Stability

DSCN1722Russians queued up at a popular currency exchange in central Petersburg on September 19, 2018, as the ruble took yet another plunge, fueled by rumors that the regime was planning to “dedollarize” the Russian economy. Photo by the Russian Reader

Foreign Currency Deposits Withdrawn from Sberbank: Depositors Take Out Over $2 Billion in Two Months 
Vitaly Soldatskikh
Kommersant
October 6, 2018

In September, Russians continued to aggressively withdraw foreign currency from accounts in Sberbank (Savings Bank). Over the past month, the amount of these deposits decreased by $900,000,000, while the amount has decreased by more than $2 billion dollars since the beginning of August. The outflow of funds from the savings accounts of individual depositors took place as rumors of a possible forced conversion of foreign currency deposits grew. However, after reasurring statements by Elvira Nabiullina, chair of the Russian Central Bank, as well as a rise in rates on foreign currency deposits, the outflows may decrease.

On Friday, Sberbank published its monthly statement before other Russian banks, as usual. According to these figures, as we have analyzed them, the populace’s foreign currency-denominated bank deposits in Sberbank decreased by $901 million or 2.7% in September and now total $32.5 billion. Likely as not, Russians simply withdrew this money from the bank without exchanging it for rubles and redepositing it. According to Sberbank’s statement, the populace’s ruble-denominated sight deposits and term deposits descreased last month by 45.78 billion rubles or half a percent to 9.65 trillion rubles. Overall, the outflow of foreign currecy deposits slowed compared with August, when individual clients withdrew $1.18 billion from the bank.

Sberbank’s press service confirmed the outflow of $900 million in deposits by retail clients in September, but noted the inflow of funds from commercial clients amounted to approximately $1.5 billion. (This calculation was made using the bank’s in-house method.)

Sberbank termed August’s outflow of foreign currency deposits the product of a “managed evolution of the bank’s balance sheets.”

Meanwhile, in late August, Sberbank introduced a new seasonal foreign currency deposit plan, valid until the end of September, with annual interest rates that varied from 1.5% to 3%. (The highest rates was for customers willing to deposit a minimum of $150 million for a period of three years.) Currently, Sberbank’s highest interest rate for dollar-denominated deposits is 2.06%, whereas a number of major banks, including VTB Bank, Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank), Alfa Bank, and Rosbank, offer interest rates on dollar-denominated deposits of 2.5% per annum.

September’s outflow of deposits from Sberbank occurred as VTB Bank chair Andrey Kostin made a series of statements about the possible implementation of harsher sanctions, under which Russia’s state-owned banks could be stripped of the ability to make dollar-denominated transactions. Were this to occur, Kostin said, VTB Bank could not rule out having to disburse funds from dollar-denominated accounts in another currency as a way of upholding the bank’s obligations to its clients. These statements by the head of Russia’s second largest bank did not go unnoticed. Central Bank chair Elvira Naibullina was forced to calm bank customers by denying the possibility of a compulsory conversion of deposits. According to Naibullina, such moves would only undermine confidence in Russia’s banking system.

According to our analysis, foreign currency deposits held by commercial clients at Sberbank increased by $1.43 billion in September. This occurred largely due to the growth of long-term deposits by commercial firms. Deposits made for terms of three years or longer grew by $1.56 billion, while deposits for shorter terms shrunk. Also, the balances on the accounts of foreign companies grew by $902 million. The ruble-denominated balances on Sberbank accounts held by commercial clients grew by more than 222 billion rubles in September. This increase was mainly due to the nearly 151 billion rubles in additional monies raised by the Federal Treasury.

According to Fitch Ratings, the most considerable outflows in corporate funds, adjusted for fluctuations in the foreign currency exchange rate, were observed at Sberbank (117 billion rubles or 1.7%), Gazprombank (87 billion rubles or 2.8%), and Rossiya Bank (58 billion rubles or 9.4%). Retail deposits also declined mainly at Sberbank (107 billion rubles or 0.9%) and banks undergoing reorganization by the Central Bank (35 billion rubles or 3.2%), while other banks enjoyed a fairly uniform increase in retail deposits.

According to Ruslan Korshunov, director for bank ratings at Expert RA, the largest Russian credit rating agency, “Rumors of the Russian economy’s dedollarization and the possible conversion of foreign currency deposits into rubles could have pushed a segment of the populace to withdraw their money from state-owned banks, against which sanctions could be strengthened.”

At the same, Korshunov noted the outflow of retail deposits in September could also have been caused by a seasonal factor: the return of the populace from holiday and, consequently, an increase in consumer activity. However, he believed these factors had a one-off effect and such outflows were highly unlikely in October.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Autumn 2018 Fundraiser for Russian Political Prisoners

vladimir akimenkov.jpgVladimir Akimenkov. Courtesy of his Facebook page

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
October 4, 2018

AUTUMN FUNDRAISER FOR RUSSIAN POLITICAL PRISONERS

Despite all the problems in our lives, we are free in one way or another, or we live in so-called freedom, as Pyotr Pavlensky observed. Despite increasing state prohibitions and surveillance, we are not trapped between four walls. We can at least partially afford to satisfy our needs, and we are less likely to be beaten or tortured by state security forces.

On the contrary, political prisoners, like all convicts generally, have many few fewer rights than people on the outside, although political prisoners are freer and stronger than many people who are not in prison. These people have been imprisoned for our sake. On the outside, political prisoners were involved in various outstanding causes. Or, at very least, they evinced basic human dignity, which the Russian state punishes as a criminal offense.

We must continue to support political prisoners. One way of doing that is with our wallets. Assistance to such people, support for the victims of political repression, the fight to free these people and, more generally, the fight for society’s freedom have always gone on in Russia, even during the darkest days of the tsarist autocracy and Bolshevik despotism.

Between 2013 and 2018, we have raised over 11 million rubles for a variety of political prisoners. Unfortunately, no matter how much money we raise, it is never enough, especially since many of the political prisoners I have had occasion to work with have been sentenced to long terms in prison, sometimes in the double digits.

With very rare exceptions, however, the Putin regime has no intention of releasing political prisoners. On the contrary, it has only increased its crackdowns. The Kremlin does not even want to exchange hostages from Ukraine.

I am launching a new campaign to raise money for the political prisoners I have chosen help. You should note this group now includes the young men accused as part of the so-called Network case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.

You can make donations any time by transferring money to the following accounts.

Bank Transfers in Rubles
Bank’s Correspondence Account: 30101810400000000225
Bank’s BIC: 044525225
Recipient’s Account Number: 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Individual Tax Number: 7707083893
Recipient’s Name: Akimenkov Vladimir Georgievich

Bank Transfers in Foreign Currencies
SWIFT Code: SABRRUMM
Recipient’s Account Number: 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Name: Akimenkov Vladimir Georgievich

Please make a note on your transfers, identifying them as charitable donations.

In keeping with established practice, after the campaign has been completed and the money donated has been distributed to the political prisoners, I send a financial report to the donors whose identities are known to me.

Thank you.

You are welcome to disseminate information about this fundraising campaign.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Wave Theory, or, Everyone Is Police

FRANCE. Essonne. Near Juvisy-sur-Orge. 1955.Henri Cartier-Bresson, Près de Juvisy-sur-Orge, France, 1955. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos.

Can you imagine reading an “expert” opinion, like the one I have translated and reproduced, below, published by a political commentator in a more or less democratic country?

I won’t bother arguing about the accuracy of the analysis. It may, in fact, be wildly inaccurate. Actually, if you read it two or three times in a row, you would find that is ridden with glaring contradictions.

For example, it is strange to accuse Alexei Navalny, who was jailed nearly the entire time, of being on the sidelines during the anti-pension reform protests when, in fact, his team’s activists organized protests all over Russia, some of them quite large, and this despite the fact that dozens of them were also treated to so-called preventive arrests by the Putin regime’s legally nihilistic law enforcers.

It is even stranger to argue that Navalny matters so little to the Kremlin now that it has decided it is high time to send him to prison and throw away the key.

I am no great fan of Jeremy Corbyn’s, alas, but I am grateful, nonetheless, that Theresa May and her minions could not even contemplate framing him on trumped-up charges and sending him down for however many years they think would “neutralize” him.

If you do not understand this essential difference between flat-out authoritarian-cum-fascist countries like Putinist Russia and the world’s democracies, most of them in bad shape, like May and Corbyn’s UK, you should probably disqualify yourself from commenting on politics.

Because this is police, not politics, as Jacques Rancière would have put it, even if it is only expressed as a prediction by a think-thankerette-cum-spin doctor who claims to have inside knowledge of what the Kremlin has been contemplating, but for some reason lives in a suburb of Paris. {TRR}

____________________________________________

Tatiana Stanovaya
Facebook
October 2, 2018

The Kremlin is seriously discussing a tangible prison sentence for Alexei Navalny. There are several key arguments that would favor making such a decision.

First, Navalny was sidelined during the anti-pension reform protests. By and large, no one was able to saddle the wave of discontent. The Kremlin thinks it would be better to neutralize Navalny now while it is not too late. It would be harder later.

Second, Navaly’s negative rating [sic] is high. Television has done its job. The expectations are that, if Navalny were sent down, no serious wave [of protest] would rise up. Society would fail to notice it, and liberals hardly worry anyone, while the liberals who are in power would risk losing a lot [if they came to Navalny’s defense].

Third, the Zolotov factor has played its role. The head of the Russian National Guard was so hurt by Navalny’s exposé that he himself has become a source of concern. The Kremlin believes it is better not to rub him the wrong way, since an angry Zolotov is a danger not only to the regime’s alleged enemies but also to the regime itself or, rather, to various spin doctors [sic].

Fourth and finally, while Putin was previously opposed to sending [Navalny] down, fearing it would make Navalny a hero (this, supposedly, was Volodin’s argument), Putin now sees this risk as too trivial compared with other risks, including an abrupt drop in his own rating and the general sense that everything has been set in motion, and he does not have time for Navalny [sic].

If, in the very near future, something does not happen at the grassroots that would interfere with sending [Navalny] down, it is nearly inevitable. And yes, the current domestic policy spin doctors take Navalny much less seriously than their predecessors [sic].

Tatiana Stanovaya is identified on her Facebook page as a “Columnist/Commentator at Moscow Carnegie Center” and “Former [sic] CHEF DU DÉPARTEMENT ANALYTIQUE, CENTRE DES TECHNOLOGIES POLITIQUES” who lives in Juvisy-sur-Orge, France. Thanks to The Real Russia. Today mailer, compiled daily by Meduza, for the heads-up. Kudos to its editor for realizing suddenly that Russian social media are an important source of information, gossip, and fairy tales about Russian politics. The emphases, sics, and italics in the text are mine. Translated by the Russian Reader

Leonid Volkov: The Export Pozner

pozner-yale-1.jpgVladimir Pozner at Yale University on September 27, 2018. Photo by Peter Cunningham. Courtesy of YaleNews

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
September 28, 2018

Yale has an incredibly rich extracurricular life. Every evening is chockablock with special events, public lectures, round tables, debates, and so on. Many politicians and public figures consider it an honor to speak at Yale. Today, for example, the president of Ghana is going to be lecturing, and there is nothing exotic about it.

All these events fight for an audience. They are advertised in a variety of mailings, and the bulletin boards on campus are densely crammed with flyers.

I imagine the president of Ghana will be sad today. He was beaten this evening [September 27]. The prettiest flyers, which have been on the bulletin boards since mid-August, announced a lecture provocatively entitled “How the United States Created Vladimir Putin.”

I had never seen such a popular event here. It was standing room only. Audience members (students, professors, researchers, etc.) sat on the steps of the lecture hall and stood in the aisles. There were around three hundred people. And no, I could not resist my curiosity, either. I was really interested in how Channel One operated when it was exported.

On stage was the ageless Vladimir Pozner. Would that everyone looked like that at eighty-four! His speech and manners were flawless. His manner of interacting with the audience was impeccable. He joked when it was appropriate and answered questions quickly. He was a professional of the highest class.

[These were Pozner’s talking points.]

  • Putin extended a helping hand after 9/11, but it was rejected.
  • The first proposal Putin made when he was elected to the presidency in 2000 was that Russia should join NATO. He was mortally offended by NATO’s rejection of his offer.
  • He fully voiced this resentment in his 2007 Munich speech, and the resentment was justified.
  • The western media have portrayed Putin in a negative light, all but comparing him with Hitler. This treatment has been wholly undeserved.
  • By offending and attacking Putin, they naturally angered him and made him what he is. The media are to blame for this (sic).

Did Russia meddle in the 2016 US presidential election?

[Pozner’s response was that] the Russian regime cheered for Trump, naturally, because Hillary Clinton had said so many bad things about Putin, but Pozner had seen no proof of meddling. Besides, had America not meddled in elections the world over?

And so it went.

Moreover, [the tone of the Pozner’s speech was captured] in the very first words [out of Pozner’s mouth].

“First of all, believe me when I say I am not representing anyone here. I speak here as an independent journalist, a breed that has nearly died off in Russia.”

Oh, while I was writing all this down, there was a question about Crimea. [Pozner’s response can be paraphrased as follows.]

Was international law violated? Yes, it was, but Sevastopol is a city populated by Russian naval officers and sailors. How could Russia have allowed the possibility of losing its naval base there and having it replaced by a NATO base, by the US Sixth Fleet? Should international law not be disregarded in such circumstances? Besides, Crimea has always been part of Russia.

Finally, [Pozner told his listeners, they] would understand better what had happened in Crimea if [they] imagined what would happen if a revolution occurred in Mexico (sic). In this case, would the US not want to deploy several army divisions on its southern border?

Yes, a new referendum should probably be held in Crimea, but [Pozner] was absolutely certain of the referendum’s outcome.

Argh!

Pozner equated Putin and Russia, of course, in all his remarks.

“It was clear the Russians had to respond in a certain way,” he would say in reference to actions taken by Putin.

In short, my friends, I was impressed. The export Pozner is nothing at all like the Pozner served up for domestic consumption in Russia. (I hope he is very well paid.)

But despite his best efforts, Pozner portrayed Putin as a rather pitiful man: insecure, petty, and vindictive. In this sense, of course, Pozner did not lie.

Leonid Volkov has been attacked on his own Facebook page by readers and Mr. Pozner himself on the latter’s website for his allegedly inaccurate portrait of Mr. Pozner’s appearance at Yale. Stories about the evening published on Yale University’s in-house organ YaleNews and the university’s student-run newpaper the Yale Daily News, however, substantially corroborate Mr. Volkov’s sketch of the event. His description of Pozner and his talk also jibe with my own sense of Mr. Pozner as a chameleon who skillfully tailors his messages to his audiences and the times. Or was it not Mr. Pozner who routinely appeared on my favorite news program, ABC’s Nightline, when I was a teenager in the early 1980s, to defend the moribund Soviet regime with a completely straight face? Read “In the Breast of Mother Russia Speaks a Kind and Loving Heart” for an account of a similiarly virtuoso agitprop performance by Mr. Pozner in the US nearly four years ago. {TRR}

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Davydov: The Russian Protest Federation

614352f5bad27acc282af798084aa5e3Protest rally in Abakan against plans to raise the retirement age. Photo by Alexander Kryazhev. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Republic

The Russian Protest Federation: How Moscow Has Stopped Shaping the Political Agenda. Will Ordinary Russians Realize Pension Reform and Geopolitical Triumphs Are Linked?
Ivan Davydov
Republic
September 27, 2018

The people who took to the streets long ago on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue deserve the credit for the reinstatement of gubernatorial elections in Russia. It was a time that would be unimaginable now. There was no war with Ukraine. Crimea had not been annexed. No one had given Syria a second thought. It still makes you wonder why the Kremlin took fright then, albeit briefly. Instead of guessing, we should note it was the capital that led the national protest movement then, confirming yet again the centripetal nature of life in Russia. Over a 100,000 people attended the first two protest rallies in Moscow, on December 10, 2011, and February 4, 2012. Petersburg took second place, sending 25,000 people onto the streets for its February 2012 rally, but no one other city was even close. Protests took place in dozens of cities, including all the major ones, but the best the regions achieved was something on the order of 5,000 people in attendance. In most places, the average crowd numbered around a thousand people.

The opposition failed just like the regime. It transpired the national agenda and the agenda of Muscovites were the same thing. The farther you went from Moscow, the less people were worried about the issues exercising newspaper reporters. Least of all were they worried about their own real problems, about local issues, and thus there was no chance of changing things in Russia.

But the credit for transforming gubernatorial elections into something really resembling elections, albeit quite remotely, must go to the regions. The takeaway message is that the regime’s electoral fiasco in the regions on September 9 is a nationally significant event. The rank-and-file voters there, who cast their ballots for sham candidates from parties other than United Russia as a way of registering their disgust with the local political bosses, have turned circumstances inside out. The regions are now dictating their agenda to Moscow, as governors who seemed invulnerable only recently look shaky, and even Putin himself has been forced to break a sweat.

Airbag
As befits a myth, the Moscow myth that, putting it as succinctly as possible, Moscow is not the real Russia, is not true at all. But, like any good myth with life in it, it is based on real things. As I write this column, water is gurgling in the radiators of the standard Moscow high-rise where I live, because the heating season has kicked off. It is ten degrees Celsius outside, and Moscow’s tender inhabitants would freeze otherwise. Meanwhile, all the news agencies are reporting as their top news item that a place in the queue to buy the new iPhone at Moscow stores will set you back 130,000 rubles [approx. 1,700 euros]. That is expensive, of course, but you would let yourself be seen as an outdated loser at your own peril.

Muscovites protest often, although in fewer numbers than during the fair elections movement. To outsiders, however, protesting Muscovites almost always look like whimsical people who are too well off for their own good. Everyone knows Moscow has wide pavements, new subway stations, the Moscow Central Ring, and perpetual jam festivals and nonstop carnivals on Nikolskaya Street. People who live in places where even today anti-tank trenches pass for roads, and the mayor nicked the benches from the only pedestrian street (urbanism is ubiquitous nowadays, no longer a Moscow specialty) and hauled them to his summer cottage, find it really hard to take seriously people who are up in arms over a new parks whose birches were imported from Germany, and holiday lighting whose cost is roughly the same as the annual budget of an entire provice somewhere outside the Black Earth Region. The residents of “construction trailer accretions” (you will remember that during one of President Putin’s Direct Lines, the residents of a “construction trailer accretion” in Nyagan came on the air to complain) find it hard to understood people protesting so-called renovation, as in Moscow, that is, people who protest the demolition of their old residential buildings and being resettled in new buildings. For that is how it appears when geographical distance obscures the particulars.

The regime has skillfully manipulated this gap. Remember the role played by the “real guys” from the Uralvagonzavod factory during the fair elections movement, or the out-of-towners bussed into the capital for pro-Putin rallies on Poklonnaya Hill and Luzhniki Stadium. But the gap functions as yet another airbag for the Kremlin even when it makes no special effort to manipulate it. Moscow is part of Russia when we are talking about national issues and the fact those issues are debated in Moscow as well, but since any sane non-resident of Moscow believes Moscow is no part of Russia, the big issues end up being issues that exercise Muscovites, but do not interest people beyond Moscow.

The Main Political Issue
Alexei Navalny has bridged the gap slightly. His attempt to set up regional presidential campaign offices seemed absurd since everyone, including Navalny, realized he would not be allowed on the ballot and there would be no reason to campaign. He ran a campaign anyway, and his campaign offices turned into local pockets of resistance, into needles that hit a nerve with the regime while simulatneously stitching Russia together and removing Moscow’s monopoly on national politics. His campaign offices are manned by bold young people willing to take risks and good at organizing protest rallies. Of course, even now more people in Moscow attend Navalny’s protest rallies than in other cities, but people have still been taking to the streets in dozens of cities for the first time since the fair elections protests of 2011–2012. Navalny’s campaign offices splice issues that the locals get with national issues, thus producing the fabric of real politics. When I discussed the subject of this column with the editors of Republic, one of them joked Navalny was a “franchise.” The joke has a point, but the point is not offensive.

It was Vladimir Putin, however, who really turned the tide or, rather, the federal authorities, of which Putin is the living embodiment. The pension reform has made it abundantly clear the Russian authoritarian state no longer intends to be paternalist. The state has suddenly discovered what people actually liked about it was the paternalism. Or they put up with the paternalism. It is hard to say what word would be more precise. But they did not put up with it due to its victories on the geopolitical front.

The pension reform has erased the line between the big issues, debated by well-fed people in Moscow, and the real issues that constitute the lives of real people. This is quite natural, since being able to claim Russia’s miserly pensions a bit earlier in life is more important in places where life is harder. Moscow is definitely not the worse place in Russia to live. Despite the myth, Moscow is no heaven on earth, either, but the central heating has already been turned on, for example.

So, even a dull, boring, well-rehearsed formality like gubernatorial elections has become an effective tool of protest. The regime made a single mistake, a mistake to which no one would have paid attention to a year ago. (Since when has vote rigging seriously outraged people in Russia? Since days of yore? Since 2011?) The mistake set off a chain reaction. The new single nationwide election day had been a boon to the Kremlin, its young technocrats, and its not-so-young handpicked “businesslike” governors. If the elections had not taken place simultaneously everywhere, and the fiasco in the Maritime Territory had occurred at the outset of the elections season, it is not clear how powerful a victory the no-name candidates from the loyal opposition would have scored.

Maybe Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky would have had to disband their parties for fear of reprisals from the regime, since, the way they have long seen things, there is nothing more terrifying than success, and nothing more dangerous than real politics.

A Moscow municipal district council member from the opposition can easily make a coherent, meaningful speech about how the war in Syria has impacted the clumsiness of Mayor Sobyanin’s hired hands, relaying the tile in some unhappy, quiet alley for the third time in a single year. The council member’s speech would elicit laughter, and the laughter would be appropriate. But amidst the customary laughter we need to be able to discern the main question of a reemergent Russian politics.

The issue is this. Will ordinary Russians understand—and, if so, how quickly—that the pension reform (the first but not the last gift to the common folk from their beloved leaders) is part and parcel of the mighty Putin’s geopolitical triumphs, their inevitable consequence, rather than a betrayal and a rupture of the social compact, as certain confused patriotic columnists have been writing lately?

Ultimately, it is a matter of survival for Russia and for Putin. One of the two must survive. As in the films about the immortal Highlander, only one will be left standing at the end of the day.

Ivan Davydov is a liberal columnist. Translated by the Russian Reader

God Is Merciless, or, Mary Dejevsky

DSCN1761

Since childhood I have had the habit of going to sleep listening to the radio. It would be a queer but innocent habit were it not for the fact that I had Lutheranism mainlined into my brain during childhood as well. I am thus perpetually a sinner in the hands of an angry god, and that god is frequently quite displeased with me. Or so it seems.

From time to time, Jehovah punishes me by putting the British journalist and Putin fan Mary Dejevsky on the radio as I am going to sleep.

Last night, she was on ABC Radio National’s Between the Lines, and she was in fine fettle.

Asked about the political crisis sparked by the pension reform in Russia, Dejevsky said she rather admired Vladimir Putin for spending some of his tremendous reserves of political capital and popularity by biting the bullet and trying to solve an objective problem so his “successor” would not have to solve it.

It is actually a good problem to have, this business of needing to raise the retirement age precipitously, Dejevsky argued, because it is premised on the supposedly happy alleged fact that Russians are, on average, living much longer than before, and that, we were meant to imagine, was due to Putin’s wise policies.

When the hapless Australian interviewer, Tom Switzer, asked her about the nationwide protests sparked by the proposed reform and the numerous arrests at those protests, Dejevsky dismissed them out of hand, claiming she had been to “provincial Russia” just last week, and things there were “peaceful.”

I won’t even go into Dejevsky’s sparkling defense of Putin’s illegal occupation of Crimea, which prefaced her lies about Putin’s popularity, the pension reform, and the supposedly sleepy provinces.

In case you are not a Lutheran occasionally punished by the Lord God Jehovah by having to listen to Mary Dejevsky in the middle or night or read the latest pro-Putinist tripe she has written, I would remind you she has long been gainfully employed by the Independent and the Guardian as a columnist, and she is a frequent guest on thoroughly respectable news outlets such as ABC Radio National, BBC Radio 4, etc.

It seemingly has not occurred to the smart, cynical folk working at these bastions of tough-minded journalism that Mary Dejevsky is a less than objective observer of the Russian scene.

The Lutheran god is a merciless god. {TRR}

Photo by the Russian Reader. This blog was slightly edited after I received legal threats from an electronic entity claiming to be Mary Dejevsky.

Andrey Loshak: What the Krasnodar Police Did to Lawyer Mikhail Benyash

mikhail benyahsMikhail Benyash. Courtesy of Andrey Loshak’s Facebook page

Andrey Loshak
Facebook
September 24, 2018

Achtung! Uwaga! Attention! Yet another outburst of lawlessness is underway in Krasnodar, an experimental region of Russia where the authorities test ever more repressive techniques and see whether they can get away with them or not. When I was making a film about volunteers in Navalny’s presidential campaign, it was Krasnodar where I encountered the gnarliest fucked-up shit. Provocateurs in hoods and masks attacked young people attending an “unauthorized” protest rally, and the cops, who stood nearby, claimed not to see anybody in masks attacking anyone. It was really frightening. The provocateurs assaulted the activists and assisted the cops in loading them into paddy wagons. I was also detained then for the first time in my life, despite my attempts to prove I was a reporter. I was quickly released, however. They were still afraid of causing a stir in the Moscow liberal media.

Afterwards, my cameraman and I stood outside the gates of the police station until one in the morning filming the activists, who were mainly really young men and woman, as they were let go after they were formally charged and written up. The whole time this was happening, the lawyer Mikhail Benyash was trying to get into the police station, but the police kept him out. He stood by the gate, writing down the names and numbers of the released detainees. He sadly reported that, due to the court hearings of the detainees, whom he would be defending, he would not be making it back to his hometown of Gelendzhik anytime soon, although there he was in the midst of civil court cases involving hoodwinked investors in unbuilt cooperative apartment buildings.

I asked him why he bothered with all of it when no one paid him for his work. His answer stunned me. It transpired he and I had the exact same motives. He also liked the young people who had been detained, and he also saw them as a source of hope. He was the first romantic lawyer I had ever met. (Unfortunately, I did not know Stanislav Markelov personally.) It was no wonder I took a shine to him. Later, in our correspondence, he suggested titling the series The Ugly Swans, after the novel by the Strugatskys, and wrote me a detailed explanation of why I should do it.

Here is an excerpt from his letter.

“These were the kind of young people with whom you spoke on October 7: quite сheerful, cool, and kind. Unspoiled. Clever, a little naive, and free of feigned helplessness. They grew up on the internet, in the chats on VK and Telegram.

“Instead of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, they imbibed fantasy novels and movies about superheroes, and they fashioned all of it into a model for doing the right thing.

“Instead of Dostoevsky’s subservience, they absorbed the humor of Marvel Comics and a primitive albeit correct sense of right and wrong from movies about Batman, the Flash, and Iron Man. They fire back at priests of all types with quotations from Sheldon Cooper.

“Now I have been watching all these crazy comics serials, but not for entertainment or by way of procrastinating, but in order to understand the young people who grew up on them and so I can speak their language. I’m holding my own for the time being, but the kids are evolving rapidly.”

On September 9, which the Navalny Team had declared a day of protests nationwide, Benyash arrived in Krasnodar as usual to defend activists detained at the march, which, as usual, had not been authorized by the authorities. On the eve of the protest, nearly all Navalny staffers in Krasnodar had been arrested on a ridiculous pretext: all of them were jailed for, allegedly, disobeying police officers. There was not anything like this preventive crackdown in any other city in Russia.

On the way to Krasnodar, Benyash got a telephone call informing him he was under surveillance by the police. The caller also told him his exact location. Mikhail does not scare easily, so he did not turn around. Once he was in Krasnodar, he headed with a female acquaintance to the police station where the detainees would be taken.

Suddenly, a Mazda stopped next to him. Several brutes in plain clothes jumped out of the car, grabbed Mikhail, and tossed him into their car, where they forcibly confiscated his telephone as he was trying to telephone colleagues. The men beat him, choked him, and pressed his eyes with their fingers.

At the police station, he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and dragged to the fourth floor. In Krasnodar, experienced opposition activists know the fourth floor is the location of the CID and that if you are taken there, it means the police will put on the pressure and try and beat a confession out of you.

All of these events were witnessed by Mikhail’s female companion, whom the cops also brought to the station.

On the fourth floor, they beat the living daylights out of Benyash. Several blows to his face caused him to fall and hit his head on the corner of a safe.

Meanwhile, the news got out that Benyash had been detained. Lawyer Alexei Avanesyan tried to get into the station to see him, but the police would not let him in. At some point, the cops donned helmets and armor before announcing the station was going into lockdown mode, which happens when a police state is threatened by an armed attack from the outside. In fact, the police in Krasnodar go into lockdown mode every time they don’t want to let lawyers into the station to consult with detained opposition activists. When Avanesyan learned Benyash had been beaten, he summoned an ambulance crew to examine Benyash, who recorded and certified his injuries. By ten p.m., i.e., eight hours after Benyash had been detained, the lockdown was called off and Avanesyan was let into the police station.

There Avanesyan encounted Deputy Chief Papanov, who lied, telling Avanesyan Benyash was not at the station. Avanesyan is not the shy and retiring type, either. He took advantage of the confusion to make a break for the fourth floor, where he found the beaten Benyash in a room and three field agents huddled over him. Avanesyan was then allowed to consult with the detained lawyer Benyash. The police were trying to frame him on two charges: organizing an unauthorized protest rally and resisting the police!

Avanesyan alerted their colleagues via social media, asking them to come to Banyash’s court hearing. Seven lawyers showed up. Although the hearing was scheduled for nine in the morning, it didn’t kick off until ten in the evening. Apparently, none of the local judges wanted to get dirt on their hands.

The court clerk, who was drunk, didnot want to let the lawyers into the hearing, but she was forced to back off, but ordinary members of the public were not admitted into the courtroom.

Judge Buryenko denied all the motions made by the defense. He did not ask police officers to testify. He did not admit the video recordings into evidence, and he even refused to view them. He did not call Benyash’s companion to testify, although she was standing in the hallway.

Benyash was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to forty hours of community service and fourteen days in jail. Although the lawyer had nothing to do with organizing or running the protest rally, he was given the harshest punishment for his non-involvement in it, despite the fact that the number of detainees in Krasnodar also broke all records: around one hundred protesters were hauled in by the police on September 9.

I quote Mediazona, who cite the court’s written verdict.

“According to the police officer’s report, Benyash got into the car voluntarily in order to go to the police station and have charges filed against him, but in the police station parking lot the lawyer banged his head against the car window of his own accord and kicked open the door in an attempt to escape. The police officer claims Benyash refused to stop hitting his head against the wall [sic], which was grounds for charging him with violating Article 19.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code.”

But there is more. Benyash was supposed to be released from jail yesterday. Avanesyan arrived at the special detention facility, seventy kilometers outside of Krasnodar, where Benyash had been jailed, to pick him up. But instead of picking up his released colleague, he was shown a new indictment against Benyash, this time on criminal charges. Benyash was alleged to have violated Article 318 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code: “engaging in violence against the authorities.” Medical certificates attesting to the finger bites allegedly suffered by police officers and the enormous suffering they endured as a result have been admitted into evidence.

Benyash has again been detained: for forty-eight hours for the time being. Tomorrow, he will go to court.

Dear colleagues from Novaya Gazeta, TV Rain, and other independent media, please cover this case. Otherwise, the experiment in Krasnodar will very quickly  expand nationwide. Even the Brezhnev-era KGB did not stoop to beating up and imprisoning dissident lawyers.

Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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