Parents Demand Release of Network Defendants Due to Coronavirus

networkThe Network defendants in the courtroom in Penza. Photo by Yevgeny Malyshev. Courtesy of 7X7

Parents Demand Release of Network Defendants from Remand Prison Due to Coronavirus
Ekaterina Malysheva
7X7
April 1, 2020

Parents of the young men convicted in the Penza portion of the Network Case have demanded their children be transferred to house arrest due to the coronavirus. They have written appeals to this effect to the president of the Russian Federation, the prosecutor general, the heads of the Investigate Committee and the Federal Penitentiary Service, and the commissioner for human rights, as reported to 7X7 by Svetlana Pchelintseva, the mother of Dmitry Pchelintsev, one of the convicted men.

The parents also demanded that safety measures be put in place at detention facilities. They argue that being in remand prison during the COVID-19 outbreak is life-threatening. Of all the quarantine regulations, the parents say, only the ban on visits from relatives has been enforced at the remand prison since March 16.

“Not only is there no guarantee of protection from infection at the remand prison, but it is simply impossible,” the letter says. “Our sons are denied the right to remain alive during the global coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, the issue of safeguarding the health of people confined to detention facilities is not on the agenda today. And, of course, qualified specialized medical care, especially involving the hospitalization of inmates from remand prisons and penal colonies in civilian medical facilities, is not feasible. It is a myth.”

The parents claim that no preventive measures have been enacted at the Penza Remand Prison: disinfection and sanitation procedures have not been carried out, and employees don’t have masks. The greatest danger, according to the authors of the appeal, are the detention facility’s employees themselves, who are potential carriers of the virus. The parents note that reducing the number of inmates in the federal penitentiary system would help prevent disease.

The parents point out that Vladimir Putin said nothing about measures to protect inmates during his address to the Russian people about the coronavirus outbreak. According to the parents, none of the regulations on laboratory testing for COVID-19 defends the rights of people in detention facilities. The authors of the letter claim that inmates will not be tested or treat if they are infected.

Two of the young men convicted in the Network Case, the parents recall, have contracted tuberculosis in remand prison. This puts them at high risk during a pandemic and could be “tantamount to a death sentence.”

On March 30, the Penza regional office of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service reported that in addition to the ban on visits to inmates in the system, visitors and employees with high temperatures and everyone who had been abroad in the last fourteen days were categorically prohibited from entering their facilities.

The office’s press service reported that a set of sanitary and anti-epidemic (preventive) was being organized and implemented at its facilities. It noted that if prisoners were suspected of having the coronavirus disease, the management of the regional office would hospitalize them in health care facilities.

The lawyers of the men convicted in the Network Case continue to visit their clients at Penza Remand Prison No. 1. According to them, conditions at the detention facility make it impossible to ensure the health and safety of prisoners during the epidemic. The lawyers are not allowed to bring certain personal protection gear into the facility. For example, latex medical gloves are not on the list of permitted items.

The lawyers have seen a mask only on the prison employee who inspects people at the entrance to the facility—the other employees were not wearing masks. According to the lawyers, the parents got the runaround in response to their previous complaints and appeals.

The last letter they sent, on February 5, was a request to Russian Federal Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov to investigate all the circumstances in the Network Case and launch a criminal case based on allegations that their children had been tortured by officers in the FSB’s Penza regional office.

In a response dated March 10, the prosecutor general’s office advised the parents to appeal (during the appeals phase of the main verdict in the Network Case) the admissibility of the evidence gathered. All the defendants and their defense lawyers have filed appeals with the Military Appeals Court in Moscow.

The parents organized a solidarity group of relatives against political repression, the Parents Network in spring 2018. In early November 2019, the relatives of defendants in several high-profile cases followed their example by uniting in the movement Mothers Against Political Repression. The movement has its own website, as well as group pages on Telegram and Facebook.

On February 10, the defendants in the Penza portion of the Network Trial were sentenced to terms in prison from six to eighteen years.

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

Five More Months in Remand Prison for Mathematician Azat Miftakhov

azatAzat Miftakhov in the cage at his first custody hearing in February 2019. Photo courtesy of BBC Russian Service

Mathematician Azat Miftakhov’s Arrest Extended for Five Months
OVD Info
March 23, 2020

The Golovino District Court in Moscow has extended for five months the remand in custody of Moscow State University mathematics graduate student Azat Miftakhov, accused of disorderly conduct, according to a post on the Telegram channel FreeAzat!

Miftakhov will thus remain under arrest until September 4. A hearing on the merits was postponed due to the absence of counsel for the injured party. The next hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 20.

A mathematics graduate student at Moscow University and an anarchist, Miftakhov was arrested in connection with an alleged case of disorderly conduct by a group of people, punishable under Article 213.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. According to investigators, on January 30, 2018, Miftakhov, Andrei Yeikin, Yelena Gorban, Alexei Kobaidze, and Svyatoslav Rechkalov broke a window at a United Russian party office in Moscow’s Khovrino District and threw a smoke bomb into it.

The mathematician was detained on February 1, 2019. He later told his lawyer he had been tortured with a screwdriver. Over the following eleven days, his term in police custody was extended under various pretexts. OVD Info has written in detail about aspects of Miftakhov’s detention and published a chronicle of developments in the case of the broken window at the United Russia party office. Miftakhov has been in remand prison for over a year.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my earlier posts on the Khovrino vandalism case and the Russian police state’s relentless persecution of Azat Miftakhov.

 

Russia Year Zero

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Lev Ponomaryov took part in the protest outside the FSB building. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

Dozens of Activists Detained at Pickets Outside FSB Building on Lubyanka Square; Human Rights Activist Lev Ponomaryov Injured
BBC Russian Service
March 14, 2020

Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the movement For Human Rights, was taken to hospital from a police station after being detained during a protest outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.

According to the 78-year-old Ponomaryov, police officers did not beat him, but treated him quite harshly.

“It would be more correct to say they roughed me up. I don’t remember the actual blow, but I do have a cut on my face. They grabbed me hard and dragged me,” he told the BBC Russian Service.

Earlier, news agency Interfax reported that, according to Ponomaryov, a detained activist who was next to him was beaten at the Tagansky police station.

“Me and another young me were dragged from the cell. I lost my hearing aid along the way. The kid got it worse, he was young. Maybe they were bashful about beating me,” the news agency quoted Ponomaryov as saying.

According to Ponomaryov, the police officers began acting roughly when all of the eleven detained activists, delivered to the Tagansky police station in the same paddy wagon, refused to enter the station one by one.

The activists joined hands. It was then, according to Ponomaryov, that the police began dragging the detainees forcibly into the station.

pono-2Police detained over forty activists during the protest on Lubyanka Square. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

According to the human rights activist, the station commander watched it happened.

Ponomaryov said that he would probably petition the court to redress the needlessly harsh actions of the police and the beating of detainees.

A spokesperson for the Tagansky police station told the BBC Russian Service that they did not wish to comment on the situation with Lev Ponomaryov, since they had nothing to do with “what happened on the street.”

According to Ponomaryov, despite the fact that he demanded to see his lawyer, Vasily Kushnir, he was allowed to see him only an hour after arriving at the police department.

After the lawyer arrived, an ambulance was called for the human rights activist. The attending physicians decided to take him to hospital.

Later on Saturday, Ponomaryov told Interfax that he was not found to have a concussion.

“I was checked out at First City Hospital. They did a CT scan and said that everything was more or less normal, no brain damage occurred,” said Ponomaryov.

The human rights defender plans to document his injuries and file a lawsuit in connection with the beating, Interfax reports.

Marina Litvinovich, a member of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police officers had violated the rights of both detained activists and public figures.

“Everything is bad here [at the Tagansky police department]. The police don’t let the laywers in, and they even used force, including against Ponomaryov, ” she told Interfax .

pono-3According to Lev Ponomaryov, police roughed up protesters when detaining them. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

Alexei Melnikov, executive secretary of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police at the Tverskoy District precinct also took a long time in allowing both lawyers and commission members to see detainees.

According to Melnikov, police officers refused to allow commission members to enter the building because, allegedly, they were not holding any detainees.

Ponomaryov was detained during solo pickets against political crackdowns. The protest took place outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square. Police detained over forty protesters.

Among those detained were opposition activists Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov. According to OVD Info, a minor who had been filming the proceedings was also detained. Police did not specify the reason for the minor’s arrest. According to OVD Info, he suffered an asthma attack in the paddy wagon.

According to Telegram channel Avtozak-LIVE, police broke journalist Fyodor Khudokormov’s equipment while detaining him.

Moscow city hall had refused to sanction a rally in the city center against political crackdowns. Instead, they suggested to rally organizers that they hold the rally in the Lyublino District, in the city’s far southeast, but the activists turned the offer down.

 

89358473_3562858360397706_4381898323129270272_oA photo of Lev Ponomaryov after his “rough handling” by police in Moscow on March 14, 2020. The photo was widely disseminated on Russian social media. Courtesy of Julia Aug

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
March 14, 2020

I was at Lubyanka today during the rout of the pickets—pickets that hadn’t really started yet. First, police grabbed the people holding placards, but they quickly ran out, so then they grabbed people who were just standing there.

Everyone has been writing that it was a protest against “political crackdowns.” This is not quite true. I want to remind you that people came out under the slogan “We Are All in the Net(work).” The root cause and the reason people came was the Network Case in Penza and Petersburg. This is what causes such a brutal reaction among people in uniform. This was the reason why they got tough with Ponomaryov, nor was it the first time. When you sympathize with Ponomaryov, but say “there must be something” to the latest dirt about the Network, just put two and two together.

But the Network get clobbered every day. With the back of the hand. In the same way that people are beaten up in paddy wagons.

A month ago, I noticed this sneering expression on the faces of Russian National Guardsmen. It seemed to say, “You won’t do anything to us. Things will be our way. We do what we like.” The dogs have been given the command to attack.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Don’t Protest Here

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Petersburg historic preservationists gathering for a “sanctioned” protest near the Sports and Concert Complex (SKK), a late-Soviet era landmark in southern Petersburg that recently collapsed while being illegally dismantled, killing one worker. Photo by Sergei Yermokhin. Courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg

Don’t Rally Here: It Will Be More Difficult for Petersburg’s Historic Preservationists to Protest
Svyatoslav Afonkin
Delovoi Peterburg
March 11, 2020

The Petersburg Legislative Assembly is amending the city’s law on protest rallies. The rules for holding protests have become more complicated, especially for historic preservationists.

The city parliament passed in the second reading a new redaction of the law on protest rallies. Thanks to amendments introduced by the parliamentary majority, the minimum number of “Hyde Parks” [locations where it is legal to have public protests] has been reduced from eight, as stipulated in the first redaction of the draft law, to four. Moreover, the parliament’s legislative committee added another restriction: a ban on public events outside dilapidated buildings in danger of collapsing.

Several sites designated as “dangerous” have inflamed the passions of historic preservationists in recent months. The roof on the Petersburg Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) was deemed dangerous. The Basevich tenement building on the Petrograd Side, which has been threatened with demolition, is also considered dangerous. Protest rallies have recently taken place on more than one occasion at both sites. The resettled houses on Telezhnaya Street, which the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] wants to sell, have also been the focus of public attention once again.

Drone footage of the collapse of the Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in Petersburg in January 2020. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Alexei Kovalyov, leader of the Just Russia faction in the legislative assembly and deputy chair of its commission on municipal facilities, urban planning, and land issues, argues that new language in the bill appeared for a reason.

“Of course this will be an obstacle for historic preservationists. Our faction opposed these cretinous amendments. There is no doubt that this is why the new norm was introduced. It was done deliberately,” Kovalyov told DP.

Anna Kapitonova, a member of the presidium of the Petersburg branch of VOOPIiK [Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Landmarks], noted that the amendments could make life more difficult for protest organizers: small protest rallies, such as a series of solo pickets, sometimes take place right on the sidewalks, after all. According to Kapitonova, the authorities were also able earlier to prevent even solo pickets on the pretext that scheduled maintenance or construction work was taking place nearby.

“Last year, I held a solo picket at the entrance to the Smolny. After a while, an official with the law enforcement committee came out of the building. Although the Smolny is hardly a dangerous site, scheduled maintenance of the facade was underway over fifty meters from my picket. But the official told me it was dangerous for me to be there, and asked me to move away,” Kapitonova said.

Denis Chetyrbok, head of the legislative assembly’s legislative committee, told DP that the amendments were introduced in connection with a Constitutional Court ruling, and parliamentarians had no other motives.

“If there is a dangerous building that might collapse located next to the place indicated in the [protest rally] application, then it will be difficult to secure approval for a public event,” Chetyrbok confirmed.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Lyubshin: Five Years in Prison for a Social Media Comment

 

lyubshinIvan Lyubshin at the Kaluga city limits on the eve of his trial. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Court Sentences Kaluga Resident to Five Years and Two Months in Prison for Comment on Bombing at FSB Office
OVD Info
March 5, 2020

The Second Military District Court, sitting in Kaluga, has sentenced Kaluga resident Ivan Lyubshin to five years and two months in a medium security penal colony for violating Article 205.2.2 of the Russian Criminal Code, which criminalizes “exoneration of terrorism,” for posting a comment on the VK social network about the 2018 suicide bombing at the Arkhangelsk office of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Pavel Chikov, head of the human rights group Agora, reported the verdict on his Telegram channel.

The prosecutor had asked the court to sentence Lyubshin to six years and one month in prison. According to Chikov, Lyubshin and his defense lawyer, Tatyana Molokanova, had insisted on an acquittal. It took the judge two hours to return the verdict.

“I called [Arkhangelsk teenage suicide bomber Mikhail] Zhlobitsky ‘hero of the week, at least,” meaning that he was the hero of the news. This was stretched to make it seems I’d meant he was a hero in general,” the accused said in January of this year.

Lyubshin later deleted the social media comment.

The court examined all witnesses and evidence in the case over a single day, March 4, without Lyubshin present. He told OVD Info that he was on sick leave, and had a doctor’s appointment that day, so he was forced to miss the court hearing.

The prosecution asked that the hearing be postponed until March 14 and Lyubshin’s attendance be assured through compulsory delivery of his person to the court. The defense asked for the same postponement, but objected to the prosecution’s motion for compulsory delivery.

Presiding Judge Alexei Grinev asked for a note from Lyubshin’s doctors to the effect that the defendant was physically unable to attend the court hearing. The doctors refused to give Lyubshin such a note, explaining that such notes were issued only at the court’s request.

The court ruled that the defendant has thus failed to appeared and postponed the hearing of the case until March 5. Lyubshin reported that the court also ruled that he be forcibly delivered to the hearing.

Lyubshin also reported that the FSB officers who were witnesses in his case left in the same car as the prosecutor after the hearing. In addition, one FSB officer, another witness in the case, tried to ask the doctors for details about Lyubshin’s illness. However, they only confirmed that Lyubshin was under their care.

In October 2019, Lyubshin was placed under house arrest on charges of “exonerating terrorism.” He claimed then that FSB officers who interrogated him had tortured him, but the Russian Investigative Committee declined to launch a criminal case against the security service officers in question. In late December 2019, Lyubshin was released on his own recognizance. In March 2019, after the partial decriminalization of Article 282 of the Criminal Code, the court dismissed incitement of hatred charges against Lyubshin for posts on VK.  In November 2017, he was found guilty of inciting hatred (Article 282.1) and “exonerating Nazism” (Article 354.1.2) for posts on VK. He was sentenced to pay a fine of 400,000 rubles.  Lyubshin was also accused of distributing pornography, but the court acquitted him.

Ivan Lyubshin is the latest in a growing list of Russians prosecuted or facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky on social media or in the traditional media. Lyubshin has joined the ranks of Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On March 5, OVD Info reported that Oleg Nemtsev, a trucker in Arkhangelsk Region, had been charged with the same “crime.” Translated by the Russian Reader

Reading the Signs (Team 29)

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Hi, this is Natasha Kurchenkova.

This week, everyone was wondering what the text of the new Russian constitution meant and, most importantly, how it would ultimately help one particular person remain in power. And here I had thought we were busy trying to divine such things all the time! When methods for making decisions are almost totally opaque, the art of reading the various signs and signals sent from the top is elevated into a cult. Some pundits show off their familiarity with sacred knowledge, while others hone their interpretive skills on national TV. What makes the process particularly crazy is that there is often no logic whatsoever in the way the system acts.

It is even harder for those whom the system has taken hostage—for example, Konstantin Kotov, sentenced to four years in prison for four peaceful (“unsanctioned”) protests. He was arrested on August 12 of last year. The criminal investigation of his case took a whole three days, while the trial took another two days, and after that Kotov was sent to prison. But this week the Second Court of Appeal overturned the Moscow City Court’s refusal to commute Kotov’s sentence and ordered a new trial in the case. What the hell does it all mean?

Team 29 lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, a member of Kotov’s defense team, argues it is a good sign, despite the fact that the court could have immediately closed the criminal case, although it declined to do so.

“The court clearly indicated that Kotov would be released, given that the Moscow City Court had reduced his sentence to a year and the fact that, in a month and a half, under the revised rules for time served in custody, he will have been imprisoned for a year,” Smirnov wrote. “All of Konstantin’s defense lawyers insist on his complete innocence and will seek to have the criminal case quashed and their client exonerated. In view of the rulings made by the Russian Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and simple common sense, such a decision is the only possible outcome.”

We have also been picking up signals from the penal colonies, where we have been trying to locate one inmate. Almost nothing is known about his case, and the individual in question simply vanished a few years ago. It turns out that the official replies we have been receiving in response to a completely straightforward question also have to be interpreted. Just get a load of this:

“In accordance with Article 7 of Federal Law No. 152 on personal data, enacted 27 July 2006, persons who have received access to personal data are obliged not to disclose or distribute personal data to third parties without the consent of the person in question, unless otherwise stipulated by federal law. Given that the convicted man is not being held at [this penal colony], and it is not possible to obtain his consent, the information you have requested cannot be disclosed.”

How do you not go crazy when the state speaks to you in this language?

For the time being, trying to decipher the system’s signals is, alas, perhaps the most constructive way of communicating with it.

If you need a sign, this is it.

—Natasha and Team 29

* When I contacted Team 29 today, asking them for more details about the case in question, they replied that they would publish something about it after they had located the inmate in question. \\ TRR

Source: Team 29 weekly email newsletter, dated 7 March 2020. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Russia’s War on “Terrorists” and “Extremists” in Crimea and Syria

filatovPersecuted Crimean Jehovah’s Witness Sergei Filatov faces seven years in prison for “extremism.” Photo courtesy of Grati

Prosecutor Requests Seven Years in High-Security Prison for Jehovah’s Witness in Crimea
OVD Info
February 25, 2020

During closing arguments in the trial of local resident Sergei Filatov, who organized meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the prosecutor asked the Dzhankoy District Court to sentence Filatov to seven years in a high-security penal colony, according to the online publication Grati, which cited Filatov himself as its source.

Filatov, who is currently free on his own recognizance, is accused of “organizing the activities of an extremist organization,” punishable under Article 282.2.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. According to investigators, Filatov, as the head of a religious organization, “undermined the foundations of the constitutional system and the security of the state.” The case files include an audio recording, made by local FSB field officer Vladislav Stradetsky, in which Filatov and other believers can be heard discussing religious topics.

The prosecution claims that Filatov is a co-organizer of a Jehovah’s Witness organization called Sivash, which held gatherings and religious lectures at the defendant’s registered domicile.

The only witness at the previous hearings in Filatov’s trial was a man named Verbitsky, a computer science teacher at a rural school. In September 2019, he testified that he had gone to Jehovah’s Witness gatherings right up until the organization was banned in April 2017, and therefore was unaware of Filatov’s further actions. In November 2019, however, he changed his testimony, saying he had continued attending meetings of believers for another six months or so.

Verbitsky claimed the defendant was intimidating him, so the judge honored his request to hold the hearings in closed chambers. The website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reports that the “intimidation” in question was phone calls from strangers. The defense made several requests to hold the trial in open chambers, but to no avail.

Filatov has four children, two of whom are minors. He considers the trial biased,  and the whole case an instance of religious persecution.

“The prosecutor asked the judge to sentence me to seven years for extremist activity—seven years for religious convictions, for believing in God. There was no crime, no culpability. 1951 and 1937 are coming back. They happened in Russia and here [in Crimea]: there are people among us today who were persecuted and sent into exile. This is tyranny and genocide,” Grati reports Filatov as saying after the trial.

In November 2018, the security forces raided a number of homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Dzhankoy. Searches were conducted at several dozen addresses, but only Filatov was detained, allegedly because police found extremist literature and manuals on psychology and recruiting in his home.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist organization,” disbanded it, and prohibited it from operating in Russia. In August 2017, all Jehovah’s Witness organizations were placed on the official list of banned organizations, sparking a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the confession.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Putin: Our Forces Stopped a Serious Threat to Russia in Syria
Asharq Al-Aswat
February 24, 2020

President Vladimir Putin has revealed a decisive Russian military attack last week to prevent Turkish-backed Syrian opposition factions from advancing towards Neirab city.

The Russian military has rooted out well-equipped terrorist groups in Syria and prevented major threats to Russia, Putin said at a gala on Defender of the Fatherland Day.

The attack was followed by intense airstrikes on militant sites in Idlib province.

Putin’s statements came in line with accusations launched by the Kremlin against Turkey on its violation of the Sochi Agreement.

According to Russian sources, the military sought to prevent Ankara from trying to impose a new fait accompli by controlling sites that have been recently occupied by the regime.

Russia “will not allow the return of the previous situation, when Idlib province and its surrounding areas were under the control of Syrian factions,” the sources added.

Putin, however, revealed on Sunday another aim for his country’s intervention in Syria.

Russia’s officers and soldiers have confidently confirmed their high professionalism and combat capabilities, the strength of spirit and their best qualities during the military operation in Syria, he said.

“They have wiped out large and well-equipped terrorist groups, thwarted major threats for our motherland at distant frontiers, and helped the Syrians save the sovereignty of their country,” he stressed, thanking all soldiers who have participated in the fight in Syria.

Putin’s remarks highlighted information circulated on Ankara supplying the Syrian factions with US mobile anti-air systems, which enabled them to shoot down two Syrian army helicopters last week.

The Ministry of Defense said these weapons could be used against Russian forces, slamming Ankara and Washington.

It said both sides “cannot predict how and when the terrorists will use these weapons.”

Putin affirmed Moscow’s intention to continue to enhance its military capabilities and provide its armed forces with the most advanced arms, including laser weapons, hypersonic systems and high-precision systems.