FSB May Have Used Neo-Nazi Provocateur to Frame Network Suspects

Russian Security Services May Have Used Agent Provocateur to Frame Up Antifascists
People and Nature
January 31, 2019

Antifascists have launched an international campaign to defend Russian activists who have been arrested, tortured in detention, and charged with terrorism-related offences in the Network case.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) claims that 11 people arrested in St Petersburg and Penza were part of an underground terrorist group seeking to sow disorder ahead of the 2018 Russian Presidential elections and the football World Cup.

Several of the detainees have described in detail how they were tortured by the FSB. For example, Viktor Filinkov described how he was tortured with an electric shocker after being detained at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport in January 2018. Filinkov stated that FSB officers put him in a minivan, and then drove him around the city while torturing him into learning a forced confession.

pan-antifaDemonstrators showing their solidarity with Network defendants on January 19, 2019, in London. Photo courtesy of People and Nature

The quasi-official St. Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission has compiled evidence of torture, and the issue was raised at a meeting of the Kremlin’s own Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. Nevertheless, preparations for what the defendants and their families describe as a show trial continue.

On 19 January, demonstrations in solidarity with the defendants were held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kyiv, London, and other European and North American cities. (Information on the London event here and here.)

On 17 January, defendant Igor Shishkin received three and a half years for involvement in a terrorist organization. Shishkin admitted his guilt and came to a pretrial agreement with the investigation. Most other defendants have renounced their confessions, citing the fact that they were tortured by FSB officers.

The following article, by Tatyana Likhanova of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, describes the use of what appears to be an agent provocateur in the Network case. This agent, who attended the same sports club as one of the case investigators in Penza, previously gave information to Ilya Shakursky, one of the defendants, and appears to have encouraged Shakursky to take radical action. We translated it with the author’s permission.

***

Following the conviction of Igor Shishkin, his lawyer Dmitry Dinze published several extracts from the case materials in a Facebook post. According to the post, a certain “V.I. Kabanov (an agent who possesses audio files of conversations with members of the Network)” features on the list of witnesses who testified against the defendants.

Ilya Shakursky, one of the Penza-based defendants in the Network case, reported that this agent came into contact with the antifascists previously, in a statement made last April. Having introduced himself as “Vlad Dobrovolsky,” the agent encouraged them to take radical measures against the Russian authorities and engage in violent acts against law enforcement officials. Shakursky’s statement was given to Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev and attached to the case files. But this evidence was not verified by law enforcement.

At a recent court hearing on the extension of pretrial custody for Shakursky, the following statement by the defendant was read out by the presiding officer (the session was open to the public, and journalists made audio recordings):

In autumn 2016, I met a young man named Vlad Dobrovolsky on the VKontakte social network [a Russian network similar to Facebook]. His name and surname may not be real. He was of an average height, with short dark hair, a beard, and strong build. I can identify him. I also know that he was studying at Penza State University. Vlad had given me important information about upcoming attacks by neo-Nazis on antifascist events. According to him, he did it because of a personal grudge against the Penza Nazis.

He also told me that some neo-Nazis maintained close relations with officers from the counter-extremism department, who, in turn, do not prevent the organisation of neo-Nazi events (tournaments, meetings, concerts).

Vlad found out later that I play airsoft, and offered to give me a few training sessions on tactics. At one of his training sessions, he showed me his Wild Boar firearm.

Later, he told me that a radical neo-Nazi organisation operates in Siberia; its aim is to fight for the autonomy of Siberia. As a committed antifascist, I felt it was my duty to learn more about this organization in order to expose it later on by writing articles in the media. That is why I deliberately misled Dobrovolsky when I spoke about my views and supported his proposals. My goal was to gain his trust to learn more about the neo-Nazis.

In spite of his constant requests to meet, I rarely met Vlad. Communication with him was not a priority for me. I was busy with my studies and my personal life. At the last meeting in summer 2017, he talked about his desire to move on to radical action and try to make an explosive device. I thought he was a crazy fanatic and stopped talking to him, ignoring his calls.

In court, Shakursky clarified that the man called “Dobrovolsky” is known in Penza as a neo-Nazi.

Novaya Gazeta found a user with the same name on the Ask.fm social network. His jokes in the comments have a nationalist flavor.

Talking with relatives during breaks, Shakursky also said that he recorded conversations with Vlad on his smartphone. He also saved the correspondence with him and photographs of “Dobrovolsky” from several meetings (a friend of Shakursky’s, at his request, photographed them secretly).

pan-shakurskyIlya Shakursky

Law enforcement confiscated the smartphone and computer. According to Shakursky, the investigating officers showed his correspondence with “Dobrovolsky” to Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant, but this correspondence is not in the file. As for the audio recordings, they were added to the case file, but with omissions that allow the remaining phrases to be used against the defendants. The defense has no access to the original records, since Shakursky’s electronic devices remain in the possession of the investigation.

pan-pchelintsevDmitry Pchelinstev

When Ilya’s acquaintances showed a photo of “Dobrovolsky” to students at Penza university, they recognized a Penza State University student called Vlad Gresko. As Novaya Gazeta has noted, on Ask.fm, people address user wlad8 as “Gres.” Web searches revealed yet another coincidence: “Dobrovolsky” trains at the same sport club as investigator Valery Tokarev. Both appear in pictures on the zavod58_sport_club online community.

During breaks in court hearings, Shakursky also managed to report that, after one of his meetings with Vlad, a sporty-looking man came up to him on the street and tried to provoke a fight. Subsequently, after his arrest, Shakursky saw this same man in the FSB office. The man turned out to be Dmitry N., an investigating officer with the Penza branch office of the FSB.

According to Shakursky, the officer “listened to Nazi bands […] and talked to officer Shepelev about his desire to ‘shoot shavki’ [Russian neo-Nazi slang for antifascists – Novaya Gazeta]. I pretended that I did not recognize him.”

Indeed, according to Shakursky’s statement on torture, it was Captain Shepelev who subjected Shakursky to torture in an effort to force him to confess to terrorism charges. During a court session break, Shakursky said:

This man [Shepelev] participated in my torture and the torture of Dima [Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant]. He threatened to rape me. […] When the human rights ombudsperson [Elena Rogova] visited us, which was a while ago, when Dima and I couldn’t see each other, she asked me to draw the locations [in investigation detention] where I had been tortured. I drew them. In the office next door, Dima drew the same thing. She compared them, and it was the same place. Although I was not being kept there officially [according to the Military Investigative Commission’s investigation into the claims of torture – Novaya Gazeta].

There were three people there — Shepelev held me down, tied me up with black tape. [….] I was wearing only my underwear. He took my underwear off and said he was going to rape me.

Elena Bogatova, Shakursky’s mother, told journalists that when law enforcement searched her son’s apartment, officers went straight to a hole under the kitchen window. There, they found “an improvised explosive device camouflaged as a fire extinguisher”. When Shepelev ordered officers to look under the couch, a pistol was found.

The initial forensic test did not find any DNA or fingerprint traces belonging to Shakursky on these items. Then, after Shakursky gave a saliva sample, a second test was conducted. This test showed traces of Shakursky’s DNA on a piece of electrical tape stuck to the explosive device. But, as Elena Bogatova recalls, and photographs of the search confirm, after the device was found, it was left on the apartment floor for a period of time. Given that Shakursky had lived there for a significant period of time, there were bound to be traces of his DNA.

According to Bogatova, Captain Shepelev also tried to force her to give a “correct comment” to the television channel NTV when they interviewed her. She was advised not to deny the existence of a terrorist organization and not insist on her son’s innocence. Otherwise, Bogatova says, Shepelev threatened he would spread rumors in prison that her son was a pedophile.

■ A cash appeal to support the Network case defendants (for legal expenses and support of their families), initiated by the organizing committee for the 19 January demonstration in London, will close in nine days’ time on 8 February. It has raised more than £3000, surpassing the original target of £2000. But we are making a final push to try to hit £4000. You can see the details, and donate, here.

Thanks to Gabriel Levy for permission to republish the article. It has been edited very lightly to conform with our style guide. {TRR}

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists who have been tortured and imprisoned by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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

Ping, Ping, Ping: The Remand Extension Hearing of the Penza “Terrorists”

Ping, Ping, Ping: A Report from the Remand Extension Hearing of the Defendants in the Penza “Terrorism” Case
Yegor Skovoroda
Mediazona
March 16, 2018


Ilya Shakursky. Photo courtesy of Yegor Skvoroda and Mediazona

Yegor Svokoroda traveled to Penza, where, over the course of three days, the Lenin District Court considered whether to extend the remand in police custody of the antifascists who, according to the FSB, were part of a “terrorist community” known as The Network.

FSB Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev blushes gradually: first the tip of his nose, then his ears, and finally the bald patch that covers half his head. He is arguing with a lawyer, insting on a closed hearing in order to ensure “investigatory privilege.” The lawyer objects.

“The case is at the evidence gathering stage. We have not finalized all the witnesses or the defendants. A number of parties to the crime have not been identified or are on the wanted list,” says Tokarev, his forehead covered with sweat.

This scene was repeated several times in Penza’s Lenin District Court, where, between March 13 and March 15, the arrest in police custody of five antifascists apprehended and charged with involvement in a “terrorist community” was extended. Time after time, Judge Svetlana Shubina closed the hearings to the public and the press.

Ordering that yet another of the accused be remanded in custody to the local remand prison until June 18, Judge Shubina time after time bases her ruling by referring to the particularly complicated nature of the case and the allegation that each of the young men was a member of a “stable, highly secretive criminal group,” and that “firearms and ammunition” were involved. Shubina notes investigators had to finish their numerous forensic examinations and interrogations, and finally indict Sagynbayev, Pchelintsev, Shakursky, Chernov, Zorin, Kuksov, Ivankin, and Kulkov.

Yegor Zorin, a fourth-year student at the Belinsky Pedagogical Institute, was the first person detained in the investigation of the “terrorist community.” The FSB has alleged its members planned, during the March 18 presidential election and this summer’s FIFA World Cup, to “agitate the masses in order to further destabilize the political situation in the country” by setting off bombs; when the H-hour came, they would lead an armed insurrection. Zorin was apprehended on October 17, 2018. There are unconfirmed reports he signed a confession, which was the basis of Criminal Case No. 11707560001000036, concerning organization of and involvement in a terrorist community, per Article 205.4 Parts 1 and 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

Zorin’s time in the remand prison was not extended. He was jailed there until December 18 and subsequently transferred to house arrest. The press service of the Lenin District Court told Mediazona, however, that after December 18, investigators had not petitioned the court to extend his arrest.


Arman Sagynbayev. Photo courtesy of Yegor Skvoroda and Mediazona

The next to be apprehended were Zorin’s classmate Ilya Shakursky and their common friend Vasily Kuksov during the wee hours of October 19, 2017. On October 27, Dmitry Pchelintsev was detained; he knew Shakursky through the leftist activist scene and because they shared a hobby: airsoft. On November 6, Arman Sagynbayev was detained in Petersburg. He had been to Penza several times for airsoft practice sessions. He was transferred to the Penza Remand Prison. On November 9, Andrei Chernov, another airsoft player and an old friend of Pchelintsev’s was detained.

A passion for airsoft and a sympathy for leftist ideas, anarchism, and antifascism were what all the detainees had in common. The case files contain videos of training sessions in the woods outside Penza, sessions during which the young men used fireworks. The FSB has alleged that the group training sessions were preparation for the insurrection, while the hikes the young men took in the woods constituted “illegal mastery of survival skills in the woods and rendering of first aid.”The airsoft teams in which the antifascists played, Voskhod (“Sunrise”) and 5.11 (“November Fifth”), were cells of a terrorist organization known as The Network (Set’). Aside from Penza, The Network was alleged to have underground cells in Moscow, Petersburg, and Belarus.*

The FSB has alleged the Penzans divided up the roles in their “terrorist community.” Pchelintsev was the leader and ideologue. His deputy, nicknamed Redhead, handled reconnaissance and recruiting, while Sagynbayev, nicknamed Andrei Security, was the engineer and sapper, Shakursky (aka Spike), the tactician, Chernov (aka Twin), the signalman, Zorin (aka Grisha), the sniper, while a certain Boris was also a coordinator and ideologue.

Redhead is Maxim Ivankin, mentioned in the court’s new custody ruling, while in all likelihood the Boris referred to by the security services is M.A. Kulkov. According to our sources, both men have left Russia and are on the wanted list.

The Lenin District Court occupies a three-storey nineteenth-century mansion whose interior has been modernized. The courtroom where the custody extension hearings take place is located in a wing of the building accessible only through doors outfitted with an electronic lock. To gain access to the hallway leading to the courtroom you have to place a card on the lock, which sets off an obnoxious pinging sound. The squeaky alarm goes off constantly. Ping, ping, ping: terrorist community. Ping, ping, ping: investigative privilege. Ping, ping, ping: extend the arrests.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.


Dmitry Pchelintsev and his wife Angelina. Photo courtesy of relatives

A broad-shouldered FSB guard escorts 25-year-old Dmitry Pchelintsev into the room, not taking his eyes off him the entire hearing. Guards just like him also escort the other detainees. Some of them wear balaclavas to conceal their identities, some wear Buff scarves over their faces. Viktor Filinkov, detained in Petersburg, and Pchelintsev himself recounted how they were tortured by men wearing such masks. Pchelintsev recalled how the officers who tortured him later escorted him to the remand prison.

“When I was tortured with electrical shocks, my mouth was full of ‘crushed teeth’ due to the fact I gritted my teeth since the pain was strong, and I tore the frenulum of my tongue. My mouth was full of blood, and at some point one of my torturers stuck my sock in my mouth,” Pchelintsev told his lawyer in order to explain why he had signed a confession.

Soon, after he was beaten again, Pchelintsev recanted his testimony about being tortured. Pchelintsev, who has thick, kinky eyebrows and slightly protruding ears, worked as a target practice instructor after serving in the army. He wears a checkered shirt whose collar he constantly buttons and unbuttons. Cautious at first, he thaws by the end of the hearing, when he manages to chat with his wife Angelina through the glass of the so-called fish tank in which defendants are held during trials and hearings.

Dmitry laughs, talking about books and Alina Orlova songs. He jokes that during the last hearing he was in handcuffs because “Arman was sitting next to me, and they thought I would attack him.”

Alina Orlova sings “I Stroll Around Moscow,” IKRA Club, Moscow, September 29, 2008

“What should I do with your car?” Angelina asks. The FSB claims to have found two grenades under the seat of the old Lada. Pchelintsev said they were planted there.

“Burn it,” says Dmitry, joking once more.

“I’m afraid I’d be arrested.”

“Yeah, you’d also go to jail for terrorism,” Pchelintsev quips. “Actually, I was told we should take it to the junkyard and sell it for scrap.”

Angelina presses her nose against the glass of the fish tank.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.


Vasily Kuksov. Photo courtesy of relatives

29-year-old design engineer Vasily Kuksov appears to be the most confused and indifferent of all the prisoners. His wife Yelena says Vasily was cheerful and life-affirming prior to his arrest. He enjoyed drawing and was into music, performing a year ago at a Vladimir Vysotsky memorial festival at the Penza Philharmonic. Now his case file describes him as an “individual who leads an isolated lifestyle characterized by antisocial behavior.”

Vasily Kuksov performing at the Penza Philharmonic on January 25, 2017

Kuksov has not complained that FSB officers were violent with him, but his friend Ilya Shakursky recalled that, when they were taken to the FSB building in Penza, first he heard Kuksov’s groan and then later saw him, his face badly mangled. Nevertheless, Kuksov avoided testifying by invoking his right not to incriminate himself under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.

A pistol was confiscated from his car. According to his loved ones, the gun had been planted there.

Kuksov is the only prisoner whom the investigator allows to talk with his mother for a long time during the recess [sic].

As he listens to the judge’s ruling, Kuksov zips and unzips the zipper of his black winter jacket.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.

“They blindfolded me, tied my hands, and stuck a sock in my mouth. Then I thought they wanted to leave my fingerprints on something, but later they attached wires to my big toes. I felt the first surge of current, and I could not hold back the moaning and shaking. They repeated the procedure until I promised to say what they told me to say. After that, I forgot the word ‘no’ and said everything the officers told me to say,” recalled 21-year-old antifascist Ilya Shakursky.

Shakursky was a classmate of the first person arrested in the case, Yegor Zorin. Both of them were studying to be physics teachers.

Shakursky is a thin young man with a shaved head and a deep wrinkle on his forehead. He is a well-known activist in Penza. He used to be involved with Food Not Bombs, and he was himself always organizing everything from lectures to trips to the woods to pick up trash. Before the antifascist rally held annually on January 19, he sent friends a letter in which he wrote, “If I were on the outside, I would definitely attend the memorial event for two great heroes, Nastya Baburova and Stas Markelov.”

Recently, relations between him and Pchelintsev had been strained. The young men had fallen out over Shakursky’s ex-girlfriend Victoria Frolova. They had fought several days before Shakursky’s arrest. The FSB officers who were staking out the alleged terrorist group were surprised to see two members of the “stable” group brawling.

When the judge reads out the ruling, Shakursky, dressed in a gray track suit, lifts his left eyebrow slightly and folds his hands behind his back.

Shakursky’s mother sobs.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.

When questioning 28-year-old Andrei Chernov’s mother after her son was arrested, the investigator wondered aloud whether she knew he had a secret nickname, Twin.

“He’s had the nickname since he was a kid,” Tatyana Chernova says, recalling her outrage. Next to her is Alexei Chernov, Andrei’s twin brother.


Andrei Chernov. Photo courtesy of Yegor Skvoroda and Mediazona

The Chernov brothers studied in the same department at the pedagogical institute as Zorin and Shakursky, but they dropped out before the other young men had enrolled there. Subsequently, Andrei went to work at a factory where he assembled water heaters. He was apprehended on the shop floor.

According to his defense attorney, Stanislav Fomenko, Chernov had not been subjected to violence by the FSB. Tatyana Chernova adds that her son signed a confession after Dmitry Pchelintsev, who had been tortured, spoke with him. Chernov has now recanted his testimony.

Andrei wrote to his mother that after human rights activists spoke out about the plight of the young men and the press published articles about the so-called Penza Case, the guards and wardens at the remand prison often visited his cell to perform spot checks, videotaping everthing he did.

Chernov was finally examined by an ophthalmologist (there were suspicions he had a detached retina). The doctor for some reason prescribed him antibiotics.

Chernov smiles the most of all the defendants. If it were not for the fish tank, it would be impossible to tell him apart from his brother.

“My son is not guilty of anything. Sure, he played airsoft and studied survival skills, but lots of people are into that. I will fight for my son till the end of my days,” says Tatyana Chernova.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.

No one has come to the courtroom [sic] to support 25-year-old Arman Sagynbayev, transferred to Penza from Petersburg,** and yet he is cheerful and talkative.

Arman was born in Novosibirsk, where his mother, stepfather, ex-wife, and their five-year-old daughter still live.

He has spent the last several years in Petersburg, where he was convicted of petty theft (Article 158 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to a fine of 6,000 rubles. When Sagynbayev’s room was searched, the security services allegedly found a bucket of aluminum powder, four kilograms of ammonium nitrate, two alarm clocks, and various radio components.

After his arrest, Sagynbayev fully acknowledged his guilt. He is still cooperating with investigators. He has no objections when Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Oskolkov moved to extend his arrest.

“He has no complaints. He has not claimed he was tortured. He cooperates with the investigators and gets privileges in return for his cooperation. He was now given the chance to speak with his mother. He spoke with her the entire recess [sic]. Arman has a separate cell,” says his lawyer, Rakhmanova [sic].

In the remand prison, her client, who suffers from a serious illness, receives timely medical care, she emphasizes, without specifying what the illness is

At the beginning of the week, Sagynbayev was sent under armed guard to Saratov, where he was examined at the St. Sophia Regional Clinical Psychiatric Hospital. He is the only suspect in the case who has been made to undergo an inpatient forensic examination.

“He said lots of things to our experts about anarchy and social revolution. They said he was deluded and refused to render an opinion, recommending he be hospitalized,” Rakhmanova explains.

According to the attorney, the doctors in Saratov concluded Sagynbayev was mentally competent.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.

* The name of the airsoft team 5.11 had nothing to do with the revolution allegedly scheduled by nationalist Vyacheslav Maltsev for November 5, 2017. According to various sources, the name refers either to a popular brand of tactical clothing and equipment or to the date when seventeen-year-old Penza anarchist Nikolai Pchelintsev was hanged in 1907. Historians Alexander Kolpakidi and Gennady Potapov write that Pchelintsev took the blame for the murder of a gendarme during a shootout, counting on the court’s mercy towards him as a juvenile, but instead was sentenced to death. His burial site in the Abrekov Woods near Penza is marked by a monument to fallen revolutionaries. Mediazona has been unable to ascertain whether Dmitry Pchelintsev is a distant relative of Nikolai Pchelintsev.

** The FSB apprehended antifascists in Petersburrg late January 2018. According to the FSB, the city was home to two cells of The Network, code-named Jordan and Field of Mars. The investigation of the Petersburg case, Case No. 11807400001000004, is supervised by FSB investigator Gennady Belyayev. After they were detained, Igor Shishkin and Viktor Filinkov confessed their guilt. Filinkov soon recanted what he claimed had been rehearsed testimony and gave a detailed account of how FSB officers had tortured him with an electric shocker. Shishkin has said nothing about torture, but doctors recorded bruises, abrasions, and a fracture to the lower wall of his eye socket, while members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission found numerous traces on his body that resembled burns made by electric wires.

Translated by the Russian Reader

If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the related crackdown against Russian grassroots and political activists on the eve of the March 18 Russian presidential election, you need to read the following articles and spread the word.

 

The Penza “Terrorism” Case

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

5a6f74553c36b
Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in Penza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

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

Angelina Pchelintseva writing to her husband:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

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

Angelina Pchelintseva writing to her husband:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop killing Dima,” Angelina replied.

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

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

Angelina Pchelintseva writing to her husband:

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

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

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

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

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

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

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

Translated by the Russian Reader