Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist

rudomakhaAndrei Rudomakha. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page and the Moscow Times

On the Watch: The Story of Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist
Vladimir Prikhodko and Angelina Davydova
Proekt
October 2, 2019

Protests against waste landfills, the clearcutting of parks, and illegally enclosed forests—the environment has been a frequent topic of regional protests in Russia. Persecution by the authorities, criminal cases, beatings, and even murders are everyday risks for environmental activists. Proekt tells the story of the persecution of the head of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EcoWatch), which has been going on for almost forty years.

They go to bed late in the private house on Kerchenskaya Street in Krasnodar. The place resembles a commune. This is the home and office of Andrei Rudomakha and Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus aka EcoWatch, perhaps the most famous grassroots environmental organization in Russia. Rudomakha has led EcoWatch for fifteen years.

At 5:55 a.m. on July 30, everyone was asleep. At that moment, Investigative Committee investigator Sergei Kalashnikov and an unidentified FSB officer in a mask rang the doorbell. Not waiting for the homeowner to open the door, they ordered Emergencies Ministry officers to break down the gate. Within a couple of minutes, officers in masks had flooded the house, and two masked men with automatic rifles had thrown Rudomakha to the floor. When Rudomakha attempted to get up, the officer holding the activist pepper-sprayed him in the face.

Enemies of the State
This was the fifth search at EcoWatch in less than three years, and the second in the last four months.

“That morning, I was supposed to go to court in Maykop to face charges that we allegedly broke the law on ‘undesirable organizations’ by linking to Open Russia’s website on our sites and social media pages. My trip was canceled because of the search, and no one from our group was at the court hearing. Naturally, we lost the case,” says Rudomakha, meeting with our correspondent at the selfsame commune-like house.

EcoWatch was the first nonprofit organization in Russia to be found guilty of collaborating with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia.

In recent years, the number of environmental protests in various regions of Russia has certainly grown—from campaigns against waste landfills in parts of European Russia to protests against coal dust in the port of Nakhodka, in the country’s Far East, says Svyatoslav Zabelin, coordinator for the International Socio-Ecological Union. The most turbulent environmental protests of the past summer were in the village of Shiyes in Arkhangelsk Region, where the authorities wanted to transport garbage from Moscow. It was in the village of Loginovskaya in Arkhangelsk Region where Rudomakha was born fifty-five years ago.

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A 2018 protest rally in Severodvinsk against the Shiyes landfill. Source: activatica.org

“My father was a descendant of Kuban Cossacks. My mother is from Perm. That is where my parents met when they were at university. After their studies, they were assigned to work in the taiga in Arkhangelsk Region, on one of the local farms. Shortly after, we all moved to my father’s native land, the Taman Peninsula. I was still a very young child when my parents divorced. My mother raised me on her own. She worked for more than forty years in the village of Oktyabrsky in the Seversky District, where we relocated. The test fields of the Tobacco, Shag, and Tobacco Products Research Institute were located there.”

At the age of sixteen, Andrei set out for Cuba. He went to Moscow, supposedly to matriculate at the university, and along the way, he hopped a freight train in order to leave the Soviet Union—but he was found by frontier guards at the Romanian border.

“During the interrogation, the KGB guys thought long and hard about what to do with me,” Rudomakha says with a laugh. “After all, I had said to them, ‘Send me to Cuba, to a school for revolutionaries.’ The KGB officers reacted to this with their peculiar sense of humor and sent me to the Kishinev Mental Hospital. I was retrieved from there by my mother. From that point on I’ve never been out of the sight [of the authorities].”

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Andrei Rudomakha and his mother

This was how the secret services, rebellion, and forests came into Rudomakha’s life.

“A military coup occurred in Chile in 1973. All of the news contrasted sharply with the reality in which I lived. Oktyabrsky was a very boring place. Books were my salvation. And the forest. I rather quickly got keen on hikes in the woods. Che Guevara was my idol and hero.”

Rudomakha studied Spanish and Greek, began playing guitar and formed a band. He calls his mid-1980s self a “rocker.” In 1987, immediately after his army service, Andrei was offered a job at the Krasnodar House of Young Pioneers, in the Candle Amateur Song Club.

The Rocker
Peaceful and troubled
Troubled and easy
What infuses the air
In the meadows around Pseushkho?

These are lines from a poem by the bard poet Vladimir “Berg” Lantzberg. In the 1980s, he was living in Tuapse, putting together amateur song festivals and establishing the first communes. It was then that Rudomakha first encountered the communard scene, whose principles he would later adopt. The Pseushkho of which Lantzberg sang is a mountain with an Adyghe name in Krasnodar Territory’s Tuapse District. In 2019, Rudomakha would protest against the construction of a limestone quarry there.

In the 1980s, however, the Kuban was fighting another construction project. A nuclear power plant was slated to be built in the Energetiki district of the village of Mostovskaya. In its waning years, the Soviet Union had planned to build dozens of such plants, from Crimea to the Ural Mountains.

rud-4Several Soviet nuclear plants whose construction was begun in the late 1970s and early 80s were not completed. After the breakup of the USSR, one of those stations, Krymskaya, came in handy anyway—not, however, for the nuclear energy industry, but for purveyors of electronic music: it became the venue for the Republic of KaZantip festival of electronic dance music.

“Back in the early 80s, the mammoth construction of a power plant similar to Chernobyl began. In 1988, I was one of the people behind a protest rally. We organized it near Goryachy Klyuch on Lysaya Gora.  I remember how we went underground and hid from the KGB. It was then that I first crossed paths with the Nature Conservation Brigades (DOPs), which had been organized at the universities,” recounts Rudomakha.

During perestroika, university students were often certified as conservation, fishing, and hunting inspectors; these groups were then dispatched into the forests to arrest poachers. Later, alumni of the DOPs would become the backbone of the Russian branches of the WWF and Greenpeace.

Like nearly all the nuclear power plants whose construction kicked off at the turn of the 70s and 80s, construction at the Krasnodar plant was soon frozen. But Rudomakha’s career as a music teacher also came to a screeching halt: KGB officers showed up at the Young Pioneers House, and Rudomakha lost his job. His employment at the Candle Club would be the only entry in his official work record book.

The Communard
Over the last nine years, four criminal cases have been brought against Rudomakha, and seven police searches conducted. He has been jailed on misdemeanor convictions more than fifty times. In the end, EcoWatch was even declared a “foreign agent,” although the decision was reconsidered last year.

In recent years, the growing physical and legal pressure on environmental activists has been as big a trend as the increase in the number of environmental protest rallies. Among the main methods of pressure are forcible dispersal of protests by police, pressure on activists at work, threats to relatives, court cases, straightforward violence, and even murder. In March 2019, environmental activist Denis Shtroo was murdered in Kaluga while participating in, among other things, a campaign against the building of a waste landfill near the village of Mikhali.

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Intimidation of Russian Environmental Activists in the First Five Months of 2019
According to information from the Russian Socio-Ecological Union

rud-5Denis Shtroo

activist murdered. In March 2019, environmentalist Denis Shtroo died of stab wounds in Kaluga. He was involved in a campaign against the construction of a waste landfill in the village of Mikhali.

5 cases of criminal prosecution.

7 attacks on activists, attacks on dwellings, property damage, and police searches.

110 cases of administrative prosecution. The total in fines has amounted to more than a million rubles [approx. 12,000 euros].

In 2019, cases of intimidation against environmentalists were most often recorded in Shiyes, Arkhangelsk Region, where illegal construction of a landfill for Moscow’s solid household waste is underway; in Yekaterinburg, where activists were defending the city’s green spaces; and, as in years past, against activists from Stop GOK, in Chelyabinsk, and EcoWatch.

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When the New Russia of the early 90s dawned, Rudomakha was in the woods.

“I decided to build a commune at Kisha Station in the Caucasus Nature Reserve. It is a secluded place in Adygea’s Maykop District. Later, our base moved to Ust-Sakhray. In 1988, for a ridiculously small amount of money (the cost of a Zaporozhets car), we bought a house there. It was an area of abandoned villages that people were trying to leave, but we were doing the opposite. I lived in Ust-Sakhray until 1995. I won’t mention the names of the comrades with whom I started out. Many have their own lives and families now,” he says.

Andrei has his own way of viewing everyday life. Remembering those days, he says with regret that the communes fell apart because people started romantic relationships and left.

“We had a lot of ideas: we wanted to transform all of Sakhray and build a public school. My first daughter was born there, and my wife left — she preferred me to another. All of our ideas were shattered by the internal conflicts and disagreements that arose among the settlers. And, basically, I regret that we sat out perestroika in the mountains. It would have been better, of course, in the city,” he says.

The New Russia brought big money to the Kuban. With its sea, mountains, forests, and springs, the southern region attracted businessmen and politicians from Moscow. Some businessmen began to cut down wood on the unique Bolshoi Thach Mountain and haul it out with helicopters.

“And I came out of the woods. The times had drastically changed, as it turned out. Grassroots organizations were on the upswing,” Rudomakha says.

Soon Rudomakha would turn up in Maykop, where he lived in a small house at a weather station run by Vladimir Karatayev, leader of the Union of the Slavs of Adygea. There a branch of the Socio-Environmental Union would be opened, the first environmental organization founded by Rudomakha.

rud-6Rudomakha examines a forest clearcutting in the Caucasus Nature Reserve

“With money from western foundations, we bought a computer and a modem—and things took off. We organized protest rallies, spiked tree trunks, and stopped clearcutting. And, as a result, Bolshoi Thach was made part of the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Rudomakha explains.

Pandora’s Box
The planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s cult science fiction novella The Word for World Is Forest is called Athshe. This planet would become the prototype for Pandora in the movie Avatar, and would also give its name to Rudomakha’s 1990s commune, from which EcoWatch arose. Le Guin grew up in leftist Berkeley and was interested in anarchism and environmental movements. In her novella, the kind forest inhabitants, called “creechies” by earthlings, defend their planet from the “yumens.” Athshe Commune was also focused on environmental protests. Commune members took names from the novella’s characters.

Today, activists would be jailed for many of the protest actions carried out then. Rudomakha’s commune took part in many of them alongside the Federal Anarchists of Kuban (FAK) and radical environmentalists from the Keepers of the Rainbow.

“We were always blocking or blockading something,” Rudomakha recalls. “There were tragedies, too. In 1997, we locked ourselves together with metal chains and blocked the road to Sochi. A crazy trucker drove at us, who knows why, and Anya Koshikovaya’s hand was torn off. In the late 90s, this sort of thing brought palpable results. We seriously considered the idea of creating a guerrilla environmental army, to waste everyone. The forests here are wonderful—one could be guerrillas endlessly. Theoretically, if the necessary contingent of people were found, all this would be quite feasible. To do that you would need to break with your usual life and go rogue. Basically, I’ve been ready for that since childhood. If I could find five people just as mad as me!”

rud-7An environmental protest involving Rudomakha, 1990s

In the finale of Le Guin’s novella, the creechies surround and kill almost all the earthlings. They are especially keen to hunt down the women to prevent new generations of humans from taking over their forests.

Palace Coup
“Sanya [i.e., Alexander] is a thief”: in November 2011, Rudomakha’s comrades in arms spray-painted this graffiti, among others, on the fence of a luxurious estate on the Black Sea shore in Blue Bay, not far from Tuapse. The estate was officially called the Agrocomplex JSC Recreation Center, and it was owned by the family of Alexander Tkachov, former Krasnodar Territory governor and former Russian federal agriculture minister. For all of 2011, enviro-activists battled against this dacha, on whose premises rare trees were presumably being clearcut and access to the sea was illegally fenced. A protest action in November, during which one section of the fence fell, was the last for many activists. Agrocomplex soon filed criminal charges for property damage. Rudomakha’s comrade in arms Suren Gazaryan left the country after receiving political asylum in Estonia. (He now lives in Germany.) Yevgeny Vitishko, another EcoWatchman, was given a three-year suspended sentence, with two years of probation; in December 2013, the suspended sentence was replaced with a real one, and Vitishko served more than a year in a work-release penal colony near Tambov. Amnesty International recognized the activist as a prisoner of conscience.

rud-8“Sanya is a thief”: graffiti on the illegally erected fence in Blue Bay

“The constitution is in a noose, Vitishko is in prison,” Pussy Riot sang at the time. And, in fact, environmental protests against palaces owned by high-ranking officials and the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics were perhaps the main public issue in southern Russia in the early 2010s.

EcoWatch had taken on palaces practically from its official founding in 2004. There was good reason to work on the issue—the Kuban had become a favorite spot for both officials and businessmen.

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rud-9Putin’s palace on Cape Idokopas. Source: navalny.com

The Kuban—Homeland of Palaces: Vladimir Putin’s Palace

In 2010, businessman Sergei Kolesnikov told the world about the construction of a luxurious palace for the Russian president. The site was located in the Kuban, not far from Praskoveyevka on Cape Idokopas. In 2006, the land plot was transferred from the Russian Federation to the Tuapse Vacation House of the Office of Presidential Affairs, and then to the Indokopas Company in 2010.

According to EcoWatch, during construction of the residence and the roads leading up to it, more than forty-five hectares of forest were clearcut; among them, parcels harboring the threatened Pitsunda Pine (Pinus pityusa) were destroyed. According to the calculations of EcoWatch and Greenpeace, the damage from illegal clearcutting came to more than 2.7 billion rubles. Inquiries to the authorities from EcoWatch about the illegal cutting on the palace territory went unanswered.

[Note: the original article in Russian also has short briefs on the Kuban “dachas” of Dmitry Medvedev, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Alexander Tkachov, Alexander Remezkov, Patriarch Kirill, and Anatoly Serdyukov. — TRR]

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“Lots of federal officials have dachas on the coast. And basically, we don’t care who owns them. We’d like for those people not to behave like swine. It doesn’t matter whose they are,” says Rudomakha.

The first and perhaps most well-known victory was scored in 2009 when the Watchmen halted construction of a proposed dacha for Dmitri Medvedev in the tiny town of Utrish.

The campaign against environmental violations in the runup to the Olympics brought Rudomakha and EcoWatch international fame: foreign journalists flocked to them in droves. Rudomakha is now certain that the series of refusals by European cities to bid to host the Olympic games (for example, when residents of Munich voted no in a referendum on the city’s bidding for the 2022 Olympics) came about precisely because “we succeeded in creating an image of the Sochi Olympics as the most anti-environmental, expensive, and absurd in the entire history of the Olympic movement.”

“It was then that the authorities started to vigorously persecute us,” Rudomakha says about the time. “I understood that serious ‘winds of change’ had begun to blow. They no longer tried to sit down at the negotiating table with us, and cops chased us around the woods. It was kind of funny.”

The Autocrat
“Andrei’s authoritarianism has always been my number one problem,” Yevgeny Vitishko now recounts. In 2016, he and another well-known EcoWatch alumnus, Suren Gazaryan, left the organization.

“From the outside, the Watch looked quite democratic, but in fact everything revolved around one person. His leadership style can be described in sociological terms as narcissistic,” says Gazaryan.

Vitishko and Rudomakha have since reconciled. However, for many, the head of EcoWatch remains a fanatic with autocratic manners.

For several years, local and even national media have been publishing stories about Rudomakha hinting that he is guilty of everything from pedophilia to cooperating secretly with officials. Rudomakha calls the reports nonsense, saying that the regional government is behind them.

rud-9“Gazprom is a murderer” / “Stop Blue Stream”: Kuban environmentalists protesting against Gazprom 

Rudomakha does not separate the personal from his work life: he admits that his activism has not affected his family’s fortunes in the best of ways. The first floor of the rented house on Kerchenskaya is used as an office, while the second floor is home to Rudomakha and his second daughter, who, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, enrolled in university in Krasnodar and moved in with her father. Rudomakha had once hoped that his daughter would also become an environmentalist, but now he has lost that hope.

“I am quite pessimistic when I assess the evolution of Russia’s environmental movement,” says Rudomakha. “The population is very inert and severely intimidated, and the level of passionarity among people is at a minimum. People rise up, for the most part, only when they are personally affected. If there were organizations like ours in every region, it would be possible to change the situation in this arena and in the country as a whole. After all, a large number of such organizations would naturally make it necessary for them to unite.”

“I haven’t seen an influx of new people into EcoWatch,” notes Rudomakha’s former colleague Gazaryan. “Andrei’s lifestyle and views are on the fringe, and his office is also his residence. It’s hard to work in this environment. And there is no [broad environmental] movement in Russia. There are separate organizations and local groups, but they have no coordination or goals. They are not represented on the political level, and fall apart after a problem is solved,” Gazaryan says, but after thinking about it, he adds that he could be mistaken. “I haven’t lived in Russia for a long time.”

* * *

Late in the evening of December 28, 2017, Rudomakha, his colleague Viktor Chirikov, and journalist Vera Kholodnaya had just arrived at the commune house on Kerchenskaya. Rudomakha had just exited the car when three men ran up to him. Dousing him in the eyes with pepper spray, they knocked him down to the ground and kicked him repeatedly. He lost consciousness. Chirikov was beaten less, and Kholodnaya was only “blinded” by the pepper spray. After that, the attackers took several cameras and a GPS navigator from the car. The entire incident lasted no more than two minutes.

Doctors diagnosed Rudomakha with broken bones in his face and nose, a concussion, and pneumocephalus—the leakage of air into his cranial cavity. He spent three weeks in the hospital.

An investigation into the attack yielded no results. But the enviro-activists have their own theory. They had returned that day from a trip to the area around the village Krinitsa, a small resort in Gelendzhik. There, in the forest, construction had begun on a site resembling a wine-making chateau—such was EcoWatch’s assessment. A prefabricated chapel had also been erected there by order of Axis Investment JSC.  The owner of this firm is Alexei Toth, a business partner of Nikolai Yegorov, who is a well-known Petersburg lawyer and a personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

Translated by Mary Rees. Except where noted, all photos courtesy of Proekt.

Valery Brinikh: The News from Adygea

 

07_brinikh
Valery Brinikh

Valery Brinikh
Facebook
September 9, 2017

Hello!

I wrote a report on this Sunday’s elections. Don’t be lazy and read it to the end. You’ll learn a lot of new things.

Who Elects the Head of Adygea: A Political Portrait of the Republic’s Parliament

As you know, on Sunday, September 10, the State Council of the Republic of Adygea (in Adyghe, the Khase) will elect a new head for the republic. There are three candidates, but the outcome is predetermined. Who would doubt it? Correct me if I’m mistaken, but in the history of modern Russia this was probably the first instance when the outgoing head of a Russian region brought his own kinsman to Moscow so that Putin could view the bride, i.e. his chosen successor. Nor, we must note, were he and his kinsman immediately shown the door. This was probably taken by the petitioners from Adygea as a favorable sign.

Everything kicked off when, in March of last year, as it was about to give up the ghost, the members of the Adgyean parliament’s fifth convocation nearly unanimously voted (fifty yeas, four nays) to abolish direct, popular elections of the republic’s head, adopting a special law and making the relevant amendments to the Adygean Constitution. Having denied Adygeans the right to vote directly for head of the region, the “people’s” elected representatives formally explained their decision as a means of making the electoral process less expensive. However, no one abolished another law, a law of everyday life: cheaper doesn’t mean better.

So elections to the sixth convocation of the Adygean Khase, in 2016, took place with the understanding that it would be the new parliament, not the people, that would be picking the republic’s new head. So, the requirements for sifting out the winners were tougher than usuaul. It was boom or bust, literally, all or nothing. The powers that be backstopped its chosen candidates to the hilt, and the elections took place in a stifling climate of lawlessness, generated by the acting executive branch and the local office of the United Russia party. Functionaries of the Rodina (Motherland) party did everything they could to force the Adygean Central Elections Commission to remove the opposition party’s entire regional list of candidates from the ballot, although the party had a good chance of taking several seats in parliament. The billboards, posters, and flyers of all candidates and parties except United Russia and LDPR were destroyed hours, if not minutes, after they were posted. The vote tallies at the polling stations were skewed, and the votes received by candidates and parties that are not part of the so-called parliamentary grouping (United Russia, CPRF, A Just Russia, and LDPR) were totally nullified. The latter parties divvied up their shares of the vote totals in keeping with quotas that had been agreed in advance in Moscow. So, the current Adygean Khase consists of 38 MPs from United Russia, four MPS each from the CPRF and LDPR, and two MPs from A Just Russia. Two more MPs have to be elected in by-elections on September 10. There is no doubt that one of the two will be a United Russia member. Thus, MPs from United Russia make up 80% of the republic’s parliament, while the CPRF and LDPR have 8% of MPs each, and A Just Russia has 4% of MPs. Now let’s compare these proportion with the spread of MP mandates in the Russian State Duma. United Russia’s MPs occupy 76% of the seats; the CPRF, 9.5%; the LDPR, 8.7%; and A Just Russia, 5.8%. The Duma also has two MPs who are not members of these parties. One of them is a member of the Rodina party, the party that was successfully sent packing in Adygea. The outcomes are quite similiar, don’t you think? It’s as if the same templates had been used.

The lineup of MPs running in the 2017 elections has been thoroughly purged. Anyone who provoked the slightest doubts has been removed from the lists. Only five people who have been MPs for more than three convocations are left, and only nine MPS from the last three convocations are still in the running. Two of them are from the CPRF’s faction (Adam Bogus and Yevgeny Salov), while the rest are from United Russia. The other thirty-four MPs (out of a total of forty-eight) were elected during Aslan Tkhakushinov’s last two terms as head of the republic [he resigned in January 2017, after ten years in office], under the watchful eye of his team. In fact, they are part of his team.

Clearly, they express not the will of the people, but the will of their true masters, the men who got them elected. Thus, the clearly unelectable United Russian candidates Sergei Belokrys (District No. 16) and Rustam Kalashov (District No. 21) got the cherished mandates. During their party’s so-called primaries [the English word is used in Russian], they both took an honorable third place in their districts with 7% and 27% of the vote, respectively. Even more unelectable pawns were kinged after winning spots on United Russia’s party list.

They hardly all have the right to be called people’s representatives, if only because not all the MPs in the Khase’s sixth convocation were elected by the people on the new single voting day. Thus, seven of the winning candidates from United Russia list soon resigned for different reasons, and their mandates were automatically handed over to five new MPs from the party list (Yuri Gorokhov, Yevgenia Dyachkova, Zurab Zekhov, Azamat Mamkhegov, and Murat Shkhalakov). Two more MPs will be selected on September in single-mandate constituencies. LDPR’s list of of winners included party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the party’s regional leader Denis Ogiyenko, neither of whom took their seats in the Adygean parliament. Why Zhirinovsky did this is clear enough, but Ogiyenko works as an aide to an MP in the State Duma, where everything is grown-up and they feed you caviar sandwiches. The two LDPR leaders were replaced as Khase MPs by Valentina Chugunova and Tembot Shovgenov, thus technically bypassing the will of voters.

It is interesting to compare how much the majoritarian MP mandates in the republic’s urban districts and rural districts are worth in terms of votes cast by voters. Thus, Maykop, the capital city, is divided into nine electoral districts, inhabited by a total of 132,890 voters. One majoritarian mandate is thus worth, on average, 14,776 potential votes.  The Maykop Municipal District [not to be confused with Maykop per se] has three electoral districts and 46,111 voters, so an MP’s mandate is worth slightly more there: 15,370 votes. The Teuchezh District has only one majoritarian mandate, worth 13,549 votes. The Takhtamukay District is home to 51,840 votes, and so its four majoritarian mandates are worth an average of 12,960 votes. In the Giaginskaya District, the mandates are worth a bit less (12,563 votes on average), while in the neighboring Shovgenovsky District, it is worth 12,482 votes. Adygeysk’s single majoritarian mandate is worth 12,029 votes, while the Koshekhabl District’s two mandates are worth 11,407 votes apiece. The Krasnogvardeyskoye District has the “cheapest” mandates: two at 11,013 votes apiece. But strangers do not roam the homeland of the sweet couple of Aslan Tkhakushinov and Murat Kumpilov [Adygea’s acting head and Tkhakushinov’s chosen successor]. They elect only their own people and only on the advice of their superiors.

It was not entirely accurate to distribute MP mandates generally (whether from majoritarian single-mandate constituencies or party lists) in terms of the number of voters in the districts. The largest number of voters lives in Maykop (39% of all voters in Adygea), and its goes down from there. The Takhtamukay District has 15% of voters; the Maykop District, 13.6%; the Giaginskaya District, 7.4%; the Koshekhabl District, 7%; the Krasnogvardeyskoye District, 6.5%; the Teuchezh District, 4%; the Shovgenovsky District, 3.7%, and the town of Adygeysk, 3.5%. Meanwhile, the MPs from Maykop have only 30% of the mandates in the Khase; Takhtamukay District, 20%; Maykop District, 14%; Giaginskaya District, 6%; Koshekhabl District, 10%; Krasnogvardeyskoye District, 8%; Teuchezh District, 6%; Shovgenovsky District, 4%; and the town of Adygeysk, 2%.  The imbalance is obvious.

The sixth convocation of the Adygean Khase has only eight MPs (16.7% of the total number) employed in the state sector. Six MPs (12.5%) are party officials. The remaining MPs (over 70%) run businesses in different sectors of the economy. The largest number of them (21 MPs out of a total of 48) earn their money in construction, commerce (including wholesale commerce), and services. Four MPs (8.3%) get their income from agriculture. Three MPs (6.3%) work in banking and investing, while two MPs each (4.2% each) are involved, respectively, in the hotel and tourism business, logging and extractive industries, and industrial manufacturing. Yet the CRPF and A Just Russia factions are dominated by party officials (four out of six), while members of United Russia have a clear advantage in all other lines of work.

The sixth convocation of the Khase includes two high-profile businessmen with criminal pasts (according to the media): United Russia member Gissa Baste (aka Voloskevich) and non-partisan MP Adam Bogus (aka Mazai), who blocks with the CRPF faction. Several well-known businessmen from United Russia have close ties with different dubious firms and people with criminal pasts. In particular, nine deputies (six from United Russia, two from the LDPR, and one from the CPRF) are involved in the construction business in the Takhtamukay District, run by Azmet Skhalyakho aka the Foreman. According to the media, he earned the nickname not on the fields of his native Takhtumukay District, but by shaking down market traders in Krasnodar during the “wild” 1990s. The notorious prosecutor Murat Tkhakushinov, son of ex-republic head Aslan Tkhakushinov, worked in the same district until recently. The Takhtamukay District’s proximity to Krasnodar, the much lower prices for land in the district than in Krasnodar, and the total control over the black market for land plots by criminal gangs, who have fused with Adygea’s government agencies, have made the construction business in the district quite profitable. Especially if you are not bothered by the legality of particular transactions, do not waste money on pollution treatment facilities, and pay no mind to the quite costly environnmental requirements.

Questions also arise when you take a closer look at the life and times of Vladimir Narozhny, head of the United Russia faction and chair of the republic’s parliament. There are strange blanks in his CV from 1981 to 1991, which for some reason he does not particularly advertise. Judging by occasional references, he ran various agricultural businesses during this period. Currently, he is associated with a number of firms, also involved in agrobusiness, in Adygea and Krasnodar Territory. They have different names and legal addresses, and yet they have the very same Primary State Registration Number and Taxpayer Identification Number. Obsessive thoughts of criminal money laundering schemes come to mind, but I have probably read too many detective novels.

As a final touch to my sketch of the current Adygean Khase, I want to focus on yet another imbalance, which testifies to a deeply embedded problem, if not a chronic disease, that affects the regional authorities in Adygea. I have in mind the distortions in personnel policy that favor the so-called titular ethnic group, the Adyghe. This phenomenon, which I would dub the Adyghization of power in the republic, was especially rampant during Aslan Tkhakushinov’s second term and has kept evolving in the present. I would not argue it has anything to do with ethnic conflicts between two great peoples, the Russians and the Adyghe, but has been caused only by attempts by specific members of the so-called Ulyap clan, who have ruled the republic for the last ten years, to ensure they will stay in power for the indefinite future. This is done both by depriving the Adygean populace of the right to elect the republic’s leaders and local government officials in direct elections, and through a deliberate personnel policy of giving preference to members of the titular ethnic group when filling vacancies in state and municipal agencies—if possible, to members of one’s own clan and numerous kinsmen. This cup has also touched the republic’s legislative branch. Whereas the republic’s population consists of approximately 63% Slavs, 25% Adyghe, 3.5% Armenians, and 8.5% other ethnic groups, the Khase is dominated by members of the titular ethnic group, who hold 28 seats (or 58.33%), while the Slavs are represented by 19 MPs (or 39.58% of seats). There is also one Armenian MP in the parliament, and no one else. I do not insist on introducing ethnic quotas. (God forbid, we have already been through such attempts at achieving parity.) I merely want to draw attention to this obviously non-random outcome as the inevitable side effect of dishonest elections.

Valery Brinikh, Chair of the Adygean Regional Branch of the Greens Russian Ecological Party, September 8, 2017

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Bellona

“Extremism” Case against Adygean Environmentalist Valery Brinikh Dropped

Defense lawyer Andrei Sabinin (left) and environmentalist Valery Brinikh. Photo courtesy of Agora

Adygean Court Drops “Extremism” Case against Environmentalist Valery Brinikh 
Agora
August 7, 2017

Maykop City Court today dropped the “extremism” criminal case against well-known local environmentalist Valery Brinikh, director of the Institute for Regional Biological Research. Brinikh was on trial for, allegedly, having insulted the dignity of the Adgyean people by writing and publishing an article entitled “The Silence of the Lambs.” The court dropped the case for want of criminal culpability.

He was explained his right to exoneration. This news from courtroom was reported by Alexander Popkov, an attorney with the Agora International Human Rights Group, who represented Brinikh along with attorney Andrei Sabinin.

“Today in court, the state prosecutor filed a motion to drop the charges of incitement of hatred against Brinikkh and drop the criminal case for want of criminal culpability in his actions,” said Popkov. “The judge retired to chambers before he announced the decision to terminate the criminal case. The ultimate argument in favor of this decision was a forensic examination carried out by the FSB Criminalistics Institute, which found no traces of “extremism” in the environmentalist’s article. A total of four expert opinions and three forensic examinations had been ordered in the case, and only one of them supported the charges. The case lasted almost three years.

According to police investigators, in the fall of 2014, Valery Brinikh, director of the Institute for Regional Biological Research, and ex-director of the Caucasus Nature Reserve (1999-2001) и the Daur Nature Reserve (1993-1999), had produced “extremist” matter, an original article entitled “The Silence of the Lambs.” The article dealt with the environmental mental problems caused by one company’s hog-breeding facility in Adygea’s Teuchezhsk District. The company was founded by Vyacheslav Derev, representative of Karachay-Cherkessia in the Federation Council.

Vyacheslav Derev. Photo courtesy of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly

The investigators claimed that Brinikh subsequently conveyed this matter to unidentified persons for dissemination on the internet. The environmentalist’s article was published on a local website. The defense did not agree with the prosecution’s argument, saying it was absurd, a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

On December 14, 2014, Maykop City Court ruled the article “The Silence of the Lambs” “extremist” matter. In March 2015, the Adygea Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision.

ADV-TV, published on YouTube on August 7, 2017. On August 7, 2017, Maykop City Court dropped the “extremism” criminal case against well-known local environmentalist Valery Brinikh, director of the Institute for Regional Biological Research. Brinikh was on trial for, allegedly, having insulted the dignity of the Adgyean people by writing and publishing an article entitled “The Silence of the Lambs. The court dropped the case for want of criminal culpability. Brinikh was defended in court by attorney Andrei Sabinin and attorney Alexander Popkov, with the Agora International Human Rights Group.

*  * * * * *

Valery Brinikh poses for a photograph outside the Maykop City Court. Courtesy of Valery Brinikh

Court Refuses to Rule Biologist “Extremist”for Criticizing Hog Breeders
Although Article Containing the Criticisms Remains on List of “Extremist” Matter
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
August 8, 2017

On Monday, Maykop City Court terminated the “extremist” criminal case (Russian Criminal Code Article 282) against Valery Brinikh, director of the Institute for Regional Biological Research. He was on trial for the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” about the environmental damaged caused by the Kievo-Zhuraki Agro-Industrial Complex. The news was reported Alexander Popkov, an attorney with the Agora International Human Rights Group, one of Brinikh’s defense attorneys.

The charges had been filed in December 2014. According to police investigators, the article contained a negative assessment of ethnic Adyghes. Ultimately, however, the prosecutor’s officer dropped the charges. The decisive argument was a forensic examination, conducted by the FSB Criminalistics Institute, which found no evidence of “extremism.” The article contains criticism of the republic’s authorities, “but criticism of persons engaged in political activity is the norm in a civic, democratic society,” the report concludes.

Investigators cited the conclusions of Sergei Fedyayev, an analyst at the Interior Ministry’s Criminalistics Center for Krasnodar Territory. Fedyayev argued that the negative connotations of the word “sheep” extended to the word “lamb,” as used in the article. On the basis of the report written by this same analyst and at the request of the republic’s prosecutor’s office, in December 2014, the Maykop City Court ruled that Brinikh’s article was “extremist” matter. Thus, Brinikh has been cleared of “extremist” charges, but his articles is still listed in the database of extremist matter.

Popkov argues that the ruling is a precedent. He cannot remember similar cases. Theoretically, one of the parties could petition the court to exclude the article from the list of extremist matter, but his client has not yet decided whether he will pursue this. The Adygea Prosecutor’s Office did not respond promptly to our request for a reaction to the ruling.

From a legal point of view, the case is not absurd, argues a source in law enforcement. The author of a text considered “extremist” may not be an “extremist” himself. In this case, the decisive role is played by the intent in his actions to incite hatred. It might well transpire that the individual had no sinister intent whatsoever, but after the text he authored has been published, it lives its own life.

Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Center, knows of cases when matter has been excluded from the official list of “extremist” matter, but not due to the acquittal of suspected “extremists.” That happens all to rarely. However, the case in Maykop is a good illustration of the poor quality of such judicial rulings, he notes. In approximately half of cases, matter is ruled extremist using a simplified procedure. Authors are usually not involved in the case, and so no dispute as such arises. Recently, the Prosecutor General’s Office tightened the procedure for applying to the courts with such requests. Now they can be made only by regional prosecutors and only after they have vetted the request with the Prosecutor General’s Office. Verkhovsky acknowledges that such measures have indeed worked, but they have not solved the problem of rubber-stamp court decisions on “extremist” matter, he argues.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AK and Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up. See all my previous postings on the Brinikh case.

Valery Brinikh: The District Council Has Left for the Front

"The district committee is closed. Everyone has gone to the front." Image courtesy of Valery Brinikh
“The district committee is closed. Everyone has left for the front.” Image courtesy of Valery Brinikh

Valery Brinikh
Facebook
July 5, 2016

Hello!

Yesterday, the latest hearing in my court case took place. It began at 2:15 p.m.

First, Judge Vitaly Galagan read out the findings of the forensic handwriting analysis of signatures made, allegedly, by Mugdin Guchetl, a prosecution witness from the village of Gabukay, who testified at the hearing before last that he had not signed the written record of the testimony he gave to the police investigator. Instead, at the investigator’s request, he had signed blank sheets of paper in the right places. As expected, the signatures were deemed authentic, although there had been the possibility the investigator had forged not only the interrogation records but also the signatures of witnesses.

The judge then returned to my deferred motion to rule the Teuchezhsky District Council an illegitimate injured party. We had requested the prosecution present written grounds for its legal position, as the prosecutors had objected to granting my motion, arguing that the Teuchezhsky District Council was a legitimate injured party.

The prosecution outdid itself, submitting in writing not only its own objections to granting the motion but also those of the so-called injured party. Surprisingly, the arguments made by district council head Khachmamuk and state prosecutors Shvetsov and Orlova were identical down to the details. Someone probably guided their hands from on high as they scribbled away. But, as the saying goes, paper cannot blush.

The point of their objections was so simple and straightforward that it was completely untethered from the case, leading the reader off into the boundless expanses of the fight against terrorism and extremism.

It transpires that “the leading role in the fighting terrorism and extremism has been assigned to the district council,” while my article “has provoked extremist sentiments in society and has had a negative impact on the work of the Teuchezhsky District Council in preventing extremism.”

Talk about the perpetrator blaming the victim, and without establishing any causal link between my article “The Silence of the Lambs” and the work of the Teuchezhsky District Council in preventing terrorism and extremism!

Attempting to demonstrate the absence of logic and common sense in the objections raised by the injured party and the prosecutors, I reminded the court that the case files contained the January 22, 2015, ruling by the Maykop City Court, which has entered into force, rejecting the Teuchezhsky District Council’s lawsuit against me, in my capacity as author of the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” by way of defending its professional reputation. I also pointed out that the article contains no criticism of the Teuchezhsky District Council’s work in general (it is not even mentioned in the article) nor, in particular, of its work in the field of extremism prevention.

In addition, the district council’s authority extends only to events that have occurred within the district itself, while the article was published on the World Wide Web. The events covered in the article (the actions of the Kievo-Zhuraki Agrobusiness hog breeding facility, the inaction of authorities at all levels in dealing with the Teuchezhsky District’s environmental problems, and my meetings with local residents) in no way touch on the Teuchezhsky District Council’s authority in combating terrorism and extremism.

After hearing all this, Judge Vitaly Galagan smiled cutely and retired to chambers at 2:50 p.m. As it turned out, he spent two and a half long hours in there. What could he have been doing all that time? It would be one thing if at least he had been consulting with smart folk on how to reasonably reject my motion. I realize it is illegal, but rehashing arguments that have nothing whatsoever to do with our case as grounds for rejecting my motion is not only illegal but also stupid. Basically, as they say in such instances, the mountain has brought forth a mouse.

According to the prosecution and Judge Galagan, who concurred with their arguments, the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” which I wrote in Maykop and published on the Internet, somehow diminished the vigilant work of the Teuchezhsky District Council in preventing extremism in the Teuchezhsky District, thus damaging the council’s professional reputation. In such cases, the saying goes, children are awfully sensitive. The district’s principle extremism preventer has been turned into a crybaby. Or, on the contrary, has the prosecution designated it the crybaby given the lack of actual injured parties?

As I listened to the prosecution’s counterarguments, I realized why our local councils take such bad care of local residents, why they take such bad care of roads, hot and cold running water, medical care and education, why everything is so bad: because our local authorities have bigger fish to fry. They have all left for the front to combat terrorism and extremism, and until they defeat the hydra of counter-revolution, the people will just have to suffer. And anyone who moans and groans and criticizes the authorities can be charged with violating Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

I want to give one more piece of sage advice to Russian judges. Lubricate the hinges of the doors to your chambers. Otherwise, the damn things squeak, and those of us sitting in the courtroom get all kinds of funny ideas about the secrecy of judicial deliberations being violated. Is their secrecy being violated, or is it just a draught of wind playing tricks with the door?

The next round in this exercise in umpiring is scheduled for today, July 5, at 10:00 a.m.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Read all my previous posts on Valery Brinikh’s extremism case.

Valery Brinikh: A Surprise Witness

George Orwell, writer: "The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it."
“George Orwell, writer: ‘The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it.'” Image from Valery Brinikh’s Facebook page

Valery Brinikh
Facebook
June 25, 2016

Hello!

The latest hearing in my criminal trial took place on June 24, but it was no run-of-the-mill hearing. When, last week, the court turned down defense attorney Andrei Sabinin’s motion to examine a linguistics expert from the beautiful beyond via videoconferencing (although, literally right before this, two prosecution witnesses from Krasnodar had been examined in this manner), neither the prosecutors nor the judge suspected that soon they would have the honor of gazing at this linguistics expert in person. We provided them with this pleasure.

The linguistics expert smashed the so-called findings of official state expert Sergei Fedyayev to smithereens. She immediately pointed out that Fedyayev had violated the fundamental methodological principles of forensic examinations for identifying signs of extremism. First, such forensic examinations should be comprehensive, involving not only a linguist but also a psychologist and, better yet, a sociologist or political scientist (if social groups are at issue). By definition, a linguist cannot cope with all these tasks alone. Nor did linguistic expert Fedyayev cope with his task. His analysis of the article “The Silence of the Lambs” skids on the sharp turns like a Volga car. Hence the large number of mistakes and simple linguistic blunders he made, producing findings that were not only at odds with the principles of linguistics but also with common sense.

During her testimony, our expert pointed to a number of instances where Fedyayev clearly went beyond his competence as a linguist by giving legal evaluations of individual passages in “The Silence of the Lambs” and thus infringing on the court’s realm of responsibility. In addition, his findings contain a definition of the concept of a “group,” something only a sociologist or political scientist is competent to define. The Russian Supreme Court has directly ruled it is inadmissible to define the authorities (state officials) as a “social group.” But what does the Russian Supreme Court mean to Fedyayev when the Adygea Supreme Court is dealing the cards? Fedyayev’s analysis also contains probabilistic conclusions (i.e., dealing with the realm of possibility), which are inadmissible in a linguistic forensic examination.

Apologizing to the judge for infringing on legal issues, our expert noted that the article does not oppose one group to another, one nation to another, and that there is no evidence of incitement to enmity and hatred on ethnic and other grounds in the text.

Our expert also testified that lexical-semantic and lexical-stylistic methods should be used in analyzing the text, while the huge number of other methods listed by Fedyayev either were not employed or were superfluous. In particular, by not using conceptual analysis, Fedyayev was led to erroneous conclusions.

The overall conclusion of the linguistics expert we called to the stand in Maykop City Court yesterday was that the article “The Silence of the Lambs” was highly critical and chockablock with negative assessments of the authorities and the hog breeding business, but there was nothing in the article that could interpreted as inciting enmity and hatred. In particular, she pointed out to the court that the words “Adyghe” and “Adygean” are encountered in different contexts in the article, testifying to the fact that the author distinguishes between the notions, using them in the article to denote different things. While the word “Adyghe” clearly refers to an ethnicity, “Adygean” has several meanings, one of them being a resident of Adygea, without reference to his or her ethnicity, as in krasnodarets, sochinets, stavropolets, and so on. [That is, the Russian terms for residents of Krasnodar, Sochi, and Stavropol, respectively.—TRR.]

What mattered to me was our expert’s answer to the question of whether it was possible, having received an unfamiliar text in the morning, to carry out a forensic examination of it by the evening of the same day and discover grounds for suspecting the text of extremism by using linguistic methods. My question was prompted by the fact that on September 15, 2014, Fedyayev, at the request of the FSB’s regional office in the Republic of Adygea, conducted a linguistic examination of the article “The Silence of the Lambs” in ten hours, and his memorandum to this effect (not even an expert opinion) was the grounds for the Maykop City Court (Judge Irina Ramazanova, presiding) ruling that the article was extremist. Later, on the basis of the very same memorandum, whipped up in a single workday, the very same Fedyayev wrote up the expert findings that served as the basis for my indictment on criminal charges.

The conclusion of the expert we called to the stand was unequivocal: it would be impossible. Sometimes, explained the expert, who is a past master at linguistic and comprehensive forensic examinations, analysis of a single sentence might take three hours. So, personally, she takes two weeks to perform such examinations.

In general, the testimony or, rather, the lecture by the linguistics expert we called to the stand was so thorough that neither the judge nor the prosecutors could think of anything substantive to ask her. Thus, by presenting critical reviews of Fedyayev’s forensic examination, we have drawn a thick line under it, making it completely impossible for it to be used as evidence for the prosecution in the criminal case against me.

The next hearing has been scheduled for 2:15 p.m. on July 4. Most likely, we will file a motion to have the forensic examination redone, asking this time for a comprehensive, rather than linguistic, examination.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the extremism case against Adygean environmentalist Valery Brinikh.

Image courtesy of Twitter
Image courtesy of Twitter

Valery Brinikh: Report from His Extremism Trial

The extremism trial against environmentalist Valery Brinikh in session. Maykop City Court, June 17, 2016
The extremism trial against environmentalist Valery Brinikh in session. Maykop City Court, June 17, 2016

Valery Brinikh
Facebook
June 18, 2016

Hello!

The latest hearing in my criminal case took place in Maykop from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 17 of this year. This time, the prosecution’s last two witnesses were finally questioned, albeit by a videoconference link with the Soviet District Court in Krasnodar. Vyacheslav Potapov and Vitaly Isayenko were supposed to answer questions about the operations of the website For Krasnodar, on which the article “The Silence of the Lambs” was posted.

It seemed to me that Sergei Shvetsov, senior deputy prosecutor of the Republic of Adygea, was not prepared to examine the witnesses today and the questions he asked them sounded like childish prattle. Even the judge noted this and advised the public prosecutor to concentrate. Ultimately, however, the second public prosecutor, Inessa Orlova from the Maykop City Prosecutor’s Office, took the microphone from Shvetsov and asked the witnesses specific questions.

I was personally interested in Isayenko’s responses to two sets of questions, first, about the circumstances of his interrogation on December 12, 2014. On that day, after the search [at his house], he was brought from Krasnodar to Maykop and interrogated until evening. It was night when they sent him back home to Krasnodar. As Isayenko, who suffers from Type 1 Diabetes, explained, he spent almost half a day at the Republic of Adygea Investigation Department with no food and, much more dangerously, with no insulin. They gave him only water. And yet they interrogated him intensively, trying to squeeze testimony against me and Vyacheslav Potapov, editor of the website For Krasnodar, from him. I was being interrogated in the next room, and I could hear Senior Investigator Kirill Kustov screaming at him. The stress he underwent and the long period he endured without food and insulin landed Vitaly Isayenko in the hospital the day after his return from Maykop. His diabetes flared up and he suffered from other ailments.

I was also interested in Isayenko’s comments, as a computer specialist, on certain statements in the inspection report on the computers seized at Isayenko’s house, an inspection carried out by Senior Investigator Kustov on the night of December 12, 2014. In particular, the report states that three processors were discovered in one of the computers. Isayenko explained there had been only one processor in the computer. He did not know nothing about any other processors.

In general, the witnesses said nothing new. They only confirmed what was already contained in the minutes of their interrogations.

Valery Brinink (left) and his attorney,
Valery Brinink (left) and his attorney, Andrei Sabinin. Maykop City Court, June 17, 2016

After the witnesses were examined, my attorney, Andrei Sabinin, attempted to request that Elizaveta Koltunova, a linguist from Nizhny Novgorod, be examined via videoconference, but the prosecutors objected, and Judge Vitaly Galagan did their bidding. Our request to examine the linguist by videoconferencing was rejected. According to the defense, this stance on the part of the prosecution and the court contradicts the adversarial nature of judicial proceedings and the principle of the equality of arms.

Much more unexpected and even amusing was the procedural action, which took place after lunch, of obtaining handwriting samples and a signature from prosecution witness Mugdin Mossovich Guchetl, a resident of the village of Gabukay. Everything would have been alright if the witness had simply produced his signature in silence, but instead he recalled another circumstance that I think gave the prosecutors a slight shock. Guchetl recalled that in February of last year, when Investigator A.S. Rudenko of the Investigative Department of the Republican Investigative Committee’s Teuchezsky District office took Guchetl’s written testimony, he asked him to sign blank sheets of paper, because, as Rudenko explained, allegedly, he would later type out Guchetl’s handwritten testimony on the computer, but he needed the signatures right away so he would not have to make a return trip to Adygeisk.

The investigator thus clearly violated the procedure for processing interrogation reports, a procedure strictly regulated by criminal procedural laws. At the same time, the investigator committed forgery by inserting things Guchetl did not say into the report. Today, after reading the interrogation report, which is part of the criminal case file, Guchetl categorically stated he did not say to the investigator what was written in the penultimate paragraph of his printed testimony, which reads as follows: “I want to clarify that I strongly disagree with the contents of the article entitled ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ because I think the article has defamed my honor and dignity as an Adyghe, as well as insulting all Muslims. The article compares us to pigs and cowards, and claims we have no sense of self-esteem.”

Basically, it was for the sake of this passage that the investigator obtained Guchetl’s testimony. In fact, the investigator could have written something even rougher on Guchetl’s behalf, because he already his signatures on blank interrogation report forms.

Finally, I made a motion to rule the Teuchezhsky District Council an illegitimate injured party in my case, since it did not satisfy the grounds set out in Article 42 of the Russian Federal Criminal Procedure Code. When the prosecutors objected as usual, spouting platitudes about the proper recognition of the local authorities as an injured party, we demanded the prosecution present legal grounds for its stance. We were quite curious to find out how exactly the district council had been injured, if, as they themselves have said, the article had caused moral injury to the residents of the Teuchezhsky District.

The prosecutors drew a blank and requested a time-out until the next hearing, at which they promised to provide a written justification for their objection. That suited us just fine, as it did the judge, who postponed consideration of our motion until next time.

The next court hearing is scheduled for June 24.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of Valery Brinikh. Please read my previous posts on his case.

Prosecution Witness in Brinikh Case Recants

Valery Brinikh

Prosecution Witness in Brinikh Case Recants
Grani.ru
March 24, 2016

77-year-old Mugdin Guchetl, a witness for the prosecution in the extremist case against environmentalist Valery Brinikh, recanted from the testimony identified as his in the case file during a court hearing in Maykop City Court in Adygea, as reported by the international human rights group Agora, who cited Brinikh’s defense attorney Alexander Popkov.

In testimony signed “Guchetl,” given during the investigation, it states that Brinikh has insulted not only the witness but the entire Adyghe people with his article “The Silence of the Lambs.” During the trial, however, the witness said he had not read the article, that he had not been in Adygeisk for around five years (although according to the interrogation report he was questioned in Adygeisk), that he had not given testimony to a police investigator, and that he had not signed the interrogation report.

Presiding Judge Vitaly Galagan pressed Guchetl, telling him that if he did not acknowledge his own signature, he would be summoned to court again. The defense protested the judge’s actions and filed a motion for a handwriting analysis to be performed.

The article “The Silence of the Lambs” was published on the website For Krasnodar! in September 2014. It recounts the environmental problems caused by Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC, a large pig-breeding facility in Adygea’s Teuchezhsk District. The company was founded by Vyacheslav Derev, Karachay-Cherkessia’s representative in the Federation Council.

The article contains the following passage: “But who or what has forced the Adyghe to breathe manure-polluted air and swim in ponds poisoned by sewage? Nothing but cowardice and a lack of self-esteem.”

On December 17, 2014, Maykop City Court ruled that “The Silence of the Lambs” was extremist. On March 20, 2015, the Adygea Supreme Court reaffirmed the lower court’s decision. In their rulings, the courts claimed the author of the article had insulted ethnic Adyghe, accusing them of cowardice. On January 12, 2016, Brinikh submitted a written petition to Maykop City Court asking it to reexamine its ruling in the light of new circumstances, but on January 21, Judge Irina Ramazanov refused to consider the petition.

The environmentalist had been charged under Articles 33.5 and 282.1 of the Criminal Code (complicity in inciting hatred and enmity) as he was accused of having help to disseminate the article. Subsequently, Major Konstantin Kustov, senior major case investigator at the regional headquarters of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, recharged the environmentalist, removing Article 33.5 from the charges and accusing the biologist of having authored “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Defense attorney Popkov has noted that over the past year the Investigative Committee has ordered five forensic examinations in the case. However, the lawyer stressed that data from a wiretap of Brinikh’s telephone, conducted by the Federal Security Service (FSB) a few months before “The Silence of the Lambs” was published, has been subjected to a phonological forensic analysis.

Hearing of the case on the merits began on January 26, 2016. Popkov had insisted on sending the case back to the prosecutor’s office, pointing out that a number of pieces of evidence had been falsified, but Judge Galagan rejected his appeal.

During the February 9 hearing of the case, one of the ethnic Adyghes who was questioned refuted the charges against the defendant.

“The environmentalist’s article caused no enmity,” he said. “On the contrary, Brinikh has help the Adyghes fight for the environment.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of 8772.ru. See my previous posts on Valery Brinikh and the case against him.

The Strange Trial of Valery Brinikh

Judge Refuses to Return Case of Environmentalist Accused of Extremism to Prosecutor
OVDInfo.org
January 26, 2016

Maykop City Court has refused to return the case of environmentalist Valery Brinikh, accused of inciting hatred against the Adyghe people, to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation. This happened on January 26 at the first hearing in Brinikh’s trial. Lawyer Alexander Popkov, Brinikh’s defense attorney, told OVD Info that the reason for the motion to return the case to the prosecutor were the violations of criminal procedural law that have surfaced during the case. According to Popkov, the case files which the police investigator allowed them to examine did not match the case files submitted to the court.

Valery Brinikh
Valery Brinikh

“The dates of the inspection protocols of the items seized during the search [of Brinikh’s home] have been changed,” Popkov explained.

According to him, during the investigation, he and his client discovered that the inspection protocols  had been drawn up before the items were confiscated. After they pointed this out, protocols that were formally drawn up later than Brinikh and Popkov reviewed them were submitted to the court.

Brinikh told OVD Info that the court had refused to admit two defenders to the case: retired judge Oleg Alexeev and Zaurbiya Chundyshko (an ethnic Adyghe), chair of the Maykop grassroots organization Adhyge Khase. The presiding judge has refused to call to the stand the witnesses and experts whom Brinikh and his attorney had asked to testify, including the people who performed the computer and linguistic forensic examinations during the investigation. The defense has a number of questions for them.

According to police investigators, in the fall of 2014, Valery Brinikh produced a piece of extremist matter: the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” which dealt with the environmental problems cause by a hog farming facility in Adygea’s Teuchezhsky District. It was founded by Vyacheslav Derev, the Federation Council member for Karachaevo-Cherkessia.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Cogita.ru

Please read my previous posts on the Brinikh case:

It’s Dangerous to Quote Voltaire: The Case of Valery Brinikh, Part 3

It’s Dangerous to Quote Voltaire
ovdinfo.org
January 10, 2015

Valery Brinikh
Adygean Environmentalist Valery Brinikh

In Adygea, Valery Brinikh, chair of the regional branch of the All-Russian Society for Nature Conversation (VOOP), has been charged with aiding and abetting extremist activity and subjected to travel restrictions. According to investigators, Brinikh “aided unidentified persons in disseminating information aimed at abasing the dignity of a person or group of persons on the basis of ethnicity and origin by creating extremist material.” Abasement of dignity charges (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 282.1) were filed in December 2014. They were occasioned by publication of the article “The Silence of the Lambs” on the website For Krasnodar! The article details the environmental damaged caused to Adygea’s Teuchezhsky District by pollution from an industrial pig-breeding facility. The company that runs the facility, Kiev0-Zhuraki Agrobusiness JSC, was founded by Vyacheslav Derev, who represents Karachay-Cherkessia in the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament.

Several days after the charges were filed, the article was deemed extremist. According to Brinikh’s defense attorney, Alexander Popkov, the [next-to-last] sentence in the article, which quotes Voltaire’s argument that God helps those battalions that shoot best, could have been the main reason it was deemed extremist.

“The word ‘shoot’ is forbidden; it is an awful word. ‘Battalions’ is also an awful word. And Voltaire was a freethinker,” Popkov says ironically.

Brinikh was for a long time officially regarded as a suspect in the case. According to Popkov, investigators have no proof that it was his client who wrote the article, but they claim he aided “persons unknown” in disseminating it.

The indictment does not make clear exactly whose dignity was abased by the article. Popkov recounts that, initially, investigators said that Brinikh “had offended public officials.” Ethnic motives were also discussed.

In the written petition, filed by the Adygea Prosecutor’s Office, asking the court to deem the article extremist, it says that “according to the findings of the linguistic analysis carried out by the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs in Krasnodar Krai (No. 17/7-119i, dated September 15, 2014), the text of the article ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ contains statements negatively evaluating a group of persons, united on the basis of ethnicity, the Adyghe (identified in the text as ‘cowards,’ ‘persons who lack self-esteem,’ and ‘lambs’).”

The article’s authors complains about the passivity of the local populace, who refuse to defend their own interests.

Popkov notes Brinikh would not have wanted to humiliate the Adyghe.

“On the contrary,” says Popkov, “he advocated for them and visited them.”

The prosecutor’s petition also claims the article contains “statements that could be understood to incite ethnic Adyghe to take actions, probably involving violence, against a group of persons, i.e., the local authorities.”

According to Popkov, Brinikh’s aiding and abetting persons unknown “is supposedly confirmed by a phonoscopic examination: he allegedly spoke by telephone about posting the article on the Web.”

However, since the article was posted on the Web before criminal charges were filed and before it was declared extremist, it follows that Brinikh’s telephone was bugged before these events took place.

“The question arises: on what basis were they bugging him?” asks Popkov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Editor’s Note. The following day, January 11, ovdinfo.org reported that Valery Brinikh’s trial on the above-mentioned charges would begin in Maykop City Court on January 19.

Please read my previous posts on the Brinikh case:

The Silence of the Lambs, Part 2: The Case of Valery Brinikh

Adygean Environmentalist Valery Brinikh
Adygean Environmentalist Valery Brinikh

Adygean Environmentalist Charged with Extremism
November 17, 2015 | Republic of Adygea
SOVA Center

Environmentalist Valery Brinikh accused of ethnically motivated humiliation for writing an article about the problems caused by pig farming in Adygea

On November 17, 2015, it transpired that a new charge has been filed against Adygean environmentalist Valery Brinikh under Article 282.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (humiliation of a group of persons on the grounds of ethnicity and origin, committed publicly using the Internet). Earlier, the 51-year-old director of the Institute of Regional Biological Research had been accused only of aiding and abetting the distribution of extremist matter, the article “The Silence of the Lambs.”

“Now the Investigative Committee considers him the author of this article,” explained Alexander Popkov, the environmentalist’s attorney.

Criminal charges were filed against Brinikh on December 11, 2014, for publishing the article on the website For Krasnodar! [Translator’s note. The website now seems to have been removed; it was still functioning in April 2015, when I first posted on this case.] The article deals with the environmental pollution caused by the pig-breeding facility Kievo-Zhuraki JSC. On December 17, 2014, the Maykop City Court ruled “The Silence of the Lambs” extremist, and the Adygean Supreme Court upheld this ruling in March 2015. In court, Brinikh denied both that he had written the article and that he had posted it on the website. On October 1, 2015,  the environmentalist was charged for the first time (under Articles 33.5 and 282.1  of the Criminal Code).

The author of the article “The Silence of the Lambs” accuses residents of Adygea’s Teuchezhsky District, where the polluting facility is located, of giving in to the authotiries and failing to defend their own interests vigorously. Nevertheless, his remarks are not grounds for a criminal prosecution: they contain no evidence of incitement of hatred. As for the phrase on which the article ends (the author quotes Voltaire’s remark that God helps those battalions that shoot better), given the context it should be interpreted as a rhetorical device rather than a call for extremist action. Obviously, local authorities could have been using the article to put pressure on Brinikh. We should note that the owner of Kievo-Zhuraki JSC is Federation Council member Vyacheslav Derev. On March 5, 2015, the Maykop City Court fined Brinihkh 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,400 euros] for slandering Derev.

Source: Diana Gutsul, “Environmental Brinikh Faced with New Extremism Charges,” RAPSI, November 17, 2015 (in Russian)

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Our Swimmer
Our Swimmer

I would bet 99.99% of Russians could not find Adygea on a map, and 99.99999% of Russians have not heard of Adygean environmentalist Valery Brinikh, but Putinist power exists there, too, and it is being used to crush Mr. Brinikh into the dirt for stating the obvious too loudly. (Meaning he committed “extremism,” of course.)

So here is that map (courtesy of russianlessons.net).

Adygea (in red) on map of Russia
Adygea (in red) on map of Russia