Raising Russia’s Minimum Wage: A Band-Aid for the Poor

624869d68f57b0f0b20b1b6c8e808f58“Why did you open up your MROT?”

Who Will Win and Lose from the Rise in the Minimum Monthly Wage?
Ivan Ovsyannikov
Proved.rf
February 20, 2018

The minimum monthly wage in Russia [often referred to by its abbreviation, MROT] has been pegged to the subsistence minimum. This gift to employees will come into effect on May 1, 2018, when the minimum monthly wage will grow from the current ₽9,489 to ₽11,163 [approx. €160 at current exchange rates]. Regional minimum wages might be higher. For example, in Moscow, it will be set at ₽18,700 a month, while in Petersburg it will rise to ₽17,000. According to former federal deputy labor minister Pavel Kudyukin, the lowest paid category of workers will benefit from the rise in the minimum wage, but there will more losers.

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Pavel Kudyukin, Russia Federal Deputy Labor Minister, 1991–1993; currently, council member, Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR):

The principle that the minimum monthly wage cannot be lower than the subsistence minimum was incorporated into the Russian Labor Code way back in 2001, with the proviso, however, it would be implemented gradually.

The fact this decision has been made amidst less than propitious economic circumstances is undoubtedly an election campaign gambit. Theoretically, it is a measure that had to be taken. Having a minimum monthly wage lower than the subsistence minimum, especially Russia’s subsistence minimum, is simply shameful. Some people will stand to gain from the decision, but fairly broad segments of the populace will also suffer serious losses. But the propagandists, of course, will talk about the gains, especially as we are in an election campaign.

Minimum Minimorum
The general opinion of nearly all social policy experts is that Russia’s subsistence minimum is equivalent to the poverty level. It will keep a person from starving to death, but it would be a great exaggeration to call it a means to a full-fledged, dignified life.

International standards are also quite modest, of course: the subsistence minimum is defined for the poorest countries. Naturally, the developed countries have their own notions of the subsistence minimum. It is an essential tool of social policy. Various welfare payments are pegged to it, and it determines the level at which households are seen to need additional assistance. It is measured in different ways. Measuring the subsistence minimum in terms of the consumer goods basket, as is done in Russia, is deemed quite an archaic method, although the US uses the same method to calculate it.

The question, of course, is how the contents of the consumer goods basket are decided. Russia does not fully take into account the needs of the modern individual. It bases its calculations on the assumption people have no need of such an important social benefit as housing. The costs of utilities are at least included in the basket, but the possibility of improving one’s living conditions are not. Cultural needs are very poorly represented. Most of the so-called non-product needs are calculated through an adjustment, as a percentage of the consumer basket given over to products. It is no wonder the subsistence minimum, as it is imagined in Russia, satisfies neither the experts nor ordinary people.

The subsistence minimum has also been reduced from time to time with reference to drops in prices. This has also provoked a slew of questions. How are prices determined? Inflation affects different income brackets in very different ways. The poorer people are, the greater their personal level of inflation. If the price for a Mercedes suddenly drops, it does not mean the price of sunflower seed oil will not go up.

There is an important brake on seriously expanding the subsistence minimum in Russia. When the number of poor people is between fifteen and twenty percent, you can provide them with supplemental financial assistance and benefits. If the percentage of poor people is fifty percent or greater, it is quite tricky for the state to do anything for them. When half of the populace is receiving poverty assistance payments, either the payments are utterly paltry and spread thin or the state simply cannot make them.

The Winners
For people who earn the least of all, pegging the mininum monthly wage to the subsistence minimum does constitute an increase in wages. It is a quite decent increase in some cases, especially if you consider the fact there are people in Russia—Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets has estimated there are nearly five million such people—who received a salary lower than the previous minimum monthly wage.

The workers who really have a chance to improve their lot are mainly those employed in the public sector in various auxiliary positions: maintenance personnel, cleaners, and so on. They will earn more.

The Losers
Formally, there will be winners, but there will be more losers. The rise in the minimum monthly wage will cause serious problems in the regions, since poor public sectorsworkers are usually paid from regional and municpal budgets. The new expenditures they incure will be only partly covered by transfers from the federal budget. Regional officials will once again have to optimize some things and lay off people. This is a quite significant aspect of the headache generated every time the parliament passes laws or the president signs decrees increasing payments to people who do not get them from the federal budget.

The rise in the monthly minimum wage will be a considerable problem for a number of businesses, especially small businesses. There is a risk it will expand the gray sector of the employment market. This is also an unpleasant consequence for workers, for when they are employed in the gray sector, payments to the Pension Fund are not deducted from their wages, and they lose pension payments they would have received in the future.  People in Russia usually disregard this, because, one, they do not actually believe they will live until pension age, and two, they really do not believe the state will not think up more mischief by the time their pensions come due.

Another important question: what is included in the minimum monthly wage? Currently, there are several court rulings that the minimum monthly wage should not include any sort of compensatory pay, such as the northern hardship bonus. This pay must be disbursed over and above the minimum wage. These are sound rulings, but the problem is Russia does not have a precedents-based judicial system, and one court’s ruling is anything but obligatory for other courts. Every individual whose minimum monthly wage includes compensatory or incentive pay must file suit in court to have his or her wages individually recalculated. So, the problem is not only the amount of the minimum monthly wage and how it correlates with the subsistence minimum but also what is included in the minimum monthly wage.

A Band-Aid for the Poor
Increasing the minimum monthly wage cannot be implemented in isolation. It should be complemented by serious reforms in other areas. We must radically change our entire social and economic policy, including, as an obligatory part of such reforms, our taxation policy. It has not always been understood in Russia that there is no such thing as a welfare state* without progressive taxation. The introduction of progressive taxation, of course, will be an unpopular measure amongst a large number of people. Plus, given the inefficiency of the Russian state and the social irresponsibility of the rich, such an attempt would push the growth of the gray economy.

Poverty is not only a problem of social policy. It is not eliminated by paying people social benefits. We need a completely different economic policy that would give people the opportunity to work in well-paid jobs and thus make decent pension contributions. The problem of poverty is not solved merely by redistributing resources, although it is also necessary. Treating poverty with social benefits means treating the symptoms. Treating poverty with economic growth means treating the causes.

* According to Article 7 of the Russian Federal Constitution, the Russian Federation “is a social State whose policy is aimed at creating conditions for a worthy life and a free development of man [and where] the labour and health of people shall be protected, a guaranteed minimum wages and salaries shall be established, state support ensured to the family, maternity, paternity and childhood, to disabled persons and the elderly, the system of social services developed, state pensions, allowances and other social security guarantees shall be established.” For more on the practical implications of this constitutional guarantee in a quasi-populist kleptocratic tyranny, see Ilya Matveev, “The ‘Welfare’ State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This,” Chtodelat News, October 12, 2012.

Cartoon by Alexei Merinov. Courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets. Translation by the Russian Reader

(Don’t) Pay Your Rates

DSCN4253A Petersburg housing services worker risking life and limb to clear snow off the roof of a tenement building in the city’s downtown. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russians Are Increasingly Not Paying for Their Flats
Growing Debts for Housing Services and Utilities Reflect Obvious Social Ills
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
February 21, 2018

The increase in housing and utilities rates, occuring alongside a protracted downslide in personal income, has produced an abrupt upturn in debts for housing services and utilities, and collections of arrears in court, especially among low-income segments of the Russian populace.

The Russian Supreme Court has published statistics on the collection of debts for housing services and utilities. In 2014, 2.1 million such cases were ajudicated by the courts. In 2017, the figure was 5.4 million cases, and the total amount of recoverable debt had doubled, from ₽60 billion to ₽120 billion—taking into account, however, the debts of legal entities that paid for heating irregularly. Nevertheless, these figures reflect both an alarming trend—utilities payments have increasingly become a burden for disadvantaged parts of the populace—and the unwillingness of the rich to pay the bills for flats they have purchased as investments.

Generally, the collection of payments for utilities and housing services proceeds calmly. According to the Institute for Urban Economics, 95–97% of apartment residents pay their bills on time, but an individual’s timeliness in paying their bills depends on their income, as well as the climate and budget priorities of the Russian region where they live. According to Rosstat, household expenses on utilities and housing services per family member rose between 2014 and 2016 from ₽1,511 to ₽1,816, i.e., by 20.2%. The share of total household expenses spent on utilities and housing services rose during the same period from 10.3% to 11.3%.

For the sake of budget savings, many regions have reduced subsidies on housing and utilities, which has seriously increased the amount of money spent on these services by local populations, says economist Natalya Zubarevich. For example, housing and utilities account for 25.8% of paid services in Kursk Region, while in neighboring Oryol Region the figure is 41.1%. In Khabarovsk Territory, housing and utitilies expenses make up 26.7% of the cost of all services, while in Amur Region, which has a comparable climate, the figure is 45.8%.

In 2016, housing and utilities expenses accounted for 15.2% of all expenses among the ten percent of Russian families with the lowest incomes, and 14.8% of all expenses among the ten percent of families who were less poor. People who have to scrimp on everything are often forced not to pay for housing and utilities simply in order to survive. However, according to Mikhail Men, Minister for Construction and Housing, some of the arrears are owed by the proprietors of apartments bought as investments, who do not want to pay the bills for vacant flats.

According to Rosstat, the total amount of money owed by the Russian populace for housing and utilities in 2014 was ₽111 billion; in 2015, it was ₽135.8 billion. Subsequently, the debts have grown more quickly. In October 2016, Andrei Chibis, Deputy Minister for Construction and Housing, informed TASS News Agency they had reached ₽270 billion, and in July 2017, Men cited the figure of ₽645 billion [approx. €9.2 billion].

This increase reflects an obvious social ill. Housing and utitilies fees are billed by private companies, who turn not only to the courts to collect unpaid bills but also to the services of illegal debt collectors. Such circumstances could engender serious conflicts, especially in small towns with poor populations.

Translated by the Russian Reader. See my numerous previous posts on the problem of debt in Russia.

Arrested Penza Antifascists Talk about Torture in Remand Prison

“He Would Check My Pulse by Touching My Neck and Monitor My Condition.” Arrested Penza Antifascists Talk about Electric Shock Torture in Remand Prison Basement
Anna Kozkina and Yegor Skovoroda
Mediazona
February 9, 2018


Dmitry Pchelintsev. Photo courtesy of his relatives and Mediazona

Ilya Shakursky and Dmitry Pchelintsev, arrested in Penza and charged with involvement in a “terrorist community,” have told their attorneys that Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers tortured them in the basement of the city’s remand prison. Mediazona has decided to publish the story told by Shakursky’s defense counsel and the transcript of what Pchelintsev relayed to his lawyer.

••••••••••

In October 2017, the FSB  detained four antifascists in Penza: Yegor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, and Dmitry Pchelintsev. In early November, they detained Andrei Chernov in Penza, and Arman Sagynbayev, who was in Petersburg at the time. All six young men have been accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” (a criminal offense under Article 205.4 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). According to the FSB, the six had established an organization, known as the Network (Set). They planned a series of bomb blasts during the presidential election, in March, and the World Cup, in June and July, that would “sway the popular masses in order to subsequently destabilize the political situation [in Russia]” and set off an armed insurrection.

The Network allegedly had cells functioning in Moscow, Petersburg, Penza, and Belarus [an independent country]. On January 23, 2018, antifascist Viktor Filinkov was detained in Petersburg, followed two days later by Igor Shishkin. Friends and family could not find either of them for over a day. A court had remanded both of them in custody as members of the alleged “terrorist community.”

In Penza, relatives of the detained activists told how law enforcement officers had planted weapons in the men’s cars and flats, and subjected them to torture by shocking them with electrical wires and hanging them upside down. According to friends and loved ones, all the detained men had been airsoft enthusiasts.

“All they ever did was learn how to render first aid in field conditions and survive in the woods. Is that illegal?” Angelina Pchelintseva, Dmitry Pchelintsev’s wife, asked OVD Info.

Initially, all the men in custody, except Kuksov, who invoked his right not to incriminate himself, as stipulated by Article 51 of the Russian Constitution, confessed to their alleged crimes.

After he was detained, Viktor Filinkov said that siloviki had tortured him with an electric shocker and forced him to memorize the wording of his testimony in order to repeat it later to investigators. Ilya Kapustin, interrogated as a witness in the case, also spoke of torture. FSB officers had shocked him with an electric shocker and threatened to break his legs and abandon him in the woods.

Igor Shishkin has not said anything about torture. The case file contains a letter written by Shishkin after he was detained. It is addressed to Alexander Rodionov, head of the FSB’s Petersburg Office. In the letter, Shishkin explains he received all his injuries while playing sports. Doctors confirmed Shishkin suffered a fracture to the lower wall of one eye socket, as well as numerous bruises and abrasions. Members of the Public Monitoring Commission on Conditions in Places of Imprisonment who visited Shishkin in a remand prison made note of numerous traces on his body of what looked like burns from electrical wires. Recently, Shishkin sent a petition to the authorities asking to cooperate with the investigation and requesting a pretrial agreement.

A Letter by Igor Shishkin from the Remand Prison
Greetings to friends, relatives, acquaintances, and sympathizers! In my stupidity, I got caught up in a very serious and unpleasant situation. I’ll skip the details. I just want to advise everyone to think a hundred times about what you are doing and how the consequences do not affect just you. I also want to send my sincerest apologies to the people whom my problem has affected. Sorry, guys! […] I really ask everyone not to generate a media buzz. We don’t need that right now.

“He Said, ‘I Couldn’t Take It. I Broke Down.'”
Attorney Anatoly Vahterov, Ilya Shakursky’s defense counsel, has written the following. Mr. Vahterov visited Mr. Shakursky in Penza Remand Prison No. 1 on February 7, 2018.

It follows from my client’s statement that he was one of six people simultaneously detained on suspicion of violating Article 205.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The article refers literally to “organization of a terrorist community.” During my conversation with my client, I did not have the slightest doubt he had not been involved in these actions.

I said to him, “I know that you signed a confession. How could that be?” 

He wrote a note to me, “I was beaten.”

Later, he gave me a more detailed account of how he had been tortured in the remand prison.

He said the plan was to implicate them in the Maltsev case. He said this. I was surprised. What was the connection? In my view, this case was fabricated on formal grounds. They grabbed one comrade by the name of Zorin. He was the weakest of them and testified against all his friends. Moreover, his testimony is absolutely far-fetched. It was grounds for detaining the other guys on suspicion of having committed the particular crime.

This is where it gets interesting. According to my client, all of them were tortured in the basement of the remand prison. The torture was sophisticated. Officers in masks and camouflage uniforms would enter their cells. They took them to a room in the basement, forced them to strip, attached electrodes to their fingertips, and cranked up a so-called dynamo. 

He just said, “I couldn’t take it. I broke down.”

9df5e576b811a2658cced24c766cda70Ilya Shakursky. Photo from personal archive and courtesy of Mediazona

Torture was also used against Pchelintsev, according to my client. They talk to each other in the remand prison. Sagynbayev has also been tortured. This is savagery, you realize? As if the year now were 1937.

There can be no question of any terrorist activity whatsoever. I would venture to say that during the preliminary investigation and trial we will try and prove it. The guys only played role-playing games. They were into airsoft and running round the woods. Yes, the guys gave each other nicknames. It was just easier for them to address each other that way. None of this is anything other than child’s play. Yes, there were nicknames, yes, there were assigned roles. Why not? We played war when we were kids. We also pretended to be medics, sappers, and snipers. Each had a role to play. There were role-playing games and nothing more.

The had their own group and their own music. They were involved in the antifascist movement and environmentalism. The authorities have been trying to accuse them of espousing anarchism, but the thing is that my client and the other comrades are antifascists. A person who opposes Nazism cannot preach Nazi ideas and chauvinism, engage in any kind of propaganda, and advocate overthrowing the social order.

Ilya Shakursky is a totally sensible, regular guy. I would say he is the salt of the Russian earth. He’s a normal, genuine, good Russian lad, raised in our society’s best traditions. He is not a criminal, that is for sure. But when he speaks, you can see the pain and resentment on his face. It happens. But he is hanging in there and hoping for a good defense. His mother was immediately fired from her job when the first articles about Pchelintsev and so on were published.

In order to be involved in a group, especially a terrorist group, a strict conspiracy, as my client has been accused of, there must be exclusively friendly relations, based on mutual respect, decency, and the knowledge that your comrade will not turn you over to the relevant authorities. But Shakursky and Pchelintsev had a falling-out over a young woman. They had fought with each other, and one even spit in the other’s eye.When there were conflicts like this, what kind of tightly knit team can we speak of?

In order to justify what I regard as groundless detentions, criminal charges, and remands in police custody, the men were accused of committing another crime, possession of weapons and explosives, Article 222 in the Criminal Code. Law enforcement planted two grenades and a pistol under the back seat of Shakursky’s car. If he and his friends were such conspirators, he would not have done something as amateurish as leaving two grenades in his car.  

Ilya Shakursky’s letter to his girlfriend 

Ilya Shakursky’s Letter to His Girlfriend
Today is exactly three months since I’ve been in the remand prison. If I were on the outside I would definitely go to the event commemorating two great heroes, Nastya Baburova and Stas Markelov.

We now find ourselves in circumstances in which we miss these people like never before. They fought injustice and helped people who were in very difficult situations in life. I sincerely hope that with the help of friends, loved ones, and concerned citizens we can get out of this pickle, which is one enormous misunderstanding and injustice.

Goodness will triumph!

January 19, 2018

All my acquaintances and friends should see this text.

“My Mouth Was Full of Blood, and One of the Torturers Stuck My Sock in It”
On February 6, 2018, attorney Oleg Zaitsev visited Dmitry Pchelintsev and interviewed him. Like most of the defense attorneys in the case, the investigator made Zaitsev sign a non-disclosure agreement concerning evidence in the preliminary investigation. Zaitsev notes that, under the circumstances, he has not violated investigatory privileges, but nevertheless he felt obliged to discuss all the violations of rights his client has suffered. What follows is a transcript of his interview with Pchelintsev.

I can say the following. On October 27, 2017, I left the house at around six o’clock in the morning to meet my grandmother. Near the end wall of the building, as I was nearing my car, four men in plain clothes suddenly approached me. I was so surprised I put my hands up in front of me. These men immediately beat me up and threw me on the ground. Their faces were not covered. I could identify them. Later, some of them escorted me from the remand prison to the FSB office. One of them looked to be thirty-five years old. He had light-brown hair, was wearing a gray jacket, and had a stout face and thickset build. They asked me my surname and struck various parts of my body. They reproached me for having putting up my dukes when I was being detained by the FSB. They confiscated the keys to my flat and used them to enter the place when my girlfriend was sleeping and search the place.

On October 28, 2017, after the court had remanded me in custody to the remand prison on Karakozov Street, I was in solidarity confinement cell 5-1. It was around four o’clock in the afternoon when a special forces policeman, the senior shift officer, and a major from the local office of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service entered my cell. They told me to exit the cell and go to the nearby punishment cell, which I did. Six or seven men immediately entered the cell. Half of them were in MultiCam camouflage uniforms, while the other half were in plain clothes. But all of them wore balaclavas. Despite the headgear concealing their faces, I could identify some of these people by their voices, physique, and clothes. Subsequently, I recognized some of them when I was being transported and escorted.

They told me what to do, and I followed their orders. I stripped to my shorts, sat down on a bench, stretched my arms backwards, and put my head down. At first, I thought this was some examination everyone sent to the remand prison had to undergo, so I voluntarily submitted to it. Then they taped my hands behind me, tied one of my legs to the foot of the bench with more tape, and stuck a wad of gauze in my mouth.

One of the men was wearing white rubber medical gloves. He took out a dynamo and set it on a table. He stripped two wires with a boxcutter and told me to stick out my big toe. Another man checked my pulse by touching my neck. He would subsequently do this more than once: he was monitoring my condition. He was surprised my pulse was normal and I was not agitated. That was because I did not realize at first what was happening.

Then the man in gloves cranked the dynamo. The current flowed to my knees. My calf muscles contracted, and I was seized by paralytic pain. I screamed. My back and head convulsed against the wall. They put a jacket between my naked body and the stone wall. This went on for about ten seconds, but when it was happening, it felt like an eternity to me.

One of them spoke to me.

“I don’t know the word ‘no.’ I don’t remember it. You should forget it. You got me?” he said literally.

“Yes,” I replied.

“That’s the right answer. Attaboy, Dimochka,” he said.

The gauze was stuck in my mouth again, and I was shocked four times, three seconds each time. […] Then I was tossed onto the floor. Since one of my legs was tied to the foot of the bench, when I fell, I seriously banged up my knees, which bled profusely. My shorts were pulled off. I was lying on my stomach. They tried to attach the wires to my genitals. I screamed and asked them to stop brutalizing me.

“You’re the leader,” they repeated.

“Yes, I’m the leader,” I said to make them stop torturing me.

“You planned terrorist attacks.”

“Yes, we planned terrorist attacks,” I would reply.

One of the men who measured my pulse put his balaclava on me so I would not see them. At one point, I lost consciousness for awhile. […] After they left, a Federal Penitentiary Service officer entered the room and told me to get dressed. He took me back to my solitary confinement cell.

The next day, October 20, 2018, I broke the tank on the toilet and used the shards to slash my arms at the wrists and elbows, and my neck in order to stop the torture. There was a lot of blood from the cuts on my clothes and the floor, and I collapsed onto the floor. They probably saw what I did via the CCTV camera installed in the cell. Prison staffers entered my cell and gave me first aid. Then the prison’s psychologist, Vera Vladimirovna, paid me a visit.

As regards the video cameras installed in my cell, as well as in the punishment cell and the corridor, I can say that when FSB officers show up, the cameras either are turned off or the recording is later erased, or something is done with the sensors. The FSB officers completely control the local Federal Penitentiary Service officers.

On November 8, 2017, at around five o’clock in the afternoon, the senior shift officer was getting ready to leave.

“Will everything be alright with me?” I asked him.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be right back,” he replied.

I had connected his departure with the fact that the last time he left, the day before, Saginbayev’s scream was audible on the floor. I realized he was being tortured. Later, our paths crossed, and he apologized for testifying against me.

A lieutenant from the Federal Penitentiary Service then came to my door.

“Am I safe here?” I wrote on a piece of paper that I showed to him.

“Yes,” he replied in big letters.

After that I showed him the enormous bruise on my chest and stomach to let him know I had been tortured. After awhile he opened the cell door, and four men wearing prisoner’s uniforms dashed into the cell. Civilian clothes were visible under these uniforms, all of which were baggy. They were all wearing what looked like Buff masks, black tube scarves.

They beat and kicked me in the stomach, kidneys, and head. I had bruises from their blows, but they hit me like in a gym, so they would leave fewer visible traces. They informed me they were from the “underworld committee”: because of me they had been put on lockdown. They gave me a week to solve my problems with the “pigs.” If I didn’t solve them, they would punk me. One of them filmed the whole thing on a smartphone. The Federal Penitentiary Service officer was outside in the hallway the entire time. The four FSB guys from the “underworld committee” left. Later, I also recognized some of them when I was being escorted and transported.

Then the senior shift officer, a captain, returned.

“How can I believe you when FSB guys just came into my cell and beat me up?” I asked him.

He looked puzzled.

Afterwards, FSB agents have visited me many times in the remand prison. They wear no masks and chat with me in the visiting room. When they talk with me, they exert psychological pressure on me. They threaten, blackmail, and manipulate me. 

During an interrogation, the investigator told me it was he who gave the agents permission to visit me. They took their orders from him and they had their own work.

After I tried to commit suicide by slashing my veins open, I was put under special watch in the remand prison. The cuffs are not removed from my hands even when I am signing interrogation reports.

I want to add that, when I was tortured with electrical shocks, my mouth was full of “crushed teeth” due to the fact I gritted my teeth since the pain was strong, and I tore the frenulum of my tongue. My mouth was full of blood, and at some point one of my torturers stuck my sock in my mouth. 

I was beaten so badly I had open wounds on my head.

••••••••••

According to Republic, which has seen the case file, the FSB has named Pchelintsev the organizer of the Network terrorist group. He met his accomplices at concerts and allegedly founded the organization in 2014. According to the FSB, since 2015, every member of the Network has had his own role. Investigators believe Pchelintsev is the Network’s leader and ideologue. He has a deputy, nicknamed Redhead, who recruits new members.

The case files indicate that, in the summer of 2016, several cells joined the Network. The Penza cell was dubbed 5.11 (November Fifth) or Sunrise; the Moscow cell, MSK (Moscow Standard Time); and the two Petersburg cells, Field of Mars and Jordan. In addition, investigators believe the Network has a branch in Belarus as well, and that the cells were managed out of Penza. The FSB refers to all the detainees as anarchists.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to NV and PK for the heads-up

The Penza “Terrorism” Case

Airsoft: The Penza Terrorism Case
OVD Info
January 29, 2018

5a6f74553c36b
Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in Penza

On January 23, antifascist Viktor Filinkov disappeared in Petersburg. He was found two days later: the press service of the Petersburg court system related Filinkov had been remanded to police custody after confessing his involvement in a terrorist network whose members “profess[ed] the anarchist ideology.” Members of the Public Monitoring Commission were able to visit him in the pretrial detention center a day later. Filinkov told them he had been tortured.

On January 25, Petersburger Igor Shishkin disappeared after going out to walk the dog. The dog came home with security services officers, who conducted a search of Shiskin’s flat. Petersburg’s Dzerzhinsky District Court remanded Shishkin to police custody on the very same charges that had been imputed to Filinkov. Reporters were not admitted to the courtroom. The investigation and arrests in Petersburg were sanctioned by a municipal district court in Penza.

What is the connection between Penza, Petersburg, and antifascists?

On December 11, 2017, OVD Info published a long report on the manhunt mounted in the wake of the so-called Maltsev Revolution of November 5, 2017. In particular, the report mentioned a criminal investigation of an alleged terrorist network in Penza. We wrote at the time that five people had been charged in the case, and two of them were anarchists. This was not entirely true. Six people have been charged in the case, in fact, and at least some of them are antifascists. One of them, Arman Sagynbayev, lived in Petersburg before his arrest. According to Fontanka.ru, a transcript of Sagynbayev’s interrogation was included in the case file police investigators entered into evidence at Shishkin’s remand hearing.

On October 17 or October 18, 2017, the first suspect in the case, Yegor Zorin, was detained. Antifascist Ilya Shakursky and his friend Vasily Kuksov were detained shortly thereafter. Dmitry Pchelintsev was detained on October 27. Then, in early November, Andrei Chernov was detained in Penza, and Sagynbayev was detained in Petersburg, shipped to Penza, and remanded to the pretrial detention center. According to police investigators, all six men had been members of the terrorist group 5.11 (i.e., November Fifth), who were planning for unrest to kick off in Russia. Five of the men are still imprisoned in the pretrial detention center, while a sixth man has been placed under house arrest. The accused men said they have been tortured while in police custody, enduring psychological coercion, electrical shocks, and being hung upside down, and that FSB officers planted weapons on them.

In airsoft, unlike paintball, there are no ratings, because responsibility for following the rules lies with the players themselves. A player who has been shot is obliged to admit it and immediately don a clearly visible red armband, which denotes he or she has been killed or wounded in the game, and proceed to the place designated as the cemetery or infirmary. Consequently, the point of the game is not winning, but playing fair and having fun. Arguments about whether someone has been killed or not are not kosher, and people who get into rows with each other are sidelined until the game is over.

Players use airsoft guns, which shoot plastic pellets 6 mm or 8 mm in diameter. The projectiles are powered either by compressed air or a gas mixture. Airsoft guns come in four basic models: spring-powered, battery-powered, gas-powered, and hybrid.

“There is no doubt terrorism is a bad thing,” says Vasily Kuksov’s defense attorney Alexander Fedulov. “But you punish the people who are really involved in terrorism, not everyone without exception. I also used to play paintball just to give my head a rest. I also have an airsoft gun at home. You don’t need a permit of any kind for it. I also used to shoot at targets in the park in the evenings. Well, Vasily would go play war. He fired two times from an airshot gun. During the hearing to extend Vasily’s remand to police custody, I gave a twenty-minute speech, but not a word of it ended up in the judge’s ruling. The police investigator read out the prosecution’s appeal: ‘They engaged in the illegal mastery of survival skills in the woods and rendering first aid.’ Where is it written in the Russian legal codes these skills are illegal? And the judge sat there and nodded. ‘They planned to blow up offices of the United Russia party and post offices.’ Rubbish.”

When Kuksov’s wife Yelena came home from work on October 19, she realized Vasily was not there, although he should have been home earlier. She called him on his mobile. The call went through, but her husband did not pick up the phone. A few hours later, Yelena heard someone trying to unlock the door of their flat. When she looked through the peephole, she saw around ten strangers, one of whom was holding her husband by the neck. Vasily could barely stand up. The men claimed they were from the FSB.

Kuksov’s trousers and jacket were torn and blood-stained, and his forehead and nose were badly injured, as if he had been smashed against the pavement. According to Yelena, the search was superficial. The FSB officers then asked Vasily whether he had a car. They took Kuksov and his wife to the car and ordered him to open the door. When he approached the car, Kuksov exclaimed the door lock was broken, to which one of the FSB officers crudely replied, “What do you mean by that?” The men searched the car, allegedly finding a pistol in it. Kuksov, who had been calm until then, screamed the weapon had been planted.

Ilya Shakursky was detained the same day. At first, he was suspected of “organizing” the group, but later the charge against him was reduced to “involvement.” Shakursky had organized lectures and park cleanups as part of environmental campaigns, and animal rights events. He was a fairly prominent figure in the local leftist scene.

A female acquaintance relates how, when they were at school, Shakursky got his classmates together and they went off together to clean up the Moksha River. No one had thought of doing such a thing before, but the idea occurred to Shakursky. A while later, members of the Mokshan city government and policemen came to the school. They organized a special class for the schoolchildren during which they instructed them Ilya was a Nazi, and his peers should stop associating with him. Shakursky and his antifascist friends always laughed when they retold the story.

At the December 14 hearing to extend the accused men’s term in police custody, Shakursky sat in the courtroom, not in the cage with Sagynbayev and Pchelintsev. Perhaps the police investigator did not want Shakursky to speak with the other defendants, although the hearing was for all three of them. Shakursky appeared very depressed, and he sat with his hood pulled over his head. His mother sat next to him, hugging him the whole time. She would ask her son something, and he would give one-word replies. The longest thing he said to his mother was about the New Year: “Mom, be sure to decorate the tree.”

According to Fedulov, Shakursky has confessed. Actually, everyone except Kuksov has confessed. Invoking Article 51 of the Russian Constitution [“No one shall be obliged to give evidence incriminating themselves, a husband or wife or close relatives the range of whom is determined by federal law.”], he refused to answer questions. Some time ago, Shakursky and Pchelintsev were friends. They worked out and played sports together, including airsoft. But they have not seen each other for several months.

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

It is mean to treat people like this. You are suspected and accused of something, but until it is proven, you are not guilty. That is why I am living in such horrible conditions: because it it doubles the punishment for something I did not really do.

Angelina Pchelintseva writing to her husband:

I could not care less about birthdays, New Year, and all the other celebrations, and all the difficulties that happen to me. You are the only thing that matters. If I could, I would be with you and go through all of it. But I know you would be against it, at least, and that it is impossible, at most. I will do everything I can to help you. Just don’t worry about me. Believe me, I will handle things.

Prior to his arrest, Pchelintsev worked as a shooting instructor. He learned his profession while doing his compulsory military service at the Penza Artillery Engineering Institute’s training center.

On October 27, Pchelintsev left home in the early morning to meet his grandmother. His wife, Angelina, was still asleep when her husband returned to the flat in handcuffs, escorted by FSB officers. According to Angelina, during the search, law enforcement officers turned the flat topsy-turvy, ultimately confiscating their personal telephones and other electronic devices, as well as their registered firearms: two hunting rifles and two trauma pistols. They went to look at Pchelintsev’s car. His car had broken down, and he had recently just barely driven it close to their building and parked it. As Pchelintsev recounts, the FSB officers got into the car to search it right when no one was looking at them, and they allegedly found two grenades under the back seat.

“A car without an alarm. You guys are champs,” Pchelintsev said, implying they had planted the grenades in his car.

The same day, Angelina got a call from the FSB. Her husband supposedly wanted her to be present during his interrogation. She was greeted by two secret service agents. According to Angelina, during their conversation, one of them, who was playing with an awl, threatened her husband would be sentenced to life in prison. The FSB officer said someone just needed to be shot in the foot so Pchelintsev stopped refusing to testify by invoking Article 51 of the Constitution.

“The stupidest thing is a terrorist organization that did not commit a single terrorist act and was not planning any,” says Angelina. “Meaning that in court no one can even say they were planning to do such-and-such a thing on such-and-such a day. One cannot say that because they were not planning to do anything at all. All they ever did was learn how to render first aid in field conditions and survive in the woods. Is that illegal?”

After several days in the pretrial detention center, Pchelintsev said he planned to confess his guilt. This shocked his relatives, who were certain of Dmitry’s innocence. To pay the services of an attorney, his relatives borrowed money from a bank: attorney Alexei Agafonov had asked them for an advance of 150,000 rubles [approx. 2,150 euros]. According to Dmitry’s family, despite the high fee, Agafonov was not particularly sensitive to the needs of his client. Aganofov regularly came to the pretrial detention center and showed Pchelintsev where to sign the papers the investigator had brought. As Pchelintsev recounts in his letters, the lawyer would agree to meet with Dmitry on Monday, before the investigator’s arrival, but then show up the same time as the FSB officer, on Tuesday. When Pchelintsev expressed his bewilderment, Agafonov would reply, “Well, I came.”

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

Unfair. Dishonest. Wrong. Pointless. All the roads in my life led only in one direction. You, Grandma, my sister, my parents, and lots of people know I’m a good person. But why does everything happening to me not care a whit about this? Not care about a whole, safe person with his joys and troubles, his thoughts and experiences? What will it bring to me and my relatives except trauma? It doesn’t even make me angry, but it upsets me like nothing. It is not an accident, not a coincidence. It is just someone’s unjust will. An utterly senseless Saturday. I took a shower and shaved off my beard, at least. I don’t want to look like the person they take me for. How am I wrong, Angelina?

Angelina Pchelintseva writing to her husband:

I believe you, as do your entire family and your friends. Everyone is very worried about you and understands what is happening. It is obvious to us. The first month, I tried to understand what a person could have done to be treated this way, but then I gave up looking for meaning. It’s a pitiless steamroller that could not care less about the people it crushes.

Agafonov once met with Angelina and asked her whether husband suffered from “fantasies.” Angelina replied that the situation was probably not very conducive to fantasies. It transpired Dmitry had been telling the lawyer that FSB officers were coming to see him every day and taking him to different cells for interrogations. According to the lawyer, this simply could not be happening in the pretrial detention center, where it was prohibited.

At first, Angelina received no letters from her husband, although later he told her he had written to her practically every day. Later, she found a thick envelope in the mailbox: it was filled to overflowing with all her husband’s letters for a month. It was then she discovered Dmitry had been complaining about Agafonov from the outset. According to Angelina, the fact his own defense attorney did not believe him literally was “finishing off” her husband. Moreover, he was in solitary confinement, isolated as much as possible from everyone, and the lawyer was the only person in whom he could confide.

“Given the relationship between law enforcement and the courts in our city, they will be convicted with a minimal amount of evidence,” argues Alexander Fedulov. “Because this is the first such case in the region, and everyone is interested in it. It is this stick to whack everyone with. ‘What’s with you? Fancy that! They caught some terrorists.’ Who were running round the forest with wooden sticks and pine boughs. Vasily said to me, ‘You know, Alexander, what I was afraid of? That someone would really see me running in the woods playing war. I would have sunk through the ground in shame.’ Changing the constitutional order where? In the village of Shalusheyka? What, they could change the system there with their airsoft guns?”

Once, Angelina received a letter from Dmitry written on a piece of paper torn unevenly from a notebook. It began with a passage about how her husband was reading 800-page books and he loved his wife. But these lines had been crossed out, and at the bottom of the page Dmitry had written in a quite shaky hand, “Don’t write to me, don’t bring me anything, go away as far as possible, don’t ask about me, I’m a goner.” In the same letter, Pchelintsev informed Angelina he was being injected with tranquilizers and given tablets, and it was “worse than death.”

Angelina thought Dmitry was not himself and wrote back to him.

“I took a piece of paper and, my hands shaking, I wrote that everything would be fine. I realized that, although it seemed to us that not so much time had passed, it felt like a much longer time to him. Then his father told Agafonov to take from the advance we had already paid what he considered necessary and give us back the rest. We found a new lawyer.”

After Pchelintsev was formally charged on December 1, he and Angelina were able to see each other and chat. Dmitry said he had asked for a meeting with his wife “to say goodbye.” According to Pchelintsev, he had been tortured every day: he had been hung upside down, and various parts of his body had been hooked up to an electrical current. He was afraid they would kill him and make it look like a suicide. He said his body might not be able to withstand the torture.

“I’m afraid my heart will give out, and I won’t make it out of here alive. This is hell,” he said.

Pchelintsev asked his wife to tell the investigator he had said goodbye to her. Then, perhaps, they would not come and torture him that day.

According to Angelina, she made up her mind beforehand she would not cry in front of the FSB officers, so she kept her cool and tried to cheer up her husband. She tried to persuade him not to despair and wait for the new lawyer to come up with something.

When her husband was led away, the investigator asked Angelina what they had discussed.

“Stop killing Dima,” Angelina replied.

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

I wouldn’t refuse to colonize Mars. Something farther away would be better, so these earthlings could not reach us quickly. I probably don’t need anything in the next care package: no Cheetohs, no Snickers. So don’t come here for the time being. I’ll write if I need anything. Basically, I’m hanging in there. I’m thinking about how we’ll start life over.

Angelina Pchelintseva writing to her husband:

I’ll make arrangements with Elon Musk. We will fly away and never return to this planet. We’ll wait until the ship is built, okay?

Arman Sagynbayev, who was jailed after most of the other accused, has serious health problems and needs constant medical career. During the police custody extension hearing in mid December, he said he constantly felt sick and vomited.

Yegor Zorin and Ilya Shakursky were classmates at Penza State University, where they had studied to be physics teachers. Zorin was the first to be detained, and he was the first to testify. According to relatives of the other accused men, his testimony was “utterly savage.” Zorin rang in the new year in partial freedom: he was released from the pretrial detention center and placed under house arrest.

According to investigators, the so-called November Fifth Group was allegedly established with the aim of planning a revolutionary coup and overthrowing the government using terrorist methods. Other similar groups also allegedly operated in Russia, and they were all part of a single organization with the same goals and methods. Investigators argue the members of November Fifth used conspiratorial methods, and they had a clear division of roles. The group allegedly had a sapper and a signalman, for example. Given this context, according to investigators, the airsoft games were a means of preparing for terrorist attacks.

And yet, currently there is no visible connnection, procedural or actual, between the criminal cases launched in the aftermath of the so-called Maltsev Revolution and the case of the Penza antifascists, except the numbers five and eleven in the name of their so-called terrorist community.

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

The lights are on twenty-four hours a day. If I’m not released because I’m innocent, I’ll be released when I develop Alzheimer’s. The humidity is such I’ll be released when I contract tuberculosis, and it’s so filthy I’ll be released when I contract hepatitis. And I smoke so much I’ll be released when I get cancer. And you all send me too much chocolate, so I’ll be released when I get diabetes. I’m kidding, of course. No one will ever release me.

Translated by the Russian Reader

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Ali Feruz, a gay Moscow-based journalist threatened with deportation to Uzbekistan, where he faces possible torture and death. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch 

Memes of Solidarity
Silly and Serious Acts of Civic Solidarity Will Be Needed for a Long Time to Come
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
January 25, 2018

The Satisfaction Challenge, a internet flash mob in support of cadets at the Ulyanovsk Civil Aviation Institute, who filmed and uploaded a parody of Benny Benassi’s music video “Satisfaction,” has entered its second week. The institute’s administrators accused the cadets, who are shown dancing in briefs and pilot caps, of “mocking the sacred” and “humiliating the industry,” declaring they had no place in aviation.

Since then, scores of videos supporting the cadets have been posted daily. The latest was filmed by the Novosibirsk hockey club Sibir. Before an auditorium packed to the gills with fans, the club’s mascot, Snowman, dances to “Satisfaction” along with security guards and cleaners. Before Snowman, there were videos by female pensioners in a Petersburg communal flat, costumed theater students in the Russian Far East, horsemen, swimmers, cadets at the Academy of the Emergency Situations Ministry, construction workers, doctors, students at an agriculture college, schoolchildren, housewives, and the presenters of the TV show Evening Urgant. Consequently, a talk show on the TV channel Rossiya 1 and US magazine The New Yorker have identified the Satisfaction Challenge flash mob as a significant event in Russia public life.

“Welders from the Urals Filmed a Satisfaction Challenge Video.” Published January 24, 2018

Obviously, the flash mob has touched some important strings. It is not so much a matter of discussing the boundaries of free self-expression, the clash of different views on what is permitted and appropriate, which, judging by the varying degrees of frankness on the part of the flash mobbers, are also quite different. The key here is solidarity, which has proven the best weapon against bureaucratic stupidity and official hypocrisy. Solidarity with the persecuted is a vital tool for upholding freedom and withstanding crackdowns, for maintaining and reinforcing social connections in an atomized society.

The flash mob in support of the Ulyanovsk cadets is probably the most vivid and funny solidarity campaign in today’s Russia, but it is hardly the only or most important solidarity campaign. The cadets were threatened with explusion, but Novaya Gazeta journalist Hudoberdi Nurmatov aka Ali Feruz, who has already spent five months in a temporary detention center for foreigners awaiting a review of his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, is threatened with torture and even death in connection with false charges of cooperating with terrorists if he is deported to Uzbekistan, say his relatives, colleagues, and human rights activists.

The solidarity campaign in support of Ali Feruz kicked off this past August, when the Moscow City Court decided to deport him. His colleagues rightly believe that the longer they bring up the case and the more loudly they discuss it, the better are the chances for a positive outcome. So, last week, Theater.doc held another reading of Feruz’s diary, written in the temporary detention center for foreigners. The first reading, entitled “My Friend Ali Feruz,” was held as a sign of solidarity by journalists in late October. During last week’s antifacist march in memory of attorney Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, slain by neo-Nazis nine years ago in downtown Moscow, some of the marchers bore placards demanding Ali Feruz’s release. On Wednesday came the news the Russian Supreme Court had overturned the Moscow City Court’s decision to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan and remanded the matter for a new hearing.

The solidarity campaign in support of Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, which has ranged from petitions and videos in his defense to organized trips to his trial in Petrozavodsk, has been underway since society learned of his arrest on charges of taking pornographic photographs, charges that carry no weight with anyone who knows him well. If it had not been for the public outcry, there might not have been a second forensic examination, which ruled the photographs in question were not pornographic, nor would there have been a court decision to release Dmitriev from police custody, where he has spent the last year, on his own recognizance.

Currently, Oyub Titiev, head of the Grozny branch of Memorial, is in bad need of solidarity and support. Arrested on drugs possession charges, Titiev managed to warn society any confession he made would only mean he had been tortured into giving it.

“We regard Oyub Titiev’s circumstances as extremely dangerous,” the board of the International Memorial Society said in an appeal to Russian society and the international community. “The only thing we can do under the circumstances is ask Russian society and the international community to monitor Titiev’s case with the same acute interest as has occured in the Dmitriev case.”

Solidarity is one of the few effective tools left in Russian civil society’s arsenal for confronting official coercion. We will have recourse to it again and again for a long time to come. It’s a good thing that sometimes, as in the case of the cadets, it’s also fun.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Annals of Import Substitution: Got Milk?

Perhaps one of the big reasons the post-embargo Russian dairy industry has failed to achieve “total important substitution,” not mentioned in the otherwise comprehensive article, below, has been its penchant for gulling Russian consumers. Among the gullible is your correspondent, who was moved by the label on this milk carton (“Honest Natural Cow Milk […] from an Ecologically Pure District of Bashkiria”) to buy it the other day. My boon companion, however, immediately pointed out what the side of the carton revealed. In this case, “Honest Bashkir Natural Cow Milk” was actually reconstituted milk powder (“изготовлено из молока нормализованного”), not real milk. Since the embargo set in, every Russian has also encountered literally tons of fake cheese in the shops. Chockablock with palm oil, not milk, and sporting European sounding monikers to make them more attractive to “discerning consumers,” this fake cheese has generated massive popular distrust in domestically produced cheese and other dairy products. TRR

Why Import Substitution Has Failed in the Dairy Industry 
Despite the Produce Embargo, Milk Production Has Declined, Dairy Products Have Become More Expensive, and Demand Has Fallen
Yekaterina Burlakova
Vedomosti
January 22, 2018

“I’ve seen it myself, touched it with my own hands. The country is currently constructing three cheese factories with the capacity to produce fifty, sixty, and seventy tons daily, and in five years we will have forgotten the problem [the shortage of domestically produced cheese] altogether!” Russian agriculture minister Alexander Tkachov said recently, sharing his optimistic plans. “Let’s recall pork, vegetable oil, sugar, vegetables, and fruit. We also imported all this produce. We were seriously dependent.”

Tkachov and his colleagues never tire of talking of how the produce embargo, imposed by Russia in August 2014 on the United States, the EU, Norway, Canada, and Australia, has helped Russian farmers. Greenhouses have been built, orchards have been planted, and so on.

But import substitution has not taken hold in the dairy industry. Milk production has declined, dairy products have become more expensive, and demand for them has fallen off. Why has this happened?

Russia provides itself with only 75% of the dairy products it consumes; the rest is imported, mainly from Belaruas. However, Russia has always suffered shortages of domestically produced raw milk. But the circumstances have worsened. According to Soyuzmoloko, the Russian national dairy producers union, the production of raw milk decreased by two percent to 30.7 million tons between 2006 and 2016.

It is a complex and costly business, says a spokesperson for a dairy company. Vegetable production shows a profit after seven or eight years; fruit production, after four or five. Dairy plants take much longer to show a profit. According to different estimates, it takes between ten and fifteen years to put them in the black. Many potential investors are scared off by such figures, but our source said what the dairy industry needed were serious, long-term investments.

Indeed, the dairy business is considered complicated due to the long time it takes to see a return on investment, says Stefan Duerr, director general of EkoNiva, Russia’s largest milk producer. It generally takes three years to build a dairy plant and put it on line. Dairy production also requires considerable working capital: cows give milk only from the age of three. You have to prepare you own feed, and for that you need land: an average of about three hectares per cow, says Duerr. Pig breeders and poultry farmers have it much easier, since they can buy readymade feed.

Over the past four years, the price of raw milk has increased by about 60% to 25 rubles per kilo, says Artyom Belov, director general of Soyuzmoloko. This occurred after the ruble declined, and demand from processors increased. Yet the net price of milk has decreased after the ruble’s recovery. Belov is certain this makes dairy farming more attractive to investors. In his opinion, state support is also vital. In 2017, compensation of capital expenditures grew from 20% to 30%, while soft loans have been granted at an interest rate of up to 5%.

Investors Have Doubts
Investors still have doubts, however, For example, Rusagro’s principle owner Vadim Moshkovich recently announced he was willing to invest one billion dollars in milk and dairy production. But a decision on the project has not yet been made, says a spokesperson for the agricultural holding company.

“Dairy cow breeding really is a complicated business with a long-term return on investment, even taking subsidies into account. However much we cite the discounted return on investment model, seven years, which is mentioned in the press, we just cannot pull it off in Russia,” he says, raising his hands in dismay.

The processing and production of value-added products is needed to make the project viable. Total vertical integration—from feed production to the manufacturing of dairy products—is thus necessary, he argues.

Other investors have also spoken of possible investments in mega projects. Alexei Bogachov, a minority shareholder in the Magnit grocery store chain, has promised to invest 20 million rubles in a partnership with Rusagro. Miratorg has promised to invest $400 million, while Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group has promised to invest one billion dollars. In reality, only Vietnam’s TH Group has launched new, large-scale raw milk production facilities. Last year, the company began construction on dairy farms in Kaluga Region and Moscow Region that will accommodate approximately 40,000 head of dairy cows, and it recently announced plans to build farms in the Maritime Territory. It intends to invest $2.7 billion over the next ten years.

If circumstances on the market do not change, and milk prices do not go down, Belov forecasts it will be possible fully satisfy Russia’s milk needs in ten years. For the time being, processers deal with the milk shortage in different ways. For example, Oleg Sirota, founder of the cheese company Russian Parmesan, will soon bring his own dairy farm on line.  In turn, in order to insure stable supplies of milk, the French company Danone has invested in milk production in Tyumen Region in partnership with Naum Babayev’s Damate Group. The cost of the entire project is 5.6 billion rubles, but Danone’s share of the costs has not been disclosed. According to the agreement between Danone and Damate, all the milk produced at the facility will be sent to the Danone plant for eight years.

The Embargo’s Impact
“We saw that European producers with much lower prices would not arrive the next day, and we realized we could make long-term plans, that we had to invest in domestic production,” said Alexei Martynenko, owner of Umalat, a company that produces brined cheeses.

Almost as soon as the embargo was imposed, Martynenko gave up the day-to-day management of a feed production business and set about vigorously developing Umalat.

“I realized that if I didn’t change anything right away, we would sleep through the chance to grow the company,” he noted.

Many businessmen decided to tackle cheese immediately after imposition of the embargo, which among other things banned the import of cheese from the European Union to Russia. In 2016, according to Nielsen, Umalat was Russia’s leading manufacturer of sulguni, and took third place in the manufacture of mozarella and mascarpone. Since 2014, production at Umalat has doubled to 5,000 tons annually, says Rustem Mustafin, the company’s marketing director.

“The import substitution program and imposition of the embargo came in handy. We would have grown without them, but the growth would probably have been less considerable,” Mustafin continues.

However, the embargo’s impact wore off quite quickly, since it was immediately followed by a substantial downturn in household incomes, he stresses.

Sirota launched cheese production in the summer of 2015. Currrently, he produces semi-solid and hard cheeses, which retail for 800 rubles to 1,600 rubles per kilo. His cheesery’s first batch of parmesan will mature in August, when the embargo will celebrate its fourth anniversary. Currently, Sirota produces 400 kilograms per day. In 2018, he plans to ratchet production up to two tons per day.

Russian manufacturers have been most successful in producing hard and semi-hard varieties such as Russian, Dutch, and Altai, says Andrei Golubkov, a spokesman for Abzuk Vkusa [ABC of Taste], a Russian gourmet grocery store chain. There are also high-quality producers of brie, camambert, mozarella, and burrata. But the supply of good-quality ripened hard cheeses is still limited. The chain now mainly sells hard cheeses from Switzerland, which was not included in the embargo, and the South American countries, says Golubkov. Expensive Russian cheeses account for about 10% of all sales in terms of money and about 5% in terms of volume, Soyuzmoloko’s Belov says.

If the embargo is lifted, many businessmen involved in the manufacture of milk and cheese will be ruined, argues Sirota.

“Even if we could compete in terms of quality, we could not compete in terms of cost. The price of milk in Germany is currently around 20 rubles [per kilo], while it is 34 rubles in Russia,” says Sirota. [According to the industry website clal.it, the price of raw milk in Germany in November 2017 was 38.97 euros per 100 kilograms or approximately 27 rubles per kilo—TRR.]

Milk in Germany costs less due to cheap loans and government subsidies. In Russia, on the contrary, loans are short-term and expensive: they fall due between five and seven years. Investors have not yet managed to launch production, but the money has to be returned. There is always a shortage of good-quality milk for reprocessing. It takes 14 kilos of milk to make one kilo of cheese. Moreover, the highest grade of milk is required to ensure the desired quality of cheese.

Mustafin says Umalat is not afraid the sanctions will be lifted, however. The company has been vigorously promoting its brands, has found its customers, and has produceed cheeses that are better than their imported counterparts.

From Milk to Macaroni
Meanwhile, the consumption of dairy products has decreased by 5% from September 2016 to September 2017, according to Nielsen. Sales of kefir experienced the largest drop: 8.4%. Sales of sterilized milk fell by 7%, yogurt, by 5.8%, and cottage cheese, by 5%. For the first time in recent years, there has been a drop in the consumption of such traditional Russian dairy products as milk, smetana (sour cream), tvorog (cottage cheese), tvorozhki (quark), and ryazhenka (fermented baked milk), notes Anastasia Jafarova, director of customer relations in the department of sales and servicing of consumer panels at GfK Rus, a market research company. Perhaps the main reason is an increase in the average price by 10.4%, explains Jafarova. Price rises have mainly been due to the price rise of the raw material, i.e., the milk supplied by farmers, says a spokesperson at PepsiCo. In addition, a spokesperson for Danone cites other causes. Under the Plato road tolls system, the tolls imposed on heavy cargo vehicles rose by 25% in April 2017, and excise taxes on fuels rose by more than 8%. The decreased demand for dairy products has also been due to a decline in household incomes over the past few years, argues Belov.

The fact that people have started to skimp even on ordinary milk says they are likely to switch to cheaper products, notes Marina Balabanova, Danone’s regional vice-president for corporate relations in Russia and the CIS. This could be macaroni, cereals or other products, she speculates. As never before, Russians are rational in their spending and try to redistribute their expenses as efficiently as possible, says Jafarova. This testifies to the relative adapation to a protracted crisis on the part of Russians.

Agricultural minister Tkachov has also admitted that import substitution has not occurred in the dairy industry. He wrote about it in response to an official query from Communist Party MP Valery Rashkin. Although imports have dropped by 1.9 million tons since 2013, the production of milk has grown only by 1.4 million tons. The minister wrote that the demand for imported dairy products was currently 7.5 million tons. At a production growth rate of three percent annually, total import substitution would take at least nine to ten years. But work is currently underway to increase state support, which would reduce this period to five to six years, Tkachov hopes.

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“How the Consumption of Dairy Products Has Fallen (from June 2016 to June 2017, in percentages). Cheese spread and smoked cheese: –6. Quark: –5. Milk: –4. Yogurt drinks:–4. Firm yogurt: –4. Sour cream: –2. Cottage cheese: –2. Source: GfK Russia.” Infographic courtesy of Vedomosti

We Consume Too Little
A person needs to eat at least three dairy products per day. Eighty percent of the daily recommended intake of calcium is thus supplied. According to Soyuzmoloko, calcium is absorbed most easily this way. Their argument is backed up by the Federal Nutrition and Biotechnology Research Center and the Russian Osteoporosis Association. The Russian Health Ministry recommends individuals consume at least 325 kilos of dairy products annually. But we are far from achieving these norms: individual annual consumption of dairy products was 233 kilos in 2016. However, a top executive at a Russian agricultural holding company argues these claims are a bluff. In Soviet times, there were meat shortages, so dairy products were consumed as the primary source of protein. Circumstances have now changed. Russia now produces enough of its own poultry and pork at affordable prices. So there is simply no longer the need to eat so many dairy products, he explains.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE!

Up to 25% of Cheese in Russia Is Fake, Smuggled From Ukraine — Watchdog
Moscow Times
January 25, 2018

Up to a quarter of ‘cheese products’ sold in Russia were produced in Ukraine, circumventing Moscow’s embargo on food imports, according to Russia’s state agricultural watchdog.

Russia placed restrictions on food imports, including dairy, from countries that enacted sanctions against Moscow after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The embargo has been a boon for domestic Russian producers, but consumers have complained about a proliferation of “fake cheese” — dairy products made with milk-substitutes.

Up to 300,000 tonnes of Ukrainian cheese products are entering Russia every year after being repackaged in Belarus, Russia’s agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor spokeswoman Yulia Melano told the RBC business portal Tuesday.

“In all likelihood, we’re talking about the legalization of Ukrainian cheese or protein and fat products through Belarus,” reads a letter written by Rosselkhoznadzor head Sergei Dankvert that was obtained by RBC.

The Ukrainian ‘cheese products’ mostly consist of vegetable oils, rather than dairy, and are imported via Belarus under the guise of Macedonian or Iranian cheese, according to the letter.

Cheese-like products could account for more than half of all cheeses sold in Russia, Andrei Karpov, the executive director of the Association of Retail Trade Companies (AKORT), was cited as saying by RBC.

Rosselkhoznadzor does not yet regulate cheese products, which are made almost entirely out of milk substitutes, and does not officially track its imports.

Thanks to Mark Teeter for the heads-up

Extremists (The Serial)

Extremists (The Serial)
Grani.Ru
December 29, 2017

92073Extremists

Hundreds of people throughout Russia are being prosecuted or have already been convicted for voicing their own thoughts, which the current regime does not like. The campaign against dissent has been masked as a campaign against “extremism.” Our video project’s goal is to acquaint you more closely with several so-called extremists. The FSB and the Interor Ministry have spared neither time nor effort in combating them.

Propaganda represents extremists as dangerous people, ready at the drop of a hat to segue to terrorism. Posters hung on billboards in Moscow call on citizens to identify “extremists” on grounds such as the desire to manipulate, megalomania, identification with a hero, a low level of education and culture, and a tendency to risky behavior and devaluing the lives of others.

92070

Extremists are people ¶ who call for destruction of the country’s integrity, ¶ try and seize power, ¶ organize illegal armed bands, ¶ engaged in terrorist activity, ¶ finance or facilitate terrorist activity, ¶ besmirch the flag, seal, and anthem; ¶ call for the introduction of Russian troops [sic], ¶ spread lies and slander, ¶ incite mutual hatred, ¶ call for violent, sow fear and panic. Psychological portrait of an extremist: aggressive, cruel, radical, many prejudices, stereotypical thinking, irration behavior; low level of education and culture. How to identify an extremist: megalomania, fanaticism, desire to manipulate, tendency to risky behavior and devaluing the lives of others, the search for enemies, self-identification with a hero.” The poster also includes local telephone numbers for the FSB, police, and Emergency Situations Ministry.

Do the subjects of our video project fit the propaganda portrait?

Krasnoyarsk resident Semyon Negretskulov really likes Scandinavia. His blog on the social network VK mainly dealt with Finnish history and modern life in Finland. When he posted a few texts about the Greater Finland project and historical photographs of Vybog (Viipuri) that was enough for the FSB to charge him with promoting Finnish greatness. His call to help political prisoners was also deemed extremism.

Danila Buzanov had to spend a year and a half in prison for an ordinary brawl at the VDNKh in Moscow. “Anti-extremism” police officers from Center “E” turned a fight with a vendor selling Donetsk People’s Republic paraphernalia into charges under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code: inciting hatred and enmity towards the social group “ethnic Russians/Russian citizens who support the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic.”

Boris Yakovlev, a musician from the town of Dno, believes that sooner or later a revolution will happen in Russia. People are poor, the authorities are thieves. When Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia had exhausted its limit of revolutions, Yakovlev reacted like this, “Hey,  Medevedev, who exhausted it? You, the Rotenbergs, the Putins, the Chaykas? We haven’t exhausted our limit, Medvedev. He doesn’t want revolutions. Kiss my ass, Medvedev! He doesn’t want revolutions. But we want them to get rid of you Medvedevs and all the rest. What part of his body does this guy think with, huh?”

The FSB regarded this and similar posts as calls to extremism. Yakovlev would have been sentenced to five years in prison, but he did not wait around to hear the verdict and requested asylum in Finland.

Darya Polyudova decided to troll the authorities, who in 2014 demanded the federalization of Ukraine. Polyudova organized a March for the Federalization of the Krasnodar Region. As a result, she was the first person in the Russian Federation to be convicted of calling for federalism.

Alexander Byvshev, a teacher of German in the village of Kroma in Oryol Region has gone to court to face a third set of charges for poems he wrote in support of Ukraine, and a fourth criminal case is in the works. More frightening than the revenge of law enforcement agencies has been the reaction of his fellow villagers.

These are just a few of the many hundreds of cases of Russians who have been prosecuted for words, opinions, and reposts. You can find a collection of banned “extremist” content at  zapretno.info.

Translated by the Russian Reader