In the new episode of the project "The Last Line" Chulpan Khamatova again recites the verse of Alya Khaitlina. In today's poem, she reflects on responsibility, guilt and humility. Already in the first stanza she asks a rhetorical question that many of us have asked and continue to ask ourselves: "Whose fault is it all?"
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Until nightfall, until nausea, you think, what should be done?
Bags under your eyes, a mouse in a noose in your fridge.
Whose fault is it all? It’s probably yours.
Someone has to take the rap [responsibility] already, right?
You loved the wrong folk. You sought the wrong ways.
At a party you wrinkled your nose and didn’t finish dessert.
Something like this was bound to happen,
Throwing us back a thousand years.
Let them take me away, let them say it's her,
Let them send me to prison, spit on me and sling mud.
But just let this terrible war stop,
Let it live on only in books — in Cyrillic, in Braille, in frilly fonts.
Let them send me to the back of beyond.
To where hell freezes over, to where nothing ever gets off the ground.
Just let the belligerents stop shooting right now,
Let them all drop off the radar, fizzle out, dissolve.
I’ll be doing time in prison, I’ll be sweeping floors,
And at night, to get to sleep, I’ll look at the flock
Of living, lively children who were saved.
Let them hate me if they will.
But let them grow up.
Source: "'Responsibility.' Chulpan Khamatova, Alya Khaitlina. Last Line Project," Spektr Press (YouTube), 27 January 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. Ms. Khamatova lives in Riga. Ms. Khaitlina, according to her Facebook page, lives in Munich.
Petersburg law enforcement officers interrupted a solo picket of activist Alevtina Vasilyeva, who took up position facing Gostiny Dvor holding a placard featuring a popular pacifist slogan. This was reported by the human rights project OVD Info, which cited her spouse.
The police took Vasilyeva to the 28th police precinct [a few blocks from my house, which I haven’t seen for four years now].
Apparently, the picketer faces a fine for “discrediting the army” (per Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code). The maximum possible [fine for this offense] is 50 thousand rubles.
UPDATE, 3:35 p.m. Vasilyeva was released from the precinct after being cited for “discrediting the army.”
Does it make sense to torch military enlistment offices? The short answer is no. And here’s why not.
From the outset of the mobilization in Russia, military enlistment offices have been targeted by arson attacks. We realized that this appears striking and effective and may seem like a good way to voice your protest. But is this really the case? Let’s unpack it.
1. It is ineffective. Most often, arson does not damage individual records in any way — the fire is either put out in time, or there is no fire at all. There are no exact statistics here, but an analysis of news reports about the arson attacks confirms that in most cases they didn’t accomplish anything.
Moreover, the authorities have now started digitizing conscript databases, which will soon render the destruction of paper files meaningless.
2. It involves very (!) high risks. Statistics show that arsonists are very often tracked down by the police: 48% of activists involved in arson attacks have been detained.
If you are caught, a criminal case and a hefty prison sentence are virtually inevitable. Moreover, these arson attacks are most often charged as “terrorism” — and the people charged face up to fifteen years in prison if convicted.
3. It endangers others. Military enlistment offices are often guarded, which means that the watchmen may suffer. In addition, military enlistment offices are sometimes located in or near residential buildings, and the fire can spread to them.
4. There are other ways to resist that are safer and more effective. Considering all of the above, simply talking to friends and relatives (and writing on social media) about how to avoid mobilization seems to be a much more effective and safer means of resistance.
We have compiled a complete list of methods of online and offline resistance here.
What protest methods you choose is your decision alone, of course. But we urge you to be aware and prudent in this matter and not to give in to emotions. Much more good comes from activists who aren’t in jail.
On January 11, Vesna surprised me more than ever. Have you already read the post [translated, above] with (almost) the same name?
I’ll admit that I didn’t even know about this movement until February 24. But after the start of they full-scale invasion, they proved their mettle, unlike other public movements. From the earliest days of the war, they spoke out against the invasion and urged people to protest. Vesna announced mass protests while other liberal democratic organizations took no decisive action. Neither [Alexei Navalny’s] Anti-Corruption Foundation nor [opposition liberal party] Yabloko, for example, supported the call for mass street protests then. Vesna called for and was involved in the protests themselves, for which its members were persecuted and the movement was designated “extremist” by the authorities.
I try not to criticize methods and approaches to anti-war protests: everyone has the right to protest and resist as they are able and see fit. Today, however I want to speak critically about Vesna and respond to the piece, entitled “Does it make sense to torch military enlistment offices? The short answer is no. And here’s why not.”
Let’s analyze the arguments made in the post.
1. Ineffectiveness. Vesna claims that torching military enlistment offices makes no sense, since military enlistment records are not destroyed as a result of these actions. Indeed, many arson attacks on military enlistment offices have caused quite superficial damage: the flames did not spread into the offices where the paper files of conscripts might have been stored. However, this has not always been the case. For example, as a result of the actions taken by Ilya Farber (a village schoolteacher), the room in a military enlistment office where official documents were stored was destroyed by fire, as was a room at a recruiting office containing the personal belongings of employees. Moreover, we should bear in mind that the authorities and propagandists have a stake in downplaying the damage from such attacks.
When analyzing direct actions, it is also important to take into account what the guerrillas themselves say, and not to talk about the abstract results of possible actions. Did they want to destroy records at all? Moreover, it is not only military enlistment offices that are set on fire. For example, Bogdan Ziza, who threw a Molotov cocktail into a municipal administration building in Crimea, explained his motives as follows: “[I did it] so that those who are against this war, who are sitting at home and are afraid to voice their opinion, see that they are not alone.” And Alexei Rozhkov, who torched a military enlistment office on March 11, argues that the actions of guerrillas forced the authorities to withdraw conscripts from the combat zone.
If we talk about effectiveness in terms of direct action, then Vesna’s criticism is patently ridiculous: the movement has never proposed direct action tactics. If the railway saboteurs, for example, argued that torching military enlistment offices was “ineffective,” that would be a different conversation.
As for the digitization of draftee records, at the moment there is no information that it has been successfully implemented, except for claims by the authorities about staring the process. On the basis of the first wave of mobilization, the Moscow Times explained why rapid digitization of the Russian draft registration system is impossible under present conditions.
2. High risks. Indeed, people are persecuted for torching military enlistment offices. But anything else you do to counteract the Russian military machine is also fraught with high risks. You can now get a long stint in prison for the things you say. Not only Moscow municipal district councilor Alexei Gorinov (7 years) and politician Ilya Yashin (8.5 years) but also Vologda engineer [sic] Vladimir Rumyantsev (3 years) have already been handed harsh prison sentences for, allegedly, disseminating “fake news” about the army. To date, these sentences have been even harsher than those already handed down for anti-war arson. It is impossible to assess in which case it would be easier for the state to track you down and persecute you — after you torched a military enlistment office, or after you publicly posted the truth about the war. It all depends, primarily, on the security precautions you take.
3. Endangering lives. Vesna’s arguments on this score completely echo the wording of pro-government media and prosecutors’ speeches: allegedly, when a military enlistment office is torched, people could get hurt. Attention! Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, guerrillas have carried out more than eighty anti-war arson attacks and not a single living being has been harmed! The guerrillas carry out their actions at night and plan attacks so that people do not get hurt. This is how they are discussed on the direct action Telegram channels, and the guerrillas themselves say the same thing.
4, Unsafe and ineffective. As an alternative to arson, Vesna suggests educating friends and relatives about how to avoid mobilization. Educating is, of course, an important and necessary thing to do. However, it alone is not enough to stop the war. They mention no other effective methods of resistance in their post.
I would suggest that you draw your own conclusions.
Finally, I have a few wishes. If you are planning any action that the state may regard as a criminal offense — a guerrilla action or an anti-war statement — please assess the risks and take all possible security precautions. To do this, use the guides that have been compiled online and study the know-how of forerunners. Keep in mind that even this may not be enough. Recommendations on physical security from the Combat Organization of Anarcho-Communists (BOAK) can be found in this article published DOXA. And to learn the basics of digital security, take a look the website Security in a Box.
You can find even more guides to security on the internet: don’t neglect perusing them and follow the rules they establish daily. The time you spend working through questions of security will in any case be less than the time spent in police custody in the event of your arrest after a protest action or a careless statement on the internet.
Study the safety guides mentioned in the introduction, if you thought it was not so important or had put it off for later.
How сan you take your minds off things?
Listen to the 10th edition of the podcast Zhenskii srok (“Women’s Prison Stint”) about how women revolutionaries fought the good fight and how they did time in Tsarist Russia. Among other things, the podcast explains what was mean by the term “oranges” back then and why officials and security forces were afraid of “oranges.”
For many years the Russian opposition propagandised a particular manner of protest: clean, peaceful protest of the urban class, not dirtied with violence or even any pretension to violence. I was politicised at that time. I am 25, and I first went to a street demonstration when I was 17, in the second year of study at university. And I learned the lessons conscientiously: when somebody urges people to free a demonstrator who is being detained – that’s a provocation. If someone proposes to stay put on a square and not leave, or to occupy a government building – that’s a provocateur, and that person should be paid no heed.
We are better than them, because we do not use violence, and they do. Let everyone see us and our principles as unarmed, peaceful protesters, who are beaten by cosmonauts [Russian riot police] in full combat gear. Then they will understand what is going on. Why go on a demonstration? To express our opinion, to show that we are here. And if there are enough of us, that will produce a split in the elite.
Evidently, this strategy didn’t work. Whether it worked at one time is probably not so important now. I am convinced, by my own life experience, that it has failed. A year and a half ago, I recorded an inoffensive video to support student protests – and for that got a year’s house arrest. [Reported here, SP.] And in that year, the Russian authorities succeeded in destroying the remains of the electoral system, and invading Ukraine. No peaceful protest could stop them.
During that time, as the anti-Putin opposition de-escalated protests and adapted to new prohibitions — you need to give advance notice about a demo? OK. You need to set up metal detectors on site? Very good — the authorities, by contrast, escalated the conflict with society. They pursued ever-more-contrived legal cases — for actions ranging from throwing a plastic cup at a cop, to liking stuff or joking on Twitter.
We have been retreating tactically for a long time, and finally wound up on the edge of a precipice —in a situation where not to protest would be immoral, but where, at the same time, the most inoffensive action could result in the most serious sanctions. The neurosis in which a large part of Russian society now finds itself — all those arguments about who is more ethically immaculate: those who have left, those who have stayed, those who have half-left or one-quarter-stayed; who has the moral right to speak about something and who doesn’t — all this is a result of living in a paradox.
For the first few weeks after the invasion, this logic of conflict — that the opposition de-escalates and the state escalates — reached its limits. Peaceful protests came to an end. Resistance didn’t stop: several hundred people, at a minimum, set fire to military recruitment offices or dismantled railways on which the Russian army was sending arms, and soldiers, to the front.
And when this started to happen, a big part of the opposition had nothing to say. Our editorial group was one of the first to try to report on these actions, despite the shortage of information. We were even able to speak to some of the railway partisans in Russia. But much of the independent media and opposition politicians were silent.
The silence ended on 4 October, when [Alexei] Navalny’s team announced that it would again open branches across the whole country, and support different methods of protest, including setting fire to recruitment centres. A month before that, in an interview with Ilya Azara [of Novaya Gazeta, SP], Leonid Volkov [a leading member of Navalny’s team, SP] answered a question about radical actions in this way:
I am ready to congratulate everyone who goes to set fire to a recruitment office or derail a train. But I don’t understand where these people have come from, where to find them, or whether it’s possible to organise them.
Evidently, in the course of a month, something changed. In October, the branches began to collect forms from potential supporters, and on 23 December a platform was set up on the dark web, which could only be accessed via a TOR browser. Navalny’s team stated that the platform will not retain any details of its supporters. [In an interview with DOXA, Navalny’s team clarified that the branches would be clandestine online “networks”, SP.]
For some mysterious reason, news of the reopening of the branches, and of the setting-up of the platform, went practically unnoticed in the Russian media. In October, we were apparently the only (!) publication that talked with members of the Navalny team about the reopening of the branches. Organised antiwar resistance did not make it to the top of the news agenda.
It seems to me that, notwithstanding the mass of questions that political activists want to ask Navaly’s team about this, organised resistance is the only way left to us, out of the war and out of Putinism.
I have had many discussions with antiwar activists and journalists lately, about how they assess their work, nearly a year after the start of full-scale war. The majority of them (of us) are burned out: they don’t see any point in what we are doing. I think part of the problem is that a big part of our activity concerns not resistance, but help and treatment of the symptoms — evacuation and support for refugees. Our activities don’t bring the end of the war nearer, they just alleviate its consequences.
You can count the initiatives focused on resistance on the fingers of two hands. And alas, they are not very effective. A comrade of mine, with whom at the start we put together guides about how to talk to your family members about the war, joked, bitterly:
The Russian army killed another hundred people while we were thinking about how to change the minds of one-and-a-half grandmas.
To get out of this dead end, we must together think of the future that we can achieve by our collective efforts. It’s time to reject fatalism: stop waiting for everything to be decided on the field of battle and putting all our hopes in the Ukrainian armed forces (although much will of course be decided there); stop relying on the prospect that Putin will die soon, that the elite will split and that out of this split shoots of democracy will somehow magically grow. We will not take back for ourselves freedom and the right to shape our own future, unless we ourselves take power away from this elite. The only way that we can do this, under conditions of military dictatorship, is organised resistance.
Such resistance must be based on cooperation between those who have remained in Russia and those who have left. And also those who continue to come and go (and there are many of them). Such resistance can not be coordinated by some allegedly authoritative organisation. It has to be built, by developing cooperation with other antiwar initiatives —especially the feminists and decolonising initiatives, that is, with organisations that have done a huge amount of activity since the all-out invasion and who bring together many thousands of committed supporters.
Most important of all, resistance must expand the boundaries of what we understand by non-violent protest and the permissibility of political violence. We can not allow the dictatorship to impose a language that describes setting fire to a military recruitment office, with no human victims, as “terrorism” and “extremism”.
Political struggle has always required a wide range of instruments, and if we want to defeat a dictatorship we have to learn how to use them; we need to understand clearly what each of them is good for. For many years we have paid no attention to methods of resistance that, although they are not violent, require much more decisiveness and organisation. It is to these methods that we need now to return.
There is no other way of building democracy in Russia (any democracy — liberal or socialist) without a grassroots resistance movement that can win widespread support. If the majority of opposition politicians in the pre-war period hoped that democracy could fall into their laps as a gift from the elite (as a so-called gesture of goodwill), then this year it has become completely clear: we will never have any power, if we can not ourselves take it in to our own hands.
Ulrike Meinhof [a leader of the Red Army Faction in Germany, 1970–72, SP] once quoted the words of a Black Panther activist [probablyFred Hampton, SP], spoken at a conference in February 1968 against the war in Vietnam:
Protest is when I say I don’t like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don’t like. Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too.
This comment was published by DOXA, an independent Russian web site that has grown out of a student magazine to become a prominent voice against the war. Translation by Simon Pirani
There is an interesting controversy on Twitter between DOXA (a left-wing media outlet) and the Vesna Movement (liberals) about violence.
Vesna wheeled out a text arguing that torching military enlistment offices is bad, and DOXA and other leftists responded by explaining why there is no way to do without such tactics now.
In response, the liberals and the publication Kotyol (“Boiler”), which took their side, have deployed a super argument: so why don’t you go to Russia and torch these places yourself, instead of advising others to do it? They also claimed that DOXA embraces Putin’s way of thinking by sending others to get killed instead of themselves.
I’ll join in the fray and answer for myself. First, it’s none of your damn business where I go or don’t go and why.
Second, waging an armed struggle requires financing, training, experience, support bases, and much more. Now of this exists now.
Third, if you liberal assholes had not consistently advocated against every form of illegal resistance for all Putin’s years and decades in power, if you had not demonized “radicals,” just as you are doing now, if you had not readily dubbed “terrorists” all those at whom the authorities pointed a finger, the situation in paragraph 2 would have been different.
Yes, it was you who shat your pants, soiling not only us, but everyone, including the Ukrainians.
The leftists are “talking shit” about violence, but are not traveling to Russia to torch things? Well, at least we’re talking shit!
Look at yourself. The bravest of you, and there are relatively few of those, raise money for the Armed Forces of Ukraine so that Ukrainians will fight and die on your behalf. But you yourselves advocate nonviolence, my ass. Which of us are the hypocrites? Who has embraced Putin’s way of thinking?
If you have at least a drop of conscience, you’ll recall what the liberals wrote in the late nineteenth century about the Decembrists and Narodniks and at least shut your traps on the question of violence.
Source: George Losev (Facebook), 17 January 2023. Translated by Thomas Campbell
The Sverdlovsk Region is one of the leading Russian regions in terms of the number of casualties among mobilized men. Many of them perished in the Kherson Region, from whose capital Russian army retreated after eight months of occupation. Relatives of the mobilized men said that, despite the fact that the authorities promised not to send untrained soldiers to the front line, their loved ones were killed a week after they were drafted. Some were killed literally within a few days. Despite this, the mothers, wives and children of the mobilized men support the war and thank Putin. Our film explains why.
00:00 Sverdlovsk Region is among the leaders in numbers of mobilized men killed 01:15 “They were quickly dispatched to the Kherson Region” 04:57 A man who had four children was taken away 08:43 How a father went to fight instead of his conscript son 13:10 “We had a funeral, but we didn’t see who we were burying” 14:55 What relatives of dead draftees receive 16:40 The mobilization’s end result
Source: “The Mobilization’s Aftermath: What the War Has Done to Russia,” iStories (YouTube), 14 January 2023 (in Russian, with Russian closed captions).
Alexei Rozhkov responded with Molotov cocktails to the decision by the Russian authorities to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. On March 11, he set fire to a military enlistment office in the suburbs of Yekaterinburg. He was detained the same day and charged with “attempted murder”: allegedly, there had been a watchman in the building at the time. The young man faced up to fifteen years in prison.
Alexei was held in a pretrial detention center for six months. The charges were then unexpectedly reduced to a less serious crime — “property damage” — and the insurgent was released on his own recognizance. After a time, thanks to the support of a human rights organization, Rozhkov left Russia, and we were able to speak to him.
Tell me what you did before February 24. Did you have a job? Any hobbies? Were you interested in politics?
Rozhkov: I lived in the city of Beryozovsky, a suburb of Yekaterinburg with a population of about 100 thousand. Yekaterinburg itself can be reached by bus in twenty or thirty minutes. I worked as a sales consultant at a DNS store.
I was fond of music — I’m a guitarist, a bassist. About six years ago, I had a band, Tell Me the Reason. I started recording a solo album [before February 24], which is still not finished due to the war, having to moving around, and being in prison.
I love dynamic, energetic music: it invigorates me, helps me get out of depression, and gets me warmed up and excited.
I have been interested in politics since I was fourteen. [Alexei is now twenty-five.] My views have changed over time. Previously, they were more democratic or something, more legal. Now I can call myself a left-wing anarchist. I have always campaigned to open people’s eyes and make them see what is happening with the country — for example, with the standard of living. I talked to my family and acquaintances, friends and even strangers. I drew leaflets and spray-painted walls. Do you know those big advertising banners? At night, I would climb up and write “Putin is a thief” on them. At the time, he was merely a thief. But now, of course, he is not just a thief but also a murderer. I wrote on such billboards at night so that people would also start asking questions and arrive at the same opinion.
Tell me why you decided to set fire to the military enlistment office. What did you hope to achieve?
Rozhkov: Since February 22, I had been closely following independent media and social media channels. I expected the war to start in the last week of month, because Russian troops were amassed in Belgorod, Belarus, and other border areas. It was obvious that some kind of movement of troops would begin. And it kicked off on February 24. I began to go into a depression. I was constantly flipping channels and reading the news. I was getting worse every day. I just understood that it was impossible to remain indifferent. What is happening now is illegitimate; it is illegal. Any war means death for ordinary folks. A war in the twenty-first century seems somehow alien to me, especially for such ridiculous, made-up reasons. We annexed Crimea in 2014, and I said already back then that it was wrong. Crimea is not ours and will never be ours. I said there would be consequences. And that’s how it turned out.
It is really awful for me to get my head around the fact that people are getting killed — civilians are dying, and those who do not want to fight, but have been drafted, are also getting killed. I wanted to make some kind of appeal for people to start fighting against this war. I wanted to impact the situation, to do something to stop it all or at least weaken [Russian troops]. So, I set fire to the military enlistment office in the city of Beryozovsky. I didn’t try to burn it down. I threw three Molotov cocktails at the glass doors, which broke. I didn’t even expect them to shatter. Actually, I was thinking that I would just set fire to the door, to the entrance. I was unlucky: at that moment, traffic cops were driving past and noticed what I did. [They] put out the fire, and then they followed me. I couldn’t get far. I ran about a kilometer, and I was blinded by the high beam from their vehicle. I tried to get out of there, to run away, but they threatened to shoot me, and I was forced to surrender.
Tell me how you prepared for this. How spontaneous was this protest?
Rozhkov: It happened quite spontaneously. I didn’t even develop an exit plan and was operating in unfamiliar territory. It seemed to me like some kind of self-sacrifice. I perfectly imagined that I would be held [criminally] liable for this, but I had no fear.
After my protest action was carried out, Putin admitted on Channel One that conscript soldiers had been deployed to the military special operation zone, and [said] that they would be withdrawn from there and that those who had sent them would be punished. It was after my arson attempt that he said this. I was the third person in Russia to set fire to a military enlistment office, and this is [an example of how] several people made an impact to save guys like us, guys our same age. [Conscripts] were not killed in the war. None [of them] were killed: they were simply transferred back to Russia, leaving only contract soldiers [in the war zone].
So you think that the arsons of military enlistment offices also influenced this decision by the authorities?
Rozhkov: Yes, I think so. I’m certain of it.
How did you feel while you were in police custody? Was there any pressure from the investigative authorities? What actually happened after you were detained?
Rozhkov: I was detained, handcuffed, searched, thrown into a paddy wagon, and taken to the police station. I was treated pretty badly at the station. The police chief of the city of Beryozovsky threatened me personally that he would piss on me and beat me with a stick — those were literally his words. But there were also decent people [among the police officers] who did not threaten me and talked to me calmly. They supported me so that I would not go into complete shock.
At Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in Yekaterinburg, I was quarantined at first. They didn’t issue me bed linens, they didn’t give me a pillow or a blanket — they only gave me a pissed-stained mattress. Thank God I didn’t spend much time there. On the fourth day, the head doctor of the psychiatric ward summoned me. Since I have some ailments, she put herself in my shoes and I was transferred to the hospital wing, to the “psycho hut.” Basically, I liked it there. Despite the fact that some people in my cell were wacky, I had almost no conflicts with them. It wasn’t the first time my cellmates had been in prison. I was the only first-timer.
[In the pretrial detention center] they gave me very strong drugs, which made me feel lousy. One of those drugs was risperidone, which is prescribed to schizophrenics. I was given a triple dose. I suffered from restlessness [akathisia], I had panic attacks, I was short of breath and suffered from insomnia. That is, the treatment wasn’t right for me. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I was sent there, and not to gen pop.
I was a “road worker” [the person in a prison cell or block responsible for the “road,” the illegal system of communication among cells] — they respected me and listened to my opinion. Basically, everything was fine while I was in the joint. The prison staff were mostly supportive: you could talk to them a little bit during inspections or when the gruel was served.
During the period of my imprisonment, I was taken for an inpatient mental competency examination to the psychiatric hospital on the Siberian Route [i.e., Sverdlovsk Regional Clinical Psychiatric Hospital]. I stayed there for twenty-one days. There, on the contrary, the prison staff behaved aggressively and tried to provoke many people, including me, into conflict.
Those who succumbed to provocations were tasered and locked up in solitary confinement. The worst, most deranged prison staff, I believe, were in the tenth ward of the psychiatric regional hospital on the Siberian Route.
Did anyone support you while you were in prison, such as relatives, friends, or maybe human rights campaigners?
Rozhkov: When I was in the pretrial detention center, a lawyer from the Anarchist Back Cross came to visit me and offered their help. They also asked whether I wanted to receive letters, [financial?] assistance, care packages, and publicity for my case. I turned down the assistance and publicity, but decided that it would be nice to get letters from concerned folks who help people like us who are in prison. The letters really gave me a boost. My parents and concerned people from Yekaterinburg helped me by bringing me care packages. I won’t name names, but they helped me and are still helping me.
Why did you decide to turn down the assistance from the Anarchist Black Cross?
Rozhkov: Because I gave into the persuasions of my parents and lawyer. They were against my case being [widely] publicized — allegedly, so as to avoid hounding the investigator in my case. They were afraid that he would toughen the punishment if I attracted public attention. So, due to pressure from [my parents and lawyer], I had to turn down this help.
And yet, when you were in the pretrial detention center, as far as I remember, you were facing the rather harsh charge of attempted murder, right?
Rozhkov: Yes, I had been charged with violating Article 105, part two, in combination with Article 30 — “attempted murder, committed with extreme cruelty, from hooligan motives, in a generally dangerous way.” The crime carries a sentence of between eight years to life in prison.
Do you think that someone’s life was actually threatened as a result of what you did?
Rozhkov: I’m absolutely sure that this wasn’t the case. I doubt that there actually was a woman [night watchperson] of some kind in the military enlistment office building. According to the testimony of the policemen who detained me, who helped extinguish the fire, there were no lights turned anywhere on the premises, and they did not see this woman either. So, I doubt that she was there. In addition, in other such cases — I monitored similar cases — no one was charged under the same article of the criminal code as me. There were no guards there.
When you were released on your own recognizance, you didn’t leave the country immediately. What was holding you back?
Rozhkov: I was promised that the charges against me would be light: Article 167 in combination with Article 30, which translates into “attempted destruction of property,” and carries a maximum sentence of five years. But, after looking at the other cases, I realized that sooner or later, Article 205 [“terrorism”] would be rolled out against all of us.
I also wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family, with relatives and friends, so that I could at least somehow restore our relations and thank them. But ultimately I left. I was evacuated from the country.
How did your relatives react to your actions and to your prosecution?
Rozhkov: They said that I had acted stupidly, that it was impossible to go against the system and that I had let everyone else down. They accused me of suffering from a guilt complex. But I believe that I saved people and that my life is a small sacrifice compared to the number of people who survived thanks to what I did. Even if I had been shot when they were detaining me, I would still have achieved more than anyone else.
How are you feeling right now?
Rozhkov: I feel sad and lonely. I am not in my native country. But I have a friend — I am lucky that he ended up here for the same political reasons — and he helps and supports me. I am also supported by evacuation organizations. I feel pretty bad. But now I’ve purchased the medications prescribed by a psychotherapist, and things are getting easier and easier in my head every day. But sometimes a powerful sadness rolls over me, a melancholy due to the fact that I am lonely and had to leave the country.
When we were agreeing to do this interview, you said that after you had left [Russia], you tattooed the anarchy symbol on the back of your hand. Can you tell me about it for the interview?
Rozhkov: The symbol means a lot to me. I am an anarchist myself, a leftist; I espouse this political position. And although a society without powerful authorities and hierarchies seems like a utopia, we could get there. Power should belong to the people, not to a bunch of corrupt bastards who commit terrible crimes. My symbol also means that I share the views of the people who helped me when I was in prison. It says that I am close to these people. And that I, in turn, will also help political prisoners at the first opportunity.
Maybe you would like to convey something to Ukrainians?
Rozhkov: Yes, I would. I want them to know that there are dissenters, people [in Russia] who do not want war with Ukraine or any war at all. I hope that soon no one else will suffer due to this shit that Putin has made happen. Ukrainians are doing a good job of retaking their territory and destroying Russian troops. I think everything will be fine sooner or later. Ukrainians are very strong, motivated people and will defend their territory to the end. I respect them for that. I would have done the same thing in their place.
These are scenes from a May 2008 session of Petersburg’s Street University, a grassroots undertaking that I helped launch in response to the Putin regime’s sudden, underhanded shutdown of the nearby European University in February 2008. I unearthed these snapshots from my long-dormant Photobucket account, about whose existence I was reminded by an email from the service that I found by accident in my spam folder whilst working on this post earlier this morning. I think it’s a nice illustration of the point made, below, by Armen Aramyan, who must have been nearly the same age as Tasya, the little girl in the second and third pictures, when I took them. If the war can be stopped and Russian society can be salvaged in the foreseeable future, however, it will require a lot more than creative “sociology,” the right combination of critical theories, the power of (“progressive”) positive thinking, and hypervigilant discursive gatekeeping. At minimum, it will require a massive manifestation. This would be different in kind and magnitude from the current instances of grassroots resistance that Mr. Aramyan enumerates below, which are almost entirely the work of lone individuals, not the actions of a seriously mobilized grassroots or, much less, of a more or less widespread and vigorous “anti-war movement.” ||| TRR
Hi, this is Armen Aramyan!
On Monday, iStories published a column by its editor, Roman Anin, in which he laments the moral degradation that “has engulfed not only the so-called elites, but also society.” He claims that the majority of Russians support military aggression, and that the political system is in such decline that we can make predictions about Russia’s future by invoking the discourse of primatology.
“Human DNA is 99% the same as the DNA of chimpanzees, whose entire polity revolves around the alpha male. While the alpha male is young and strong, he keeps the whole pack at bay, manages the distribution of resources, mates with all the females, and severely punishes those who question his authority. But as soon as the alpha male begins to age and show signs of weakness, a fierce war to take his place ensues. […] In my opinion, the Russian political system today is not much different from the power arrangements in chimpanzee troops.”
There is no grassroots resistance in the Russia about which Anin writes. There is no torching of military enlistment offices, no teachers who refuse to conduct propaganda lessons, no activists who assist Ukrainians in getting out of Russia. There are no people prosecuted for speaking out and acting against the authorities. There are only big shots who divvy up the loot behind closed doors.
But activists and anti-war resistance do exist, and [some] sociologists have claimed that the pro-war segment of Russian society is a small minority that is averse to political action of any kind.
Why do we continue to encounter such remarks?
I would suggest calling the worldview that informs such remarks Naive Anti-Putinism, or NAP.
NAP sees Russia as a fringe country. The processes in it can be explained only through allusions to fantasy novels, such as dubbing Russia “Mordor,” from The Lord of the Rings, or referencing the Harry Potter universe. (Have the images from fantasy novels run out and we are now on the Planet of the Apes?) Russia is so unique that there are processes taking place in it that don’t exist anywhere else (with the possible exception of North Korea). This Russia suffers from a patriarchal regime and a total absence of democratic institutions. (That is, power belongs to individual groups and their leaders, who do not rely on any institutions). The enlightened achievements of European democracies have not yet reached Russia, and so now we are doomed to live amidst an endless Games of Thrones (to invoke yet another fantasy novel comparison). In this system, all that remains for us is to analyze what intrigues the different Kremlin clans are pursuing.
Resistance, grassroots movements, the struggle for democracy, and revolution are impossible in this reality. So, all that naive anti-Putinists are capable of doing is resorting to moral critiques delivered from a superior position and continuing to admonish us that the common folk in Russia are bad, having failed to accept the enlightened achievements of European democracies. If there is no democracy [in Russia], [that is because] the ordinary folk simply don’t want it. That is NAP’s entire explanatory arsenal.
Naive Anti-Putinism does not envision the possibility of change in Russia, much less revolution or the destruction of Putin’s elite. It is a readymade scheme that enables certain groups in society to make peace with reality and continue to watch the new season of Game of Thrones.
For example, if you are a businessman or an IT worker who relocated [to another country] after the war’s outbreak and invested all your resources in adapting to a new place (most likely — quite successfully), you probably don’t really want to figure out how to build democracy in Russia and support the grassroots resistance.
But you can also imagine another situation: you are a researcher who has spent a great deal of time and effort investigating how the power elite throws bags of money around. Probably, at some point, you might imagine that there is nothing else besides this cynical redistribution of the loot.
But if we want to end the war and build democracy in Russia, we need to think differently. Even if we imagine that this is impossible right now, do we really think that democracy is altogether impossible in Russia? And if it is possible, what would it look like in reality? What movements would be needed to make it happen? How would they gain power? How would this power be redistributed and how to make sure that it is not abused? These are the questions that should concern all of us members of the anti-war movement on a daily basis.
Centuries of class, colonial, and gender oppression led to the emergence of strong theories elucidating the structure of power in modern societies. The crises of the nineteenth century spurred the elaboration of theories about class and capitalism. Representattives colonized peoples, as well as their allies in the West, formulated theories about how imperialism and colonialism function. Activists and theorists of women’s movements offered accounts of how gender dominance operates in modern societies.
If we reject the entire legacy of critical theory, as many NAPpers do, then we need to propose something else. But this something is definitely not primatology or allusions to Harry Potter. But one might have to read other books to to find this something else.
P. S. But also do not assume that the animal kingdom — and in particular the political systems of primates — is so primitive. Usually, reducing people to animals is a conservative move whose purpose is to show that human relations are grounded in competition and the struggle for survival, in which the strongest win. I recommend reading this essay by the anthropologist David Graeber, in which he argues that this is not at all the case.
Source: Armen Aramyan, DOXA Anti-War Newsletter #313 (10 January 2023). Mr. Aramyan is one of the editors of the online anti-war magazine DOXA. In April 2021, he and three other editors of the then-student magazine were sentenced to two years of “correctional labor” (i.e., community service) over a video questioning whether it was right for teachers to discourage students from attending rallies protesting opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s incarceration. Translated by the Russian Reader
Today in St. Petersburg, the trial in the case of the defrocked Orthodox priest Ioann Kurmoyarov on charges of disseminating “fake news” about the army continued. Kurmoyarov had claimed that those who invaded Ukraine would go to hell.
A theological discussion unfolded in court. Imam Fayzulla Karimov, who barely speaks Russian but was revealed to be the “expert linguist” who had assessed Kurmoyarov’s theological videos, testified as a witness for the prosecution.
It transpired that a specialist of his profile was required by the investigation to evaluate Kurmoyarov’s statement that “those who consider themselves Christians and support this war should change their religion and convert to Islam,” thus, allegedly, “inciting interfaith discord.”
From the questions posed to the “expert witness,” it transpired that he, as a native of Tajikistan, had not formally studied Russian, but had graduated from the Faculty of Philology in Dushanbe in 2004 and the Islamic University in 2014.
Kurmoyarov had been bringing the imam round to the idea that Islam, unlike Christianity, has a concept of holy war in the literal sense of the word, but the judge struck down his questions.
Here is an example of the dialogue between the judge and imam, demonstrating the latter’s level of knowledge of the Russian language (although he travels to Russia for short visits, he lives permanently in Tajikistan):
Judge: Are you acquainted with Kurmoyarov? Imam: I am acquainted. Judge (forcefully): Are you acquainted with Kurmoyarov? Imam: I am not acquainted.
The formal reason — as follows from the court ruling and what people from pro-Kremlin media have heard — is a fictitious “connection” between me and ex-State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev. This is a product of the meager imagination of the security forces. I have not interacted with Ponomarev in any way, either in 2022 or in previous years, neither personally, nor through other people.
Why did the authorities have to intimidate me? I have two possible explanations.
The first and most likely explanation is that Moscow City Hall was behind the raid.
The following facts speak in favor of this explanation.
1) PR support. [The Telegram channel] Kremlin Laundress, which published posts containing threats and attempts to denigrate me (including a week before the raid), is a “drain tank” for the mayor’s office. The secretary of the Communist Party City Committee told me about this more than a year ago: they had been watching [the channel] for a long time and had come to this conclusion.
2) There was no investigator present during the raid. The field agents who were on hand, having unenthusiastically asked me two questions at the outset — whether I was connected with Ponomarev, and whether I had delegated [Vladimir] Zalishchak and [Sergei] Tsukasov to some congress — did not return to this topic during the six hours we spent together. But they did spend a great deal of time trying to persuade me that I should not be involved in politics by making threats (while drawing parallels with [Ilya] Yashin and [Yulia] Galyamina) and giving me “friendly” advice.
3) The mayor [of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin] will run for re-election later this year, and his “victory” may further delegitimize the regime. In 2021–2022, my name was inextricably linked with the most successful opposition election campaigns in Moscow. Teams of like-minded people formed around me during both the municipal and the parliamentary elections. By mobilizing the enthusiasm of thousands of dynamic people, we defeated United Russia and corporate candidates. Political spin doctors and administrative resources were powerless against us. By accumulating the support of ordinary people, we achieved greater results than did candidates with exponentially larger campaign coffers.
Yes, our victories were stolen [through rigging] online voting. But even today, unbowed people can together find a way to use the mayor’s re-election campaign to organize themselves and make his “re-election” problematic.
For some reason, the Kremlin’s foreign policy “successes” in 2022 have not had the effect that the people who allocate tens of billions to state propaganda wanted. If the protest-minded segment of the electorate is mobilized in a minimal way, the construction business and ruling class candidate will enjoy only a Pyrrhic victory, one based on flagrant vote rigging.
A second possible explanation is that the raid on my home and my arrest are part of preparations to transfer power to puppet ultra-right revanchists.
In this case, what is happening to me reflects the fear of people with a consistent democratic anti-war stance on the part of officials, siloviki, and the oligarchs who have fused with them. We are trying to develop real trade unions and push the topic of blatant economic inequality onto the agenda.
After the ruling group’s collapse, the far-right revanchists will try to play the card of virtual “angry patriots” and maintain the existing system of domination. If they succeed, there will be a new dictator, increased crackdowns, a new round of spending on “security,” funded by a shrinking budget and, in the medium term, another senseless war.
But I believe that there are many dynamic people in Russian society who will be able to formulate a convincing left-democratic alternative and inspire tens of millions of other people. I look to the future with hope.
Source: Mikhail Lobanov, Facebook, 9 January 2023. Thanks to Simon Pirani for encouraging me to share this piece with my readers. Translated by the Russian Reader, who is much less hopeful about Russia’s future than is Mr. Lobanov. But more power to him!
The founder of the Left Resistance movement, Darya Polyudova, has been sentenced to nine years in a penal colony on charges of “creating an extremist community.” Polyudova was already serving time on another charge, and had three years left to go in her sentence.
The Second Western District Military Court has handed down the new sentence to the activist. It agreed with the prosecution’s arguments that the Left Resistance, as created by Polyudova, was an “extremist community.” And yet, at the moment there is no such organization listed in the Russian Justice Ministry’s registry of “extremist organizations.”
In addition to “creating an extremist community” (Article 282.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), the court found the activist guilty on two counts of “condoning terrorism” (Article 205.2.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) over posts published on the movement’s social media page.
The sentence took into account Polyudova’s previous sentence of six years, which she received in 2021, writes Mediazona.
Polyudova was the first person in Russia charged under the criminal code article outlawing “calls for separatism” (Article 280.1). This accusation was brought against her in 2014 for trying to hold a “March for the Federalization of the Kuban” in Krasnodar.
One charge after another
Polyudova began her career as a political activist in Novorossiysk, where she organized Strategy 31 protests. Due to constant arrests and dismissals from work, Polyudova was forced to move to Krasnodar, and later to Moscow.
In 2017, Polyudova was released from a work-release penal colony where she spent two years on charges of calling for separatism, and founded the Left Resistance. The description of the movement on its VK page stated that it “stands against the oppressor capitalists and for all the oppressed and the power of the working people.” The movement’s members attended protest pickets and distributed leaflets.
In January 2020, Polyudova was arrested again on charges of calling for separatism — this time for a solo picket where the activist stood holding a placard that read, “Kuriles, stop feeding Moscow! Long live the Far Eastern Republic!”
She was also charged with publicly condoning terrorism over a repost of a message about the Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev.
The calling for separatism charge against Polyudova was eventually dropped due to the liberalization of Article 280.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. However, in September 2020, the activist, who by that time had been in remand prison for more than six months, was charged with a new offense.
The FSB regarded her statements about Yevgeny Manyurov, who opened fire at the FSB headquarters on the Lubyanka in December 2019, as grounds for charging Polyudova with “condoning terrorism.” Later, this charge was reduced to a charge of calling for separatism.
In May 2021, Polyudova was sentenced to six years in a penal colony on charges of publicly condoning terrorism and calling for extremism.
Polyudova was presented with new charges of “creating an extremist community” in December 2021, while she was in remand prison awaiting an appeal against the previous sentence.
Left Resistance founder Darya Polyudova has been sentenced to nine years in a penal colony, while Left Resistance activist Kirill Kotov has been sentenced to three years probation, the Telegram channel Free Kirill Zhukov reports.
Polyudova’s sentence incorporates the previous verdict against her and will run from January 2020, when the young woman was remanded to a pretrial detention center in a previous criminal case, her lawyer Leonid Solovyov told OVD Info.
The prosecution had requested just this sentence for Polyudova, but had asked that Kotov be sentenced to three years in a penal colony.
Polyudova was accused of “creating an extremist community” (per Article 282.1.1 of the Criminal Code), while Kotov was accused of involvement in an “extremist community.” Polyudova was also charged on two counts of public calls for terrorism or “condoning terrorism” (per Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code).
According to the FSB, Polyudova created the Left Resistance to “plan and commit crimes, […] namely, public vindication of terrorism and public calls for extremist activity.” Investigators argued that the “extremist community” engaged in holding pickets and making posts on social media.
In addition to Kotov, four other activists have been charged with involvement in the extremist community: Sergei Kirsanov, Alyona Krylova, Igor Kuznetsov, and Andrei Romanov.
On 18 November 2021, the FSB searched two addresses as part of the case against the Left Resistance, including the house where Kotov used to live. The criminal charges against the movement were made public on 3 December 2021. Tomsk opposition activist and RusNews journalist Igor Kuznetsov was already in remand prison in connection with the case of the Telegram channel Chto-Delat! Andrei Romanov and Alyona Krylova were not in Russia, while Sergei Kirsanov and Kirill Kotov were released on their own recognizance. By this time, Polyudova had already been sentenced to six years in a penal colony in a previous case.
Polyudova was charged under the article criminalizing calls for terrorism over posts made in 2019 on the Left Resistance’s social media page, including a post entitled “Execute the traitor Putler for treason!” Forensic experts detected “calls for the violent seizure of power” and “use of violence against the security forces” in these posts. Another criminal count was based on posts made on anniversary of the annexation of Crimea and pickets in support of defendants charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Polyudova founded the Left Resistance movement in 2017. Its activists said that the new left-wing organization’s purpose was to replace the “opportunistic Communist Party” and “defend genuine communist ideas.”
In May 2021, the court sentenced Polyudova to six years in a penal colony. She was found guilty on two counts: “condoning terrorism” (per Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code) in connection with a repost on VK, and “calling for extremist activity” (per Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code) for statements about the actions of the shooter outside the FSB headquarters building on the Lubyanka.
In 2014–2015, Polyudova was accused of calling for extremism and separatism. She was then sentenced to two years in a work-release (i.e., minimum security) penal colony.
Vladimir Rumyantsev, a former factory boiler plant stoker from Vologda, has been sentenced to three years in prison. He was found guilty of violating the article [in the Russian criminal code] on disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army. He had his own underground radio station on which he spoke out against the war.
The criminal charges against the 61-year-old man were made public on July 14. The next day, the court remanded him in custody to a pretrial detention center. On December 20, in a hearing at the Vologda City Court, the prosecutor requested that Rumyantsev be sentenced to six years in a penal colony.
The grounds for the criminal case were Rumyantsev’s posts on social media, as well as the fact that the man was spreading information about the war in Ukraine via his amateur radio station.
The podcast Hello, You’re A Foreign Agent, produced by journalists Sonya Groysman and Olga Churakova, described Rumyantsev as a music lover, local amateur historian, and creator of the video blog Vovan Media. The man worked for twenty years as a boiler plant stoker at a local machine tool factory, and after its closure, as a municipal trolleybus conductor.
His underground radio station operated on transmitters purchased on AliExpress. Rumyantsev built it eight years ago and regularly went on the air, mostly playing Soviet hits. After the outbreak of the war, he began to pay more attention to political topics. In the summer, he was the first person in Vologda charged with disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army.
Rumyantsev pleaded not guilty to the charges. It is not known whether his radio station had listeners and how many listeners it did have, according to Groysman’s special report on TV Rain [see below].
The article on dissemination of “fake news” about the military, as prompted by political hatred (Article 207.3.2.d of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), which Rumyantsev was accused of violating, stipulates a maximum punishment of ten years in prison.
Previously, long prison sentences for violating this article were handed down to Alexei Gorinov, a deputy of the Krasnoselsky municipal district in Moscow, and opposition politician Ilya Yashin. They were sentenced to seven years and eight and a half years in prison, respectively.
Vologda boiler plant stoker Vladimir Rumyantsev was found guilty of disseminating “fake news” about the army on the pacifist radio station he created. 61-year-old Rumyantsev faces up to six years in a medium security penal colony. According to the investigation, and now the trial court, Rumyantsev published reposts about the SMO in Ukraine on his VK page, and also broadcast audio reports that the Investigative Committee considers “fake news” about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation at a frequency of 91.7 MHz.
From the very beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Russian authorities have been waging another war — against Russian citizens who do not support the invasion. In the seven months since the laws virtually establishing wartime censorship were adopted, more than four thousand charges have been filed for alleged violations of the law against “discrediting” the army. According to OVD Info, the defendants in these criminal cases are 116 people whose stories usually warrant only a couple of lines in the news. Sonya Groysman’s film is about these people, who despite everything have remained in Russia.
Of course, as a true masochist, I went to Palace Square to look at those hearts, small and large, supposedly symbolizing the sister cities of Petersburg and Mariupol. It is clear whose heart is the small one, and whose the big one, in the imperial capital. My thoughts about this are unprintable, so I’ll omit them.
But I went for curiosity’s sake: how many people would be getting their pictures taken in front of the hearts? As I’d supposed, it was a lot of people.
I saw much more than I’d expected. It was a total trash fest. There were the hearts, people taking fotochki, as they say now, frozen Peter the Greats walking around, carriages circling the square, and a drunk-looking little dude playing the accordion right there.
But no one seemed to be paying attention to the unauthorized inscription on the heart — black and large and truthful. (See the last two photos.)
While I was standing there, however, both citizens and law enforcement agencies finally noticed it. And they will call it vandalism, of course.
Source: Marina Varchenko, Facebook, 18 December 2022. Translated by TRR
A Petersburg woman detained on Palace Square has been charged with “discrediting” the army, the press service of the Interior Ministry’s Petersburg office has informed Bumaga.
Earlier, city media reported that the inscription “Murderers, you bombed it to smithereens. Traitors” had appeared on an installation dedicated to the sister-city relationship between Mariupol and Petersburg, and that a juvenile female had been detained.
When Bumaga asked it whether these reports were true, the press service of the Interior Ministry’s Petersburg office replied that on the afternoon of December 18, the police had detained seventeen-year-old girl on Palace Square “for committing illegal actions.” She was charged with an administrative offense for public actions aimed at “discrediting” the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (per Article 20.3.3 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code).
The installation appeared on Palace Square on December 12. Rotundareported that the Petersburg authorities ordered it back in September. According to the contract, the city spent 1.05 million rubles on the installation.
On December 18, an inscription appeared on the installation, after which the structure was partially disassembled. Workers told our correspondent that the installation would remain on the square, but would spend the next few days without cladding until the inscription was removed from it.
Source: Bumaga, 19 December 2022. Translated by TRR
Dec 19 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the Federal Security Services to step up surveillance of Russian society and the country’s borders to prevent risks from abroad and traitors at home.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s Security Services Day — widely celebrated in Russia [sic] — Putin said the “emergence of new threats” increases the need for greater intelligence activity.
“Work must be intensified through the border services and the Federal Security Service (FSB),” Putin said.
“Any attempts to violate it (the border) must be thwarted quickly and effectively using whatever forces and means we have at our disposal, including mobile action units and special forces.”
Putin instructed the FSB to maximise their “use of the operational, technical and personnel potential” to tighten control of the society.
The FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, has already been operating in Russia as an expansive surveillance and censorship apparatus and Moscow’s invasion in Ukraine has involved a large swathe of the security services.
“Maximum composure, concentration of forces is now required from counterintelligence agencies, including military intelligence,” Putin said, according to transcript of his speech provided by the Kremlin and translated by Reuters.
“It is necessary to severely suppress the actions of foreign special services, quickly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs.”
The FSB, headed by Putin ally Alexander Bortnikov, will also increase oversight of mass gatherings, strategic facilities and energy infrastructure.
Since the start of the war, demonstrations and dissent have been swiftly quelled in Russia, with more than 1,300 detained in September at protests denouncing Putin’s military mobilisation of 300,000.
On the early morning of November 30, the security forces came to the home of Tomsk musician and teacher Anna Chagina: this was how she found out that she been charged with the criminal offense of “discrediting the army.” Chagina had been detained at an anti-war rally on March 6. In September, the Prosecutor General’s Office blocked Chagina’s page on VK over anti-war posts, which have now served as the grounds for the criminal charges against her under Article 280.3.1 of the Criminal Code. The maximum penalty is up to three years in prison.
On December 1, the court imposed pretrial restrictions on Chagina: she was banned from using the internet and mail, leaving home after ten o’clock in the evening, and attending mass events. On the evening of December 1, after the court hearing, Chagina talked to Sibir.Realii’s correspondent about her criminal case and her scenarios for how and when the war would end.
“Gentlemen, this is my house and my rules”
On the eve of the visit from the security forces, Chagina celebrated her birthday, and her guests had left late. She hadn’t sleep half the night because her nineteen-year-old daughter had a fever, and at six a.m. the doorbell rang. Anna opened it and saw an entire brigade: “There were two witnesses, two field officers from the FSB, an investigator, a special forces soldier, and a lawyer.” Only after returning from the temporary detention center, where she had spent the night, did she discover that the peephole in her door had been prudently sealed with a sticker on the stairwell side. At the time, Chagina had been too busy to notice it: she says that fear had made it hard for her to breathe and she was constantly thirsty. The second feeling she had was indignation.
– As soon as they came, I said, “Gentlemen, this is my house and my rules.” I insisted that they take off their shoes. They rifled through all my books and looked through all the folders. I have a lot of papers — printouts, sheet music, archives. They confiscated computer equipment and a bunch of flash drives and phones, including ones that didn’t work.
To calm her nerves, Anna picked up a guitar and put on a concert. She sang children’s songs and Okudzhava.
– Actually, I rarely give concerts, but then and there I realized that there would be no such opportunity anymore. I was trying not to pay attention to them.
– Did you have a lawyer present?
– They brought a lawyer with them. The court-appointed lawyer was both theirs and mine. At my request, she telephoned my friend Igor, but during the search she didn’t tell me, for example, that I could write in the report that I was against their videotaping during the search. We added that when I was already at the Investigative Committee. My daughter had also wanted to film the search on camera, but her smartphone was taken away. I was scared that I would first be locked up in a temporary detention facility for forty-eight hours, and then immediately sent to a pretrial detention center for two months.
The police search of Anna’s house lasted about three hours, after which she and her daughter were taken to the Investigative Committee.
– My daughter had a temperature of 39 [degrees Centigrade — 36.6 degrees Centigrade is considered normal body temperature]. I asked that she be questioned first as a witness and released, and after that they could talk to me. But first I was interrogated for four hours, and my daughter waited ll that time. The court-appointed lawyer told me that with such a temperature she could have refused to go in for questioning, but for some reason she told me that after the fact. Today, my daughter was taken away by ambulance with pneumonia.
– I verbally said that I did not admit any guilt, but, in my opinion, this was not included in the arrest report. They gave me some document about cooperating with the investigation and asked me to read it carefully. But I refused to cooperate, and I wrote on this document that I did not consider it necessary to read it. Copies of the search and arrest reports were not given to me because, they said, the the court-appointed lawyer had photographed them.
– And then you were taken to the pretrial detention center?
– Yes. To have something to do there, I took a pocket Bible with me from home. I was in solitary confinement. It was cold, and the sink and toilet stank. By law, I could be kept there for forty-eight hours, so I asked for cleaning liquid or power to wash the sink and toilet. They brought it in the morning.
The light does not go off at night. Radio Vanya, a pop station, was playing in the cell until ten p.m. I am a musician, and have other musical preferences. To keep this music from seeping into my mind, I meditated. I read the Bible. I spent the time well.
– How did the court hearing go?
– I had petitioned for a change of counsel, and the attorney I had retained was already at the hearing. We were able to keep the hearing open to the public. The investigator asked the court to impose pretrial restrictions that would prohibit me from using all means of communication. The lawyer asked for a mitigation, and I was still permitted to use the telephone.
Chagina is now forbidden to use the internet and mail, leave home after ten o’clock in the evening, or attend mass events.
– They put a Federal Penitentiary Service tracking bracelet on you. How do you like it?
– When I would see such a bracelet on others, I would think, Those are the fetters of Satan! It’s fine so far. I haven’t tried doing yoga in this bracelet yet. I’ll work out, and it’ll be clear how it feels… I’m talking calmly and even joking, but in fact I’m in shock. Once I saw a man who, after an accident, was standing there with a split skull – his brain was clearly visible, but he was talking calmly. He was in shock from the pain. Something similar is happening to me now.
– How much will the court-imposed pretrial restrictions, the ban on using the internet and leaving the house in the evening, complicate your life?
– Things couldn’t have been worse even before the criminal case came along. In September, the Prosecutor General’s Office blocked my VK page, which had a very strong impact on me, because I used this page to advertise private lessons and find music students. I have a very low income. I was selling my apartment to buy a smaller dwelling and pay off my debts, but due to the fact that I am now a criminal defendant, I cannot wrap up the deal.
“Blessed are the peacemakers”
Chagina recalls how she gave a concert on the eve of the March anti-war rally.
– There were about a hundred people there. Before playing, I openly spoke out against the war. I played one of my favorite Ukrainian carols on the violin. It was very warmly received. After the concert, a woman from the audience approached me: “My son is going to the [anti-war] rally on March 6th. I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid.” There were others. They were surprised: “You say that war is always bad. That it was Russia who attacked.” But even these people did not condemn me, but shared their misgivings with me.
My daughter went to a solo anti-war picket on March 3 and was immediately taken away. This was even before the laws were tightened, which occurred on March 5. I was afraid to go out on March 6, but I couldn’t stay away. My friend, who is seriously ill, went to the rally with her family. I can’t tell you her name, because I’m afraid that they will start pulling in everyone again. Her husband was detained. I thought hat she would be detained next. She had come out with a placard that read, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I took the placard from her and held it up. I stood there holding it for ten minutes before they put me in a traffic police car and took me to the Soviet District police department. I was later fined on administrative charges of “discrediting the army.”
– How long have you been in the protest movement?
– Protest rallies are not the most important thing in my life, but I’m used to openly voicing my opinion. I went out to protest for Navalny and for TV2 [the Tomsk independent TV channel shut down by the authorities in 2014 — SR]. In 2014, when Crimea began, I went to a protest rally carrying a placard that read, “Don’t shoot your brothers.”
– Why are you personally against this war?
– I am against any war. Violence cannot solve any conflict. I sincerely admire the martial arts, if it is an honest one-on-one duel without weapons. But you can achieve only universal death through wholesale slaughter.
I rethought a lot of things after February 24. The war enabled me to separate what I love from what I hate. I had wanted to leave Russia for many years before the war. I hate it when a person endlessly tolerates what cannot be tolerated — humiliation, filth, an unseemly life — and does nothing about it. War is an attempt by such people to resolve the logjam of problems through violence and hysteria.
– What do you like about Russia?
– I love the nature. I love a certain kind of simplicity. Not the the kind of simplicity that is worse than thievery, but the kind of simplicity that can be called openness. The war made it possible to find out that there are many honest and decent people among Russians. Before the war, I was little interested in politics, and I didn’t closely follow the events in Donbas. I was busy with my family, my art, and my work.
When the war began, Tomsk showed a new side to me. I have reached a different level of social connection and communication here. Despite the fact that we don’t agree about everything, we still manage to keep in touch. This is very important to me. It is for the sake of this that it is worth going to protest rallies. Love will save the world.
– You had already been found guilty on administrative charges of “discrediting the army” for your posts on VK, which eventually served as the pretext for the criminal charges. Did you understand what the consequences could be?
– I understood. But it was important for me to convey my position to people. I am mentally ready for the fact that the state will punish me for this. I haven’t yet talked in detail to the lawyer who is defending me. But, as far as I understand, I face either a prison sentence or a huge fine. I’m not afraid of either.
I felt like I was being watched, but I couldn’t quite believe it. I saw some people outside, standing below my apartment. The FSB field officer who escorted me today said that he had personally shadowed me. And the investigator said that all the investigators at the Soviet District police department know me. Apparently, they were all here pulling shifts. By Tomsk standards, I have a rather large social media following — more than a thousand people on VK. And I have a lot of acquaintances from very different circles that do not intersect in any way.
– Which posts on VK did they deem “discrediting”?
– I have only read the arrest reports so far, not the stuff in the criminal case file. As far as I understand, the incriminating posts are the ones featuring texts by the Christian thinker Pavel Levushkan and the philosopher Nikolai Karpitsky, as copied from Facebook and posted on my VK page, with the authorship of the texts indicated. Karpitsky is a philosopher who lived in Tomsk and headed the Tomsk Anti-Fascist Committee, but now lives in Ukraine. He talks about necrophilic imperialism and about why Russians behave this way, both in war and in peacetime. Plus the comment “No war!” which I wrote below someone else’s post on VK.
“I am also to blame”
– Anna, why do you think there is no mass anti-war movement in Russia nine months after the start of the war and even in the wake of the mobilization?
– Because no one wants to go to prison. But when mobilization began, the war affected even those who had hoped to remain observer. I am acquainted with a Tomsk family in which the husband works at Gazprom and the wife teaches at a university. The husband earned good money, and the family traveled a lot around the world. But when the war began, they did not object to its officially stated aims, nor were they surprised by the claims of the propagandists that Putin was fighting NATO and gay parades in the west. But then the husband received a conscription summons, and their point of view changed immediately. The husband fled abroad.
– Speaking of emigration. You’d already had an admin. You saw that you were being followed. Why didn’t you leave?
– I had obligations. I didn’t emigrate due to my family. My daughter has health problems. My mom is here. I have a grandmother and a grandfather who are already ninety years old. Finally, my romantic partner is here.
– And you don’t even consider such a possibility for yourself in the future?
– I consider it, of course. More precisely, I would like to travel around the world, immerse myself for a long while in a different culture, in a different linguistic environment, and live in a different climate. I am a very curious person. Before the war, I had such plans: when the children grow up, I’m off! But I wasn’t thinking about the kind of emigration in which you leave and burn all your bridges.
– In your opinion, who is to blame for the fact that this war began?
– Putin, first of all. He signs off on all the decisions. But he’s not the only one to blame. I am also to blame. I voted for Putin the first time he was elected. It was the only time I voted for him. He seemed like a man who could do something good for the country. I was very naive, and I didn’t know anything about Putin’s past. The epiphany came when I noticed that Russian reality had begun to resemble C.S. Lewis’s science fiction novel That Hideous Strength. There is this character, the Grey Shadow, in the novel. He is nowhere and everywhere. His henchmen on the ground resemble him and poison the atmosphere. And there, as in Putin’s Russia, they endlessly repair what doesn’t need to be repaired and generate the semblance of busyness.
The “castling move” and even the “nullification” seemed mere absurdities. But I didn’t expect the scale of demonism that we see now. Like Stalin or Hitler, Putin is a demon who stole my country.
– How long can this war last, and how will it end?
– I have three scenarios: reasonable, mystical, and punk/optimistic. Which one would you like to hear?
– Let’s hear all three in turn.
– Reason says that this is going to go on for a long time, for many years. Even if the fighting against Ukraine ends in the foreseeable future — within two years — it is unlikely that everything will end quickly in Russia itself. But I don’t want to talk about a civil war.
The mystical point of view says that the war is part of an ongoing struggle between Good and Evil, which just touched us personally now.
And the punk scenario says that “We will leave the zoo,” as Yegor Letov sang. Lately, before the criminal case, I wanted to forget everything, and just believe that sooner or later we would stop being monkeys who piss on each other. That we would exit our individual cages and become human beings.
– Do you see any rudiments that give you hope that an epiphany, a kind of purification, is possible in Russia?
– I see them. Many of my friends say, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to build something here. This is my homeland, and I won’t surrender it to anyone.” Among them are calm optimists who believe that “this too shall pass,” and determined folks who are ready to fight.
An acquaintance of mine supported Navalny and left for California forever to avoid criminal charges. But his friend, an American, on the contrary, moved to Altai from California ten years ago, became a Russian farmer, and has no plans to leave Russia. I love the Russian language and Russian culture, but I’m not a nationalist — I’m a globalist. I am for a world without borders, and I hope Russia will one day become a part of this world.
– You took a Bible with you to the temporary detention center. Do you consider yourself Orthodox? How do you feel about the fact that the ROC has been stumping for the war?
– I practice integral spirituality, but I still seek guidance in the Orthodox Church and consider myself a Christian. The ROC’s official position [on the war] is a disgrace, and all [other] Orthodox churches have condemned it. Real Russian Orthodoxy and what it is associated with today are heaven and earth. What is the Christian conclusion here? God is merciful. And He is merciful to those who labor under delusions, too. Another thing is that everyone suffers for their delusions, including the deluded themselves.
– All the independent media that reported your arrest wrote that you are a musician. What kind of music do you play?
– I graduated from music college as a violist and I play the viola. I teach violin. I’ve had a bunch of musical groups in the past. I’ve played rock, punk, folk, and Celtic. In addition, I’ve played with an ensemble of violinists. I worked in a symphony orchestra for a year.
– Is there a particular kind of music that serves as a lifeline for you nowadays?
– I’ve been listening to very little music lately — I’ve been overloaded. But Bach is always a lifeline. One of my relatively recent discoveries is the Petersburg singer Sasha Sokolova, who, unfortunately, died of cancer. I can say of her music that it’s about our time.
– Do you imagine that the court could acquit you?
– I’m not counting on it… When I was dozing in the cell at the temporary detention center, I thought it would be cool to open my eyes in the morning and see the ocean, clean and transparent. In exactly the same way I believe that the court could hand down a fair verdict — as in a pipe dream, as in a miracle. I believe this war will end. I admit that a miracle is possible.
Since the new articles of the Criminal Code and the Administrative Offenses Code on discrediting the Russian army and disseminating “fake news” about it came into force, more than 100 criminal cases have been launched in Russia and around 4,500 reports of administrative offenses have been filed, according to Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, speaking at a session of the State Duma on October 19.
According to OVD Info, a total of 352 people are under suspicion or facing charges in so-called anti-war criminal cases launched in Russia between February 24 and November 24. As of 23 November 2022, 5,159 administrative offenses cases have been instituted in Russia under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code (i.e., for “discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”).
On March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law criminalizing “fake news” about the actions of the Russian Armed Forces. Russians can be fined up to 1.5 million rubles or imprisoned for up to three years for violating the new Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code, defined as “Public dissemination of deliberately false information about the deployment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes “discrediting” the Russian army, stipulates a sentence of up to five years in prison or a fine of up to a million rubles.