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

Xenophobia and Corruption Making Russia Less Attractive to Central Asian Migrant Workers

DSCN3525To give only one of a thousand examples, without Central Asian migrant workers, there would be almost no one left to do the heavy and, sometimes, dangerous work of clearing freshly fallen snow from rooftops and pavements during the winter. February 5, 2018, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Fists and Epaulettes: Xenophobia and Corruption Making Russia Less Attractive to Central Asian Migrant Workers
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Yulia Reprintseva, with Madina Kuanova
Novaya Gazeta
February 5, 2018

Novaya Gazeta continues to investigate the lives of migrant laborers in Russia. In our last issue, we discussed the magnitude of the corruption faced by immigrants when they apply for resident permits and work permits (“Luck and Labor,” February 2, 2018). However, even when migrant workers finally obtain these papers, their lives in Russia are not made any easier.

Police, Open Up!
In the run-up to New Year’s 2018, detectives from the Perovo and Kuntsevo police precincts in Moscow detained 520 migrant workers. All of them were taken to a police station, where they were forced to stand outside in the cold from six in the evening to two in the morning. According to Valentina Chupik, head of the human rights organization Tong Jahoni (Morning of the World), only those who gave the police 10,000 rubles [approx. 140 euros] each were released. The police said they were collecting money “for celebrating the holiday.”

The police regularly hold such “celebrations” for migrant workers. In a ranking of offenses against immigrants, the police take first place with a large margin (86% of all complaints). Most often, the police extort money during groundless document checks.

“In Russia, the attitude is he is an Asian, so he’ll give us money,” claims Chupik.

In police stations, up to twelve migrant workers are held in seven-meter-square cells for forty-eight hours and not allowed to go to the toilet. Police sometimes assault them. In October 2017, according to human rights activists, the officers at Perovo and Novogireevo precincts in Moscow beat up 39 people.  It was a tough month, apparently.

“Volunteer work days” are another police practice. According to human rights activists, migrant workers were forced to repair a police station in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi on April 21, 2017.

The migrant workers complain, but to little effect. In 2016, Valentina Chupik filed 6,232 complaints with various police internal affairs departments in Moscow and Moscow Region, but only four of them were passed up the command chain for further review. Meanwhile, the system for expelling migrants on the basis of police complaints operates without fail. In 2016 (there is no data for 2017), Moscow courts expelled over 14,000 migrant workers from Russia for living somewhere other than their registered domicile. They expelled almost 12,000 migrant workers for being in public without their papers on them.

“The main problem is the right the police have accorded themselves to check the papers of migrant workers for any reason,” says Chupik.

“Yes, they do have this obligation, but only when a migrant worker is involved in a criminal case,” she says.

According the Interior Ministry’s latest orders, even a neighborhood police inspector can check someone’s immigration status. He can write the person up for a nonexistent violation, which is immediately entered into a special data base. Two violations are sufficient cause for deportation from hospitable Russia, explains Chupik.

Curiously, at the same time, migrant workers are far from the most dangerous social group in Russia, formally speaking. Moreover, the number of crimes committed by migrant workers has been steadily declining, which has been noted even by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. As reported by Kommersant, according to the Prosecutor General, foreign nationals and stateless persons committed 41,047 crimes in Russia in 2017, which was 6.6% fewer than in 2016. In November of last year, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev mentioned an even earlier nine-percent drop in crimes committed by migrant workers when presenting the new immigration policy. But what the top brass has said is not digested fully and immediately by rank-and-file police officers.

Commentary
Valentina Chupik, head of Tong Jahoni
State agencies and the police do not hate migrant workers because they are so despicable. The authorities pretend to hate them so it is less shameful when they rob them for their own profit. When you talk to on-duty cops, they claim eighty percent of crimes are committed by migrant workers. When you ask them to go to the Interior Ministry’s own website and take a gander at the stats, they switch to saying most crimes are committed by North Caucasians. Then they say, “Well, it’s just our policy.” When you tell them they should not implement a criminal policy because they are law enforcement officers, they get it. But they complain they have arrest quotas to fill. 

content_09
Muhiddin, a janitor. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. See Muhiddin’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

Xenophobia Has Momentum
On January 12, the body of 41-year-old Tahirjan Hamrayev was found in Noginsk, Moscow Region. Hamrayev had been stabbed over twenty times. Hamrayev left Kyrgyzstan as a migrant worker in May 2017 and got a job on the construction site of a multi-storey residential building. As reported by Kyrgyzstani media, the dead man’s mother, Hairins Hamrayeva, said her son was supposed to have come home for the New Year’s holidays, but decided to stay in Noginsk since his employers, impressed by his work, had offered him extra jobs. On the fateful day, Hamrayev went into a shop and fell into the hands of at least ten neo-Nazis, local law enforcement official claim, citing an eyewitness’s testimony.

In the various ultra-right groups on social media where the incident is discussed, commentators occasionally write languidly that Hamrayev got what was coming to him. Generally, after the security services were pressured by the Kremlin into mopping up the sector, nationalism and neo-Nazism have died out as phenomena [sic], and nowadays assaults on migrant workers have gradually become something out of the ordinary,although in Petersburg on January 31, for example, a Tajikistani national was attacked with a knife in the subway.

No one, however, has abolished xenophobia, which, although it has displayed a downward trend [sic], is still firmly entrenched in the minds of Russians.

In early 2017, Tong Jahoni published the findings of a study on nearly 50,000 housing rental ads in Russian media. Only one out of every twelve ads was free of xenophobic  insinuations. Most of the people who placed the ads wanted to rent their flats or rooms to “Russian citizens” (50%), “Slavs” (28%), and “ethnic Russians” (7%). The picture presented by help wanted ads was even more distressing. Only one in twenty ads among the 20,000 vacancies examined did not contain xenophobic allusions. Fifty-six percent of employers were seeking “Slavs” to fill the jobs, while 35% were eager to see “Russian citizens” in the positions.

Human rights activists say the situation is typical, and no one wants to change it for the most part. In turn, the media fuel the fire. In 2016, there were approximately 120,000 news reports involving migrant workers. News search websites focused mostly on crime reports, which constituted nearly 98,000 of the news reports filed.

However, the attitude to migrant workers on the part of the rank-and-file population is often quite neutral when they encounter each other face to face. Moreover, human rights activists can cite instances in which the police have helped migrant workers. But in terms of society at large, although xenophobia decreased by 10% last year, according to the official estimates produced by the Russian Federal Public Chamber, it still remains a serious problem. According to pollsters VTsIOM [sic], two thirds of the people they surveyed believed migrant workers took jobs away from Russian citizens.

Commentary
Alexander Verkhovsky, director, Sova Center for Information and Analysis 
There is xenophobia as a mass phenomenon: people’s attitudes and emotions. In this case, we can track changes through public opinon polls [sic]. I am quite glad that there is a growing number of people who, when asked about the feelings they have towards migrant workers (e.g., fear, apprehension, hatred, love), respond that they feel nothing, that they could not care less. The perfect relationship is precisely this, when people do not see a group as something that provokes emotions. They are just other people.

There is xenophobia as discrimination, when seeking employment, for example. Unfortunately, practical discrimination has been underresearched. What matters most is that people do not even perceive some forms of it as discrimination. For example, people are not ashamed to write in an ad that they will rent a flat only to a Slavic family. It is useless to fight this. It is a matter of the social atmosphere [sic].

Finally, the most aggressive form of xenophobia is physical violence. In recent years, the figures have been steadily declining. Just the other day, Sova Center published a new report based on the figures for last year. I would note there is not necessarily a meaningful connection with the decline of popular xenophobia, because assaults are not committed by the masses, but by ideologically motivated young people, who might have completely different opinions from the masses. This is more likely the consequence of a depression amongst radically minded young people. They are scared. They don’t really want to commit assaults [sic]. In the previous decade, they did not know the fear of God at all, as the saying goes, but then Center “E” [Russia’s “anti-extremism” police, established from disbanded anti-organized crime squads during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency] went after them. Many street fighters went to prison, and this changed the situation.

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Shirinsho “Handsome” Vohidov, from Tajikistan. Photo by Anna Artemieva. See Shirinsho’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

Medical Disenfranchisement
When migrant workers take ill in Russia, it is no simple matter for them to recover.

“To enroll at a district outpatient clinic, you need to have a temporary residence permit or residence permit, permanent registration,” says Daniil Kashnitsky, a junior researcher at the Higher School of Economics. “However, a poor command of information and the Russian language, as well as a lack of legal knowledge, means that when migrant workers are yelled at by employees at the intake desk, they leave and do not come back. There are many such instances.”

There is the option of going to a private clinic, but sometimes only a state clinic can help, for example, when tuberculosis is diagnosed. It can help, but it is not obliged.

“Tuberculosis has a dangerous phase when it is communicable through airborne droplets. Patients must be hospitalized during this phase. They should stay in hospital until the tuberculosis bacterium goes away, and they are no longer a danger to others. This usually takes two or three months,” explains Kashnitsky.

If migrant workers are hospitalized due to an accident, the treatment is free, of course, but the attitude towards them will be correspondingly shabby. Last year, when a busload of migrant workers was hit by a train near Vladimir, killing seventeen people, the local hospitals treated several severely injured people.

“I asked that an injured child be sent to Moscow. Two days later, he died in our regional hospital. I remember the child. He was a year and a half old, from an Uzbek family. I said, ‘Why did you send him to our hospital? Call a helicopter and take him to Moscow: he’ll get better help there.’ I was told the decision had been made by the health department,” recounts Alla Boyarova, director of an employment agency for migrant workers. On the morning of the tragedy, her husband had rushed to help the affected immigrants.

Zoyir Karimov, Boyarova’s husband, is deputy chair of the Tajik diaspora in Vladimir. He recalls that the adult victims had huge problems.

“Two of them did not make full recoveries in hospital. They were not operated on and were sent back in this shape to Uzbekistan. They were told they could buy special plates, but they had no money. One broke his shoulder, the other, his leg,” says Karimov.

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Infographic No. 1: Sources of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, per information gathered by the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. Police — 1,814 incidents (86.3%); immigration centers — 196 incidents (9.3%); migration service — 53 incidents (2.5%); other state agencies — 29 incidents (1.4%); other organizations — 11 incidents (0.5%). Infographic No. 2: Forms of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, according to the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. “Verification” of registration status — 5,304 incidents (78.3%); arbitrary interpretation of the law — 896 incidents (13.1%); threats by police to file trumped-up administrative charges — 340 incidents (5.0%); high-pressure selling of unnecessary “services” — 196 incidents (3.0%); forcing migrant workers to use a particular middleman when filing papers — 41 incidents (0.6%). Infographics courtesy of Veronika Tsotsko and Novaya Gazeta

Blockchain to the Rescue
It is tempting to dub what is happening in the Russian migrant labor sector a mess. In fact, however, it is more likely a restructuring of the system after the Federal Migration Service (FMS) was incorporated into the Interior Ministry in 2016. The relationship with migrant workers has changed because what the Interior Ministry does most of all is punish people. Many of the organizations that dealt with drawing up papers for migrant workers have been turned into limited liability companies, meaning it has become nearly impossible to monitor their policies, and human rights activists have huge gripes with the new state-run immigration centers. New law bills that have been tabled will only aggravate the circumstances, reducing migrant workers to semi-slave status in Russia.

The question is simple: what to do? At a January 29 meeting of human rights activists to discuss the issue of immigration (a meeting not attended by diaspora leaders) various proposals were voiced. Vladimir Khomyakov, co-chair of the grassroots movement People’s Assembly (Narodnyi Sobor), made the most radical and regressive proposal at the round table.

“We need the strictest possible oversight of each person’s stay in Russia, not just this buying a work permit and hanging out wherever you want,” said Khomyakov. “We need a system of mutual obligations. We need a single government agency that would deal with immigration and use a single database.”

People who intend to travel to Russia should obtain all the papers they need at Russian consulates in their own countries, and each migrant worker should be assigned an ID number under which all information about him or her would stored, argued Khomyakov.

Totalitarian oversight in return for peace and quiet.

But Khomyakov’s idea was not met with unanimous approval by round table participants, just like the proposal, made Vyacheslav Postavnin, former deputy head of the FMS and president of the 21st Century Immigration Foundation [sic], to move immigration registration online or, at least, make it obligatory for immigrants to check in with the migration service by telephone. Some human rights activists were outraged by the fact this would make it easier for terrorists to hide [sic].

“Terrorists never violate immigration laws. Terrorist acts are complicated operations. What, they are going to put themselves at risk of being stopped by police for failing to reregister on time?” Postavnin countered crossly.

He was told that hackers could erase or damage the entiere online database, to which the former deputy head of the FMS showed off his knowledge of the word “blockchain.”

“Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t erase it,” he said.

Tatyana Dmitrieva, deputy head of the Department for Coordinating Local Immigration Offices and Accountable Forms in the Immigration Directorate of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Moscow Office, did not like any of these proposals. She only remarked that the ministry wholly supported a new law bill that would punish legal entities for providing fictitious registration, and that a consensua had to be reached with regard to thorny issues.

The discussion’s moderator, Fyodor Dragoi, chair of the Committee for Safety, Public Diplomacy and Public Oversight at the Council for Ethnic Affairs in the Moscow City Govermnent, suggested drawing up a list of proposals after the discusssion, since “this tumor [could] burst any minute,” and the problem had to be solved.

Another, autonomous proposal has been made by the Center for Strategic Research (CSR), which has published its report on immigration. Recognizing a decline in migration flows from the CIS countries in recent years—2017 saw an increase the numbers of migrant workers from many countries, but the numbers have not returned to pre-crisis levels—the report’s authors propose their own measures for maintaining a migration flow of 250,000 people to 300,000 people annually, which they claim is a necessary number for modern Russia. In particular, they propose introducing something like a green card for highly qualified immigrants in order to stimulate the influx, as well as work cards that would make it easier to obtain a residence permit.

Something has to be done, since Russia will have lost thirteen million able-bodied people by 2030, but internal resources for population growth have been exhausted.

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Viorel, a Moldovan, on a lunchbreak with his workmates. Photo by Viktoria Odissonova. See Viorel’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

The problem is that there are not unlimited numbers of highly qualified immigrants, and the ones there are drift in other directions. To take one example, the number of migrant workers from Moldova has decreased over the last two years by more than one and a half times, from 250,000 to 157,000. They have begun looking towards the European Union.  The number of migrant workers from the Eurasian Union has been growing, but their numbers are also limited, especially because Kazakhstani workers, for example, are needed in Kazakhstan itself, a country that, due to geographical proximity, grabs Kyrgyzstani workers away from Russia. The number of immigrants from Tajikistan have been growing steadily. On the other hand, while the number of Uzbekistanis coming to Moscow has grown over the past year, to a million and a half registered nationals, it would seem the numbers will eventually decline, since more convenient job markets have opened up to them.

“Turkey and the Emirates are currently very interesting and attractive to migrant workers from Asia,” says attorney Yulduz Ataniyazova. “The economy there is civilized, and there is a niche in the economy for unskilled workers. At the same time, the workers are provided with normal working conditions. For example, I know that in the Emirates migrant workers who clean houses and work in restaurants note that the cleaning liquids there are less harsh [sic]. This has now become important to them.”

However, the wages there are less than in Moscow, generally, but it depends on how you look at it.

“Uzbeks start doing the maths, and it turns out that here they will pay out more in bribes, whereas in Turkey a policeman would never approach them for no reason at all,” explains Chupik.

Workers from the CIS will keep coming to Russia for some time, of course. But if Russia toughens the rules for migrant workers, even the most desperate adventurers from the CIS countries will prefer, in time, to go somewhere else, to a place where they can work without risking their lives, health, and human dignity, not to mention their wallets.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. Perhaps I should have a three [sic]s and you’re out rule on this website, but despite the number of dubious or simply odd claims made by the article’s authors and the experts they quote, I thought there was enough important information and nontrivial viewpoints in the article to make it worth my while to translate and your while to read.

However, on one point—the claim that nationalists and neo-Nazis have come to naught in Russia, and hence the number of assaults on migrant workers has precipitously decreased—I was so bothered I turned to my friend W., a person who has been involved with immigrant rights in Russia both professionally and personally for many years. Here is their response.

“They are engaging in wishful thinking. Nationalism and neo-Nazism have not gone away. It has become very difficult to keep track of attacks. Officially, such reports are not welcome and are rarely discussed in the media. This is the current trend. None of this exists anymore in Russia, allegedly, while in Ukraine, for example, there has been a serious increase in anti-Semitism. According to the official interpretation, there is almost no anti-Semitism in Russia, although there were several egregious incidents in January. Basically, nobody cares about this business, and Jewish organizations mainly smooth over the potentially negative consequences of vociferous discussions.” 

I should also point out the folly of relying on public opinion polling data in an authoritarian country like Russia, where respondents can be expected to give what they think is the “right” answer out of a fear bred into the society in Soviet times.

Nevertheless, in the absence of free elections and other real political freedoms, the Putin years have been a boom time for the country’s main pollsters, VTsIOM (mentioned in this article), FOM, and the supposedly independent Levada Center. They have polled away with merry abandon, and Russian and international journalists, many of them too lazy or lacking the time to do real reporting, have become increasingly dependent on the utterly falsified portrait of “average Russians” the country’s troika of loyalist pollsters has been painting over the last eighteen years. I have dubbed the phenomenon “pollocracy” and discussed it many times on this website. TRR

Hygge Сafe & Hotel

DSCN3604.jpgHygge Cafe & Hotel is located at 14D Nekrasov Street, in the heart of Petersburg’s Central District. You can reserve a room there through Booking.com. Photo by the Russian Reader

How are the following two stories, as summarized in business daily Delovoi Petersburg′s morning newsletter to subscribers and regular readers, and the photograph, above, which I shot during yesterday’s snowstorm, connected? I would argue they are profoundly connected, but I will leave it up to you to think the connections through. If you have any bright ideas, feel free to voice them in the comments section.

Who is responsible for the warplane downed in Syria. A Russian SU-25 has again been shot down. The pilot catapulted and, as transpired later, he engaged in combat with the enemy and blew himself up with a grenade, meaning he acted completely like a real war hero. But the hitch is there is no war on, so to speak. The airplane was downed after the the terrorists had been officially defeated. What is more, it was downed in a demilitarized zone.

 

 

Breaking Bad with the FSB

ae8d99e04e9a4f73aaeff376d2df1ed5The Russian Federal Security Service or FSB enjoys breaking doors down in its pursuit of fictitious “extremists” and “terrorists.” Photo courtesy of Pinterest

The FSB Breaks Left
A second anarchist from the mythical organization Network (Set) has been remanded to police custody at the request of counterintelligence. Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shiskin are suspected of planning an armed insurrection to seize power
Alexander Yermakov
Fontanka.ru
January 27, 2018

The purge of the anarchist movement in Petersburg is due to no more and no less than alleged plans to violently overthrow Vladimir Putin. This is the background the FSB has invoked as it has arrested the young men. They are accused of involvement in a terrorist association about which the courts, the Justice Ministry, and the National Anti-Terrorist Committee have never heard. 

Anarchist Igor Shishkin was sent to the pretrial detention center on Shpalernaya Street in Petersburg on the evening of January 27. He was detained two days earlier by FSB officers, taken to their regional headquarters on Liteiny Prospect, and interrogated for nearly twenty-four hours, except for short breaks. His interrogators focused on Shishkin’s involvement in the anarchist movement and alleged plans for violent acts whose objective was overthrowing the current government via an armed insurrection.

As someone suspected of involvement in a terrorist network (Criminal Code Article 205.4 Part 2), the 26-year-old Shishkin was detained only this morning. After Petersburg’s Dzerzhinsky District made its ruling, he joined Viktor Filinkov, a 23-year-old programmer and Kazakhstani national, who had been remanded to police custody a day earlier, in the pretrial detention center.

According to police investigators, Shiskin, Filinkov, and unidentified persons who espoused the anarchist ideology were involved, allegedly, in the so-called Field of Mars (aka Mars) branch of the terrorist organization Network no later than August 2016. Their purpose was to plan crimes and engage in terrorist activists that the Criminal Code defines quite clearly: the violent seizure of power and armed insurrection.

There is no mention of Network (Set) on the web, unless, of course, you do not count the eponymous organization set up by the pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi. You will also not be able to find Network in official documents. The Unified Federal List of Terrorist Organizations, as established by court rulings, contains twenty-seven organizations, including foreign and international organizations, but you will not find Network on the list, a list that is published, in particular, on the websites of the FSB and the National Anti-Terrorist Committee.

Fontanka.ru has learned that the Petersburg anarchists were detained due to possible links with the failed albeit highly publicized “revolution of November 5, 2017,” as promised by Vyacheslav Maltsev, leader of the banned movement Artillery Barrage (Artpodgotovka).

Residents of Russian cities were urged to engage in mass protests. Most of the oppositionists were detained preventively two days before the event. The day passed peacefully in Petersburg, except for the comic arrest of a pacifist in a car chockablock with weapons, and a small gathering near the Smolny, Petersburg city hall. Five people were given jail time for not complying with lawful orders of the police: they refused to show police officers the contents of their bags.

Maltsev himself lives abroad, where he has been granted political asylum, but a wave of detentions has rolled across Russian cities. Among others, the Petersburg native Arman Sagynbayev was arrested in Penza. According to the human rights website OVD Info, Sagynbayev has also been charged with involvement in a terrorist organization. He has, allegedly, made a full confession.

According to our information, FSB officers asked Shiskin and Filinkov whether they knew Sagynbayev. Attorney Igor Mangilev, who has been representing Shishkin, corroborated that a transcript of Sagynbayev’s interrogation was included in the case file used at his client’s remand hearing.  According to other sources, Filinkov and his wife Alexandra, who is currently located in Ukraine, met Sagynbayev around a year ago, in  early 2017.

Criminal charges were filed against Filinkov and Shishkin on January 24, 2018. The case file contains testimony from a large number of witnesses, many of whom are classified.

The media have reported that the FSB managed to chat with another supporter of leftist views [sic], Igor Kapustin. Apparently, he was also interrogated and then released. He has told the press about the threats made by investigators.

Documented proof that the FSB used prohibited methods to pressure a suspect or witness in the case is available only with regard to Filinkov. He was detained on the evening of January 23 at Pulkovo Airport, and was identified formally as a suspect in the case around midnight on January 24. For over a day, he was in the hands of the FSB without any outside oversight. Yesterday, January 26, Filinkov was visited in the pretrial detention center by members of the Public Monitoring Commission, who filed a report substantianting numerous recent injuries to Filinkov’s body, including burns on his thigh and chest, produced by a electric cattle prod. Filinkov confirmed in writing that he had been subjected to violence, and that FSB officers had demanded he memorize his testimony and the names of people whom he, allegedly, knew. Attorney Vitaly Cherkasov confirmed to Fontanka.ru that his client was forced to confess his involvement with the Field of Mars branch of the terrorist organization Network.

Filinkov and Shiskin have been remanded to police custody until March 23, 2018. In all likelihood, theirs will not be the last names on the list of Petersburg “Networkers.” According to our sources, the FSB has possession of electronic media [sic] that Filinkov tossed in trash containers before heading to Pulkovo Airport.

As for Vyacheslav Maltsev, the criminal case against him has been under investigation since November. He has been named as the organizer of a terrorist network (Criminal Code Article 205.4 Clause 1) and has been accused of pubicly calling for extremist activity (Criminal Code Article 280). Several suspects in his case have been charged with planning a terrorist act.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. Although Fontanka.ru has long been Petersburg’s most popular news website (or, at least, it has long claimed to be), the foreign reader should bear in mind that its founders, publishers, and editors have backgrounds in military intelligence and the Soviet and Russian police’s criminal investigative divisions. While this has no doubt come in handy over the years and permitted the website’s reporters to do what the name of its founding organization (AZhUR or Investigative Reporting Agency) suggests, there are other times when it is not clear whether Fontanka.ru believes the mallarkey which Russia’s so-called siloviki are capable of spinning from whole cloth or whether it is mocking their incompetence. In this article, Fontanka.ru seems to want to have its cake and eat it, too. They seem to suggest that the FSB has invented a nonexistent terrorist network from scratch while at the same hinting that the FSB has plenty of evidence the young men so far arrested in the case were actually involved in this nonexistent organization. Even a local reader with average intelligence and a healthy amount of skepticism would find this story and how it is reported by Fontanka.ru perplexing, to say the least. TRR

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Ali Feruz, a gay Moscow-based journalist threatened with deportation to Uzbekistan, where he faces possible torture and death. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch 

Memes of Solidarity
Silly and Serious Acts of Civic Solidarity Will Be Needed for a Long Time to Come
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
January 25, 2018

The Satisfaction Challenge, a internet flash mob in support of cadets at the Ulyanovsk Civil Aviation Institute, who filmed and uploaded a parody of Benny Benassi’s music video “Satisfaction,” has entered its second week. The institute’s administrators accused the cadets, who are shown dancing in briefs and pilot caps, of “mocking the sacred” and “humiliating the industry,” declaring they had no place in aviation.

Since then, scores of videos supporting the cadets have been posted daily. The latest was filmed by the Novosibirsk hockey club Sibir. Before an auditorium packed to the gills with fans, the club’s mascot, Snowman, dances to “Satisfaction” along with security guards and cleaners. Before Snowman, there were videos by female pensioners in a Petersburg communal flat, costumed theater students in the Russian Far East, horsemen, swimmers, cadets at the Academy of the Emergency Situations Ministry, construction workers, doctors, students at an agriculture college, schoolchildren, housewives, and the presenters of the TV show Evening Urgant. Consequently, a talk show on the TV channel Rossiya 1 and US magazine The New Yorker have identified the Satisfaction Challenge flash mob as a significant event in Russia public life.

“Welders from the Urals Filmed a Satisfaction Challenge Video.” Published January 24, 2018

Obviously, the flash mob has touched some important strings. It is not so much a matter of discussing the boundaries of free self-expression, the clash of different views on what is permitted and appropriate, which, judging by the varying degrees of frankness on the part of the flash mobbers, are also quite different. The key here is solidarity, which has proven the best weapon against bureaucratic stupidity and official hypocrisy. Solidarity with the persecuted is a vital tool for upholding freedom and withstanding crackdowns, for maintaining and reinforcing social connections in an atomized society.

The flash mob in support of the Ulyanovsk cadets is probably the most vivid and funny solidarity campaign in today’s Russia, but it is hardly the only or most important solidarity campaign. The cadets were threatened with explusion, but Novaya Gazeta journalist Hudoberdi Nurmatov aka Ali Feruz, who has already spent five months in a temporary detention center for foreigners awaiting a review of his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, is threatened with torture and even death in connection with false charges of cooperating with terrorists if he is deported to Uzbekistan, say his relatives, colleagues, and human rights activists.

The solidarity campaign in support of Ali Feruz kicked off this past August, when the Moscow City Court decided to deport him. His colleagues rightly believe that the longer they bring up the case and the more loudly they discuss it, the better are the chances for a positive outcome. So, last week, Theater.doc held another reading of Feruz’s diary, written in the temporary detention center for foreigners. The first reading, entitled “My Friend Ali Feruz,” was held as a sign of solidarity by journalists in late October. During last week’s antifacist march in memory of attorney Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, slain by neo-Nazis nine years ago in downtown Moscow, some of the marchers bore placards demanding Ali Feruz’s release. On Wednesday came the news the Russian Supreme Court had overturned the Moscow City Court’s decision to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan and remanded the matter for a new hearing.

The solidarity campaign in support of Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, which has ranged from petitions and videos in his defense to organized trips to his trial in Petrozavodsk, has been underway since society learned of his arrest on charges of taking pornographic photographs, charges that carry no weight with anyone who knows him well. If it had not been for the public outcry, there might not have been a second forensic examination, which ruled the photographs in question were not pornographic, nor would there have been a court decision to release Dmitriev from police custody, where he has spent the last year, on his own recognizance.

Currently, Oyub Titiev, head of the Grozny branch of Memorial, is in bad need of solidarity and support. Arrested on drugs possession charges, Titiev managed to warn society any confession he made would only mean he had been tortured into giving it.

“We regard Oyub Titiev’s circumstances as extremely dangerous,” the board of the International Memorial Society said in an appeal to Russian society and the international community. “The only thing we can do under the circumstances is ask Russian society and the international community to monitor Titiev’s case with the same acute interest as has occured in the Dmitriev case.”

Solidarity is one of the few effective tools left in Russian civil society’s arsenal for confronting official coercion. We will have recourse to it again and again for a long time to come. It’s a good thing that sometimes, as in the case of the cadets, it’s also fun.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

quora-life in russia

Screenshot from quora.com, taken January 21, 2018

What’s the difference between a baldfaced lie told by a politican and a baldfaced lie told by a “real person”? The “real person” is more likely to be believed by actual real people, especially if they are gullible, not curious, don’t know how to weigh the relative worth of competing truth claims or don’t have the time or desire to do it.

The claims made about life in Russia by Russian hasbara troll “Katya Huster” on the faux populist Q&A forum Quora, which does a heavy sideline in whitewashing dictatorships like Putin’s and Assad’s, will make people who live in the actual Russia sigh, laugh or punch the wall, but they could sound plausible to the millions of North Americans and Europeans whose shallow notion of thinking “politically” involves automatically disbelieving all politicians, the allegedly perpetually evil and mendacious MSM, and anyone else who sounds too smart.

If the Quora bean counter is to be believed, Katya’s well-timed lie, posted on July 1, 2017, has been been viewed by 64,600 real people, 1,145 of whom “upvoted” her answer.

By the way, that is about 4,000 more people than viewed my website all last year. I really don’t know why I bother doing what I do. Real people don’t want contradictory messy reality, as reported and described by real, smart, brave Russians, with the occasional editorial comment by someone who has lived half his life in Russia and been involved in all sorts of things here, i.e., me.

They want “Katya Huster,” her baldfaced lies, and her half-truths. TRR

P.S. Here is another of the numerous pro-Putinist, pro-Assadist posts that pop up constantly on Quora. Although it is much less coherently fashioned than virtual Katya’s big lie, it has garnered 5,600 views since Saturday and 58 “upvotes,” suggesting it will have a similarly successful career on Quora.

By way of comparison, I am lucky to have over 5,000 views on this website in a month, although I post between fifteen and thirty items—translations of articles by the quality Russian press, translations of analyses and reflections by Russian scholars and activists, and my own occasional riffs on particular issues—in a typical month.

 

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Opaque

Finance Ministry Deletes Info on Ministerial Salaries
Ivan Tkachov
RBC
December 31, 2017

Information on the salaries of federal ministers in 2016 has disappeared from the website of the Russian Finance Ministry. The information was deleted a day after RBC published the article “Finance Ministry Discloses Salaries of Ministers for First Time.” 

More than ten sets of publicly accessible information, including the number of employees and average monthly salaries at state ministries and agencies, the number of official vehicles, etc., was posted by the Finance Ministry on December 11. On December 27, RBC discovered the open data essentially disclosed the official average monthly salaries of the heads of federal ministries, except the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry, for 2016. Previously, information about the salaries of  ministers had not been disclosed.

On December 28, this information disappeared entirely from the Finance Ministry’s website without any explanation. As of December 31, it was still not listed in the ministry’s open data registry. Data on salaries at government ministries and agencies had earlier been located on this page, and information that this was the case has been saved in Google’s web cache.

Screenshot of Russian Finance Ministry website page that had previously listed the salaries of ministers. Now it reads, “Error 404: Page Not Found.”

The liaison officer at the IT Department for State and Municipal Finance Management and Budget Processs Informational Support has not responded to our request for information. The Finance Ministry’s press secretary also failed to respond to our request.

In the open data, now inaccessible, the Finance Ministry disclosed the average monthly salary of “employees holding public offices” at each of the federal ministries. Since only one person, the minister, occupies public office at each ministry, the data actually amounted to information about the salaries of ministers.

Accordingly, the finance minister was the highest paid minister in 2016, earning 1.729 million rubles a month [approx. 25,000 euros]. He was followed by the economic development minister, who earned 1.266 million rubles a month [approx. 18,000 euros] and the energy minister, who earned 1.155 million rubles a month [approx. 16,700 euros]. They earned from eleven to thirteen times more than the average staffer in their ministries. Twelve ministers listed their ministerial salaries as basically their only source of declared income, according to our calculations.

RBC has learned that publication of ministers’ salaries has provoked discontent in the ministries. Thus, a source in one ministry compared it with “sabotage.”

The information removed from public access had mostly been published on the Finance Ministry’s website in June 2017. The .pdf file contained information about the number of employees in federal ministries, the travel expenses of federal ministries and state agencies, and the number of official vehicles, but not the salaries of individual ministers, which was disclosed for the first time.

What Else the Finance Ministry’s Data Told Us
In 2016, Russian federal ministries and agencies owned or used a total of 47,000 vehicles. The average monthly cost of maintaining each vehicle was 27,000 rubles [approx. 390 euros].

The Prosecutor General’s Office (its central administration and regional offices) had the most vehicles: 4,269. The Federal Bailiff Service was in second place, with 4,209 vehicles, followed by the Federal Tax Service, with 4,030 vehicles. The Emergency Situations Ministry had approximately 3,500 vehicles at its disposal, while the Investigative Committee, Federal Customs Service, and the Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre and Cartography (Rosreestr) each had approximately 3,000 vehicles in their motor pools.

In 2016, the Health Ministry, which had only 47 vehicles at its disposal, had the most expensive maintenance costs per vehicle: 341,000 rubles [approx. 4,900 euros]. The Russian Government’s maintenance cost per vehicle was 327,000 rubles. It had a motor pool of 270 vehicles.

Last year, the federal ministries and agencies spent almost 7 billion rubles on official travel [approx. 101 million euros]. The biggest spenders were the Federal Customs Service and the Federal Tax Service, which spent 742 million rubles and 712 million rubles, respectively. If we talk only about official foreign travel, the biggest spender was the Foreign Ministry: it spent 200 million rubles on travel abroad in 2016. It was followed by the Finance Ministry and the Economic Development Ministry, which spent 57.9 million rubles and 51.8 million rubles, respectively, on official trips abroad.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader