, which had 110 cots for 150 prisoners, the “senior” inmates, who cooperated with the wardens, routinely beat up the other prisoners. Boyarshinov was also beaten. He was called to the kitchen, which is not outfitted with CCTV cameras, and quizzed about the circumstances of his arrest. He was beaten in such a way that no traces of the assault were left on his body. He was also threatened with rape.

FSB officers detained Viktor Filinkov at Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport in January 2018. He was taken to an unknown location, where the FSB officers commenced interrogating, beating, and electrocuting him right in the vehicle.

Subsequently, members of the Petersburg PMC noted numerous wounds on his thigh in the shape of paired, evenly spaced dots, such as a taser would have left behind.

“If I didn’t know the answer,” says Filinkov, “I was electrocuted. If my answer was not what they expected, I was electrocuted. If I thought for too long or took to long to give an answer, I was electrocuted. If I forgot what I had been told, I was electrocuted.”

Filinkov’s defense counsel filed an official request for a criminal investigation, but his request was rejected. In September 2018, he filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Members of the Petersburg PMC visited Igor Shishkin, another suspect in the Network case, on January 27, 2018. Since he was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and trousers, they noted only the injuries they could see, including

  • a large bruise around his left eye all the way to the bone;
  • blood in the corner of his left eye;
  • an abrasion in the middle of his left cheek;
  • marks from handcuffs on both hands;
  • a split lower lip;
  • a bruise around his right eye;
  • scratches on his left cheek;
  • a burn on the back of his left hand.

Later, similar burns were noted on Shiskin’s back and the back of his thigh.

Ilya Kapustin was not a suspect in the Network case. Nevertheless, he was interrogated as a witness and tasered for four hours in a car before being taken to FSB headquarters, where the interrogation was resumed.

The Malvina Taser
Major Ilya Shchukin, head of the property crimes desk at the Tosno District Police Precinct, and Field Investigator Sergei Laslov are suspected of official misconduct and falsifying evidence. They allegedly replaced Suprastin with amphetamines in a pack of cigarettes confiscated from a detainee. Prior to this, they had allegedly been involved in planting drugs on people to bolster clearance rates.

On April 12, 2017, FSB officers detained Shchukin and two of his colleagues in the town of Kirishi. Shchukin was dragged from his car and immobilized. The hood of his jacket was pulled over his head, and he was taken to a van. In the van, he was asked what he was doing there. When he replied, officers of the FSB’s special weapons and tactics division Grad (“Hail”) told him he was lying and tasered his fingers several times. He was asked more questions and electrocuted several times. Shchukin was tortured for approximately an hour and a half. He was electrocuted in the groin and anus. The Grad officers told Shchukin he would have no more children.

“The door of the van would open from time to time. I would hear a man saying I was talking shit and the Grad officers should keep working me over,” Shchukin recounts.

Shchukin was then taken to another van and forced to kneel with his hands cuffed behind his back for approximately an hour. Only then was Shchukin driven to an FSB office. He refused to plead guilty. During interrogations, Shchukin told his interrogators on several occasions that he had been tortured. His burns were examined by a specialist, but the specialist was, supposedly, unable to establish whether the wounds were typical of a taser, since he did not the taser’s model. Shchukin knew it was a Malvina brand taser, but his appeal for a second forensic examination was rejected.

Sergei Laslov was detained on July 6, 2017, in his police precinct. He was driven in a bus to nearby garages. It was there, Laslov recounts, that an FSB officer demanded he confess to the crime, and a Grad officer tasered him. Laslov refused to confess his guilt, and so he was driven to a forest on the outskirts of Tosno. There, says Laslov, a senior FSB officer ordered he be bent forward head towards the floor, and a Grad officer beat him, delivering taser blows to his crotch and groin.

A short propaganda film about the Petersburg FSB Grad unit, broadcast on Russian television and posted on YouTube in 2014. This video is not part of the Petersburg PMC and Team 29’s report, but it nicely characterizes the extreme militarization of policing under the Putin regime.

Laslov was tortured for over two hours. The first taser went dead, so the Grad officer was given another, larger taser. Ultimately, Laslov agreed to tell how, allegedly, he had committed the crime so they would stop torturing him. He was driven to an FSB office, where he signed a typewritten statement.

Laslov told his defense counsel about the torture. A medical forensics expert noted the injuries from the tasers on Laslov’s body. Laslov filed a criminal complaint. In October 2017, an investigator with the Military Investigative Committee issued a decision refusing to initiate criminal proceedings. A military prosecutor overruled the refusal, but the investigator reissued it.

“I Felt Unbearable Pain”
Igor Salikov is accused of sexual assault. He believes his ex-wife paid the security services to charge him with the crime.

Salikov says that on the early morning of May 7, 2018, police investigators, an FSB officer, and a masked man came to the home he shares with his common-law wife Olga Smirnova in the village of Ogonki, Leningrad Region, for the latest in a series of searches. Later, Salnikov would identify the masked man as the officer with the FSB’s economic security service in Petersburg’s Petrograd District who searched his house in October in connection with a weapons possession investigation.

It was the masked man, Salikov says, who handcuffed him and repeatedly struck Olga Smirnova with a truncheon. She was then driven away by plainclothes FSB officers, while Salikov was interrogated. When the FSB officer did not like his answers, he hit Salikov with a truncheon and tasered him. Salikov’s female housekeeper called the police, but when they arrived, the FSB officer and one of the investigators went outside to talk with them, and they soon left.

After Salikov again refused to incriminate himself, he was pushed in the back and fell face first on the floor. Salikov recalls that the FSB officers took one of the rifles Salikov kept in the house and used it to strike Salikov in the anus.

“The blow was so strong the rifle barrel penetrated me, ripping through my trousers, and nearly nailing me to the floor. I felt unbearable pain.”

An ambulance was summoned. Salikov was first taken to the district hospital, and then to Petersburg, where he was able to get the medical attention he needed. He was diagnosed as having suffered a ruptured bladder, ruptured anus, ruptured colon, and other injuries.

Salikov’s request to have a criminal torture investigation opened was turned down, since it was, allegedly, impossible to establish the involvement of specific officers in the Petrograd District office of the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate.

The members of the St. Petersburg PMC argue torture has become an integral part of the investigations and inquiries carried out by officers of the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate. As the PMC members point out, however, local FSB officers enjoy absolute impunity, since neither the Military Investigative Committee nor the military courts do their jobs. The PMC members suggest disbanding the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate and prosecuting all FSB officers involved in torture without transferring the directorate’s functions to another organization.

Authors: Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya, Members of the St. Petersburg Public Commission for Monitoring Conditions in Places of Detention 
Legal Consultant: Daryana Gryaznova
Video: Anastasia Andreyeva
Editors: Nikolai Ovchinnikov and Tatyana Torocheshnikova

Translated by the Russian Reader

Lilia Shevtsova: Gutting Russia

1535459018_stena-1The Wall, one of the Russian National Guard’s new toys for crushing popular unrest. Photo courtesy of Voennoe obozrenie

Lilia Shevtsova
Facebook
September 27, 2018

Gutting the State
“They are crazy!” we wail as we gaze at the regime’s latest stunts.

“What stupidity!” the commentators exclaim in horror as they compile the Kremlin’s list of shame: raising the retirement age; a high-ranking silovik threatening to kill Navalny in a duel; the fiasco of the so-called Salisbury tourists; vote rigging in the Maritime Territory; the Russian fighter plane shot down by the Syrians with our own rocket; the hole in our spaceship, patched up with epoxy; threats to ban use of the US dollar in Russia; more lies about Malaysian Airlines Flight 17; and Navalny’s latest arrest.

The regime’s attempts to rectify its blunders only exacerbate the circumstances, turning them into farces. Did annulling the election in Vladivostok restore people’s faith in elections? Were the elections in Vladimir Region and Khabarovsk Territory not turned into farces when the winners did their level best not to win? And what about the televised interview with the Salisbury tourists? What should we make of attempts to blame Israel for downing the Russian warplane, and the Americans for punching a hole in the Soyuz capsule? The latest act of shooting ourselves in the foot was supplying the Syrians with a S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which is a threat to Israel and, of course, the US. (The Israelis will most certainly respond.)

If we regard all these topsy-turvy achievements as the outcomes of stupidity, the hope emerges that we can fix the stupidity by purging the ranks of officialdom, which is exactly what the Kremlin, in fact, sunk its teeth into today. Actually, what we regard as failure and stupidity have long become the new normal. What we see are the outcomes of a monopoly on political power, which has turned its own replication into an end in itself, and of a negative selection of members of the political elite based on the loyalty principle. In short, a duelist in charge of the Russian National Guard, and poisoners disguised as tourists are the new Russian normal. They are logical and inevitable consequences.

The wailing about a crisis at the top is, therefore, groundless. Russia skipped over the crisis stage. A crisis is a natural turn of events that compels society to look for new solutions and new people to implement them. When this does not happen, society and its superstructures rot. This stinky viscous goo is our current location. Decay prevents collapse: what is rotting cannot collapse. But decay also prevents our country from finding the strength to change.

The ruling class can seemingly take it easy, for the system somehow hobbles along. There are no large-scale protests, and the protests that do occur can either be ignored or quashed, especially since the National Guard has special new crowd-control armored vehicles at its disposal like the Shield, the Storm, the Wall, and so on.

In reality, things have taken a serious turn for Russia. By seeking to ensure its endlessness, the regime has been destroying the Russian state. That is a whole other ballgame. We have reached the point at which the ruling class has been rocking the pillars of statehood, destroying its own guarantee of survival in the bargain.

By outsourcing violence to volunteer oprichniki, the regime has deprived the state of one of its vital attributes: a monopoly on violence. By making Russia a global scarecrow, the regime has undermined the country’s international status and the external habitat in which it dwells. By rejecting strategic planning in favor of tactical maneuvers, the regime has stripped the country of the capacity for progress. By making the Russian state a tool of clan domination, the regime has destabilized the country, since society has been forced to defend its own interests by protesting on the streets.

Finally, by destroying institutions and making the rules of the game relative (there is more than one way to “get things done: in Russia), the regime has plunged the country into a state of lawlessness. When lawlessness ensues, no one is safe from it.

Do the guys in the Kremlin not realize how things will end? Apparently, they do understand, but they are incapable of stopping.

The autocracy survived in 1991 by scrapping the Soviet state. The autocracy has now been trying to survive by turning the post-Soviet Russian state into a lip-synched song about superpowerdom.

Lilia Shevtsova is a well-known Russian political scientist. Translated by the Russian Reader

How to Become a “Russian Expert” on Facebook in a Matter of Weeks!

paintingSaints Cyrill and Methodius Church on Ligovsky Avenue in Petersburg, as seen from the end of Tyushin Street, 27 October 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

How do you become a “Russia expert” on Facebook in a matter of weeks?

Method No. 1: Claim “the Russians” are behind literally everything untoward that happens in the world, from attempted piped bombings in the United States to typhoons in the South Pacific.

How does this method work?

It’s easy!

First, never provide any hard evidence of this alleged “Russian” influence. Refer vaguely but insistently to allegedly irrefutable research—done by someone else, of course—on how social networks can be used to disseminate fake news and crackpot theories.

Second, don’t learn Russian or spend any time in Russia.

In fact, it helps a lot if you know as little as possible about Russians and Russia, because knowing something would needlessly complicate your ambition to have yourself deemed a “Russia expert” on Facebook.

Finally and most important, if someone calls you on the carpet for your glaring lack of evidence and knowledge, and the spurious logic of your arguments, accuse the person of being “rude and aggressive” and immediately unfriend them. You can’t afford to have someone who actually knows something about Russia and Russians or can even just ask a decent question that throws a less than glowing light on your dicey arguments and made-up facts hanging round bothering you and your devoted virtual fans, for you have a higher calling.

You’re a “Russia expert”! {TRR}

This Is Mikhail Gerasimov from Nizhny Novgorod

gerasimovMikhail Gerasimov. Photo courtesy of his personal page on VK and OVD Info

This is Mikhail Gerasimov from Nizhny Novgorod. He is eighteen. Yesterday, FSB officers came to the young man’s house, took him in for questioning, and arrested him.

Mikhail photographed two pages from the investigator’s warrant and sent them to a friend. Mikhail also managed to call the Political Red Cross and tell them the FSB wants to level criminal charges against him for ten posts on social networks, all of them published prior to [sic] December 2016. It was then, according to Mikhail, that he learned about [Alexei] Navalny and changed his views.

One of the two pages of the warrant refers to a forensic examination of an entry from Mikhal’s personal social media page.

The entry opens with the phrase, “Are you tried of this Moskaland?” It ends with the phrase, “There those Rus[expletive deleted] got what was coming.”

The forensic examination concluded the phrase contained an incitement to physically destroy the legal authorities and justified destructive actions that the author [sic] attributed to ISIS: the crash of a Tupolev Tu-154 [Russian Defense Ministry] jetliner [in 2016] and the murder of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey.

A criminal investigation has been opened into whether Gerasimov made public calls for terrorist attacks or justified terrorism on the internet [punishable by up to seven years in prison under Article 205.2 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code].

Today at 2:00 p.m., the Moscow District Court in Nizhny Novgorod will decide whether to remand Gerasimov in custody.

Source: OVD Info’s Facebook page. Read their full story here. Translated by the Russian Reader

It Was a Joke

rostovpapaRussians do not swallow the regime’s propaganda hook, line and sinker, argues Ivan Mikirtumov, but use it to guide their public behavior. Photo by the Russian Reader

Why the Russian President Made Fun of Russian Propaganda
Ivan Mikirtumov
Vedomosti
October 22, 2018

Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 18, Vladimir Putin told his audience the punchline of what would later emerge as a “funny” joke about nuclear war.

“As martyrs, we will go to heaven, and they will simply croak, because they won’t even have time to repent,” said Putin.

Judging by the overall reaction, the joke has been a success.

The genre of the humorous anecdote, including the political anecdote, was typical of the Soviet period, that is, of a communist dictatorship in the midst of the Cold War. Unlike texts and drawings, anecdotes were an oral genre and, therefore, were relatively harmless to disseminate. The technical difficulties of proving someone had told a joke made it a less than reliable tool for snitching on other people. This sometimes had to do with the content. If you wanted to inform on someone who had told you a joke about Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, the KGB, the Politburo, etc., then likely as not you would have had to quote in writing what you had heard or, at any rate, admit you knew the joke. Under certain circumstances, however, this knowledge could be used against you.

In post-Stalinist times, people were rarely punished for telling jokes. Jokes were widespread in Soviet culture, achieving exceptional heights of wit and observation. Jokes could be used to track public opinion, since they reflected society’s critical self-consciousness. Jokes were a form of feedback, but by virtue of its unique incompetence the Soviet regime ignored them, too.

Everything dangerous, hostile, evil, harmful, stupid, and meaningless is made into a figure of fun when it fails and falls through. People do not laugh at things that are huge and horrible until they are rendered pitiful, proven weak, and shown to be a sham. Stalin gave people little occasion to laugh, because he rarely failed, but the leaders of the late-Soviet period and the entire Soviet system were perfect targets for jokes and other species of ridicule. It is said Brezhnev was smart enough to laugh at jokes about himself, but it was not something he did publicly.

Putin told his audience the punchline of a joke whose opening line we can imagine as an oral exam question at the General Staff Academy, a question asked by the examiner in a room adorned with framed photographs of the commander-in-chief and the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

“Tell me, how will the outcome of a nuclear war differ for Russians and people in western countries?

Why is it that Putin’s answer to this imaginary question might seem funny? What was he ridiculing?

Mentioning heaven, martyrdom, and repentance in a military context in Russia, a country in which cynicism has reigned supreme, is tantamount to a direct attack on official religiosity, as instilled by the regime, a religiosity that has become dreadfully tiresome to everyone. The notion Russians will go to heaven wholesale, whether they believe in God or not, whether they are religious believers of any denomination at all, and whether they are vicious or virtuous, is tantamount to a scathing parody of religious beliefs.

Nuclear war is the business of the military. It thus transpires souls are saved and people canonized as martyrs at the behest of the Russian army’s top brass. With Putin in charge of it, heaven promises to be something like an army barracks, so the entire satire on martyrdom and salvation was performed as a “humorous shtick” of the sort favored by Russia’s siloviki.

What do generals have to say about the soul’s salvation? They say what they are supposed to say, as they gaze at the patriarch’s framed photograph on the wall.

Recently, General Zolotov and the two heroic Russian tourists who took a trip to Salisbury this past March found themselves in the limelight nearly at the same time. We can easily imagine these men holding forth on heaven, martyrdom, and repentance. Putin’s joke was clearly a sendup of the symbiosis between state-imposed religiosity and militarism, a crucial concept in current Russian agitprop.

It is short step from a joke like this to jokes about Orthodox secret policemen, monarchist communists, sovereign democracy, the Kiev “junta,” the US State Department’s vials and cookies, and ritual murders, performed by Jews, of course, on Orthodox babies (and the tsar’s entire family in the bargain), and so on. During the years of Putin’s rule, a whole Mont Blanc of drivel has sprung up, and whole hosts of freaks have come out of the woodwork. It is simply amazing there are still so few jokes about Putin and Putinism in circulation, but now, I imagine, things will kick off, since the main character in these jokes has taken the bull by the horns.

This does not mean, of course, that, by artfully telling his joke, Putin meant to take the piss out of himself and his regime. We are dealing here with the long-familiar militarist bravado summed up by the saying “Broads will give birth to new soldiers,” with the teenage frivolity typical of the siloviki, a frivolity they enjoy acting out.

“We’ll wipe the floor with them,” as they would say.

If, however, Putin was publicly ridiculing the concept behind current state propaganda, we are confronted with a bad joke, a bad joke told to the selfsame ordinary Russians who are targets of the propaganda so ridiculed, while the guy who made the cute joke is the same guy who presides over production of this propaganda and benefits from it.

The rules of the genre have been violated, for now it is the audience, the public that has been ridiculed. Clearly, Russia’s ruling elite despises the people it attempts to manipulate, and the propagandists sometimes laugh themselves silly backstage after they have concocted a particularly nimble con.

I don’t think Russians are gulled by the Kremlin’s propaganda. Rather, they register the messages transmitted to them by the regime as signals telling them what to say and do in certain circumstances. This lovely consensus is destroyed when the concept underpinning the propaganda has been publicly turned into a laughingstock, because people who have been pretending in recent years that they take it seriously find themselves in an awkward situation. They have lost face, having themselves been made ludicrous.

How, then, do they answer the question as to why they played along with the regime in its efforts to gull them? The only plausible explanation for this behavior is shameful thoughtlessness, fear, and impotence, things to which no one wants to admit.

Ivan Mikirtumov is a visiting lecturer at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader