Olga Romanova: How “Law Enforcement” Works in Russia

calvey
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.”

“And me?”

“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.

Who Makes the Decisions?
Who made the decision to arrest Kirill Serebrennikov? Who decided to let him go for the time being? Who arrested Michael Calvey and the employees of Baring Vostok? Who let them out of jail? Why? Who made the decision to arrest Mikhail Abyzov?

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

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brazil.jpegJonathan Pryce and Terry McKeown in Brazil (1985). Courtesy of imdb.com

Authorized to Remain Silent
Why We Know Nothing about the Outcome of Most Criminal Cases and Verdicts against People Who, According to the Russian Secret Services, Planned or Attempted to Carry Out Terrorist Attacks 
Alexandra Taranova
Novaya Gazeta
April 27, 2018

High-ranking officials from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD), and the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) regularly report on the effective measures against terrorism undertaken by their agencies. If we add reports of constant counter-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan and Chechnya, operations involving shootouts and the storming of houses, we might get the impression the level of terrorism in Russia is close to critical, resembling the circumstances somewhere in Afghanistan, the only difference being that Afghanistan does not have the FSB, the MVD, and the NAK to protect it.

Over the past two weeks, there were at least two such stories in the news.

A few days ago, the FSB reported it had “impeded the criminal activity of supporters of the international terrorist organization Islamic State, who […] had begun planning high-profile terrorist attacks using firearms and improvised explosive devices.”

The FSB’s Public Relations Office specified the terrorist attacks were to be carried out in goverment buildings in Stavropol Territory.

Earlier, TASS, citing the FSB’s Public Relations Office, reported that, since the beginning of the 2018, six terrorist attacks had been prevented (including attacks in Ufa, Saratov, and Ingushetia), while three crimes of a terrorist nature had been committed (in Khabarovsk Territory, Dagestan, and Sakhalin Region), and this had been discussed at a meeting of the NAK. Other media outlets quoted FSB director Alexander Bortnikov, who claimed that last year the security services had prevented twenty-five terrorist attacks, but four attacks, alas, had gone ahead.

For the most part, however, it is impossible to verify these reports, because, with rare exceptions, the terrorists, either potential terrorists or those who, allegedly, carried out terrorist attacks, are identified by name. Neither the Russian Investigative Committee (SKR) nor the FSB informs Russians about subsequent investigations, about whether all the terrorists and their accomplices have been rounded up. Likewise, with rare exceptions, we know nothing either about court trials or verdicts handed down in those trials.

Novaya Gazeta monitored reports about prevented terrorist attacks from November 2015 to November 2017. We analyzed all the media publications on this score: the outcome of our analysis has been summarized in the table, below. The veil of secrecy makes it extremely hard to figure out what reports merely repeat each other, that is, what reports relate to one and the same events, and we have thus arrived at an overall figure for the number of such reports. Subsequently, by using media reports and court sentencing databases, we have counted the number of cases that officially resulted in court sentences.

Most news reports about prevented terrorist attacks in Russia are not followed up. For example, at one point it was reported (see below) that five people with ties to Islamic State had been apprehended in Moscow and Ingushetia for planning terrorist attacks, and this same news report mentioned that a criminal case had been launched. But only the surname of the alleged band’s leader was identified, and he was supposedly killed while he was apprehended. There is no more information about the case. Over a year later, we have no idea how the investigation ended, whether the case went to trial, and whether the trial resulted in convictions and verdicts.

Other trends also emerged.

During the two-year period we monitored, reports about prevented terrorist attacks and apprehended terrorists encompassed a particular group of Russian regions: Moscow, Crimea, Petersburg, Kazan, Rostov, Baskortostan, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, and Krasnoyarsk. When we turn to verdicts handed down in such cases, this list narrows even further. Rostov leads the country, followed by Crimea. There are two reports each from Krasnoyarsk and Kazan, and several isolated incidents. The largest number of news reports about terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage, i.e., 30% of all the reports we compiled and analyzed, originated in Crimea.

  FSB MVD NAK Russian Security Council (Sovbez)
Number of reports of prevented terrorists, November 2015–November 2017 3,505 reports (18,560 identical reports in the media) 1,702 reports

(3,571 identical reports in the media)

492 reports

(852 identical reports in the media)

236 reports

(1,122 identical reports in the media)

Outcomes: arrests, criminal charges, verdicts, etc. 13 verdicts,

14 arrests

3 verdicts,

2 arrests

2 incidents: in one case, it was reported that all the detainees had been killed; in the other, that the detainees awaited trial, but were not identified by name. It is impossible to find out what happened to any detainees, since no information was provided about them. The exception is Lenur Islyamov, who is currently at large and vigorously pursuing his objectives.

The Triumps of the Special Services with No Follow-Up
Here are the most revealing examples.

On November 12, 2016, RBC reported the security services had apprehended a group of ten terrorists, migrants from Central Asia. According to the FSB, they planned “high-profile terrorist attacks” in heavily congested areas of Moscow and Petersburg. Officials confiscated four homemade bombs, firearms, ammunition, and communications devices from the militants. The FSB claimed all the detainees had confessed to their crimes.

In the same news report, the FSB was quoted as having reported that on October 23, 2016 “there occurred an attack on police officers, during which two alleged terrorists were shot dead” in Nizhny Novgorod. The report stressed that, three days later, the banned group ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, just as it had taken responsibility for an attack on a traffic police post in Moscow Region on August 18, 2016.

There were no names and no details. The outcomes of the investigations, the plight of the detainees, and judicial rulings were never made public, nor did state investigators or defense counsel share any information.

This same RBC article mentions that, four days before the alleged incident in Nizhny Novgorod, the SKR had reported the apprehension of an ISIL supporter who had been planning a terrorist attack at a factory in Kazan, while Interfax‘s sources reported the apprehension of a man who had been planning a terrorist attack in Samara.  It was also reported that in early May 2016 the FSB had reported the apprehension of Russian nationals in Krasnoyarsk who were “linked to international terrorist organizations and had planned a terrorist attack during the May holidays.”

No names were mentioned at the time. Later, however, details of the case were made public.

Thus, on April 7, 2017, Tatar Inform News Agency reported that the Volga District Military Court in Kazan had handed down a verdict in the case of Robert Sakhiyev. He was found guilty of attempting to establish a terrorist cell in Kazan. The first report that a terrorist attack had been planned at an aviation plant in Kazan was supplied by Artyom Khokhorin, Interior Minister of Tatarstan, during a meeting of MVD heads. According to police investigators, Sakhiyev had been in close contact with a certain Sukhrob Baltabayev, who was allegedly on the international wanted list for involvement in an illegal armed group. Using a smartphone, Sakhiyev had supposedly studied the plant’s layout via a satellite image.

On August 2, 2017, RIA Novosti reported that a visting collegium of judges from the Far East District Military Court in Krasnoyarsk had sentenced Zh.Zh. Mirzayev, M.M. Abdullayev, and Zh.A. Abdusamatov for planning a terrorist attack in Krasnoyarsk in May 2016 during Victory Day celebrations. Mirzayev was sentenced to 18 years in prison; Abdullayev, to 11 years in prison; and Abdusamatov, to 11 years in a maximum security penal colony. According to investigators, Mirzayev worked as a shuttle bus driver in Krasnoyarsk and maintained contact with Islamic State via the internet. Mirzayev decided to carry out a terrorist attack by blowing up a shuttle bus.

On January 26, 2017, TASS reported the police and FSB had identified a group of eight people planning terrorist attacks in Moscow in the run-up to State Duma elections. Oleg Baranov, chief of the Moscow police, had reported on the incident at an expanded collegium of the MVD’s Main Moscow Directorate.

We know nothing more about what happened to the “identified” would-be terrorists.

On January 31, 2017, RBC issued a bulletin that the Russian secret services had prevented an attempt to carry out terrorist attacks in Moscow during the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championships. The source of the news was Igor Kulyagin, deputy head of staff at the NAK. The militants were allegedly detained on May 2.

“We succeed in catching them as a result of a vigorous investigative and search operation in the city of Moscow,” the FSB added.

The names of the militants were not reported nor was there any news about an investigation and trial.

In the same news item, Mr. Kulyagin is quoted as saying, “In total, Russian special services prevented around [sic] 40 terrorist attacks, liquidated [sic] about [sic] 140 militants and 24 underground leaders, and apprehended about [sic] 900 people in 2016.”

According to Mr. Kulyagin, in Ingushetia on November 14, 2016, the authorities uncovered five militants who “had been planning terrorist attacks in crowded places during the New Year’s holidays, including near the French Embassy in Moscow.”

Again, the reading public was not provided with any names or information about the progress of the investigation. The only alleged terrorist who was identified was Rustam Aselderov, who had been murdered.

“According to the special services, [Aselderov] was involved in terrorist attacks in Volgograd in 2013 and Makhachkala in 2011.”

We have no idea whether an official investigation of his murder was ever carried out.

Lenta.Ru reported on February 1, 2017, that FSB officers in Krasnodar Territory had prevented a terrorist attack. The supposed terrorists had planned an explosion at New Year’s celebrations. A possible perpetrator of the terrorist attack, a 38-year-old native of a Northern Caucasus republic, was apprehended. No other particulars of the incident were reported, and they still have not been made public to this day.

On October 2, 2017, Russia Today, citing the FSB, reported an IS cell had been apprehended in Moscow Region. Its members has allegedly planned to carry out “high-profile terrorist attacks” in crowded places, including public transport. The FSB added that foreign emissaries had led the cell, whose members had included Russian nationals.

No names or details were subsequently provided to the public.

The same article reported that, on August 31, 2017, the FSB had apprehended two migrants from Central Asia, who had been planning terrorist attacks in congested places in Moscow and Moscow Region on September 1. RIA Novosti reported the same “news” in August 2017. The detainees were, allegedly, members of IS.

According to the FSB, one of the men had “planned to attack people with knives.” His comrade had planned to become a suicide bomber and blow himself up in a crowd. Supposedly, he had made a confession.

We know nothing about what happened to the two men and the criminal case against them.

On November 7, 2017, Izvestia reported MVD head Vladimir Kolokoltsev’s claim that a Kyrgyzstani national had been apprehended in the Moscow Region town of Khimki. The man had, allegedly, been planning to carry out a terrorist attack outside a subway station using a KamAZ truck. The detained man was not identified. We know nothing about what has happened to him or whether the investigation of the case has been completed.

Trials of Terrorists
On July 19, 2016, RIA Novosti reported the Russian Supreme Court had reduced the sentence (from 16 years to 15.5 years) of one of two radical Islamists convicted of plotting a terrorist attack in the mosque in the town of Pyt-Yakh in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. 

“The panel of judges has decided the verdict of the court, which sentenced Rizvan Agashirinov and Abdul Magomedaliyev to prison terms of 16 and 20 years, respectively, should be mitigated in the case of Agashirinov, and left in force in the case Magomedaliyev.”

On August 31, 2016, TASS reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced Russian national Rashid Yevloyev, a militant with the so-called Caucasus Emirate, to six years in a penal colony for planning terrorist attacks.

On February 15, 2017, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported the Moscow District Military Court had sentenced Aslan Baysultanov, Mokhmad Mezhidov, and Elman Ashayev. According to investigators, after returning in 2015 from Syria, where they had fought on the side of ISIL, Baysultanov and his accomplices had manufactured a homemade explosive device in order to carry out a terrorist attack on public transport in Moscow.

Baysultanov was sentenced to 14 years in prison; Ashayev, to 12 years, and Mezhidov, to 3 years.

On May 10, 2017, Interfax reported the North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don had sentenced ISIL recruiters who had been apprehended in Volgograd Region. The alleged ringleader, Raman Radzhabov, was sentenced to 4 years in prison after being found guilty of recruiting residents of Volgograd Region. His accomplices—Azamat Kurkumgaliyev, Gayrat Abdurasulov, Nurken Akhetov, and Idris Umarov—were found guilty of aiding and abetting Radzhabov, and given sentences of of 2 to 2.5 years in prison.

On May 30, 2017, RIA Novosti reported the ringleader of a failed terrorist attack in Kabardino-Balkaria, Adam Berezgov, had been sentenced to 7 years in prison. The defendant was found guilty of “planning a terrorist attack, illegally acquiring and carrying explosive substances or devices, and illegally manufacturing an explosive device.”

On July 27, 2017, TV Rain reported the Russian Supreme Court had increased by three years the sentence handed down to Ruslan Zeytullayev, who had been convicted and sentenced to 12 years for organizing in Crimea a cell of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group banned in Russia. Zeytullayev’s sentence is now 15 years in prison.

On July 31, 2017, RIA Novosti reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced Ukrainian national Alexei Sizonovich to 12 years in a penal colony for involvement in planning a terrorist attack that was to have taken place in September 2016. The court ruled the 61-year-old defendant and an “unidentifed person” had, allegedly, established a group in Kyiv “for the commission of bombings and terrorist attacks in Ukraine and the Russian Federation.” It was reported the defendant “repented.”

On August 11, 2017, Lenta.Ru reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced 19-year-old Ukrainian national Artur Panov to 8 years in a medium-security penal colony for terrorism. Panov was found guilty of facilitating terrorism, planning a terrorist attack, and illegally manufacturing explosive substances. His accomplice, Maxim Smyshlayev, was sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security penal colony.

At the trial, Panov pled guilty to calling for terrorism, and manufacturing and possessing explosives, but pled innocent to inducement to terrorism. Smyshlayev pled innocent to all charges.

On September 18, 2017, RIA Novosti reported a court in Rostov-on-Don had convicted defendants Tatyana Karpenko and Natalya Grishina, who were found guilty of planning a terrorist attack in a shopping mall. Karpenko was sentenced to 14.5 years in prison, while Grishina was sentenced to 9 years.

“The investigation and the court established Karpenko and Grishina were supporters of radical Islamist movements. […] From October 2015 to January 2016, the defendants planned to commit a terrorist attack in the guise of a religious suicide,” the Investigative Directorate of the SKR reported.

Fakes
On April 17, 2017, Memorial Human Rights Center issued a press release stating the case of the planned terrorist attack in the Moscow movie theater Kirghizia had been a frame-up. The human rights activists declared the 15 people convicted in the case political prisoners. It was a high-profile case. Novaya Gazeta wrote at the time that the MVD and FSB had insisted on pursuing terrorism charges, while the SKR had avoided charging the suspects with planning a terrorist attacking, accusing them only of possession of weapons in a multi-room apartment inhabited by several people who barely knew each other. It was then the case was taken away from the SKR.

Whatever the explanation for the trends we have identified, it is vital to note that Russian society is exceedingly poorly informed about the progress of the war on terrorism conducted by Russia’s special services, despite the huge number of reports about planned terrorist attacks. Due to the fact the names of the accused are hidden for some reason, and the court sentences that have been handed down are not made public in due form (even on specially designated official websites), it is impossible to evaluate the scale of the threat and the effectiveness of the special services, and to separate actual criminal cases from those that never went to court because the charges were trumped-up. Meanwhile, using media reports on prevented terrorist attacks for propaganda purposes contributes to an increase in aggressiveness and anxiety among the populace, who has no way of knowing whether all the apprehended terrorists have been punished, and whether this punishment was deserved.

Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The FSB’s Tall Tales

FSB Head Talks of Terrorist Attacks Prevented on Election Day
Russian Security Services Have Prevented Six Terrorist Attacks So Far This Year, Including at Polling Stations on Election Day and a Mall in Saratov
Yeveniya Malyarenko
RBC
April 10, 2018

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FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov. Photo by Sergei Guneyev. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and RBC

During the first quarter of 2018, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) prevented six terrorist attacks. FSB director Alexander Bortnikov made this claim during a meeting of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAC), reports TASS.

According to Bortnikov, all the attacks were stopped in the planning stage. However, Bortnikov intimated that insurgents had hoped to carry out some of the attacks at polling stations in Ingushetia and Bashkortostan during the March 18 Russian presidential election. Thus, in February, as part of a counter-terrorist operation in Ingushetia’s Nazran District “that encountered armed resistance,” Bortnikov said, “two bandits who were supporters of Islamic State” (an organization banned in Russia) were killed while planning an attack.

In March, FSB officers detained two members of a “radical right-wing group” in Bashkortostan. As Bortnikov stressed, both individuals were planning to carry out terrorist attacks at polling stations in Ufa. Subsequently, two “high-powered” homemade  explosive devices were seized in the homes of the detained individuals.

In addtion, as Bortnikov reported, FSB officers eliminated several members of another IS cell while trying to detain them.

“They were planning to carry out a terrorist attack at a shopping mall in Saratov,” Bortnikov explained, stressing the security services had discovered weapons and a homemade explosive device containing the equivalent of nearly three kilos of TNT in the possession of the alleged terrorists.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. When reading this account of the FSB’s alleged successes in preventing terrorist attacks, it is hard not wonder whether its stats for the first quarter of 2018 included the yeoman’s work the agency has done in unmasking the would-be terrorists of the so-called Network and the New Greatness movement, two organizations that were, allegedly, planning nothing less than armed insurrection nationwide.

The only problem is all the real evidence points to the FSB’s having fabricated these terrorist organizations from whole cloth, in the first case, torturing eight utterly harmless antifascists in Penza and Petersburg into confessing their nonexistent guilt and, in the second case, embedding undercover agents in a tiny, loosely aquainted group of people, who were just as harmless, and actively encouraging them to establish an equally fictitious “militant group.”

When you know the gory details of these stories, you find it is plausible that Director Bortnikov’s tales of the FSB’s derring-do in Ingushetia and Bashkortostan are convenient fictions, too.

Judge for yourself. Or, if you don’t believe me or the two dozen translated articles listed below, read about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case in NewsweekTRR

Return of the Wreckers

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When they work on construction sites, migrant workers from Central Asia often live in shantytowns like this one in Petersburg. Photo by TRR

FSB director Alexander Bortnikov has claimed that migrant workers from the former Soviet Union constitute the bulk of terrorist groups operating in Russia. He called on businessmen who employ migrant labor and officials who insure compliance with immigration laws to act more responsibly.

This comes from an organization whose direct legal predecessor, the NKVD, arrested and shot fifty-four people on the street where I live during 1937–1938. All these people were found guilty on spurious, trumped-up charges, and all of them were “rehabilitated” in the later, more “vegetarian” times after Stalin’s death, as Anna Akhmatova called them. Meaning the Soviet state admitted then, at least to the families of the victims, that their loved ones had been arrested and shot for no reason at all.

And yet, when the Great Terror was in full gear, the country’s leaders and its henchmen in the NKVD (now known as the FSB) were convinced or feigned that the Soviet Union was chockablock with wreckers, saboteurs, provocateurs, and foreign spies.

Now, in the absence of a public investigation and any trials of the accused (or any accused, for that matter), the agency’s current director wants us to believe that migrant workers from Central Asia are rife with “terrorist groups.”

The street I live on is quite small. It consists of two short blocks and exactly twenty houses. I can imagine the sudden arrests and executions of fifty-four of their neighbors made quite an impression on the street’s more fortunate inhabitants in 1937–1938.

As far as I know, the FSB has never really renounced its direct line of descent from the Cheka, the OGPU, the NKVD, the MGB, and the KGB. On the contrary, if statements made by its more prominent veterans such as Vladimir Putin are to be believed, its past and current officers are extraordinarily proud of this legacy, although they may admit on occasion that the Great Terror was a bit excessive.

So, in the interests of the state (which are nowadays equated with the interests of the members of the Ozero Dacha Cooperative and the so-called Laundromat, not with the interests of the “international proletarian revolution”), the FSB is still capable, I would guess, of lying through its teeth and scapegoating entire groups of completely innocent people, i.e., in this case, migrant workers from Central Asia. According to one expert on Central Asia, whom I trust, there are currently around three million such migrant workers in Russia.

How do you think they are going to feel after hearing Bortnikov’s announcement? Would you like to live and work in a country where you are regarded as a de facto terrorist? TRR

Who Whom

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“DANGER ZONE,” Petrograd, December 15, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Leonid Volkov
December 29, 2015
Facebook

According to the official (i.e., government) investigation, driver Ruslan Muhudinov ordered the killing of Boris Nemtsov.

Meaning that Ramzan Kadyrov has not been hurt in any way. Not only did he not surrender [State Duma deputy] Adam Delimkhanov and [Federation council member] Suleiman Geremeyev, he did not even surrender Ruslan Geremeyev.

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 third rank includes Bastrykin, Patrushev, Bortnikov, Chaika, and Geremeyev, whose degree of untouchability is the same. Any of them can steal anything and kill anyone, and he will get off scot-free.

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 human tendency, 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.