“Focus”: The Lesson of Shiyes

Dmitry Sekushin. Photo courtesy of 7×7

Hi!

This is the 7×7 team on the line. This newsletter has been written by Oleg Gradov. What inspired the environmental protests at Shiyes and why there is no mass protest nowadays is the subject of our newsletter today.

Approximate reading time: 4 minutes.

I’m sorry if you’re from Moscow and our headline hurts your feelings. No one will be scolding the residents of the capital in this newsletter. The quote “Moscow lost its fucking mind” refers only to the leadership of that city and our country, but we will talk more about this later.

One of the few successful cases of protest in Russia’s recent history is Shiyes. In 2018, the authorities decided to construct a landfill in the Arkhangelsk Region to dispose of the waste produced by residents of the Russian capital. The locals did not like it, they started holding protest rallies, and eventually the landfill project was canceled. For this newsletter, I spoke with Dmitry Sekushin, one of the participants and coordinators of the Shiyes protest movement. Marina Feldt, an ex-staffer with the Navalny organization in Arkhangelsk, spontaneously joined our conversation.

What is Shiyes?

Shiyes is a small railway station in the southeast of the Arkhangelsk Region on the border with the Komi Republic. Protests against the landfill took place between 2018 and 2021. The protests at Shies were heavily supported by residents of the Arkhangelsk Region: [according to a poll by the Levada Center] 95% were opposed to the landfill, while 25% were willing to attend unsanctioned protest rallies. The activists were supported by both Russian and foreign journalists, as well as by residents of thirty Russian regions who were concerned about environmental problems and held protests in their own cities.

“The metropole does what it wants”

Where does such support for a regional protest come from? “The landfill itself would have made only a few people want to fight back,” says Dmitry Sekushin. “You have to understand how people feel about this. In our case, it was the feeling that we are a colony, and the metropole does what it wants with us. The idea that Moscow had lost its fucking mind united people.”

Realizing that you were part of a whole, not a splinter, was an important piece in the protests at Shiyes. People were aware of their responsibility for their native land and were proud of their background. “If someone in 2017 in Arkhangelsk had said that he was a Pomor, people would have thought that he was a freak. But in 2019, everyone was already proud to call themselves Pomors. This does not mean that we want to see Pomorye separated from Russia. It was just a unifying factor,” says Dmitry.

People can unite without becoming a homogeneous mass. The protests at Shiyes were environmental, not political: the activists’ demands had to with the basic human right to a decent environment. “One shouldn’t see the mass of protesters who defended Shiyes as ants,” Dmitry says on this score. “They were completely different people. I don’t see anything surprising about the fact that many of the protesters turned out to be fascists [i.e., they now support the war or are involved in it — 7×7]. They were like that in the first place.”

The goal makes all the difference

An achievable goal defines the methods of protest. “We had a goal — getting the [Shiyes landfill] project canceled. Not overthrowing Putin, not overthrowing Orlov, our [regional] governor. The goal was to shut down the project,” Sekushin emphasizes. Politicizing the protests at Shiyes could have a negative impact on the movement.

However, every day the activists were approached by people who argued that they were “protesting the wrong way.” “Some were dissatisfied with the fact that we did not talk about politics and did not chew out Putin,” says Sekushin.

To preserve the environmental component of the protests, Dmitry had to partly abandon media publicity from the opposition. “In the first few months of our protest, around December 2018, I wrote to Leonid Volkov asking Navalny not to say anything about Shiyes. I understood that the authorities would hold Navalny against us,” he says.

If you hang out on VK, you’ll go down on criminal charges

The activists used social networks to unite the protesters: they ran accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as a group page on VK. In Russia’s regions, VK remains one of the primary social networks even now, despite all the security risks. “We used VKontakte for contact with the outside world. It is wildly popular in the Arkhangelsk Region — 85-90% of social media users are on it. But for internal matters, we used only Telegram, which is a more secure network,” says Sekushin.

Nowadays, many activists do not trust Telegram, preferring instead such open-source messaging apps as Signal and Element.

Why are there no mass protests now?

Whereas, during peacetime, activists tried to separate environmental protests from political protests, it is almost impossible to do so now. On 26 February 2022, the Pechora Rescue Committee published a post on its VK group page demanding an end to the hostilities. “Protecting social, environmental and other human and civil rights is impossible in conditions of war,” the activists wrote in their statement. Movements that were originally focused on the environment began to make political demands, and the environmental protest movement was politicized.

Fewer people showed up for the anti-war rallies in 2022 than for the [2021] rallies in support of Alexei Navalny. Dmitry argues that the reason for people’s passive behavior is fear.

“Last year there were no mass protests in Russia because people are afraid,” he says. “Because they’ve learned to be helpless. This is the result of the yearslong destruction of critical thinking and political competition, and the yearslong implicit social contract [between the Putin regime and the Russian people]: ‘You don’t meddle in politics, and we don’t interfere with your lives.’ This agreement is no longer valid, but it’s too late to change anything.”

At this point, Marina Feldt, an ex-staffer at the Navalny organization’s office in Arkhangelsk, joins my conversation with Dmitry. She argues that people in Russia support the war because it gives them positive emotions.

“The main idea of the protests at Shiyes was ‘Moscow is fucked in the head,'” she says. “This is the idea of disconnection: there is Moscow, and and then there is us — Pomorye. But the war in Ukraine is driven by the idea of unification. People in the regions often lack a sense of involvement with the rest of Russia; it seems to them that that they are unwanted. But this war is where people can feel needed by their Motherland. The government has humiliated people so much that now they can rejoice in something that would not be considered decent under normal circumstances.”

Dmitry Sekushin argues that any country can be brought to such a state: “If you propagandized a European country like this for twenty-two years, it too would become fascist.”

If you like this newsletter, subscribe to my Telegram channel.

Source:  Oleg Ogradov, “The idea that Moscow had lost its fucking mind united people,” Focus (an email newsletter produced by the online regional news and analysis magazine 7×7), 28 January 2023. Translated by Thomas Campbell

Responsibility?

In the new episode of the project "The Last Line" Chulpan Khamatova again recites the verse of Alya Khaitlina. In today's poem, she reflects on responsibility, guilt and humility. Already in the first stanza she asks a rhetorical question that many of us have asked and continue to ask ourselves: "Whose fault is it all?"

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The text:

Until nightfall, until nausea, you think, what should be done?
Bags under your eyes, a mouse in a noose in your fridge.
Whose fault is it all? It’s probably yours.
Someone has to take the rap [responsibility] already, right?

You loved the wrong folk. You sought the wrong ways.
At a party you wrinkled your nose and didn’t finish dessert.
Something like this was bound to happen,
Throwing us back a thousand years.

Let them take me away, let them say it's her,
Let them send me to prison, spit on me and sling mud.
But just let this terrible war stop,
Let it live on only in books — in Cyrillic, in Braille, in frilly fonts.

Let them send me to the back of beyond.
To where hell freezes over, to where nothing ever gets off the ground.
Just let the belligerents stop shooting right now,
Let them all drop off the radar, fizzle out, dissolve.

I’ll be doing time in prison, I’ll be sweeping floors,
And at night, to get to sleep, I’ll look at the flock
Of living, lively children who were saved.
Let them hate me if they will.
But let them grow up.

Source: "'Responsibility.' Chulpan Khamatova, Alya Khaitlina. Last Line Project," Spektr Press (YouTube), 27 January 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. Ms. Khamatova lives in Riga. Ms. Khaitlina, according to her Facebook page, lives in Munich.

This photo of a Petersburg police officer and patrol van is probably from Zaks.ru’s archives, but it’s what they pinned to this article.

Petersburg law enforcement officers interrupted a solo picket of activist Alevtina Vasilyeva, who took up position facing Gostiny Dvor holding a placard featuring a popular pacifist slogan. This was reported by the human rights project OVD Info, which cited her spouse.

The police took Vasilyeva to the 28th police precinct [a few blocks from my house, which I haven’t seen for four years now].

Apparently, the picketer faces a fine for “discrediting the army” (per Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code). The maximum possible [fine for this offense] is 50 thousand rubles.

UPDATE, 3:35 p.m. Vasilyeva was released from the precinct after being cited for “discrediting the army.”

Source: “Female picketer with pacifist placard detained at Gostiny Dvor,” Zaks.ru, 28 January 2023. Translated by An Otherwise Currently Unemployed Translator Who Could Really Use Your Moral and Financial Support Instead of Your Stony Silence

Take Your Baby by the Ears

Meta wisely prevented me from sharing Ukrainian artist Alevtina Kakhidze’s original post, which it didn’t block.
Then Meta blocked me again when I tried to post a screenshot of its first takedown.

Wang Chung, “Dance Hall Days”
"Dance Hall Days"

Take your baby by the hand
And make her do a high hand stand
And take your baby by the heel
And do the next thing that you feel

We were so in phase
In our dance hall days
We were cool on craze
When I, you, and everyone we knew
Could believe, do, and share in what was true
I said

Dance hall days, love

Take your baby by the hair
And pull her close and there, there, there
And take your baby by the ears
And play upon her darkest fears

We were so in phase
In our dance hall days
We were cool on craze
When I, you, and everyone we knew
Could believe, do, and share in what was true
I said

Dance hall days, love
Dance hall days
Dance hall days, love

Take your baby by the wrist
And in her mouth, an amethyst
And in her eyes, two sapphires blue
And you need her and she needs you
And you need her and she needs you
And you need her and she needs you
And you need her and she needs you
And you need her
And she needs you

We were so in phase
In our dance hall days
We were cool on craze
When I, you, and everyone we knew
Could believe, do, and share in what was true
I said

Dance hall days, love

Dance hall days, love
Dance hall days

Dance hall days, love
Dance hall days

Dance hall days, love
Dance hall days

Dance hall days, love.

Source: Jerzy Jay, in a comment to the YouTube video, above

Wang Chung playing “Dance Hall Days” at the Ritz (NYC) on 6 July 1986

Now Meta says I can appeal its absurd decision to the “Oversight Board,” but nowhere in this message to me do they explain how I would do that.

Agronom Yurri: Songs of Chuvash People from Siberia

90th release from Antonovka Records

Chuvash villages appeared in Russia’s Irkutsk Province during the Stolypin agrarian reforms at the beginning of the 20th century. Later, many Chuvash went there immediately after World War II. The songs on the album are mainly from the latter period.

Kukkuk Ensemble (“Cuckoo” in Chuvash, tracks 1-9) was formed in the village of Tagna in the Zalarinsky Dstrict. Its members range in age from 22 to 56.

Upper photo on the album cover, from left to right:
1. Marina Matveeva (leader)
2. Tatyana Vinogradova
3. Anastasia Vinogradova
4. Elena Avramenko
5. Olga Smirnova
6. Elena Dasheeva

The members of the duo The Belkovy Sisters (tracks 10-17) were born in the village of Uspensky-3 in the neighboring Ziminsky District. The duo is named after their mother’s maiden name. Nadezhda now lives nearby in the village of Maslyanogorsk, while Veronika lives in the city of Irkutsk. Nadezhda is a teacher of the Chuvash language, while Veronika is the chair of the Chuvash national cultural organization Yultash.

Part of the sisters’ repertoire (tracks 10, 14, 15) consists of popular Russian folk songs translated into Chuvash. The “Young Agronomist Song” was translated locally in Siberia and is a hallmark of the duo.

Lower photo on the album cover, from left to right:
1. Nadezhda Fidikova
2. Veronika Timofeeva

Recorded on July 9, 2022, in the House of Culture of the Village of Srednepikhtinsky, Zalarinsky District, Irkutsk Region, Russia.

Thanks to Veronika and all the performers, as well as Elena Ludwig, Lyudmila Gerda, and Natalia Dmitrieva.

Source: Antonovka Records (Facebook), 22 January 2023. The liner notes, above, have been edited slightly for clarity’s sake.

A Little Song about the Physicist Sakharov


A statue of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov was unveiled Monday in St. Petersburg, despite criticism from his widow who said today’s Russia has failed her husband.

The 10 1/2-foot bronze statue depicts the Nobel peace laureate, slightly stooped but with his head held high, standing with hands tied behind his back atop a stone pedestal on a square that was named after him in 1996.

The monument by sculptor Levon Lazarev’s was unveiled a few weeks after a city commission in Moscow gave the green light to a stalled plan for another statue of Sakharov in the capital.

Yelena Bonner was opposed to both statues, saying Russia has failed to live up to Sakharov’s ideals of freedom and democracy since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It is out of place to erect a monument to Sakharov in today’s Russia,″ the Interfax news agency quoted Bonner as saying. She said she was not consulted.

“There’s no money to publish his works widely, so that people would finally read them, but they can put up a monument,″ Bonner told Russia’s TVS television by phone from Boston, where she lives.

The unveiling drew about 100 people, among them intellectuals and former dissidents who supported a transition to democracy at the time of the Soviet collapse.

A physicist who helped design the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Sakharov became a staunch promoter of human rights and world peace, and spent seven years in internal exile for speaking out. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

Source: “Monument to Sakharov Unveiled in Russia,” Associated Press, 5 May 2003


A Little Song about the Physicist Sakharov

The physicist Sakharov
Was one bad dude.
Oh, how he made us seethe!
Why do we suffer that fool?

It later suddenly transpired
That he was a real good cat.
We felt sorry for the poor man
And guiltily ate our hats.

Now it’s been ascertained
That he was bad news after all.
We’re seething once again.
Why did we suffer that fool?

If again it turns out
That he was, in fact, a good egg,
Ah, we'll regret it again,
And put on guilty mugs.

8 August 2022

Source: German Lukomnikov, “New Poems,” Volga 1 (2023). Thanks to ES for the suggestion. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian prosecutors on Monday declared as “undesirable” the U.S.-based foundation that preserves the legacy of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov as Moscow continues to crack down on dissent in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The activities of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation (ASF) “constitute a threat to the foundation of Russia’s constitutional order and security,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.

Under Russian law, individuals believed to have cooperated with an “undesirable” international NGO face steep fines and jail terms.

ASF, based in Springfield, Virginia outside Washington, says its goal is to promote Sakharov’s works to “support peace efforts and anti-war events.”

The organization chaired by mathematician Alexei Semyonov has not yet commented on Russia’s latest designation.

Russian authorities have declared more than 70 organizations — including media outlets focused on exposing fraud and corruption in Russia — “undesirable” between mid-2015 and early 2023.

Sakharov, once feted as a hero of the Soviet defense industry for his role in developing the Soviet nuclear bomb, became one of the U.S.S.R.’s most prominent dissidents from the late 1960s. 

He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his work against the nuclear arms race he had helped precipitate, though he was not permitted to leave the Soviet Union to accept the award.

Sakharov became one of the most distinctive personalities of the perestroika era, rising to the status of a national moral authority.

Arrested in 1980 after denouncing the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Sakharov was sent into internal exile in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, then closed to foreigners.

After six years in exile, during which he undertook several hunger strikes, Sakharov was released over a telephone call by reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Source: “Russia Labels U.S.-Based Sakharov Foundation ‘Undesirable,’” Moscow Times, 24 January 2023

Red Corners

“The post-Soviet man’s red corner.” Pavel Pryanikov (Facebook), 20 January 2023

Made of large logs of pine, spruce or larch, a tall and spacious northern izba (log-house) was heated by a huge Russian stove. If the stove was the heart of the Russian house, its soul was the Red Corner (red [krasny] meaning beautiful in old Russian) where the family’s sacred objects sat.

This area included holy icons draped over with the embroidered bozhnik (godly-towel), a Bible—if there was a literate person in the household—and occasionally a figurine of a saint brought from a pilgrimage by a pious relative.  Wooden representations of St. Nilus of Stolben were common.  An oil lamp suspended from the ceiling burned in front of the icons.

Source: TMORA (The Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis)


During the era of Soviet power, the ‘Red Corner’ was the name given to the place at a factory, plant, school, and in general at any establishment, that was equipped to carry out ‘agitation and propaganda’ of the new ideology, new communist ideas. The first post-revolutionary ‘Red Corners’ were places where ‘political enlightenment’ of the masses was conducted, lectures were arranged about the projects and plans of the new power, the bright future which awaited all workers during Communism was discussed. Slogans and posters were hung on the walls of these ‘corners,’ and banners were arranged in the ‘Red Corner’ near portraits of leaders, pamphlets with speeches by Lenin, Trotsky were placed on tables …

Gradually these ‘Red Corners’ turned into unique sorts of chapels of the new religion, and they became subordinate to the ideological department of the Party Committee of each factory, collective farm, etc. They became a place for mandatory meetings of the ‘Party collective,’ a meeting place for delegates, a place for elections.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, life in these club-temples gradually began to die out, the ‘cult’ dwindled, and the stands and posters that were more and more depressing and mechanical gradually decayed, and everything taken together – the ritual, the design, and the paints – turned into a depressing ceremony that was no longer of use to anyone.

Source: “Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: The Red Corner,” Fine Art Biblio


Many human rights activists expected that with the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian officials would refocus their repressive efforts away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses; but those expectations have proved untrue. And Putin’s campaign against the Witnesses has continued unabated.

As of now, 404 of the 538 structures classified as terrorists or extremists by the Russian government are Jehovah’s Witnesses; the number of searches in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes have increased and now number some 1800 in 71 federal subjects; and the number of Witnesses sentenced to camps rose from 32 to 45 between 2021 and 2022.

Aleksandr Verkhovsky, head of the SOVA information and analysis center, says this is insane especially in wartime and must reflect some judgment by the authorities that continuing to repress the Jehovah’s Witnesses is in their interests; but it remains unclear what basis there could be for that (baikal-journal.ru/2023/01/19/pochemu-vlast-bolshe-70-let-presleduet-svideteley-iegovy/).

But Sergey Davidis, head of Memorial’s “Support Political Prisoners” project, argues that there are three main reasons why the Putin regime continues to persecute the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

First of all, he says, “the Russian authorities are intolerant of any independent organization, especially a large one which has its own ideology” and in particular those whose centers are outside the borders of the Russian Federation, a reflection of the leadership’s paranoia about any independent group.

Second, he continues, many in Russia see the Jehovah’s Witnesses as being at odds with Russian traditions and so accept their persecution as a legitimate form of the defense of the latter.  And third, going after the Witnesses allows the security services to make themselves look good statistically. After all, it is easy to go after those who don’t hide and don’t resist.

Thus the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is likely to continue or even grow, despite the fact that the Witnesses themselves provide no justification for such actions. 

Source: Paul Goble, “Putin’s War Against Jehovah’s Witnesses Continues Unabated for Three Main Reasons, Davidis Says,” Window on Eurasia — New Series, 21 January 2023


Father Aleksandr Men’: “To say that 700 million Catholics and 350 million Protestants are in error,
and that only we are the true church, is to dwell in insane, utterly unwarranted pride.”

ON ECUMENICAL SUNDAY at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, Riga, I shared a few words about 2 of my favorite 20th c. ecumenists, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Aleksandr Men’ — great men of faith who rose above the parts to embrace the whole.

The service proper concluded w/ an early Franciscan benediction which I had never heard and like a lot:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.”

Amen! To which I will only add that while I think my foolishness quotient actually surpasses the level of “enough,” applying it regularly toward Francis’ ends remains a challenge.

Source: Mark H. Teeter (Facebook), 22 January 2023. Thanks to Mark for his kind permission to let me reproduce his original post (minus three images) here. ||| TRR

Sledgehammers

Sergei Mironov receives sledgehammer as gift from Yevgeny Prigozhin: “Together we will punch a hole in the Nazi ideology”

Sergei Mironov, leader of the party A Just Russia and a State Duma deputy, thanked Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin for the sledgehammer, which the businessman sent as a gift to the politician. “With its [the tool’s] help, together we will punch a hole in the Nazi ideology, which has set itself the goal of destroying our country. May all our enemies finally realize that they will not succeed,” Mironov wrote on his Telegram channel, adding the hashtag #the_sledgehammer_rules.

The sledgehammer presented to Mironov has a mound of skulls depicted on it and bears the Wagner Group’s trademark stamp. The tool gained notoriety after the death of ex-Wagner fighter and former convict Yevgeny Nuzhin. He was brought back to Russia from Ukrainian captivity and executed with a sledgehammer.

Source: Rotunda (Telegram), 20 January 2023. Translated by TRR


In the early noughties, Oskar Kuchera was the star of Muz TV, a popular music TV channel. Twenty years later, he vigorously criticizes Ukraine, and supports Putin and the Russian army. We met and talked.

0:00 Opening 0:42 Why did Kuchera agree to the interview? 4:47 When people of my generation found out about Kuchera 9:36 A place where it is convenient to work for remote work 12:41 “Soldiers”: a serial about the army in which there was no war 14:40 “I knew what would happen in September 2021.” How? 20:16 Why did Russia start the war? 36:25 Is it okay to bomb infrastructure? 37:08 Are there Nazis in Ukraine? 39:29 The ultra-right is fighting on Russia’s side: Can Russia be denazified? 51:58 “The geopolitical right to be friends with Ukraine” What the heck is that? 59:09 Russia is meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, although it has problems of its own. Is that normal? 1:11:27 Crimea 1:15:30 Why America’s and Europe’s help bad? 1:21:54 Why do you enthusiastically follow the news from the US? 1:25:31 Why does your son have a US passport? 1:27:47 “The Stars Converge” on NTV. What happened? 1:32:17 Did you put up with it for three years for the money? 1:37:13 Why is it a bad thing to flee the war? 1:43:43 How can you support the army but oppose the war? 1:50:15 How would you react if your children were conscripted? 1:51:39 Why do you support Putin? 1:55:12 “I believe we’ll stroll the streets of Berlin and Paris again.” Do you want to conquer Europe? 2:01:51 Germans supported their army in 1939–1945. Were they right? 2:04:25 Is Zelensky bolder than Putin? 2:11:52 Why does Putin lie so often? 2:20:16 Is it normal to support the regime and have real estate in a NATO country? 2:26:32 Why do you need a Telegram channel about politics? 2:29:45 Oh 2:33:56 What future do you see for children? 2:38:21 Does it suit you that you don’t know anything about Putin’s personal life? 2:47:10 Could you have imagined, twenty years ago, that someday you spend three whole hours excusing Putin and the regime?

Source: “The supporter of Russian troops,” vDud (Yuri Dud), YouTube, 16 January 2023, with English subtitles. Annotation translated by TRR. As of today (21 January 2023), the interview has garnered almost sixteen million views.


After an interview with Yuri Dudyu [sic]* (recognized as a foreign agent), the actor and TV presenter Oscar Kuchera fell into a new avalanche of fame. The release of a three-hour conversation, where the actor, including expressing his position on the situation in Ukraine, provoked thousands of posts on social networks. For the most part, the characteristics for Kuchera were not complimentary. On January 18, in an interview with a RIA Novosti correspondent, he told what he thinks about this.

“I did not expect that there would be such an amount of support. And the fact that I support our guys is something I can only be proud of. Well, it’s better to be a fool than a scoundrel,” says Kuchera.

He noted that before the interview, he agreed with Dud to discuss work on Muz-TV and the TV series Soldiers, music and citizenship. In the published three-hour talk, the first three topics are given a few minutes. The rest of the time, Kuchera confusedly explained why he was against military operations, but for the military, who are now in Ukraine.

“But it turned out what happened. Probably, I should have got up and left, but I am a passionate person. So I’m responsible for everything myself, ”the artist complained.

The audience ridiculed Kuchera for his incoherent and illogical speech, as well as for his position. The TV presenter said that he supported Russia, but did not deny that his son was born in Miami and received an American passport. Commentators immediately stated that they recognized their elderly relatives in the hero. The facial expression of Yuri Dud during a conversation with Kuchera also became a meme.

* The Ministry of Justice added Yuri Dud to the list of foreign media agents

Source: Russia Posts English, 18 January 2023

Running: the Numbers

Istanbul, December 2022. Photo courtesy of Republic

[…]

500 vacancies for military registration specialists were advertised from late September to last December last year, according to HeadHunter. Previously, this specialization was considered a rather rare and generally not very sought-after profile in the personnel departments of Russian organizations (private and public). For comparison: only 145 such vacancies were advertised in the whole of 2021. The military mobilization has changed the situation: since September — that is, in just three months — the number of such offers on the labor market has increased by about two and a half times (Superjob’s data also show the same thing). The reasons? One of them (apparently, the main one) is an increase in fines for lapses in paperwork: to avoid them, employers are willing to pay applicants for the popular vacancy 70-80 thousand rubles a month. And this is despite the fact that there is a shortage of a number of other specialists on the labor market (and, presumably, they are no less valuable than SMO-era personnel officers). The number of vacancies on Avito Jobs alone, according to a recent company study, increased by 69% in 2022. Most likely, the trend will continue, serving as a natural continuation of the outflow of people and, ultimately, personnel.

50% — the percentage of last year’s sales of existing housing in the Russian Federation made through a notarized power of attorney. This record figure for the entire observable history of the market, as calculated by investment company Flip, who were commissioned by Kommersant, clearly indicates that the sales trend was primarily shaped by property owners who had emigrated. The high volume of such transactions seems to be an anomalous phenomenon. In 2021, a power of attorney was the basis for sale in no more than 20% of deals. In 2020, this figure was 15%. It was 8% in 2019, and 5% in 2018. You ain’t seen nothing yet, though: the ongoing controversy over whether to confiscate the property of openly anti-war Russians who have left the country must be making an additional contribution to the process of selling apartments and houses, which was gaining momentum as it was.

$81.69 billion — the total amount of deposits by Russian nationals in foreign banks as of the end of November of last year, according to the latest data from the Russian Central Bank. (4.989 trillion rubles were recalculated at the exchange rate in effect on that date.) Over the past eleven months, the amount has more than doubled — and this is even if we rely entirely on the statistics of the Central Bank, which may not have a complete picture of what is happening. (Russian laws oblige citizens to report when they open accounts in foreign banks and move funds in them, but we cannot be absolutely sure that everyone strictly obeys them.) While one part of these funds remains in these bank accounts, the other goes to the purchase of real estate that, for the most part, is also located outside the Russian Federation.

16,300 houses and apartments in Turkey were purchased by Russian nationals in 2022, according to data published by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), as studied by RBC. This is not just three times more than in 2021 (when Russian nationals purchased 5,400 housing units in the Turkish Republic), but also more than the total volume of such transactions over the past six years (16,200). It is not surprising that last year, for the first time, Russians took first place among foreigners in buying housing in Turkey, producing almost a quarter of the corresponding demand with their money. Earlier, we wrote that our compatriots purchased two thousand houses and apartments in Turkey in October 2022 alone, overtaking all other foreign home buyers in that country, as reported by TurkStat.

At first glance, the advantages of investing in Turkey are not entire obvious. Inflation in the country, according to TurkStat, exceeded 84% in November, once again breaking records previously established in the autumn of 1998. The Inflation Analysis Group, an independent Turkish entity, estimated that inflation had reached a whopping 170.7% . In addition, prices for real estate, which have rising robustly, can at any moment just as vigorously drop, taking into account, in particular, the rather murky prospects for “Erdonomics,” depending on the results of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. According to Endeksa, in September, the average price for one square meter of housing in Turkey was about 12 thousand Turkish lira (approx. $644), while the average price per housing unit was just over 1.5 million Turkish lira (approx. $83,700). The term of return on investment in housing is estimated at nineteen years, although in the summer this figure was recalculated to seventeen years.

The intense interest on the part of Russian nationals in buying real estate in Turkey is primarily related to the prospect of obtaining Turkish citizenship, Anna Larina, head of the foreign real estate department at NF Group, explained to Republic. (In turn, having a Turkish passport makes it possible to obtain an American E-2 visa, which speeds up the process of immigrating to the United States.) In this sense, it is logical that Russians have become leaders in terms of the number of residence permits issued in Turkey — 153,000, of which, however, as the Turkish Ministry of Migration clarified, 132,000 are short-term tourist residence permits, which are valid for two years.

Turkey is one of the few countries (but not the only country) that is still open to Russian nationals and their private capital. Thus, as 2022 came to a close, Russian citizens took first place among non-residents in buying real estate in Dubai, Bloomberg recently reported, citing figures provided by the brokerage firm Betterhomes.

Withdrawing funds and setting up a new life abroad eloquently testify to the sentiments prevailing among the Russian urban middle class, primarily. Not all people who sell Russian real estate and buy foreign real estate are necessarily irreconcilable opponents of the regime. And yet, it is clear that the vast majority of these people do not want to live and raise children in Putin’s version of the future, which is practically incompatible with modern civilization. In its own way, it is symptomatic that Russians who support the government and dutifully follow it into its deadly adventures are also dissatisfied with what is happening. If it were possible, they would rather return to the past, to a point in time thirty, forty, or fifty years ago.

63% — the percentage of Russians, according to a December poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), who regret the collapse of the USSR — that is, more than three decades after the event known in Kremlin mythology as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.” Strictly speaking, the current longing for Soviet times cannot be considered a record: after the August 1998 ruble default, there were noticeably more Russians nostalgic for the Soviet Union — 85%. Nevertheless, an important indicator of public attitudes (as recorded, we should underscore, by a quasi-state polling service) is on the rise again, having increased by twelve percentage points since 2011.

It is clear that this sentiment is primarily voiced by the 46–60 age group (88% of whom are “nostalgic”) and to some extent, people aged 31–45 years (79% of whom are “nostalgic”), assuming that a considerable portion of these people associate the late USSR with their happy childhoods and wild youths. However, according to the poll, even today’s Russian youth, that is, people aged 18–30, mostly (64%) consider the Soviet era “generally a good time.” Of course, their judgments are based on the stories of older generations, and most importantly, on the inevitable comparison with what is happening with the largest post-Soviet country right now.

Source: Yevgeny Karasyuk, “Salvation in foreign real estate and a new bout of nostalgia for the USSR: timely numbers from Russia… and a few from Turkey,” Republic, 20 January 2023. Translated by Hambone Brewster, who is still implacably opposed to the Russian “pollocracy” and continues to be surprised that even otherwise smart cookies like Mr. Karasyuk continue to cite Russian “public opinion polls” as reliable sources of real information — rather than, at best, records of sustained trauma and unfreedom.

You’re Not Invited to Our Molotov Cocktail Party

Does it make sense to torch military enlistment offices? The short answer is no. And here’s why not.

From the outset of the mobilization in Russia, military enlistment offices have been targeted by arson attacks. We realized that this appears striking and effective and may seem like a good way to voice your protest. But is this really the case? Let’s unpack it.

1. It is ineffective. Most often, arson does not damage individual records in any way — the fire is either put out in time, or there is no fire at all. There are no exact statistics here, but an analysis of news reports about the arson attacks confirms that in most cases they didn’t accomplish anything.

Moreover, the authorities have now started digitizing conscript databases, which will soon render the destruction of paper files meaningless.

2. It involves very (!) high risks. Statistics show that arsonists are very often tracked down by the police: 48% of activists involved in arson attacks have been detained.

If you are caught, a criminal case and a hefty prison sentence are virtually inevitable. Moreover, these arson attacks are most often charged as “terrorism” — and the people charged face up to fifteen years in prison if convicted.

3. It endangers others. Military enlistment offices are often guarded, which means that the watchmen may suffer. In addition, military enlistment offices are sometimes located in or near residential buildings, and the fire can spread to them.

4. There are other ways to resist that are safer and more effective. Considering all of the above, simply talking to friends and relatives (and writing on social media) about how to avoid mobilization seems to be a much more effective and safer means of resistance.

We have compiled a complete list of methods of online and offline resistance here.

What protest methods you choose is your decision alone, of course. But we urge you to be aware and prudent in this matter and not to give in to emotions. Much more good comes from activists who aren’t in jail.

Take care of yourself.💚

Source: Vesna Movement (Telegram), 10 January 2023. Translated by Hecksinductionhour


“Russian Army: A Time of Heroes Has Chosen Us.” Source: Igor Stomakhin, Facebook, 5 January 2023

On January 11, Vesna surprised me more than ever. Have you already read the post [translated, above] with (almost) the same name?

I’ll admit that I didn’t even know about this movement until February 24. But after the start of they full-scale invasion, they proved their mettle, unlike other public movements. From the earliest days of the war, they spoke out against the invasion and urged people to protest. Vesna announced mass protests while other liberal democratic organizations took no decisive action. Neither [Alexei Navalny’s] Anti-Corruption Foundation nor [opposition liberal party] Yabloko, for example, supported the call for mass street protests then. Vesna called for and was involved in the protests themselves, for which its members were persecuted and the movement was designated “extremist” by the authorities.

I try not to criticize methods and approaches to anti-war protests: everyone has the right to protest and resist as they are able and see fit. Today, however I want to speak critically about Vesna and respond to the piece, entitled “Does it make sense to torch military enlistment offices? The short answer is no. And here’s why not.”

Let’s analyze the arguments made in the post.

1. Ineffectiveness. Vesna claims that torching military enlistment offices makes no sense, since military enlistment records are not destroyed as a result of these actions. Indeed, many arson attacks on military enlistment offices have caused quite superficial damage: the flames did not spread into the offices where the paper files of conscripts might have been stored. However, this has not always been the case. For example, as a result of the actions taken by Ilya Farber (a village schoolteacher), the room in a military enlistment office where official documents were stored was destroyed by fire, as was a room at a recruiting office containing the personal belongings of employees. Moreover, we should bear in mind that the authorities and propagandists have a stake in downplaying the damage from such attacks.

When analyzing direct actions, it is also important to take into account what the guerrillas themselves say, and not to talk about the abstract results of possible actions. Did they want to destroy records at all? Moreover, it is not only military enlistment offices that are set on fire. For example, Bogdan Ziza, who threw a Molotov cocktail into a municipal administration building in Crimea, explained his motives as follows: “[I did it] so that those who are against this war, who are sitting at home and are afraid to voice their opinion, see that they are not alone.” And Alexei Rozhkov, who torched a military enlistment office on March 11, argues that the actions of guerrillas forced the authorities to withdraw conscripts from the combat zone.

If we talk about effectiveness in terms of direct action, then Vesna’s criticism is patently ridiculous: the movement has never proposed direct action tactics. If the railway saboteurs, for example, argued that torching military enlistment offices was “ineffective,” that would be a different conversation.

As for the digitization of draftee records, at the moment there is no information that it has been successfully implemented, except for claims by the authorities about staring the process. On the basis of the first wave of mobilization, the Moscow Times explained why rapid digitization of the Russian draft registration system is impossible under present conditions.

2. High risks. Indeed, people are persecuted for torching military enlistment offices. But anything else you do to counteract the Russian military machine is also fraught with high risks. You can now get a long stint in prison for the things you say. Not only Moscow municipal district councilor Alexei Gorinov (7 years) and politician Ilya Yashin (8.5 years) but also Vologda engineer [sic] Vladimir Rumyantsev (3 years) have already been handed harsh prison sentences for, allegedly, disseminating “fake news” about the army. To date, these sentences have been even harsher than those already handed down for anti-war arson. It is impossible to assess in which case it would be easier for the state to track you down and persecute you — after you torched a military enlistment office, or after you publicly posted the truth about the war. It all depends, primarily, on the security precautions you take.

3. Endangering lives. Vesna’s arguments on this score completely echo the wording of pro-government media and prosecutors’ speeches: allegedly, when a military enlistment office is torched, people could get hurt. Attention! Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, guerrillas have carried out more than eighty anti-war arson attacks and not a single living being has been harmed! The guerrillas carry out their actions at night and plan attacks so that people do not get hurt. This is how they are discussed on the direct action Telegram channels, and the guerrillas themselves say the same thing.

4, Unsafe and ineffective. As an alternative to arson, Vesna suggests educating friends and relatives about how to avoid mobilization. Educating is, of course, an important and necessary thing to do. However, it alone is not enough to stop the war. They mention no other effective methods of resistance in their post.

I have already said a few words at the outset about evaluating the effectiveness of military enlistment offices. I will also quote Peter Gelderloos in this case: “But beyond the strategic necessity of attacking the state with all means available to us, have those of us not faced with daily police intimidation, degradation, and subordination considered the uplifting effect of forcefully fighting back?”

I would suggest that you draw your own conclusions.

Finally, I have a few wishes. If you are planning any action that the state may regard as a criminal offense — a guerrilla action or an anti-war statement — please assess the risks and take all possible security precautions. To do this, use the guides that have been compiled online and study the know-how of forerunners. Keep in mind that even this may not be enough. Recommendations on physical security from the Combat Organization of Anarcho-Communists (BOAK) can be found in this article published DOXA. And to learn the basics of digital security, take a look the website Security in a Box.

You can find even more guides to security on the internet: don’t neglect perusing them and follow the rules they establish daily. The time you spend working through questions of security will in any case be less than the time spent in police custody in the event of your arrest after a protest action or a careless statement on the internet.

P.S. Vesna, please read How Nonviolence Protects the State, by Peter Gelderloos.

[…]

What can you do?

Study the safety guides mentioned in the introduction, if you thought it was not so important or had put it off for later.

How сan you take your minds off things?

Listen to the 10th edition of the podcast Zhenskii srok (“Women’s Prison Stint”) about how women revolutionaries fought the good fight and how they did time in Tsarist Russia. Among other things, the podcast explains what was mean by the term “oranges” back then and why officials and security forces were afraid of “oranges.”

Source: Ivan Astashin, DOXA Anti-War Newsletter #314, 11 January 2023. Translated by TRR


“White, Red, Black, Pale: Waiting for Horsemen.” Source: Igor Stomakhin, Facebook, 5 January 202

A column by ARMEN ARAMYAN, editor of DOXApublished by DOXA on 13 January in Russian.  

For many years the Russian opposition propagandised a particular manner of protest: clean, peaceful protest of the urban class, not dirtied with violence or even any pretension to violence. I was politicised at that time. I am 25, and I first went to a street demonstration when I was 17, in the second year of study at university. And I learned the lessons conscientiously: when somebody urges people to free a demonstrator who is being detained – that’s a provocation. If someone proposes to stay put on a square and not leave, or to occupy a government building – that’s a provocateur, and that person should be paid no heed.

We are better than them, because we do not use violence, and they do. Let everyone see us and our principles as unarmed, peaceful protesters, who are beaten by cosmonauts [Russian riot police] in full combat gear. Then they will understand what is going on. Why go on a demonstration? To express our opinion, to show that we are here. And if there are enough of us, that will produce a split in the elite.

Evidently, this strategy didn’t work. Whether it worked at one time is probably not so important now. I am convinced, by my own life experience, that it has failed. A year and a half ago, I recorded an inoffensive video to support student protests – and for that got a year’s house arrest. [Reported here, SP.] And in that year, the Russian authorities succeeded in destroying the remains of the electoral system, and invading Ukraine. No peaceful protest could stop them.

During that time, as the anti-Putin opposition de-escalated protests and adapted to new prohibitions — you need to give advance notice about a demo? OK. You need to set up metal detectors on site? Very good — the authorities, by contrast, escalated the conflict with society. They pursued ever-more-contrived legal cases — for actions ranging from throwing a plastic cup at a cop, to liking stuff or joking on Twitter.

We have been retreating tactically for a long time, and finally wound up on the edge of a precipice —in a situation where not to protest would be immoral, but where, at the same time, the most inoffensive action could result in the most serious sanctions. The neurosis in which a large part of Russian society now finds itself — all those arguments about who is more ethically immaculate: those who have left, those who have stayed, those who have half-left or one-quarter-stayed; who has the moral right to speak about something and who doesn’t — all this is a result of living in a paradox. 

For the first few weeks after the invasion, this logic of conflict — that the opposition de-escalates and the state escalates — reached its limits. Peaceful protests came to an end. Resistance didn’t stop: several hundred people, at a minimum, set fire to military recruitment offices or dismantled railways on which the Russian army was sending arms, and soldiers, to the front.

And when this started to happen, a big part of the opposition had nothing to say. Our editorial group was one of the first to try to report on these actions, despite the shortage of information. We were even able to speak to some of the railway partisans in Russia. But much of the independent media and opposition politicians were silent.

The silence ended on 4 October, when [Alexei] Navalny’s team announced that it would again open branches across the whole country, and support different methods of protest, including setting fire to recruitment centres. A month before that, in an interview with Ilya Azara [of Novaya Gazeta, SP], Leonid Volkov [leading member of Navalny’s team, SP] answered a question about radical actions in this way:

I am ready to congratulate everyone who goes to set fire to a recruitment office or derail a train. But I don’t understand where these people have come from, where to find them, or whether it’s possible to organise them.

Evidently, in the course of a month, something changed. In October, the branches began to collect forms from potential supporters, and on 23 December a platform was set up on the dark web, which could only be accessed via a TOR browser. Navalny’s team stated that the platform will not retain any details of its supporters. [In an interview with DOXA, Navalny’s team clarified that the branches would be clandestine online “networks”, SP.]

For some mysterious reason, news of the reopening of the branches, and of the setting-up of the platform, went practically unnoticed in the Russian media. In October, we were apparently the only (!) publication that talked with members of the Navalny team about the reopening of the branches. Organised antiwar resistance did not make it to the top of the news agenda.

It seems to me that, notwithstanding the mass of questions that political activists want to ask Navaly’s team about this, organised resistance is the only way left to us, out of the war and out of Putinism.   

I have had many discussions with antiwar activists and journalists lately, about how they assess their work, nearly a year after the start of full-scale war. The majority of them (of us) are burned out: they don’t see any point in what we are doing. I think part of the problem is that a big part of our activity concerns not resistance, but help and treatment of the symptoms — evacuation and support for refugees. Our activities don’t bring the end of the war nearer, they just alleviate its consequences.

You can count the initiatives focused on resistance on the fingers of two hands. And alas, they are not very effective. A comrade of mine, with whom at the start we put together guides about how to talk to your family members about the war, joked, bitterly:

The Russian army killed another hundred people while we were thinking about how to change the minds of one-and-a-half grandmas.

To get out of this dead end, we must together think of the future that we can achieve by our collective efforts. It’s time to reject fatalism: stop waiting for everything to be decided on the field of battle and putting all our hopes in the Ukrainian armed forces (although much will of course be decided there); stop relying on the prospect that Putin will die soon, that the elite will split and that out of this split shoots of democracy will somehow magically grow. We will not take back for ourselves freedom and the right to shape our own future, unless we ourselves take power away from this elite. The only way that we can do this, under conditions of military dictatorship, is organised resistance.

Such resistance must be based on cooperation between those who have remained in Russia and those who have left. And also those who continue to come and go (and there are many of them). Such resistance can not be coordinated by some allegedly authoritative organisation. It has to be built, by developing cooperation with other antiwar initiatives —especially the feminists and decolonising initiatives, that is, with organisations that have done a huge amount of activity since the all-out invasion and who bring together many thousands of committed supporters.

Most important of all, resistance must expand the boundaries of what we understand by non-violent protest and the permissibility of political violence. We can not allow the dictatorship to impose a language that describes setting fire to a military recruitment office, with no human victims, as “terrorism” and “extremism”.

Political struggle has always required a wide range of instruments, and if we want to defeat a dictatorship we have to learn how to use them; we need to understand clearly what each of them is good for. For many years we have paid no attention to methods of resistance that, although they are not violent, require much more decisiveness and organisation. It is to these methods that we need now to return.

There is no other way of building democracy in Russia (any democracy — liberal or socialist) without a grassroots resistance movement that can win widespread support. If the majority of opposition politicians in the pre-war period hoped that democracy could fall into their laps as a gift from the elite (as a so-called gesture of goodwill), then this year it has become completely clear: we will never have any power, if we can not ourselves take it in to our own hands.

Ulrike Meinhof [a leader of the Red Army Faction in Germany, 1970–72, SP] once quoted the words of a Black Panther activist [probably Fred Hampton, SP], spoken at a conference in February 1968 against the war in Vietnam:

Protest is when I say I don’t like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don’t like. Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too.

This comment was published by DOXA, an independent Russian web site that has grown out of a student magazine to become a prominent voice against the war. Translation by Simon Pirani

Source: “Russia: the time for protest has gone, it’s time for resistance,” People and Nature, 17 January 2023. Thanks to Simon Pirani for permission to reprint his invaluable translation here. ||| TRR


Berlin-Friedrichshain, January 2019. Photo by the Russian Reader

There is an interesting controversy on Twitter between DOXA (a left-wing media outlet) and the Vesna Movement (liberals) about violence.

Vesna wheeled out a text arguing that torching military enlistment offices is bad, and DOXA and other leftists responded by explaining why there is no way to do without such tactics now.

In response, the liberals and the publication Kotyol (“Boiler”), which took their side, have deployed a super argument: so why don’t you go to Russia and torch these places yourself, instead of advising others to do it? They also claimed that DOXA embraces Putin’s way of thinking by sending others to get killed instead of themselves.

I’ll join in the fray and answer for myself. First, it’s none of your damn business where I go or don’t go and why.

Second, waging an armed struggle requires financing, training, experience, support bases, and much more. Now of this exists now.

Third, if you liberal assholes had not consistently advocated against every form of illegal resistance for all Putin’s years and decades in power, if you had not demonized “radicals,” just as you are doing now, if you had not readily dubbed “terrorists” all those at whom the authorities pointed a finger, the situation in paragraph 2 would have been different.

Yes, it was you who shat your pants, soiling not only us, but everyone, including the Ukrainians.

The leftists are “talking shit” about violence, but are not traveling to Russia to torch things? Well, at least we’re talking shit!

Look at yourself. The bravest of you, and there are relatively few of those, raise money for the Armed Forces of Ukraine so that Ukrainians will fight and die on your behalf. But you yourselves advocate nonviolence, my ass. Which of us are the hypocrites? Who has embraced Putin’s way of thinking?

If you have at least a drop of conscience, you’ll recall what the liberals wrote in the late nineteenth century about the Decembrists and Narodniks and at least shut your traps on the question of violence.

Source: George Losev (Facebook), 17 January 2023. Translated by Thomas Campbell

What Mobilization Has Done to the Sverdlovsk Region

The Sverdlovsk Region is one of the leading Russian regions in terms of the number of casualties among mobilized men. Many of them perished in the Kherson Region, from whose capital Russian army retreated after eight months of occupation. Relatives of the mobilized men said that, despite the fact that the authorities promised not to send untrained soldiers to the front line, their loved ones were killed a week after they were drafted. Some were killed literally within a few days. Despite this, the mothers, wives and children of the mobilized men support the war and thank Putin. Our film explains why.

00:00 Sverdlovsk Region is among the leaders in numbers of mobilized men killed 01:15 “They were quickly dispatched to the Kherson Region” 04:57 A man who had four children was taken away 08:43 How a father went to fight instead of his conscript son 13:10 “We had a funeral, but we didn’t see who we were burying” 14:55 What relatives of dead draftees receive 16:40 The mobilization’s end result

Source: “The Mobilization’s Aftermath: What the War Has Done to Russia,” iStories (YouTube), 14 January 2023 (in Russian, with Russian closed captions).


Alexei Rozhkov responded with Molotov cocktails to the decision by the Russian authorities to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. On March 11, he set fire to a military enlistment office in the suburbs of Yekaterinburg. He was detained the same day and charged with “attempted murder”: allegedly, there had been a watchman in the building at the time. The young man faced up to fifteen years in prison.

Alexei was held in a pretrial detention center for six months. The charges were then unexpectedly reduced to a less serious crime — “property damage” — and the insurgent was released on his own recognizance. After a time, thanks to the support of a human rights organization, Rozhkov left Russia, and we were able to speak to him.

Tell me what you did before February 24. Did you have a job? Any hobbies? Were you interested in politics?

Rozhkov: I lived in the city of Beryozovsky, a suburb of Yekaterinburg with a population of about 100 thousand. Yekaterinburg itself can be reached by bus in twenty or thirty minutes. I worked as a sales consultant at a DNS store.

I was fond of music — I’m a guitarist, a bassist. About six years ago, I had a band, Tell Me the Reason. I started recording a solo album [before February 24], which is still not finished due to the war, having to moving around, and being in prison.

I love dynamic, energetic music: it invigorates me, helps me get out of depression, and gets me warmed up and excited.

I have been interested in politics since I was fourteen. [Alexei is now twenty-five.] My views have changed over time. Previously, they were more democratic or something, more legal. Now I can call myself a left-wing anarchist. I have always campaigned to open people’s eyes and make them see what is happening with the country — for example, with the standard of living. I talked to my family and acquaintances, friends and even strangers. I drew leaflets and spray-painted walls. Do you know those big advertising banners? At night, I would climb up and write “Putin is a thief” on them. At the time, he was merely a thief. But now, of course, he is not just a thief but also a murderer. I wrote on such billboards at night so that people would also start asking questions and arrive at the same opinion.

Tell me why you decided to set fire to the military enlistment office. What did you hope to achieve?

Rozhkov: Since February 22, I had been closely following independent media and social media channels. I expected the war to start in the last week of month, because Russian troops were amassed in Belgorod, Belarus, and other border areas. It was obvious that some kind of movement of troops would begin. And it kicked off on February 24. I began to go into a depression. I was constantly flipping channels and reading the news. I was getting worse every day. I just understood that it was impossible to remain indifferent. What is happening now is illegitimate; it is illegal. Any war means death for ordinary folks. A war in the twenty-first century seems somehow alien to me, especially for such ridiculous, made-up reasons. We annexed Crimea in 2014, and I said already back then that it was wrong. Crimea is not ours and will never be ours. I said there would be consequences. And that’s how it turned out.

It is really awful for me to get my head around the fact that people are getting killed — civilians are dying, and those who do not want to fight, but have been drafted, are also getting killed. I wanted to make some kind of appeal for people to start fighting against this war. I wanted to impact the situation, to do something to stop it all or at least weaken [Russian troops]. So, I set fire to the military enlistment office in the city of Beryozovsky. I didn’t try to burn it down. I threw three Molotov cocktails at the glass doors, which broke. I didn’t even expect them to shatter. Actually, I was thinking that I would just set fire to the door, to the entrance. I was unlucky: at that moment, traffic cops were driving past and noticed what I did. [They] put out the fire, and then they followed me. I couldn’t get far. I ran about a kilometer, and I was blinded by the high beam from their vehicle. I tried to get out of there, to run away, but they threatened to shoot me, and I was forced to surrender.

Tell me how you prepared for this. How spontaneous was this protest?

Rozhkov: It happened quite spontaneously. I didn’t even develop an exit plan and was operating in unfamiliar territory. It seemed to me like some kind of self-sacrifice. I perfectly imagined that I would be held [criminally] liable for this, but I had no fear.

After my protest action was carried out, Putin admitted on Channel One that conscript soldiers had been deployed to the military special operation zone, and [said] that they would be withdrawn from there and that those who had sent them would be punished. It was after my arson attempt that he said this. I was the third person in Russia to set fire to a military enlistment office, and this is [an example of how] several people made an impact to save guys like us, guys our same age. [Conscripts] were not killed in the war. None [of them] were killed: they were simply transferred back to Russia, leaving only contract soldiers [in the war zone].

So you think that the arsons of military enlistment offices also influenced this decision by the authorities?

Rozhkov: Yes, I think so. I’m certain of it.

How did you feel while you were in police custody? Was there any pressure from the investigative authorities? What actually happened after you were detained?

Rozhkov: I was detained, handcuffed, searched, thrown into a paddy wagon, and taken to the police station. I was treated pretty badly at the station. The police chief of the city of Beryozovsky threatened me personally that he would piss on me and beat me with a stick — those were literally his words. But there were also decent people [among the police officers] who did not threaten me and talked to me calmly. They supported me so that I would not go into complete shock.

At Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in Yekaterinburg, I was quarantined at first. They didn’t issue me bed linens, they didn’t give me a pillow or a blanket — they only gave me a pissed-stained mattress. Thank God I didn’t spend much time there. On the fourth day, the head doctor of the psychiatric ward summoned me. Since I have some ailments, she put herself in my shoes and I was transferred to the hospital wing, to the “psycho hut.” Basically, I liked it there. Despite the fact that some people in my cell were wacky, I had almost no conflicts with them. It wasn’t the first time my cellmates had been in prison. I was the only first-timer.

[In the pretrial detention center] they gave me very strong drugs, which made me feel lousy. One of those drugs was risperidone, which is prescribed to schizophrenics. I was given a triple dose. I suffered from restlessness [akathisia], I had panic attacks, I was short of breath and suffered from insomnia. That is, the treatment wasn’t right for me. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I was sent there, and not to gen pop.

I was a “road worker” [the person in a prison cell or block responsible for the “road,” the illegal system of communication among cells] — they respected me and listened to my opinion. Basically, everything was fine while I was in the joint. The prison staff were mostly supportive: you could talk to them a little bit during inspections or when the gruel was served.

During the period of my imprisonment, I was taken for an inpatient mental competency examination to the psychiatric hospital on the Siberian Route [i.e., Sverdlovsk Regional Clinical Psychiatric Hospital]. I stayed there for twenty-one days. There, on the contrary, the prison staff behaved aggressively and tried to provoke many people, including me, into conflict.

Those who succumbed to provocations were tasered and locked up in solitary confinement. The worst, most deranged prison staff, I believe, were in the tenth ward of the psychiatric regional hospital on the Siberian Route.

Did anyone support you while you were in prison, such as relatives, friends, or maybe human rights campaigners?

Rozhkov: When I was in the pretrial detention center, a lawyer from the Anarchist Back Cross came to visit me and offered their help. They also asked whether I wanted to receive letters, [financial?] assistance, care packages, and publicity for my case. I turned down the assistance and publicity, but decided that it would be nice to get letters from concerned folks who help people like us who are in prison. The letters really gave me a boost. My parents and concerned people from Yekaterinburg helped me by bringing me care packages. I won’t name names, but they helped me and are still helping me.

Why did you decide to turn down the assistance from the Anarchist Black Cross?

Rozhkov: Because I gave into the persuasions of my parents and lawyer. They were against my case being [widely] publicized — allegedly, so as to avoid hounding the investigator in my case. They were afraid that he would toughen the punishment if I attracted public attention. So, due to pressure from [my parents and lawyer], I had to turn down this help.

And yet, when you were in the pretrial detention center, as far as I remember, you were facing the rather harsh charge of attempted murder, right?

Rozhkov: Yes, I had been charged with violating Article 105, part two, in combination with Article 30 — “attempted murder, committed with extreme cruelty, from hooligan motives, in a generally dangerous way.” The crime carries a sentence of between eight years to life in prison.

Do you think that someone’s life was actually threatened as a result of what you did?

Rozhkov: I’m absolutely sure that this wasn’t the case. I doubt that there actually was a woman [night watchperson] of some kind in the military enlistment office building. According to the testimony of the policemen who detained me, who helped extinguish the fire, there were no lights turned anywhere on the premises, and they did not see this woman either. So, I doubt that she was there. In addition, in other such cases — I monitored similar cases — no one was charged under the same article of the criminal code as me. There were no guards there.

When you were released on your own recognizance, you didn’t leave the country immediately. What was holding you back?

Rozhkov: I was promised that the charges against me would be light: Article 167 in combination with Article 30, which translates into “attempted destruction of property,” and carries a maximum sentence of five years. But, after looking at the other cases, I realized that sooner or later, Article 205 [“terrorism”] would be rolled out against all of us.

I also wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family, with relatives and friends, so that I could at least somehow restore our relations and thank them. But ultimately I left. I was evacuated from the country.

How did your relatives react to your actions and to your prosecution?

Rozhkov: They said that I had acted stupidly, that it was impossible to go against the system and that I had let everyone else down. They accused me of suffering from a guilt complex. But I believe that I saved people and that my life is a small sacrifice compared to the number of people who survived thanks to what I did. Even if I had been shot when they were detaining me, I would still have achieved more than anyone else.

How are you feeling right now?

Rozhkov: I feel sad and lonely. I am not in my native country. But I have a friend — I am lucky that he ended up here for the same political reasons — and he helps and supports me. I am also supported by evacuation organizations. I feel pretty bad. But now I’ve purchased the medications prescribed by a psychotherapist, and things are getting easier and easier in my head every day. But sometimes a powerful sadness rolls over me, a melancholy due to the fact that I am lonely and had to leave the country.

Berezovsky and Sverdlovsk Region, on a map of the Russian Federation. Image courtesy of DOXA

When we were agreeing to do this interview, you said that after you had left [Russia], you tattooed the anarchy symbol on the back of your hand. Can you tell me about it for the interview?

Rozhkov: The symbol means a lot to me. I am an anarchist myself, a leftist; I espouse this political position. And although a society without powerful authorities and hierarchies seems like a utopia, we could get there. Power should belong to the people, not to a bunch of corrupt bastards who commit terrible crimes. My symbol also means that I share the views of the people who helped me when I was in prison. It says that I am close to these people. And that I, in turn, will also help political prisoners at the first opportunity.

Maybe you would like to convey something to Ukrainians?

Rozhkov: Yes, I would. I want them to know that there are dissenters, people [in Russia] who do not want war with Ukraine or any war at all. I hope that soon no one else will suffer due to this shit that Putin has made happen. Ukrainians are doing a good job of retaking their territory and destroying Russian troops. I think everything will be fine sooner or later. Ukrainians are very strong, motivated people and will defend their territory to the end. I respect them for that. I would have done the same thing in their place.

Source: Ivan Astashin, “‘I believe I saved people’: an interview with one of the first to torch a military enlistment office in Russia,” DOXA, 22 December 2022. Thanks to Simon Pirani for the heads-up. Translated by Hecksinductionhour