Olga Jitlina: Adar

tereshkina-adar-1Image © Anna Tereshkina, 2018

משנכנס אדר – מרבים בשמחה
When Adar begins, joy multiplies.

I. Equality
Joy multiplies in the month of Adar. Joy arrives in the month of Adar. Why, oh why die in March? Spring is just around the corner. The darkness and cold have almost retreated. The light, like water, comes every day. To get out, clamber out from under myself as from under falling debris and beams, to shed myself like old scales. To fly, race, and run away from this exploding ruin. It is the snow melting. It is me melting. Joy surges. Joy arrives.

A friend told me in passing that joy is multiplied in the month of Adar. (Who multiplies it? Why does she do it? How do she do it?) I had always felt this poignantly, you know. At the beginning of March, on the fault line between winter and early spring, Grandmother died. During a lecture, someone from the dean’s office came to get me. They said the ambulance brigade medics who took her to hospital had been looking for me. When I arrived, she was still conscious but shrieking in pain. She asked for a shot that would make her die more quickly. Her aorta had burst. We managed to talk. I said, “Hang on, Granny. If you want, I’ll give you great-grandsons, Granny.” But she said, “March, damn March.” Her aorta had swollen two years earlier. Then, on the dawn of March 23, the police had rung the doorbell and asked whether there were any men in the house. The bed was empty, and Grandmother had dashed to the door and fallen down in the hallway. I rushed downstairs.

Very slowly and instantly, very slowly and instantly. She lay in an unbuttoned black overcoat over white panties, her t-shirt hitched up, her skinny yellow hand strangely twisted. A dent on a car. She had hit something before crashing to the ground. There was almost no blood, only a small spot near her head, and two teeth knocked out. Mom.

A negative imprint on icy pavement. An instant plunge into the abyss of the Mariana Trench. Why did you dress up as blackbird? Where are you taking me, Mother Death?

The sky’s light light light light fills floods the whole world. The sky is coming, the sky flows in like the ocean’s tide, the sky is huge, immense, and all the houses, cars, the entire dusty city, the people come undone from the earth and float in the sky like tiny flakes of yesterday’s pain, which has negotiated winter’s afflictions. Blinded by the light, consciousness bursts open toward the future, surrenders to the whirlpool of happiness, omnipotent, ready to face life’s trials and challenges.

“If we turn the IV off, she’ll die at once. If we don’t, she will be conscious for several hours or days,” the doctor said.

“Turn it off,” I said. I was eighteen.

When I left the hospital, the sky was shining, and the wind blew all the sails towards the sunset’s golden-pink clouds. I asked them that, before I got home, Grandpa’s Parkinson’s would progress to the point he would not realize he and I were alone.

Tattered thoughts rush past, shreds of memories sweep past. I don’t have the time to write them down, connect them, grab them.

You drew the line. You established the border. You will not let me into your house, your family, your life. During days of universal joy, all I can do is sit glued to the screen in solitude, peering at social network timelines where photos of your warm family festivities light up. I am hungry with envy and sadness, a tramp standing outside Yuletide windows.

I have become your illegal alien. Everyone knows about me, but they try not to notice me. You forbade taking pictures of us together, and in conversation you hide my presence with the singular. I shouldn’t leave the house too much. I should be invisible, inaudible, and inconspicuous. It should be as if I didn’t exist. I shouldn’t exist.

Clouds like ragged threads sweep across the blinding sky.

In March, the city really reveals itself only to the drunk and the desperate, to people standing on death’s windowsill. Only through the inward tears produced by the splinters of an ice floe smashed to smithereens does it flash with a hallucinatory beauty for an instant, and the first person you meet passes through the hell of a bulging heart like a thread through the eye of a needle.

My gaze crashed into you as I measured the distance from the balcony to the pavement. You lay, your head nestled against the belly of another person, lying on their back, the whites of their eyes spinning in oblivion, under my balcony. You were trying to warm yourself in the other person’s warmth or just die together. I was afraid to touch your squashed fingers, dried blood, dusty clothes, and urine-stained clothes. I told you to get up on your own and, holding onto the wall, walk with me to the front door. When we got there, before you could tell me about your eight-year-old daughter Liza and your mother in Orenburg Region, whom you had managed to send five thousand rubles before, and before I could decide whether to invite you into the flat so we could jump together or remember how to call the ambulance and where to find the address of the homeless shelter, we sobbed for a long while on the dirty front stoop, random and nameless.

It takes two or three weeks for someone who ends up on the streets to turn irretrievably into a homeless person, the same amount of time depression becomes clinical.

You are afraid of letting me in, because you know that as soon as I cross the threshold, your home will be inundated with the stench of misery and insanity. You are afraid to defile the peace of your home and loved ones. You are afraid the walls will immediately crack, and the infection of homelessness will spread to everyone. You have marked out your domain.

The pink pill rolls around inside you. It smashes you into the pavement.

Bright pink clouds lashed the eyes and scalded the brain of the body on the bloodless balcony.

The balcony can fit exactly three people. It resembles a tiny boat, a cradle careening between streams of cars and the sky. I suggested we go live there, never going back under the roof. Three wise men in a tub. Bas Jan Ader in the midst of the Atlantic. Baron Munchausen, pulling himself from the water by his own hair to fling himself into the sky’s blinding abyss.

I searched for you up and down the area around Dostoevskaya subway station, in all the attics and cellars, in the unlocked entryways and the warm spaces between the doors into the subway. In your crevice between peeling moldings and the cast-iron curls of stairway railings, all that was left of you was rubbish: a bed fashioned from crumpled newspapers and the booklet with addresses of homeless shelters I got for you the other day. We were going to meet right after the weekend. I was going to bring you clean clothes and wet wipes so you would look decent when you went to get new papers and register with the social services.

When, a few weeks later, I accidentally stumbled upon you trying to bum a cigarette, you were either completely drunk or distant. I handed you a cigarette and tried to figure out where you had been sleeping and when we would go to the homeless shelter. You could not focus and mumbled, “What they call you, sweetie?” I realized I was too late. You had already sailed away. You were already out there, furrowing the waves of the ocean in search of the miraculous. Neither your daughter Liza nor your grandmother would ever see you again. You had left your grandmother and left your grandfather. You had sailed away from me, leaving me alone with my own salvation, you smarted-ass jerk, Slavka.

tereshkina-adar-2Image © Anna Tereshkina, 2018

II. Fraternity
In moments of the most terrible despair, I imagine I have a twin brother. He is just like me, only a little different. He knows everything about me and understands me. He is the only person around whom I can cry, and to whom I am not ashamed to complain. I imagine he comes and comforts me.

We stretch our hands in the sun and laugh with joy. They are exactly the same, only slightly different colors. We have equally thin wrists and large palms with wide, seemingly broken joints and thin fingers. The hands of twins. We are different sexes, but we cannot help but find similarities in our absurd, adolescent-like bodies. Your hair is curly. Mine is straight. But we have an intangibly similar, perpetually disheveled look. My found brother.

“Sister,” said a guy sitting outside a shop and holding a dirty cap turned upside down, “Sister, some change, please.”

The noise of the lagoon gently beat against my eardrums. The sun shined, and almost without splashing the fullness of happiness, I walked by him schlepping full bags.

“I can’t go back. Everything is destroyed. I have burnt all my bridges. If you knew what it cost me to get here, what it cost me to live through this break-up—”

“Calm down. This no place to have a tantrum. Listen to me. You cannot stay. It’s impossible.”

“I laid down my whole life to get here. I scorched the past from my heart. I cut myself off from everyone.”

“It’s impossible. It’s written here in black and white. The decision on your application is negative. Where are you going to live? On the streets?”

“I’ll think of something. I have nowhere to go. I ask you to reconsider the decision.”

“You have gone through all your appeals. There is no room here for all of Africa. It’s an unbearable economic burden on our taxpayers. They cannot feed everyone.”

“I can work.”

“There’s been high unemployment here for many years.”

“I’m not afraid to do any job.”

“Even if that’s so, you’ll never really be accepted here. The culture is different.”

“I’ll learn the language. I’ll come to know your culture. I’ll become a different person.”

“Enough! Stop it! What use is any of this to us in the long run?”

I don’t know how much time has passed since I was dragged from the sea. I don’t remember being brought here. The days, weeks, and months have passed automatically, without feelings and sensations, leaving no memory of themselves, as if the cold tons of water that had squeezed me inside and outside had paralyzed my mind. As if a half-dead body had been pulled out, but what was alive in it and made it want to live had been too late to save.

I just up and went outside one morning. I walked down a street and found myself on the embankment of a wide channel or strait between islands. I felt the sun’s tender caress and smelled the seaweed. The green water picked through the shallow waves and, half asleep, smiled to no one and everyone all at once, and coral houses stood petrified and solemn along its rim. This beauty, these sounds, and the gentle warmth struck me with such force I couldn’t stand it. I fell, tensing my body, hiding my face, and closing my eyes. I suffered convulsions, and tears flooded my head. I remembered everything. Fear, hunger, a series of deaths and partings, no hope of meeting again, loneliness, despair, an endless trek, fear, fear. A mad hunted beast consumed in the depths of itself. Not everything was connected. Here and there, now and then were endlessly, unbearably separated. This could not be happening in one world; this could not be happening to one person. I had died. I was dead.

I tried to open my eyes again. On the other shore, half-turned towards me, a brick-red building with two candle-thin towers and a rounded dome floated, its white marble façade looking back at me. Four light figures—three above the forehead’s triangle and the fourth at the very top of the dome—soared from the building into the sky. Stunned by the building’s unprecedentedly simple shining grandeur, I again hid my face. Il Rendetore, Il Rendetore. Whether I had died or survived, I realized one thing: I was saved.

I don’t mind. They can work on construction sites, in closed facilities. As long they don’t plague us with their presence. I definitely don’t want my children to see them.

Why has it become so difficult? Why do I feel such horror when I imagine it? Is there something wrong with me? Can’t I leave the house like everyone else? Can’t I go where I want, like everyone else? How silly! What nonsense! I will come and say hello to everyone, as if nothing has happened. I’ll be cheerful. I’ll laugh, make jokes, and chat, hopping from topic to topic. I have been repeating this for many days. I smile to myself in the mirror. I turn on the most upbeat music. I walk along, my head lifted, a spring in my step. I’m like everyone. I’m like everyone. My heart beats harder. But here is the door. It’s not even locked: you just need to push it. No! No! It’s easier to plunge into the abyss. An ostrich in a cage, its head bumping against the ceiling. A lion cub’s severed head. Huge pumpkin halves floating in the water.

Meat carcasses. Everywhere there are meat carcasses and flies, flies, flies. If you do not come up to me first, if you are not by my side, everything will instantly fall silent, all gazes will pierce and immobilize me. Someone’s hand will pull on the end of my smiling turban, my cocoon—and I will be confronted by everyone, my face bare and frozen with animal fear.

“Can I ask you something? Do you have a boyfriend?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“I just like you.”

“Listen, I’m helping you defending your human rights, and you’re flirting with me?”

“No, no, I’m not flirting. I’m serious. I want to marry you. I sent my parents a photo of you and wrote to them you are a very good girl.”

“You’re serious? Serious is not receiving refugee status and getting sent back to a war zone. Or, at best, you stay here without papers. You’d better think about this seriously.”

“Yes, yes, I know you’re right. It’s very important. You have helped me so much. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. But everyone needs someone to be close to. Everyone needs a future in common with someone else.”

“It is natural for people to guard the borders of their house,” intoned a voice on the radio, and I could not come in to see you. Even if I had gone in, the door would simply have moved farther away and remained locked. Then my feet carried me down the stairs, flight after flight, into the courtyard, into the streets of the city to walk to the point of oblivion, until my senses were numbed, until I had lost the ability to speak, until I was anesthetized by the night’s cold.

When I was told we could have no future, that my face must be deleted from all photographs, and my name must never be said aloud, all mentions of it must be effaced and it must be forgotten, when you repeated it, and everything was on the point of collapse, I decided to save our incredible love, our unlimited intimacy in the past. We set out deep into the past. We retreated farther and farther from life, reeling through generation after generation, descending ever deeper into the branched roots of our family trees. We explored each and every fork and knot, looking for a possible intermingling, for the dead man who would silently proclaim, “I now pronounce you brother and sister.”

I don’t know how long I wandered the streets, squares, back alleys, and filthy, luxurious building lobbies, but once, when I came to my senses, I realized I was in a completely different time and city. It was phantasmagorically beautiful, but quite different from my bitter city, where beauty is spread in a thin layer over a flat space, like butter on a perestroika-era sandwich, the neoclassical columns-cum-commissars dispense an equal dose to each, and only needle-like spires are permitted to pierce the sky’s blue vein. Here, on the contrary, beauty exuded from every crevice, clambered over its own head, shook its stone lace, and doubled in the canals, leaving the eyes with not a centimeter of peace. Incredible churches squeezed between beautiful buildings, tucking in their apses. On one of the tiny squares, two blinding, blocky marble façades suddenly rose over me. I watched them, transfixed. They seemed to grow against the black sky. Then they toppled down on me with all their luxury, all their unbridled splendor, and I cried out in amazement, horror, and resentment, mortally offended for all the dull bedroom communities, the settlements consisting only of Khrushchev-era blocks of flats, plopped down in the middle of swamps, the shanty towns, jury-rigged from planks of old plywood, tarpaper, and filthy quilts, where homeless people and Roma children took shelter, mortally offended that beauty was so unfairly, so unequally dispensed.

I rushed through the intersections of an endless latticework of streets, running into dead ends and stumbling over bridges until, finally, at dawn, the sun glanced between the houses. I came to a wide embankment. In the rays of the rising sun, over the surface of waters forced apart, a clear Palladian silhouette arose, turning slightly to greet the arriving joy. Something dripped, thawing from the inside, painfully easing the winter frostbite. I realized the month of Adar had passed, and I had been able to survive the year. The time and place came into focus. It was April, my mom’s birthday and, maybe, mine, and I was ten years younger than she was when she jumped from the balcony. I stood on the same embankment where, several centuries ago, during the plague, the incurably ill were dragged so that, for the last time before they headed to the cemetery, they would believe in salvation.

Pateh Sabally, a twenty-two-year-old Gambian man, tried to stay afloat in a canal while onlookers shot him on video, peppered him with racist remarks, and laughed. In one video, you can hear the onlookers screaming at him, “Go on, go back home.”

At least three life rings were thrown into the water, but Sabally did not try and reach them, which suggests he committed suicide.

No one jumped into the water to help Sabally, and he drowned.

tereshkina-adar-3Image © Anna Tereshkina, 2018

III. Liberty
Remember, when we embraced for the first time, everything fell into place, everything was as it should have always been. The planets no longer had to orbit the sun. They finally had come home. They had found their safe haven. You wove me a cocoon of tenderness from kisses, words, and touches. It will protect me always and everywhere. And if you are with me when I die, I will die happy.

But only you and also you were blinded by pain at the same moment.

Dost thou remember, do you remember, how on that morning, when we awake together, embracing, and laugh at the joy of feeling each other, the happiest day will dawn? Everyone will share love with everyone else, and there will only be more love. Fear, jealousy, despair, barbed wire, and checkpoint politeness will be left behind. All the homeless, insane, undocumented, illegal and semi-legal, prostitutes, mistresses, and street urchins will stand straight up and solemnly along the sunny streets, and everyone else, giddy, will rush out to them, leaving their homes forever. Smiles will crack immured faces, and the age-old plaster of affliction will spill onto the ground and people’s clothes. The wind will waft the dust away. The buds of joy will burst open with a crash and sprout through every creature. And the joy keeps on coming and coming and coming. We multiply the joy.

Dost thou remember? And thou? Do you remember? Do we remember?

Originally written as a personal letter by Olga Jitlina, although this text never achieved its aim, it was the basis of Fraternité, an audio walk round Venice in October 2017. Curated by Vera Kavaleuskaya and Alina Belishkina, the walk was part of Research Pavilion: Access to Utopia. Illustrations by Anna Tereshkina. Translation by Thomas Campbell. A huge thanks to Ms. Tereshkina and Ms. Jitlina for permission to reprint their work here.

Igor Yakovenko: The Anthropology of Death

741071a6-33e3-49e8-a47b-c5324a07c8ebThe funeral of Roman Filippov, a Russian fighter pilot whose plane was shot down in Syria on February 3, 2018. Filippov was buried in Voronezh on February 8. This photo was posted on the Russian Defense Ministry’s Facebook page. Courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg

Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
The Anthropology of Death
February 13, 2018

On the TV program Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, Russian MP Vyacheslav Nikonov suggested honoring Roman Filippov, the SU-25 pilot who was killed in Syria on February 3, with a minute of silence, the American expert [sic] Gregory Vinnikov retorted, “He quit his hut and went to fight for the land of Syria.”

This provoked Nikonov and Solovyov’s other guests to try and kick Vinnikov out of the studio. Ultimately, they were joined by Solovyov himself, who told the studio and home audience that there is a “respect for death” in Russia, and so Vinnikov had to leave.

When Dmitry Gudkov was still an MP, he tried twice, in February 2015 and February 2016, to ask his fellow MPs to honor the memory of Boris Nemtsov, assassinated a few steps away from the Kremlin, with a minute of silence. The MPs refused both times. The degree to which death is respected in Putinist Russia depends on the dead person’s political stance.

In recent years, the Putin regime has murdered over ten thousand Ukrainian citizens, and, in cahoots with the Assad regime and its accomplices, has murdered several hundred thousand Syrian citizens. No one on Solovyov’s program or in the Russian State Duma has ever proposed honoring these victims of Putinist fascism. The degree to which death is respected in Putinist Russia depends on ethnicity and nationality. The death of “one of our boys” is deserving of respect, while the death of a stranger or outsider is not.

Roman Filippov was a fighter pilot. He flew an attack aircraft in the skies of a foreign country. His objective was to “destroy ground targets,” which included killing people on the ground. We do not know how many Syrians were killed by Filippov, but he was an enemy of the Syrian people. When he was dying, Filippov cried out, “For the boys!” Neither Syria nor its people have attacked Russia. Filippov and his military buddies (“the boys”) attacked Syria and its people on Putin’s orders. The Syrians have been fighting a war at home against invaders (Russians, Iranians, Turks) and the puppet dictator Assad.

Putin awarded the title of Hero of Russia to Filippov, who was made an invader by his grace and was killed as an invader in a foreign country. Tens of thousands of people attended Filippov’s funeral in Voronezh. The media say the figure was thirty thousand. Judging by the photographs and videos from the scene, this is no exaggeration. I don’t agree with those who claim all those people were forced to attend. Many of them clearly believed a hero who had perished defending the Motherland was being buried. Television has a firm grip on them.

A few days after Filippov’s funeral, a number of Russian nationals, employees of the Wagner Group, a private military contractor, were killed in a clash with the US-led coalition. These are the selfsame Russian servicemen whom Putin has camouflaged as “mercenaries.” It is more convenient if he can lie and say Russia has no troops there. It is not known for certain how many Russian soldiers were killed during the incident. Some sources have claimed that six hundred were killed, while other sources have reported it was two hundred. RIA Novosti News Agency reported that one Russian was killed, and he was a member of Eduard Limonov’s The Other Russia party to boot. Meaning that since he used to be in the opposition, we need not feel sorry for him.

Just like Filippov, these people died because Putin dispatched them to Syria. They were just as much invaders as Filippov. However, their “heroism” has for some reason been passed over in silence. The likelihood any of them will be awarded the title Hero of Russia is nill. They will be shipped home and buried in the ground quietly and anonymously. I can guarantee no one on Solovyov’s program will suggest honoring their memory. In Putinist Russia, the only “respectable” death is a death acknowledged by the authorities and confirmed on television.

The Putin regime has a flagrantly necrophiliac tendency. Even under Stalin, there was nothing like this savoring of death and pride in the fact that more Russians perished in the Second World War than anyone else. Nowadays, this corpse rattling has become the the country’s principal moral lynchpin.

Not all corpses can be rattled, however. The Putin regime differs in this sense from Hitler’s Germany and other fascist regimes, which divided people into superior and inferior races. The Putin regime also endows ethnic Russians with special qualities: a particular spirituality and other manifestations of an extra chromosome. Even amongst ethnic Russians, however, the regime has constantly differentiated. Suddenly, the descendants of Siege of Leningrad survivors were discovered to have special genes. However, these genes were not discovered in all descendants, but only amongst Putin and the members of his retinue. It now transpires the regime has a rating for Russian nationals who have perished in a foreign country, defining which of the dead deserves to be remembered, and which deserves to be forgotten.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Dragnet (Yelena Gorban and Alexei Kobaidze)

Suspects in Vandalism Committed Outside of United Russia Office Sent to Temporary Detention Facility
OVD Info
February 14, 2018

Paddy wagon in which Gorban was taken away. Photo by Maxim Pashkov. Courtesy of OVD Info

Yelena Gorban and Alexei Kobaidze, suspects in the vandalism case (Russian Criminal Code Article 214) opened after a protest outside a United Russia party office on January 31, have been sent to Temporary Detention Facility No. 1 (Petrovka) in Moscow, as reported to OVD Info by their defense lawyers, Svetlana Sidorkina and Maxim Pashkov.

Gorban and Kobaidze have been jailed for 48 hours. On February 14, investigators plan to pursue their investigation, perhaps by confronting the detainees. According to the lawyers, Gorban has confessed to violating Article 214 Part 1 (vandalism) of the Criminal Code, while Kobaidze has refused to testifying, invoking his right not incriminate himself under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.

Police arrived at Gorban’s home early in the morning. They searched the flat she shares with her parents, confiscated all electronic storage devices, and took the young woman to the Preliminary Investigation Office of the Interior Ministry’s Moscow Directorate. Gorban has problems with her eyesight, but was not allowed to take contact lenses or eyeglases with here. The activist was delivered to the Preliminary Investigation Office and interrogated as a witness. Her attorney, Svetlana Sidorkina, was not admitted to see her client for four hours. When Sidorkina was finally allowed to see Gorban, she had had decided to confess her guilt and testify.

The police came for Kobaidze in the evening. He refused to open the door, and the police were unable to enter his flat for a long time. Kobaidze’s neighbor Alexei Markov was apprehended by police and taken to the Novogireevo precinct, because he had returned home and refused to opened the door to the flat with his own key. He was then taken to the police station on the premise that he could be inebriated. After testing Markov, the police took him back to the flat and, after showing him a search warrant, opened the door with his key. After the search, Kobaidze was also taken to the Interior Ministry’s Preliminary Investigation Department and interrogated as a suspect.

During the interrogations, police officers questioned Gorban and Kobaidze about an unauthorized march by Moscow anarchists on Myasnitskaya Street to protest the torture of anarchists and antifascists in Penza and Petersburg (see below).

Translated by the Russian Reader

••••••••••

I have previously posted the following translations of popular press articles on the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the FSB-led investigation of the April 2017 bombing in the Petersburg subway, which upon close examination seem eerily like carbon copies of each other.

The Case of the Anarchists: Disappearances, Torture, Frame-Up (11 AM, February 15, 2018, Moscow)

vTxDDMgRWGeIMpk-800x450-noPad“FSB! Stop Torturing People!” Photo courtesy of Change.org

The Case of the Anarchists: Disappearances, Torture, Frame-Up. Press Conference in Moscow
Rosbalt
February 13, 2018

At 11:00 a.m. on February 15, 2018, Rosbalt News Agency will host a press conference, entitled “The Case of the Anarchists: Disappearances, Torture, Frame-Up,” in its press center at 4/2 Skaternyi Pereulok, Building 1, in Moscow.

During the press conference, information will be provided about the persecution of members of the anarchist movement in Penza and St. Petersburg on the part of the Federal Security Service (FSB), as well as evidence of torture, violence, and coerced self-incrimination. Human rights organizations will present a consolidated stance on this case. In addition, participants will talk about how they plan to organize public and legal support for the accused.

The press conference will feature:
— Lev Ponomaryov, executive director, For Human Rights Movement
— Alexander Cherksasov, council chair, Memorial Human Rights Center
— Irina Sergeyeva, attorney, Moscow Helsinki Group
— Oleg Zaitsev, defense counsel for Dmitry Pchelintsev, Penza
— Yana Teplitskaya,  St. Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission
— Yekaterina Kosarevskaya, St. Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission
— Alexandra Krylenkova, St. Petersburg Human Rights Council

Accreditation of journalists:
Telephone/fax: +7 (495) 690-1638, +7 (926) 244-6395
E-mail: es@msk.rosbalt.ru

••••••••••

I have previously posted the following translations of popular press articles on the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the FSB-led investigation of the April 2017 bombing in the Petersburg subway, which upon closer examination seem eerily like carbon copies of each other.

The Strange Investigation of a Strange Terrorist Attack

The Strange Investigation of a Strange Terrorist Attack
Leonid Martynyuk
Radio Svoboda
February 3, 2018

The investigation of the April 2017 terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway continues. We have assembled thirteen facts that provoke questions and leave us bewildered.

Last year witnessed two major terrorist attacks in Russia’s so-called second capital: in the subway in April, and in a Perekrostok supermarket in late December. They claimed 16 lives and injured another 126 people. In addition, in December, two weeks before the New Year, a joint operation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Interior Ministry apprehended seven persons who, according to the security services, were planning a whole series of terrorist attacks in Petersburg, including a blast in Kazan Cathedral. According to the same sources, the CIA had assisted the Russian security services in uncovering the terrorists and their plans.

On December 17, “Vladimir Putin thanked Donald Trump for the intelligence shared by the CIA, which had assisted in detaining terrorists planning blasts in Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral and other sites in the city. The intelligence received from the CIA was enough to track down and apprehend the criminals.”

Given the fact that last year no similar terrorist attacks or attempted terrorist attacks took place anywhere else in Russia, the activeness of terrorists in Petersburg was especially shocking. Why was Petersburg chosen by terrorists as the only target? However, the security services should first answer not this question, which is, perhaps, rhetorical, but questions about the ongoing investigation and its findings. While little time has passed since the December terrorist attack, and there has been little news about its investigation, it has been nearly nine months since the April attack in the Petersburg subway, and so we can sum up and analyze the available information.

Thus, on April 3, 2017, at 2:33 p.m., a terrorist attack occurred in the Petersburg subway that left 16 people dead and 49 people hospitalized. From the very first minutes, reports about the attack contradicted each other.

1. Fake Terrorists

The first person whom the media, citing law enforcement agencies, named as the possible terrorist was Ilyas Nikitin, a truck driver from Bashkortostan, who was returning home that day from St. Petersburg’s central mosque.

fontanka+fake

“A photo of the man whom the CID are seeking in connection with the blast.” Screenshot from the Twitter account of popular Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru

A few hours later, however, Nikitin himself went to the police to prove his innocence. He had planned to fly from Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport to Orenburg. He had gone through the security check, but the flight crew of the Rossiya Airlines plane refused to let him board the plane due to the protests of frightened fellow passengers, who had “identified” him from his photograph in the press.

In the early hours of April 4, the media, citing the security services, identified Maxim Arishev, who was “in the epicenter of the blast in the subway car” and “could be the alleged suicide bomber.” cit

“Channel Five has published photos of the person who allegedly planted the second bomb at Ploshchad Vosstaniya.” Screenshot from Twitter account of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT)

Arishev was identified as a “22-year-old Kazakhstani national.” An hour later, the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of investigators, published a message stating Arishev was a victim of the terrorist attack, not the man who carried it out. cit2

“We have concluded that Maxim Aryshev [sic] was among the victims of the terrorist attack, not a suicide bomber.” Screenshot from Twitter account of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT)

The third and final hypothesis as to the perpetrator’s identity during the immediate aftermath of the attack was that it was 22-year-old Russian national Akbarjon Jalilov, who also died in the blast. The Investigative Committee’s guess was based on genetic evidence and CCTV footage.

Фотография Акбаржона Джалилова на его страничке в

A photograph of Akbarjon Jalilov on his page on the Russian social media website Odnoklassniki (“Classmates”)

 

Djalilov’s neighbors in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, where he lived until 2011, described his family as secular.

“His family is not religious. Akbarjon did not pray five times a day or grow a beard. On the contrary, he liked wearing ripped bluejeans. He knew Russian well.”

2. Reports of Two Blasts

In the first hour after the terrorist attack, Russian media reported that two blasts had occurred. They cited what they regarded as very reliable, informed sources: the Emergency Situations Ministry, the Investigative Committee, and the National Anti-Terrorist Committee.

An hour later, the concept had changed, and the Russian security services informed the public through the media there had been one blast, while a second explosive device, planted at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station, had been disarmed in time.

The news chronicle of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway is still available on the internet news site Lenta.ru, which is now absolutely loyal to the regime.

Between 3:12 p.m. and 3:44 p.m., that is, over thirty minutes, Lenta.ru published several reports that two explosive devices had exploded at two subway stations.

3:12 p.m.: “There were two blasts. They thundered at Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologicheskii Institut stations.”

3:17 p.m.: “Putin has been informed of the explosions in the Petersburg subway.”

3:44 p.m: The media report that “all stations of the Petersburg subway have been closed due to the blasts.”

After 3:49 p.m., only one blast is mentioned in every single one of Lenta.ru‘s dispatches.

3:49 p.m.: “The number of victims of the blast in the Petersburg subway has grown to thirty, reports Interfax.”

But at 3:55 p.m. Lenta.ru publishes a report of a second unexploded bomb.

3:55 p.m.: “Fontanka.ru reports that another, unexploded bomb has been found at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station.”

The media’s interpreters of information supplied by the Investigative Committee and Emergency Situations Ministry were offered the following explanation of the false report of two blasts at two stations.

“The explosion occurred on the stretch of track between Petersburg subway stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Teknologicheskii Institut. At the time of the explosion, the subway train had only set out from Sennaya Ploshchad, but it did not stop, braking only at Tekhnologicheskii Institut. Therefore, reports of a bomb exploding arrived from both stations. At one station, the explosion and smoke were seen, while the exploded subway car, and the injured and the dead were seen at the second station.”

But this account contradicts reports about the time of the explosion.

“The explosion occurred at 2:40 p.m. in the third car of an electric train traveling on the Petersburg subway’s Blue Line. It happened a few minutes after the train had left Sennaya Ploshchad for Tekhnologicheskii Institut.”

The average speed of a train traveling in the Petersburg subway is 40 kilometers an hour. The train left Sennaya Ploshchad and had been traveling a few minutes before an explosion occurred in one of the cars. Let us assume that train had been under speed for a minimum of two minutes, and during the first minute the train traveled slowly due to the need to pick up speed. During the second minute, the train was already traveling at around 30 kilometers an hour. In one minute, an object moving at a speed of 30 kilometers an hour travels half a kilometer.

This means that at the time of the explosion the train was at least half a kilometer from the departure station. Most likely, however, the train was much farther than half a kilometer from Sennaya Ploshchad. Eyewitnesses reported that the “train was flying along” when the explosion occurred, that is, it was traveling at a good speed.

As TV Rain reported, “According to eyewitnesses, the explosion in the car occurred on the approach to Tekhnologicheskii Institut.”

Under the circumstances, the smoke seen by eyewitnesses, and the noise of the blast, which could be heard at Sennaya Ploshchad, could not have been perceived by witnesses and, much less, by Emergency Situations Ministry and Investigative Committee officers as a “blast at Sennaya Ploshchad station.” It could be identified, for example, as an “explosion in the tunnel” or “smoke on the stretch of track between the stations.”

Another explanation is that reporters mixed everything up. The Emergency Situations Ministry and Investigative Committee never reported an explosion at Sennaya Ploshchad subway station. This hypothesis is easily refuted by the stories filed by news agencies and TV channels, for example, the Federal News Agency. They clearly show that, within an hour of the blast, there were emergency vehicles, firefighters, Emergency Situations Ministry officers, seventeen ambulance brigades, and even an medevac helicopter outside the station. The entrance to the station was cordoned off, and police herded passersby away from the station.

У станции метро Outside Sennaya Ploshchad subway station, April 3, 2017

Questions arise in this regard. How could professionals from the security services, whom many media quoted, confuse an explosion and a disarmed bomb? How could the Investigative Committee and Emergency Situations Ministry have known there should have been two explosions?

3. Confusion about the Time When the Explosive Device Was Found at Ploshchad Vosstaniya Station

The first report that an explosive device had been discovered at Ploshchad Vosstaniya station was filed at 2:21 p.m. on Motor Vehicle Accidents and Emergencies | Saint Petersburg | Peter Online | SPB, a popular page on the VK social network. (It has 800,000 subscribers.)

“A bag has been left at Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway. An inspector with a sniffing device has arrived. No police. The area has not been cordoned off.”

The post was read 509,000 times.

The post was published at 2:21 p.m, but a photograph was uploaded to VK even earlier, at 2:06 p.m. Reporters from the local business daily Delovoi Peterburg called the man who had taken the picture, Denis Chebykin, and asked him to check the exact time on his telephone when he snapped the photo.

“At 2:01 p.m. At any rate, my telephone displays more or less the right time,” he told them.

But in its official report, sent to all media, the FSB’s Petersburg and Leningrad Region Office said the bomb in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station was found fifty-nine minutes later.

“Around 3:00 p.m., a homemade explosive device armed with projectiles was found in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station. The device was promptly disarmed by explosives experts.”

Why did the Federal Security Service (FSB) not want to tell the truth: that the explosive device at Ploshchad Vosstaniya had been discovered at least 32 minutes before the explosion in the train headed to Tekhnologicheskii Institut? Are the security services concealing their own sluggishness?

4. Who Disarmed the Second Bomb?

The media supplied two completely different accounts of who prevented the second explosion. According to the account given at 12:10 p.m., April 4, on the website of Zvezda, the Defense Ministry’s TV channel, the bomb was disarmed by a Russian National Guard officer who happened to be in the subway at the time, was quite familiar with the particular type of explosive device, and thus quickly disarmed the bomb. This was also reported by Ren TV and Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

Another account emerged ater, after three o’clock on the afternoon of April 5.

“The explosive device in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station of the Petersburg subway was defused by officers of the engineering and technical branch of the Russian National Guard’s riot police (OMON).”

The same day, April 5, NTV, known for its close ties to the Russian security services, aired a special report, in which a riot policeman, identified in the captions as “Maxim, senior explosives engineer,” says the riot police (OMON) discovered a black bag, containing a explosive device, which he and his colleagues defused.

The second account of how the bomb was defused was heavily spun by the media, while the original account, of the Russian National Guard officer who happened to be in the subway and defused the bomb, was dropped after April 4.

5. The Terrorist Attack Happened after Massive Opposition Protests 

Eight days before the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, on March 26, 2017, one of the biggest protest rallies in the past five years took place in Moscow. The protesters, who had not coordinated the event with the mayor’s office, demanded the authorities respond to the charges made against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s investigative report “Don’t Call Him Dimon.”

The protest led to numerous arrests. According to official sources, over 600 people were packed into paddy wagons. Human rights defenders claim that over a thousand people were apprehended. Protests took place not only in Moscow but also in other Russian cities. A total of between 32,359 and 92,861 people [sic] took to the streets nationwide on March 26, 2017, and between 1,666 and 1,805 people were detained.

The terrorist attack took place in Petersburg on April 3. The very next day, President Putin’s office recommended that regional governments hold rallies against terrorism on April 8. In keeping with the Kremlin’s instructions, all political parties represented in the Russian parliament were involved in the rallies, which were held in major cities nationwide.

“The governors are getting called and told to make everyone go to the rallies,” a source close to the Kremlin told the newspaper Kommersant.

This information was also confirmed by a source in United Russia, the country’s ruling party.

6. Islamic State Did Not Claim Responsibility for the Terrorist Attack

At the outset of the investigation, the FSB claimed Jalilov had been a member of an Islamic State commando group. At first, it made this claim anonymously.

“According to Kommersant‘s trustworthy source, the security services knew an attack was planned in Petersburg, but their intelligence was incomplete. It was provided by a Russian national who had collaborated with Islamic State, an organization banned in our country, and detained after returning from Syria. The man knew several members of a commando group dispatched to Russia.”

Subsequently, its claims were more specific.

“The terrorist attack in Petersburg was carried out by an Islamic State suicide bomber. […] FSB officers […] found out he had entered Russia via Turkey in 2014. Currently, the security services have been in contact with their colleagues in neighboring countries to find out the exact itinerary of Jalilov’s journey, but they are certain he visited Syria or, rather, Islamic State-controlled Syria.”

More than eight months have passed since the terrorist attack, but Islamic State never did claim responsibility for the explosion in the Petersburg subway, although Islamic State militants had claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack that happened ten days before the Petersburg attack: an attack on a Russian military base in Chechnya. The attack occurred in the early hours of March 24, 2017, leaving six Russian servicemen dead.

Islamic State also claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack carried out less than twenty-four hours after the attack in Petersburg: the murder of two policemen in Astrakhan in the early hours of April 4, 2017.

7. An Unknown Group Claimed Responsibility for the Terrorist Attack Only Three Weeks Later

On April 25, 2017, Russian and international media reported that an unknown group calling itself Katibat al-Imam Shamil, allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for the attack in the Petersburg subway twenty-two days after the attack. However, there is no information about the group in public sources, and experts have never heard of it.

The long period of time that elapsed between the terrorist attack and this “confession” also raises doubts that the statement was really made by Islamic fundamentalists, rather than by people passing themselves off as Islamists.

8. The Terrorist’s Suspected Accomplices Kept a Bomb in Their Home for Two Days after the Attack

On the morning of April 6, 2017, FSB and Interiory Ministry officers detained six men in Petersburg, claiming they had been involved in the terrorist attack. All the detainees lived in a flat on Tovarishchesky Avenue, where, according to police investigators, a homemade explosive device was discovered during a search. It was similar in design to the devices used by the terrorist in the subway. Investigators had located the suspects by studying telephone calls made by Akbarjon Jalilov.

Let us assume that the suspects really were accomplices in planning the terrorist attack. In that case, it transpires that two days after the attack they were keeping an explosive device in their home. Moreover, they made no attempt to leave Petersburg, knowing that investigators would check people the suspected terrorist had called, and so they would definitely track them down. Meaning that either the arrested men are quite stupid people or, as they have claimed themselves, the FSB planted the bomb in their flat.

9. The Accused Were Provided with State-Appointed Defense Attorneys Who Worked for the Prosecution

A total of ten people were arrested as part of the terrorist attack investigation in Petersburg. All of them were provided with state-appointed attorneys, who have a very bad reputation among human rights activists in Russia. Many of them perform their duties in such a way that no prosecutor is necessary. Meaning they do not need his help to send their defendants to prison faraway and for a long time. This has been borne out in full in the Petersburg terrorist attack case.

Thus, on April 7, 2017, the court considered a motion, made by investigators and supported by the prosecutor, to remand Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov in custody. The accused plainly stated he did not want to go to a remand prison.

“I object to the investigation’s motion to remand me in custody. I never saw this explosive device,” he said in the courtroom.

However, the defendant’s position was not supported by his lawyer, Nina Vilkina, who left the question of custody to the court’s discretion. Consequently, the court remanded Mirzaalimov in custody until June 2, 2018.

6Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov. Photo by Sergei Mihailichenko. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

During suspect Abror Azimov’s remand hearing, which took place on April 18, 2017, in Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, his state-appointed defense lawyer cheerfully reported to the judge, “He pleads guilty in fully.”

The lawyere made this statement before the investigation was completed and before any trial had taken place.

The father of the accused brothers Abror and Akram Azimov would later say about the state-appointed lawyers, “These lawyers do not call me and do not say anything. They hide everything. It was only from the press I heard my sons had been detained.”

10. Police Reports and Videos of the Azimovs’ Detention Were Falsified

Since mid April 2017, investigators have regarded brothers Abror and Akram Azimov as the principal suspects in the Petersburg terrorist attack.

According to a statement issued by the FSB, Akram Azimov was detained in New Moscow on April 19. A RGD-5 combat grenade was allegedly found on his person when he was apprehended.

Акрам и Аброр Азимовы с отцом Ахролом. Фото со страницы Ахрола Азимова в ФейсбукеAkram and Abror Azimov, and their father Ahrol Azimov. Photo taken from Ahrol Azimov’s Facebook page

 

According to Akram Azimova’s mother Vazira Azimova, law enforcement officers snatched her son from a hospital in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on April 15, the day after he had undergone an operation, and took him to an undisclosed location. The video recording released by the FSB on April 19, in which Akram Azimov is detained at a bus stop in New Moscow, was staged, she claims.

“He had no money for a ticket. He did not have his passport. It was obviously staged. I want justice,” Vazira Azimova said in a statement.

Akram’s father Ahrol Azimov provided RBC with a photo of his son’s boarding pass for an S7 flight from Domodedovo Airport in Moscow to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on March 27, 2017. The senior Azimov is convinced his son could not have traveled to Russia on his own: when he was hospitalized he had no money with him to buy a ticket.

The fact that Akram Azimov was snatched from a hospital in Osh by officers of the Kyrgyzstan State Committee for National Security (GKNB) on April 15, 2017, has been confirmed in writing by Zina Karimova, head doctor of the Hosiyat Clinic, a private facility, and Sanzharbek Tohtashev, the attending physician.

According to lawyer Anna Stavitskaya, illegal detentions are a common practice in the CIS countries.

“The security services in a number of post-Soviet countries cheerfully cooperate with the FSB when it comes to ‘unofficial’ exchanges of detainees. Practically speaking, it is often a matter of kidnapping. In my practice, there have been several cases when people were apprehended in Russia. The issue of whether to extradite them to Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, for example, was being decided, but the European Court of Human Rights forbade extradition. As soon as the people were released from custody, they were kidnapped with the assistance of the Russian security services and transported to these foreign countries. In this case, it is the other way round.”

Akram Azimov was transported by FSB officers from Kyrgyzstan to Moscow, where, his lawyer Olga Dinze claims, he was held for four days in an illegal prison, after which the FSB staged his apprehension.

“On April 19, the suspect, wearing a blindfold, was taken somewhere in a vehicle. He was told how to behave. He should sit with his hands in his pockets and keep quiet. The ‘officers’ would come up to him and take him to a car. This was the same staged video we all would see later on the internet. After his apprehension was staged, he was placed in the car. His hands were cuffed behind his back and a grenade was placed in his hand. He was ordered to squeeze it so he would leave his fingerprints on it.”

Something similar happened to Akram’s brother Abror Azimov. He was apprehended by FSB officers on April 4. After thirteen days in a secret FSB prison, he was apprehended a second time, for the video cameras, on April 17.

 

Abror Azimov claims that on April 17 he was taken from his cell, and a hood was pulled over his head and wrapped round with adhesive tape. His capture was then staged. Afterwards, he was put in a car, forced to leave fingerprints on a Makarov pistol, and taken to an investigator, who had already printed out his interrogation transcript.

Before Abror Azimov was officially apprehended on April 17, the house where he lived in Lesnoi Gorodok, Moscow Region, was searched. Investigators carried out the search without a judge’s warrant due to the urgency of the matter, as they explained. It was during this search that the Makarov pistol was allegedly found.

11. The Azimov Brothers Were Tortured after They Were Apprehended

The Azimov brothers were apprehended twice: first with no cameras, and then for the cameras, so that FSB officers would have several days to illegally interrogate the accused men. The Azimovs claim they were tortured during these interrogations.

According to Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s attorney, her client was tortured with electrical shocks.

“He was brutally tortured. He was standing practically naked on a concrete floor. He was not fed or given any water. He was forced to memorize the testimony he would later give to the investigator. When he would give the wrong answer, they would shock him with an electrical current, counting to ten. Periodically, he fainted. He would be brought back to his senses and the torture would resume. The torture not only involved memorizing his testimony but also threats of violence against his wife and children. They threatened to rape his wife. Since Akram knows of such cases in his homeland, he took the threats seriously.”

After he was tortured, Akram Azimov was taken to the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, where he was interrogated in the presence of a state-appointed defense attorney. The FSB officers who had earlier tortured him told him what answers to give, but his state-appointed counsel said nothing, allowing the FSB officers and the investigator to coerce Azimov mentally.

The circumstances faced by the second accused man, Abror Azimov, have been similar. His defense attorney said his client was apprehended and jailed in a secret prison, where he was repeatedly tortured with electric shocks, dunked in water, humiliated in every possible way, and subjected to mental coercion. FSB officers spent two weeks forcing him to admit involvement in terrorist activities.

On April 18, 2017, during his custody hearing, Abror Azimov’s testimony was confused. At first, he stated he was not involved in the explosion, but after an Investigative Committee officer reminded him that he had earlier signed a confession, Azimov said, “I’m involved in this, but not directly.” When the judge asked whether the suspect wanted the court to assign non-custodial pre-trial restrictions, Azimov answered in the negative. The question is what kind of person, if he has not been subjected beforehand to physical and mental coercion (torture and threats), would voluntarily agree to be jailed?

12. Their Lawyers Were Not Admitted to the Azimov Brothers

According to lawyers Olga and Dmitry Dinze, they could not begin defending the Azimov brothers for over a week.

“We could not start working on this criminal case, because neither the remand prison nor the investigator would let us see our clients, using whatever trick they could.”

The investigators from the Investigative Committee ignored the lawyers’ calls and conducted the investigation only in the presence of the state-appointed lawyers.

Investigators thus had nearly a month after the official arrest to pressure the accused without being distracted by the legitimate requests of real lawyers.

The Azimov brothers’ problems did not end with the refusal of authorities to let their lawyers see their clients. Since late June, according to their father, the Azimovs have been paid visits by FSB officers who have demanded they renounce their defense lawyers and employ the services of state-appointed lawyers.

13. The Justice Ministry Has Been Pressuring Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s Lawyer

On August 3, 2017, officials of Lefortovo Remand Prison in Moscow detained Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s lawyer, for three hours, demanding she hand over the notes she received from Azimov concerning the case of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway.

The prison wardens wanted to get their hands on documents Azimov had given to his lawyer. The wardens suggested Olga Dinze could sit in a cell for awhile, while her client was threatened with time in a punishment cell. According to Dinze, she had not done anything illegal. Before the visit, guards had searched Azimov and not found anything that could not be taken out of the prison.

In November 2017, the Justice Ministry requested Olga Dinze be barred from the case due to the conflict over obtaining her client’s written testimony. Ramil Akhmetgaliyev, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, believes this was obvious coercion of the lawyer.

“Correspondence is one thing, but communication with your lawyer, including written communication, is something else altogether. Usually, the guards do not have a problem with it, but the FSB got involved. They are trying to establish total control over the accused.”

The current Russian regime, conceived in September 1999 amidst the smoke from the exploded residential buildings in Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk, has a bad reputation when it comes to terrorist attacks. Any doubts, as a rule, are chalked up by independent observers as strikes against the authorities.

Taken separately, each of these thirteen points cannot serve as proof that the account of the explosion in the Petersburg subway on April 3, 2017, offered by state investigators, is falsified. Taken together, however, these facts do generate serious suspicions.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Household Debt in Russia Over 170 Billion Euros

reliable future consumer credit coopReliable Future Consumer Credit Cooperative is one of many retail lenders ready to help ordinary Russians “boost their standard of living.” Photo by the Russian Reader

Household Debt of Russians Exceeds Twelve Trillion Rubles
Half of This Amount Was Borrowed Over the Last Year
Emma Terchenko
Vedomosti
January 31, 2018

This emerges from statistics gathered by the United Credit Bureau (OKB), based on information about the outstanding loans of 82 million Russians.

According to the Russian Central Bank, the Russian populace’s bank debt grew by 13.2% in 2017 to 12.2 trillion rubles [approx. 170.75 billion euros].

The OKB’s calculations show the number of new loans grew more slowly than their total amount. Over the past year, loans increased by 37% compared to 2016 (by 4.14 trillion rubles), whereas their quantity increased only by 12% to 34.8 million individual outstanding loans.

Moreover, an increase was observed in all segments of the loan market—mortgages, cash loans, auto loans, and credit cards—according to the OKB’s statistics.

Banks mostly disbursed money to Russians in the form of cash loans: nearly 3 trillion rubles or 33% more than in 2016. The number of such loans reached 24.7 million units, an increase of 14%.

The total amount of mortgages issued for the year increased by 42% to 1.8 trillion rubles, while the total number rose by nearly a third to 959,237 individual mortgages. According to Rusipoteka, a financial analytics company, 53% of the housing mortages issued last year were supplied by Sberbank.

In November, the mortgage portfolios of Russian banks exceeded a record five trillion rubles, the Central Bank reported previously.

“Afer the crisis, banks tried to build up their mortgage portfolios. Many of them reduced their down payments to accomplish this. Therefore, amongst the loans issued last year, around a third had down payments of less than 20%,” says Rusipoteka director Sergei Gordeiko.

According to the OKB, auto loans for all of 2017 increased by 36% to 333.3 billion rubles or by 25% to 436,539 individual loans. The National Credit History Bureau (NBKI) estimated the annual growth of auto loans at 29%.

“Auto loans have returned to pre-crisis levels, and the share of cars bought on loan has been growing,” notes NBKI’s director general Alexander Vikulin. “In 2017, every other automobile in Russia was purchased with a loan.”

The OKB claims credit cards are the fastest growing segment. Although the number of new credit cards issued last year grew only by 8% to 8.65 million cards (this figure excludes replacement cards), their total limit increased by less than half: by 48% to 544.5 billion rubles.

According to the NBKI, the number of newly issued credit cards grew by 52.6% to 6.87 million units in 2017. Equifax reported an 52% increase to six million new cards issued on the year.

The reason for the discrepancy is the databases of creditors monitored by the various credit bureaus differ. Unlike other credit bureaus, the OKB receives all information about loans made by Sberbank, which, according to different estimates, accounts for 42% to 46% of the loan market. The NBKI, for example, does not monitor figures from Home Credit Bank. None of the three bureaus—OKB, NBKI, and Equifax—take Russian Standard Bank’s statistics into account.

With its share of the credit card market, Sberbank has an impact on discrepancies in the calculations of the OKB and the other bureaus, argues Frank RG director general Yuri Gribanov.  According to Frank RG’s data, based on the management statements of banks and taking into account the utilization of credit limits and overdue debts, Sberbank’s portfolio of credit cards and overdrafts constituted 42.5% of the overall portfolio of all Russian banks as of December 1, 2017. During the year, it grew by 16.4% to 559.6 billion rubles.

A Sberbank spokesperson did not provide exact figures for the issuing of new credit cards last year, but confirmed they had not grown, remaining at a “consistently high level.”

Tinkoff Bank issued 2.41 million new credit cards in 2017, 43% more than the previous year, while Sovkombank issued more than a million credit cards. Vostochny Bank increased its issuing of credit cards by 140%, OTP Bank, by 135%, and VTB Bank by 13% (440,000 cards).

“The main reason for the growth is that banks have returned to sales channels that were frozen after 2015, for example, lending to walk-in customers,” says Alexei Shchavelev,  director of the cross-selling department at OTP Bank.

“In addition, many banks now have built up a broad base of quality customers: payroll customers, debit card holders, borrowers. It is now much easier for them to sell credit cards, because this customer base has been clarified,” Pavel Samiyev, managing director of the National Rating Agency, explains.

The demand for credit cards from borrowers themselves has been caused by the growth of consumer activity in general and improved customer solvency, argues Rostislav Yanykin, director of Russian Standard’s credit card sales. In the fight for customers, banks have been offering increasingly advantageous terms for using credit cards, he admits.

People who take out loans to boost their standard of living have mainly fueled the growth in lending to the populace, argues Nataliya Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank.

“In the past two years, they suffered more than others from the crisis in terms of reduced purchasing power.”

According to NBKI’s Vikulin, retail lending has been growing due to the economy’s stabilization.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. According to a May 17, 2017, article in the New York Times, household debt in the US had risen to $12.73 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, a new peak. Converted into rubles, this would amount to approx. 742 trillion rubles at current exchange rates. Based on the latest UN estimates, the current population of the US is nearly 327 million people, while the population of the Russian Federation is nearly 144 million people, based on the same estimates. In 2016, GDP (PPP) per capita in the US was over $57,000, while it was just over $23,000 in Russia, according to figures published by the World Bank. TRR