Bite the Bullet in the Back of Your Head

151019.spooks1Where is Harry Pearce when we need him? Photo courtesy of Universum Film and Lite

“While Kiev may have prevented a killing, the next time a Kremlin critic is murdered the first question will be: are they really dead?”

What all the rabid verbiage about Arkady Babchenko’s “stunt” boils down to is that a good number Russians and, surprisingly, non-Russians (e.g., Reporters without Borders, the BBC, etc.) believe that, when you are confronted by a much more powerful or cunning enemy, such as the Putinist state, the noble thing is to roll over and let yourself be killed.

Everyone loves a martyr for a cause, even when an endless series of martyrs jeopardizes any real cause, if only because at some point the people who believe in the cause will eventually surrender if the cause is so needlessly dangerous, and its leading lights forbid its lesser lights from defending themselves when attacked by the enemy, much more from going on the offensive against the same enemy.

That would be unthinkable!

No, it is better to roll over and bite the bullet in the back of the head. Your friends will relish laying flowers on your grave for years to come, and if you are famous they might even hold annual memorial rallies or marches for you. The regime does not find such powwows threatening in the least, because they make the opposition to their rule look weak and pathologically attracted to victimhood.

Besides, even ordinary Russian law enforcement and judicial practice tends to frown on people who defend themselves too vigorously, often prosecuting and punishing them instead of their assailants.

When the assailants are police officers, this is triply true, as we saw during the infamous Bolotnaya Square Case, in which over thirty people were charged with “rioting” and “violence against police officers” for the mildest acts of self-defense or even their entire absence, after a small army of police attacked a peaceable, authorized opposition march in Moscow on May 6, 2012, without provocation.

It is remarkable, then, how many Russians have internalized and made their peace with a quasi-doctrine of passive non-resistance that has been coupled with a total reluctance to come to the defense of others set upon by criminals or the police, whose actions and intentions are often indistinguishable.

What is surprising is that this madness is also endorsed by seemingly respectable foreign organizations like the BBC, who have been pushing the “this discredits Ukraine forever” line for the last forty-eight hours as if their lives depended on it, and Reporters without Borders, who in their statement also came close to suggesting that if Babchenko had been an honorable journalist he would have let himself be iced by the Kremlin’s assassins.

The real back story is that there are considerable forces in western society who find it awfully irritating and inconvenient for their big picture that Ukraine and its defenders have not just given up the ghost, but have continued to put up a fight, however ineffective and puny when matched against the ostensible might of the Putinist empire.

For some reason, the resistance against this murderous empire mounted the other day by Babchenko and his defenders in the SBU has caused more offense and tongue wagging than the actual armed resistance, often quite bloody and indiscriminate and crawling with unsavory characters, we have seen in Eastern Ukraine over the last four years.

Putting it as crudely as possible, Babchenko and his SBU collaborators figured out a way to fight back and win a small victory against the Putinist empire without spilling a single drop of blood, and now lots of high-minded people are hopping mad at them, including John Simpson of the BBC (who this morning attempted, hilariously, to make up for yesterday’s tirade by remarking that if Anna Politkovskaya had pulled off the same escapade, he would have been happy) and the now utterly discredited Reporters without Borders, which has implicitly endorsed the murder of dissident journalists by the Kremlin.

At times like this I wish the fictional Harry Pearce, head of counter-terrorism at MI5 in Spooks, really were a defender of the realm, because, as he himself says at the end of the excellent Spooks movie (Spooks: The Greater Good), only people like him are ruthless enough to get the job done and actually defend the realm. If you have ever seen the show, you will realize defending the realm does not consist of running around running up a high body count, but of  being able to distinguish at the right time between friend and foe, a job that is infinitely harder than it sounds.

How is that a screwed-up but otherwise peaceable country that was invaded unprovoked by its much more powerful neighbor and a dissident journalist who fled to that country are seen as enemies by half the Russian intelligentsia and half the journalistic organizations in Europe?

If Harry Pearce were real, and I were his boss, I would want him delicately probing into why exactly the BBC has mounted such a vicious attack against Babchenko and the Ukrainian authorities in the last two days. I would be especially interested in investigating the motives of the avuncular John Simpson, whose tirade against Babchenko live on the air yesterday on Radio 4 was so unseemly and vehement I felt I must be hallucinating. (After listening to the tirade, I was not surprised to find he had filed this crypto-Putinist copy from occupied Crimea in March 2015.)

The Babchenko affair has nothing to do with fake news. It has to do with whether smaller, less powerful countries and essentially powerless individuals who oppose more powerful countries have the right to defend themselves at all.

The implication is the SBU should have waited in ambush for Babchenko’s killer with a squad of fifty armed men and then lit him up like a Roman candle when he arrived rather than plan and enact the much subtler and more effective counter-attack they claim to have carried out.

We live in extraordinarily strange times. // TRR

Solidarity? (The Case of the Penza and Petersburg Antifascists)

fil_0Viktor Filinkov, Petersburg antifascist, torture victim and political prisoner

Solidarity? No, They Haven’t Heard about It
The Security Services Are Using the Case of the Antifascists to Test Society: If We Keep Silent, the Torture and Arrests Will Continue
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
March 22, 2018

On Election Day, March 18, which was simultaneously Paris Commune Day and Political Prisoner Day, Theater.Doc in Moscow staged a performance entitled Torture 2018, a reading of the interrogation transcripts and diaries from the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.

The case has disappeared amid the flood of political and election campaign news, so I should briefly summarize it.

In October 2017, a group of young antifascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.

Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg antifascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.

The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honor their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring every year since then.

Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on antifascists by the Russian state.

The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.

We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass, but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.

The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over thirty (the oldest is twenty-nine) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.

Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced the performance at Theater.Doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues. What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.

“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head. When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”

“It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia,” Polikhovich told me after the performance. “But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”

“But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?” I asked.

“Location is vital in this case,” replied Polikhovich. “There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference. The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.”

“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”

While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza antifascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)

“They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,” Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognizance, told Novaya Gazeta.

The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and antifascists have been doing the protesting. Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and antifascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.

A concert in support of the arrested antifascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.

In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.

“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”

Pickets in support of the antifascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between Sobchak and Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.

This case is not about anarchism or antifascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.

The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the antifascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.

There is a group page on Facebook entitled Project No. 117, named for the article in the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. It is a clearinghouse for news about the Penza case and other anti-antifascist cases. It also features six videtaped messages in support of the arrested men, as recorded by the well-known Russian cultural figures Dmitry Bykov, Andrei Makarevich, Dmitry Shagin, Kirill Medvedev, Artyom Loskutov, and Artemy Troitsky.

I would like to believe that, in the very near future, there will be six thousand such messages, not six. Otherwise, we will be crushed one by one.

Dmitry Bykov (writer)

“Absolutely Gulag-like scenes of strangulation, beating, and abduction. Stories like this have become frighteningly more frequent. The return to the practice of torture is a relapse into the roughest, darkest period of Russian history.”

Andrei Makarevich (musician)

“If the authorities are trying to pass young antifascists off as terrorists, it begs the question of who the authorities are themselves. Have you lost your minds, guys?”

Dmitry Shagin (artist)

“I experience this as torture myself. By torturing these young men, they are torturing all of us.”

Kirill Medvedev (poet, political activist, musician)

“The Russian authorities have been posing as the most antifascist regime in the world for several years now, and yet they are cracking down on antifascists. Is this not hypocrisy?”

Artyom Loskutov (artist, political activist)

“If you arrested me and tortured me with an electric shocker, I would confession to terrorism, satansim, and anything whatsoever. And if the FSB officers were tortured, they would also confess to anything. Antifascism is not a crime, nor is anarchism a crime. But torture is a crime, a very serious crime indeed.”

Artemy Troitsky (writer, music critic and promoter)

“Torture is a sure sign the case doesn’t hold water. If they have evidence, they wouldn’t torture the suspects.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Autonomous Action. Videos courtesy of Project No. 117 and Novaya Gazeta. If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you can read the following articles and spread the word to friends, comrades, and journalists.

They Jump on Anything That Moves, Part 3: The Case of the New Greatness Movement

Arrests Made in the New Greatness Case in Moscow
Grani.ru
March 15, 2018

Arrests and searches have been made in Moscow in the investigation of the New Greatness movement. The first source to report the news was Kremlin Washerwoman, a Telegram channel associated with the security services. More detailed information was soon published by OVD Info.

The detainees included the movement’s leader, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and two female activists, Maria Lapina and a juvenile whose name has not been disclosed. They were taken to the Kuntsevo Interdistrict Office of the Russian Investigative Committee. The female juvenile detainee was escorted by her father.

It is reported that during one of the searches a list containing the names of ten members of the movement was confiscated. According to uncorroborated reports, FSB investigators were present during the search.

There is information the juvenile detainee had earlier been subjected to pressure from Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention), after which her employer demanded she quit her job.

Photos of the search, as published on Kremlin Washerwoman, show campaign material for the so-called Voters’ Strike, a leaflet printed with New Greatness’s platform, and a t-shirt emblazoned with anarchist symbols.

Screenshot from the Telegram channel Kremlin Washerwomen. “Searches taking place at the home of supports of an obscure organization by the name of New Greatness. The guys drink a lot and cannot pin down their views.”

After lunch, Kremlin Washerwoman posted a video showing Kostylenkov’s confession. Out of breath, Kostylenkov recites a memorized text, mentioning in particular plans for “organizing a tribunal for members of the ruling elite” and “practice in shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails.”

Screenshot of Ruslan Kostylenkov’s alleged confession. Courtesy of Grani.ru’s Twitter account

The movement’s website contains only a home page featuring a notification that the site would be launched on March 15, that is, today. It also contains a brief, two-paragraph description of the movement’s objectives.

“We are the ones who will awake a sense of their own self-worth in people and help the nations of Russian acquire the energy for reviving the spirit of victors,” reads the text. “Only together can we build a strong country the rest of the world will respect and take into account.”

At the same time, both “pro-regime” and “opposition” forces are criticized for “divvying up spheres of influence,” while “ordinary people vegetate in poverty and dishonor, having forgotten the plight of the Motherland in which they live is in their hands.”

Screenshot of the homepage of New Greatness’s website

New Greatness began posting on its VK page on December 30 of last year. In late January, the movement encouraged people to take part in a rally demanding the preservation of trolleybus service in Moscow. The capital’s mayor has gradually been replacing trolleybus lines with bus line, which has sparked protests by environmentalists.

In February, New Greatness launched a large-scale campaign to paste anti-Putin leaflets around Moscow. The movement signaled it was in favor of boycotting the presidental election. On February 25, its activists were involved in the Boris Nemtsov Memorial March in Moscow.

On February 26, a pinned post was published on the movement’s VK page that read as follows: “Our young, ambitious, and quickly growing organization needs your help. If you are finally ready for the fight and willing to sacrifice your time and strength for the sake of our Motherland’s future by working in strong team led by an energetic leader, then join us. To do that, you must live in Moscow or Moscow Region and write to the message inbox on this page. If you cannnot help out physically, help us financially!”

The message is followed by an electronic address for transferring money.

On the evening of March 14, the Telegram canal A Copper Spills posted a message that opened as follows: “Evidence that an extremist organization has been established has been uncovered.”

The post’s author claimed Center “E” investigators in Moscow’s Southeastern District had discovered that “unidentified persons” had established “a group accessible to all [VK] users, which posted information about the creation of an informal political association whose main activity is involvement in popular insurrections, revolutionary actions, and clashes with the authorities.”

“The evidence is there, but for now we’ll keep quiet about everything else. When the times comes, we will tell all,” the author of the post concludes.

Kuntsevo is located in Moscow’s Western District, not in the Southeastern District. Besides, none of New Greatness’s posts contain calls for clashes with the authorities. In this connection, it is difficult to give an unequivocal answer to the question of whether the post on A Copper Spills had anything to do with the recent searches.

Thanks to Comrade Sammakko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. Not that anyone much cares (I’m not trying to be smug: I really don’t get the sense there are huge numbers of people either in my reading audience, Russia or the great wide world who genuinely care about any of this), but I think we can extract three takeway lessons rom the war the Russian security services and police have unleased against grassroots activists in recent months.

1. When the director of the FSB or Putin (I forget who) said the other day the FSB had “prevented” fifty or a hundred or six thousand “terrorist attacks” last year, what they really had in mind is juvenile operations and investigations like the one described in the article above. That is, perfectly harmless young people with “funny ideas” and “informal” lifestyles are turned into “terrorist groups” with a little ultraviolence from the so-called security services.

The key is to scare, threaten or torture the harmless non-terrorists into confessing their non-guilt and signing confessions before letting them see a lawyer. Then their gooses are cooked for good, because cases concerning “terrorism” and “public safety” more generally have been removed from the remit of jurors in Russia, meaning they are tried by judges who know in advance what verdicts they are supposed to hand down.

A jury of more or less intelligent people would look at the flimsy evidence and the forced confessions and be tempted to acquit the defendants. If the Bolotnaya Square defendants, for example, had been tried by juries of their peers, I have no doubt most if not all of them would have been acquitted.

2. It has become extraordinarily dangerous to call for a boycott of the March 18 presidential election. Activists who have been calling for a boycott have painted big targets on their backs, and the authorities have spent the last few months shooting at them with increasing ferociousness. Depending on their ideological leanings, the activists have been sentenced to more or less long jail sentences or branded “terrorists,” as seems to be the case with the unfortunates described in the Grani.ru article, above.

I could be wrong, but this “minor terror” alone should be enough to discredit the election in the eyes of anyone with a conscience. By voting on Sunday, you will be saying to the authorities they can terrorize with impunity anyone who criticizes elections in Russia too vigorously and loudly, although that is exactly what needs to happen.

3. The only way to beat this racket is broad-based solidarity, but as we have seen with the accused in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and even with many of Navalny’s nominal supporters sent off to jail or beaten up for god knows what reason, people occupying different political camps are not too eager to show their solidarity.

The poor folks from the utterly harmless and helpless New Greatness movement, I am nearly certain, will elicit no solidarity or support from anyone whatsoever, except maybe the lawyers from Agora or Public Verdict, if they are lucky.

This points up the biggest flaw in the Russian grassroots democratic movement (if such a thing exists): its clannish, extremely partisan notions of solidarity. There are very few political activists who cross party lines to show their solidarity with their nominal opponents, and this is a huge, crippling problem for the anti-Putin, pro-democracy movement if it wants ever to move forward for real.

When it comes to folks like the New Greatness movement, it likely means they will be railroaded and sent off to a penal colony for ten years or twenty years without so much as anyone but their loved ones even noticing it happened.

After all, even silly, harmless people have human rights, such as the right to an attorney, the right to a proper investigation, and the right to a fair trial. TRR

What Is Their Point?

6f987ab74c72f0c50b19b05ea775bc4033c57706A Tribe Called Quest. Photo courtesy of Spotify

First, a musical prelude, by the world’s best hip hop group of all time, A Tribe Called Quest.

Check The Rhime
Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden,
We used to kick routines and presence was fittin’
It was I the Abstract
And me the five footer
I kicks the mad style so step off the frankfurter
Yo, Phife, you remember that routine
That we used to make spiffy like Mister Clean?
Um um, a tidbit, um, a smidgen
I don’t get the message so you gots to run the pigeon
You on point, Phife?
All the time, Tip
You on point, Phife?
All the time, Tip
You on point Phife?
All the time, Tip
Well, then grab the microphone and let your words rip
Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am
Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram
I’m like an Energizer ’cause, you see, I last long
My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong
Now if you say my style is wack that’s where you’re dead wrong
I slayed that body in El Segundo then push it along
You’d be a fool to reply that Phife is not the man
Cause you know and I know that you know who I am
A special shot of peace goes out to all my pals, you see
And a middle finger goes for all you punk MC’s
Cause I love it when you wack MC’s despise me
They get vexed, I roll next, can’t none contest me
I’m just a fly MC who’s five foot three and very brave
On job remaining, no I’m chaining cause I misbehave
I come correct in full effect have all my hoes in check
And before I get the butt the jim must be erect
You see, my aura’s positive I don’t promote no junk
See, I’m far from a bully and I ain’t a punk
Extremity in rhythm, yeah that’s what you heard
So just clean out your ears and just check the word
Check the rhyme y’all
Check it out
Check it out
Check the rhyme y’all
Play tapes y’all
Check the rhyme y’all
Check the rhyme y’all
Check it out
Check it out
Back in days on the boulevard of Linden
We used to kick routines and the presence was fittin’
It was I the Phifer
And me, the abstract
The rhymes were so rumpin’ that the brothers rode the ‘zack
Yo, Tip, you recall when we used to rock
Those fly routines on your cousin’s block
Um, let me see, damn I can’t remember
I receive the message and you will play the sender
You on point, Tip?
All the time, Phife
You on point, Tip?
Yeah, all the time, Phife
You on point, Tip?
Yo, all the time, Phife
So play the resurrector and give the dead some life
Okay, if knowledge is the key then just show me the lock
Got the scrawny legs but I move just like Lou Brock
With speed I’m agile plus I’m worth your while
One hundred percent intelligent black child
My optic presentation sizzles the retina
How far must I go to gain respect? Um
Well, it’s kind of simple, just remain your own
Or you’ll be crazy sad and alone
Industry rule number four thousand and eighty
Record company people are shady
So kids watch your back ’cause I think they smoke crack
I don’t doubt it, look at how they act
Off to better things like a hip-hop forum
Pass me the rock and I’ll storm with the crew and
proper. What you say Hammer? Proper.
Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop
NC, y’all check the rhyme y’all
SC, y’all check it out y’all
Virginia, check the rhyme y’all
Check it out, out
In London, check the rhyme, y’all
______________________________________________

The Tribe were always on point, although Phife, sadly, died in March 2016.

I am happy to say I saw the group perform at a club in Seattle in 1991 or 1992, and it was the most positive, funkiest show I have ever seen anywhere.

______________________________________________

Meanwhile, the unhappy, far-flung, unfunky human shards of the collapsing new building once known as the Soviet Union are almost never on point, because the ones among them who clearly think they are the smartest, cleverest, and most cosmopolitan have been in semi-permanent national self-defense mode after it transpired the Kremlin tried its flat-out best to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election.

Two cases in point are ace reporters Julia Ioffe and Masha Gessen,* who seem to go back and forth all over the place on the “Russia question,” depending on the venue and the day. Here, they are, today, in full “Russophile” mode.

on point

Here is the interview itself, broadcast earlier today on NPR.

“The bottom line is that Americans elected Trump,” claims Gessen in the interview.*

No, the bottom line is that reporters like Masha Gessen and Julia Ioffe, for whatever reason, want to control the public discourse on Russia in the US, so they have to reach over and over again for the bag of tricks, perfected in their worst incarnations by pseudo-intellectual mags like the New Republic and Atlantic Monthly in the nineties, that counter-intuitive reporting gets you, the reporter, the most attention, even if your counter-intuitive argument is utterly worthless when examined on the merits.

I could see no point whatsoever to NPR’s interview with Ms. Gessen and Mr. Chen, just as I can see no point flapping one’s lips about Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election until Robert Mueller’s investigation has been completed.

It is not at all a straighforward question of dual loyalties or having been “flipped,” of course, but the genuine discomfort many Russians and Russian émigrés feel about the dire direction Russia has taken under Vladimir Putin. At the same time, parts of the Russian national and Russian émigré chattering class feel so utterly flummoxed by the way events have been unfolding in the last four or five years that they have gone, almost reflexively, into heavy spin mode while also trying to install themselves, in the west, as the go-to people when it comes to all matters Russian.

It would probably surprise NPR’s listeners to learn that Ms. Gessen, for example, did not exactly “flee” Russia, but chose to leave because she felt her non-traditional family would be safer in the US, where she emigrated with her own birth family when she was fourteen. She had every right and reason to do this, and if I were in her position I might have done the same thing.

It is nonsense, however, to say she “fled” because she was “persecuted” personally. The nonsensicality of this claim would be apparent only to people like me and my Russian reporter friend Sergey, who watched as Ms. Gessen “fled” Russia over the course of two or three years, generating an endless series of interviews and op-ed pieces about her “escape” as she was slowly packing her bags or whatever she was doing during her seemingly endless, slow-motion “flight to freedom.”

When you witness a journalist working so hard to make themselves the story, you start wondering what matters most to them—the truth out there in the world that needs to be investigated and reported or keeping the limelight fixed firmly on themselves.

I also happen to know that Ms. Gessen makes frequent trips to Russia on business. What sort of persecution-and-flight story is this, when you can fly back and forth between your “safe haven” and the “country you fled” at will, whenever you like, with no untoward consequences to your health and safety?

In fact, under Putin’s reign, there have been plenty of Russians who really have been persecuted in the most unambiguous sense of the word and have had to flee the country or face certain imprisonment, for example, Dmitry Buchenkov, the final defendant in the horrendous (and horrendously underreported) Bolotnaya Square case and its accompanying show trials.

Because both Ms. Ioffe and Ms. Gessen are terrific reporters and writers when they want to be, I wish they would spend more time telling us about the real Russia of unsung heroes like Dmitry Buchenkov, Yuri Dmitriev, Valery Brinikh, and the Penza and Petersburg antifascists tortured by the FSB on the fabricated pretense they belonged to a “terrorist” organization, and much less time making what really amounts to a half-assed quasi-defense of a very bad game (the Kremlin’s meddling in the internal affairs of countries the world over), seemingly only just to keep their charming mugs in front of the TV cameras and radio station microphones as much as possible.

Especially in the last instance, Ms. Gessen and Ms. Ioffe could use the mighty media soapboxes they have at their disposal to help eight innocent young men put through hell on earth so the FSB can tighten its grip on Russian grassroots society. But they don’t, probably because they have never even heard of the case, despite being the foremost go-to reporters on Russia in the US. TRR

* I have posted in the recent past about instances when Ms. Ioffe’s and Ms. Gessen’s alleged total omniscience regarding the Motherland has been seriously lacking. See “Does Vladimir Putin Have a Niece?” (11 November 2017), and “Ace Reporter Julia Ioffe Joins the Russian World” (5 October 2017).

** After I posted this last night, I thought about what Ms. Gessen’s reaction would be if, during a similar non-obligatory discussion on NPR (whose presenters, almost without exception, have no clue how to interview anyone, because their idea of interviewing involves lobbing slow softballs for their guests to slam out of the park) someone had said, “The bottom line is that Russians voted for Putin.”

It is easy to imagine how she would react, because she writes at length in her latest book, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, about the 2011–2012 fair elections movement in Russia, sparked by a widespread (and accurate) perception amongst Russians that the December 2011 parliamentary and regional elections and the March 2012 presidential election had been anything but free and fair, to wit:

Even though the protesters belonged to different age groups, Putin had now been in power long enough that a majority of them had spent all or most of their adult lives in the era of supposed “stability.” Some of them had expected the Putin era to be like the Soviet past they remembered or imagined, the object of national nostalgia. According to these memories, that time was slow, predictable, and essentially unchanging. But in Putin’s era of “stability,” things refused to stay the same. The markets crashed because Putin said or did something. Innocent, randomly chosen people went to prison just because the government had declared a witch hunt against pedophiles. The spectacle of the Putin-Medvedev handoff and the experience of the farcical election served as reminders of how powerless Russian citizens were to affect any aspect of life. The protests were an attempt to renegotiate, to reclaim a little bit of space from the ever-expanding party-state— and it so happened that the party was the one of crooks and thieves. (Gessen, Masha. The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, p. 349)

Yet, in the US, the “bottom line” is that “Americans” “elected Trump.” In point of fact, Mr. Trump was elected by the Electoral College. The popular vote was won handily by Hillary Clinton, who garned 48.2% of all votes counted, as opposed to 46.1% for Mr. Trump.

In the world’s third-largest country by population, that translates into 2,868,691 voters whose clearly voiced preference for Mrs. Clinton was utterly negated, as it were. Since Mr. Trump’s Electoral College victory came down to razor-tight wins in a few key districts in a few key states, any extraneous or criminal factor that could have pushed voters in his direction has to be thoroughly investigated. This would have to be the case even had Mr. Trump won the popular vote. Given that the election campaign, the election, and its aftermath have been unprecedented in US history in such a myriad of ways, it stands to reason that Americans would be more than a little curious about what happened and why.

In Russia, where, as some “Russia experts” would say (although I would not say it myself), Mr. Putin is so popular he could win an election without cheating, Ms. Gessen thinks people have every right to protest the machinations of “crooks and thieves.” In her adopted country, the US, however, she thinks people should calm down, shut up, and accept the “bottom line” that they did this to themselves.

I doubt very much that Ms. Gessen, judging by her numerous books and articles on the subjects, would argue that Russians did Putin to themselves, although to someone like me who has been on the ground in Russia during most of his eighteen-year-reign, that does indeed seem partly to be the case.

Dmitry Buchenkov, Last Bolotnaya Square Defendant, Flees Russia

CF8AAC04-C132-492E-9382-9B569A27A780_cx0_cy8_cw0_w1023_r1_sDmitry Buchenkov

Last Bolotnaya Square Defendant Flees Russia
RBC
November 9, 2017

In an interview with Current Time TV, Bolotnaya Square defendant Dmitry Buchenkov said he has left Russia for a European Union country.

He said he has applied for political asylum in this country. Buchenkov failed to say exactly where he had gone.

“I’m calm about the fact I won’t be returning to the motherland soon. I won’t say leaving was easy. Psychologically, of course, I didn’t want to leave,” he noted. “The regime and the entire justice system forced me to take this step.”

He added he was currently not in touch with relatives.

When asked how he managed to cross the Russian border, the Bolotnaya Square defendant said he was “neither the first nor the last person to do it in such circumstances.”

According to Buchenkov, the Bolotnaya Square Case was “political” from the onset. He said that, after he was put under house arrest, “for six months [he] observed how the case was unfolding personally for [him]” and was convinced a guilty verdict lay in store. He said he was transferred from a pretrial detention facility to house arrest during a “brief thaw.” He was not outfitted with an electronic tracking bracelet, because the Naro-Fominsky division of the Federal Penitentiary Service had run out of them.

“I think the police investigators have long known they nabbed the wrong guy. But it was too late for them to back out,” said Buchenkov.

On the morning of November 9, Buchenkov did not show up to the Zamoskvorechye District Court for the latest hearing in his case, in which he stood accused of involvement in rioting. The Federal Penitentiary Service has accused him of fleeing, writes Current Time. Federal Penitentiary Service spokeswoman Natalya Bakharina said the defendant had “absconded,” since he was not to be found in his flat. She noted another family had been living there since November 5, and they were given keys to the flat in late October.

Buchenkov’s attorney Ilya Novikov wrote that he would refrain from commenting for the time being. In turn, Buchenkov’s other attorney, Svetlana Sidorkina, told RBC she did not know about her client’s departure from Russia.

“I don’t know about it. I do know he did not come to today’s hearing, during which the matter of whether to continue the forensic investigation or not was to have been ajudicated,” said Sidorkina.

According to her, the court decided to postpone the hearing since Buchenkov was not in attendance.

In April, at a hearing in the Zamoskvorechye District Court, Buchenkov declared himself not guilty of involvement in rioting and fighting with policemen. He was accused of violence against six Interiory Ministry officers and causing damage in the amount of 73,800 rubles to a commercial firm that set up porta-potties near Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.

Buchenkov, a 38-year-old anarchist and history teacher, was detained and remanded to custody in December 2015, thus becoming the thirty-fourth defendant in the Bolotnaya Square Case. Later, the Moscow City Court released him from custody and put him under house arrest. Buchenkov’s lawyers insisted the activist was not in Moscow during the events of May 6, 2012. The claim was corroborated by Buchenkov’s relatives in Nizhny Novgorod.

According to the defense, the police investigators who, allegedly, identified Buchenkov on video recordings of the May 6, 2012, protest rally mixed him up with another person. The defense lawyers sought to enter higher resolution photographs into evidence, but police investigators refused to take them into account.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Dmitry Borisov, Russian Political Prisoner

Valery Zen
Facebook
October 21, 2017

593A6B0F522E4
Dmitry Borisov

A couple of days ago I met Dima Borisov’s mother. Dima is the young man facing trumped-up charges for, allegedly, kicking a policeman. Dima now faces up to five years in prison. I don’t want to be a pessimist, but it’s highly likely that he will be sent down and sent down for a long time. But the topic of political prisoners has, apparently, has ceased to interest the opposition crowd.

Do you remember the hullabaloo over the Bolotnaya Square defendants? Nothing even remotely like that has been happening for the guys arrested in connection with the June 12 and March 26 protests. Yet, some of them, by the way, have already been handed sentences twice as long—five years in a penal colony—as the sentences handed out in 2012 and 2013 for the exact same charges.

Realizing that people are unable to free an innocent person on their own or in small groups, I asked Dima’s mom (Irina Andriyevskaya) what could be done to alleviate his plight. She said that people could repost stories about the case. If they couldn’t attend his court hearings, they could tell other people about Dima.

Guys, let’s just support Dima. Let’s show that we know about his misfortune and are not ignoring it. It’s not likely to change anything, but at least Dima and his mom, who is basically fighting this fight alone and certainly has it rougher than we do, will feel that they are not alone, that they have not been abandoned. Especially since nowadays absolutely anyone in this country can become a political prisoner.

I’m not making any demands or blaming anyone. I’m just asking decently.

движение 14%-дмитрий борисов (20.10.17)
Dmitry Borisov in court on October 20, 2017

Moscow City Court Denies Borisov’s Request to Be Released from Police Custody
Tivur Shaginurov
Kasparov.ru
October 2, 2017

Moscow City Court has refused to release Dmitry Borisov, an activist with the 14% Movement. As our correspondent reports, the court heeded the arguments of police investigators, who claimed that Borisov was a flight risk or could influence the investigation.

A reinforced brigade of court bailiffs and two plainclothes policemen were present at Borisov’s appeals hearing. Ultimately, the court extended his term of detention for a month.

Investigators argue that Borisov’s guilt is confirmed by a videotape they have in evidence, adding that the accused has not admitted his guilt and, allegedly, resisted arrest. The accused claims he was resisting unknown men in uniform.

[In the videotape, inserted below, it is clear the police officers who detained Borisov were not wearing badges, as requiredd by the Russian law on police conduct—TRR.]

In turn, the defense argue Borisov is not a flight risk since both his foreign travel and domestic internal passports have been confiscated, and he is not a national of any other country. Borisov’s movements could be tracked with a special bracelet issued by the Federal Penitentiary Service. Nor, according to the defense, could Borisov influence witnesses, especially as the alleged victim and witnesses are police officers.

The defense likewise denied that Borisov had a prior conviction. Borisov explained himself that criminal charges had been filed against him due to a conflict with a drunken man who had insulted his mother. The defendant’s mother, who was present in the courtroom, confirmed her son’s story.

After a heated argument, Borisov’s relatives were removed from the courtroom along with a reporter from the publication Sota [?] who photographed the incident.

They were charged with administrative violations. We should note that the reporter was accredited and had the court’s permission to take pictures. However, court bailiffs argued their actions were justified because she had taken pictures of their faces.

Boris’s attorney noted that the requirements for keeping a defendant or suspect in police custody, as stipulated in Article 97 of the Criminal Procedural Code, were not contained in the prosecution’s demand that Borisov be kept under arrest.

In the video that police investigators cite as evidence of Borisov’s guilt, it is not apparent when and how Borisov kicks a police officer.

Borisov’s supporters plan to organize a flashmob during which they will submit appeals to the Prosecutor General, asking him not to approve the charges against Borisov.

Dmitry Borisov has been accused of twice kicking a police officer in the head when police dispersed a peaceful grassroots protest on March 26, 2017, in Moscow.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade NE for the heads-up. Photos courtesy of Kasparov.ru and the 14% Movement.

The next hearing in Dmitry Borisov’s case is scheduled for 4 p.m. on November 1, 2017, in the Tverskaya District Court in Moscow. Borisov was arrested on June 6, 2017, and has been recognized as a political prisoner by Memorial’s Human Rights Center.

It Was a Good Week in the Supah Powah, or, The Return of the Green Lanterns (OVD Info)

‘In 2016, Donald Trump rode a wave of popular discontent to the White House on the promise that he would “make America great again.” As Russia’s presidential election, scheduled for March 2018, draws nearer, President Vladimir Putin may try a similar tactic — by contending that he has already restored Russia’s greatness.’

Blogger Norwegian Forester

The authorities have been using every trick in the book to counteract the plans of Alexei Navalny’s supporters to hold events against corruption on March 26 in scores of cities. Authorities have been refusing to authorize the protests under different pretexts. Rally organizers in different regions have been arrested on trumped-up changes, summoned to the police, fined for inviting people to rallies on the social networks, and written up for holding meetings with activists. Volunteers have been detained for handing out stickers.

More Navalny

At the same time as he has been getting ready for the anti-corruption protests, Navalny has been opening election campaign headquarters in different cities. These events have also been subject violent attacks. In Barnaul, Navalny was doused with Brilliant Green antiseptic (zelyonka). In Petersburg, the door of his headquarters was set on fire. In Volgograd, Navalny was dragged by his feet and nearly beaten.

Alexei Navalny

In Bryansk Region, a schoolboy was sent to the police for setting up Navalny support groups on the social networks: the police demanded he delete the accounts. In Krasnoyarsk University, a lecturer was fired for showing Navalny’s exposé of PM Dmitry Medvedev, Don’t Call Him Dimon. In Orenburg, a coordinator of the Spring youth movement was summoned to the rector, who asked him questions about Navalny. In Moscow, famous blogger Norwegian Forester was detained for going onto Red Square, his face painted green, in support of Navalny.

Not Only Navalny: Crackdowns on Freedom of Assembly

Long-haul truckers have planned a nationwide strike for March 27. Around twelve people were detained during a meeting of truckers in Vladivostok. Police claimed they had received intelligence on a meeting of mafia leaders. In Krasnodar Territory, an activist got three days of arrest in jail for handing out leaflets about the upcoming strike.

Krasnodar farmers have planned a tractor convoy for March 28. However, organizer Alexei Volchenko was arrested for twelve days for, allegedly, not making alimony payments. Another tractor convoy participant, Oleg Petrov, had his internal passport confiscated by police.

Judge Vladimir Vasyukov

In Petersburg, Dzherzhinsky District Court Judge Vladimir Vasyukov during the past week imposed fines of 10,000 rubles [approx. 160 euros] each on three women, involved in a feminist protest on International Women’s Day, March 8, 10,000 rubles [approx. 160 euros], elderly activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev, accused of walking along a building during a solo picket, and activist Varvara Mikhaylova for picketing outside the Segezha Men’s Penal Colony in Russian Karelia in support of civic activist Ildar Dadin, who was recently released.

Varvara Mikhaylova. Photo courtesy of David Frenkel

In Murmansk, the authorities refused to authorize three marches against inflated utilities rates, food prices, and public transportation costs, while Moscow authorities refused to authorize a protest rally against the planned massive demolition of five-storey Soviet-era apartment buildings. In addition, Moscow police demanded a party at Teatr.doc be cancelled.

Moscow City Court ruled that meetings of lawmakers with their constituents should be regarded as the equivalent of protest rallies.

The Constitutional Court ruled the police can detain a solo picketer only if it is impossible to ensure security. The very next day, two solo picketers bearing placards on which Vyacheslav Makarov, speaker of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, was depicted as a demon were detained by police.

Criminal Prosecutions and Other Forms of Coercion

Sergei Mokhnatkin, whose spine was broken in prison, was sentenced to two years in a maximum security penal colony for, allegedly, striking a Federal Penitentiary Service officer.

Sergei Mokhnatkin

As for talk of a new Thaw, two Ufa residents, accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, had their suspended sentences changed to four years in a penal colony.

In Stavropol, Kirill Bobro, head of the local branch of Youth Yabloko, was jailed for two months, accused of narcotics possession. Bobro himself claims police planted the drugs on him.

Kirill Bobro

A graduate student at Moscow State University was detained and beaten for flying a Ukrainian flag from the window of his dormitory. In addition, he was forced to sign a paper stating he agreed to be an FSB informant. Ukrainian journalist Roman Tsymbalyuk was detained while trying to interview the graduate student.

What to Read

LGBT activist Dmitry Samoilenko describes how he has been persecuted in Kamchatka for a brochure about the history of gender identity in the Far North. Activist Rafis Kashapov, an activist with the Tatar Social Center, who was convicted for posts on the social networks, sent us a letter about life in a prison hospital.

Rafis Kashapov

The Week Ahead (March 26—April 1)

Closing arguments are scheduled for March 27 in the trial of Bolotnaya Square defendant Maxim Panfilov, who has been declared mentally incompetent. Prosecutors will apparently ask the judge to sentence him to compulsory hospitalization.

On March 29, an appeals court is expected to hear the appeal against the verdict of Alexander Belov (Potkin), co-chair of the Russians Ethnopolitical Movement.

Thanks for Your Attention

We continue to raise money for our monitoring group, which collects information on political persecution and takes calls about detentions at protest rallies. Thanks to all of you who have already supported us. You can now make monthly donations to OVD Info here.

Translated by the Russian Reader