The Sex Beat

Two Petersburg Activists Remanded in Custody on Suspicion of Sexual Relations with 14-Year-Old Girl 
Bumaga
February 21, 2019

This afternoon, a court in Petersburg remanded in custody two 18-year-old political activists: Vladimir Kazachenko, of the Vesna (Spring) Movement, and Vadim Tishkin, who attended opposition protests.

Police investigators suspect them of sexual relations with a female juvenile.

On the eve of their arrests, Kazachenko was visited at home by policemen who asked him questions about bomb threats. In early February, he had been involved in a protest on Nevsky Prospect. Tishkin claims police planted drugs in his house.

Civil rights activists argue the case bears all the hallmarks of political persecution.

Bumaga has summarized everything known about the case.

Kazachenko is an activist in the Vesna (Spring) Movement. After he was detained on Nevsky on February 9 while carrying a placard that read, “Open Russia Instead of Putin,” in support of arrested Open Russia activist Anastasia Shevchenko, he was charged with two administrative offenses, disorderly conduct and involvement in an unauthorized protest.

On February 19, Kazachenko was scheduled to appear in Petersburg’s Kuibyshev District Court at a hearing on both counts.

Kazachenko claimed that, a day earlier, at approximately eight o’clock in the evening, two plain clothes police officers knocked on his door and asked to be let in.

“They said through the door they needed to question us about the bomb threats of the last several days,” said Kazachenko.

As of today, February 21, there have been bomb threats leading to evacuations of public buildings in Petersburg for six consecutive days.

Our sources in Vesna informed us that officers at a neighborhood police station corroborated Kazachenko’s story about being visited by police due to the bomb threats. The police explained they needed him to make a statement.

Fontanka.ru writes that the police officers left around one in the morning. Kazachenko claims, on the contrary, the officers spent around an hour outside his door, but he did not let them in.

According to his lawyer, the next day, Kazachenko went missing an hour before his scheduled court hearing. By evening, activists from the Aid for Detainees Group discovered Kazachenko was being held in the criminal investigative department at the 15th Police Precinct. Another activist, Vadim Tishkin, was with him.

It is not known when and how they were detained.

sb1Vladimir Kazachenko in court on February 21. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga

The media wrote the activists had been detained on sex-related charges. This was corroborated, allegedly, by photographs posted on Telegram channels. Citing sources in law enforcement, Fontanka.ru wrote that Kazachenko and Tishkin had been detained, allegedly, for sexual relations with a 14-year-old female Vesna activist. 78.ru also noted  police had found a beige-colored powder-like substance among Tishkin’s personal effects.

Several anonymous Telegram channels published similar reports. The posts featured photos from the so-called orgy, which took place under a Navalny campaign poster and involved the two activists and two young women. According to the Telegram channels, police found the photos when they were interrogating one of the female minors and confiscated her telephone. The faces of the alleged orgiasts were blurred in the published photos. Vesna argues the photos were deliberately leaked to the Telegram channels to make the case public.

According to an article published on the website Moika 78, the parents of the two female juveniles pictured in the photos filed criminal complaints against Kazachenko.

Later, the Aid to Detainees Group reported that Kazechenko and Tishkin were suspected of violating Article 135 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Commission of indecent acts without violence by a person who has reached the age of eighteen against a person who has not reached the age of sixteen”).

Fontanka.ru wrote that the activists confessed their guilt, but the Aid to Detainees Group denies this. According to the civil rights activists, Tishkin admitted a narcotic substance was found among his personal effects, but he claims it was planted there.

sb2Vadim Tishkin in court on February 21. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga

On February 20, the Petersburg office of the Russian Investigative Committee reported that two local residents, born in 2000, had been detained on suspicion of committing indecent acts.

“The evidence gives us grounds to believe that, on February 18, 2019, the suspects committed indecent acts against a female juvenile, born in 2004, in an apartment on Grazhdansky Prospect,” wrote the agency.

The Investigative Committee stressed, however, it had “conclusive evidence” of the arrested men’s involvement in the crime: photos and videos found on the mobile telephones of the suspects and victims.

“The involvement of the suspects in political organizations of whatever kind has nothing to do with the current criminal case,” the Investigative Committee underscored.

According to the Aid for Detainees Group, the arrested activists initially received legal assistance from Russia Behind Bars and Memorial since, according to the civil rights activists, the case bore the hallmarks of political persecution.

Varya Mikhaylova, a spokesperson for the Aid for Detainees Group, explained to Bumaga that civil rights activists had made this assumption because Kazachenko had been involved in Vesna’s protests, while Tishkin had been detained during a protest against the pension reform on September 9, 2018. According to Mikhaylova, the two female minors were also involved in political activism.

sb3Vladimir Kazachenko in the cage. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga  

The Vesna Movement also believe the case is politically motivated.

“I doubt whether they would put so much pressure on [Kazachenko] and make such a big deal of the case if he weren’t an activist. Besides, it would appear that he was missing for several hours before police investigators went public with their suspicions. None of the police precincts told us he was in their custody,” said Anzhelika Petrovskaya, the Vesna Movement’s press secretary.

Vesna commented on news of Kazachenko’s arrest on the evening of February 19. It said it believing meddling in the personal lives of activists was wrong.

Subsequently, Vesna has commented on the case on its Telegram channel.

“We hope people realize this is a victimless crime. Vladimir did nothing bad from an personal viewpoint. There was no violence involved. The movement believes we should help and support him,” wrote Petrovskaya.

Vesna has no intention of expelling Kazachenko from the movement. On the contrary, its activists are planning a crowdfunding campaign to support him in remand prison.

Two days after the activists were detained police, a court remanded them in custody. Their hearings took place in closed chambers.

Kazachenko was charged with having sexual relations with a minor in collusion with other individuals, a violation under Article 135 Part 4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, which stipulates a maximum punishment of fifteen years in prison.

Petrovskaya said Kazachenko had been sent to Remand Prison No. 1 for two months.

sb4Vadim Tishkin in the cage. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga

Tishkin was also jailed for two months. The Petersburg judicial system’s joint press service did not mention the drugs charge, only that Tishkin was suspected of having sexual relations with a minor as part of a group.

Fontanka.ru writes that Tishkin is also suspected of attempting to steal a mug from a Starbucks on Nevsky Prospect.

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Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
February 27, 2019

[…]

We spoke with Vadim Tishkin. He looked like a teenager, confused and completely ignorant of what a remand prison was. We spoke with him on Monday. He was delivered to the remand prison in the early hours of Friday morning. He had been without bed linens and other necessities the entire time. When police searched his house, they had let him take some things with him, but he had not chosen the best things to take. The remand prison should have issued him bed linens, of course, but apparently you have to insist on it for it to happen.

Concerning the criminal case, he said the police had not beaten him. They only insisted he take part in a drug sting, promising to plant drug in his home or on his person if he refused to cooperated. He refused to cooperate, and the police planted lots of drugs on him.

They knew right away the types and quantities of drugs they “found.” No forensic examination was needed.

The sting would have targeted his friend the political activist Vladimir Kazachenko.

(I wrote the first sentence of this story because I think it is terribly important that the first and second paragraphs are about the same person. A confused adult, who was a juvenile until recently, was made to choose between a prison term and a sting operation. Since he has a state-appointed defense lawyer, he will probably get a long prison sentence.)

We asked about telephones, because the Telegram channels who had sources in the police said the girl had voluntarily surrendered her telephone to police officers. In fact, as Vadim told us, she had not surrendered it voluntarily. It was forcibly confiscated, and the police had guessed the password since it was simple.

[…]

Thanks to Comrade K. for the heads-up.

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Former Sandarmokh Caretaker Sergei Koltyrin Sentenced to Nine Years in Pedophilia Case
Sergei Markelov
Novaya Gazeta
May 27, 2019

The Medvezhyegorsk District Court in Karelia has sentenced Sergei Koltyrin, former director of the district’s museum, to nine years in a medium-security prison camp and forbidden him to engage in teaching for ten years. The other defendant in the case, Severomorsk resident Yevgeny Nosov, was sentenced to eleven years in a prison camp.

Koltyrin was charged with indecent acts against a juvenile male in collusion with other individuals (Russian Criminal Code Article 135, Parts 2 and 4), sodomy against a juvenile male in collusion with other individuals (Article 134, Parts 3 and 5), and illegal possession of a weapon (Article 222, Part 1).

Nosov was indicted on the same charges, except the weapon possession charge. Both defendants refused to comment on the verdict.

The prosecution had asked the court to sentence Koltyrin to sixteen years, and Nosov to eighteen years, in a maximum-security prison camp. Prosecutor Andrei Golubenko told reporters the prosecution was satisfied with the verdict, but it would first have to read the text of the court’s ruling to decide whether to appeal it.

When asked how many victims there had been and whether the defendants had confessed their guilt, Golubenko refused to answer, citing the fact he could not divulge the particulars of the trial, since the evidence in the case had been presented in closed chambers.

Koltyrin’s defense lawyer, Konstantin Kibizov, was not present for the reading of the verdict, but he said his proxy would probably appeal the verdict.

Koltyrin and Nosov were arrested on October 3, 2018. According to police investigators, the men had repeatedly raped Nosov’s distant relative, who was twelve at the time. Both defendants partially admitted their guilt [sic]. The men were subsequently accused of having sexual intercourse with a juvenile male.

In August 2018, Koltyrin was appointed curator of the excavations in the forested area of Sandarmokh, as conducted by the Russian Military History Society. He had spoken negatively about the hypothesis that the site contained the graves of victims of the Finnish occupation of Soviet Karelia during 1941–1944. Koltyrin insisted the memorial site contained the remains of Soviet citizens executed during the Stalinist purges.

The mass graves of Stalin’s victims at Sandarmokh were discovered by a group led by Memorial Society historian Yuri Dmitriev, who was arrested in 2016 and charged with producing pornography depicting his juvenile foster daughter.

In April 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Dmitriev on the charges. However, the prosecutor’s office appealed the verdict, after which the case was sent to the Karelian Supreme Court for review.

In the summer of 2018, Dmitriev was indicted on new criminal charges. In addition to producing pornography, he was charged with committing violent sexual acts against his foster daughter.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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This post deals with four criminal cases against two very young opposition political activists in Petersburg and two middle-aged opposition historians in Russian Karelia who have played prominent roles in researching and publicizing the extent of the Great Terror in their part of the world.

What the cases have in common is that the men have all been accused and, in one case convicted, of sexual offenses against minors.

In the first case, two very young political activists in Petersburg stand accused of having sex with women only a few years younger.

In the cases in Karelia, the charges seem more serious—sexual acts against minors on the part of middle-aged men—but the article in the Russian Criminal Code is the same. If the activists and researchers caught up in the machinery of the Russian police state are found guilty (as one of them has been, only yesterday), they can be sentenced to long terms in prison.

I get the sense that most of the Russian civil rights community, the Russian press, the Russian opposition, and their supporters in the west do not want to touch these cases with a ten-foot pole, lest the taint of “sexual assault” and “pedophilia” touch them as well.

In fact, I would not have heard of the first two cases if I had not met another young Russian political activist who had the good sense to flee Russia when it was obvious the Prigozhin-controlled local press and social media set them up for the same charges as the ones now faced by Vladimir Kazachenko and Vadim Tishkin.

The whole world should know Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev by now and understand the Putin regime simply cannot let its absurd frame-up, quashed once by the Petrozavodsk City Court, fall to pieces, so it upped the ante by accusing him of sexually assaulting his juvenile stepdaughter.

I know of at least one very large Russian civil rights organization that was so impressed by this obvious trickery they avoided sending a representative to Petrozavodsk for Dmitriev’s new trial.

They were scared to be seen there, apparently.

Maybe it has occurred to a lot of people who are determined not to open their mouths, but the police and security services in Russia have demonstrated in recent years they will stop at nothing to get their man or woman.

People who care about solidarity and glasnost have to be able to get over their squeamishness and see these cases for what they really are—a convenient means of sending the Russian opposition the message that no holds are barred in the regime’s war against them. At least, we have to presume innocence and admit the possibility the regime has no qualms about accusing anyone of any crime, no matter how heinous or, as in the case of the “teen sex orgy” in Petersburg, allegedly involving political activists, how banal.

It thus should go without saying that, when they are indicted on statutory rape or sexual assault charges, jailed in one of Russia’s harsh remand prisons, and abandoned by their former friends and political allies to the tender mercies of prison wardens, police investigators, and prosecutors, some people despair and let themselves be railroaded, knowing that the conviction rate of Russia’s courts is over 99%. {THE RUSSIAN READER}

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Lights Out in the Territory

Even in Siberia, sometimes someone can hear you scream. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Police in Krasnoyarsk Territory Beat Up Kansk Woman While Detaining Her
Sibir.Realii
May 23, 2019

In Krasnoyarsk Territory, two criminal investigators from the regional office of the Interior Ministry broke into an apartment and beat an alleged female suspect.

The episode was filmed by an eyewitness, who sent the video to TVK, a local TV channel.

According to the eyewitness, the incident took place in the town of Kansk.

The regional office of the Russian Investigative Committee, which learned about the incident from reporters, confirmed the men in the video were, in fact, police officers. The Investigative Committee has launched an official inquiry.

The woman’s injuries had been noted earlier in the Investigative Committee’s Kansk office, but officials initially said the suspect had been detained by a squad of Special Rapid Deployment Force (SOBR) officers, who had to use physical force because, allegedly, the woman resisted arrest.

The video contradicts this claim, showing one of the policemen beating the woman before taking her away.

It also transpired the woman was not a suspect. Police wanted merely to question her as part of a criminal investigation.

According to the Investigative Committee, a car belonging to a court bailiff had been burned. The police were attempting to identify people involved in the crime. They had thus wanted to take the local woman in for questioning.

The territorial police’s press service refused to comment on the incident, noting only that they had launched their own internal investigation.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Trials: Pinning the “Code” on the Defendants

filinkov-boyarshinovPetersburg Network Trial Defendants Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. Photo by Alexander Koryakov. Courtesy of Kommersant

Prosecution Tries to Pin “Code” on Network Defendants
Anna Pushkarskaya
Kommersant
May 21, 2019

The Volga District Military Court rejected the defense’s motion to send the Penza segment of the so-called Network case back to prosecutors. The prosecution has alleged the defendants established the Network (an organization now officially banned in the Russian Federation), a “terrorist community” of anarchists, in order to overthrow the regime.

Today in Penza the prosecution will begin presenting its case against the seven defendants.

This stage of the trial has been completed in Petersburg, where Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov are on trial for their alleged involvement in the community. Their defense attorneys have moved to disallow key pieces of evidence in the prosecution’s case and summon Penza FSB investigator Valery Tokarev and Petersburg FSB field officer Konstantin Bondarev to the stand. The two FSB officers have been accused by the defendants of torturing them with electrical shocks. The Moscow District Military Court, which is hearing the case in Petersburg, postponed its consideration of these motions until June 4.

The trial in Penza began later than the trial in Petersburg. During the second hearing in Penza, on May 15, after the indictment was read aloud, the defense moved to send the case back to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation. It argued the case had been carelessly patched together, and some of the evidence had been obtained under pain of torture. It was nearly impossible to mount a coherent defense against such an “absurd, vague, and inconsistent” indictment, they said.

Prosecutor Sergei Semerenko argued the trial should proceed, although he refused to rule out the possibility the indictment would ultimately be withdrawn and resubmitted on less serious charges.

The judges reacted to this turn of event unexpectedly. They withdrew to chambers and never returned to the courtroom. A court clerk eventually told the lawyers, waiting for a ruling on their motion, the hearing was adjourned, after which armed guards led the defendants away.

The next day it transpired the trial would resume on May 21.

In the Penza trial, Dmitry Pchelintsev and Ilya Shakursky have been charged with running the Network terrorist community. They face twenty years in prison if convicted. Arman Sagynbayev, Vasily Kuksov, Andrei Chernov, Mikhail Kulkov, and Maxim Ivankin have been charged with involvement in the alleged community. They face ten years in prison if convicted.

A number of the defendants have also been indicted on other charges, including weapons possession and drug trafficking.

In Petersburg, Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov also face charges of involvement in the alleged community. Boyarshinov has also been charged with possession of gunpowder.

Filinkov has claimed he was tortured and denies his guilt. Boyarshinov has complained of torture-like conditions in remand prison but has confessed his guilt.

The subject of torture also came during when a witness in the trial, Igor Shishkin, was questioned. Mr. Shishkin has already been convicted on charges of involvement with the alleged Network as part of a plea agreement with investigators. Members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission found the most serious injuries on his body after he was initially detained and questioned by the FSB in January 2018.

When Mr. Shishkin was asked whether unacceptably violent methods had been used on him and whether had testified voluntarily, he smiled and replied, “The military investigator carried out a brilliant investigation: nothing of the sort was found.”

The Moscow Military District Court finished its examination of the evidence in Petersburg on May 17 after holding a video conference with witnesses in Penza, including the defendants on trial there. All the witnesses testified they had not seen Viktor Filinkov at training sessions in the woods.

However, Mr. Pchelinitsev and Mr. Sagynbayev testified they had not been questioned about the Petersburg case. The transcript of this interrogation had been copied from testimony they gave to FSB investigator Valery Tokarev in Penza while they were tortured. They later withdrew their testimony.

Mr. Filinkov, who worked as a programmer before his arrest, also claimed investigators had falsely interpreted physical evidence seized during searches and reached the wrong conclusions during their investigation.

In particular, he claimed he had not “zigzagged” around Petersburg on the day before his arrest before discarding the hard drives FSB field agents later found in a trash bin. The images and photos on the drives, which had been entered into evidence, were of the kind one would find in the possession of any punk. They had been produced by his wife Alexandra Askyonova as a teenager.

Ms. Aksyonova was granted political asylum in Finland last week.

Mr. Filinkov made a point of noting that Petersburg field officer Konstantin Bondarev, who had compiled the case file on him, should be charged with torture.

Ultimately, the court agreed to summon Mr. Tokarev and Mr. Bondarev to the witness stand, but so far they have failed to appear at the hearings.

The key evidence of the alleged anarchist community’s terrorist inclinations are two documents, seized from two of the Penza defendants: the so-called Code, which outlines the Network’s alleged goals and organizational structure, and the minutes of an interregional “congress” held in a Petersburg flat in 2017, featuring responses from the movement’s alleged cells to socio-political issues.

The FSB has claimed the cells were armed units. The minutes contain neither the names nor the pseudonyms of the respondents.

When Vladimir Putin discussed the Network case with the Presidential Human Rights Council, he referred to a report drafted for him; the report claimed that “founding and programmatic documents had been seized from the terrorist community.”

However, the defendants and witnesses have denied the existence of the documents, claiming they only held discussions during their meetings but did not ratify or sign documents.

Mr. Shishkin, who made a plea agreement with investigators, corroborated this.

Prosecutor Ekaterina Kachurina asked him, “Why did you become interested in anarchist ideology?”

“And why did you become a prosecutor?” he replied, explaining anarchism was interesting to him.

Mr. Pchelintsev said there had been no “congress,” only “a seminar by consensus.”

Vitaly Cherkasov, Mr. Filinikov’s defense attorney, said in court there was every reason to believe “an unlimited number of Petersburg and Penza FSB officials had illegal access over a lengthy period of time” to the hard drive and laptop on which the files containing the “Code” and the “Minutes” had, allegedly, been discovered, due to improprieties in the secure storage and unsealing of the physical evidence.

Mr. Boyarshinov’s assistant defense attorney, Olga Krivonos, moved to have the court declare the documents inadmissible as evidence, along with the FSB’s linguistic forensic investigation, which concluded the “Code” was a “set of instructions outlining the basic organizational principles of a network of combat units capable of resisting the current powers that be.”

The court has adjourned until June 4.

Translated by the Russian Reader. You can read more about the Network case and stories related to the case here.

Simon Kordonsky: The Real Russia Refuses to Be Counted

kordonsky
Simon Kordonsky, academic director of the Khamovniki Foundation. Photo by Andrei Gordeyev. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Sociologist Simon Kordonsky: “There Are No Entrepreneurs Listed in the Census”
The Khamovniki Foundation’s Fieldwork Suggests the Country’s Leaders Know Little about Real Life in Russia
Vedomosti
January 29, 2019

The academic director of the Khamovniki Foundation for Social Research is Simon Kordonsky, renowned in Russia’s analytical circles and a former adviser on federal government policy. Nowadays, he has been looking at things from the other side. How does policy affect the lives of the rank and file? Or, rather, how do the rank and file escape the gaze of politics?

“Rosstat Is a Disaster”
Let us start with a simple question. How many people live in Russia?

I don’t know. Feel free to add ten to fifteen percent to the official figures for the mid-sized cities.

So, many more than 146 million people live in Russia?

There are many more. But we are completely at a loss when it comes to the big cities. It is impossible to count people there.

Why? Aren’t there firm indicators such as bread consumption and use of medical services and public transport?

And who in Russia counts this stuff?

I don’t know.

Sewers are used to count people. Judging by the sewerage, around thirty million people live in Moscow.

How do you use sewage to count people?

A certain volume of sewage is flushed into the sewers, and we have a rough sense of the amount of sewage each person generates. Electricity use, on the contrary, cannot give us a fix on numbers of residents, because people steal electricity. It is a rather complex system.

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The Khamovniki Foundation for Social Research was founded in 2006 by Russian investor and hotelier Alexander Klyachin, who currently serves as the foundation’s board chair. The foundation’s advisory board is headed by Simon Kordonsky, a professor at the Higher School of Economics.

The foundation finances and supports academic field research that contributes to describing Russian society. The foundation aims to make the outcomes of its studies accessible to society as a whole. It has supported over sixty research projects. Among the most discussed have been “Seasonal Workers in Small Russian Towns,” “The Garage Economy in the Russian Hinterlands,” and “The Constructive Role of Informal Relations in State and Municipal Administration.” 

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There are no scams involving shit?

Maybe there is an underground shit trade, but we have not studied it. I am saying that it is awfully hard to calculate the consumption of electricity in the 220-volt networks, which are municipal networks. Superimposed on them are other, high-voltage networks, and there are separate stats on each level. Total loss in the network is around fifty percent. It is hard to quantify how much is used by the populace, and how much by industry, because the rates everywhere are different.

It is the same thing with garages [as workplaces]: they usually survive on stolen electricity. They pay for the hookup, but off the books to the folks who do the maintenance work on the power networks. They pay thirty to fifty percent of the real cost and pay minimum usage rates. So, energy use will not help you count people.

Nor will water use. A considerable number of families do not get their water from centralized mains, but from wells, from their own local networks. Besides, in summer, many families live in the countryside at dachas. In winter, some people temporarily leave the villages, while others stay behind. It is hardly possible to quantify this migration.

Official statistical bodies make no effort to count them?

Of course not, but statisticians know all about it. They have their own professional journal, Statistical Issues [Voprosy statistiki]. Several years ago, the journal published an article explaining the discrepancy between the indicators taken into account and what we see with our own eyes. It was necessary to mislead our enemies in the west.

Camouflage the stats?

Yes. Rosstat is a disaster, you see. Their ontology is Soviet, while they imported their methodology from the west. They carry out the census using western standards, and so all the peculiar aspects of life in Russia disappear from their radar. For example, our census does not count entrepreneurs.

At all?

There are no such people as entrepreneurs in the Russian census. There are people involved in businesses of some kind, and there are people who practice the free professions. The census does not differentiate between them. Rosstat regards people who are paid salaries and people who earn their living by making profits as indistinguishable. So, Rosstat is not an organization from which we should expect anything.

Here is another example. What are cities and villages? There are no cities in Russia as urbanists describe them and, so, there are no villages, either. When he was alive, Vyacheslav Glazychev wrote that Russian cities were conglomerations of settlements. Take the district seat in Tula Region that borders Moscow Region. There are 14,000 people in the entire district. From April to late October, however, the population increases to 150,000 people.

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Simon Kordonsky was born in 1944 in Oirot-Tura (present-day Gorno-Altaysk). He graduated from Tomsk State University with a degree as a chemistry and biology teacher. In 1988, he was awarded a kandidat degree, writing a thesis entitled “Cyclical Procedures in Scientific Research.” State Councilor of the Russian Federation, First Class, he chaired the Presidential Expert Advisory Council in 2000. In 2004, he served as a senior aide to the president. He has been a professor of state and municipal administration at the Higher School of Economics since 2006. In 2011, he was appointed director of the Khamovniki Foundation.

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It increases to 150,000 people? Tenfold?

Yes, tenfold. These people are not accounted for. They do not register their residence.

What about medical services? They are designed to deal with 14,000 people. How do they handle 150,000 people? Or do they handle them?

Nearly all dacha dwellers have cars.

They drive to Moscow for medical care?

Why? Serpukhov and Pushchino are nearby, and they have excellent outpatient clinics. Doctors see patients privately everywhere, and you can always come to an arrangement. Medical care is not the problem. The real problem is trash.

That was going to be our next question. As of the new year, a new trash era has dawned in Russia. Does anyone calculate the amount of garbage Russia generates? Does anyone understand the extent of the disaster?

I don’t know. I saw a business plan drawn up by gangsters in the early 1990s. They wanted to take over the garbage business, and they were partly successful. Everything is alright in the places where they were successful. But in the places where first there were towns and villages, followed by municipalities, and now corporations, there is an utter mess.

Moreover, it has been compounded by another problem: gasification. When people used stoves, garbage was burned, metal and bottles were recycled, and there was relatively little plastic. Nowadays, people prefer to throw things away. As soon as a town or village is hooked up to natural gas, the garbage piles up. There is just nowhere to take it, and there are no institutions or stereotypes for dealing with it.

In the garbage business, there is not only collection but also sorting and recycling.

Yes, garbage collection is not what matters. What matters is sorting and recycling. People live in landfills. They even have conveyor belts. They sort the garbage and sell the recyclables to buyers. It is an ecosystem you cannot change by opening or closing landfills, because these are reliable sources of raw materials, with a production cycle and sales channels. It is difficult and dangerous to describe life in landfills and the cottage trades that thrive there.

Do the authorities give the Khamovniki Foundation a hard time?

Not in the least. But they do not support us, either. So far we have not overlapped with the authorities either regionally or federally, but during our expeditions we cooperate with local authorities, of course.

How do you decide where to go on expeditions?

Accidentally. We have done work in all the federal districts, from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad. We have made fewer trips to the south, but now we have seemingly made connections there, too.

Where you have been in the past year? What new things did you find?

We were in the Far East: Vladivostok, Arsenyev, down to Nakhodka, and back to Vladivostok via Bolshoi Kamen. Thirteen people traveled almost 3,000 kilometers, describing the different local cottage trades and crafts.

Artemy Pozanenko recently completed a series of hunting expeditions. He spent several months with hunters and poachers as an embedded observer. Yulia Krasheninnikova has been studying expert evaluations and expert evidence as an institution. It transpires that it has long ceased to exist in Russia as a professional institution. Instead, crappy quasi-expert evaluations and so-called experts have boiled to the top, especially in religious studies, medicine, construction, and science. Dissernet have gone after fake scientific experts, and you know the success they have had.

Olga Molyarenko has been studying ownerless property. It turns out a considerable segment of existing networks and infrastructure in Russia belongs to no one at all.

She started by examining cemeteries. She discovered there are a certain number of cemeteries officially on the books in Russia, but the real number of cemeteries is nearly ten times larger. It is a typical situation. In the villages and small towns, the cemeteries were located beyond the official border of these settlements. They were overgrown by forests and thus registered as forest lands. It is forbidden to bury people in them, but you have to bury people somewhere.

By the way, the land registry is a problem unto itself. Alexander Pavlov added up all the land registered in Russia. Its total area is 1.7 times larger than the country’s official land mass the country, including the northern lands.

Then it transpired that the Defense Ministry’s closed towns have not only collapsed structurally but have also disappeared juridically. The Defense Ministry has not transferred them to the municipalities because, in particular, the municipalities are not capable of dealing with them. They do not have money in their budgets for completing the paperwork and other formalities. You have probably seen concrete two-lane military roads. Most of them belong to no one in Russia. The same goes for the roads along power lines and other infrastructure networks Usually, they belong to no one. They have no legal owners, and they are not listed in anyone’s inventories.

No one maintains them?

They have de facto caretakers rather than de jure owners. Usually, an economy emerges around these ownerless chunks of property The power transmission lines often have no owners. There was a state-owned enterprise that produced its own heat and electricity. The enterprise vanished, but the power station was left running because it keeps the nearby town heated and lit. However, power station itself and its networks belong to no one. Wherever you poke your nose you find the sewerage and water supply all belong to no one. In Krasnodar Region, people simply refused to talk to Olga about it.

What about the city itself, Krasnodar?

It was the same story. In the region’s coastal areas, if they show anyone the real figures for utilities and infrastructure, it would reveal how many tourists actually go there on holiday. They cannot do that, because they would have to pay a lot more taxes.

But how does ownerless infrastructure operate? Don’t contracts have to be signed? Don’t procurements have to be made?

There are people involved, of course. Alexander Pavlov has been making a study of Ulyanovsk for us. There are observable stereotypes. Everything is kept running by relying on connections, relationships, and unwritten rules.

How are fees collected?

The people who benefit pay in cash or favors. Everything is done strictly by the unwritten rules.

Here is a more general question. Are you saying the Kremlin does not know about any of this?

None of it exists on paper. On a personal level, they know. But as officials… Where do you go with it?

Do the aides in the Kremlin show the big brass anything about it?

I don’t think Kremlin aides are capable of helping anyone solve their problems. People have business interests they lobby by tattling on each other. They ask the top brass to make certain decisions, but the top brass keep their distance. A balance emerges, but it is a really peculiar balance, the outcome of a permanent war for resources in which no one can win, since the amount of resources available decreases during hostilities. In turn, this ratchets up tension among belligerent interest groups. However, what really goes in Russia concerns very few people. At best, information about really goes on can be used as arguments in internecine conflicts.

If they are so poorly informed, how do they ensure presidential decrees are executed? For example, when the Kremlin set out to reduce mortality rates caused by cardiovascular diseases?

The rates did drop. There are three lines at the bottom of death certificates: primary cause of death, secondary cause of death, and tertiary cause of death. A person crashed their car because they had a heart attack, and they suffered internal organ damage during the crash. The statistics take stock of what we write on the first line. This is basically how medical statisticians calculate data about mortality. If the Kremlin orders cancer be put in third place, the statisticians will do it, and if the order comes down to reduce mortality as caused by heart disease, the rates will drop.

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Russia’s Underground Cottage Industries
“One of our grantees found a huge cottage industry in a region in the Volga Federal District: around forty illegal airstrips,” says Simon Kordonsky. “Some of them have markings and hard surfaces. They transport goods, teach people to fly, and work in agriculture. Agriculture is their main gig. There is currently no official agricultural aviation in Russia: not only crop dusting but also the constant monitoring of field required by high-tech agriculture. You cannot check out an entire field by walking around it, but these tiny airplanes, often handmade, can do the job.

“By the way, outside of Moscow, there are approximately fifty people who have different airplanes: handmade, store-bought, and imported. These people have the money for them. The circumstances are dicey: air traffic control is not adapted to deal with these aircraft. Pilots of small aircraft make their own deals with air controllers on the side. There are regulations, but complying with them is impossible, and so an administrative market has arisen around this cottage industry. The pilots make payoffs so no one pays them any mind.

“The cottage industries change when the authorities pay attention to them. They exposed the garage economy and started making rounds of the garages, so people have been gradually moving to workshops. Mansions outfitted with workshops are being built outside city limits, just as in the nineteenth century. In Krasnodar, it is plain to see because it is right downtown. There is the market, and the war monument with its Eternal Flame. They are surrounded by one- and two-storey buildings. These are workshops and dwellings.

“Everything you can sell is made there. They distill vodka, roll out meat dumplings, sew linens, build furniture, and rent appliances. There are hotels, prostitutes, hair salons, and hospitals.

“Yes, and the dental industry has gone off the Health Ministry’s radar in certain locales. Outside of Moscow, for example, there are people who own dozens of different clinics. The clinics have no signs on the front door, but the equipment is top flight, and the doctors are terrific. They treat the local elite, so no one is the wiser.

“Did you know that near University subway station in Moscow there is the Nauka research and production facility, an establishment well known in certain circles

“Close to the bluff there there was and partly still is a community known popularly as Shanghai. A few years ago, it contained around five thousand garages, and the artisans who worked there were into everything, including the high-tech production of spare parts for imported cars. They had huge Soviet-era coordinate drilling machines, heavy asynchronous motors, probably imported, and programmers from Moscow State University, and they did great work. Their products were sold as imports.

“Moscow city hall has recently been trying to demolish the place, but Shanghai has resisted. This was place that had an outpatient medical clinic and a barber shop. The cafeterias were really good, featuring food from all over the world.

“Another type of cottage industry is distributed manufacturing, as in the Novokhopyorsk District in Voronezh Region and the Uryupinsk District in Volgograd Region who produce down goods together. They breed sheep and goats, comb the wool, processing it using high-tech machines, equipped with thermostats that fluff the wool, and finally produce the down and weave it. Everything they produce is sold at a wholesale market two hectares in size, open from two to six in the morning. They sell their wares to Roma wholesalers, who distribute the down goods nationwide.

“The government is now in the midst of a campaign against self-employment, but the cottage industries themselves change all the time, regardless of attempts to combat them. In fact, it is not clear what self-employment is. After his state of the nation address, the president gave orders to define the social status of self-employed people. The comrades from the Finance Ministry and Labor Ministry defined their fiscal status, but this is meaningless without defining their social status. What do we call government officials who take kickbacks? Cops running protection rackets? Are they self-employed or not? How do they differ from a university lecturer who works as university exam prep tutor on the side? Or from a physician who puts an ad on the internet saying he will treat patients at any stage in their suffering at any clinic in Russia? 

“There is no difference.

“If we take this approach, we discover the entire Russian populace is self-employed. As I used to say, first we must force people to pay taxes on kickbacks, and then we can deal with self-employment.”

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What do we do in these circumstances? If, as you say, Rosstat has failed to take Russia’s peculiarities into account, and their stats are at odds with reality, this leaves room for playing fast with the facts. What must be done? Should we change the methodologies?

That is a philosophical question. The possibility of accounting itself arises when there is a market. Modern statistics emerged in the seventeenth century when the market emerged, when goods and money parted ways, and people had to account for goods and money separately. If there is no market in Russia (the only market in Russia, perhaps, is the one at our customs border), then accounting can be done arbitrarily, using any criteria you like. The conceptual apparatus of an economy based on accounting and measurement cannot be applied to the realities of an underground cottage industry economy, a clandestine workshop economy, to life in Russia, to an administrative market state organized around the distribution of particular resources. The problem is neither technical nor methodological, but ontological. This is why we cannot count the number of people who live in Russia. 

When you say there are instructions to reduce mortality to a certain level, where do the instructions come from?

Well, there is a Health Ministry in Russia. It reports on the state of the populace’s health. The phrase “increasing life expectancy” appears in all their white papers, although I have never been able to get either ministers or academicians to specify the connection between medical progress and life expectancy. They have different systemic variables. The Health Ministry drafts a report on its work. The report is discussed—I don’t know where nowadays, maybe in the Security Council, maybe in Prime Minister Medvedev’s inner cabinet. The ministry gets orders to improve its figures. This instruction is called a presidential order or government order. On the back of this piece of paper, this order, are the names of the people who will implement the order. They are the folks who come up with the figures and then vet them. You have never heard of these people who draft white papers and come up with figures. You do not know them and you never will, although their administrative weight is no less than that of public officials

Here is a question linked to inflation and estimates. What did Alexander Surinov do so badly he was forced to resign his post as head of Rosstat?

I don’t know the specific reason. He was from the old school, you know, a man taught by folks who belonged to the old school of Emil Yershov [an economist who ran the State Statistics Committee, Goskomstat, from 1989 to 1993, before becoming a full professor at the Higher School of Economics]. Of course, maybe the whole business with driving up the figures and getting phone calls from the top brass rubbed him the wrong way. Perhaps he just freaked out.

By tweaking the stats, however, or, rather by existing in a system in which stats are tweaked, the state does not have a more or less realistic picture of reality, and all the plans, programs, evaluations of these programs, and adjustments to these programs are based partly on stats that it tweaks and dreams up itself, and partly on stats dreamed up by God knows who, a faceless crowd of civil servants.

“The Oppositions Needs a Position”
There are the polls done by VTsIOM, but they say the FSO (Federal Protective Service) does its own polls that tell the truth. Does the FSO keep statistics that show the president the truth?

The FSO conducts polls that consist of around 40,000 direct interviews without sampling, but in the final analysis their data is quite similar to the data produced by Alexander Oslon (Public Opinion Foundation or FOM), when it comes to public opinion, at any rate.

Our government conceives itself, and it has operated this way for three hundred years. People would go abroad, people like Peter the Great or Dmitry Kozak. They saw something they liked, came home, and decided they would do things the way they were done abroad.

It is quite hard to find anything Russian about Russia. Everything has been built by the state, but part of what it built got away from the state, and it is this fugitive part that is regarded as unreconstructed and outside state control, a gray zone. When something happens in the gray zone—young people act up, say—the state registers it and becomes alarmed. People are on the move, meaning there is something to it, so they want to devise a youth police, establish a state agency, a ministry for youth affairs, and get funding for it. What happens, ultimately, is that young people live their own lives, and on the other hand there is a state agency that squanders the federal money allocated to channel young people and their energy. The state is on the lookout for something living or seemingly alive, and this thing is nationalized, it is assimilated by the state. The Russian state consists entirely of such agencies, which ape things that occur beyond the state’s reach.

The FSO’s officers also keep track of societal stability, the different protest movements and so on. If protest movements kick into high gear, it means it is time either to nationalize them, which initially happened with the nationalist organizations, or crack down on them. Otherwise, God forbid, interregional synchronization might occur, and then you call in the guys whose jobs it is to neutralize such things, the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”) and the Russian National Guard.

Do you mean it is impossible for the opposition or protest movements to consolidate?

It is probably possible in quite extreme circumstances, as in the late eighties and early nineties. Local uprisings are more likely. You see, the opposition needs a position. What is the regime’s position? It has no position, and so there can be no opposition. Opposition is based on the very same rationale. The regime’s position is that it is opposed to opposition.

We travel around Russia and we see no one in the mood to protest. Yes, people are dissatisfied, but they have always been dissatisfied. Their dissatisfaction is based on the sense someone got more than they did and this is unfair. They will complain to the supreme arbiter, they think, and he will set things right. But the kind of dissatisfaction that existed in Soviet times in Novocherkassk and Biysk, in the ethnic republics, does not exist today.

Nowhere? Not in any of the regions?

Something quite interesting has been happening in the ethnic republics within the Russian Federation, in Mordovia, Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan, among the Soviet ethnicitie shaped by Stalin in 1927–1928 as part of his policy on ethnic groups. They are not really nations, but ethnic esthates, social groups shaped by the state and bound to particular territories, so that Bashkirs have a particular status in Bashkortostan and a completely different status in Tatarstan. Rustem Vakhitov, who is based in Ufa, has written quite interestingly about this.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, these ethnic groups took on lives of their own: nations have been emerging in all the ethnic republics, sometimes to the point of hilarity, as happened in Mordovia. We went into a shop where the clerks were speaking Russian. When we approached one of them, they started speaking Mordvin. In the local cultural center, the ladies were sitting around a table covered with albums filled with drawings of costumes. They were designing the Mordvin national costume.

You’re saying the process has not been astroturfed from the top down by the regional bosses?

No, it is a search for identity. People are trying to solve a genuinely timely question: who are we?

Ethnic Russians don’t have this problem?

Ethnic Russians alone have not been emerging as a nation. Russians were never the titular nation [in any of the Soviet national republics]. When Stalin’s nation-building was underway, the Russians were forgotten. Everyone who was pushed out from the the ethnic republics became Russians.

So, people in Arkhangelsk Region could have been called Pomors and also emerged as a separate ethnic group?

The Pomors have their own deal. Yuri Plyusnin, a professor at the Higher School of Economics, has described the Pomors as a special ethnic group. Some cunning people politicized his research, and the myth of Pomor nationalism emerged.

These episodes, involving ethnicity, and the absence and search for identity, have been breaking out all over Russia nowadays. What is Siberian identity? People are riled up about this as well. Who are we Siberians? they ask themselves.

Do these trends threaten Russia’s territorial integrity? Will things somewhere boil to the point reached in Chechnya?

This will happen when there is a shortage of resources. Gleb Pavlovsky has described it well. In 1996–1997, when it was obvious the system was disintegrating, it had to be integrated. Two methods of integration were devised. One was financial. There was a multi-currency system. The so-called young reformers nationalized the ruble, turning money into a financial resource distributed by the federal government. The regions and municipalities queued to get their hands on it, competing with each other in the bargain. Elementary order emerged.

The second method was ideological. Vladislav Surkov and his pals dreamed up United Russia and nationalized ideology, trying to manufacture at least a partial copy of the Soviet Communist Party. Their project was generally a success, too, but unlike financial policy, United Russia was not instrumental. No one knew how to use it, except for channeling certain forms of discontent.

So, if there is a threat to territorial integrity, it is a potential threat. However, it is a threat that can be turned to an advantage. An ordinary economy deals with the risks posed by the market: there are winners and losers. Due to its non-market foundations, Russia does not welcome risks. Threats are the dominant tool in Russia’a administrative markets. The people who invent the scariest stores get the cash and the resources. One of the scary stories has to do with the threat to territorial integrity, which the security forces use to obtain resources, because they are supposed to neutralize the threat.

Yet people are always dissatisfied with the way resources are distributed, and so there can be no means of assessing whether threats have been dealt with effectively or not. Once upon a time, threats to public health and public education were identified and prolonged. Resources were allocated for neutralizing these threats, and national projects were launched. Consequently, the threats became even worse. New national projects have been launched, and resources have again been allocated to neutralize the same threats.

We live in the midst of permanent threats, generated by all the stakeholders and pressure groups. The government is faced with the need to emphasize certain threatens and allocate resources for neutralizing them.

Russia was disoriented for a long time, since it had no customary external enemy. Subsequently, different forces united to manufacture this external enemy, and now it is a matter of neutralizing the external threat. I gather that a considerable amount of federal funds and extra-budgetary resources have been earmarked for producing means to neutralized the external threat.

So, we are fighting the good fight against enemies we construed ourselves, against enemies we dreamed up ourselves?

Yes, it’s a good fight. We are winning. We are earmarking resources foor the fight. We are retreating, we are advancing. We are forcing groups to scrap over resources and queue for them. Basically, the scrap going on in the queue is the basis of the current stability.

Russia has been functioning this way for hundreds of years. It generates threats, attempts to neutralize them, and exports its internal tensions through external aggression. This was what happened in Afghanistan.

Can we be completely defeated by such a threat?

We lost in 1991, didn’t we? It was then necessary to generate an internal hotbed of tension, known as “Chechnya,” getting rid of all conflicts in the country and booting them down there.

There were lots of people there who were quite aggressive and itching for a fight. Besides, there was a curious form of self-organization in Chechnya. The first Chechen combat units emerged from construction crews, not from the big clans. Chechens traveled to Siberia together to build cow barns and formed work crews.

“Repeating the Past Is Russia’s Future”
They went there to build cow barns, because there was no work of any kind in Chechnya?

That was not the only reason. It was a very good deal for the local authorities. Building was the only means they had of retaining resources in their area, so numerous construction sites popped up. I was then busy researching construction in the countryside and I saw what was actually happening. I would get an itemized list of the buildings, and there would be ninety sites on it. Then I would make the rounds of the sites and find only forty-two actually being built. The other sites did not exist, but I would find another fifty sites that were not on the itemized list, but which were nevertheless under construction, and it would be Chechens, Ukrainians, and Hutsuls building them. The Chechen work crews came together, because the objective was to protect the forest glades in Siberia.

There is something similar going on nowadays in Tyumen Region, for example. In Dagestan, there are villages that have full-scale diasporas in Tyumen and Surgut. The men have two families, one in Surgut, the other in Dagestan. They ship all kinds of schmutz and fruit to Tyumen, bringing back timber and fish to Dagestan. I imagine it is Tyumen is not the only place where such things go on.

Doesn’t Plato hinder them? It monitors cargo shipments.

Plato monitors the big rigs. There is no system for monitoring trucks under twelve tons. The government farmed out the big rigs with the hope of extending the new system of tolls to low-tonnage transportation. What do I mean by “farming out”? In particular, resources are redistributed from local authorities to corporations. The regions have become less significant in the distribution and redistribution of resources, while corporations have become more important. This will inevitably cause conflicts.

What conflicts?

In the first place, conflicts between the regions and the corporations. And conflicts along the highways, especially federal highways. They are like arteries pumping blood and supporting life: there are tons of gray-zone cottage industries that spring up around them, providing everything from food to prostitutes.

Take the village of Umyot in the Zubova Polyana Municipal District in the Republic of Mordovia, which is on the M5 Ural Federal Highway. Prostitutes are lined up for a dozen kilometers along the highway, along with different roadside establishments. The Zubova Polyana District is home of the famous village of Potma, where five prison camps built during Soviet times as part of the Gulag are still in operation. The district has a population of just over 60,000 people, and around 30,000 of them are convicts, while the non-convict populace are third- and fourth-generation prison guards. So, when a monopolist like Plato appears on the scene, people naturally try and fight back.

There are really interesting migrations underway in Russia nowadays. They say the country is becoming deserted. According to statisticians, people have been moving into the district and regional seats. That is happening, but some of the migrants are regrouping along the big highways. Russia has been shrinking down to a series of highways. New communities are being built, and life there is defined by a highway.

There is another trend, however, of people leaving the cities. These people are adherents of different environmental sects, the Ringing Cedars or Anastasians, for example. We counted several hundred thousand of them. Within a radius of a hundred kilometers from Moscow there are dozens of Anastasian settlements. They have no names,  addresses or anything of the sort. These downshifters are educated people, usually.

Pozanenko sailed several hundreds of kilometers down one of the rivers in the north and counted several dozen settlements that were not registered with the government in any way.  They usually are highly attached to a particular ideology. They go off to live in hermitages, grow cedars, and worship Nicholas Roerich. The ones who survive move away from the ideology after three or four years, becoming ordinary peasants. We have seen this in Altai and other places.

But the inflow is greater from the small towns and villages into the major cities than vice versa?

They are migrants doing seasonal work. Moscow sucks in people who live as far as 400 kilometers to 500 kilometers away. This radius is around 70 kilometers for a large regional capital like Novosibirsk. This is pendulum migration, while migration over great distances is seasonal migration. If we take the Zubova Polayana District again, it is around 400 kilometers from Moscow. The men go to Moscow to work as security guards, while the young women go there to work as “accountants,” meaning prostitutes. This was the case a few years ago, and I doubt whether much has changed.

What a great euphemism!

Here is another thing. A retail chain has agreements with villages to supply laborers for several months. There are several villages, and the villagers take turns going into the city to work. It is very hard to quantify migration like this. On Fridays, it is readily visible at the train stations: the cars are packed because people are going home. Daily migration can be quantified: you just take a look at the terminal stations of the subway and the train stations when people pile into Moscow on the commuter trains. Basically, these are the thirty million people we spoke about at the beginning, the people who shit in Moscow. These are the numbers of people who come to the city. In some regions, as much as forty percent of the population migrates to work.

There is a theory that, in the future, it will be megacities that compete with each other, not countries.

Russia does not have enough oomph for that. What kind of future awaits Russia? Repeating the past is Russia’s future in terms of public opinion and behavior. Look at what people say about the future: the country is going back either to Stalin or Nicholas the Second.

What about a palace coup? Russia has a rich tradition of those.

I don’t believe it.

Why not?

There are way too many competitors.

You said that the Soviet Communist Party collapsed and everything else collapsed with it. Isn’t Putin a similar force for consolidation nowadays?

Putin is not the problem. The problem, as Gleb Pavlovsky says, is transferring power while maintaining stability and territorial integrity. Some people have seemingly decided the problem can be solved by prolonging the leader’s life. Big money is currently being invested in biology and medicine. There are academicians who have long been receiving large sums of money for research on prolonging life.

Do you mean Vladimir Skulachev?

Yes.

They write that he has run into a dead end.

Practically, it is a dead end, of course, but politically the demand for his research is high.

Maybe they will go in search of the Holy Grail?

I think they have gone in every direction they could have. Where do you think their flashy religiosity comes from? What is the cause? They are hoping for a miracle. They really are praying, hoping for a miracle, because there is no rational way out of the impasse.

Translated by the Russian Reader

No One to Call Them on the Carpet

karlshorst tankA WWII-era Soviet tank, its muzzle pointed toward downtown Berlin, in the yard of the so-called German Russian Museum in the city’s Karlshorst neighborhood. Until 1994, it was known as the Capitulation Museum, since German high command formally surrendered to the Soviet high command in the building that houses the museum. Photo by the Russian Reader

At this point in their downward spiral towards worldwide moral and intellectual superiority, it is sometimes as hard to compliment Russians as it to make common cause with them or, on the contrary, argue with them.

I was thinking about this in a different connection when my attention was drawn to this column by Masha Gessen, published two days ago by the New Yorker.

The column is an odd beast.

First, Ms. Gessen makes a sound argument, based on hard, easily verifiable facts, but then she does an about-face and acts as her argument’s own resentful, miserably uninformed whataboutist, drawing false parallels between commemorations of the Second World War in Russia and the US, and the roles played by Putin and Trump in tarnishing these memorial events with their own sinister political agendas.

She is thus able to set readers up for the column’s takeaway message: “[T]he Trumpian spin on [the Second World War] is all maga, which makes it essentially the same as Putin’s.”

Ms. Gessen once was one of my favorite reporters, especially back in the days when she wrote for the weekly Russian news magazine Itogi.  Later, I adored her poignant, richly rendered dual portrait of her grandmothers and the turbulent times of their younger years. I would still urge anyone curious about what the Soviet Union was really like under Stalin and after his death to put the book, Ester and Ruzya, at the top of their reading lists.

Nowadays, however, Ms. Gessen finds herself in what should be the unenviable position of having no one willing to call her on the carpet . Whatever she writes and says is regarded as the gospel truth, apparently, by her editors, readers, and listeners. In any case, I have never come upon any criticism of her work, at least in Anglophonia.

Her editor at the New Yorker, David Remnick, himself a Russia expert of sorts, has gone missing in action when it comes to editing critically what she writes about the country of her birth, and so has everyone else who could be bothered to notice the sleights of hand and sophistry in which she now indulges all too often.

In this case, it is simple. In the United States, there has been nothing like the overbearing politicization of victory in the Second World War as there has been in Russia since Putin took power twenty years ago.

The US does not even have a public holiday commemorating victory in the war, whether on the European front or the Pacific front. I think this says something. Maybe what it says is bad, but the importance of the “victory” for US society, especially now that nearly seventy-five years have passed since the victory was declared, has been waning with every passing day.

More to the point, whatever deplorable uses Trump may have made of the war, he has had a mere two years in office to do his damage, while “decisive victory” in the Great Fatherland War (as the war is called in Russian) has long played a central role in Putin’s eclectic, opportunist but extraordinarily reactionary ideology.

It is an rather odd stance, since the Kremlin regularly speaks and acts almost as if the Putin regime and the current Russian Armed Forces achieved victory over the Nazis in 1945, rather than the Stalin regime and the Red Army.

Victory in the war has been used as much to bludgeon the regime’s “traitors” and “enemies” into submission as it has been used to brainwash the Russian people into a false sense of national unity and international moral superiority.

Of course, there have been periods since 1945 when victory in the war was politicized by the US establishment, too. We need only think of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” and, years before that last gasp, the ways movies and TV shows about the war functioned as surrogates for reinforcing western capitalist ideology during the Cold War.

As should naturally be the case, however, since the war ended a long time ago, and most of the people who witnessed it and fought in it have died, it has meant less to the rising generations in the US than it did to the generations of my grandparents (who fought in the war, if only on the home front) and my parents (who were born just before or during the war), and even to my own generation (who grew up in a vernacular culture still permeated by memories of the war, sometimes embodied in our own grandparents and their age mates, and a popular culture still awash in books, comic books, TV serials, movies, toys, and other consumerist junk inspired by the war).

A gradual waning of interest in the war should have happened in Russia as well,  albeit in a manner that acknowledged and honored the war’s much greater impact on the country and all the other former Soviet republics.

In the nineties, under the “villainous” Yeltsin, this was on the verge of happening.

I remember going to the Victory Day parade on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg in 1995. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the war’s end in Europe, but the main event consisted only of columns of real war veterans, some in uniform, some in civilian dress, all of them wearing their medals, marching down the Nevsky accompanied by a few marching bands and a military honor guard, if memory serves me.

Tens of thousands of Petersburgers lined the pavements, cheering the veterans, crying, and occasionally running out into the parade to hand them flowers, kiss their cheeks, and thank them personally for their courage.

It was simple, dignified, and moving.

But then a new mob took over Russia. The new mob wanted to rob the country blind and install themselves in power for as long as they could, so they had to convince their victims, the Russian people, of a number of contradictory things.

One, the highway robbery, as committed by the new mob, was for their own good. Two, the highway robbery was making them better and their country great again; it would bring “stability.” Three, the highway robbery was spiritually underwritten by the former country’s former greatness, as demonstrated, in part, by its victory over the Nazis in the Great Fatherland War.

It is not true that all or even most Russians have swallowed all or even most of this dangerous nonsense.

Putinism, however, has destroyed politics in Russia not only by demolishing all democratic institutions and persecuting grassroots activists and opposition politicians in ever-increasing numbers.

It has also disappeared most real political issues and replaced them with non-issues, such as nonexistent “threats” to the glory of Russia’s victory in WWII, as posed by “traitors” and hostile foreign powers, the completely astroturfed “upsurge” in “love for Stalin,” and several other fake zeitgeist events that have been designed purposely to set the country’s dubious troika of official pollsters polling like never before and take up oodles of space in the real media, the social media, and ordinary people’s minds and their bar-stool and dinner-table conversations with strangers, friends, relatives, and coworkers.

I am much too fond of French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s distinction between “politics”—what happens in the public space around real sources of political and social conflict in democratic societies or societies striving towards freedom and equity) and “police”—the opposite of “politics,” the utter control of public space and a monopoly on decision-making by a tiny anti-democratic elite.

“Police” as a concept, however, encompasses not only real policemen kicking down the doors of “extremists” and “terrorists,” and casing and tailing everyone suspicious and “unreliable” every which way they can.

In Russia under Putin, it has also involved tarring and feathering all real political discourse and political thinking, while promoting sophistry, scuttlebutt, moral panics, two minutes hate, and intense nationwide “debates” about non-issues such as “the people’s love of Stalin” and “victory in the war.”

The point of substituting artificial “police” discourses for wide-open political debate has been to prevent Russia from talking about bread-and-butter issues like pensions, the economy, healthcare, housing, the environment, war and peace, and increasingly violent crackdowns against political dissenters, businessmen, migrant workers, ethnic minorities, and religious minorities.

Russians are capable of talking about these things and do talk about them, of course, but a steady diet of nothing, that is, immersion in a topsy-turvy world in which the state, mainstream media, and many of your own friend will try, often and persistently, to engage you in “serious” conversations about chimeras and phantoms, has had an innervating effect on serious political discourse generally.

Try and talk to Russians about politics and, often as not, you will soon find yourself talking “police” instead.

If Ms. Gessen had decided to write a substantive article about the Putin regime’s use and abuse of the “victory,” popular acquiescence to its campaign, and grassroots pushbacks against, it would have familiarized Ms. Gessen’s readers with a story about which they know either nothing or almost nothing.

I cannot imagine anyone better qualified to tell the story than Ms. Gessen herself.

But, as is the case with many other Russians, the straight talk in Ms. Gessen’s recent printed work and media appearances about what has been happening in Russia under Putin has been veering off, sooner or later, into whataboutism and a series of well-worn memes whose hysterical repetition passes for political argument these days.

There is a different but curiously overlapping set for every political tribe in Putinist Russia, from nominal nationalists to nominal liberals and leftists.

What is my own takeaway message?

There can be no politics in Russia in the Rancierean sense or any other sense until the Russian liberal intelligentsia (with whom Ms. Gessen has explicitly identified herself on several occasions, obviously considering them vastly superior intellectually and morally to the American mooks with whom she has been condemned to spend too much time, Russiansplaining everything under the sun to them as best she can, mostly to no avail) and all the other intelligentsias and political tribes in Russia give up their pet sets of non-issues and non-solutions and revive the deadly serious politics and political discourses of the pre-Revolutionary period, if only in spirit.

However, the efficacy of “police” under Putin has been borne out by the way in which nearly everyone has united, time and again, around the very non-issues the regime and state media has encouraged them to discuss.

On the contrary, several painfully real issues, for example, Russia’s ruinous, murderous military involvement in Syria, have never been vetted by “police” for public hand-wringing of any kind.

As if obeying an unwritten rule or a tape reeling in their heads, nobody ever talks about them, not even the great Masha Gessen. {TRR}

Thanks to Comrade GF for bring Ms. Gessen’s column to my attention.

Torturing Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Career Booster

yermolayevVladimir Yermolayev, head of the Russian Investigative Committee in Surgut

Russian Investigative Committee Investigators Accused of Torturing Jehovah’s Witnesses Recognized as Outstanding in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region
Znak.com
April 23, 2019

Vladimir Yermolayev, head of the Russian Investigative Committee office in Surgut and Investigator Sergei Bogoderov, whom followers of the religious organization Jehovah’s Witnesses, banned in Russia as “extremist,” accused of torturing them, have been recognized by their superiors as among the most outstanding employees in the committee’s regional directorate.

The recognition for their outstanding work was reported on website of the Russian Investigative Committee’s Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region Directorate, to which the Surgut office reports. According to the directorate, Yermolayev was among the top three heads of local offices in 2018 in terms of professional outcomes, ranking second overall. He yielded first place to Dmitry Kuznechekov from Pyt-Yak while outpacing Alexander Zakharov from Kogalym.

Bogoderov was also awarded second place by his superiors in the category “Best Investigator.” First and third places were awarded to Investigator Ruslan Mukharyamov, from Yugorsk, and Stanislav Tomak, from Nizhnevartovsk.

“The staff of the investigative directorate congratulates the winners and wishes them further success in their professional careers,” reads the press release issued by the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region’s Investigative Directorate.

On February 15, 2018, raids were carried out on the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut. Criminal charges were filed against two dozen adherents of the religious doctrine. They were charged with establishing an “extremist” community and involvement in an “extremist” community. Three of the believers were remanded in custody. Three weeks later, one of the men was released. After they spent two months in a remand prison, the other two men were released on their own recognizance by a court, which denied Yermolayev and Bogoderov’s motion to extend their time in police custody. All three men still face criminal charges, however.

A few days after the February 15, 2018, dragnet, several of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been detained claimed that, while they were in custody at the Russian Investigative Committee’s Surgut Investigative Branch, they had been strangled with plastic bags, doused with water, tasered, injected with a life-threatening unknown substance, and threatened with sexual violence.

In late March, lawyers representing the Surgut Jehovah’s Witnesses held a press conference in Moscow at which they presented reporters with the findings of an investigation of the torture, undertaken by independent experts. The lawyers and the accused also identified the investigators who, according to them, were involved in torturing them in Surgut.

The lawyers noted Yermolayev’s particular role in humiliating the detainees and forcing them to testify. They claimed it was Yermolayev who ordered Investigative Committee investigators and field officers to torture the detainees until they supplied them with the testimony needed to file criminal charges for establishing an “extremist” community.

The Surgut Investigative Office and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region Investigative Directorate have consistently denied accusations they employed torture. They explained the injuries on the bodies of the suspects, as documented by experts, were caused by “vigorous resistance.”

Last week, it transpired that the Yugra District Court found the searches carried out by the Investigative Committee in the homes of two suspected Jehovah’s Witnesses, Yevgeny Kayryak and Vyacheslav Boronos, had been illegal. According to the defense lawyers, this underscores the “professionalism” of investigators.

Kayryak and Boronos have also claimed they were tortured on the day they were detained.

Artyom Kim, arrested by Investigator Bogoderov on February 15, 2019, on suspicion of “extremism,” recounted how he was tortured by law enforcement officers at the Surgut Investigative Office in a video posted on Russia human rights activist Lev Ponoromaryov’s YouTube channel on April 3, 2019.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Lie Still, Bitch!”

ammosov-1Anton Ammosov. Courtesy of OVD Info

Beaten, Sacked and Threatened with Torture: The Story of a Man Detained for Posting Comments about the FSB
OVD Info
April 24, 2019

In November 2018, libertarian Anton Ammosov was detained in Yakutsk by FSB officers. The officers beat him in their car and threatened to torture him. Then his home was searched, he was sacked from his job, and his home was searched a second time. Ammosov had warranted this treatment only because he had commented on news stories about the Network case and the suicide bombing at FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk in October 2018. Ammosov told OVD Info about what happened to him and how his life changed with the FSB’s advent.

I was then still employed as a systems administrator at the Ammosov Northeastern Federal University. My boss telephoned me on the evening of November 20, 2018. He told me I had to go to the personnel department at eight the following morning and bring my [internal] passport with me. I was really surprised, because the personnel department opened at nine. But my boss insisted I had to be there by eight and the matter was urgent.

The next day I arrived at the university at the scheduled time. I was seen by the deputy head of the personnel department. I wondered why he was personally handling the matter. He took my passport and left the office for five minutes. He said he had to make photocopies. He told me some rubbish about problems with the database. I realized he was doing what the FSB told him to do. I heard him talking to someone on the phone, but I did not put two and two together. I spent ten to fifteen minutes in the personnel department.

I went outside, planning to walk to the building where I worked. I had walked only a few meters when I heard a van’s side door opening. Armed, masked men threw me down on the snow.

“Lie still, bitch!” they screamed.

They beat me, cuffed my hands behind my back, and pulled my cap down to my nose. I could not see a thing. I was dragged into the van, which immediately took off.

I was placed in the front row of seats with my knees on the floor. My scarf and the cap pulled down over my face suffocated me. I was beaten on the back, kidneys, and buttocks. I was hit in the head several times, but when I screamed I was officially disabled and had glaucoma, they stopped hitting me in the head.

When I asked why I had been detained, the masked men responded by beating me harder. One of them either sat on my back or pressed it with his knee. He twisted my fingers, trying to unblock my phone, but there was no fingerprint sensor on my smartphone. The man twisted my little fingers. He said he would break them if I did not tell him the password to my telephone. Then he said they would take me straight to the right place for such things and torture me with electrical shocks by hooking me up to a generator. One of the FSB guys quoted what I had written in the comments section of the regional news website ykt.ru.

I had written there that FSB officers were cooking up criminal cases and torturing people with generators. I had written about the Network case. I wrote about the young man who had blown himself up in Arkhangelsk. There was also a news item about the FSB’s having detained someone for a post on the social network VK, and I had published an unflattering comment about them.

We drove for twenty minutes. They beat me the entire way, threatening to torture me with electrical shocks.

ammosov-2FSB headquarters in Yakutsk. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info

The car stopped. They pulled me roughly to my feet and dragged me somewhere. Along the way, they constantly dropped me on the marble floor. I hit my knees on the floor several times. They also made a point of slamming my whole body against door jambs and columns. They joked about how clumsy they were. Every time they dropped me on the floor they told me to get up. When I was unable to get up on my own, they would jerk me to my feet by pulling me up by both arms. The handcuffs dug into my wrists.

I was taken into a room. I could see only the floor and my feet: the caps was pulled over my face the whole time. They stood me beside the wall while they rifled my backpack. They took the cap off and asked about the medications in my backpack. It was then I saw them: five men in sand-colored uniforms and balaclavas. They were strapping and tall, with blue eyes, meaning they were not locals. Apparently, locals are not hired by the FSB in the ethnic republics.

I was asked about the medicine before they pulled the cap back over my eyes. They said they were going to eat meat and when they returned, they would torture by shocking me using a generator. I was really afraid. I did not understand what was happening. I had not yet been told why I was detained.

An FSB field officer wearing no mask came in a while later. I gathered he was an investigator. He asked me about the password to my phone. I was standing next to the wall, the cap pulled over my eyes. I said nothing. I refused to speak to him. He said he would call in the boys in masks. They would “do their number” on me and I would talk whether I wanted or not. It was thus in my interests to give him the password; otherwise, I would  be tortured badly. I cracked and told him the password. The field officer was happy.

My hat was removed and I was sat down in a chair.

“What is happening? Why have you detained me?” I asked him.

“You know why,” the field officer replied. He said they had been watching me for a long time. They had a case file on me. He was glad to meet me in person.

I found out why I had been detained only a few hours earlier.

A major entered the office. He said someone had posted a picture containing threats against the FSB in the comments section of the website ykt.ru. They thought I had done it. I replied I had not done it. There were 20,000 students and 6,000 staff member at the university, and they all had the same IP address. I got the impression the major did not understood much about this stuff. He said the FSB surveilled WhatsApp and Telegram and read everything.

Interrogation
When they unblocked my phone, they asked me what I thought about anarchism, whether I knew Mikhail Zhlobitsky, what I thought about him, and what my political views were. They asked about Telegram and what I had been doing on the chat group Rebel Talk, whether I had been looking for allies there. They asked me what I thought about Putin, Russia, and Navalny.

I had joined the chat group out of curiosity for a day or two. I had learned about it in the news reports about the bombing in Arkhangelsk. I was on it for a while, wrote a bit, left the group, and forgot about. I did not write anything worth mentioning in the chat group.

During the interrogation. I realized I was on lists of theirs. I could have got on the lists due to the speech I gave at an anti-corruption rally in Yakutsk in June 2017.

I was in the FSB office for around eight hours. It was a room three meters by four meters, and it was not heated. I was handcuffed to the chair. I was not provided with legal counsel.

They threatened to shoot me, saying traitors like me should be executed. They were surprised by my ethnicity. They said I was the first Yakut they had detained on such charges. They threatened to leave me in the FSB’s remand prison. The field officer told me he had murdered many people. He asked me to give him an excuse to beat the crap out of me or cripple me.

ammosov-3Remand Prison No. 1 in Yakutia. FSB officers threatened to send Anton Ammosov there. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info 

The masked mem threatened me when they did not like my answers to questions. They had to tell me what they wanted to hear from me. They told me my home would be searched. They would be looking for a bomb or part for making a bomb.

At around five in the evening, I was taken to another office, which had windows. I realized it was evening, because it was dark outside. The state-provided attorney came. I told him I had been beaten and threatened. He could not have cared less. He made no mention of my complaints in the papers that were drawn up. He signed them and left.

I spent approximately twelve hours at FSB headquarters, until nine in the evening. I was not fed, given anything to drink or allowed to make a phone call the entire time.  My wife had no idea what had become of me.

My wife thought I had been hit by a car or died. She called all the morgues. All my relatives searched for me, because I had never disappeared before. My wife was getting ready to go to the police when the FSB agents brought me home. My wife wept when she saw us.

They showed us a document claiming the search was conducted due to my comments on the website. They did not let us photograph the search warrant, which had been issued by a court only at five in the afternoon te same day, meaning after they detained me.

The search took two hours. They confiscated two desktop computers, my work laptop, flash drives, hard drives, a router, and telephones. They told me to buy a new telephone and SIM card right away and report to FSB headquarters at one o’clock the next day.

I was told they wanted to charge me with vindicating terrorism because I had written “Well done, kid” under a news report about the bombing in Arkhangelsk.

They found out about the comment because of what I told them during the interrogation. I had thought the whole affair had kicked off due to the remark, but it later transpired they did not know about it.

My posts on Telegram and comments to news reports were sent off for a forensic examination by linguists.

I fell asleep that day only towards morning. I did not eat at all for the next three days: I had no appetite. I went to FSB headquarters as if I were going to work. I was summoned nearly every day.

They asked me again about my political views and what anarchism was. I replied I did not support anarchism. I identified myself as a libertarian, but not a radical one. I believed the state was a necessity, but not a state like the one we had in Russia.

I was also asked about Navalny. I said I supported him.

The Beating
Because I was summoned to the FSB, I was not able to have my injuries from the beating medically certified. I made it to the emergency room only on November 23. The medics refused to document my injuries when I told him FSB officers had beaten me. They kicked me out of the emergency room, telling me they did not need any trouble. They suggested I go to the medical examiner’s office.

When I came to the medical examiner’s office, they initially agreed to document my injuries, but when they found out who had injured me, they kicked me out of the surgery and demanded a reference from the Russian Investigative Committee.

The lawyer whom my mom helped me find after what happened at the FSB suggested I go to an outpatient clinic and have my injuries documented there, but without telling them who injured me. Otherwise, they would turn me down, too. That was just what I did.

The GP, a woman, documented I had been beaten all over, suffering soft-tissue bruises on the back, the buttocks, and both knee joints. It was not certain whether my kidneys had been injured. An eye doctor prescribed drops. In the summer of 2018, I had glaucoma implant surgery. After I was beaten in the van, not allowed to put drops in my eyes at the FSB, and stood hunched over, which I am definitely not supposed to do, I had poor vision in my sick eye.

Sacking
A few days later. I learned that. on November 21, the day I was detained, FSB officers had come to my workplace at the university around two in the afternoon. They confiscated my two desktop computers and all the laptops in the office, despite the fact they were not mine. They also took three printers, one of which was out of order, routers, flash drives, and notebooks.

The videotape from university surveillance cameras showing the FSB abducting me also vanished from the university.

On December 29, university rector Yevgenia Isayevnva Mikhaylova summoned me to her office.

She asked what happened, why security services officers had come after me, and inquired about my political views. She then said I should write a resignation letter. I told here I did not want to do it. She replied it was people like me who undermined the university’s image. She disparaged Navalny every which way to Sunday. She said Putin was the best president and he should reign forever.

That is verbatim.

After I refused to resign voluntarily, Mikhaylova said she had to react to events so the FSB would see she had punished me. She suggested I quit for a while. Then she would rehire me and transfer me to a new department. I would not have minded such a transfer, by the way, but I did not trust her, of course.

ammosov-4Ammosov Northeastern Federal University. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info 

When I came back to work after the New Year holidays, I learned by chance a few days later that I had been sacked in late December. A colleague had access to the university’s 1C Database. It said there I had turned in my resignation letter on December 29, that is, the day after my meeting with the rector. But that was not true.

The folks in the personnel department twisted every which way in the wind. They said I had been sacked in order to transfer me to another position. They suggested I sign a resignation letter and backdate it. I refused to do this. But then the head of the personnel department told me the FSB had called. She thought it had been a signal to sack me. It was clear, however, she had not made to decision to sack me. The rector had told her to do it.

When I told the FSB officer handling my case I was being sacked, he said he would phone the university and find out what the problem was. Subsequently, I was transferred to another department.

There I was assigned work that did not fit my specialization: I was supposed to do paperwork. I was transferred to a job I was unable to do. I was put in the coldest corner of the room and given an old computer.

I resigned two weeks later. I realized that was the whole point. Subsequently, I got a job at a technical creativity center, where I now teach robotics to children. After the new year, the FSB ceased summoning me to interrogations.

The Second Search
At six in the morning on April 2, regular police and Investigative Committee officers rang our doorbell, demanding we open it. The security forces offices showed us a search warrant issued by the Basmanny District Court in Moscow. The search’s ostensible purpose was to confiscate electronic devices that could contain correspondence with Zhlobitsky. I was an official witness in the case.

I was told I had been corresponding with Zhlobitsky on VK under the pseudonym Pyotr Vasilyev or Vasily Petrov. However, I had not been registered on VK for many years. The accusation was thus utter rubbish.

During the search, the authorities confiscated two desktop computers, a flash drive, a hard drive, and two telephones. I was then taken to the Investigative Committee for an interrogation. I was again questioned about Zhlobitsky.

A few days later, I got another phone call from the FSB field agent. He chewed me out. He said I had concealed the Investigative Committee’s visit from him. He told me I had not been sincere with the FSB. He threatened to put me on a list of politically unreliable citizens. I would be banned from employment in the state sector and sacked from my current job.

Translated by the Russian Reader