Ilya Yashin Is Standing His Ground

Ilya Yashin (center), at a recent court hearing. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova

Every morning, Radio Russia turns on in my cell at the temporary detention center. At 6 a.m., the national anthem plays, and then the brainwashing begins.

The news items don’t differ much from one another. Russian troops have inflicted another “surgically precise strike” on the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, destroying more than three hundred “nationalists” and about a hundred pieces of military equipment. The Ukrainian butchers responded by once again shelling residential neighborhoods in the DPR with American (emphasis on “American”) weapons. A rocket hit a kindergarten. Miraculously, there were no casualties.

Audio letters to the editor then come on the air. “Maria from Saratov” or “Elena Nikolayevna from Kirov” read out their original poems dedicated to our heroes who, fighting in Ukraine, have put themselves on a par with the “veterans of the Great Victory.” For dessert, there are “songs of the Russian spring” — amateur ensembles twanging about Mariupol’s return to its “home port” or about the crimes of the Maidan.

And so on — wash, rinse, repeat — every single day. Sometimes I feel like the character in the movie A Clockwork Orange who is seated in front of a screen, his eyes held wide open with clamps. It seems to me that the UN should deems forced listening to such broadcasts a form of torture.

But seriously, my observations suggest that fewer and fewer people are taking this brainwashing at face value. Surprisingly, despite the aggressive war propaganda, I haven’t encountered any manifestations of hatred on this side of the bars at all. Quite the opposite. A detainee escort guard, snapping the handcuffs on me, whispers “Hang in there, Ilya.” The woman on duty at the temporary detention center gives me an extra blanket, “so that at least you can sleep more comfortably.” A bailiff in court thanks me for my video about Kadyrov. Such moments reinforce one’s sense of being morally right.

Even now, sitting in a cell facing the threat of a ten-year prison sentence, I understand that my decision to stay in Russia was the right one, although it was a very difficult decision. Because it knocks out Putin’s main trump card about the opposition’s foreign affiliations and that we would all flee at the first sign of danger. But now people see that we are not fleeing, that we are standing our ground and sharing our country’s fate. This makes our words weightier and our arguments stronger. But the bottom line is that it leaves us a chance to get back our homeland.

After all, the winner is not the person who is stronger right now, but the person who is willing to go all the way to the end.

Source: Ilya Yashin, Facebook, 26 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


“Opposing Putin but Staying in Russia”
Yuri Dud’s interview with Ilya Yashin was posted on YouTube on 16 June 2022. With English subtitles.
As of today (26 July 2022), the video has been viewed over 8.5 million times.

Russian authorities have launched a criminal case against Ilya Yashin, one of the last [prominent] opposition figures remaining in the country, for allegedly spreading false information about the army, his lawyer said Tuesday.

“I got a call from an investigator — they are beginning to search his home,” lawyer Vadim Prokhorov said on Facebook.

Prokhorov was later quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the probe was launched because his client spoke of “the murder of civilians in Bucha” on his YouTube channel on April 7.

Russian forces have been accused of committing war crimes in the Kyiv suburb after civilian bodies were discovered there following their withdrawal.

Another of Yashin’s lawyers, Mikhail Biriukov, said a search had been carried out at his home and that Yashin was taken out of prison to attend.

In June, Yashin, who is a Moscow [municipal district] councillor, was sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying police. He was set to be released in the early hours of Wednesday. 

Yashin has been a prominent opposition figure in Russia since the mass protests against President Vladimir Putin in 2011-2012. He has denounced Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

He is an ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and was close to Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician assassinated near the Kremlin in 2015.

After Putin sent troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia introduced legislation imposing prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading information about the military deemed false by the Russian government.

Writing on social media earlier Tuesday, Yashin, who turned 39 in jail, said he was supposed to be released at 1:20 a.m. Wednesday (22:20 GMT Tuesday).

“Maybe they will let me out. Maybe not,” he said. “What do you think?”

[…]

Source: Moscow Times (AFP), “Russia Opens Criminal Case Against Activist Yashin,” 13 July 2022

May the Good Lord Take a Liking to You and Blow You Up Real Soon

This is “social democracy,” Russian fascist style, as exemplified by A Just Russia — For Truth party leader Sergei Mironov, as translated by a mindless unpaid robot:

The leader of the Fair Russia — For Truth party, Sergei Mironov, proposed to take away the property of Russians who decided to emigrate from Russia.

He noted that this can be done within the framework of the presidential decree of March 1, 2022 “On additional temporary economic measures to ensure the financial stability of the Russian Federation.” According to it, Russian citizens who “have left or live in unfriendly countries cannot dispose of their real estate on the territory of Russia.”

At the same time, Mironov proposed not to be limited only to “unfriendly” states and to apply a measure in the event of a person leaving for any country.

The essence of their act does not change from this. I think it makes sense to extend the restrictions to all travelers, regardless of where exactly they have pricked up their skis.

The head of the party added that he considers the current flight of “our homegrown rich people” abroad to be a cleansing of society. In his opinion, only “obvious traitors” or “owners of criminally obtained fortunes” can leave Russia.

“Although one easily combines with the other. So I see only a positive aspect in the fact that these gentlemen are ridding us of their presence. The air will be cleaner,” he concluded.

Russian “social democrat” Sergei Mironov. Photo courtesy of the Moskva Agency and the Moscow Times

Here are the “social democratic” fascist robot’s remarks in the original Russian:

Лидер партии «Справедливая Россия — За правду» Сергей Миронов предложил отбирать собственность россиян, решивших эмигрировать из России.

Он отметил, что это можно делать в рамках указа президента от 1 марта 2022 года «О дополнительных временных мерах экономического характера по обеспечению финансовой стабильности РФ». Согласно нему, российские граждане, которые «уехали или живут в недружественных странах, не могут распоряжаться своей недвижимостью на территории России».

При этом Миронов предложил не ограничиваться только «недружественными» государствами и применять меру в случае отъезда человека в любую страну.

“Суть их поступка от этого не меняется. Полагаю, есть смысл распространить ограничения на всех выезжанцев в независимости от того, куда именно они навострили лыжи.”

Руководитель партии добавил, что считает очищением общества нынешнее бегство «наших доморощенных богатеев» за границу. По его мнению, из России могут уехать лишь «очевидные предатели» или «обладатели состояний, полученных криминальным путем».

«Хотя одно легко сочетается с другим. Так что в том, что эти господа избавляют нас от своего присутствия, я вижу только положительной момент. Воздух будет чище», — заключил он.

Source: Moscow Times, 16 June 2022


John Candy and Joe Flaherty have a finer grasp of Russian social revolutionary traditions than Sergei Mironov does. If Mr. Mironov’s (thoroughly counterrevolutionary and reactionary) compatriots weren’t so similar unmindful of their own history, Mr. Mironov might have thought twice before making the transformation from a mild nuisance to an enthusiastic Putinist henchman.

Primorsky Partisans

Communist Deputy Leonid Vasyukevich’s anti-war speech and the ensuing controversy begins at approximately the 1:59:40 mark in the video, above. The Newsbox.24 dispatch, cited below, contains a different, much shorter video, shot from behind Deputy Vasyukevich while he was reading out his group’s statement. Because it is embedded in a Telegram post I was unable to embed it here. The title of this post refers to the famous group of anti-police guerrillas from the Maritime Territory. || TRR

A group of deputies in the Legislative Assembly of the Maritime Territory [Primorsky Krai] has drafted an appeal to President Vladimir Putin demanding that he stop the so-called special military operation and withdraw troops from Ukrainian territory. The appeal by four deputies from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) was read aloud by Deputy Leonid Vasyukevich at the regional parliament’s [May 27th] session, Newsbox.24 reports.

According to Vasyukevich, given their significant losses, Russian troops would not be able to achieve military success. “We understand that if our country does not stop the military operation, there will be more orphans in our country. Young men who could have been of great benefit to our country have been killed and disabled during the special operation,” the deputy said.

Maritime Territory Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, who was delivering a report on his activities for the past year, demanded that Vasyukevich and Gennady Shulga, who supported his party caucus colleague, be removed from the chamber. “These actions discredit the Russian army and our defenders who stand in the fight against Nazism. [He is] a traitor,” Kommersant quotes Kozhemyako as saying.

Legislative Assembly deputies voted to strip Vasyukevich and Shulga of their right to vote during the session. Anatoly Dolgachev, the head of the Communist Party caucus, called the actions of his fellow party members a “stunt,” and also said that “they defame the honor of the Communist Party with such statements.” He promised to evaluate their actions and take “the toughest measures.”

Maritime Territory Legislative Assembly deputies Leonid Vasyukevich, Gennady Shulga and Natalia Kochugova did not respond to our request for comment as this story went to press. Deputy Alexander Sustov declined to comment.

Source: “A group of KPRF deputies in Primorye speaks out against the war,” Radio Svoboda, 27 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. I translated and published this post before checking to see whether other Anglophone had reported the incident. They have, apparently, including Radio Svoboda’s parent agency, RFE/RL.

Election Day: 18 March 2018

The “get out the vote” mobile just made its second pass down our street today.

The speakers mounted on its roof blared out at deafening volume the recording of a song that mentioned something about a “strong team” and resembled a jingle for potato chips or tampons more than anything.

Russia’s leaders take the Russian people for idiots.

Minutes later, the “get out the vote” mobile made its third pass down our street today, driving in the opposite direction.

This time, the speakers on the car’s roof were not terrorizing the neighboring with the ear-splitting jingle about the “strong team.” Instead, a middle-aged man with the velvety-toned voice of a Soviet news presenter explained — again, at extremely high volume — that today was a “celebration” in which Russians were “making a choice” that would “determine the country’s future.” 

The “get out the vote” mobile just made its ninth pass down our street in the last four hours. It drove slowly. The speakers on its roof were cranked up to eleven, playing a particularly unpleasant song.

I gather this is now the punishment phase for everyone on our street who hasn’t voted in the “celebration” to “re-elect” Russia’s dictator for life today.

It goes without saying that people like that deserve the worst. Even many of their own alleged friends and political allies have been emotionally abusing them online for the last several days, so strong is the Putin personality cult, especially among the Russian liberal and leftist intelligentsia.

Not that any of them would admit it. They are Putin’s real base, because they have the means to do something about his tyranny, but most have chosen to engage in more personally pleasant pursuits, some of which they have managed to pass off as “opposition” or “grassroots” politics.  ||| TRR, 18 March 2018

100% Herd Immunity

https://paperpaper.ru/papernews/2022/2/15/vlasti-zayavili-chto-peterburg-dostig-k/

[February 5, 2022]

The authorities say that Petersburg has achieved 100% herd immunity. Is it true?

The number of people who been vaccinated and people who have recovered from covid-19 in Petersburg speaks to the fact that the city has achieved 100% herd immunity, first deputy chair of the Health Committee Andrei Sarana said on the St. Petersburg TV channel.

Referring to the Health Ministry’s website, Sarana said that Petersburg had reached 100% collective immunity. According to the official, 3.14 million people, including more than 2,400 children, had been fully vaccinated in Petersburg.

According to Health Ministry’s guidelines, Petersburg has to vaccinate 80% of its entire population, excluding children and adults who cannot be vaccinated — this amounts to 3.5 million people. At the same time, it is not known how this approach works and whether it takes into account people who, for example, were vaccinated more than a year ago.

In fact, 2.9 million residents have undergone a full vaccination cycle in Petersburg, which is equal to only 55% of the total number of people officially residing in St. Petersburg (5.3 million people), according to city hall’s website. Only the covid crisis center reports that 3.5 million people in Petersburg have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

In mid-January, the authorities were already claiming that herd immunity in Petersburg, according to various calculation methods, was at either 88% or 100%. Bumaga discovered then that they were talking about a portion of the total number of the city’s residents. Read more here.

Screen shot from the animated series Masha and the Bear

https://t.me/RKadyrov_95/1240

[February 14, 2022]

Dear compatriots! So as not to give my detractors cause for hysteria that I am exceeding my powers, I officially declare that this is my personal opinion, the humble opinion of Russian citizen Ramzan Kadyrov.

In my appeal there are two messages to two addressees — to the Ukrainian authorities and to the Ukrainian people.

Mr. Zelensky! The time for clowning has come to an end. The hour has come to fulfill one’s duty to one’s own people in order to avoid irreversible consequences. That is, today, more than ever, there is a need to implement the Minsk Accords, which were signed not only by the President of Russia, but also by the President of Ukraine. The strict implementation of the provisions spelled out in this document is the first important step in a political settlement of the growing confrontation not only between our countries, but also in reducing general tension in the global sense of the word. In this regard, you, as the guarantor of the Constitution and the security of your people and state, are simply obliged to do everything in your power to avoid bloodshed and establish peace. President Vladimir Putin and the peoples of Russia do not want war: we know firsthand the meaning of this terrible word. Be reasonable, Mr. Zelensky!

And now I want to address Ukrainians. My dear ones! I love Ukraine and its kind people. From the Soviet history class that I took at school, I know that Kievan Rus is the cradle of Russian statehood and Orthodoxy. Russians and Ukrainians are a single Slavic people with a common history, culture and religion. I will never believe that Ukrainians consider themselves part of the so-called Western world with all its degenerate “values” and Russophobic hysteria. Yes, that’s right, despite the fact that the current anti-national regime and its propaganda are doing everything to erase this sense of community. Somewhere in the depths of my soul I have a glimmer of hope that this historical justice [sic] will be restored by the Ukrainian people themselves without anyone’s help from outside. It cannot be that the spiritual and historical heirs of the great Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky and the brilliant writer Nikolai Gogol would not want eternal peace with fraternal Russia!

https://t.me/RKadyrov_95/1241

[February 15, 2022]

I fully support the decision of the State Duma to ask the President of the Russian Federation to recognize the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

I believe that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief will grant the request and our country will recognize the independent status of both republics. Vladimir Vladimirovich is a far-sighted and wise politician. I think he will definitely take such an important step for the advent of peace.

I am sure that this is not only my opinion, but also that of the majority of Russians. Residents of the DPR and LPR have been living under the yoke of lawlessness for many years, their right to self-determination ignored. In this situation, it is recognition of independence that will determine their status in the international arena and put an end to many years of confrontation and bloodshed.

The Chechen people perfectly remember what mayhem, violence and continuous fighting can lead to. We clearly remember the unenviable feeling of hopelessness and believe that only such a logical endpoint will save the inhabitants of these two republics.

A large-scale information campaign has been launched against Russia and the two republics. Every day, fakes [sic] are disseminated about a new date for the crossing of the Ukrainian border by Russian troops and the declaration of war. But everyone has forgotten that Ukraine has been waging such a war with its neighbors for eight years. The foreign media prefer to keep quiet about this.

If officials in Kiev are not going to implement the Minsk Accords, are not attempting to settle the issue peacefully, issue, are heating up the situation, and not looking for ways to solve the crisis, then it is more than logical that our President Vladimir Putin should take over the peacekeeping mission in this difficult political situation.

Peace will come to Donetsk and Lugansk after you say your WORD, Vladimir Vladimirovich!

https://t.me/tass_agency/108662

[February 15, 2022, 1:11 pm]

Russia will not abandon the residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics alone in the event of an invasion of their territory by the Ukrainian army — the response will be commensurate with the scale of aggression, Federation Council Chair Valentina Matviyenko said.

https://t.me/tass_agency/108663

[February 15, 2022, 1:13 pm]

Valentina Matviyenko called even the idea of a war with Ukraine wild, noting that Russia would do everything on its part to prevent such a development of events.

“Our position has been clearly set out by the head of the Russian state: for our part, we will do everything so that there is no war with Ukraine. Not today, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, never!” said the speaker of the Federation Council in an interview with Parlamentskaya Gazeta.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Smart Voting

Ivan Astashin
Facebook
February 15, 2022

Just an hour ago, the State Duma voted in favor of a bill recognizing the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic — the Kremlin-controlled southeastern regions of Ukraine. Now, if the bill is approved, troops can be sent to the region under the pretext of an appeal to Putin by the leaders of the “independent republics.” However, I am not a military or political analyst, so I will not fantasize overmuch.

But I will note this. The bill was introduced by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation — for which supporters of “Smart Voting” and even some libertarians were so hot to trot [in the autumn 2021 parliamentary elections]. I had written earlier that we are definitely not traveling the same road as the Communist Party, that it is just as much a part of the system as United Russia. Now, it seems, no one should have any doubts that сooperating with the Communist Party in any way is tantamount to cooperating with the regime.

Ivan Astashin is a former Russian political prisoner whose story you can read here. Translated by the Russian Reader

It’s strange how horrified most of my Russian friends and acquaintances are by everything happening in and around Russia even as these same events elicit the opposite reaction from go-to western Putin understanders well out of harm’s way. Source: Responsible Statecraft. Screenshot by the Russian Reader

Russian Parliament Backs Plan to Recognize Breakaway Ukrainian Regions
Felix Light
Moscow Times
February 15, 2022

Russia’s State Duma on Tuesday backed a resolution calling for diplomatic recognition of Eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian Donbas People’s Republics, raising tensions between Russia and Ukraine another notch, even as Russian troops began a partial withdrawal from the Ukrainian border.

The Russian parliament’s motion calls for President Vladimir Putin to formally recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, both of which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014. No other country currently recognizes the republics as sovereign states.

The motion, initially proposed by the Communist parliamentary opposition, attracted support from across the Duma’s five parties, including from speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.

“Firefights are continuing, people are dying,” Volodin said on the Telegram messenger app in the run-up to the vote.

“We must find a solution.”

The resolution is not binding, and will now be sent to Putin for feedback.

Continue reading “Smart Voting”

The Snows of Yesteryear

I hate to be a killjoy to my friends on [Facebook] who think that heavy snow in Russia in February is an anomaly or evidence of climate change. It isn’t.

A lack of heavy or normal snowfalls in Russia in February is an anomaly and evidence of climate change.

Here in Ingria, we’ve been plagued by scant snow since the infamous “anomalous” winter of 2010, which got our former governor Valentina Matviyenko upmoted to the speakership of the Federation Council after the Petersburg city government, over which “Valya Stakanchik” then reigned, proved incapable of doing simple things like clearing the snow from the sidewalks and rooftops for months on end, something that had not been a problem for the city government in the so-called savage nineties. (Go figure, eh?)

This complete collapse of normal snow removal led, among other things, to the flooding of thousands of flats in the city center and scenes reminiscent of the Siege of Leningrad, when snow removal had also ground to a halt, but for very different reasons.

Petersburgers of all shapes and sizes were at their wit’s end and utterly pissed off at Ms. Matviyenko and her completely feckless administration.

So, the following summer, after an impromptu election in two obscure city districts was unexpectedly called and duly rigged, so everything would be “legal,” President Putin upmoted Ms. Matviyenko to the Federation Council (people from his inner circle can never be fired outright, no matter how bad they mess up), replacing her with the dull KGB veteran Georgy Poltavchenko, whose administration has been blessed by a series of nearly snowless winters or by winters in which the snow melts wholly and completely the day after it falls.

In any case, my boon companion just telephoned me and told me to go out in this mess and snap more pictures. ||| TRR, February 4, 2018. Photos by the Russian Reader

(A Quiet) Civil War

(A Quiet) Civil WarDictionary of War, Novi Sad edition, January 25–26, 2008

My concept is “civil war”— or rather, “a quiet (civil war).” Another variant might be: cold civil war. I will talk about how the (global) economy of war—hot war, cold war, civil war—is experienced by victims and bystanders in a place seemingly far from actual frontlines. In reality, the frontlines are everywhere—running down the middle of every street, crisscrossing hearts and minds. This permanent war is connected to the project that posits the presence of civil society in one part of the world, while also asserting the necessity of building civil society in other parts of the world where allegedly uncivil social, political, and economic arrangements have been or have to be abolished. The real effect of this high-minded engineering is the destruction of people, classes, and lifestyles whose continued survival in the new order is understood (but hardly ever stated) to be either problematic or unnecessary. The agents of this destruction are varied—from random street crime, assassinations, inflation, alcoholism, factory and institute closures, to pension and healthcare reform, the entertainment and news industry, and urban renovation. The place I will talk about is Russia and Saint Petersburg, where I have lived for much of the past fourteen years. My concept is intended as a memorial to a few victims and local eyewitnesses of this war—people I either know personally or came to know about through the stories of friends or other encounters. I will also sketch the tentative connections between that civil war and the troubles in this part of the world; and, very briefly, show how the victors in this war claim their spoils.

This term—(a quiet) civil war—was suggested to me by the Petersburg poet Alexander Skidan during a conversation we had last spring. I had been telling Alexander about the recent murder of my friend Alexei Viktorov. Alexei is fated to remain a mere footnote in Russian art history. I mean this literally: in a new book, Alexei is correctly identified as the schoolmate of the Diaghilev of Petersburg perestroika art, Timur Novikov, and the painter Oleg Kotelnikov. I met Alexei in 1996, when Oleg let me live in his overly hospitable studio in the famous artists squat at Pushkinskaya-10. Alexei showed up a few weeks later. He had spent the summer in the woods, living off mushrooms and whatever edibles he could find. In his youth, he had acquired the nickname Труп (Corpse). With his gaunt features and skinny frame, he certainly looked the part. As I would soon discover, he was one of the gentlest men on earth. He was also a terrific blues guitarist. And he was the first Hare Krishna in Leningrad and, perhaps, the entire Soviet Union—which was quite a feat, considering that his conversion took place in the dark ages of the seventies.

Last winter, friends chipped in on a plane ticket, and Alexei was able to fulfill a lifelong dream and travel to India. When he and his companions arrived at the Krishna temple, Alexei was greeted by the community as a conquering hero. Since Alexei’s life had been quite miserable of late back home, his friends insisted that he stay behind in India. Instead, he decided to return to Petersburg. A few days after his arrival home he was walking from the subway in the northern Lakes district of the city to the house of a friend. Along the way he was attacked—the police say by a gang of teenagers. The teenagers beat Alexei within an inch of his life and pushed him into a ravine. The police investigator guessed that Alexei had lain unconscious for some time. When he came to, he had apparently struggled to raise his battered body up and clamber out of the ravine; in his struggle, he had for some reason started tearing off his clothes, perhaps because his rib cage and chest were so badly crushed that he was suffocating. His body was discovered a couple days later. The police held it for another few days while they completed their investigation, which led to no arrests. Alexei’s funeral was held a few days afterwards at the Smolensk Cemetery on Vasilievsky Island. He was buried a few hundred meters from the grave of his schoolmate Timur Novikov, who died in 2002.

It was this story that prompted Alexander Skidan’s remark to me: “A quiet civil war has been going on here.” What did Alexander have in mind? What could the random albeit violent murder of a single human being have in common with the explicitly political and massively violent struggles that have taken place here in the former Yugoslavia and such parts of the former Soviet Union as Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia, Tajikistan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Chechnya? How could Alexei—who, as the Russian saying has it, lived “quieter than the water, lower than the grass”—be viewed as an enemy combatant in such a war? Can we really compare his unknown assailants to representatives of the opposite warring party? Given what they did to him, it is clear that they viewed Alexei as their enemy—an enemy subject to sudden, violent execution when encountered in the proper (hidden, invisible) setting.

I anticipate serious objections to my line of argumentation. One such objection I have already heard in the person of my friend Igor. Igor, whose father is Ossetian, and whose mother is Ukrainian, grew up in Dushanbe, which was then the capital of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. I have never been to Dushanbe, but I have heard Igor describe it so many times in such glowing terms that I have come to think of it as heaven on earth. While I am sure that much of the paradisiacal tone in Igor’s recollections has to do with temporal and physical distance, it really does seem that the Dushanbe of the sixties and seventies was a kind of cosmopolitan oasis—a place where all sorts of forced or voluntary exiles from all imaginable Soviet ethnic communities and other cities ended up living in something like harmony.

This harmony bore the name “Soviet Union,” and Igor himself has often seemed to me the ideal homo soveticus (in the positive, internationalist sense of that term), a person to whom the refrain of the popular song—“My address isn’t a street or a building, my address is the Soviet Union”—fits perfectly. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Igor was the country’s leading expert on the seismic stability of electrical substations. From the onset of the Tajik civil war, in the early nineties, Igor was unable to return to Dushanbe. This had to do with the fact that in his internal Soviet passport, his place of birth was identified as Khorog, the capital of the Pamir region, which is where some of the “anti-government” forces had their power base. If Igor had returned to Dushanbe, he could easily have been stopped by soldiers during a documents check and executed on the spot. This is what happened to a number of his friends and schoolmates.

After the war was over, Igor’s father was able to reclaim the family home near Vladikavkaz, in Northern Ossetia, which had been confiscated by the authorities when Igor’s grandfather had been executed as an enemy of the people in the thirties. Northern Ossetia was a relative oasis during the nineties, despite the fact that Chechnya and Ingushetia were just over the mountains and neighboring Southern Ossetia had broken away from Georgia. This relative calm came to an abrupt end in September 2004, when terrorists besieged the school in neighboring Beslan. During the siege, members of Igor’s extended family were killed.

This is how Igor puts it: “Civil war is when the bus you’re on is stopped by soldiers and some of the passengers are taken off to be shot. And you sit there in the bus listening to the sound of gunfire and waiting for it to be over so that you can continue on your way. That’s civil war. What you’re talking about is not civil war.” Igor is certainly right.

He is also wrong in another sense. The quiet civil war I am describing here—among whose victims, I claim, was our friend Alexei—draws its energy and some of its methods from the real civil wars that have been fought in the hinterlands that are literally unthinkable to folks in such seemingly safe, prosperous places as Petersburg and Moscow. An immediate consequence of the siege in Beslan was that President Putin abolished gubernatorial elections in the Russian Federation’s eighty-four regions and federal cities. This, it was argued, would strengthen Moscow’s control—its so-called power vertical—over local officials whose incompetence and corruption had led, supposedly, to guerrillas infiltrating Beslan and capturing the school with such ease. Meanwhile, the civil wars and socioeconomic collapse in places like Tajikistan have led to a flood of refugees and migrant workers into Central Russia and its two capitals. The booming building trade in Moscow and Petersburg to a great degree now depends on the abundant, cheap supply of workers from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and other former Soviet republics.

These workers are literally visible everywhere nowadays: with the oil economy fueling a tidal wave of consumerism whose major players have now turned to real estate as an outlet for investing their wealth, the capitals have become gigantic construction sites. And yet the conditions of their work and their lives are just as literally invisible. For example, Tajik workers and other darker-skinned Central Asians and Caucasians are subjected to frequent, unnecessary documents checks in public places such as subway stations. This is something that every Petersburger and Muscovite has seen ten thousand times, but it is also something they pretend not to see, judging by the lack of public reaction to the practice. Even less reaction is generated by neo-Nazi attacks on such workers, other foreigners, members of Russia’s ethnic minorities, and anti-fascist activists, which have become more and more common in the past several years.

I want to paint one more, brief verbal portrait of another victim in this quiet civil war. This portrait is connected with the violence inflicted on this city and other parts of Serbia during the NATO bombing campaign of 1999. The official and popular reaction in Russia to this violence was quite harsh. There were massive demonstrations outside the US embassy in Moscow; unknown assailants even fired a grenade into an empty office at the embassy. What surprised me were the more spontaneous reactions to the bombings. One day, a young American artist and I were standing in the courtyard of the squat at Pushkinskaya-10 chatting with a local artist. Two acquaintances of ours—members of a well-regarded alternative theater troupe—entered the courtyard. When they saw us, they shouted, “Don’t talk to those Americans! They’re bombing our Serbian brothers!” Since they said all this with a smile, it was hard to know to what extent we were supposed to take their warning as a “joke.”

It occurred to me then that a fundamental shift was occurring in the consciousness of Russians who had been, both in practical and philosophical terms, “westernizers” and “liberals” not long before. That this shift was also extending into the “masses” was confirmed for me a few days later. Late one night, I suddenly heard a drunken-sounding young man yelling up to an apartment across the street: “Masha! Goddammit, come downstairs and let me in!” Since repeated requests had no apparent effect on the silent, invisible Masha, the young man became more explicit in declaring his unhappiness with Masha’s thwarting of his affections. “Masha, you fucking bitch, come down and let me in! You’re breaking my fucking heart!” The turn the man’s soliloquy took next, however, signaled to me that we all were living in a new world. “Masha, go fuck yourself! NATO, go fuck yourselves!” (Маша, пошла ты в жопу! Блок НАТО, пошли вы в жопу!) This effusive condemnation of Masha and NATO continued for some time, after which the thwarted lover fell silent or fell over drunk.

If I had known that I would be invited to speak at this conference nine years later, I would have recorded the whole performance. Instead of speaking to you now, I would have played back the recording in full. Not in order to make fun of the young man whose heart had been broken in two by the combined forces of Masha and NATO, but so that you could hear what the quiet civil war I am trying to talk about sounds like. This is what I meant when I said, at the beginning of my remarks, that the frontlines in this new kind of war cross through hearts and minds and run down the middle of streets. This is not what happens when civil society breaks down; it is what happens when “civil society” is a code word (pronounced and enacted in tandem with other code words such as “democracy” and “liberal economy”) used to camouflage the incursion into the city of invading forces. The new regime they have come to establish can in reality do quite happily without “civil society,” democracy, and liberalism. But these words and the real actions taken and deals made behind their smokescreen are quite effective in destroying the historic and imaginary forms of solidarity that might have given folks like our unhappy young lover the means to defend themselves somehow. Instead, we end up with the muddle in our heads that lets us imagine that Masha and NATO are allied against us. Or that NATO is bringing democracy and security to Afghanistan. Or that, instead, to thwart NATO’s expansion to the east we have to round up Georgian restaurant workers and deport them back to Georgia—which, paradoxically, used to be nearly every Russian’s favorite place on earth.

As Alexander Skidan himself told me, the NATO bombing campaign of 1999 really had destroyed the illusions that he and most everyone else he knew had both about the west and about the meaning of the radical transformation of Russian society that was carried out under the banner of a rapprochement with the west and a leap forward into liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism. What Alexander and his friends saw as the west’s treachery in the Kosovo crisis had thrown a new retrospective light on a period they had until then been experiencing as a golden age for artists and ambitious young people like themselves—an age of unprecedented opportunity for self-expression at home and dizzying trips abroad. Why hadn’t the massive immiseration and unemployment of the post-Soviet population during the early nineties produced this same enlightenment? Or the violent disbanding of the Russian parliament, in 1993? Or the first war in Chechnya? Or the fact that, in Alexander’s case, his own father, a professor at the city’s shipbuilding institute, had gone in a matter of a year or two from being a respected member of his society to being an outmoded nobody who had to struggle to survive? Somehow, Alexander and his kind had noticed all this, of course, and not seen it. Or seen it and decided that these were the sort of temporary measures and necessary obstacles on the road to a better future. As he sees it now, the whole point of the Russian nineties was to decommission and eliminate whole sections of the population—teachers, doctors, factory workers, the poor, the aging, the less ambitious, and the more gullible. And this civil war, which continues to this day, paved the way to the quite logically illiberal current regime.

Which of course is wholly staffed by the victors in the quiet civil war of the nineties—not by the victims, whose victimhood is converted into ever-greater quantities of political, symbolic, and real capital by those same victors. Thus, the current favorite to win the Russian presidential elections in March announced the other day that his goal was to create a strong civil society where the freedoms and rights of all citizens would be cherished and protected.

This is one way to cash in your chips at the end of a successful quiet civil war. But our globalizing economy is such that you can even profit from someone else’s civil wars. My favorite new example of such capitalization is the American alternative band Beirut, the brainchild of 22-year-old Zach Condon, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Overly sensitive types might wonder how you grow up in peaceful Santa Fe and end up calling your band Beirut—but as we Americans love to say, It’s a free country.[1] (In its article on the band’s “Balkan-inspired” debut album, Gulag Orkestar, Wikipedia helpfully explains that the “Gulag was a system of Russian [corrective labor camps] in Siberia.”)

It is too much to expect that alternative radio stations would play, instead of Beirut’s fake Balkan wedding music, the 1999 lament of Masha’s spurned lover. Besides, I didn’t have the good sense to record it and release it as an album.


[1] “One of the reasons I named the band after that city was the fact that it’s seen a lot of conflict. It’s not a political position. I worried about that from the beginning. But it was such a catchy name. I mean, if things go down that are truly horrible, I’ll change it. But not now. It’s still a good analogy for my music. I haven’t been to Beirut, but I imagine it as this chic urban city surrounded by the ancient Muslim world. The place where things collide.” Rachel Syme, “Beirut: The Band,” New York, 6 August 2006.

Hunting Season

Since no one wants to ask me to comment on [Valery] Rashkin and the moose, I will tell you myself.

This is punishment for disloyalty. Rashkin flirted with the Navalnists and now, after the elections, he is being punished. Punishment is the only means available to the authorities to react to disloyalty and it concerns everyone involved in the process, not just the opposition. Remember what happened to Poklonskaya.

I emphasize that, in this situation, talking about Rashkin’s personal qualities, alcoholism or hunting is simply meaningless, or rather inappropriate, because talking nonsense diverts the conversation away from the main point — the political terror practiced by the authorities.

Anyone who pokes their head up even a little bit is immediately pulled out, strung up and skinned real good. This is a metaphor for animal husbandry, not hunting. Don’t say that I’m exaggerating — it’s still terror, intimidation and the destruction of even minimal nodes of [anti-regime] organization. The authorities don’t need to engage in mass killings yet, because the opposition is peaceful and manageable.

P.S. Hunting should not be banned, but the use of weapons in hunting should be prohibited. if you want to kill a moose, go ahead: you have teeth and two legs.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Valery Rashkin, pictured during a Russian parliament session in March 2020. AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin/Euronews

Valery Rashkin: Russian MP accused of illegal hunting after elk carcass found in car
Euronews
October 29, 2021

A Russian MP has been accused of illegal hunting after the remains of an elk were found in his car.

Valery Rashkin, a politician for the opposition Communist party, told Russian media that he was stopped by police while driving in Russia’s Saratov region.

Rashkin has stated that he and his companion did not shoot the animal and had planned to report the matter to the authorities.

“I believe this is a provocation,” he told the independent broadcaster RTVI on Friday.

Russian police said they were alerted to gunfire in the Lysogorsk district, 900 kilometres east of Moscow, and found a car at the scene of the incident.

“During the inspection of the car, the police found fragments of an elk carcass, an ax, and two knives with traces of blood,” they said in a statement.

The two men inside the car said they had only found the animal’s shot carcass and had “decided to butcher it,” police added.

The driver of the vehicle also refused to undergo a test for alcohol at the scene. Authorities later discovered two weapons cases, hidden in a bush near the remains of the elk.

“In one of them there was a hunting rifle with a night vision sight, and in the second there was a tripod and cartridges,” the police said.

“In addition, the cases contain a weapon permit and a hunting ticket issued in the name of V.F. Rashkin.”

“A criminal case was initiated on the fact of illegal hunting,” the regional interior ministry said in a statement.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said they had taken over the case following “great public outcry”.

“The involvement of the deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, Valery Rashkin, in the incident is being verified,” they added in a statement.

As a Russian MP, Raskhin holds immunity from prosecution but lawmakers can be stripped of that privilege by a vote in parliament.

He could also be dismissed by the Duma if found guilty of hunting without a license, which carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.

Rashkin recently took part in several demonstrations, claiming that the Russian parliamentary elections were marred by electoral voting fraud.

Flattening the Curve: Why Official Russian Covid Stats Can’t Be Trusted

Covid isn’t scary anymore: how the authorities stopped reckoning with the coronavirus when it suited them
Tatiana Torocheshnikova
TV Rain
October 15, 2021

The Russian authorities are often criticized for ignoring the pandemic to the good of the political conjuncture. It was with an eye to politics, and not to the numbers for illnesses and deaths caused by covid-19, according to critics, that decisions were made to hold a referendum on amending the Constitution and lift covid restrictions in the run-up to the referendum last year. The same criticism was leveled against the Crimea annexation anniversary concert in March of this year at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and the Euro 2020 matches and the Crimson Sails event held in Petersburg. How justified is this criticism? To answer this question, TV Rain studied the covid-19 task force’s official data on coronavirus infections and deaths, as well as Rosstat’s data on mortality from the spring of 2020 to the autumn of this year.

“A number of large shopping centers have already received a warning this week. And work on monitoring compliance with the mask mandate will be intensified and implemented even more vigorously,” Alexei Nemeryuk, head of the Moscow department of trade and services, said on Monday, September 27, a week after the elections to the State Duma. A week later, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin noted that the spread of the coronavirus caused “serious concern,” while the head of the consumer and public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said that the situation was “extremely tense.”

By this time, the decline in the number of new covid-19 cases, which had continued since late July, had stopped and an uptickd had begun. A similar surge in morbidity was observed in mid-June, when the more contagious delta variant began to sweep Russia. The two other waves of covid-19 epidemic occurred in the spring and autumn/winter of 2020.

How the authorities first reckoned with covid waves, then stopped
If we superimpose the most important events for the authorities in 2020 — the 75th Victory Day Parade and the vote on the Constitution — on the curve tracking incidence of the coronavirus, we can see that both events were held after the first wave of covid-19 had subsided. As this graph bears out, there was no increase in infections after these events either.

The situation was different this year. Only some of the Kremlin’s high-profile events took place in favorable epidemiological circumstances. The concert in Luzhniki, attended by Vladimir Putin, was held at a time when the increase in new cases of covid-19 was at the lowest level for this year. The same can be said about the 2021 Victory Day parade.

A new coronavirus wave kicked off in mid-June, but this did not prevent the authorities from holding UEFA Euro 2020 group stage matches, which ended on the crest of the wave of infections, in Petersburg. It would be difficult to call favorable the numbers of new infections during Petersburg’s Crimson Sails celebration for school-leavers. The cancellation of QR codes in Moscow in late July is also difficult to explain in terms of positive morbidity figures.

Coronavirus infections in Russia between March 2020 and September 2021. Key public events (and cancelled events) during this period are identified and marked in red, including the 2020 Victory Day parade in Moscow, the constitutional referendum in July 2020, the Crimson Sails celebration in Petersburg in June 2021, and parliamentary elections in September 2021. Courtesy of TV Rain

Can we trust official data on numbers of infections?
During the pandemic, demographers and epidemiologists have repeatedly drawn attention to the peculiar numbers issued by the covid-19 task force. “I always start the conversation like this: forget that there is a task force. It is pointless to discuss that today, for some reason, there were exactly one thousand fewer or more cases recorded than yesterday. Why? Because. Because the gladiolus. Because that’s the figure they thought up yesterday,” says independent demographer Alexei Raksha, one of the principal critics of the official figures. Back in July 2020, after the vote on amending the Constitution, he noted an unusual drop in the number of infections. “In late June [2020], we were told that there had been a certain decline in even symptomatic cases, and then the numbers went up again after July 1,” Raksha said.

The 2003 KVN skit by the Ural Dumplings that gave birth to the “Because the gladiolus” meme.

In his opinion, internet searches are the most accurate indicator of covid-19’s spread. “The incidence curve lags way behind. I use only Yandex searches — for example, searches for ‘sense of smell’ reflect the trends better than others,” he explains.

Trends for coronavirus-related searches on Yandex between March 2020 and September 2021. The searches tracked during this period included the following terms: “antibodies,” “second wave,” “call an ambulance,” “home food delivery,” “how to avoid infection,” “buy antiseptic,” “buy mask and respirator,” “coronavirus treatment,” “loss of smell,” “oxygen saturation monitor,” “get tested,”  “coronavirus symptoms,” “what to do at home,” and “what to do if ambulance doesn’t come.” Source: Yandex/TV Rain

Experts have named several possible factors for distortions in the official statistics. “First, the counting is done differently in different regions, and the epidemic moves across the country from month to month. And second, even within a particular region, the local covid-19 task force sometimes starts to do a better job of counting over time — maybe they import more tests, or they start cheating less,” says Dmitry Kobak, a data researcher from the University of Tübingen in Germany. According to him, it is also possible that the covid-19 task forces in some regions report “retroactively” — that is, for example, they issue the stats for July deaths in August.

“No one knows what deaths, exactly, are reported by the task force,” adds Sergey Timonin, a researcher at the International Laboratory for Population and Health at the Higher School of Economics. “I am not aware of regulatory documents that would explain this.”

Kobak draws attention to the fact that since the regions have started publishing statistics, so-called plateaus have regularly appeared in the data, that is, when the number of deaths has remained the same for several days, or even weeks. In September, similar “plateaus” — with the daily number of deaths hovering around 800 — appeared in the overall statistics for the country. “Previously, they showed up only within individual regions. This is interesting: it means that if the stats used to be fudged at the regional level and were added up afterwards, now, apparently, someone has been adjusting the figures after or while summing them up [for the whole country],” explains Kobak.

Verifying official mortality statistics
To get an objective picture of the coronavirus pandemic, experts use the excess mortality rate, which is the difference between real deaths and Rosstat’s forecast (that is, the number of deaths that we would expect if there were no pandemic), which, in turn, is calculated based on mortality data from previous years.

Calculations made by Alexei Raksha specially for TV Rain show that, by the end of 2020, there had been nearly 360 thousand excess deaths in Russia. At this time, the covid-19 task force’s death toll was about six times less — around 57 thousand deaths. By September 2021, excess mortality figures exceeded 675 thousand, but the covid-19 task force reported 180 thousand deaths for this same period. Since there have been no other major factors that could have had a strong impact on the life expectancy of Russians in the last two years, experts concede that it was the coronavirus that caused the serious increase in mortality in the country.

If the excess deaths graph is superimposed on the infections graph, as based on the task force’s data, we can see that they are roughly comparable. Raksha confirms this: the morbidity statistics for Russia as a whole “to some extent reflect reality when squinted at from three meters.” However, Raksha draws attention to the fact that excess mortality has been running chronologically ahead of the task force’s morbidity statistics. This may indicate that the latter are being heavily fudged, the demographer argues.

The trends for excess mortality (in dark blue, as reported by Rosstat), deaths caused by covid-19 (light blue) and covid-19 infections (pink), as reported by the Russian covid task force, between May 2020 and August 2021

The situation is different with the official data on mortality due to covid-19. When the covid-19 task force’s date is combined with Rosstat’s figures, the two curves radically diverge.

At the same time, the “hump” on the excess mortality graph in July 2020 stands out amid falling numbers of infections. Raksha believes that part of the increase in excess mortality that month was caused by the heatwave in the Urals. In his opinion, however, this factor could have added no more than five thousand deaths across the country. The rest of the difference, according to Raksha, is explained by the deliberate “flattening” of the task force’s official data.

Nevertheless, the covid-19 task force’s figures remain the only official data source available to Russians on a daily basis. And as follows from the graphs, above, this year the Russian authorities finally stopped using even these numbers as a guide when making decisions on holding large-scale events.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Just as I was finishing this post, Mark Teeter brought to my attention this article on the same subject (also featuring Alexei Raksha) in today’s edition of the Washington Post.