Russia’s Trash Flashpoint

Landfills Become a Problem for the Kremlin
Environmental Protests Move from Local to Federal Level
Yelena Mukhametshina and Yekaterina Bryzgalova
Vedomosti
April 1, 2018

guseva“Volokolamsk right now. Protest rally against the Yadrovo Landfill.” Screenshot of Olya Guseva’s Twitter page. Courtesy of Meduza

According to various estimates, 6,500 to 7,000 people attended this past Sunday’s protest rally in Volokololamsk against the Yadrovo Landfill. This was more than the number of people who attended the rallies on March 3 (approx. 5,000) and March 29 (6,000). (Volokolamsk’s official population is less than 21,000.)

Among the demands made at Sunday’s rally were the closure of the Yadrovo Landfill, the declaration of an emergency, the resignations of Moscow Region Governor Andrei Vorobyov and Andrei Vikharev, acting head of Volokolamsk District, and the release of activist Artyom Lyubimov, who was detained by police a day before the rally.

Protesters at the rally held up placards addressed to President Putin, including ones  bearing the message, “Putin, Help!”

On March 21, a strong release of landfill gas took place in Volokolamsk, causing schoolchildren to say they felt sick. Fifty-seven children were hospitalized in the Volokolamsk Central Hospital. Subsequently, Governor Vorobyov fired the head of Volokolamsk District.

Volokolamsk has not been the only town in Moscow Region protesting landfills. During the past year, people have taken to the streets in such towns as Balashikha (after the local Kupchino Landfill was closed there on direct orders from the president, the garbage that used to be transported to the landfill was redirected to Yadrovo), Kolomna, Klin, Sergiev Posad, Tuchkov, and Serpukhov.

A former federal official explained why garbage has recently become a hot-button issue.

“New laws were passed obliging the regions to adopt local waste handling schemes and select regional contractors. A market is emerging. There are different disposal strategies: incineration versus separate collection of recyclables. Different strategies require building different processing facilities, and the stakeholders backing the different strategies are also different, from the federal to the municipal level,” he said.

The stakeholders are in conflict with each other and with the regions. This is especially true of Moscow and Russia’s other major cities, he claimed.

Last week, it transpired that Tver Region Governor Igor Rudenya had warned all heads of municipalities in his region that if the regional authorities found garbage from other regions in local landfills, the municipal heads responsible for this would have problems with law enforcement and Governor Rudenya’s administration.

“You will not import garbage from other Russian regions for any amount of money at all,” said Governor Rudenya, as quoted by Tverigrad.ru.

The president’s retinue is to blame for the flare-up in Volokolamsk. When they were getting ready for his annual Direct Line program, they insisted on underscoring the subject of landfills by way of speeding up the construction of processing facilities. It was then the president ordered the closure of the landfill in Balashikha, argues a source close to the Kremlin.

“The landfill was closed. The garbage from there was shipped to nearby landfills, and the flow of garbage to these landfills increased manifold. First it was necessary to put the infrastructure in place, and then close the landfills,” he said.

Environmental protests by people concerned with specific issues are a considerable risk to the system’s stability, and the regime is very concerned about them, saif another source close to the Kremlin.

“The president pays great attention to the environment. Last year, he personally telephoned activists in Chelyabinsk to show he supported them. This is quite important, especially in circumstances when environmental measures are given short shrift to save money.”

Last year was officially the Year of the Environment in Russia. During the presidential campaign, Putin held meetings in Krasnoyarsk on improving the ecological situation and  reducing the emission of pollutants into the atmosphere.

Political scientist Andrei Kolyadin argues the issue of landfills cannot be solved quickly. Several years would be needed to do that.

“This abscess has long been ripening, and now it threatens people’s lives. As the risks to people’s live increase, the risks to the regime increase as well.”

A final decision on the future of Governor Vorobyov, who faces elections in the autumn, has not yet been made, said Kolyadin.

“If the protests balloon, he could be made their scapegoat. He has been doing his best to wiggle his way out of the subject politically, but he has not been able to do this economically. If the elections are handled by the authorities, he will not have complications, but if they are run more or less honestly, the districts in which anti-landfill protests have been taking place will not turn out to vote for him.”

Political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov argues such protests ordinarily wane quickly. In this case, however, the boiling point has not yet been reached. Various grievances, such as Governor Vorobyov’s less-than-happy appointment of a new head of Volokolamsk District, have been building up.

“I get the feeling there will be a new wave [of protests] that will help solve the problems that have accumulated. People feel they are in the right, and it gives them a strong impetus to protest,” he said.

Given current conditions, in which protests have been de facto banned, any socio-economic protest takes on political overtones, Vinogradov concludes.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Solidarity? (The Case of the Penza and Petersburg Antifascists)

fil_0Viktor Filinkov, Petersburg antifascist, torture victim and political prisoner

Solidarity? No, They Haven’t Heard about It
The Security Services Are Using the Case of the Antifascists to Test Society: If We Keep Silent, the Torture and Arrests Will Continue
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
March 22, 2018

On Election Day, March 18, which was simultaneously Paris Commune Day and Political Prisoner Day, Theater.Doc in Moscow staged a performance entitled Torture 2018, a reading of the interrogation transcripts and diaries from the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.

The case has disappeared amid the flood of political and election campaign news, so I should briefly summarize it.

In October 2017, a group of young antifascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.

Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg antifascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.

The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honor their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring every year since then.

Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on antifascists by the Russian state.

The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.

We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass, but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.

The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over thirty (the oldest is twenty-nine) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.

Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced the performance at Theater.Doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues. What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.

“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head. When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”

“It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia,” Polikhovich told me after the performance. “But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”

“But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?” I asked.

“Location is vital in this case,” replied Polikhovich. “There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference. The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.”

“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”

While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza antifascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)

“They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,” Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognizance, told Novaya Gazeta.

The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and antifascists have been doing the protesting. Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and antifascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.

A concert in support of the arrested antifascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.

In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.

“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”

Pickets in support of the antifascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between Sobchak and Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.

This case is not about anarchism or antifascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.

The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the antifascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.

There is a group page on Facebook entitled Project No. 117, named for the article in the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. It is a clearinghouse for news about the Penza case and other anti-antifascist cases. It also features six videtaped messages in support of the arrested men, as recorded by the well-known Russian cultural figures Dmitry Bykov, Andrei Makarevich, Dmitry Shagin, Kirill Medvedev, Artyom Loskutov, and Artemy Troitsky.

I would like to believe that, in the very near future, there will be six thousand such messages, not six. Otherwise, we will be crushed one by one.

Dmitry Bykov (writer)

“Absolutely Gulag-like scenes of strangulation, beating, and abduction. Stories like this have become frighteningly more frequent. The return to the practice of torture is a relapse into the roughest, darkest period of Russian history.”

Andrei Makarevich (musician)

“If the authorities are trying to pass young antifascists off as terrorists, it begs the question of who the authorities are themselves. Have you lost your minds, guys?”

Dmitry Shagin (artist)

“I experience this as torture myself. By torturing these young men, they are torturing all of us.”

Kirill Medvedev (poet, political activist, musician)

“The Russian authorities have been posing as the most antifascist regime in the world for several years now, and yet they are cracking down on antifascists. Is this not hypocrisy?”

Artyom Loskutov (artist, political activist)

“If you arrested me and tortured me with an electric shocker, I would confession to terrorism, satansim, and anything whatsoever. And if the FSB officers were tortured, they would also confess to anything. Antifascism is not a crime, nor is anarchism a crime. But torture is a crime, a very serious crime indeed.”

Artemy Troitsky (writer, music critic and promoter)

“Torture is a sure sign the case doesn’t hold water. If they have evidence, they wouldn’t torture the suspects.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Autonomous Action. Videos courtesy of Project No. 117 and Novaya Gazeta. If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you can read the following articles and spread the word to friends, comrades, and journalists.

Russian Socialist Movement: What Does the Presidential Election Show Us?

“March 2018. Russian Presidential Election: We Elect a President, We Choose a Future!” || “March 2018. Russian Presidential Election: Nice Scenery, Bad Play!” Photo courtesy of the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)

Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)
Facebook
March 19, 2018

What Has the “Election” Shown Us?

It has shown us that the system for mobilizing dependent Russians (employees, servicemen, etc.) by management at all levels still functions, and that the managers in question (governors, factory directors, and heads of state-sector institutions) are still loyal to the regime. Putin’s personal power rests on the vulnerability of workers, who in Russia have been deprived of the right to strike. It also rests on the loyalty of the bureaucratic caste and corrupted business world, apathy and conformism, and control of the media.

In managed democracy’s topsy-turvy world, voter turnout and Putin’s total share of the vote are indices of political indifference, while boycotting the spectacle is a manifestation of civic activism. Elections in Russia have finally transmogrified into something like an oath of allegiance to the so-called national leader, which has nothing to do with a democratic expression of the popular will.

Undoubtedly, along with the administrative resource, the conservatism of a generation traumatized by the chaotic 1990s, the post-Crimea syndrome, and the careful casting of Putin’s opponents played their role. The Kremlin did its all to divide the forces of protest. Strawberry king Pavel Grudinin served as a scarecrow for voters who did not want a return to the Soviet Union, while Ksenia Sobchak exacerbated the fears of pro-Soviet conservatives vis-à-vis Yeltsinite liberals.

Supporters of the boycott were targeted for assaults and crackdowns. Despite the fact the Voters Strike did not produce a drop in the turnout (too many powerful forces were put into play for that to happen), non-participation in ersatz democracy was the only viable stance, the best option among a host of bad choices. Serving as polling station monitors on election day, we saw what props up both “voluntary” and forced voting. We are glad we did not support this well-rehearsed stunt with our own votes. Russia faces another six years of disempowerment, poverty, lies, and wars—but not in our name.

Only those people who were hoping for a miracle could be disappointed today. Grudinin, whose fans predicted he would make it into the second round, returned worse results than Gennady Zyuganov did in 2012. Some analysts expected that the candidate of the patriotic leftist camp would steal votes from Putin’s conservative electorate, but that did not happen. Nor did Grudinin convince chronic non-voters to go to the polls, since he did not offer them anything new.

Presidential elections, obviously, are not a focal point of politics and an opportunity for change. They are a mode of manipulating public opinion meant to leave everything the way it was.

We need a new politics that undermines the power structures making it possible to manipulate the populace in the interests of the elite. We need a politics that takes on the power of management over employees, the power of the patriarchy over women and young people, and the power of the bureaucracy over local self-government. Since electoral politics has essentially been banned, the democratic leftist movement must rely on nonconformist communities opposed to Putinism in the workplace, education and culture, city and district councils, the media, and the streets.

Only in this way, not as the result of yet more heavy-handed maneuvering by the regime or the opposition to fill the ever more obvious void of popular democratic (i.e., leftist) politics, can a force emerge that is a real alternative to the system. We are going to keep working on shaping that force.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“We Are Racing into a Huge Pit”: The Small-Town Russian Businessman Who Publicly Opposed Putin

All that is left of the anti-Putin leaflets posted by Nikolai Korshunov

“We Are Racing into a Huge Pit”: The Businessman Who Spoke Out against Putin
Аlexander Valiyev
Radio Svoboda
26 February 2018

In the town of Verkhny Ufaley, Chelyabinsk Region, police have torn down posters cataloguing the “brilliant” outcome of Putin’s reign from the outside walls of several shops. The posters were hung there by a local businessman, who has already had occasion to fight the authorities in this way. 

Nikolai Korshunov owns six small shop in this company town 120 kilometers from Chelyabinsk. Police paid visits to Korshunov’s shops on the eve of Fatherland Defenders Day, February 23. The businessman told Radio Svoboda what happened.

Николай Коршунов (в центре) с сыном и родственником на Забастовке избирателей в Москве

Nikolai Korshunov (middle) with his son and another relative at the Voters Strike, Moscow, January 28, 2018. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

Nikolai Korshunov: I am very active civically. I always serve as an elections monitor during elections. I own six small shops. We sell the basics: bread, milk, etc. The stores are my venue for voicing my opinion about current events. This takes the shape of handmade posters, information leaflets.

My argument is that, since the stores are my property, I have the right to post any information whatsoever in them. The Constitution gives me that right. But I have run into opposition from law enforcement and the city hall in our town. It also happened before the 2016 Duma elections, in which Verkhny Ufaley famously voted only four of the twenty United Russia candidates into the local parliament. People read my posters very carefully. Naturally, they regard anything that is not propaganda as out of the ordinary. It is interesting because if they, say, live in one part of town and the neighborhood dairy plant has shut down, they still remember that, but if, say, a timber plant or infant feeding center has ben closed on the other side of town, they might not have heard about it at all, because it does not affect them.  But when they read the entire list, they think to themselves, “What a lot of things have happened in our town over this time.” Even since the 2016 Duma elections there have been colossal changes for the worse in Verkhny Ufaley: total poverty, unemployment, and hopelessness.

An excerpt from one of Korshunov’s information leaflets. It lists by name the Verkhny Ufaley plants, companies, businesses, and services that have closed during Putin’s eighteen-year reign. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

​Radio Svoboda: What was on the the posters?

I have lived in Verkhny Ufaley for a very long time. I was born and raised here. In the run-up to the presidential election I decided to make a list of things that have changed in our town during the eighteen years of Putin’s administration. What businesses and factories have closed? The town’s main employer, the Ufaley Nickel Plant closed [in December 2017]. The Metalworker Factory closed. The open hearth and wheel spring shops closed. Then all hell broke loose: the sausage plant, the dairy, the furniture factory, etc., closed. There are thirty-four items on the list, including the children’s hospital and the railroad’s inpatient clinic. Then there are the plants that are barely hanging on. I wrote about them, too, for example, the metallurgical plant where five thousand people once worked. Now it employs a maximum of five hundred to seven hundred people.

Do you think people have suddenly forgotten about what has been happening in town?

Of course they know, but it is just another reminder, a way of saying, Hey, guys, you say that Vladimir Putin has raised the country from its knees, but I don’t think that is the case. I think we are racing into a huge pit at enormous speed. I cannot answer for the entire country, but as a resident of a small industrial town, I see what has been shut down, what has been destroyed, what has been dismantled, what has been pilfered. When you go and vote, people, think a bit before making your choice.

The continuation of Korshunov’s list. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

​How many votes do you think Putin will pick up in Verkhny Ufaley?

He will win for one simple reason. Our town is small: everyone knows everything about everyone else, and everyone tells everyone else about everything. I will give you an example. At the employment office—our town has terrible unemployment, by the way, because everything has shut down—the boss gathers his underlings and says, “God forbid you don’t go and vote. If you don’t, I won’t pay you bonuses.” This is more or less what goes throughout state sector. So a huge number of people, maybe even dissenters, will naturally go out and vote in order to keep their miserable jobs at places like the employment office. No one will buck against the bosses. So, Putin will definitely win. Because he has the administrative resource behind him, and huge numbers of people are incapable of thinking.

The administrative resource can compel people to turn out for an election, but people go into the voting booths alone. 

They have their tricks. They can ask people to photograph their filled-out ballot paper on their telephones and send them the photos. We have been through it before. It happend during the 2016 Duma elections, and during the 2012 presidential election, when I was a polling station monitor. It’s all elementary. It’s not a problem at all. But most people have, of course, been hypnotized by television. They cannot reason, think or compare facts. When it comes to them, what the TV says definitely goes, although it is flagrant, mendacious, aggressive propaganda.

I am sure people have asked you, “If not Putin, then who?” People do not see an alternative. How do you counter them?

В таком виде полиция оставила стену магазина после своего визита
The wall of one of Korshunov’s shops looked like this after a visit from the local police. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

There is no alternative for one reason and one reason alone: all of politics has been purged by the administrative resource. Anyone who could compete against Putin would never be allowed to run in honest, alternative elections under any circumstances. That’s why there is no alternative. Putin’s only “opponents” are people who have definitely been appointed to the role. They stand for nothing and no one, and compared with them Putin looks like a superhero. On top of everything is the propaganda and hypnosis that reinforces the message that Putin is the most respected politician in the world, and we are the world’s mightiest country.

Do people in Verkhny Ufaley know about Alexei Navalny, his exposés, and his call to boycott the presidential election?

Most of them don’t know, of course. A particular segment knows, young people mainly, of course, because Navalny has access only to the internet, to YouTube, which is largely viewed by young people, by schoolchildren and university students. Elderly people know nothing about Navalny, naturally. They know only what the propagandists on TV tell them: that Navalny is an out-and-out thief, scoundrel, and so on.

What about middle-aged people?

Middle-aged people are probably more thoughtful, but not so very thoughtful at the end of the day. Our town is basically a village. We live in a kind of swamp. Middle-aged people are averse to risks. They work somewhere in the state sector, earn ten thousand rubles a month [approx. 142 euros], and are up to their necks in debt. When they sit around chatting in the kitchen, they support Navalny, of course. But they cannot voice their opinions actively, because they would be fired from their jobs in two seconds flat. People primarily think about themselves. Their political views come second.

A photograph of all thirty-four factory and other closures in Verkhny Ufaley during the Putin years, along with the message, “Think hard! What will become of the town between March 18, 2018, and March 2024? || March 18: Not an election, but a fraud. Don’t let yourself be fooled. Don’t go [and vote]. The Voters Strike.” Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

How have the authorities reacted to your protests?

Our mayor is also secretary of the local United Russia party branch. During the 2016 election campaign, I hung up leaflets in my shops saying United Russia was the party of crooks and thieves. The United Russians came running and blatantly tore down the posters. Many locals approached me afterwards and said, well done, I had done the right thing, because the United Russians were high-handed, arrogant, and had lost all sense of measure. During this campaign, they have reacted differently. First, they sent young women who work in lowly positions at city hall to photograph the leaflets in my shops. Then city hall put pressure on the police, who showed up on the eve of Fatherland Defenders Day, February 23. The leaflet had been up for around two weeks by then, and from time to time I had added information to them. They showed up when I was not there and tore down everything. In one shop, they tore down a big piece of fiberglass along with the posters. There were five or six of them. They intimidated the cashiers. They took statements from them and drove away. That happened in five shops. They showed up at the sixth shop the next day. There, however, the cashier is a serious woman. She did not let them tear down the posters and called me. I arrived, and we hashed things out with them for two and a half hours. There were two neighborhood beat cops and an investigator. They were unable to tell me what laws I could have violated. I imagine they are quite unfamiliar with the Administrative Offenses Code. From time to time they would call the dispatch center for instructions. I know there is nothing illegal about my actions. Nothing will come of it, just like last time.

There was no pressure on you after the Duma elections? You were not tormented with surprise inspections of your shops?

No, there was nothing of the sort. I was written up for an administrative violation, but apparently the magistrates told the police there was no law covering leaflets. So nothing came of it, nor was any pressure put on me.

Are you planning to file a complaint against the police?

I did not complain last time, and I will not complain this time, either. It is a waste of time. There is honor among thieves.

Will you put the leaflets back up?

Yes, definitely, they are already up in some shops.

What are your plans for March 18? Will you vote?

I completely agree with Alexei Navalny. I’m going to boycott the vote. I even traveled to Moscow on January 28 for the Voters Strike. But I will definitely go to some polling station or another on election day to help prevent vote rigging.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up

Svyatoslav Rechkalov: “They Proceeded to Pull Down My Trousers, Threatening to Shock Me in the Groin”

“They Proceeded to Pull Down My Trousers, Threatening to Shock Me in the Groin”: Anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov Relateds How He Was Tortured and Beaten after Police Detained Him in Moscow
Mediazona
March 15, 2015

Anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, apprehended by police on March 14, has told Yevgeny Yenikeyev and Kogershyn Sagiyeva, members of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission (PMC), how he was tortured with electric shocks and beaten in police custody. To corroborate his statement, he showed the members of the PMC the traces left by the electric shocker: “[D]ifferently sized red dots on the outside of the hips and the knee.” The injuries were recorded by a paramedic at the Temporary Detention Center where Rechkalov is currently incarcerated. He and several other people were detained as part of the investigation of an attack in January on a United Russia party office in the Moscow neighborhood of Khovrino. Persons unknown shattered a window in the office and tossed a smoke grendade [sic: Grani.ru has reported it was a lighted flare] into the premises. Yelena Gorban and Alexei Kobaidze were detained on charges of vandalism, but were later released on their own recognizance. Below, we have published a transcript of Rechkalov’s handwritten statement. Yevgeny Yenikeyev posted a scan of the statement on his blog.

* * * * * * * * * *

At seven a.m. on March 14, 2018, police officers came to the flat where I live, at [address deleted], to search it. They knocked down the door, and then the search took place. Around twelve noon, I was taken from the building. I was blindfold with black adhesive tape, my hands were tied, and I was put in a minivan. I was driven around the city for several hours, and then placed in a GAZelle van containing police officers. My flatmates E. Sergeyeva and Yevgeny Popov were also in the van. Before I was placed in the van, the tape was removed from my eyes and my hands were untied.

After some time, I was put back in the minivan. A plastic bag was put over my head and I was handcuffed. In the minivan, two men whom I did not know asked me questions about the anarchist movement Popular Self-Defense (Narodnaya samooborona) and different people. How had I ended up in the movement? What did I have to do with it? What protests had I been involved in? What were the same people they had asked me up to? When I would refuse to answer or give an unsatisfactory reply, I was shocked with electrical current on the outside of my hips and the vicinity my knee (above and below the knee). They mostly shocked me in the left leg. At the moment, traces of the shocks are visible on my legs in the form of red dots.

From time to time, my interlocutors would get out of the minivan, and then two or three men would punch me in the body and legs, and shock my legs. The punches were mainly aimed at my lower back and were not hard. The electric shocks were their main method of working me over. The duration and intensity of the shocks increased. The men demanded I answer all their questions.

When they proceeded to pull down my trousers, threatening to shock me in the groin, I made up mind to incriminate myself in the vein in which the men were demanding I do. I confessed I was admin of Popular Self-Defense’s VK page, and a leader and organizer of the movement. If I refused to testify [later] to the investigator or went public with the fact I had been tortured and beaten, the men threatened to take me on a second trip with the electric shocker, a longer and more harrowing trip, and they promised to charge me in The Network case [meaning the so-called terrorist community The Network. The FSB has detained several anarchists in Penza and Petersburg in the case, and many of them have claimed they were tortured—Mediazona] and make the conditions of my stay in the Temporary Detention Center and Remand Prison difficult. My sense is I spent around an hour in the minivan.

Svyatoslav Rechkalov

I was then taken to a police precinct near the Tulskaya subway station, but maybe it was the Moscow police’s investigative department; I don’t know for sure. Around four p.m. I was taken into a room where Center “E” (Extremism Prevention Center) officers were seated. There, in the presence of Investigator Kostin, I repeated what the men in the minivan had demanded I say. One of the Center “E” officers in the room had been at my place during the search in the morning.

I was then taken off to be interrogated as a witness in the investigation of the case of vandalism against the United Russia party office. Aside from the investigator, whose surname I cannot remember, there were men in plain clothes in the room, including Center “E” officers. I testified in the vein in which I had been asked to testify, identifying myself as an admin of Popular Self-Defense’s VK page and an organizer of the movement. The men demanded I incriminate other people, which I refused to do. In the presence of the investigator, the men in plain clothes in the room threatened to take me on another trip in the minivan, after which I refused to give any more testimony. As a result of threats and coercion, I signed a transcript of my earlier testimony to the effect that I was a leader, organizer, and admin of Popular Self-Defense. That testimony was obtained through torture and threats of further torture.

My interrogation as a witness ended at approximately six p.m., after which I was kept at the police precinct until around nine-thirty p.m. Before this, I had demanded to call a lawyer of my choice, but I was not allowed to do this and was provided with a state-appointed lawyer. During my interrogation as a suspect, I repeated the testimony I had given earlier as a witness. I testifed because I was afraid they would torture me again and because I had given the same testimony as a witness. The interrogation ended at eleven p.m.

I spent the next eight hours in the police precinct until I was taken to the Temporary Detention Center by armed guards at around seven in the morning on March 15.

I am afraid the torture and pressure will continue, that my testimony, obtained through torture, will be entered into the case file, and that the threats to implicate me in The Network case will be carried out.

Thanks to Comrade TR for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

If you haven’t heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the related crackdown against Russian grassroots and political activists on the eve of the March 18 Russian presidential election, you need to read the following articles and spread the word.

They Jump on Anything That Moves, Part 3: The Case of the New Greatness Movement

Arrests Made in the New Greatness Case in Moscow
Grani.ru
March 15, 2018

Arrests and searches have been made in Mosxow in the investigation of the New Greatness movement. The first source to report the news was Kremlin Washerwoman, a Telegram channel associated with the security services. More detailed information was soon published by OVD Info.

The detainees included the movement’s leader, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and two female activists, Maria Lapina and a juvenile whose name has not been disclosed. They were taken to the Kuntsevo Inter-District Office of the Russian Investigative Committee. The female juvenile detainee was escorted by her father.

It is reported that during one of the searches a list containing the names of ten members of the movement was confiscated. According to uncorroborated reports, FSB investigators were present during the search.

There is information the juvenile detainee had earlier been subjected to pressure from Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention), after which her employer demanded she quit her job.

Photos of the search, as published on Kremlin Washerwoman, show campaign material for the so-called Voters’ Strike, a leaflet printed with New Greatness’s platform, and a t-shirt emblazoned with anarchist symbols.

Screenshot from the Telegram channel Kremlin Washerwomen. “Searches taking place at the home of supports of an obscure organization by the name of New Greatness. The guys drink a lot and cannot pin down their views.”

After lunch, Kremlin Washerwoman posted a video showing Kostylenkov’s confession. Out of breath, Kostylenkov recites a memorized text, mentioning in particular plans for “organizing a tribunal for members of the ruling elite” and “practice in shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails.”

Screenshot of Ruslan Kostylenkov’s alleged confession. Courtesy of Grani.ru’s Twitter account

The movement’s website contains only a home page featuring a notification that the site would be launched on March 15, that is, today. It also contains a brief, two-paragraph description of the movement’s objectives.

“We are the ones who will awake a sense of their own self-worth in people and help the nations of Russian acquire the energy for reviving the spirit of victors,” reads the text. “Only together can we build a strong country the rest of the world will respect and take into account.”

At the same time, both “pro-regime” and “opposition” forces are criticized for “divvying up spheres of influence,” while “ordinary people vegetate in poverty and dishonor, having forgotten the plight of the Motherland in which they live is in their hands.”

Screenshot of the homepage of New Greatness’s website

New Greatness began posting on its VK page on December 30 of last year. In late January, the movement encouraged people to take part in a rally demanding the preservation of trolleybus service in Moscow. The capital’s mayor has gradually been replacing trolleybus lines with bus line, which has sparked protests by environmentalists.

In February, New Greatness launched a large-scale campaign to paste anti-Putin leaflets around Moscow. The movement signaled it was in favor of boycotting the presidental election. On February 25, its activists were involved in the Boris Nemtsov Memorial March in Moscow.

On February 26, a pinned post was published on the movement’s VK page that read as follows: “Our young, ambitious, and quickly growing organization needs your help. If you are finally ready for the fight and willing to sacrifice your time and strength for the sake of our Motherland’s future by working in strong team led by an energetic leader, then join us. To do that, you must live in Moscow or Moscow Region and write to the message inbox on this page. If you cannnot help out physically, help us financially!”

The message is followed by an electronic address for transferring money.

On the evening of March 14, the Telegram canal A Copper Spills posted a message that opened as follows: “Evidence that an extremist organization has been established has been uncovered.”

The post’s author claimed Center “E” investigators in Moscow’s Southeastern District had discovered that “unidentified persons” had established “a group accessible to all [VK] users, which posted information about the creation of an informal political association whose main activity is involvement in popular insurrections, revolutionary actions, and clashes with the authorities.”

“The evidence is there, but for now we’ll keep quiet about everything else. When the times comes, we will tell all,” the author of the post concludes.

Kuntsevo is located in Moscow’s Western District, not in the Southeastern District. Besides, none of New Greatness’s posts contain calls for clashes with the authorities. In this connection, it is difficult to give an unequivocal answer to the question of whether the post on A Copper Spills had anything to do with the recent searches.

Thanks to Comrade Sammakko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. Not that anyone much cares (I’m not trying to be smug: I really don’t get the sense there are huge numbers of people either in my reading audience, Russia or the great wide world who genuinely care about any of this), but I think we can extract three takeway lessons rom the war the Russian security services and police have unleased against grassroots activists in recent months.

1. When the director of the FSB or Putin (I forget who) said the other day the FSB had “prevented” fifty or a hundred or six thousand “terrorist attacks” last year, what they really had in mind is juvenile operations and investigations like the one described in the article above. That is, perfectly harmless young people with “funny ideas” and “informal” lifestyles are turned into “terrorist groups” with a little ultraviolence from the so-called security services.

The key is to scare, threaten or torture the harmless non-terrorists into confessing their non-guilt and signing confessions before letting them see a lawyer. Then their gooses are cooked for good, because cases concerning “terrorism” and “public safety” more generally have been removed from the remit of jurors in Russia, meaning they are tried by judges who know in advance what verdicts they are supposed to hand down.

A jury of more or less intelligent people would look at the flimsy evidence and the forced confessions and be tempted to acquit the defendants. If the Bolotnaya Square defendants, for example, had been tried by juries of their peers, I have no doubt most if not all of them would have been acquitted.

2. It has become extraordinarily dangerous to call for a boycott of the March 18 presidential election. Activists who have been calling for a boycott have painted big targets on their backs, and the authorities have spent the last few months shooting at them with increasing ferociousness. Depending on their ideological leanings, the activists have been sentenced to more or less long jail sentences or branded “terrorists,” as seems to be the case with the unfortunates described in the Grani.ru article, above.

I could be wrong, but this “minor terror” alone should be enough to discredit the election in the eyes of anyone with a conscience. By voting on Sunday, you will be saying to the authorities they can terrorize with impunity anyone who criticizes elections in Russia too vigorously and loudly, although that is exactly what needs to happen.

3. The only way to beat this racket is broad-based solidarity, but as we have seen with the accused in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and even with many of Navalny’s nominal supporters sent off to jail or beaten up for god knows what reason, people occupying different political camps are not too eager to show their solidarity.

The poor folks from the utterly harmless and helpless New Greatness movement, I am nearly certain, will elicit no solidarity or support from anyone whatsoever, except maybe the lawyers from Agora or Public Verdict, if they are lucky.

This points up the biggest flaw in the Russian grassroots democratic movement (if such a thing exists): its clannish, extremely partisan notions of solidarity. There are very few political activists who cross party lines to show their solidarity with their nominal opponents, and this is a huge, crippling problem for the anti-Putin, pro-democracy movement if it wants ever to move forward for real.

When it comes to folks like the New Greatness movement, it likely means they will be railroaded and sent off to a penal colony for ten years or twenty years without so much as anyone but their loved ones even noticing it happened.

After all, even silly, harmless people have human rights, such as the right to an attorney, the right to a proper investigation, and the right to a fair trial. TRR

The Horrorshow Continues: Svyatoslav Rechkalov Tortured in Moscow

Tg4rFSHWUeY“Free Svyatoslav Rechkalov.” Photo courtesy of the VK page Popular Self-Defense

Anarchist Rechkalov Detained in Investigation of Attack on United Russia Campaign HQ, Tortured
Grani.ru
March 15, 2018

Anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, detained yesterday as part of an investigation of the attack on the United Russia party campaign headquarters in the Moscow district of Khovrino, has been remanded in custody to the Temporary Detention Center, as reported in the early hours of Thursday by OVD Info, who cited Yevgenia, a friend of Rechkalov’s who was detained at Rechkalov’s flat along with him and another person whose name has not been ascertained. It cannot be ruled out the person in question was an anarchist named Andrei, who as of Wednesday evening had also not been released from police custody.

Rechkalov informed his comrades that,when he was in the Moscow police’s investigation department, police officers had tortured him, demanding he confess his involvement in the attack. They put a plastic bag over Rechkalov’s head and administered electrical shocks to his legs.

It has not been ascertained whether Rechkalov confessed or not. Yevgenia maintains he had nothing to do with the attack on the United Russia headquarters.

Yevgenia and the unidentifed third detainee were released last night, but on Thursday they were summoned to the investigative department for questioning as witnesses.

On Thursday morning, lawyer Mikhail Biryukov reported he was going to the investigative department to obtain permission to see Rechkalov.

Yesterday, we reported that Left Bloc activist Vladimir Zhuravlov and an anarchist named Artyom had been questioned as witnesses in the case. Both men said they had no information about the attack.

In addition, security services officers searched the Left Bloc’s headquarters, confiscating all the equipment they found there and cracking open a safe. The three activists present the headquarters—Vadim Timergalin, Grigory Sineglazov, and Denis Avdeyev—were detained and taken to a police precinct. They were later released without charge.

The Left Bloc’s VK page reports officers at the precinct had “conversations” with the activists during which they repeatedly threatened them, demanding they testify against their Left Bloc comrades.

It was also noted that, during the search, a lawyer [sic] received messages from unknown accounts, messages supposedly written by the activists. They informed him they did not need his help.

Left Bloc linked the search of their headquarters and the interrogation of Zhuravlov with the ongoing campaign to boycott the upcoming Russian predisdental election. In particular, they mentioned a protest opposite the Nikulin Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard during which a banner emblazoned with the slogan “March 18: Tricks and Clowns” had been unfurled.

We assume that, as the presidential election approaches, the police and FSB want to intimidate everyone who has been calling for a boycott. They are justifiably afraid a low voter turnout is a danger to the political farce wrongly called an “election.” All activists involved in the election boycott are now in danger. We concede the outrageous instances of coercion could continue. However, no crackdown can force us to abandon the fight. Boycott the election! We cannot be intimidated! We cannot be forbidden! 

—Excerpt from a pinned post on the Left Bloc’s VK page

“March 18: Russian presidential election. Dissenters in the cellars of the FSB.” Image from the VK page Popular Self-Defense

The attack on United Russia’s campaign headquarters in Khvorino occurred late on the evening of January 30. Three people, including a young woman, took part in the attack. The attackers broke a window in the office and tossed a lighted flare inside. One of attackers filmed the attack on video.

Antifascists Yelena Gorban and Alexei Kobaidze were detained in the case on February 13, charged with vandalism under Article 214 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The crime entails a maximum punishment of three months in jail and, consequently, does not stipulate that people accused of the crime be remanded in police custody until a verdict has been reached, according to Article 108 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Procedural Code, which covers incarceration. Nevertheless, both Gorban and Kobaidze were sent to the Temporary Detention Center, as Rechkalov has been now.

However, forty-eight hours after they were apprehended, Gorban and Kobaidze were released on their own recognizance. Gorban had confessed her guilt, while it was reported Kobaidze had refused to testify, invoking his right not to incriminate himself under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.

Thanks to Comrades AR and ZV for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader