Mikola Dziadok: What We Can Learn from the Moscow Protests

riotgOlga Misik, 17, reading the Russian Constitution aloud to riot cops during a July 27 “unauthorized” opposition protest rally in Moscow at which nearly 1,400 protesters were detained by regular police and Russian National Guardsmen. Photo courtesy of the Independent

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
August 4, 2019

Lessons of the Moscow Protests

Yesterday, Moscow witnessed one of the largest protest rallies in recent memory. There were huge numbers of arrests.

Estimates of the protesters range from 1,500 to 10,000. 1,001 of them were detained. Since Belarus and Russia constantly exchange know-how in crushing protests and, as genuine autocracies, invest huge resources in doing it, we really should study the methods used in Moscow to make our own subsequent uprising more effective.

The first thing that catches the eye is that the Russian authorities were seriously and thoroughly prepared. There are really smart people in high places who imagined what was going to happen and how to deal with it as effectively as possible. They did not just send a mob of riot cops onto the streets to beat up and disperse everyone. Instead, they employed a whole set of well-designed, complementary measures.

Here is a list of the lessons we can learn.

1. The cops are afraid of being deanonymized. During yesterday’s protest rally, unlike previous protests, the riot cops wore masks because cops who did not hide their faces on July 27 have been subsequently deanonymized in huge numbers and harassed on social media. They fear for their own safety, meaning the longer things drag on, the more they are cognizant of their own mortality and physical vulnerability. This is a good thing.

It was also curious that the agitprop cop using a bullhorn to persuade protesters to disperse appealed to national unity: “Citizens, do not disturb the peace. Russian National Guardsmen are on duty to ensure your safety. Most of them are your sons. Do not disturb the peace and break the law.”

In the future, we will hear tons of this kind of spiel in Minsk from the “moderate opposition,” from the negotiators and compromisers of all stripes who will pop up like earthworms from the moist soil as soon as Lukashenko’s throne goes wobbly. This is a separate issue, however.

2. The Russian authorities are not shy about employing the resources at their disposal. Helicopters were employed in addition to tens of thousands of personnel. Private companies were pressured into going over to the bad guys.

  • The car-sharing service YouDrive banned customers from leaving cars inside the Garden Ring.
  • Cell phone providers turned off mobile Internet services.
  • Wi-Fi was turned off in restaurants and cafes near the protest area.

3. The regime has deployed heavy forces on the digital front.

  • There have been DDOS attacks on the main opposition websites.
  • Pro-regime trolls have been mobilized on group pages and in comments on social media. They have been working overtime cobbling together battle scenes, the reactions of “ordinary citizens,” and so on.

4. As usual, the authorities want to prevent the protests from radicalizing. Random passersby had their bags checked: the police were looking for cans of mace and anything that could be used as a weapon. The high-risk category, from the police’s viewpoint, is middle-aged men, which speaks for itself.

5. When protesters are detained, their mobile phones are confiscated for two weeks under the pretext they are physical evidence in a criminal case. Later, the authorities try to hack them using equipment supplied to authoritarian countries by Israeli and Chinese companies. Encrypt your mobile devices! Update their operating systems before it is too late.

6. The authorities have been filing criminal charges against the protesters mercilessly and without hesitation. The only point is intimidating real and potential protesters. How I am going to move from my cozy home and family to a prison cell for many long years? they ask themselves.

Conclusions

Decentralized protests have been effective. Generally, despite facing equal numbers of people, the regime has to deploy more resources to crush such protests than it does to put paid to centralized protests.

But legal defenses have not been effective. Do you want to not give defense lawyers and children’s ombudsmen access to detainees? Do you want to beat up detainees who are not resisting, refuse them medical care, and forcibly fingerprint them? It is easy as pie. The dogs in uniform are not guardians of law and order. They guard the privileges of the elites along with their power and property. There are thus no obstacles to direct, flagrant, and sustained law-breaking.

The logical conclusion is it is stupid and short-sighted for protesters to try and keep themselves and their protests on the right side of the law,  appealing endlessly to the law as a supreme value and, moreover, outing protesters who break the law as “provocateurs,” one of the favorite hobbies of the legal opposition. It is like trying to win a fight without breaking rules drawn up by your enemy. So it is quite pretty to read the Russian Constitution out loud to riot policemen, but it is also naive, pretentious, and frivolous. They care a thousand times more about their discounted apartments and bonuses than they care about the Constitution.

This does not mean, of course, we should engage in violence left and right. We simply have to remember we have an a priori right to self-defense.

It is worth pointing out that Sergey Kusyuk, a former deputy commander in Ukraine’s Berkut riot police, who was noted for the extreme cruelty with which he treated protesters at the Euromaidan in Kyiv before fleeing the country, has been spotted among the police putting down the protest in Moscow. The Russian regime knows what it is doing: it hires people who have burned all their bridges. Kusyuk has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. If the current Russian regime collapses, he and his kind can expect to be killed or imprisoned for life. So, he will claw and bite the regime’s enemies until the bitter end. Accordingly, people who are just as willing to fight to the bitter end, but for the good guys, can face these monsters down.

The conclusion is simple: get ready to fight.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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“What Is This, the Gestapo?” University Student Yegor Zhukov Charged with Rioting in Moscow

Higher School of Economics Student Yegor Zhukov Arrested in Riot Investigation
Andrei Karev
Novaya Gazeta
August 2, 2019

Moscow’s Presna District Court has remanded in custody yet another person charged in the riot investigation launched after the July 27 protest rally in Moscow: 21-year-old Yegor Zhukov, a candidate for the Moscow City Duma, video blogger, and student at the Higher School of Economics.

content_______2Yegor Zhukov in court. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Judge Alexander Avdotyina granted a motion made by the case investigator and remanded Zhukov in custody until September 27.

The hearing began with a motion from Zhukov’s defense lawyer, Daniil Berman. He asked the court to call a recess and give his client a bottle of water.

“He has not had a drop of water since two in the morning and has not slept since yesterday,” Berman claimed.

The judge, however, refused to uphold the motion, explaining that giving Zhukov a bottle of water was against the rules.

“What is this, the Gestapo?” Zhukov’s outraged mother wondered aloud.

Her son has been charged with involvement in rioting, punishable under Article 212.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. Zhukov has completely denied his guilt and refused to give testimony to investigators. According to the case investigator, if Zhukov were at large, he could hinder the investigation, present a flight risk, and pressure witnesses.

He argued that Zhukov’s guilt was borne out by evidence gathered during the investigation.

“Zhukov could destroy evidence in the case and communicate information learned during the investigation to other suspects,” explained the investigator from the Russian Investigative Committee.

The prosecutor seconded the investigator’s arguments.

Zhukov asked the court to impose pretrial restrictions that did not involve imprisoning him.

content_______3Yegor Zhukov in court. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Berman argued there were no grounds for remanding Zhukov in custody. There had been no criminal wrongdoing on Zhukov’s part, and investigators had not presented any specific evidence. Berman motioned the court not to impose pretrial restrictions that would involve isolating his client from society, asking it instead to place Zhukov under house arrest or release him on bail or on his own recognizance.

“There have been lies at each stage of the criminal investigation. It seems as if the case file has been hastily thrown together: it is a collection of commonplaces. What are the charges? What exactly did my client do? The case investigators should at least pretend to be upholding the law. It is outrageous they asked the court to uphold this motion. Why should a student and Muscovite be remanded in custody?” Berman exclaimed.

He added that Zhukov’s parents were willing to post one million rubles [$15,320] in bail.

Earlier, it transpired Valeria Kasamara, vice-rector at the Higher School of Economics and candidate for the Moscow City Duma in Borough No. 45, had agreed to stand surety for Zhukov.

“I request Yegor Zhukov not be remanded in custody. He is my student. He has always been distinguished by his curiosity and high academic performance. I know him personally and can vouch for his good character,” reads the document, posted on Telegram by Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group.

Higher School of Economics students, alumni, and faculty have published an open letter demanding the university’s administrators officially voice their support for Zhukov. According to the letter’s authors, the HSE administration should personally make official statements supporting Zhukov, stand surety for him in court, and appeal to all public authorities to explain the grounds for the criminal charges against him.

“The charges against Yegor are charges against the entire university and each member of the university community. The university teaches us to think critically, speak freely, and ask questions. The Higher School of Economics does not have the moral right to turn its back when a member of its community faces three to eight years in prison for speaking freely and asking the right questions,” it says in the letter.

The Investigative Committee has consolidated separate charges of rioting (punishable under Article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code) and violence against police officers (punishable under Article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code) into a single criminal investigation of the “unauthorized” protest rally in Moscow on July 27. According to Chikov, 84 investigators have been assigned to the case.

Earlier on Friday, the court remanded Alexei Minyaylo, Samariddin Radzhabov, Ivan Podkopayev, and Kirill Zhukov in custody. Yevgeny Kovalenko had already been remanded in custody as part of the same investigation.

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

Putin’s Spectacles of Strength and Security at Home and Abroad

op31-Russia-in-SyriaRamped-up attacks in northwestern Syria by Damascus and its ally Russia have claimed the lives of hundreds since late April. Photo courtesy of AFP and the National

At home and abroad, Russia is using chaos to create spectacles of strength and security
Faisal Al Yafai
The National
July 30, 2019

In two incidents, in the space of one week, the Kremlin has twice sought confrontation where none was needed.

On Tuesday last week, Russia’s fighter jets violated South Korean airspace for several minutes, resulting in a major diplomatic incident as Korean jets fired more than 300 warning shots.

Then, over the weekend in Moscow, thousands of protesters gathered for the second week in a row, sparked by a crude and unnecessary attempt by the municipality to bar independent candidates from the city’s council elections.

Police responded forcefully to the protests, arresting thousands, including Russia’s most high-profile opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned before being taken to hospital for exposure to an unidentified chemical.

Both situations could have been avoided. Neither were accidents, either. The Kremlin is actively creating confrontations at home and abroad, hoping to find a role in solving the chaos it is sowing.

This was especially clear in the protests.

The spark for the demonstrations came from an unlikely source: a decision by the country’s electoral commission to not allow a series of independent opposition candidates to stand in September’s Moscow city elections. Independent registrations for the elections require several thousand signatures, a usually insurmountable obstacle. But, when two dozen opposition candidates managed it, the electoral commission simply refused to register them.

These elections, it should be noted, are not for the city’s mayoralty, an important position. Instead, they are for seats on the city council, a much smaller prize.

But, even on something that barely matters, the Kremlin is determined to show its power, and show it in a way that demonstrates overt and public contempt for the election process. It is that sense, that Russia’s government is willing to publicly violate the rules, which pushed so many to protest.

That desire to flex the country’s muscles was also on show last week.

In a murky incident, Russian planes flew without warning through airspace where Seoul requires foreign aircraft to provide air identification, and then further violated the country’s air space. South Korean jets tracked the military aircraft and a volley of warning shots were fired.

On the surface, it seems bizarre to provoke South Korea, a country with which Russia has maintained good relations. However, the East China Sea is heavily contested. It was only last month, after all, that Russian and US warships almost collided in the waters below where the incident took place.

Under Vladimir Putin’s two decades of leadership, the role of the Russian state has shrunk. Although he often harks back to the glory days of the Soviet Union, in fact, the Russian state today does substantially less for citizens than its predecessor. Most housing is owned by private companies and landlords.* The idea that the state would provide the “flat, car and dacha” of Soviet lore is long gone.

Instead, Mr. Putin offers security and spectacle. He creates an idea of a world in turmoil, which only his government is able to defend ordinary Russians from, and offers visible displays of the protection he provides.

The intervention in Syria amply demonstrates this. First, the necessity of intervention, of Russia’s forces fighting beyond their country’s borders to stop a threat to the homeland. Second, the spectacle of a train full of tanks and guns looted from the Syrian battlefield touring the length and breadth of Russia, often accompanied by Soviet war songs.

There is no room for subtlety, either. The train departed from Moscow on a military holiday and returned on May 8, Victory Day in Russia, which commemorates the end of the Soviet war against Nazi Germany.

Mr. Putin behaves similarly on a personal level. On the same day as the street protests in Moscow, he was filmed descending in a two-man submarine to the bottom of the Gulf of Finland. In doing so, he projected himself as a strongman politician, able to control the unstable forces of the world by pure brawn and daring.

The Putin state needs these spectacles and this chaos, whether on Russia’s streets or beyond them. They demonstrate to a watching world a Russia that is more than a regional power, one that is a global player, able to cause global incidents from Salisbury through Syria, and on to South Korea. They also demonstrate to the Russian public that only the state can keep them safe.

With a weakened economy, poor relations with the West, and a war in Syria that drags on without end, the Kremlin is setting up clashes to create a place for itself at home and abroad.

Yet there is a danger in manufacturing conflicts because they can easily escalate out of hand. Even small skirmishes have the potential to expand unpredictably.

There was, for example, no guarantee that the South Korean incident would have ended peacefully. One miscalculation by either side in the skies above the Korean Peninsula, and there could have been serious consequences.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Mr. Navalny has been taken ill and his doctors believe he could have been poisoned. What started as a minor attempt to exclude candidates from a meaningless election has escalated first into the biggest street protests the Russian capital had seen in years, and the world watching to see whether an opposition politician had been brazenly poisoned in custody.

That is the problem with chaos: once unleashed, it is difficult for anyone, even the Russian state, to bring under control.

* This is the only false note in an otherwise powerful, impeccable analysis. Given the extraordinarily high number of Russians who own their own flats and dachas, legacies of the post-perestroika giveaway privatization of the country’s housing stock and the late-Soviet period, respectively, it seems dubious to claim, as Mr. Yafai does here, that landlords and private companies own most of the housing in Russia. Maybe this would prove true if we looked carefully at ownership statistics, but I am nearly certain Mr. Yafai has not done that. // TRR

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UN reports 400,000 Syrians displaced since Idlib offensive started in April
Deutsche Welle
July 26, 2019

The UN says there has been a “dramatic escalation” in violence since Syrian forces started an operation to retake Idlib province. Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet regretted “international indifference.”

More than 400,000 people have been displaced in northwestern Syria since the start of a government offensive to retake the region in late April, the United Nations said Friday.

David Swanson from the UN’s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) said more than 2,700 people have died during the “dramatic escalation” in violence in Idlib province.

Russia has been helping government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad with airstrikes, despite an international truce.

UN reports persistent pattern against civilians

UN Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet criticized “international indifference” at the number of civilians dying in attacks on schools, hospitals, and other civilian targets.

“These are civilian objects, and it seems highly unlikely, given the persistent pattern of such attacks, that they are all being hit by accident,” she said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had registered 39 attacks on health facilities and at least 50 attacks on schools. More than 740 civilians have been killed in those strikes, it added.

Intentional attacks are war crimes

“Intentional attacks against civilians are war crimes, and those who have ordered them or carried them out are criminally responsible for their actions,” Bachelet said.

Forces loyal to Assad have retaken around two-thirds of Syria’s territory.

The country’s civil war has claimed the lives of more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011.

The Damage

ovd-damage

As of 5:00 a.m., today, July 28, 2019, OVD Info reported that 1,373 people were detained at yesterday’s protest rally in Moscow in support of the independent candidates whose applications to stand in the September 8 elections to the Moscow City Duma were recently rejected on spurious grounds by the Moscow City Elections Commission, sparking a series of protest rallies and marches, including yesterday’s “unauthorized” rally.

Police violently dispersed yesterday’s protesters. Baza reported that 77 people were badly beaten, while OVD Info compiled a list of 25 people who were badly beaten.

At least 10 journalists were subjected to the use of force by the police, while at least 18 journalists were detained along with protesters.

There were at 42 minors among yesterday’s detainees.

At least 152 detainees were kept in holding at police stations overnight.

The detainees were taken to at least 70 different police precincts for processing.

The detainees were not given water or food. They were not allowed to take medicine with them if they were locked up. They were forcibly fingerprinted. They were not given access to lawyers and social defenders. They were kept in paddy wagons for a long time before being taken into precinct stations: the temperature in one paddy wagon was 40 degrees Celsius.

Source: OVD Info. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up.

 

938

ovd info-938

According to OVD Info, as of 9:00 p.m. Moscow Time today, July 27, 2019, 938 people had been detained in Moscow for taking part in an “unauthorized” grassroots protest against the disqualification of independent candidates who had registered to stand in the September 8, 2019, election to the Moscow City Duma.

Opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who called for this protest at last week’s “authorized” rally, which drew over 22,000 people, was arrested and sentenced to thirty days in jail earlier in the week. Several of the disqualified candidates and people associated with the opposition had their homes searched by police this past week as well. Several of them were also summoned for questioning to the Moscow office of the Russian Investigative Committee, which announced it had launched a criminal investigation of the opposition protests under Article 141 of the Russian Criminal Code, which criminalizes the “obstruction of voting rights or the work of electoral commissions.”