Squandering Its Way to Superpowerdom

“Squandering”: Did the US Secretary of State Grasp the Russian Approach to Budget Spending?
The Kremlin Accused the State Department of Tactlessness and Unprofessionalism, Yet Pompeo’s Remarks Were on the Mark
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
December 13, 2018

padrino.jpgVenezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino gives his thumb up as he sits on the cockpit of a Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic long-range heavy supersonic bomber after it landed at Maiquetia International Airport, north of Caracas, on December 10, 2018. Courtesy of Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

Russian’s decision to send strategic bombers on a junket to an airport near Caracas elicited a curious reaction from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who publicly expressed his pity for Russian taxpapers, whose money the Kremlin, habitually disregarding the costs, has been spending on its geopolitical moves.

“The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo wrote.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded by calling Pompeo’s statement “utterly unprofessional” and even “villainous.” Pompeo’s remarks, which the Kremlin, in turn, dubbed “inappropriate” and “undiplomatic,” were apparently really lacking in nuance: the hardships of Russians, fortunately, cannot yet be compared with the suffering of Venezuelans. But, hand on heart, was Pompeo so wrong when he talked about the losses to the Russian federal budget and lack of oversight?

Russian society has an extremely vague notion about how much the Kremlin’s expansionism has ultimately cost the country. According to calculations made by IHS Jane’s at the outset of Russia’s operations in Syria in autumn 2015, Russia could have been spending as much as $4 million a day. Later, the Yabloko Democratic Party, which is not seated in the Russian parliament, estimated the Kremlin had spent a total of 108–140 billion rubles [between $1.6 and $2.1 billion] on Syria. A more accurate assessment would be difficult to make. Experts doubt that anyone, including the Finance Ministry, keeps tabs on such expenditures. Thus, nobody knows the real cost of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, argues the Gaidar Institute’s Military Economics Laboratory.

The budget’s fading transparency has been a trend in recent years. In 2016, secret and top-secret allocations accounted for 22% of total federal budget expenditures, a record for the entire post-Soviet period, and much higher than secret allocations in comparable countries, according to RANEPA’s March 2015 report on the Russian economy.

Quite naturally, this state of affairs has not improved the quality of the state’s financial decisions. In terms of effective state spending, Russia ranked nineteenth in a new rating of twenty-five countries, compiled by the Higher School of Economics using data from the World Bank and OECD. Since they are not priorities for the current regime, problems with child mortality and life expectancy were among the reasons Russia ranked so low in the survey: the government spends more on the army than on healthcare—4.3% of GDP versus 3.8% of GDP, respectively. In these circumstances, the chances the Kremlin’s strategic projects in the Middle East and Africa (e.g., the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique) will be decently funded are always much greater than the national healthcare project, which stipulated increased government spending on cancer treatment. The government nixed the plan over summer.

Since it remains largely Soviet in spirit, Russia’s foreign policy has been categorically blind to history’s lessons. The Soviet Union’s exorbitant geopolitical ambitions and support for fringe regimes around the world left the country with a legacy of mostly toxic multi-billion-dollar debts. The process of writing them off has been disguised as a form of international charity or, speaking diplomatically, official development assistance (ODA). According to RANEPA, writing off the debts of developing countries accounted for 35% of all such “international aid” last year or $425 million. It has been the Russian government’s usual way of doing business. Previously, the Russian government wrote off the debts of Nicaragua ($6.3 billion), Iraq ($21.5 billion), North Korea ($10.9 billion), Syria ($9.8 billion), Afghanistan ($11 billion), and Cuba ($29 billion), among other countries. Venezuela risks joining this sad list. Over the past twelve years, Russia has invested a total of $17 billion in the country.

Russia’s Expenditures on Official Development Assistance (Excluding Humanitarian Aid), 2005–2017, in Millions of Dollars. Sources: OECD, Russian Finance Ministry. Courtesy of Republic

Since it was paid for by the Russian federal budget, which has been running a deficit for the last seven years, Russian officials probably did not see the transatlantic flight of its strategic bombers as too expensive. On the contrary, they saw it as a flashy display of Russia’s military prowess and proof of its influence in the region. However, the government of Nicolás Maduro signed off on the stunt. Subject to growing pressure from creditors and an angry, desperate population, it lives day by day. In all likelihood, it will soon collapse, leaving behind a mountain of unpaid bills and unfulfilled obligations to its allies. If this is the case, can we evaluate the Russian government’s action better than the tactless Mike Pompeo did? Probably not.

Translated by the Russian Reader

We Wouldn’t Mind If You Died of AIDS

nutter

HIV Prevention Organization in Altai Territory Closes Due to Inability to Pay Court Fine
Takie Dela
December 4, 2018

Choice (Vybor), a non-profit HIV service organization, has been forced to close its office in Biysk, Altai Territory, due to its inability to pay a court-imposed fine, reports Kommersant. The NGO had been found guilty of refusing to acknowledge it was a “foreign agent.”

The Altai Territorial Court upheld the ruling of the Biysk City Court, which had fined Choice 150,000 rubles [approx. €2,000] for failing to recognize itself as a “foreign agent” and voluntarily place itself on the registry of “foreign agents.”

According to Maxim Olenichev, a lawyer from Attorneys for Equal Rights who represented Choice in court, on November 30, the organization was forced to close its office and cancel its HIV prevention programs in the region, including programs for intravenous drug users and other risk groups.

“HIV-service NGOS have access to ‘closed’ groups of people who are unwilling to turn to state institutions for help,” Olenichev said in an interview with reporters. “Attacking such NGOS reflects a policy of ‘traditional values,’ a policy focused on criminalizing the actions of people who do not comply with these values or ignore them. By using the law on ‘foreign agents’ to destroy NGOs, the state promotes the growth of HIV-infected people, although by joining forces with NGOs the state could halt the epidemic’s growth.”

The court ruled that several of Choice’s campaigns, during which the NGO handed out HIV express tests (41 people tested positive — TD), over 100,000 clean syringes, and 20,000 condoms for free, were “political” in nature. Choice employees noted they worked with the primary vulnerable groups as defined by the Russian state, using the same methods as specified in the official rules for HIV prevention. The court chose to ignore these arguments.

The court also agreed with the Russian Justice Ministry’s claim that Choice had received foreign funding in 2014 and 2016. Choice received 147,000 rubles from ESVERO, a non-profit partnership, and 272,000 rubles from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Olenichev pointed out that ESVERO had been implementing a project of the Global Fund for Fighting AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which receives funding from the Russian government, in thirty-four Russian regions. The NGO was thus using grants to put the money back into the Russian economy. As for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which sponsored Choice with funding in rubles, Olenichev claimed there was no evidence in the case file that the organization was foreign. Nevertheless, the court refused to reverse the fine.

According to the latest data from the Russian Health Ministry, in 2017, 53.5% of new cases of HIV infection were caused by sexual intercourse, while 43.6% of new infections were caused by the use of intravenous drugs. According to official statistics, the number of HIV-infected people in Russia is 998,525. Eighty-one percent of them know they are infected.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized Russia as leading Europe in new cases of HIV infections at 71.1 cases per every 100,000 people. The virus is primarily transmitted through heterosexual sex (59%) and intravenous drug use (30%). The Russian Health Ministry has called these figures “extremely inaccurate.”

In late October, the Saratov Regional Organization of Chronic Diabetes Sufferers announced its closure: a court had also fined it 300,000 rubles for violating the law on “foreign agents.” The expert employed by the prosecutor’s office to audit the organization concluded it had “shape[d] preconditions for discrediting the authorities” and “report[ed] about the region’s so-called sore points to [its] foreign partners.”

Thanks to Alexander Feldberg for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Suicide Invoice, Part 2

safonovo hospital homepageScreenshot of the Safonovo Central District Hospital’s website

14-Year-Old Girl Writes Letter to Putin, Kills Herself
Radio Svoboda
November 20, 2018

Identified only as Natasha, a fourteen-year-old girl who complained to Vladimir Putin about her mother’s low wages has committed suicide in the city of Safonovo in Smolensk Region.

According to local news media, the teenager also complained about bullying at school. She was visually impaired. Her classmates teased her by calling her “Cyclops.”

Shortly before her death, she posted the following message on her social network page: “Why are you all so mean?”

The newspaper Smolenskaya Narodnaya Gazeta writes that the fourteen-year-old girl’s mother worked as an orderly at the local hospital. After her daughter wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin and mailed it to the Kremlin, the women was summoned by hospital management and “scolded.”

As the newspaper writes, what happened to her mother was probably a huge blow to Natasha.

According to unconfirmed reports, a suicide note was found on the dead girl. She asked that no one be blamed for her death.

It is not known whether her letter reached the Russian president.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up.

The Injustice Ministry

rainbowWhile rainbows do occasionally appear in the skies above Russia, the Putin regime has pursued a consistent course of official homophobia and avoidance of the country’s out-of-control HIV epidemic. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russian Justice Ministry Proposes Tightening Oversight of Foreign HIV Prevention Programs
Mediazona
September 3, 2018

The Justice Ministry has drafted a law bill that would introduce a new procedure for running foreign programs in Russia for preventing the spread of HIV. The text of the draft law has been published for public discussion.

The ministry proposes introducing a mandatory notification procedure for all noncommercial organizations planning to combat HIV in Russia, but which receive foreign funding, whether from other countries, international organizations, foreign nationals, stateless persons, their representatives, and Russia legal entities and individuals receiving money and other property from these sources.

After receipt of such a notification, the Justice Ministry will have a month to review it. It will then either have to issue permission to operate in Russia or a substantiated rejection. If a noncommercial organization continues to work on preventing HIV after receiving a rejection notice, it will be abolished.

As the BBC has noted, four foundations preventing the spread of HIV in Russia have been registered as “foreign agents” by the Justice Ministry.

Approximately a million Russians are infected with HIV. In July, RBC reported a spike of infections in Moscow. The Russian Health Ministry responded to the report by claiming the situation was stable. It urged journalists to focus only on official statistics.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Crimean Farmer and Political Prisoner Vladimir Balukh Has Been on Hunger Strike for 104 Days

Vladimir Balukh’s 100 Days: The Crimean Euromaidan Supporter Has Been on Hunger Strike in Remand Prison for Over Three Months
Anna Kozkina
Mediazona
June 27, 2018


Vladimir Balukh. Photo by Anton Naumlyuk. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Today [July 1, 2018] is the [104th] day of a hunger strike by Vladimir Balukh, who awaits a verdict in his third criminal trial in Simferopol Remand Prison. In 2014, he refused to accept Russian citizenship, raising the Ukrainian flag over his house in solidarity with the Euromaidan protests. The first criminal case against Balukh was opened in 2015. It would be followed by two more case. In the article below, Mediazona catalogues the persecution the Crimean activist has endured and describes his hunger strike, during which he has lost at least thirty kilos.

On June 22, 2018, Balukh, who is imprisoned in Simferopol Remand Prison, said he was returning to the harsher form of hunger strike and would now only be drinking water. Balukh had been drinking fruit drink for some time.

Olga Dinze, Balukh’s defense attorney, said the cause was increased pressure from prison wardens. In court, Balukh had spoken of regular searches of his cell, including at night. According to him, prison wardens and guard have hinted it was time for him to “go down in the hole,” i.e., be sent to solitary confinement.

The following day, Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova requested Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet, head of the International Red Cross’s Simferopol office, visit Balukh at the remand prison and secure professional medical care for him.

The Flag, Heaven’s Hundred Heroes Street, and the Insulted FSB Agent
In late 2013, Crimean farmer Vladimir Balukh raised a Ukrainian flag over his house in the village of Serebryanka in solidarity with the Euromaidan demonstrators. The flag stayed there after the March 2014 referendum. Balukh did not recognize Crimea’s annexation by Russia and refused to apply for a Russian passport.

Police and Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents first paid him a visit in the spring of 2015. Balukh was not home when they arrived. When he heard about the visit to his home by the security services, he stayed with friends for several days. The police and FSB searched Balukh’s house and also paid his mother a call.

The security services visited Balukh for the second time in November 2015. Claiming he was suspected of auto theft, they searched his house again. After the search, the farmer was charged with insulting a government official, a violation under Article 319 of the Russian Criminal Code. Allegedly, Balukh had used “foul, insulting language when addressing field agent Yevgeny Baranov, which the latter found unpleasant.” Balukh did not deny he could have sworn at the field agent, since FSB officers had punched him in the kidneys and stepped on his head after throwing him on the ground.

In February 2016, the Razdolnoye District Court found Balukh guilty, sentencing him to 320 hours of community service. Subsequently, the Crimean Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for review, but in June the district court reaffirmed its original guilty verdict, again sentencing Balukh to 320 hours of community service.

The Ukrainian flag was torn down from the farmer’s house again and again, but he put it back up every time. On November 29, 2016, the third anniversary of the Euromaidan protests, Balukh hung a sign on his house, identifying the address as “Heaven’s Hundred Heroes Street, 18.” Two weeks later, police and FSB carried out yet another search of his house. This time, they allegedly found eighty-nine rounds of ammunition and several TNT blocks in the attic. After the search, the flag and the street sign were removed from Balukh’s house. Balukh was detained and later remanded to police custody.

Balukh was charged with illegal possession of weapons and explosives (Article 222 Part 1 and Article 222.1 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code). The farmer claimed his innocence and said his political stance was the reason for the criminal prosecution. He claimed the rounds of ammo and explosives were planted during the search. Police allegedly found them in the presence of a single official witness.

The Memorial Human Rights Center designated Balukh a political prisoner. It noted that he had received clear threats after hanging the street sign on his home memorializing the murdered Maidan protesters.

“It was after this that the chair of the village council and his deputies visited Balukh’s home and threatened that his independent behavior would have unpleasant consequences, including the ‘discovery’ in Balukh’s house of weapons or narcotics. He demanded  Balukh take the sign down,” wrote Memorial.

Memorial argued that the prosecution had not proven the ammunition actually belonged to Balukh, since his fingerprints were not found on the items.

Vladimir Balukh’s House. Photo courtesy of hromadske.ua

“Go to Ukraine and Treat Your Back There”
On August 4, 2017, the Raznodolnoye District Court sentenced Balukh to three years and seven months in a medium security penal colony and a fine of ₽10,000 [approx. €136] for possession of the ammunition and TNT.

A week after Balukh was sentenced, he had a run-in with Valery Tkachenko, warden of the Razdolnoye Temporary Detention Facility. According to Balukh, Tkachenko punched him in the shoulder and tried to kick him as well. He also, allegedly, made insulting remarks about the ethnicity of Balukh and his parents. Balukh’s attorney filed a complaint with the police.

Two weeks later, the Investigative Committee opened a case against Balukh himself, claiming he had violated Article 318 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (violence against a state official). Subsequently, Balukh’s alleged actions were reclassified as a violation of Article 321 Part 2 (disrupting the operations of penitentiary facilities). According to police investigators, on the morning of August 11, 2017, Balukh had elbowed the warden in the stomach while his cell was being inspected. He then, allegedly, entered his cell and struck Tkachenko’s arm.

In November 2017, the district court commenced its review of the ammunition possession case, and in December Balukh was transferred from the remand prison to house arrest.  After complaining of pain in his back and groin, Balukh was soon taken to hospital straight from the courtroom.

At the district hospital, medical staff merely measured his blood pressure and gave him a cardiogram. After listening to Balukh’s complaints, the local doctor said, “My back hurts, too. Should I not go to work or what?”

Balukh asked the court permission to travel to Simferopol or Feodosia for a medical examination, but his request was turned down. During his December 27 court hearing, the ambulance was called several times due to Balukh’s temperature, high blood pressure, and back pain. According to the news website Krym.Realii, the head physician of the local hospital’s emergency department, Nadezhda Drozdenko, told Balukh, “Go to Ukraine and treat your back there.” When the hearing went on for ten hours, Balukh lay down on the floor due to the severe pain.

In early 2018, the court again found Balukh guilty on the ammunition possession charge and sentenced him to three years and seven months in a work-release penal colony. The verdict was upheld on appeal, although the sentence was reduced by two months.

Balukh was again sent to the remand prison. He has continued to complain of back pain, whose cause doctors have never been able to diagnose.

“He Has Adopted a Stance of Hopelessness”
After the Crimean Supreme Court upheld the verdict in the ammunition possession case, Balukh went on an indefinite hunger strike as of March 19, 2018. He gave up all food, only drinking water and tea, protesting what he regarded as the illegal verdict against him.

In late March, Balukh was assaulted in the remand prison and hospitalized in the infirmary, as reported by Aktivatika, who quoted defense attorney Olga Dinze.

“The hunger strike has been difficult for him. Besides, the prison wardens have engaged in constant provocations. They have brought him delicious food, enticing him to eat. It destabilizes him a bit, but he has hung and kept his word,” said the lawyer.

Vladimir Balukh on June 22, 2018. Photo by Zair Semedlyaev. Courtesy of crimeahrg.rog

In mid April, his social defender, Archbishop Kliment of Simferopol and Crimea, reported Balukh had been assaulted by guards.

A month later, Vladimir Chekrygin, an expert with the Crimean Human Rights Group, told Krim.Realii Balukh was under pressure in the remand prison.

“We know the guards at the remand prison have periodically threatened Balukh for his actions. They have told him that sooner or latter he would be punished for his willfulness. They have been doing searches in his cell night and mornings. Searches are permitted, but at certain hours and under extraordinary circumstances. They are not letting him rest,” Chekrygin explained.

On May 18, Russian human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova visited the Simferopol Remand Prison. She wrote to her Ukrainian colleague, Lyudmila Denisova, that Balukh had no complaints either about the conditions of his incarceration or cruel treatment.

In May, the Raznodolnoye District Court began hearing the third criminal case against Balukh, involving his run-in with the temporary detention facility warden. During the trial, even the prosecution’s witnesses, guards at the facility, testified Balukh did not assault the wardeb. During the investigation, the alleged victim refused to take part in a face-to-face confrontation with Balukh, who described his behavior in great detail to the judge.

“He would come to my cell and try to insult me, to humiliate me for being Ukrainian and thus, as he thought, for being a member of Right Sector. He would say us Ukrainians should be murdered as a species, and so on,” said Balukh.

On June 10, Balukh was again transferred from Razdolnoye to the Simferopol Remand Prison. There he was put in the “glass,” a narrow cell in which one can only stand or sit, for two hours, Crimean human rights defenders reported.

The following day, it transpired the remand prison wardens no longer believed Balukh was on hunger strike. The guards had learned Balukh was drinking not only water but also oatmeal kissel. Archbishop Kliment had persuaded Balukh to make the compromise a month after he started his hunger strike.

“Vladimir agreed. We know  he began consuming only kissel. Sometimes, he has honey and bread crumbs at most. At some point, the prison wardens found out about the kissel and decided not to recognize his actions as a hunger strike. There are special rules when wardens decide a prisoner has gone on hunger strike. They have stopped following these rules when it comes to Balukh, since they believe he is no longer on hunger strike. But Vladimir has continued his protest. He has lost thirty kilos of weight. The doctor from the remand prison infirmary has stopped making regular checkups of Balukh, although he is obliged to do so when inmates go on hunger strike,” explained Olga Skripnik, head of the Crimean Human Rights Group.

Protesting constant inspections in the remand prison, Balukh returned on June 22, 2018, to the original form of his hunger strike. He has again been only drinking water. Olga Dinze explained the frequent searches of Balukh’s cell as a consequence of Balukh’s having filed a motion to be paroled for his first criminal conviction.

On June 25, Dinze told Mediazona her client’s condition had taken a turn for the worse.

“I think Balukh has suffered a pinched nerve. It is a quite serious case. He has been experiencing severe pain in his chest, neck, and shoulder blades. He feels unwell all the time,” Dinze said, adding the new symptoms were probably due to long-term back pain.

According to Dinze, Balukh was not receiving medical care.

“He refuses cares from the doctors in the remand prison. They cannot give him the medical care he needs, diagnose him, and prescribe him appropriate treatment. He has requested doctors from the Red Cross,” said Dinze.

The defense attorney added that, after Balukh stopped drinking oat kissel, he was transferred to a cell in the general population, but the conditions there were decent. He currently has no complaints against the wardens.

Earlier, Dinze told Krym.Realii Balukh had been hoping for a prisoner exchange.

“Vladimir is quite weary. He is emotionally exhausted. He has adopted a stance of hopelessness. He says no one will ever release him from prison. If they cannot keep him in prison on the current convictions, there will be new charges. So now he is finally talking. For the last few months we have been talking about how, if there is a prisoner exchange and everything goes well, he would really, really like to go to mainland Ukraine,” said Dinze.

The Ukrainian authorities have recently repeatedly stated their readiness to exchange Russian convicts for the sixty-four Ukrainian nationals imprisoned in Russian remand prisons and penal colonies, including Balukh and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who has been on hunger strike since mid May.

Closing arguments in Warden Tkachenko’s case against Balukh have been scheduled for July 2.

Thanks to Yegor Skovoroda for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Diabetics in Saratov Deemed Threat to Russian National Security

insulincPatriotic Russian diabetics treat their disease only with domestically produced insulin, such as Rosinsulin, pictured here. Photo courtesy of Medsintez Pharmaceutical Plant

For Insufficient Enthusiasm
Court Rules Saratov Regional Organization of Chronic Diabetes Sufferers “Foreign Agents.” Activists “Undermined the State’s Authority” by Questioning  Insulin Produced in Russia
Nadezhda Andreyeva
Novaya Gazeta
March 28, 2018

Saratov’s Frunza District Court today concluded its hearing of administrative charges against the Saratov Regional Organization of Chronic Diabetes Sufferers. Judge Maria Agisheva ruled the diabetics had violated the law on “foreign agents.”

The defense had asked for a postponement of the hearing, since Moscow human rights lawyer Nikolai Dronov, who had been representing the diabetics in court the past five months, was unable to travel to Saratov today. In addition, the organization’s president, Larisa Saygina, had not been able to read the findings of a forensic examination of the case, submitted to the court on Friday, May 25. Judge Agisheva rejected the defense’s motion, but announced a half-hour recess so the diabetics could read the findings of court-appointed experts.

The forensis examination was carried out by faculty members at the Saratov State Legal Academy (SGYuA). The court had attempted to engage specialists from RANEPA and the Kazan Interregional Expertise Center, but they had turned down the court’s request on various pretexts. SGYuA had also rendered its expert opinion last year, when the administrative case was in the process of being filed. As we reported earlier, Professor Ivan Konovalov saw signs of the work of “foreign agents” in the activities of the diabetics organization. The forensic examination was performed by his SGYuA colleagues Associate Professor Elena Koloyartseva and Professor Viktor Kupin.

According to SGYuA’s experts, the Saratov Regional Organization of Chronic Diabetes Sufferers was awarded a grant of 712,000 rubles [approx. €9,800] from foreign pharmaceutical companies. The authors of the forensic examination thus concluded the organization had engaged in political activity, namely, it had submitted critical remarks about the work of officials to the authorities. According to the political scientists, the organization’s former head, Yekaterina Rogatkina, had publicly expressed doubts about the quality of insulin produced in Russia, thus undermining the Russian state’s authority. [The emphasis here and elsewhere is in the original article—TRR.]

The experts found it noteworthy the media reported on the filing of administrative charges against the diabetics organization. In particular, the commentary of the organization’s current president, Larisa Saygin, filmed for the Saratov TV program “Open Channel” on a city street, was regarded by the experts as a solo picket. According to SGYuA’s faculty members, the news report had been deliberately aired three months before the presidential election in order to discredit presidential candidate Vladimir Putin.

We should recall at this point it was Nikita Smirnov, the head of Putin’s student campaign headquarters in Saratov, who had filed the complaint against the diabetics with the the local prosecutor’s office.

As the experts emphasized in their findings, opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky offered the Saratov diabetics legal assistance, which likewise testified to the organization’s guilt.

As indicated on SGYuA’s website, Professor Koloyartseva studied in the 1980s at the Saratov State Pedagogical Institute. In 2001, she was awarded a kandidat degree in political science. She serves on the public council of the Saratov Regional Duma. She is also a member of Civic Dignity, a grassroots organization that supports social and civic activism among young people and has been heavily involved in forums on moral and spiritual growth sponsored by the authorities.

According to the website Legal Russia, Viktor Kupin graduated from the Lenin Military Political Academy in 1978, while Saratov media outlets earlier reported he studied at the Engels Air Defense Academy.

Until 2007, Professor Kupin taught a course entitled “Philosophical and Political Problems of National Security” at military academies in Petersburg.

In 2004, Professor Kupin defended his doktor dissertation, entitled “The Geopolitical Imperatives of Global Security.”

In 2014, Kupin was an expert in the trial of Partnership for Development, an environmental organization that had operated in Saratov Region since 1995. The NGO received $42,000 from the US government to encourage civic involvement in the region’s villages and small towns. An anonymous complaint against Partnership for Development was filed with the prosecutor’s office on July 10, 2014. On July 22, an administrative case was opened against the organization under Article 19.34 of the Administrative Offenses Code (“Absence of registration in the relevant registry on the part of an organization performing the work of a foreign agent”).

Professor Kupin’s expert finding was ready the very same day. As he explained in court, he wrote the five pages of text in several hours, since he had been asked to do it “as soon as possible.” According to Professor Kupin, Partnership for Development showed clear signs of carrying out the “political orders of a foreign state, orders meant to undermine social stability, generate political tension in the region, expand the base of political influence on public opinion [sic], and  implement US geopolitical interests.”

“The interest in Saratov Region was occasioned by its special place and exceptional geopolitical position in Russia as a lynch pin in the emergent Eurasian Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan,” wrote  Professor Kupin. “[Partnership for Development’s] activity runs counter to the security interests of Russia, which opposes the uni-polar dictatorship of the world, headed by the US.”

Less than a month after the prosecutor received the anonymous complaint, a court ruled Partnership for Development was a “foreign agent.” It was fined 300,000 rubles. Its chair, Olga Pitsunova, was also personally fined 100,000 rubles. Partnership for Development closed up shop.

At today’s hearing, Judge Agisheva denied the defense’s motion to summon its own expert witnesses to the trial. The diabetics were fined 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,100 euros]. The organization’s ex-president, Ms. Rogatkina, told us the diabetics would appeal the ruling.

“We are discouraged. This case was absurd from the outset.  We consider it a miscarriage a justice.”

Putinist youth activist Nikita Smirnov. Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Last year, Mr. Smirnov, a student at the Saratov Medical University and head of Vladimir Putin’s student campaign headquarters, asked the Frunza District Prosecutor’s Office to verify whether the work of the diabetic organizations was covered by the law on “foreign agents.”

As the future physician told us, he had “read on the internet that the organization was financed by foreign companies, I don’t remember which.” He had felt it was his “civic duty” to “send a signal.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Harmacy

DSCN6345.jpg

Back to the World of Me-Too Drugs: How Anti-Sanctions Will Deal a Blow to the Mental Health of Russians
Takie Dela
May 2, 2018

The ban on the import of drugs from the United States and other “unfriendly” western countries, tabled by MPs in the Russian State Duma, will worsen the mental health of Russians. Two psychiatrists discussed the consequences facing people with mental illnesses if brand-name drugs are replaced by domestic lookalikes.

The Big Picture
In early April, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin announced the imminent expansion of countersanctions by Russia towards the US and other western countries opposed to the Russian Federation’s foreign policies. In particular, there are plans to introduce a ban on the import of drugs from the countries on the sanctions lists, but only on those drugs for which there are domestic counterparts. However, many foreign-manufactured psychotropic drugs have domestic counterparts, and they will be banned, therefore.

Russia is not a happy country in terms of psychiatry. Every fourth Russian suffers from mental illness at some point in his or her life, and between three and six percent of the populace needs to take medications regularly.

Due to severe conditions such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, clinical depression, and bipolar disorder, hundreds of thousands of Russians lose the capacity to work and are unable to adapt to society. Many of them commit suicide. Modern drugs are effective enough to let most patients lead full lives. Their well-being depends on drugs, which they must take for many years and, sometimes, their whole lives.

The drugs in question are antidepressants, antipsychotics, tranquillizers (sedatives), and normotics (mood stabilizers). Nearly all the brand-name drugs in the field are produced in Western Europe and the US. If theban is adopted, they will vanish from Russian pharmacies, since nearly all these drugs have counterparts (i.e., generics), with the same active ingredients, that are produced in Russian and Eastern Europe.

When discussing the possbile stop list, experts named two popular antidepressants: Paxil (France) and Cymbalta (USA). Many other drugs popular in Russia, including the antipsychotics Zyprexa (Eli Lilly, UK) and Seroquel (AstraZeneca, UK/Sweden), and the antidepressant Zoloft (Pfizer, USA), could be included in the ban. What would be the consequences for millions of patients?

Increasingly Ineffective Treatment
Mental equilibrium is a delicate matter, and selecting drugs to treat psychiatric conditions can much more complicated than selecting drugs to treat somatic illnesses. The optimal outcome is for the individual not merely to stop experiencing severe symptoms like obsessive suicidal tendencies and hallucinations, but also to remain capable of working and leading a social life, rather than turning into a lifeless vegetable.

People with clinical depression, which can last for years, know well the laborious process of choosing the right drug and the right dosage that will finally let them live a normal life. The process can take weeks and months.

Matters are even more complicated with bipolar disorder. The disease’s two opposite phases require different medications, and an unsuitable drug can even worse the outcome of the illness. Schizophrenia presents such a variety of symptoms that a veritable cocktail of drugs is sometimes needed, and attending physicians have to make sure the side effects do not outweigh the benefits of treatment.

“Current guidelines for pharmacotherapy recommend prescribing the brand-name drug and not substituting a generic without good reason,” says Maria Gantman, a psychiatrist at the Mental Health Center.

Dr. Gantman prescribes her patient brand-name drugs, which have undergone high-quality trials on thousands of patients and have a proven effect. Generics also undergo trials when they are licensed, trials that prove their similarity to brand-name drugs, but the evidentiary base is filled with too many gaps, she notes.

“Generics are usually less expensive, and we start off with them if the patient cannot afford the brand-name drug. The abrupt replacement of one generic with another can produce a change in the effect. Due to the peculiarities of their ingredients, generics may be absorbed at a greater or lesser rate and generate a different concentration of the active ingredient in the blood. The people who suffer most are those forced to switch from a brand-name drug they have been taking for years and that was laboriously selected for them to a generic,” explains Dr. Gantman.

She fears the Russian authorities will approach the issue in a perfunctory manner.

“For example, there is a drug that is effective in treating schizophrenia, Rispolept. There are Russian lookalikes, sold under the generic name risperidone. But if the brand-name drug is banned, it hard to imagine what lies in store for people who survive by taking Rispolept Consta (Belgium), which does not exist in this form as a generic in Russia,” says Dr. Gantman.

“The problem is that theRussian pharmaceutical industry hopelessly lags behind the western pharmaceutical industry. There are certain types of drugs Russia just cannot produce, because it does not have the resources, the equipment or the research,” continues Anatoly Shepenyov, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. “Say, the antidepressant Cipralex (Denmark) cannot be synthesized in Russia. Folic acid is an indispensable drug, too. In Russia, it cannot be produced in the form needed for the synthesis of serotonin, that is, in the form needed for maintaining normal brain function.”

Side Effects
The side effects of psychotropic drugs are numerous and varied. Mental impairment, convulsions, fainting, anemia, and fever are only some of them. Predicting them ahead of them is impossible: they are the individual body’s reactions. A drug that simultaneously provides relief while not producing agonizing side effects is a valuable find for many patients.

Dr. Shepenyov illustrates the circumstances by mentioning the antidepressant Paxil (France). It has generics, for example, Rexetin (Hungary). Rexetin works, but its therapeutic effectiveness is lower. To get the same effect she would get from 20 mg of Paxil, thae patient would need to take at least 30 mg of Rexetin. As dosages increase, so do the side effects.

“The main difficult is not synthesizing the right substance, but isolating it in pure form. I’ll give you an example. The antidepressant must fit the receptor in the brain the way a key fits a lock. When generics are synthesized, a whole slew of impurities emerge, extra ‘keys,’ if you like. If you use this ‘dirty’ molecule, you won’t open the lock, but there will be something jammed in it,” notes Dr. Shepenyov.

The use of generics thus introduces the risk there will be a lack of therapeutic effect coupled with a slew of side effects that would never be produced by brand-name drugs. The liver also suffers more from the constant intake of “dirty” drugs.

“Take the most popular Russian-made antidepressant, Fluoxetine (a generic version of the US-produced Prozac). It is terrible in terms of side effects. Although its benefits are weak, patients suffer from phenomenal absentmindedness,” explains Dr. Shepenyov.

Withdrawal Syndrome
If western-produced drugs one day vanish from Russian pharmacies, thousands of patients will undergo withdrawal syndrome, the body’s physiological reaction to the absence of a substance to which it is accustomed.

“I felt terribly sick within a few days. I had a terrible chill, severe dizziness, nausea, weakness, and insomnia,” a female patient described her withdrawal from Paxil.

It is necessary to gradually reduce the dosage to avoid this effect, which means having a good supply of the drug and then just as gradually increasing the dosage of the new drug. This means weeks of enduring shaky health.

The Anti-Placebo Effect
“The anti-placebo effect is no less frequent and severe than the placebo effect. The patient knows she has taken another drug. This exacerbates her anxiety and could ultimately destabilize her condition. So, if an individual has taken the same drug for years and feels fine, there is no need to give her another drug. It’s risky,” says Dr. Gantman.

Both doctors are agreed that patient health should not be a geopolitical bargaining chip. According to Dr. Gantman, medical issues should be left out of the political games countries play, and she calls the State Duma’s plans to ban the imports of foreign-made drugs “profoundly unethical.”

“If Russian MPs adopt such a law, we should oblige them to be treated solely with Russian-made drugs, drive Russian-made cars, and use Russian-made telephones and computers. Those would be excellent sanctions that would finally force them to use their brains before making radical decisions without having the foggiest notion about either medicine or how the body functions,” concludes Dr. Shepenyov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Anastasia Plyuto
VK
May 12, 2018

A group picket was held on Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Petersburg’s Ovsyannikov Garden, to protest the Russian State Duma’s tabling of a bill that would ban the purchase of drugs abroad. Yes, we have heard that legislators have suggested removing the word “drugs” from the wording, but we know much freighted the phrase “and other goods” can be.

To increase the chances city authorities would authorize the picket, activists applied for several venues at once. The authorities waited until the last possible moment to render a decision, and so there was no time to inform the public about the planned protest. Around a dozen people were in attendance, including a diabetic who depends on imported insulin, and several people outraged by the politics and statements of our MPs.

One of the placards featured a toy pyramid for little children, which MP Iosif Kobzon gave to a teenaged cancer patient while visiting a hospital in Simferopol in 2015. In our view, the incident reflects the lack of understanding displayed by our bigwigs when it comes to the needs of patients.

There were few visitors in the garden, and nearly none of them had heard of the law bill, but no one, from schoolgirls to a seventy-year-old female pensioner, was left unmoved by the subject. They reacted with surprise, indignation, and complete support for the picketers.

meds-1“You want to ban imported drugs? Start with yourselves. Treat your ailments with oak bark!”

meds-2.jpg“Insulin addict. Bring it on! Deprive us of our doses, assholes. ‘Life in Russia is no picnic: you can survive without insulin.’ Insulin or formaldehyde? Neuroleptics or belladonna? You choose, Russia!”

meds-3“State Duma! By banning the import of drugs, you are killing people!”

meds-4“Ban yourselves from driving Geländewagens! Hands off the drugs!”

meds-5jpg“Viva asymmetrical responses! (Genocide)”

Photos by Mikhail Ryzhov and Anastasia Plyuto. Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader