Friends, I rarely sign petitions and I never ask other people to sign them.
Now, however, circumstances are such that we need to get as many of our fellow citizens involved in discussing the political crisis in Moscow. During this crisis, the FSB, the Russian Investigative Committee, and the police have taken direct control of civic life, bordering on a military coup.
So I would ask you to read this petition, sign it, and talk about it on social media.
It says two things.
1. Criminally prosecuting peaceful citizens for their convictions is defined as political terror.
2. Alexander Bastrykin, chair of the Investigative Committee, is asked to put an immediate end to the criminal investigation of the “riot” in Moscow on July 27 due to the fact that no such crime was committed.
To date, eight people have been arrested and remanded in custody in the case of the riot that did not happen. One suspect in the case has vanished. And this is only the beginning.
None of us is so naive as to believe Bastrykin would meet us halfway. No one has any illusions about the man. He regards the people of our country as expendable in maintaining his personal power and the power of his friends. Nevertheless, Bastrykin formally has the authority to stop this train before it reaches full speed.
We must circulate the petition to get as many people as possible to pay attention to what is happening. We also must show the authorities that society is morally, civically, and politically ready to resist.
If hundreds of thousands of us stand up to be counted, no one can say we do not exist, as they said our signatures in support of candidates standing in these elections did not exist.
Stop the Criminal Case Against People Who Took Part in the Peaceful Protest on July 27, 2019, in Moscow Change.org
August 5, 2019
Novaya Gazeta started this petition to Alexander Bastrykin, Chair of the Investigative Committee, and the Investigative Committee
We, citizens of Russia, demand an end to the political terror unleashed against our country’s people by law enforcement agencies.
On July 27, 2019, a peaceful rally in defense of our constitutionally guaranteed voting rights took place in Moscow. In response to the rally, the Russian Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation into “rioting.”
According to Article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code, riots involve violence against citizens and public officials, property damage, arson, and mayhem. However, nothing of the sort happened in Moscow on July 27, 2019.
On the contrary, voters demanded that Russia’s laws should be upheld and candidates who had previously been barred should be allowed to stand in the elections to the Moscow City Duma. The “disorderly conduct” cited by investigators cannot be defined as a “riot” either according to the letter of the law or in terms of common sense.
Despite what the Russian Constitution says, people who peacefully defended their rights have now been subjected to criminal prosecution for their beliefs.
We are aware of the impending arrests of our family members, friends, and colleagues.
We also know the fabricated evidence in the case is based on information extracted from telephones that were illegally confiscated from citizens detained during peaceful protests.
If the Investigative Committee uses its authority to unleash political terror against its own people, it would not go unnoticed. Massive abuse of the law for political ends would have long-term tragic consequences for our country, as evidenced by the history of the twentieth century.
Criminal prosecution cannot be a means of settling scores with political opponents. It will provoke a further escalation of the civil conflict in Russia.
Who We Are
Founded in 1993, Novaya Gazeta is a Russian newspaper known all over the world for its investigations of high-level corruption and special reports from hot spots. We have won a Pulitzer Prize and been nominated for a Nobel Prize. Our staff includes journalists Elena Milashina, Olga Bobrova, Roman Anin, Elena Kostyuchenko, Pavel Kanygin, and Ilya Azar. Yulia Latynina, Dmitry Bykov, Irina Petrovskaya, and Slava Taroshchina are among our regular contributors. In 2018, our editorial staff and friends of our newspaper launched a partnership campaign. To date, 20% of the newspaper’s expenses have been covered by personal donations from over seven thousand of its readers.
Image courtesy of Kirill Martynov and Change.org. Translated by the Russian Reader
Michael Calvey in court. Photo by Maxim Shemetov. Courtesy of Reuters and Republic
“We Give You Serebrennikov and You Give us Calvey”: How Law Enforcement Works
Olga Romanova Republic
May 13, 2019
“Who would make the decision about your arrest?”
“My colleagues would betray me, but they would vet it with my bosses.”
“What about Vasya [a big businessman]?”
“Cops, the economic security squad. It’s enough for the word to come down from the district office to grab him. Vasya is a respected person. He’s a thief.”
“You’re an enemy of the state. If the neighborhood cops can decide to arrest Vasya, the Secret Chamber, so to speak, would have to give the orders to arrest you. The decision to arrest you would be made by no one lower ranked than Bortnikov’s deputy, although you’re naked and barefoot, and no one would ask the prosecutor’s office or the Investigative Committee to go after you. It’s creepy and pointless.”
This should give you an idea of the conversations I have with my acquaintances in the security forces nowadays. It helps to do business with people who know the score. None of them is surprised when you ask them who would arrest someone, how they would do it, and when they would do it. Everything would have been planned long ago, and there are no illusions. If a person has to be placed under arrest and charged, it is going to happen. If they do not need to be indicted, they can be kept in custody for a while. No one remembers, even for appearance’s sake, that there are courts in Russia, and courts decide whether to remand someone in custody after hearing arguments by all the interested parties. Everyone knows the decisions are not made in court.
There is no one with whom you can talk about these cases.
This is not quite true. My sources in all the law enforcement and security agencies, who can be frank with me as long as they remain anonymous, talk to me about these cases, too, but they look really worried when they do.
Rank-and-file law enforcement officers are confused. They do not understand why someone decided to back off the Serebrennikov case so abruptly and quickly. The train was rushing the director and filmmaker towards a sentence of the four years or so in the camps when a powerful hand jerked hard on the brakes. The passengers jumped off the train, of course, for they didn’t want to keep traveling in that direction, but the trainmaster, driver, and conductors were completely at a loss.
What should they do with the next train and its contingent of VIP passengers? Should they railroad them, as they were ordered to do, or should they avoid hurrying the case? After the emergency brake has been pulled, everyone emerges with injuries and bumps. Some of the crew were counting on promotions after they had wrapped up such a big case. Other members of the crew were acting on orders from a celestial. He will not forgive them because now they know there are tougher celestials in the system. He cannot forgive the people involved in the case for knowing that fact nor can he forgive the other celestials for intervening. The passengers could not care less. Either they get to where they are going or they do not get there, but the crew is always aboard the train.
True, a smart alec from the Investigative Committee told me something interesting about the procedural aspect.
“Why is everyone so angry? The Serebrennikov case was sent back to the prosecutor’s office, so what? You saw that the court ordered a forensic examination. The first forensic examination was really crooked. The judge in the trial of Serebrennikov’s accountant, Nina Maslyaeva, wondered why everyone was so glad. Serebrennikov’s case would now be sent back to the prosecutor’s office because his circumstances are the same as Maslyaeva’s. You are mixing up cause and effect. The judge in the Maslyaeva case cannot reach a verdict because he understands the outcome of the forensic examination, which was the same as in the Serebrennikov case, will now be different, and Maslayeva will have to be re-indicted in the light of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case.”
Translated into ordinary language, he means the case can still go any which way. Procedurally, all the cards are still on the table, and the haggling could continue. Things could go one way or the other. The powers that be could change their minds and send Serebrennikov to prison, but they could also let him go. They could arrest him again and send him down. The statute of limitations is a flexible thing.
Somewhere above the clouds, the thunder gods fight over the case. Invisible to the world, they communicate with ordinary people by making motions to conduct additional forensic examinations. Ordinary people make of it what they will. Police investigators are also part of the rank and file, part and parcel of Russia’s unwashed masses.
In ordinary times, this is not what happens to ordinary defendants in ordinary cases. Everyone would have gone down five years each per capita, and no would have batted an eye. In this case, the decisions are obviously political. Look who made the decision! Who telephoned whom? What levers did they use? Who or what did they offer in exchange? Freebies are for freaks, after all. We will return to this subsequently when we discuss other factors.
If the boring procedural hypothesis made by my anonymous source at the Investigative Committee is right, events should unfold as follows. The authorities will get the results of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case. If the total damages are less than was claimed earlier (or, say, there were, miraculously, no damages at all), the charges against Serebrennikov and the other defendants will be dropped right in the courtroom. If, on the contrary, the sum of the damages is more or less hefty, a million rubles, at least, the defendants will be found guilty and sentenced to prison. Then you can appeal the verdict wherever you like.
No one would ask why a particular ruling was made. No one would ask what happened. Why are some people treated one way, while others are treated another way? The foot soldiers of law enforcement know the score. But when they do not know the score, they know it is better not to ask whether a mistake has been made but to follow orders.
How Things Go Down
The Calvey case bears a strong resemblance to the case against Vladimir Yevtushenkov. Yevtushenkov failed to take the hints. He was told directly what to do but refused to hand over his business. Then he was arrested and given a good talking. He and his captors came to an understanding. He was released and his business confiscated. Unlike Yevtushenkov, however, Calvey is as poor as a church mouse. Compared with Yevtushenkov, that is. Calvey does not own a Bashneft, after all.
The foot soldiers in the security forces have not been particularly surprised about how the Calvey case has unfolded. They expected something of the sort. They expected him to “cash out,” as they call it, and they believe he has, in fact, cashed out. They are uninterested in what this meant. It is not their war, and the spoils are not theirs to claim.
We should look at this more closely.
My source, whom I trust, albeit warily, explains the obvious to me.
“All cases are business as usual except the cases in which there a phone call,” he says.
I have two questions for him right off the bat. What does he mean by “business as usual”? Who usually makes the “phone call”?
He explains that people who follow high-profile cases and comment on them fail to take one important factor into account in their arguments. The high-profile cases are handled by another agency as it were. They involve the same players: the prosecutor’s offices, the courts, the remand prisons, and the Investigative Committee. All of them realize, however, when they are handling a special case involving the interests of high-ranking officials and elite businessmen. In these cases, they need to keep close track of which way the wind blows.
The bulk of cases are “mundane.” There is a huge number of such cases, and they can drag on forever. Take, for example, the Baltstroy case, the case of police anti-corruption investigator Boris Kolesnikov, and the case of ex-deputy culture minister Grigory Pirumov, cases that everyone has forgotten, and the Oboronservis case, the cases of the banks implicated in the so-called Russian Laundromat, and the case of Alexander Grigoriev, the man, allegedly, behind the Laundromat, who was mixed up with Putin’s cousin Igor Putin. New indictments in these cases are made all the time. More and more defendants are convicted in these cases and sent down. It never stops, but public interest in these cases is almost nil.
There are cases that collapse, however. Why does this happen?
Why was the case of ex-economics minister Alexei Ulyukayev not reviewed on appeal? Why was his prison sentence not reduced by four years during the sentencing appeal hearing? Does anyone know why? Perhaps the political spin doctors get it, but Russia’s law enforcers do not have a clue. What they understand is when an order comes down to reduce a sentence and when it does not. They leave the blabbing to the spin doctors.
Alexei Fedyarov is a former prosecutor from Chuvashia. Nowadays, he is the head of our legal department at Russia Behind Bars. He gave me permission to quote him.
“It happens. A case is going fine. In the morning, you have a meeting with your superiors. They tell you everything is great, keep pushing, you’ve got the bastards. I was handling a case against the management of the Khimprom factory in Novocheboksarsk. At briefings, I was told my group and I were doing a great job. We had done the initial investigation beautifully and now it was time to detain the suspects, remand them in custody, and put them away. I went to my office, where the city prosecutor was waiting for me. He asked me to hand over the case file. I gave him the case file and he told me it was over, I should forget it. He was personally going to deliver the case file to the head prosecutor of the republic and that would be the end of it. There would be no supporting documentation or anything. The case really did disappear, although an hour before I had been told to push it.
“During that hour, the head prosecutor of the republic had got a message from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. A call from a deputy prosecutor general was enough for them to take the whole thing back, despite the fact it was a big, interesting case involving illegal wiretapping throughout the company and even the local police department and the tax police office. We had found tons of recorded conversations: they recorded everything. They were trying to protect themselves and investigate other people.”
Sources of the “Telephone Call”
How does the “telephone call” work?
The “telephone call” is a conventional name for the outcome of lengthy negotiations. We see only the reflection of this process: Calvey’s arrest, his transfer to house arrest, Serebrennikov’s arrest and his release on his own recognizance, Abyzov’s arrest.
I am going to quote my anonymous source verbatim. In this instance, the way he says what he says is as important as what he says.
“Anyone can hit the brakes. It could be Bortnikov. It could be Chaika. But it is the outcome of agreements among people, not an arbitrary decision. They do not do things that way. Maybe new factors have been brought into play, but there has to be someone who wants to negotiate on behalf of the accused person, who appeals on his behalf. He would be told, ‘Okay, fine. But you have to give us such-and-such in exchange.” Then it is a matter of talking with Lebedev [Chief Justice of the Russian Supreme Court] and everything is put into reverse. It could be like, ‘We’ll give up Serebrennikov if you take the heat off Calvey.’ You see, the siloviki are not all on the same side. There is no longer one side. Not even everyone in the FSB or its departments is on the same side. The Constitutional Department fights with the Anti-Terrorism Department. It’s the same thing in the prosecutor’s office and the Investigative Committee. In the Investigative Committee, there is the group loyal to Bastrykin and then they are the boys from the North Caucasus. There are also the guys from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, who are filthy rich but live orderly lives and are also capable of getting things done.
“Anything goes at this level. Why are you inclined to exaggerate how this works? Number One basically does not care about this stuff.”
I should try and explain.
The Investigative Committee and Prosecutor General’s Office are still at serious loggerheads. The conflict has even intensified. It is a personal conflict and a clash of business interests and a fight over resources. The amount of resources has not grown. On the contrary, there are palpably fewer resources. Relations between the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office are currently not just strained, they are intolerably strained.
In court, they take the same side, but those are the rules of the game. If a case has gone to trial, you cannot come out against your colleagues: you would be digging yourself a hole. As a prosecutor, you did not reverse the indictment. You were involved in prolonging the suspect’s custody in remand prison, and you seconded all the motions made by the case investigator. The case investigator, of course, always plays along with the prosecutor. In criminal trials, they are the prosecution.
Even the “groundlings” find it easier to make a deal. The big bosses may be at war with each other, but down on the ground, the workhorses plow away and know the score. There is no love lost for Bastrykin among Investigative Committee officers just as prosecutors are not fond of Chaika. But it is like this everywhere: people like their bosses only when they are standing right in front of them. There is a certain difference, however. Chaika and his deputies at the Prosecutor General’s Office are all former case investigators. They have paid their dues. Bastrykin does not have this background: he is not a criminologist. Their workhorses thus complain about different things. Bastrykin’s underlings complain about incompetence, while prosecutors grouse about their bosses’ passion for business.
The Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office have an innate tendency to divide up into clans, which are defined geographically: there are Circassian clans, Bashkir clans, etc. They are local fraternities of sorts, and they do not go away when someone moves and transfers to a new job. The clans are often at odds with each other. This is something you must always factor in when dealing with Russian law enforcers.
Internal disunity has also been increasing day by day in the conglomerate known as the FSB. Even mid-level officers have trouble getting along. For example, M Directorate, which oversees the Interior Ministry, the Federal Penitentiary Service, and so on, is often combined, in many regions, with the Economic Security Department, and there is a big problem with compatibility in terms of the cases they pursue. But there is also K Directorate, aka the 8th Directorate, which oversees banks and the financial system. Regarded as “blue bloods,” they are strongly disliked by other FSB officers.
“A guy from K Directorate worked out at the World Class gym where I worked out. His driver took him to work in a Maybach. Now he has transferred his membership to the gym in Zhukovka. A membership there costs 600,000 rubles a year [approx. $9,500] and the swimming pool is filled with mineral water. ‘My clients work out there,’ he said to me, ‘so I moved my membership there,'” an athlete and retired FSB veteran told me.
The FSB’s Constitutional and Anti-Terrorism Departments are a whole other story. They oversee everyone who has any dealings with the opposition and they inspire no confidence whatsoever. For example, I am flattered Kirill Serebrennikov and I are overseen by the same FSB officers. But we are overseen by officers from the Constitutional Department, while the Anti-Terrorism Department are working-class blokes who specialize in completely different cases. They were merged into a single directorate in which the Anti-Terrorism Department, supposedly, is subordinated to the Constitutional Department. Naturally, they cannot stand each other.
What about the top bosses? They are busy with other things, which is why they are in charge. They are busy with politicking and intrigues. These quiet squabbles surface as cases like the recent arrest of Colonel Kirill Cherkalin from K Directorate. Did he really take a bribe? Maybe he did: anything is possible. It is more likely, however, he was arrested as part of a war for turf, turf that has been shrinking exponentially with every passing day. Fattened cows no longer graze on this turf: there are basically no cows left to milk. The entire herd has been devoured.
What to Expect
I will quote in full the monologue my anonymous source delivered when I asked him about the future. I do no think there is any need to decode it.
“The turbulence will increase. Until all the issues with Russia’s natural gas and its transit through Ukraine are settled, Number One won’t have time for things happening here. They have been outsourced to our guys. They have been told to go and bite everyone’s heads off. They have temporary permission to do it.
“But there are few fat cats. All the money has been sent abroad. Everyone is living on loans. All of Rublyovka is up to their ears in loans. There will be searches in some people’s homes, and some folks will be ripped to shreds. There will be a lot of this kind of stuff this year. The government will be purged, too. People love this sort of thing.
“Abyzov made no impression on anyone. No one understood what it was about. The only thing people will remember is that he offered to pay a billion rubles in bail. No one will forget him and the billion rubles.
“Circumstances are such that even the system’s insiders cannot make any forecasts. The settings are changing constantly. There is no stable paradigm.
“It is like with water. At room temperature, we understand how it acts. You can stick your finger in it and blow on it. But now it is being warmed. It has not boiled yet and vaporized, but you do not know what to do with it and how it will act next.
“The tax police are busy with major shakedowns. They are kicking everyone’s ass. When we ask them why they are doing it, they reply, ‘Crimea is ours, and our job is to get people to make additional payments.’ But additional payments and penalties are different things, especially penalties meant to wipe people out. They are going after people’s last rubles.
“I have a friend who works as a business court judge on tax cases. Whereas earlier, when she would be asked why she reduced a claim from one hundred million rubles to ten million, she could have an off-the-record chat with the head judge of the court and explain she was doing it so the person could keep their business, such chats are not kosher nowadays.
“Hard times are coming. The Syrian project fell through, and Russia failed to get control of the pipeline going through Turkey. Nothing that was planned in Syria has worked out, and both the South Stream and Nord Stream projects fell through [sic]. Nor will they replace the Ukrainian transit, although that was the goal. But it impossible to exit Syria, and now they have butted their noses in Venezuela. Their luck has been bad. People’s nerves are on edge up top.
“Number One is interested only in oil and gas, and so other parties have got involved in the game. If it were up to Number One, he would crush everyone and no one would breathe another word. He probably decided the lower ranks should take care of this stuff themselves. The very top bosses are not concerned with these matters at all right now. The lower ranks are running things and a huge amount of haggling has been happening. We are witnessing a classic turf war.”
Welcome to the magical world of turbulence in a pot of boiling water.
Olga Romanova is the director of Russia Behind Bars, a charitable foundation that aids Russian convicts and their families, people who have been victimized by the Russian justice system. Translated by the Russian Reader
“In 2018, 516 people were acquitted out of the thousands of criminal cases submitted to the courts [by the Investigative Committee.] This amounts to .51% of the number of cases investigated. In 2017, [the Investigative Committee] submitted 128,000 criminal cases to the courts. There were acquittals in 534 of them, which amounts to .42%,” Bastrykin said at a staff meeting to discuss the Investigative Committee’s work over the past year.
[Bastrykin] added that, in the European countries, every fifth verdict was an acquittal.
“The figures in Europe are stable: a 20% acquittal rate. And they’re proud of those results,” Bastrykin noted.
Archangel Michael Becomes Investigative Committee Patron Saint RBC
August 16, 2016
Patriarch Kirill has “blessed” the naming of the archangel Michael as the Russian Investigative Committee’s spiritual patron. A patron was named at the behest of Investigative Committee chair Alexander Bastrykin, as reported by the agency’s spokesman Vladimir Markin in a press release on its website.
The patron was named “in the interests of strengthening the spiritual and moral foundations of Russian Investigative Committee personnel,” Markin said.
The choice of the Investigative Committee’s patron saint fell on the archangel Michael “since in the Scriptures he is portrayed as the principal crusader against all iniquity among people,” and in Revelations, he “appears as the warrior of light.”
In addition, the archangel Michael “is often portrayed holding scales in which one of the pans is heavier than the other, which helps the guardian of the heavenly gates [sic] tell the righteous from the wicked.”
This “allows one to draw an analogy” with criminal justice, which “is the Investigative Committee’s main job,” Markin underscored.
Bastrykin has ordered the drafting of an agreement between the Investigative Committee and the Russian Orthodox Church. As part of the agreement between them, “cooperation aimed at reviving and strengthening spirituality” and “counteracting terrorism, extremism, corruption, and immorality” is planned.
In addition, Markin noted that the archangel Michael is present in the majority of the religions represented in Russia (Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism). The archangel Michael will thus be venerated by the Investigative Committee’s offices in the North Caucasus Federal District.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of the Investigative Committee
The 2016 Elections: Putrefaction as the Laboratory of Life
Ilya Budraitskis OpenLeft
April 29, 2016
How do the upcoming Duma elections threaten the regime?
Today, it would seem that the upcoming September elections to the State Duma are a cause of growing concern only in the Kremlin. While polls continue to record a low level of public interest in the event, and the tiny number of parties allowed to run in the election wanly prepares to fulfill their usual roles, the president and his entourage are increasingly talking about possible threats.
The rationale of radicalization
At a recent meeting with activists of the Russian People’s Front, Putin noted that external enemies would preparing ever more provocations to coincide “with elections to the State Duma, and then with the presidential election. It’s a one hundred percent certainty, a safe bet, as they say.”
Regardless of their real value, the upcoming elections have been turning right before our eyes into a point of tension on which the state’s repressive apparatus has focused. Beginning with the establishment of the National Guard, the process has been mounting. Each security agency has now inaugurated its own advertising season, designed not only to remind the president and public of its existence but also to show off its unique capabilities, inaccessible to other competing agencies, for combating potential threats.
Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has uncovered a plot by the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector, while in his programmatic article, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin essentially suggested canceling the elections since holding them could prove too dangerous. He made a direct appeal to stop “playing at pseudo-democracy” and provide a “tough, appropriate, and balanced response” to the country’s enemies “in light of the upcoming elections and the possible risks presented by the stepping up of efforts by destabilizing political forces.” With the appointment of Tatyana Moskalkova, even the previously neutral office of the human rights ombudsman has, apparently, been turned into yet another bastion of the fight against conspiracies.
This nervousness is certainly due to the fact that the growing economic and social crisis has had no visible political fallout for the time being. There have been no mass spontaneous revolts or sectoral strikes, although there has been an overall uptick in isolated labor disputes. The political realm has long ago been securely purged of any uncontrollable opposition, while the president’s personal rating has remained phenomenally high. Nothing, it would seem, portends serious grounds for political destabilization this autumn. The absence, however, of real threats itself has become a threat to the internal stability of the state apparatus.
Where does the threat lie? In recent times, it has become obvious that decision-making at all levels and whatever the occasion has been subjected to a rationale of radicalization. Its principle can be described roughly as follows: no new decision can be less radical than the previous decision. Bureaucratic loyalty is measured only by the level of severity. MPs must propose more sweeping laws against latent traitors. Law enforcement agencies must expose more and more conspiracies, while the courts must hand down rulings that are harsher than the harshest proposals made by the security officials and MPs. Permanently mounting radicalism enables officials to increase budgets, expand powers, and prove their reliability, while any manifestation of moderation or leniency can cost them their careers. This radicalization, whose causes are rooted in the political psychology of the Russian elite (which suffers from an almost animal fear of uncontrollability), has set off an extremely dangerous bureaucratic momentum. Its main problem is the inability to stop. It is not only unclear where the bottom is, but who is ultimately interested in reaching that bottom and leaving it at that.
All this generates a strange situation vis-à-vis the elections, which have generally functioned primarily as a political balancing mechanism for the Putinist system, and even now function in this way. Elections have always been a reminder—not to voters, but to the elite itself—that varying opinions within a clearly defined framework have not only been possible but have also been encouraged. This reminder has been important not out of faithfulness to an abstract principle, but as confirmation that political bodies (first of all, the presidential administration) have had the monopoly on deciding domestic policy, not a military or police junta.
Fixing the broken mechanism?
For the Kremlin, the upcoming elections are overshadowed by the political trauma of 2011, when the smoothly functioning system of managed democracy suffered a serious breakdown. The current chief political strategist Vyacheslav Volodin has more or less consistently focused on making sure the failure of five years ago is not repeated. Volodin’s mission is to fix the broken mechanism with political methods, not by force.
It is worth remembering that, for the greater part of the Putin era, parliamentary and presidential elections were parts of a single political cycle, in which the same scenario was played out. The triumphal success of the ruling United Russia party was supposed to precede and ensure the even more resounding success of Vladimir Putin. In December 2011, however, the cycle’s unity backfired against the Kremlin’s plans. The interval between elections enabled the protest movement to maintain its grassroots energy for several months.
The political rationale of Putin’s third term is now aimed not only at technically but also at conceptually disrupting this cycle. Amidst a sharp drop in confidence in the government, the Kremlin decided last summer to move parliamentary elections up from December 2017 to September 2016, and, on the contrary, postpone the presidential election from March 2017 to March 2018. The point of the maneuver is obvious. The presidential and parliamentary elections must now represent not two parts of the same script but two completely different scripts. In the first script, a limited number of parties, which make up the symphony of the Crimean consensus, will criticize the government and each other, thus competing for the sympathies of the dissatisfied populace. In the second script, the natural patriotic instinct of voters should leave no doubt as to the need to support Putin unconditionally.
The new ideological content was embodied by Volodin’s famous statement: “There is no Russia today if there is no Putin.” This personification virtually means that, as a symbolic father, Putin transcends everyday politics. You can be a liberal or a nationalist, a proponent of greater intervention in the economy or a fan of the free market. You can choose not to like the government or government officials. But the nexus Putin-Crimea-Russia is beyond any doubt. Those who fundamentally disagree with it are simply removed from the Russian political spectrum and branded “national traitors.”
In keeping with this rationale, responsibility for the sharp drop in living standards and the consequences of the neoliberal “anti-crisis” measures has been borne by ministers, MPs, and governors, by anyone except the president. Even now, when the propaganda effect of the “reunification” of Crimea has obviously begun to fade, the president’s personal rating remains high. Thus, according to the latest opinion polls, 81% of respondents trust Putin, while 41% do not trust Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and 47% do not trust his government overall.
Within the new-model Crimean consensus, United Russia will no longer play the role of the backbone it played in the noughties. Untethered from the non-partisan figure of the president, it will take on the burden of unpopularity borne by its formal leader, Dmitry Medvedev, and his government. The mixed electoral system will enable candidates from local “parties of power” in single-member districts to dissociate themselves from United Russia, presenting themselves as “non-partisan Putinists” criticizing the soulless federal authorities. Volodin’s scheme involves loosening United Russia’s grip on power and slightly increasing the value of the pseudo-opposition as represented by the Communist Party and A Just Russia.
It is worth noting that the very existence of a bureaucratic mega-party previously played a stabilizing role by dampening intra-elite conflicts. Now they will inevitably come out into the open, including in the shape of inter-party struggles. Of course, the presidential administration counts on being able to effectively ensure compliance with the clear rules of this competition, but there are no guarantees. The managed multi-party system with the “father of the nation” towering over it consummates the new architecture of the Putin regime as a personalistic regime, and becomes more and more vulnerable.
In the new reality of the crisis, Putin’s depoliticization also facilitates a more intensive “natural selection” among bureaucrats at all levels by culling those who have not mastered the art of maintaining the conservative sympathies of the populace while simultaneously implementing what amount to aggressively anti-social policies. The September campaign is supposed to go off without a hitch, culminating in a predictable outcome. Having given a human face to the Central Elections Commission, which was seriously discredited by the previous leadership, Ella Pamfilova is meant to increase this manageability and predictability. It turns out that the upcoming elections are the primary pressure test of the new, post-Bolotnaya Square design of managed democracy. The future of Vyacheslav Volodin and his team, as well as Putin’s willingness to trust them with the extremely important 2018 presidential campaign, probably depends on how smoothly they come off.
From the foregoing it is clear that the objective of reestablishing the rules of managed democracy is directly at odds with the above-mentioned rationale of radicalization, whose standard-bearers are the competing law enforcement agencies. Their individual success in the internal struggle is vouchsafed by the failure of the political scenario, which would give rise to the need for a vigorous intervention by force. After all, the National Guard’s value would be incomparably increased if it put down real riots instead of sham riots, and Bastrykin’s loyalty would all the dearer if, instead of the endless absurdity of the Bolotnaya Square Case, he would uncover real extremists. To scare someone seriously, the ghosts have to take on flesh and blood.
Life is everywhere
Marx said that putrefaction is the laboratory of life. Now we see how Putinist capitalism has embarked on a process of gradual self-destruction. The upcoming elections provide a clear picture of how this has been facilitated by two opposing rationales, the political rationale (Volodin and the presidential administration) and the law enforcement rationale. Thus, the first rationale, in order to generate the necessary momentum and expand the range of opinions, must respond to social discontent by providing United Russia’s managed opponents with greater freedom to criticize. Restoring the internal political balance will inevitably lead to the fact that topics related to the crisis and the government’s anti-social policies will become the centerpiece of the entire election campaign. On the other hand, the security forces will destabilize the situation outside parliament. Together, they will do much more to undermine an already-flawed system than the long-term, deliberate efforts of any western intelligence agency.
Of course, Russian leftists should in no way count on events following an automatic course. But it is absolutely necessary to take into account the conflicts of interest within the elite and understand their decisive influence on the shape of the upcoming elections. These elections have nothing to do with the real struggle for power or traditional parliamentarianism in any shape or form. But they are directly related to the internal decomposition of an authoritarian, anti-labor, and anti-social regime. So our policy vis-à-vis these elections should be flexible and remote from all general conclusions. That means we can and should support certain leftist candidates in single-member districts. We must use all the opportunities provided by the leftist, socialist critique of the Medvedev government’s so-called anti-crisis policies. We must be ready to go to the polls. Or we must be ready to reject them, taking to the streets when the time comes.
Ilya Budraitskis is a writer, researcher, and editor at OpenLeft. Translated by the Russian Reader
The Apocalypse According to Bastrykin The Head of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee Describes a Russia on the Brink of Disaster Due to 16 Years of Putin’s Rule
Fyodor Krasheninnikov Vedomosti
April 20, 2016
One of the pillars of the current regime is not inclined to see Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a stable country with reputable authorities, and people who are united around them and ready to face any and all tests. This is the conclusion one draws from Alexander Bastrykin’s sensational article.
What is Bastrykin’s Russia like? First of all, it is a country standing on the brink of collapse. Things are so bad that only extraordinary measures, described at length at the end of the article, can save it. If you take the article at face value, you might imagine the enemy’s “hybrid” armies are literally camped outside of Moscow, while in the rear the “fifth column” is blowing up the last bridge, and only a miracle and Bastrykin can save the Fatherland.
However, none of this is surprising, for in the Russia described by Bastrykin, our intelligence services are practically dysfunctional, while their foreign counterparts, especially the Americans, are powerful and omnipresent. Bastrykin literally howls,“It’s time to erect an effective barrier against the information war!” This appeal even serves as the article’s headline. It follows that, until April 18, 2016, there was no effective barrier against enemy propaganda and agitation whatsoever, and Russia’s foes could do literally anything they liked.
The vulnerability of Bastrykin’s Russia is quite easy to understand and not at all surprising, for, according to the article, the country has not been very lucky with its population. Bastrykin’s Russia is populated by two categories of people. The first are gullible and prone to react unreasonably to the most trivial things. The second are unprincipled scoundrels, ready to enlist in any intelligence service, extremist or terrorist organization for money.
The first category cause a lot of trouble. As soon as these excitable simpletons read something on the uncensored Internet, hear an unorthodox take on a story or find out someone does not recognize the outcome of a referendum, they immediately join forces with the second category, carefully recruited by foreign intelligence services, and commence destroying their own country. So the first category should be isolated from everything as much as possible, while the second, obviously, should be isolated physically and, preferrably, have their property confiscated as well.
Bastrykin’s Russia is a permanent victim and helpless puppet in the hands of the US. In Putin’s seventeenth year in power, Bastrykin unflatteringly reports on “the shaping of a pro-American and pro-western so-called non-systemic opposition in Russia, and the spread of inter-confessional and political extremism[.]” The author has nothing to say directly about the president, which is odd in itself, for it transpires that under Putin’s administration all kinds of extremism have flourished, and thousands of Russian citizens have traveled “to areas of heightened terrorist activity [through] Turkey and Egypt, where they travel both directly and through third countries[.]” They do this, obviously, because life is no bed of roses. The rest, as I have already said, are just waiting for someone to stir them up.
What about the president?
“Enough of playing at pseudo-democracy and following pseudo-liberal values,” Bastrykin tells him.
The trouble, it turns out, is he has flirted too long with pseudo-democracy.
Judging by Bastrykin’s article, the upper echelons of powers do not expect anything good from the future and Russia’s people, and are openly readying themselves for a merciless fight against any encroachments on their right to remain in power. The head of the Investigative Committee has issued an explicit warning. Whatever abysses the Russian economy plunges into, whatever misfortunes come crashing down on the heads of its people, any dissatisfaction with the authorities will be interpreted a priori as a consequence of the activity of western intelligence agencies, as extremism and terrorism, and will be decisively crushed. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe Bastrykin is alone in thinking this way.
Fyodor Krasheninnikov is president of the Institute for the Development and Modernization of Public Relations, Yekaterinburg. Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of Alexander Vilkin
I really like it when a big man in uniform speaks out with fanfare on perennial topics like the structure of society. You think it’s funny they all get Ph.D.s, but they really do consider themselves major theorists and are always willing to teach lessons in wisdom in their spare time. An entire genre has even emerged in Russian newspapers: lessons in political philosophy by generals.
“For democracy or people power is nothing other than the power of the people itself, realized in its interests. It is possible to achieve these interests only by means of the common good, and not through the absolute freedom and arbitrary will of individual members of society,” he writes.
It must be admitted that this is the pure, unadulterated truth. We might rejoice that democracy in Russia has found a new supporter.
Then, however, Bastrykin the democrat’s argument takes an unexpected turn. He proposes setting things up so that he, Bastrykin, would decide himself what information should be considered extremist, and would limit Internet access without a court order! In addition, he would also decide in which cases providers are obliged to provide him with the personal information of their clients.
There are lots of other tasty tidbits in his article, including innovative tactics for fighting terrorism by confiscating property, but that does not concern us here.
So somebody comes and says, Now I am going to decide who is an extremist and who can read what. You will also be informing me everyone’s personal information. If this is not “absolute freedom and the arbitrary will of an individual member of society,” then what else would you call it?
I am going to have to upset Mr. Bastrykin. Democracy is, in fact, people power. Therefore, the main objective of democratic governance has been and will be preventing the usurpation of power, not defending the people from the machinations of external foes, not hunting down traitors, not surveilling unreliables, but combating usurpers. And so democracy’s main enemy is the guy who comes out and says he is going to decide who the extremists are round here.
The problem with these scholarly generals is that the only form of social organization they are capable of conceiving is the prison camp. And so whether they write about democracy, traditional values or economic progress, the same speech in defense of the prison camp always comes out.
* * * * *
“It’s time to erect an effective barrier against the information war” Alexander Bastrykin, chair of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, on methods of combating extremism in Russia Kommersant
April 18, 2016
Chair of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, general of justice of the Russian Federation, doctor of juridical sciences, Professor Alexander Bastrykin, special to Vlast magazine, on the ways and methods of combating extremism in Russia
In 2015, the Russian Federation witnessed negative trends in criminal extremism and terrorism.
1,329 extremist crimes were recorded, which was 28.5% higher than in 2014 (1,034 crimes). A growth in this type of crime was noted in fifty-six regions of the Russian Federation.
The numbers of such crimes as public calls to extremist activity (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280) and inciting hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity has soared by nearly forty percent in comparison with 2014.
The crime of organizing an extremist organization was recorded 42 times (+2,4%).
A significant increase (+36.3%) in terrorist crimes committed in the Russian Federation has been noted. A total of 1,538 such crimes was recorded in 2015 (as opposed to 1,128 in 2014).
Seventy such crimes were prevented at the stage of planning or during the attempt. 133 terrorist crimes were committed with the help of the Internet network.
A particularly difficult situation has been observed in the North Caucasus Federal District, which accounts for the bulk of terrorist crimes: 1,168 crimes or 75.9% of all such crimes (leading to an increase of 32.3%). (In 2014, 883 such crimes were committed.)
Both external (geopolitical) and domestic political factors have contributed to the growth of this type of crime.
Over the past decade, Russia and a number of other countries have been living through a so-called hybrid war, unleashed by the US and its allies. The war has been conducted on various fronts, political, economic, informational, and legal. In recent years, it has moved into a new phase of open confrontation.
The main elements of economic pressure have been commercial and financial sanctions, dumping wars on the hydrocarbons market, and currency wars. Skillfully manipulating the huge number of dollars in circulation, the States have brought down the national currencies of developing countries. Russian organizations have had their access to channels of external long-term financing blocked, channels that formed the basis of investment for developing the real (productive) sectors of the economy. It is noteworthy that restrictions on the movement of financing have not affected short-term financing, which currently has been widedly employed to exert speculative pressure on our national currency. In many respects, the outcome of these measures has been the deep devaluation of the ruble, falling real incomes, a decline in industrial production, and economic recession. There has been a budget deficit and ensuing consequences in the form of cuts in expenditures, as well as an increasing fiscal burden to raise revenues.
Unfortunately, international law and the justice based on it have increasingly become tools of this war.
Obvious examples are the decisions in the Yukos cases, the decision in the murder case of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, the report of the Security Council of Netherlands on the investigation into the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the FBI’s investigation of the legitimacy of awarding the right to hold the World Cup to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, and the extradition of our citizens Victor Bout and Konstanin Yaroshenko to the US and their sentencing to long terms of imprisonment.
However, the information war has caused the most devastating effects. By supporting radical Islamists and other radical ideological tendencies, the US has completely destabilized the situation in the Middle East. The effects of artificially initiated coups, revolutions, and crises in this region are still being experienced by Europe, overrun by mobs of refugees who profess qualitatively alien sociocultural traditions and have displaced the local population. Islamic State, the Al-Nusra Front, Al Qaida, and other terrorist organizations involved in the armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic have also been an effect of this policy. Manpower for replenishing these organizations are recruited all over the world, including in Russia.
More than a thousand Russian citizens have gone to the Syrian Arab Republic to participate in the armed conflict. 469 criminal cases have been filed against these persons. 135 of them have been killed in armed clashes with Syrian government troops.
The main channels of entry for Russian citizens into areas of heightened terrorist activity have been Turkey and Egypt, where they travel both directly and through third countries (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova) under the pretext of holidaymaking, receiving theological education, doing business, etc.
The main technique of the information war is the manipulation of an ideology that a particular social group finds congenial by radicalizing it. It is clear that the system of religious, ethnocultural, and confessional values is the segment of social existence that defines the most significant feature of any nation (ethnic group) and other such social groups as self-identification. Many of these values were shaped, preserved, and passed from generation to generation for centuries. Therefore, no nation is willing to give up its identity. Perhaps it is the only universal value it is willing to defend with arms and, as they say, until the last drop of blood is spilled.
Aware of the devastating effect of conflicts based on ethnic hatred, the US has bet on this informational element. At the current level of understanding of the issue, it is clear that the subversion of the Soviet Union’s ideological foundations, which were based on the principle of the brotherhood of nations, was also initiated from the outside and based on methods of ethnic strife. It was no accident that in the early 1990s numerous ethnic conflicts (Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia-Abkhazia, Ossetia-Ingushetia, Transnistria) broke almost simultaneously. At this time, the first mass rallies of nationalist-minded citizens took place in Kiev. In addition, the subversion of state power was carried out by means of anti-Soviet agitation and financing of the political opposition in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, and other countries.
Of course, in the minds of the local populace, those events were then regarded as local conflicts. However, it is now completely obvious that all these clashes were elements of the initial, as-yet-hidden phase of the information war.
Undoubtedly, the informational-ideological “weapon” will be deployed in the future. This is evidenced by the increase in US government spending on programs for the so-called development of democratic institutions in countries bordering on Russia and in the Central Asian states. The true meaning of these assets becomes clear from the name of this budget item, “Countering Russian aggression through public diplomacy and foreign aid programs, and the creation of stable government in Europe.”
About 4.3 billion dollars have been allocated under his item in 2017, and around a billion dollars will go to programs for the so-called fight against corruption and supporting democracy in countries neighboring Russia.
Funds already received under this program have been spent by by various non-governmental organizations under the guise of promoting education, developing civil society, and other seemingly useful purposes. The outcome has been the incitement of anti-Russian moods in neighboring countries, the shaping of the pro-American and pro-western so-called non-systemic opposition in Russia, and the spread of inter-confessional and political extremism within our country.
Recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh witness to the repeated attempts of forces opposed to Russia to undermine the peace between the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples and establish yet another hotbed of war on Russian’s borders.
It seems it is time to erect an effective barrier against this information war. We need a tough, appropriate, and balanced response. This is especially relevant in light of the upcoming elections and the possible risks presented by the stepping up of efforts by destabilizing political forces. Enough of playing at pseudo-democracy and following pseudo-liberal values. For democracy or people power is nothing other than the power of the people itself, realized in its interests. It is possible to achieve these interests only by means of the common good, and not through the absolute freedom and arbitrary will of individual members of society.
The following measures can be proposed to counter extremism.
It is extremely important to establish a concept of state ideological policy. Its basic element could be a national idea that would genuinely unite Russia’s unified multinational people. The concept could stipulate specific long-term and medium-term measures, aimed at the ideological education of our younger generation. Conscious resistance to radical religious and other ideologies could knock out the foundations on which current extremist ideologies are constructed. With this protection in place, even the most generous outside financing of destabilizing the situation in Russia will prove useless.
It is also important that youth are regarded by terrorist groups as a natural reserve. From this it follows that everything must be done to seize the initiative, to include young people at risk in the development and implementation of programs for countering armed extremism.
It seems appropriate for the supervisory and regulatory authorities to organize a wide-ranging and detailed verification of the compliance with federal legislation of all religious, ethnocultural, and youth organizations, suspected of engaging in banned extremist activity.
Using the know-how of the Northern Caucasus, we should organize specific and narrowly targeted preventive work with members of informal youth associations in order to adopt measures aimed at procuring information about negative processes underway in the youth milieu and identifying the ideologues and leaders of radical organizations who involved young people in extremist activity.
The positive know-how of the Republic of Ingushetia is also worthy of support. They have established a military-patriotic club that unites the children of law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty and children of neutralized members of the bandit underground, which facilitates their rapprochement and shapes an atmosphere of mutual understanding among them.
The proposed concept sees it as expedient to define the limits of censoring the global Internet network in Russia, since at present this problem is causing a heated debate in the light of the stepping up of efforts by advocates of the right to the free receipt and dissemination of information. Interesting in this sense is the know-how of foreign states, opposing the US and its allies. Due to unprecedented pressure from information, they have taken steps to restrict foreign media in order to protect the national information space. Thus, for example, on March 10, 2016, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology introduced a ban on electronic media fully or partly owned by foreign residents. These media will no longer be able to disseminate information through the Internet and, in the best case, by means of print publications. Chinese media will cooperate with foreign online media only with the permission of the ministry. Only Chinese nationals will be able to work in the management of national media. Online media servers can be located only in the People’s Republic of China.
It seems this know-how could be employed in Russia to a reasonable extent.
Internet providers must be furnished with a integrated set of rules for storing the personal information of their clients and users in the right amount in the event that such information is required when investigating cyber security violations.
In public places (libraries, schools, and other educational institutions) with access to the World Wide Web, filters restricting access to sites containing extremist content should be established.
In addition, it seems appropriate to stipulate an extrajudicial (administrative) procedure for including information in the federal list of extremist content and blocking the domain names of sites that disseminate extremist and radical nationalist information. However, if the proprietors of this information do not consider it extremist, they can appeal the relevant actions of the authorized government agencies in court and prove their innocence there. This procedure will enable a faster and more effective response to the promotion of extremism on the Internet. It is necessary to step up work on introducing modern technology for the effective monitoring of the radio waves and the Internet.
It is necessary to expand the range of criminal law measures to stop the illegal actions of terrorist organizations committed on the Internet network involving recruiting. To this end, we should consider the criminalization of possessing such materials, collecting them or uploading them from a computer. Modern evidence technologies make it possible to present to the court and confirm technical elements of intercourse on social networks that testify to the connections between the accused and the relevant electronic messages.
To expose the real aims and intentions of Islamic extremists and establish the insolvency of their theoretical approaches, which contradict the realities of the modern world and the fundamental interests of Islamic countries, it would seem useful for the State Duma to regularly hold special hearings involving experts from the Federal Security Service (FSB), eminent Islamic scholars and authorities, and scholars of Islam. The hearings should be widely covered in the press.
Particular attention should be paid to the migration process. Migrants are often targets of espionage recruiting and radicalization. Many of them have overstayed their limit in Russia, dropping out of the sight of law enforcement. We must analyze the regulatory acts governing the presence of foreign nationals and persons without citizenship in the Russian Federation. Based on our analysis, we should take additional measures for improving the legislation.
It is necessary to improve the work of precinct police with foreign nationals in the realm of monitoring compliance with the established rules of residence in Russia (monitoring of persons letting and renting residential premises in the precinct, and obtaining information about the nature of these persons’ employment). The internal affairs departments of agencies should exclude possible corruption here. Full use of the public’s assistance should be made.
Certain features of extremist activity have taken shape in the Crimea Federal District, where attempts have been made to mold anti-Russian moods, by means of falsifying historical facts and distorting the interpretation of modern events, and call into question the outcome of the referendum on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. This act of the legal expression of the Crimean population’s popular will has become an integral part of Russian constitutionalism. Considering the place of this act in the hierarchal system of values of Russian state and society, it is certainly in need of special legal protection, including by means of criminal legal coercion.
It should be noted that criminalizing the denial or falsification of historical events of particular importance to a state and society is a widespread practice. For example, in many countries, including Russia, criminal punishment is stipulated for promoting fascism. France and a number of other countries have introduced criminal liability for denying the Armenian genocide. The State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly is considering a similar law bill, No. 938567-6 (“On Criminalization of Public Denial of the Genocide of the Armenian People in Western Armenia and Ottoman Turkey in 1915-1922”). In Israel, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust.
In view of the above, it seems necessary to supplement the notion of extremist activity (extremism) contained in the federal law “On Countering Extremist Activity” with such a manifestation as denial of the outcome of a national referendum. It is necessary to decisively counteract the deliberate falsification of the history of our state. In this connection, we might also propose that Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280 (public calls for extremist activity) include an additional stipulation, which would qualify the falsification of historical facts and events as a call for extremist activity.
In addition to countering the ideological component of the information war being waged against Russia, it is important to step up efforts to combat financial support for this activity, including tightening control over cross-border capital flows. As experience has shown, terrorism is often financed by virtual cryptocurrency, which has no central issuer, no single point of transactional control, and features anonymous payments. In addition, as a result of their wide dissemination, these currencies can displace legal money from the market, which threatens the state’s financial stability. It is therefore suggested that criminal liability be introduced for the illegal issuance and circulation of cryptocurrency and other money substitutes.
We should also review social security legislation concerning the close relatives of persons involved in terrorism, entitlement to survivor’s pensions, and other benefits. A person who is going to commit such crimes should know that in the event of death not only will he be buried in an unmarked grave but he will also deprive his loved ones of support from the state.
Another measure that would contribute to the effective fight against extremism, terrorism, and other dangerous criminal manifestations is confiscation of property as a form of criminal punishment. As we know, the relevant legislative proposals have been prepared and are in need of speedy legislative implementation. Unfortunately, this process has been unduly delayed.
No less important is improvement of the legal mechanism of international cooperation among law enforcement and other state bodies empowered to counter terrorism and extremism.
Russian law regulates only the procedure for submitting an international request for legal assistance, whereas international acts in this field stipulate the possibility of closer integration, including the establishment of international investigative teams. Such cooperation would help in cases where Russian investigative authorities need to perform a number of investigative procedures or even perform a preliminary investigation in a foreign country and that country has agreed to provide such assistance. This gap became apparent during investigation of the armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008 and the terrorist act committed on board the Russian Airbus 321 over the Sinai Peninsula.
Translated by the Island of Misfit Toys. Thanks to Greg Yudin for his courage.
“Kadyrov said he would not let us work in Chechnya”
Irina Tumakova Fontanka.ru
March 18, 2016
The Committee for Prevention of Torture has been forced to withdraw from the Republic of Chechnya. Its chair, Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, was the latest victim of physical assault there. Kalyapin had long had a troubled relationship with Chechen headman Ramzan Kadyrov.
“Igor Kalyapin was just assaulted outside the entrance to the Hotel Grozny City. He was beaten and pelted with eggs,” Dmitry Utukin, an attorney for the organization wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening.
Later, Kalyapin recounted what had happened to him.
“Around 6 p.m., I checked into Room 2401 in the Hotel Grozny City,” he wrote on Facebook. “About forty minutes later, two reporters and a cameraman came to my room. While I was still in Ingushetia I had promised to give them an interview as soon as I arrived in Grozny. We had begun recording the interview when there was a knock on the door. A man of about sixty years of age, who introduced himself as the hotel’s general manager, a security guard in a black uniform, and another middle-aged man entered. The manager told me that since I had criticized the head of Chechnya and the Chechen police, while he himself was very fond of Ramzan Kadyrov, I had to leave the hotel. […] After that, I was escorted downstairs, where I was detained by a mob of around thirty women, who had apparently been hastily assembled from hotel staff and the employees of the boutiques located on the first floor. They screamed in unison: how dare you speak ill of Ramzan. When I tried to respond, they screamed loudly: we do not want to listen to you. Nevertheless, I was not allowed to leave the hotel. I realized they were purposely delaying me until a team of assailants arrived. I had let my staff go home in a car before dark, and it would have been wrong for them to come after me at such a time in the evening in Grozny. It was apparent I would not be allowed to check into any hotel in Grozny. Any of my Chechen friends living in Grozny would have been exposed to mortal danger [if I had tried to stay with them]. So basically I was in no big hurry nor could I expect anyone to help me. I tried calling Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council. I did not manage to get through to him in time [.]”
In an interview with Kavpolit, Kalyapin said of his attackers, “I believe the men who attacked me were neither Chechens nor Muslims. People who have done such a thing cannot be called Chechens or Muslims.”
Who, then, were the assailants? What had the anti-torture campaigner done to enrage them? Fontanka.ru posed these questions to Igor Kalyapin.
Igor, how do you explain yesterday’s attack on you?
There is no cause to guess here, it is all fairly simple. Over the past two years, Ramzan Kadyrov has personally, frequently, and quite emotionally accused me of various horrible crimes in the Chechen media. He has said I have defended terrorists and financed terrorism in the Chechen Republic, and that our committee are agents of western intelligence agencies who earn money on the blood of the Chechen people. That is a literal quotation. For example, in December 2014, there was a terrorist attack in Grozny in which a dozen Chechen policemen, young guys, were killed.
Yes, that is a well-known story. Kadyrov blamed you personally for the attack.
He addressed people, including the relatives of the dead, and he did this in the first twenty-four hours after the attack, when people were blinded by grief and pain. And he said to them: I know that a certain Kalyapin transferred money from abroad to the organizers of the attack.
Let us also recall he was not angry with you for no reason. You had tried to prevent him from burning down without trial the houses of people suspected of being relatives of the terrorists.
Of course. But he has said it more than once; he has systematically repeated the charges. Only last month on Chechen TV there were two films about Kalyapin: montages of photographs, videos, and screenshots of our website, and all the charges against me read out against this visual backdrop.
So what is the reason? What has your committee done to Kadyrov?
Many of the kidnappings we have tried to investigate have led us to Kadyrov’s confidants. And he knows it quite well: I once personally told him about it. We constantly pressure the Investigative Committee, which deals with these matters, to perform certain investigative actions. They have tried to stop or suspend criminal proceedings, but we have constantly appealed their actions in the courts.
Well, we understand how our courts and investigators work. Could Kadyrov, for example, just not pay attention to your work?
We publicly talk about all of it. We point out that the Investigative Committee in the Chechen Republic has not been investigating such-and-such a case, although the evidence is there: for example, the case of Murad Amriyev, the case of Islam Umarpashayev, and other matters. We point out that a certain person has not been questioned only because he serves in the Akhmad Kadyrov Regiment, and the investigator is afraid to summon him. We have made such things public on many occasions. We have sent white papers on these cases to all the factions in the State Duma. We have periodically appealed to Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee. Moreover, we have done it openly, by publishing reports, and we have talked about cases not being investigated. I have also spoken about this at the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. There has been a lot of press about our work. Naturally, it infuriates Kadyrov.
Does it merely infuriate him? Or does he see your work as a serious threat?
Apparently, he does in fact see it as a threat. I think that from time to time he get signals he should stop illegally prosecuting people he does not like. I imagine the powers that be wag their finger at him. Until you stop, they say, your republic will be written about as a lawless land.
Why has everything intensified in recent days? The incidents involving your committee in a single region have been in the headlines for a week running. Whose toes have you stepped on lately?
No, there were incidents before this, too. It was just that nobody wrote about them. If it were not for the March 9 attack on the journalists, which made such a big splash, then no one much would have written about my getting pelted with eggs, probably. The two incidents just happened to coincide. In fact, we have been under intense pressure for at least the last two years. Many things have happened. I cannot detail all of them right now.
For example, three days ago, there was an incident at your committee’s office in Grozny.
Yes, three nights ago, people broke into an apartment in Grozny we use as an office. They tried to turn off the security camera. They thought they had succeeded, but the camera kept on working. So on the recording you can see Emergency Situations Ministry officers and police officers breaking open the door and entering. Then, apparently, they got to the router, and the signal went dead. Basically, one of the reasons I came to Grozny was to get to the bottom of what was going on with the apartment: inspect it, file a complaint with the police, and so on.
Your colleagues at the committee told Fontanka.ru that security officials also went into your office in Ingushetia on March 9.
It was not an office in Ingushetia, but an apartment where we kept documents. And that is important, because we have not done any work in Ingushetia. We do not have a single case in Ingushetia. We do not annoy the security officials in Ingushetia in any way. Moreover, I have had a great relationship with Yunus-bek Yevkurov, head of Ingushetia, and he has had generally good relations with human rights activists, even with the ones who annoy him. So Yevkurov was not behind it, of course. I cannot tell you who these people were. But people at the level of the North Caucasian Federal District have got involved, and I imagine the Interior Ministry could easily establish whether it was policemen or someone else.
Meaning, you are confident they have decided to figure it out?
No, I’m not confident, not confident at all. But if anyone can figure it out, it has to be federal district officials. But if it was security officials who were involved, they were not from Ingushetia.
Why could your committee’s employees not work in Chechnya quietly, without advertising themselves?
That is the specific nature of our work. We are not gathering information, after all; we are lawyers. We are constantly involved in public legal proceedings. Once or twice a week, for example, we are involved in court hearings dealing with the Investigative Committee’s unlawful actions or their inaction. The court sessions are open to the public. Information about them is posted at the entrance to the courthouse or on the court’s website. We are simply legally bound to operate publicly. That is, we have three areas of work: we do paperwork and file documents in court, we are involved in court hearings, and we take part in police investigations. It is quite easy to identify us. And there is nothing to be done about it.
You work to prevent torture, which is a crime. Theoretically, the state should have a stake in the success of your work. How does it help you? Perhaps by physically protecting you?
You know yourself how it “helps” us.
What if I didn’t know?
The work of the Committee against Torture, which is purely juridical and wholly confined to criminal proceedings, was deemed work aimed at changing state policy, and as such the committee was placed on the register of foreign agents. Honestly, I still have not recovered from the shock. We never denied we received foreign funding, but to say that the Committee against Torture had been trying to change state policy is—
A full confession?
In my opinion, it is self-incrimination. When a person says such things, it is called self-incrimination. But here it was the state saying this. Nevertheless, our organization was deemed a foreign agent. So now we have another organization: the Committee for Prevention of Torture does not receive foreign funding. True, they are trying once again to register us as foreign agents. Because they feel like it.
Okay, money from foreign organizations is a very bad thing. But has the Russian government subsidized the prevention of torture?
In 2013–2014, we got our first state subsidy, a so-called presidential grant. Then the organization was declared a foreign agent, and we announced we did not intend to go on working with this status. We discontinued operations and registered the new organization, which for the time being has not received anything from anyone.
How do you survive, then? Legal aid, trips to the regions (you operate in more than just Chechnya), and collecting information are probably all expensive things, no?
Legal aid is not the most expensive thing. And what information collecting do we need to do if people come to us themselves? We need money for other things—for collecting evidence and conducting forensic examinations, and for ensuring people’s safety. We very often send victims to a sanatorium, not only so they get medical treatment there but also to spare them from the intrusiveness of the law enforcement agency whose officers we suspect of having committed the crime. This is what we need money for. For example, last year a man sought our help. He told us a deputy minister of the Chechen Republic had tortured him: the minister had attached electric wires to his body and so on. The victim was in hospital. Moreover, he was disabled: he had only one leg. And he showed us so-called electrode traces, claiming they were evidence of torture. We had this conversation approximately a week after he had been tortured. To force the Investigative Committee to accept this as evidence, you need to carry out a quite complicated forensic examination. So we sent this man with a chaperon (since he was disabled) off to Moscow. In Moscow, we contracted with a licensed, state-accredited forensics bureau, which offers paid services among other things. They did the examination. When we did the numbers, it turned out the examination alone cost us over 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,300 euros at current exchange rates]. They are not always so expensive, but such forensic examinations are required in each case.
So maybe the examinations should be conducted at government expense as part of the investigation.
The Investigative Committee is not going to conduct them, and not only because it is expensive but also because they are afraid of finding out the results. When it does not want to deal with a criminal case, the Investigative Committee’s primary tool is delaying the forensic examination so it is impossible to establish either the nature of the physical injuries or the circumstances in which they were received. So in each case we have to carry out the forensic examinations ourselves.
But someone does pay for it, don’t they? Who are they? Charities, private sponsors?
Our work is divided. There is the Committee for Prevention of Torture. It employs lawyers who go to court, file appeals, and so on. It is a public organization that has no foreign funding. But there is another organization, also noncommercial, which works on the forensic examinations, collects evidence, and so on, that is, on things where money is absolutely necessary, including international protection. It receives foreign funding.
Have I understood you correctly that the fight against torture in Russia is subsidized by foreign organizations?
Yes, that is correct.
You want to return to Chechnya. I gather that the challenges you went there to solve have not been addressed.
The task I have already told you about has lost its relevance. I wanted to inspect our apartment in Grozny, but it is clear I am not going to be allowed to do that. So we will have to solve the problem differently. For example, attorneys can inspect the apartment along with police officers. But I had another objective: to try and organize a press conference in Grozny. Now I would not even risk inviting anyone to go there. In Chechnya, there are reporters who write good things about Kadyrov, and they are not in any danger. But those who have at one time or another permitted themselves even a bit of criticism had better not go there.
What will happen now to the cases your committee has been handling in Chechnya? Will you abandon them?
No, we do not abandon cases. We simply do not have the right, either the moral or the legal right. We will continue to be involved in them. For the time being, I cannot say how we will set up the work and where our lawyers will do the paperwork. It is obvious we will not be allowed to work in the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov himself has said so many times. But we will continue the work itself.
Your staff will still have to travel to Chechnya, won’t they?
Yes, they will. But we are officially involved in criminal cases as counsel for the victims. The investigative authorities are obliged to ensure our safety. They had better do it.
This is just by way of understanding the hierarchy of the people in power in Russia.
The political wrangling went on for ten months. In March, Putin “went to ground” for a couple of weeks when the siloviki were demanding he surrender Kadyrov. It was clear he would not give up Kadyrov. Then for several months they demanded Geremeyev and his high-ranking relatives, but ultimately they did not get him, either.
This is what it basically comes down to.
The toughest guy in the real table of ranks in Russia is Ramzan Kadyrov.
The second rank includes Vladimir Putin, the selfsame Chechen elite, and members of the State Duma and Federation Council.
The fourth rank includes any general in the Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service (FSB), and somewhere in there as well is Ruslan Muhudinov, driver of the deputy commander of the North Battalion [i.e., Ruslan Geremeyev].
Leonid Volkov is a project manager for opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. Translated by the Russian Reader
Zhanna Nemstova Moving Backwards: Russia’s Moral Decay
December 28, 2015 The Moscow Times
The Public Opinion Foundation conducted a survey this month asking Russians two questions: “What was the main event of the year in Russia?” and “What was the main global event of the year?”
Noteworthy is that fully 40% of the respondents had trouble answering either question. And the most brutal political murder in modern Russia – the assassination of my father – did not even figure in the responses. State-controlled television hardly mentions it, with the exception of the first few days after the killing, when commentators spoke of him in contemptuous tones.
But the problem is not only the silence of the Kremlin’s official propaganda. The problem is the condition of Russian society. A Levada Center survey conducted in March of this year found that one-third of all Russians are indifferent to my father’s murder. That is a moral numbness best conveyed by the popular Russian sentiments of “It does not concern me” and “That does not affect me.” The well-known military journalist Arkady Babchenko refers to that type of thinking by his countrymen as “infantilism.” Perhaps he is right.
This attitude finds expression not only in widespread apathy, but also in people’s inability to recognize even obvious causal relationships. It is understandable why some people cannot see the medium-term and long-term negative consequences of the annexation of Crimea, but it was not so difficult to predict that consumer prices would rise as a result of Moscow’s food embargo and the hefty tolls imposed on trucks traveling on federal highways.
The political system that President Vladimir Putin has built robs the Russian people of the ability to think, analyze, ask questions, formulate positions or remember the past. It offers no stimulus for that: Putin’s Russia has no need of people who think for themselves. It has reduced competition to a minimum in all areas, including the political field. And it is not always the smartest that succeed in this system.
It is a sad and potentially dangerous situation when the political playing field lies decimated and debates and discussions have been replaced with sometimes violent pressure from the authorities. That has also compromised the quality of the opposition itself and made it a truly heroic feat to even take part in the opposition movement in Russia. There are no democratic institutions and the activists are fighting for survival. Under such conditions, opposition figures have no chance to become public figures and the public has no way of knowing who is who.
People have short memories, and that makes life easier for Putin and his inner circle, who are constantly confusing their facts. First they claim there are no Russian soldiers in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and then they admit to their presence. First they promise not to raise taxes and fees, and then they impose new tariffs on long-haul truckers. Forgetfulness is a handy humantendency, and the Kremlin’s television propaganda exploits it to the fullest.
This explains why leaders have no personal reputations and remain unaccountable before the public. Perhaps the social apathy and the public’s lack of interest in politics is a defense mechanism, people’s way of responding to the flood of lies and aggression from the authorities. Nobody can figure out where the truth lies, and so it is best not to even go looking for it.
All politics in Russia are situational and as volatile as oil prices. Even loyal politicians and officials do not always manage to fall into line exactly as they should. For example, it is amusing to see how famed film director and die-hard Putin fan Nikita Mikhalkov gets outraged over the way his own patriotic show on state-controlled television is subjected to censorship.
The authorities and the ruling elite are out for their own survival. That end justifies all means, including the tactic of keeping military tensions high at all times. As a result, Russia is increasingly moving away from humanistic values and toward a confrontational relationship with the world. But perhaps that is not putting it strongly enough: maybe Russia is moving toward total apathy. However, war is becoming the context for all other issues in life.
Russian journalists often ask me why I fight for a fair and impartial investigation into my father’s murder. For me, the very wording of that question is sickening because it shows that medieval values now reign supreme in Russia: nobody understands that it is not just I who needs such an investigation, but all Russians if this country is to ever move forward.
We must wage a long and grueling fight for human rights. If we simply give up that struggle and accept the fact that, in Russia, someone can just go and kill a prominent public figure, a statesman and leader of the opposition with absolute impunity, then we must also come to terms with the fact that the same thing could one day happen to any of us.
Today’s opposition members are now at greater risk than ever before. I see the condescending attitude shown toward the small handful of people who continue to struggle for democracy in Russia. I have grown accustomed to the eternal question: “What do they offer?” But just imagine if one day even that small group would no longer exist. Who, then, would conduct anti-corruption investigations, participate in even nominal elections, initiate investigations into wrongdoings by Duma deputies or provide support for political prisoners? No one, that’s who.
My father long experienced that condescending attitude from others who behaved as if they were looking down on him from on high. And now he has been murdered – for his views, for daring to express his position, for his unwillingness to be indifferent or apathetic. And suddenly, his absence is sorely felt.
Putin’s Russia has not brought a revival of spiritual values, as state-controlled TV tries to convince us. It has caused Russia’s moral decay. And as long as Russians approach every problem through the filter of whether it will affect them personally, this country can move in only one direction – backward.
Zhanna Nemtsova is a Deutsche Welle reporter and the founder of Boris Nemtsov Foundation For Freedom.
One thing I love about the international socialist press is that it opens my eyes to problems and things I never even suspected existed, even in places I thought I knew well. For example, this morning, reading the World Socialist Web Site (no less!), I found out about a new NGO (apparently), “the Russian-based Investigative Committee”:
Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Russian-based Investigative Committee, said Monday that at least seven bullets were fired into Russian territory. The committee suspected those responsible were “soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, members of the National Guard and of Right Sector.”
Imagine my surprise when, a few minutes later, reading a non-socialist web site (I read those too, sometimes!), I learned the Petersburg branch of the same NGO, “the Russian-based Investigative Committee,” had just arrested a member of the liberal opposition party Yabloko, accusing him of sodomy.
Intrigued by this broad spectrum of the NGO’s work, from monitoring Ukrainian fascists to rounding up Russian sodomites, I did a Google search on the Committee. What I discovered only increased my admiration for their work. It turned out its employees had recently been threatened by some very bad people who had started a riot in Moscow in 2012:
Officials investigating a 2012 anti-government protest that led to the sentencing of eight activists this week have been on the end of threats, the head of the country’s main investigative agency said Thursday.
Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin said, apparently responding to criticism of the case, that investigators had not only shown steady resolve and integrity in pursuing the matter, but had done so in the face of intimidation.
Bastrykin did not elaborate on the nature of the threats or which individuals had been targeted.
On Monday, seven activists were sentenced to prison terms of between 2 1/2 to four years for participating in rioting and violence at a rally on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square in May 2012, a day before Vladimir Putin was sworn in for a third term as president.
An eighth activist received a suspended sentence.
More than 400 people were detained at the demonstration, one of several large-scale street rallies in Moscow and other Russian cities that had taken place since December 2011 to oppose Putin’s return to the presidency.
I hope to learn more about the truly great work of “the Russian-based Investigative Committee” from the international socialist press in the coming weeks and months.