Two Network Case Defendants Married in Prison

Anastasia Pchelintseva and Anna Shalunkina after their weddings to Dmitry Pchelintsev and Maxim Ivankin. Photo courtesy of 7×7 and Novaya Gazeta

Two Defendants in Network Case Married in Prison
Novaya Gazeta
January 29, 2020

Dmitry Pchelintsev and Maxim Ivankin, two defendants in the Penza trial of the so-called Network (a terrorist organization banned in Russia)* have been married in remand prison, reports 7×7.

Registry Office workers registered Dmitry Pchelintsev’s marriage to his girlfriend, Anastasia Tymchuk, in the room on the premises of Penza Correctional Facility No. 4 where the defendants are currently held. Journalists, relatives, and friends of the couple were not allowed to attend the ceremony. Tymchuk reported that the groom made her a windcatcher as a wedding gift.

“It makes no difference what our life will be like from here on out: whatever the verdict and sentence are, we are still going to be together. We are still going to see this through to the end. We are going to seek the truth and do everything to secure [Dmitry’s] release,” Pchelintsev’s bride told journalists.

Another defendant in the case, Maxim Ivankin, registered his marriage to Anna Shalunkin at Penza Remand Prison No. 1. Ivankin had proposed to his girlfriend right in the courtroom after one of the hearings in the trial, presided over by judges from the Volga Military District Court.

“The whole procedure took two minutes,” Shalunkina said after the ceremony. “We only managed to ask each other how the other was doing. Whereas [Pchelintsev and Tymchuk] were allowed to sit next to each other and chat, here [in remand prison] there were two stools, a table, and a cage. I stood next to the table, and [Ivankin] stood in the cage. We were permitted to kiss each other only through the bars.”

Shalunkina explained that she had decided to marry Ivankin now because if he is found guilty, it is unclear where he will be taken to serve his sentence.

In August of last year, Yuli Boyarshinov, a defendant in the Petersburg portion of the Network Case, was married in remand prison. His bride wore a paper veil, and their wedding rings were fashioned from barbed wire.

A report about the weddings by 7×7

Eleven antifascists from Penza and Petersburg were arrested by the FSB several months before the 2018 presidential election. According to investigators they were planning to create armed groups in Moscow, Petersburg, Penza Region, and other Russian regions for attacking military garrisons, police officers, and United Russia party offices.

The trial in Penza against seven of the defendants—Maxim Ivankin, Vasily Kuksov, Mikhail Kulkov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayeva, Andrei Chernov, and Ilya Shakursky—has concluded. All of them are charged with organizing [and/or] being involved in a “terrorist community.” Shakursky, Pchelintsev, and Kuksov also face charges of arms trafficking. On February 10, a panel of three judges from the Volga District Military Court will announce the verdict.

The case against Boyarshinov and Filinkov is being tried separately by the Moscow District Military Court, sitting in Petersburg.

Another defendant, Igor Shishkin, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The defendants have reported that FSB officers tortured them to force confessions. In a complaint filed with the European Court of Human Rights, Filinkov said that FSB officers had beaten and electrocuted him, deprived him of food, water, and sleep, and subjected him to psychological pressure.

* Russian media are required by law to identify this perverse fiction by the FSB in this way.

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

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network Case, and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and share the articles I have posted on these subjects.

Even Fascist Thugs Deserve Good Pay

d980753722fa6fe87bc7d8f46c7b5f01Russian National Guard troops. Photo courtesy of Moskva News Agency and the Moscow Times

Mishustin Introduces Bonus Pay for Security Forces in Moscow and Petersburg Working Protest Rallies
Mediazona
January 24, 2020

According to the government’s website, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has introduced bonus pay for regular police and National Guard officers in Moscow, Moscow Region, Petersburg, and Leningrad Region who perform “complicated tasks.”

The bonus would be as much as 100% of the monthly salary. It would be paid to Interior Ministry officers “involved in maintaining public order,” and National Guard soldiers “involved in providing law enforcement and ensuring public safety during mass events.”

The two government decrees introducing the bonus did not clarify what was meant by “complicated tasks.”

In October, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin thanked the security forces officers who worked last summer’s protest rallies. He said they had “ensured order on the streets of Moscow” and not let rally organizers “bring events to a critical point.”

Sobyanin also called the July 27 rally a “pre-planned, well-organized riot,” claiming that protesters had forced police to use force. Last summer, the mayor said the actions of the security forces, who brutally detained demonstrators, were “completely appropriate.”

The Moscow police later decided to sue the opposition for 10.2 million rubles for having to work the protest rallies. A court also ordered them to pay the National Guard, whose soldiers were involved in policing the summer protests, 2.3 million rubles after the Moscow prosecutor’s office filed suit on their behalf.

Thanks to Ksenia Astafiyeva and Mediazona for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the 2019 Russian regional elections and the fallout from them, including the ongoing crackdowns against opposition politicians and rank-and-file protesters.

Ivan Davydov: Extremely Knowledgeable Russians

KMO_173017_00047_1“Release political prisoners! They should not be in prison!” Muscovites rally in support of political prisoners on Sakharov Avenue on September 29, 2019. Photo by Pyotr Kassin for Kommersant. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Extremely Knowledgeable Russians
Ivan Davydov
MBKh Media
January 21, 2020

While you more or less grasp the sheer abnormality of the current Russian regime and even are aware of the nitty-gritty when it comes to certain things, you gradually learn to put up with a lot. You get used to it, you develop defensive skills. Constantly experiencing righteous anger is hard on the psyche. Nor does it happen on schedule, three times a day for twenty minutes, after meals, by way of clearing your conscience.

For example, you’re walking in downtown Moscow and you think, What the hell, it really has become nicer. Of course, you recall the savage corruption of the powers that be, and the trick they pulled with the elections last summer, and their persecution of ordinary people, but it has become prettier. There are the cozy shops and cafes, the lovely food courts, the new subway stations, and the Moscow Central Circle. Comfort and convenience trump righteous anger, and you catch yourself thinking, Well, they steal, naturally (I’m curious, by the way: is the word “naturally” accidental here or not? Probably not anymore), but they could just steal outright. Instead, they make improvements, and those improvements benefit more people than just them.

And it’s not that you forgive them for theft, election fraud, and last summer’s police dragnet against random passersby, but all of it recedes to the edge of consciousness, turning into cute, almost ordinary naughtiness.

But there are things you can’t put up with at all. It is impossible, for example, to forget that people are regularly tortured in Russia, including people who were allegedly planning a coup d’état, people who believe in God the wrong way (per our current laws), and the occasional lowlife whom the aces at the local police station have decided to frame for all the unsolved cases in the last couple of months.

I walk down the street, noting that Moscow has become prettier by any reckoning, and now, maybe, I’ll go into a cozy little cafe and have a cup of coffee. And almost certainly at the same time somewhere agents of the state will be torturing an ordinary person. This awareness pierces the brain like a nail—there’s no escaping it, it is painful and shameful. It’s a strange thing: I am not torturing anyone myself, but I’m ashamed for some reason. Or, rather, for some reason it’s me who is ashamed.

The same goes for awareness of the existence of political prisoners in Russia. More than two hundred people are in prison only because they allowed themselves to think something about the current Russian government that the current Russian government didn’t like. This is according to Memorial, which has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can believe its figures. More than two hundred people are being punished for incorrect thoughts, and it’s impossible to reconcile yourself with this fact in any way.

Neither the prettified streets of the big cities, nor the funky art exhibitions, nor the generous handouts the president has promised the disadvantaged and veterans can absolve the state of its guilt. This just should not be happening, but that’s the way it is.

A recent survey by the Levada Center provides some comfort. I am not the only one in Russia who is so knowledgeable: there are a fair number of us. By the way, the Levada Center has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can trust their findings. “Foreign agent,” after all, is something like a mark of quality, a certificate of non-complicity in the state’s lies.

When asked whether there were currently political prisoners in Russia, 23% of respondents answered yes, while another 40% answered that yes, there probably were political prisoners. Thus, a sizeable majority of people (63%) either know for certain or are reasonably sure that people are jailed in this country for thinking the wrong thoughts. The number of informed Russians has been growing. The poll was conducted in December 2019; in December 2018, 50% of those polled were aware of political prisoners. Analysts attribute this growth to the efforts of Moscow city hall, the noisy scandal over last autumn’s elections, and the protests ignited by the so-called Moscow Case.

I saw a happy tweet on Twitter from an opposition activist: “Hooray! Two thirds of Russians are aware of political prisoners! This is the result of our work! But we need more people to know.” I saw the tweet, but I immediately lost the link and forgot who wrote it. I wondered, however, whether there was much reason for celebration.

Two thirds of Russians are aware there are political prisoners in Russia, but this has not generated much of a furor. Even when the Moscow Case was in full swing, only a few hundred people in Moscow—a drop in the ocean—came out to picket in support of political prisoners. Thirty thousand people or so attended an “authorized” protest rally: this is nothing in a city of twelve million people. And in comparison with the number of people who are supposedly aware, it’s also nothing.

This means, apparently, that the vast majority of Russians consider the presence of political prisoners in the country to be the norm. I hope that, at least, they consider it an abnormal norm—that is, more or less the way I view corruption in Moscow. They see it as something unpleasant, of course, but not particularly terrible, as something they can live with.

Speaking of which, last summer the Levada Center published the results of a survey on the use of torture by the security forces. The numbers were absolutely terrible: 10% of Russians had experienced torture. This is not two hundred some people we’re talking about, but millions of people. 60% of those polled considered torture unacceptable, which is also seemingly a cause for joy. But that means that 40% either think torture is justified or haven’t formed an opinion on the subject: they are not moved by this sad, literally painful topic.

What’s the point in guessing, though? 30% of respondents stated outright that they considered torture justified in “exceptional cases.” I’ve never understood where the instinct for self-preservation goes in such cases. How can you be sure it won’t be you who turns out to be such an “exceptional case” for a tipsy policeman one day?

I don’t like it when folks chew out the “Russian people.” People in Russia are normal, on the whole, no worse than other people. Especially since I’m one of those people. There is no excuse for looking down on “the people.” It’s stupid and silly.

However, I see no particular cause for optimism when it comes to the polling data on awareness of political prisoners in our country. It points to a serious societal disease, and most important, it is completely unclear what the cure for it is.

But for starters, of course, all political prisoners must be released.

Thanks to Julia Murashova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Viktor Filinkov: “It’s As If You Disappear—Only the Pain Remains”

Viktor Filinkov’s Speech in Court on 4 June 2019 While Recording a Voice Sample (The Court Could Not Interrupt the Defendant for Ten Minutes)

Viktor Filinkov: When I was tortured . . . Well, it was unexpected, of course. It was nothing like in the movies. There was no time to think or laugh like some superheroes do or anything like that: you’re just screaming in pain. You’re in a terrible state, in fact. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Yes, I’d been shocked when touching an electrical socket or a telephone wire, and when licking a battery. But it’s a completely different sensation when you’ve been shocked with a stun gun. They were beating me at the same time, but I didn’t feel it at all, except for the blows to my head. When they hit me in the head, my vision went a little white. My eyes were mostly closed, because I had a cap pulled over my face, but I saw white when they hit me in the head.

When they twisted my arms or something like that, I didn’t feel anything at all. On the other hand, if you’re riding in the back seat of a car with your hands cuffed behind your back like this—like when they later took me to see a psychologist—your shoulders and joints start hurting really bad after the first hour or so. By the second hour, it’s completely unbearable. You’re wriggling and fidgeting the whole time because the pain is so unbearable.

I was tortured for around four hours, and although my hands were behind my back the entire time, I felt no pain at all in my shoulders. In fact, I felt no pain at all because my whole body hurt. When your whole body hurts, you can’t single out a specific part that hurts more. The burns from the electrical shocks didn’t hurt—they hurt only the next day or so—meaning the pain spreads out over your whole body. It feels like everything hurts, although they’re hitting and shocking you in very specific places.

I don’t even know where the shocks hurt the most. They shocked me in different places, mainly my feet, the shocks to my feet were the longest. And to the chest as well. I could twist my wrists, and work my neck a bit, but I think it didn’t matter where they shocked me: the shocks were quite painful. When they press the stun gun to your foot, it’s like you lose yourself completely. It’s as if you disappear—only the pain remains.

Recording Technician Volkov: Maybe you could talk about something more pleasant.

Filinkov (smiling): There was nothing pleasant about it.

Volkov: Not this instance, necessarily. Maybe some memorable instances from childhood.

Filinkov: Hmm… Memorable instances from childhood. It depends what you mean by childhood.

Volkov: Okay, then, what do you miss right now?

Filinkov: My wife—I miss my wife a lot. I love her very much. When they were torturing me, a field agent asked me why I was with my wife. I screamed that I loved her. They were shocking me, but I still screamed that I loved her. They would yell at me, “Why are you with her? Confess!” I would yell that I loved her, and they would give me a shock for saying so. This went on for a while. It was probably one of the most humiliating parts of the whole thing.

No, there was another one. They would ask me who my wife associated with—shocking me as they asked, of course—and I tried to remember who she associated with. I would reply that she had many acquaintances, but didn’t know who she associated with. I didn’t know that many people, especially my wife’s acquaintances. And they would say to me, “She’s getting fucked. Didn’t you know that?” The whole thing was just awful. And there were lots of questions like that… Apparently, it was a way of catching me out.

It was also a way of turning me against everyone. You realize that the people who are torturing you are the guilty one, but they try to put the blame on someone else. So, they would tell me about my “pal” Boyarshinov: I didn’t know who Boyarshinov was then. They would say, “That guy Yuri,” and try to explain he’d been going to plant a bomb to kill people. Under those circumstances I really believed “Yuri” (Yuli) Boyarshinov had gone to plant a bomb. They were really persuasive.

They also told me other people had wanted to kill people. Like Arman Sagynbayev: they said he wanted to make an explosive called ammonal. They knew I didn’t know that he had the ingredients, but I had to teach them a lesson. Then I cheated a little: when they asked me what they had found in Sagynbayev’s closet, I said they had found only aluminum powder. They didn’t specify that I was also supposed to say there had been saltpeter there as well. They kept saying, “A barrel! A barrel of powder!” The fact that it was a barrel was important, apparently. I never saw it.

They also said, of course, that everyone was ready to dish on me, and told me what would happen if I didn’t sign the interrogation report.

In fact, their threats were completely meaningless. I was completely broken after ten minutes of torture, but the threats continued for another twenty or twenty-five hours or however long I was there. It was a very long time. All the threats—that they would kill me there or put me in a cell with tuberculosis-infected prisoners or the SWAT team would take me to Penza—were pointless.

The SWAT team business was a trick. They told me a SWAT team would take me to Penza, where I would be in a line-up. All [of the other defendants] would identity me, point their fingers at me, and then I would go back [to Petersburg]. Besides the driver, there would be two SWAT officers in the vehicle. They would take turns sleeping, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep, and there wouldn’t be any water. The FSB agents would wonder aloud how long a person could last without water. The whole thing was completely pointless. I would have signed the interrogation report in any case.

It wasn’t like they said, “Here, sign it,” and I said, “No, I won’t sign it. Go to hell!” and they were like, “Oh yeah? We’ll show you.” It was just a prelude to everything they did. Just a prelude. Violence is seemingly the basis of their work. I later learned those guys in masks were from [the FSB’s] “Hail” SWAT team. When they escort someone in handcuffs, they drag him in different directions. I would say, “Hang on! You’re dragging me in different directions. I don’t understand where to go.” They would laugh and say it served me right. Meaning the violence was for its own sake. And none of them were bothered then about what had happened.

When I tried talking about the fact that torture was inhumane, they would interrupt me and say, “Did anyone really torture you? You bumped yourself in the car.” Different field agents who were there said this in front of investigators. The one who I remembered the most was an investigator named Alexei from the second floor of the FSB regional headquarters building [in Petersburg]. He wore a jacket and suspenders.

The jacket was bright green. He would give me toilet paper when I went to the toilet. I would go to the toilet not to go to the toilet, of course. I was thinking how to put an end to my suffering and contemplated slitting my wrists. But the office was right there, and an agent would always follow me out and stand by the door, which couldn’t be closed. I went there several times, hoping they’d let their guard down, but no: there was always an agent outside the door, and I wouldn’t have been able to shatter the mirror or the toilet tank.

If I’d known that I had a sharpened coin in my pocket, but I’d forgotten about it. It made it through several pat downs. The SWAT team patted me down twice and didn’t find it. Then an investigator searched me and didn’t find it. Then I was searched at the temporary detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street [in Petersburg], and they didn’t find the coin. It was found only at Remand Prison No. 3. They decided to put it in the till, but it was a Ukrainian hryvnia coin, so they decided not to mess with it. They asked me what to do with it, and I told them to throw it away.

“Fine, fine, just don’t tell anybody,” they said. And they threw it away.

Volkov: That’s long enough, thank you.

Judge Muranov: Is that it?

Volkov: Yes.

Judge: So, Viktor Sergeyevich, I didn’t interrupt you when you were recording your monologue, but now I’m giving you an official warning. If you use obscene language again in the courtroom, you’ll be removed until the closing arguments. Have I made myself clear?

Filinkov: Yes, you have. May I ask a question?

Judge: Ask away.

Filinkov: How I am supposed to quote obscene language?

Judge: I don’t know, but I would ask you not to use obscene expressions. I gave you an official warning, which has been entered into the record.

Filinkov: Understood.

Judge: Sit down.

Judge: Maxim Alexandrovich, are you done?

Volkov: I would like to take literally a minute to check the quality of the recording . . . The recording is fine.

Thanks to Jenya Kulakova for the original Russian text and the video. Translated by the Russian Reader

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network Case, and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and share the articles I have posted on these subjects.

“Red Darya” Polyudova Arrested Again

“Red Darya,” the fourth episode of Grani TV’s series “Extremists,” posted on October 30, 2017

Darya Polyudova Remanded in Custody in Terrorism and Separatism Case
Grani.ru
January 16, 2020

Judge Anna Sokova of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow has remanded in custody Darya Polyudova, leader of the Left Resistance movement, until March 13,  Moskva News Agency has reported. Polyudova has been charged with calling for separatism and vindicating terrorism.

According to the news agency, Polyudova has been charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Articles 280.1.1 (public calls for separatism, punishable by up to four years in prison) and 205.2.2 (public vindication of terrorism via the internet, punishable by five to seven years in prison).

Polyudova pleaded innocent and informed the judge of a number of procedural violations. According to Polyudova, she has been charged with “calling for separatism and a referendum on the Kuril Islands, and vindicating terrorism on social networks.”

Earlier, civic activist Alla Naumcheva reported that the investigation of the case was focused on “two video clips of some kind.”

Kuban activist Viktor Chirikov has reported that Polyudova is represented by court-appointed lawyer Galina Timofeyeva.

The record of Polyudova’s case on the Meshchansky District Court’s website lists only one charge, the alleged violation of Russian Criminal Code Article 205.2.2.

The political prisoner’s mother, Tatyana Polyudova, wrote on Facebook that her daughter had been taken to Remand Prison No. 6 in Moscow’s Pechatniki District. According to her, FSB investigator Dmitry Lashchenov was handling the investigation.

Human rights activist Irina Yatsenko told MBKh Media that on Wednesday leftist activist Kirill Kotov had been detained and questioned in the same case. He signed a non-disclosure agreement.

The day before Polyudova’s arrest, the security forces searched her dormitory room, as well as the dwelling of Gradus TV reporter Olga Sapronova, in connection with the case. Sapronova was questioned at the FSB’s Moscow and Moscow Regional Office on Bolshoi Kiselny Alley before being released. Her attorney, Olga Pelshe, was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement on the case. Sapronova’s procedural status is currently unknown.

In 2015–2017, Polyudova served a two-year sentence at Work-Release Penal Settlement No. 10 in Novorossiysk after being convicted of publicly calling for extremism (Russian Criminal Code Article 280.1), publicly calling for extremism via the internet (Article 280.2), and publicly calling for separatism via the internet (Article 280.1.2). The opposition activist was convicted for organizing the March for the Federalization of  Kuban and solo-picketing against the war with Ukraine, and for posts she had published on the VK social network. Polyudova maintained her innocence.

After her release from prison, Polyudova moved to Moscow, where she had been organizing protest rallies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Happy New Year!

 

“Avtozak is coming, avtozak is coming…”*

On New Year’s Night Moscow Police Carry Out Operation to “Clear Non-Residents from Places of Mass Celebration”
MBKh Media
January 1, 2019

Baza reports that on the night of January 1 Moscow police carried out an operation to “clear Central Asian non-residents from places of mass celebration.”

Baza writes that Moscow police chief Oleg Baranov issued the orders for the operation. Police officers were instructed to deliver all “non-residents” to precincts and check each of them in the databases. In addition, employees of subcontractors involved in staging the celebrations were checked separately.

According to the publication, although the results of the operation have not yet been tallied, there are reports that police detained several hundred people. Most of them were released soon after their arrests.

*Avtozak = paddy wagon.

znakcom-765441-580x436Young Moscow activists on their way to the hoosegow in Troitsk

30 People Detained in Moscow on Tverskaya for Picketing in Support of Political Prisoners
Znak.com
December 31, 2019

Police in Moscow detained over thirty people after they held solo pickets demanding freedom for jailed and imprisoned political activists. OVD Info writes that the first picketer, activist Temuuzhin Sambuudavaagiin, held up a placard that read, “While you’re chopping up your Olivier salad, innocent people are in prison. Free political prisoners!” He was released after police checked his papers, but then police detained a female picketer and several students who approached their paddy wagon.

The Telegram channel Freedom for Russia reports that the young people are being taken to the police precinct in the town of Troitsk in Moscow Region. Mansur Gilmanov, a lawyer with the organization Apologia for Protest, is traveling to meet the detainees.

Update. Apologia for Protest reports that all the detainees were released without charge in Troitsk later in the evening (TRR).

Video courtesy of Notes of an Old Cynic via Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko. Thanks to Alexei Zverev and Sergey Abashin for the heads-up on the articles. Photo courtesy of Znak.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Vladislav Inozemtsev: The Foreign Agent in the Kremlin

lakhta wreck

The Foreign Agent in the Kremlin
Vladislav Inozemtsev
The Insider
December 31, 2019

One of the crucial events of the past year was passage of the law on labeling Russian nationals as “foreign agents.” Although the law emphasizes that such “agents” should disseminate information from foreign media outlets and receive financial remuneration from abroad, the notion of “foreign agent” has a quite definite meaning for most Russians: someone who works on behalf of a foreign government to the detriment of their own country.

However, if you think hard about the new law and its implementation (the Justice Ministry has been charged with designating individuals foreign agents, but citizens and NGOs will probably also be able to take the initiative), the first thing that comes to mind is the man who signed it so showily into law on December 2—Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, who took office exactly twenty years ago today, albeit as acting president.

When Putin moved into the Kremlin, Russia was successfully emerging from an economic crisis triggered by a sharp drop in oil prices in the late 1990s and the ruble crisis of 1998. These two events largely brought to a close the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the transition from a planned economy to a market economy. Welcoming the new president, people believed him when he said, “The country’s future, the quality of the Russian economy in the twenty-first century, depends primarily on progress in those industries based on high technology and hi-tech products,” while the world took him at face value when he claimed, “Today we must declare once and for all that the Cold War is over. We abandon our stereotypes and ambitions, and henceforth we will jointly ensure the safety of the European population and the world as a whole.” It seemed that the coming decades should be extremely successful ones for Russia, and the country would inevitably takes its rightful place in the world economy and politics. However, events unfolded following a different scenario, and nearly all the trends that we can now ascertain as well-established suggest that if a CIA officer had taken charge of his country’s recently defeated enemy he would have done less damage to it than Putin has done.

First, Russia in the early noughties had very low labor costs: according to Rosstat, the average salary was $78 a month in 2000. Given that energy prices in Russia were then seven to ten times lower than in Europe, it was self-evident the country should decide to undertake large-scale industrialization by attracting foreign investors. The Central European countries, which in the late nineties and early noughties became successful industrial powers by attracting European capital (we can recall what happened with Škoda’s factories) were an example of the strategy’s wisdom.

However, despite what Russian authorities said at the time, preventing foreign capital from entering strategic industrial sectors became policy. Almost immediately after Putin came to power, the government began renationalizing assets that had been privatized in the nineties: instead of raising taxes on companies owned by Russian oligarchs, the regime commenced buying them out, constantly ratcheting up the price, culminating with Rosneft’s purchase of TNK-BP for $61 billion in 2013. In fact, taxes raised from the competitive sectors of the economy and redistributed through the budget went to buy assets in the extractive sector and were invested in rather dubious projects. Consequently, by the early teens, the share of raw materials (mineral products, ore, and metals) in Russian exports had reached 79–80%, as opposed to 50.4% of Soviet exports in 1989. Finally, in recent years, Russia has begun “diversifying” its raw materials exports by reaching out to China, effectively becoming an “energy appendage” not only of Europe but also of the whole world.

Second, as the economy became ever more dependent on extractive industries, Russia under Putin began to deindustrialize rapidly, resulting in a sharp decline in the demand for skilled workers, who could have been employed to develop the country on new foundations. According to various estimates, 16,000 to 30,000 industrial enterprises, which had employed over 13 million people in the late-Soviet period, were closed between 2000 and 2018. As of 2017, 9.9 million people were employed in Russian processing industries, as opposed to 21.7 million people in the RSFSR in 1989, although there was no significant increase in labor productivity. We can concede, of course, that a good many of these enterprises were not competitive, but most of them were never put up for auctions in which foreign investors were allowed to bid, the Russian government did not provide potential investors guarantees on investments in technically modernizing enterprises, and so on. Essentially, the government adopted a consistent policy of simplifying the industrial infrastructure, increasing dependency on imports, and most significantly, downgrading whole cities that had previously been important industrial centers. It would be no exaggeration to say that the bulk of Soviet industrial enterprises was destroyed not in the “accursed nineties,” but in the noughties and the early teens.

Third, the process went hand in glove with a demonstrative lack of attention to infrastructural problems and managing Russia’s vast expanses. About 700 airports were closed between 2000 and 2010, domestic passenger traffic dropped below international passenger traffic, and so many roads fell into disrepair and collapse that since 2012 city streets have been counted as roads in order to buff up the statistics. Infrastructure projects have been concentrated either in Moscow (e.g., the Moscow Ring Road, the Central Ring Road, expansion of the Moscow subway) or on the country’s borders as a kind of exercise in “flag waving” (e.g., Petersburg and environs, Sochi, Chechnya, the Crimean Bridge, the reconstruction of Vladivostok and Russky Island).

Consequently, rural settlements have begun dying out massively in most regions of the country: since 2000, around 30,000 villages in Russia have disappeared, and nearly 10,000 of them have eight or fewer residents. The number of residents in cities with populations ranging from 50,000 of 200,000 people has decreased: population reductions have been recorded in 70% of these cities, while the population has dropped by a quarter in more than 200 such cities. There has been a massive exodus of people from the Russian Far East.  Even the solution of longstanding problems that were handled for better or worse in the nineties has been abandoned, including disposing solid wastes, minimizing harmful emissions, and storing hazardous industrial waste. Russian infrastructure is close to collapse: depreciation of the power grids exceeds 70%, while 75% of the heating network is obsolete. Only 52.8% of local roads meet Russia’s poor standards. All attempts to remedy the situation are propaganda tricks more than anything, and yet budget funds for infrastructure are allocated regularly, just as taxes are collected from the populace.

Fourth, despite formal achievements, such as increasing life expectancy and reducing per capita alcohol consumption, the nation’s physical and mental health is verging on the disastrous. From 2000 to 2016, the number of HIV-infected Russians increased almost twelve times, reaching 1.06 million people, meaning that the threshold for an epidemic has been crossed. Spending on health care has remained extremely low. It is usually measured as a percentage of GDP, but a comparison of absolute figures is much more telling: in 2019, the government and insurance companies allocated only 23,200 rubles or €330 for every Russian, which was 14.2 times less than in Germany, and 29 times less than in the US, not counting out-of-pocket expenses.

Despite the huge influx of immigrants and migrant workers during Putin’s rule, the population of Russia (without Crimea) decreased by 2.7 million people from 2000 to 2019. Drug addiction has been spreading rapidly, becoming one of the leading causes of death among relatively young people in small towns. And yet the authorities see none of these things as a problem, limiting access to high-quality foreign medicines and accessible medical care (the number of hospitals has been halved since 2000, while the number of clinics has decreased by 40%), all the while believing the HIV crisis can be solved by promoting moral lifestyles. There is little doubt that Russia’s population should began dying off at a furious pace now that the reserves of economic growth have been exhausted.

Fifth, the formation of a bureaucratic oligarchy, able to appropriate at will what the authorities see less as “public property” and more as “budget flows,” has generated enormous corruption and blatantly inefficient public spending. A sizeable increase in spending on the space program—from 9.4 billion rubles in 2000 to 260 billion rubles in 2019—producced a drop in the number of successful launches from 34 to 22. Despite promises in 2006 to build almost 60 new nuclear power units, only 12 units have been brought online over the last twenty years. Programs for growing the military-industrial complex have not been consistently implemented: production of new weapons has been minuscule, amounting to only ten to twenty percent of Soviet-era production. The country’s only aircraft carrier has for the second time suffered combat-like damage during an “upgrade,” while its only 4.5-generation fighter has just crashed during a test flight.

The latest challenges posed to Russia by the development of information technology around the world have elicited no response whatsoever from the regime. On the contrary, the bureaucrats and siloviki have consistently acted to discourage researchers and innovators. The dominance of the siloviki in most government decision-making, their utter lack of oversight, and unprecedented incompetence have meant that much of the money that could be used effectively in the military sector and open up new frontiers for Russia has been simply been embezzled.

Sixth, Putin’s rule has been marked by the impressive “gifts” he has made to countries which the Kremlin has often identified as potential enemies. Around $780 billion was spirited from Russia between 2009 and 2019, whereas less than $120 billion was taken out of the country during the entirety of the nineties. The most important cause of this outflow was a law, passed in 2001, establishing a nine-percent tax on dividends paid to “foreign investors” or, rather, the offshore companies registered as owners of Russian assets. (The subsequent abolition of this measure in 2015 has changed little.) Much of this money was invested in passive sources of income in the west or spent on the luxurious lifestyles of Russian billionaires, thus supporting local economies in other countries.

Even more “generous,” however, was Putin’s gift to west in the form of the four million Russian citizens who have left Russia during his presidency: mainly young and middle-aged, well-educated, willing to take risks and engage in business, they now control assets outside the country that are comparable to the Russian Federation’s GDP. This wealth has been generated from scratch by talented people the Russian regime regarded as dead weight. The destruction of human capital is the biggest blow Putin has dealt to Russia, and it is no wonder western analysts argue Russia will need a hundred years at best to bridge the emerging gap.

Seventh, we cannot ignore the holy of holies: national security. We have already touched on the military sector in passing. It is a realm in which technological progress has largely boiled down to showing cartoons to members of the Russian Federal Assembly: space launches are still carried out using Soviet Proton rockets, designed in the sixties; the last of the Tu-22M strategic bombers rolled off the line in 1993; the Su-57 is based on groundwork done while designing the Su-47 during the late eighties;  and the advanced Angara (S-200) missile was developed as part of the Soviet Albatross program from 1987 to 1991. Things are no better in the secret services: agents sent on secret missions set off Geiger counters, like Lugovoy and Kovtun, blow their cover wherever they can, like Mishkin and Chepiga, or get caught in the act, as was the case with Krasikov.

The elementary inability to carry out their work in secret is the height of unprofessionalism: a handful of journalists can dig up nearly all the dirt on Russian agents, using information freely available on the internet. The same applies, among many other things, to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Donbass and the regime’s use of unprofessional, incompetent mercenaries from various private military companies.

Finally, eighth, President Putin’s foreign policy deserves special attention. Over the past ten years or so, the Kremlin’s own efforts have led to the creation of a buffer zone of neighboring countries that fear or hate Russia. If something like this could be expected from the Baltic states, which sought for decades to restore the independence they lost in 1940, no one could have imagined twenty years ago that Russia would make Georgia and Ukraine its worst enemies. However, our country’s principal “patriot”—whose daily bedtime reading seemingly consists of the works of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who once argued that Russia’s “imperial backbone” would be broken only when it lost Ukraine once and for all—has consistently sought to make Kiev recognize Moscow as its principal existential threat.

Similar sentiments have emerged in Minsk, where the authorities and populace of the country that suffered the greatest losses in the Great Patriotic War for the sake of the Soviet Union’s common victory have been nearly unanimous in their opposition to further rapprochement with Russia. We won’t even mention Russia’s damaged relations with the US and the EU: at the behest of Moscow, which is immeasurably weaker than the collective west, a new cold war has been launched that the Kremlin has no chance of winning but that could lead Russia to the same collapse suffered by the Soviet Union during the previous cold war. Meanwhile, Moscow’s hollow propaganda and its theatrical micro-militarism have been a genuine godsend to western military chiefs, who have been securing nearly unlimited defense budgets, just like the designers of advanced technology, who have been developing new weapons and gadgets in leaps and bounds.

I will not catalogue the current president’s other achievements—from destroying the Russian education system and nourishing a cult of power in society, thus generating a crisis of the family, to undermining Russian federalism and nurturing an unchecked power center in Chechnya. I will only emphasize once again that not just any foreign agent, after spending decades infiltrating the highest echelons of power in an enemy country, would be able to inflict such damage. I don’t consider Putin a foreign agent in the literal sense of the word, of course, but if it is now comme il faut in Russia to identify those who are working, allegedly, for hostile powers and thus inflicting damage on their own country, it is impossible to ignore what Putin has done over the past twenty years.

The current head of the Russian state should have a place of honor on the list of “foreign agents,” just as “Party card number one” was always reserved for Lenin in bygone days. And the west should be advised not to seek to undermine Putin’s regime but, on the contrary, do its utmost to extend his term in the Kremlin, simply because as long as Russia is so inefficient, backward, and profligate it poses no threat to the rest of the world, however much the strategists at the Pentagon try and convince the top brass otherwise.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader