Petersburgers Picket in Support of Ingush Political Prisoners

ingush picket-1“We are with Ingushetia for rights and against the lawlessness of the authorities! Crackdowns won’t stop us.”

“Putin Has Not Retreated, But Nor Have the People”: Petersburgers Picket in Support of Ingush Political Prisoners
Anastasia Belyayeva
Gorod 812
October 24, 2019

In Petersburg, a series of solo pickets was held in support of Ingush activists, who were jailed after rallies protest the redrawing Ingushetia’s border with Chechnya. The picketers consider the situation in the republic critical, dubbing the arrests in the wake of the protest rallies the “Ingush Bolotnya Square case.”

The protests in Ingushetia kicked off in the autumn of 2018 after Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, then-head of Ingushetia, and Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, signed an agreement ceding large parts of Ingushetia to Chechnya, including land on which Ingush ancestral towers are located. Outraged by this secret deal, the Ingush populace launched a series of well-attended protest rallies in Magas, the Ingush capital.  Activists and elders argued the decision was illegal and appealed to Vladimir Putin. The matter made it to the Russian Constitutional Court, which sided with Kadyrov and Yevkurov. The protests in the Ingush capital continued, eventually leading the authorities to arrest and charge activists.

ingush picket-2“Free the political prisoners! #Ingushetia #TheIngushAreNotAlone.”

On October 23, each of the picketers on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg raised the Ingush flag and help up placards demanding the release of the jailed activists and a reconsideration of the decision to redraw the republic’s borders with neighboring Chechnya.

“We have come out today in downtown Petersburg to draw attention to a problem that the government has tried to hush up,” activist Marina Ken told Gorod 812. “We want to give people the chance to find out what has been happening in Ingushetia. The decision to redraw the borders was not made by ordinary people but by the authorities, and many dissenters are now in jail. People must understand that the problem concerns each of us as citizens of one country.”

None of the picketers was detained, although police checked their papers and photographed their placards.

ingush picket-4“Free Musa Masalgov, co-chair of the Ingush National Unity Committee!”

Currently, over thirty people who opposed the redrawing of the Ingush-Chechen border have been jailed in remand prisons in different parts of the North Caucasus. They have been charged with calling for riots (as punishable by Article 212.3 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) and engaging in life- and health-threatening violence against law enforcement officers (punishable under Article 318.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). At the same time, a hundred people have been convicted on administrative charges. Many of the jailed activists have complained of poor conditions in prison and torture at the hands of the authorities. According to other activists and relatives of those who have been jailed, many of them have not been allowed to see their lawyers, while hearings in their cases have been held without them.

ingush picket-3“Free Bagaudin Hautiyev, lawyer and chair of the Ingushetia Youth Organization Coordinating Committee!”

One of the most high-profile cases is that of political activist Zarifa Sautiyeva, who has been charged with violence against police officers. She has been jailed since July, and recently a court extended her term in custody until December 11, 2019. Activist Hava Hazbiyeva, who took part in the picket, believes many of the arrests are unlawful.

“Zarifa, for example, was just doing her job by broadcasting from the protest rallies. The charges against her have nothing to do with the truth. Besides, she has been constantly moved from place to place without explanation. Among the jailed activists are two elderly men, Ahmed Barakhoyev, an Ingush elder, and Malsag Uzhakhov, chairman of the Council of Teips of the Ingush People. Malsag has severe asthma and diabetes, so being in jail is real torture for him. He constantly suffers from elevated blood pressure and nausea, and he cannot breathe when he is transferred from one remand prison to another. However, we don’t observe any signs of an active investigation. The authorities are seemingly just playing dirty tricks,” she said.

Today’s crisis actually has deep roots, according to picketer Asan Mumji.

In the twentieth century, the Ingush were subjected to severe repression, something that is remembered in nearly every Ingush family. People were then murdered by the thousands, but the current actions of the authorities are also a real crackdown. The Ingush people do not want to give up their land for any reason. Putin has not retreated, but nor have the people. By the way, the rumors that the Ingush want to join Georgia are a wild provocation. People have been acting within the law, wanting to right the wrong that has been done to them.”

All photos courtesy of Gorod 812. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Vladislav Barabanov: Anarchism and Center “E”

e9efc978d793898ae4de6e727570e6caVladislav Barabanov during a rally on September 29, 2019, on Sakharov Avenue in Moscow in support of suspects and defendants in the Moscow case, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) case, and Russia’s political prisoners. Photo by Sergei Bobylev. Courtesy of TASS and Republic

Police Detectives Created YouTube Channel Where They Uploaded Video of “Rioting”: Vladislav Barabanov, Former Suspect in Moscow Case, on Center “E” and Anarchism
Margarita Zhuravlyova
Republic
October 17, 2019

The Russian Investigative Committee has stepped up the investigation of the so-called Moscow case: five people were detained on October 14 and 15 and charged with assaulting police officers. In total, twenty-six people have been investigated as part of the case, which was launched in the wake of protests this past summer in Moscow; only six of them have gone free. One of them is Vladislav Barabanov, an anarchist from Nizhny Novgorod. He made a special trip to Moscow for the July 27 protest rally, was arrested on August 3 and charged with involvement in rioting, and was released from remand prison in early September. In an interview with Republic, he recounted how a video entitled “Our Attempt to Overthrow the Government” found its way into the evidence against him, how his jailers hinted he might be tortured, and what he talked about with Center “E” officers.

Prosecution
The wording of the charges against me was vague: “group of individuals,” “sprayed tear gas,” “destroyed property,” and so on. In my case file, however, there were two screenshots from a video that was uploaded, I am certain, by the very same police detectives who were involved in cooking up the criminal case against me. They created a channel on YouTube, calling it “Yegor Zhukov” [Yegor Zhukov, who has been charged in the Moscow Case and is currently under house arrest, is a student at the Higher School of Economics—Republic] and uploading a video entitled “Our Attempt to Overthrow the Government.” That was how this recording and two screenshots, in which I am seen marching in front of a crowd and waving my hand, were entered into the evidence. But I did not “coordinate” any riots.

The first alarm bell was at the detention center: someone from the Investigative Committee came there, wanting to interrogate me as a witness. Then I was detained as I was leaving the detention center, making it clear they would try to pin criminal charges on me. But I couldn’t imagine what would happen next and that so many people would be charged. I thought I would be the only one to face these charges.

Given the psychological pressure they applied in the investigative department, it was hard at first. There were these guards there, for example, who talked on the phone with someone and asked, “Where do we keep the gas masks?” I understand perfectly well how gas masks are used during interrogations. They are put on people’s heads as a way of forcing them to testify. Cigarette smoke can be blown into them or the air can be turned off so a person loses consciousness.

I had the support of family members and my comrades, who met me at the detention center after I did time there for administrative offenses. When they saw me being put into a police cruiser and driven away, they blocked the road and tried not to let it get through. They formed a human chain, but the police pushed them aside. Right at that moment, an officer from Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention) was sitting next to me in the car and videotaping everything. He wouldn’t let me contact anyone or take out my mobile phone, threatening to confiscate it.

Center “E”
Center “E” was intensely interested me back in Nizhny Novgorod, too. On September 9, 2018, we held an “unauthorized” protest march against the government’s raising the retirement age. Afterward, there was a wave of arrests, with the police detaining some people in their homes, and others at work. I was detained at a presentation of the almanac moloko plus. I think they knew me, because I was politically active in Nizhny Novgorod, doing solo pickets and helping organize events.

I didn’t say anything to Center “E” officers without a lawyer present. I was detained along with a comrade. He was released, but I was charged with involvement in an “unauthorized” event that had caused disruption to public transport and impeded pedestrians. They had a file with my name on it in which they rifled through papers. One of the Center “E” officers was really curious about what anarchists had in common with Navalny’s supporters. They were worried opposition forces were consolidating.

Anarchists
Since I was young, I guess, I have had a yearning for justice. I followed the Bolotnaya Square Case and all the events of 2011–2013. I was between fourteen and sixteen then. The first protest rally I ever attended was in Nizhny Novgorod on March 26, 2017, my birthday. Due to my age, I was not involved in the events of 2011–2013, but comrades say that rally, which took place after Alexei Navalny published his investigation of the corruption schemes in which Dmitry Medvedev was involved, drew a much bigger crowd. It was a really cool, very significant event: there had never been anything like it in Nizhny.

I didn’t go to protest rallies before that, although I was interested in politics. This was due to my personal rethinking of effective methods of struggle. First, there was the ideological aspect: perhaps I didn’t see any points of contact among the opposition. Second, I rejected public activism.

If we talk about the anarchist milieu and why I now call myself a libertarian socialist [libertarian socialism is a political philosophy focused on resisting authoritarian coercion and social hierarchy—Republic] the fact of the matter is that there are lots of stereotypes around the notion of anarchists, who are either imagined as subculture types with as subculture types with mohawk haircuts and the letter A on their backs, screaming “Anarchy is the mother of order,” or people in masks whose only thought is torching, blowing up, smashing, and destroying things, meaning anarchists are equated with terrorists.

As for methods, some anarchists consider it more effective to put up leaflets and stickers, do graffiti, and hang banners on the street—as long as no one sees them. Their public activism begins and ends there. But when they are confronted with crackdowns, they take to the public arena all the same, because only a huge public outcry can defend people from persecution.

I think that, if you want to promote your political ideas you have to be as public about it as possible. This will help you get around the stereotypes attached to the notion of anarchism and recruit people to your side.

I see anarchism as the endpoint in society’s evolution. It is what happens when people realize they are capable of solving their problems without recourse to any representatives whatsoever, when they realize they can organize themselves and their own lives. When the concept of centralization goes away, people won’t need power over each other.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Three Years in Prison for Touching a Policeman’s Helmet

fullscreen-1qel
Kirill Zhukov was sentenced to three years in prison for touching a Russian National Guardsman’s helmet. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Number of Guilty Verdicts in the Moscow Case Reaches Five
Anastasia Kornya and Svetlana Bocharova
Vedomosti
September 5, 2019

On July 27, 2019, during an “unauthorized” rally in support of independent candidates to the Moscow City Duma, Kirill Zhukhov raised the visor of a helmet worn by a Russian National Guardsman. Yesterday, September 4, he was found guilty of violence towards a government official, as punishable under Article 318.1 of the Russian Criminal, and sentenced to three years in a medium-security prison colony. The verdict said that Zhukov, acting intentionally and fully aware he was dealing with a government official who was performing his duties, struck him a single blow to the head with his left hand in an attempt to tear off the helmet, causing the victim physical pain.

State investigators conducted a special forensic test establishing, allegedly, that even a slight, upward blow with the hand to the helmet’s visor causes the head to tilt back and the strap to make full contact with the skin in the chin area [sic].

Zhukhov, on the contrary, tried to prove he had only waved his hand in front of the guardsman’s visor since he wanted to draw his attention to a woman injured during the rally. But the court reacted to his testimony “critically.” As the judge explained, Zhukhov’s purpose in testifying in this way had been to mitigate the severity of his crime.

On Wednesday, the Meshchansky District Court sentenced Yevgeny Kovalenko to three and a half years in a medium-security prison colony. He was found guilty of violence against two law enforcement officers. Allegedly, he pushed one of the officers and threw a garbage can at the other.

“Fully cognizant that the man before him, Tereshchenko, was performing his duties, [Kovalenko] pushed him on the right side of the torso with both hands, causing him to lose balance and fall from the height of his own height [sic] on the granite steps and experience physical pain,” the verdict stated.

Continuing to act with criminal intent, Kovalenko grabbed National Guardsman Maxim Saliyev by the body armor with both hands, abruptly pulling him and dragging him towards himself and thus causing him physical pain. After Tereshchenko pushed Kovalenko away, Kovalenko grabbed a trash receptacle and threw it at the guardsmen, hitting Saliyev in the lower back. According to the verdict, the guardsman experienced not only physical pain when falling but also emotional suffering since, at that moment, he remembered he had to perform his duties [sic].

During the trial, Kovalenko explained he had not intended any harm. He had only tried to frighten off policemen who were beating up protesters. However, the judge said the court was skeptical of his claims. They were refuted by the evidence in the case file and were an attempt to avoid punishment.

“The court notes the consistent and purposeful nature of the defendant’s actions, testifying to his criminal intent to employ violence,” the verdict stated.

The judge emphasized that arguments about police misconduct could not be considered during the trial and were not evidence of the defendant’s innocence.

Kovalenko’s defense counsel Mansur Gilmanov pointed out that the crime with which his client had been charged was a crime against the normal functioning of government. It thus followed that beating up peaceful protesters was one way in which the government normally functioned, he argued.

Svetlana Bayturina, Zhukov’s lawyer, called the sentence handed down to her client unprecedentedly severe: usually, such cases had resulted in fines for defendants or, at most, suspended sentences. The speed with which the case was investigated and tried was also unprecedented: the investigation took three days; the trial, one. Bayturina promised the defense would appeal the verdict and intended to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This was the second “judgment day” for arrested protesters. The day before, blogger Vladislav Sinitsa was sentenced to five years in prison for posting a tweet the prosecution had described as a call to harm the children of law enforcement officers. Technician Ivan Podkopayev was sentenced to three years in prison for spraying pepper spray in the direction Russian National Guardsmen, while businessman Danila Beglets was sentenced to two years in prison for grabbing a policeman’s arm. Their cases were tried under the special procedure: neither man denied his guilt.

Gilmanov noted there was no significant difference between the sentences given to defendants who made deals with the prosecution and those handed down to defendants who pleaded not guilty. This testified to the fact the verdicts were political. The sentences were decided by more senior officials and legal nuances did not matter much, he argued.

Protesters arrested and charged under Article 318.1 after a similar “unauthorized” rally in Moscow on March 26, 2017, were given much lighter prison sentences, between eight months and two and a half years. For example, Stanislav Zimovets, convicted of throwing a brick that hit a riot police commander in the back, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison, while Dmitry Krepkin, who kicked a riot policemen’s hip or his billy club, was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Only Andrei Kosykh, convicted of punching one policeman’s helmet and kicking another policeman in the neck and lower jaw, was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison, but he was convicted under Article 318.2, which covers violence that could result in death or grievous bodily harm.

The sentences in the so-called Moscow case have been roughly the same as those handed out in the Bolotnaya Square Case in 2012, only this time the protesters had not resisted law enforcement officers at all, political commentator Alexei Makarkin noted. According to him, the sentences in the current cases were dictated by the new rules of the game.

“Whereas before if someone hit a policemen in the teeth and damaged the enamel, he would do hard time, now people are getting similar, slightly shorter sentences for lifting the visors on riot policemen’s helmets, while people who grabbed a policemen by the arms are getting two years in prison,” Makarkin said.

In the Bolotnaya Square Case, the official charges looked more serious, Makarkin argues. The confrontation on the square was much rougher. In some ways, it harked back to the 1990s, when people fought with policemen without incurring such long sentences, he noted.

“The Bolotnaya Square Case marked a new phase. We realized the state had made it a rule that if you raised your hand against a police officer, you would go to jail. If a policeman raised a hand against you, he would be commended,” Makarkin said.

This time, the security forces also wanted to punish a certain number of people, but they failed to put together a new Bolotnaya Square case.

“So they decided anyone who had raised their hand and somehow touched a policeman should go to jail. But since they failed to dig up anything serious, they chose from what they had to work with,” Makarkin said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The 2019 Russian Elections and Their Fallout

july 27 riot

In the past, I have tried to make ongoing coverage of landmark political cases and trials as accessible as possible to readers who decide to read the whole story from beginning to end.

In the Bolotnaya Square case, I used tags to hold together the various chapters of a story that dragged on for several years. But I’m a mediocre tagger, at best, and now even I would be unable to find everything I published on the case.

For my coverage of the recent, ongoing Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case (aka the Network case) I hit upon the novel and, perhaps, idiotic idea of tacking a list of all previous articles to each new article, along with an altogether serious and necessary primer on how to show solidarity with the Network case defendants. The only problem, however, is that, as I noticed only yesterday, I stopped doing this sometime in April, for reasons I cannot explain.

So, this time I am going to try something different, especially because, I am afraid, the story of the protests in Moscow against the regime’s flagrantly illegal attempt to bar independent candidates from standing in the September 8 elections to the Moscow City Duma, the ensuing police crackdown against protesters, and the subsequent criminal prosecution of randomly selected protesters will be with us for a long time to come, as will the consequences of blatant attempts to make the elections a foregone conclusion in other parts of Russia such as Petersburg and Pskov.

I will be updating this post by posting a link here to each new story I publish while also inserting a link in new posts back to this page. This way, I hope, readers who come to the story in the middle will find it easier to go back to the beginning if they wish and easily navigate their way through my coverage to the latest developments.

Unlike my Network case posts, the order of links here is from earliest to latest. // TRR

Photo courtesy of VOA

Article 318: Criminalizing Protest in Russia

wehatecops

Criminalizing Protest Has Become a Tool for Combating Rallies
Experts Studied Use of Law Criminalizing Violence Against Authorities
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
February 28, 2019

Defending Protest (Apologiya protesta), an organization that provides assistance to people detained at protest rallies, has analyzed the use of Russian Criminal Code Article 318 against people involved in protest events. Article 318 makes violence against authorities a criminal offense. Between 2009 and 2017, a total of 65,046 people were convicted on this charge. Typically, the charge has been filed against people involved in drunken brawls broken up by police units or people involved in roadside altercations with traffic police. But Article 318 has also become the primary tool for charging activists with using violence against the security forces.

Demonstrative Cruelty
There are no separate figures for protesters charged with violating Article 318, but between 2013 and 2015 the number of people convicted on such charges rose annually by 600 to 800 people before decreasing slightly. The authors of Defending Protest’s report argue this increase stemmed from a rise in the number of protests and protesters in 2012: it was on May 6, 2012, that the March of the Millions took place, leading to the show trials of the Bolotnaya Square Case. After the protests peaked in 2015, there was a cooling off period, and the number of convictions nearly returned to their 2009 levels. However, there has been a growing tendency to sentence people convicted under Article 318 to actual prison time.

The experts note that when defendants confess their guilt and are tried in special expedited trials, it should theoretically mitigate their punishments, but in reality it does not increase chances they will be sentenced to probation or other non-carceral penalties. Besides, courts in Moscow have made a point of not invoking the option, stipulated by law, of dismissing cases because the parties have been reconciled or defendants have sincerely apologized for their crimes, since, in the opinion of Moscow judges, cases cannot be dismissed in so-called double-ended crimes, crimes committed not only against the victim as such but also against law and order.

The report notes that customary Russian methods of criminal investigation and judicial procedure have now been applied to the cases of grassroots activists, including double standards in weighing evidence, the presumption that law enforcement officers tell the truth, and giving priority to testimony made by suspects prior to their trials. The experts note the charges in such cases can be trumped up easily. The key evidence in these cases is the testimony of the victim and witnesses, all of them police officers. If necessary, their statements can be coordinated and entered into the court record in literally identical form.

Nonpunishable Violence
The flip side of the process is the inability to hold police officers criminally liable for using violence against demonstrators, says Alexei Glukhov, head of Defending Protest. If justice is served, this happens only if and when the European Court of Human Rights rules on a case, although Russian policemen and security services officers have been dispersing peaceful demonstrations and detaining grassroots activists and random bystanders with ever-greater ferocity. But nearly the only well-known case in which a Russian police officer was held criminally liable for violence against protesters was the case of Vadim Boyko, the so-called Pearl Sergeant, who hit a man over the head with a rubber truncheon at a demonstration in Petersburg in July 2010. In 2011, Sergeant Boyko was sentenced to three and half years of probation.

It is common practice to reject complaints filed by victims of police violence by claiming they are means of self-defense against the counter charges faced by the complainants. Thus, in the formal refusal to open a criminal case based on the complaint filed by lawyer Mikhail Benyash, the police investigator wrote, “M.M. Benyash’s testimony should be treated skeptically because he is thus attempting to build his own defense against criminal charges and thereby avoid prosecution.” In turn, the police officers who denied they had beaten Benyash testified he had beaten his own head against the window, door, and other parts of the car in which they abducted him, and when they dragged him out of the car, he beat his head against the pavement.

No less noteworthy were the reasons police investigators gave for refusing to open a criminal case based on a complaint filed by Danil Bolshakov and Daniil Markelov of Krasnoyarsk. Their testimony was not corroborated since Markelov was a supporter of Alexei Navalny, “who is a well-known opponent of the leadership of the Russian Federation, as headed by President V.V. Putin.”

Crackdown
Generally, the police crackdown has been intensifying. Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky agreed Article 318 has been used to intimidate people.

“I would encourage everyone to compare the verdicts in the Bolotnaya Square Case, in which a demonstrator brushed away a policeman’s arm and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, with the sentences handed down in the wake of the recent unrest in France, in which protesters have been fined or sentenced to a few months in jail at most,” he said.

In fact, Agranovsky explained, any physical contact with Russian police would result in the “offender” being charged under Article 318. Ultimately, people have become wary of attending protest rallies, although, formally speaking, Russia has signed all the relevant international conventions encouraging  peaceful protest.

Agranovsky recalled that ex-Russian MP Vladimir Bessonov was stripped of the right to engage in politics after he was charged with using violence against police officers at a protest rally.

Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov agreed the police crackdown has intensified.

“There is a desire to extinguish protests, and that is something you can only do with a stick. The powers that be have run out of carrots,” he said.

Gudkov argued all the available tools have been brought into play in order to artificially criminalize protest. For example, the so-called Ildar Dadin article in the criminal code had been revived after it was all but outlawed by the Russian Constitutional Court. The article criminalizes repeated involvement in “unauthorized” protest rallies.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

Autumn 2018 Fundraiser for Russian Political Prisoners

vladimir akimenkov.jpgVladimir Akimenkov. Courtesy of his Facebook page

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
October 4, 2018

AUTUMN FUNDRAISER FOR RUSSIAN POLITICAL PRISONERS

Despite all the problems in our lives, we are free in one way or another, or we live in so-called freedom, as Pyotr Pavlensky observed. Despite increasing state prohibitions and surveillance, we are not trapped between four walls. We can at least partially afford to satisfy our needs, and we are less likely to be beaten or tortured by state security forces.

On the contrary, political prisoners, like all convicts generally, have many few fewer rights than people on the outside, although political prisoners are freer and stronger than many people who are not in prison. These people have been imprisoned for our sake. On the outside, political prisoners were involved in various outstanding causes. Or, at very least, they evinced basic human dignity, which the Russian state punishes as a criminal offense.

We must continue to support political prisoners. One way of doing that is with our wallets. Assistance to such people, support for the victims of political repression, the fight to free these people and, more generally, the fight for society’s freedom have always gone on in Russia, even during the darkest days of the tsarist autocracy and Bolshevik despotism.

Between 2013 and 2018, we have raised over 11 million rubles for a variety of political prisoners. Unfortunately, no matter how much money we raise, it is never enough, especially since many of the political prisoners I have had occasion to work with have been sentenced to long terms in prison, sometimes in the double digits.

With very rare exceptions, however, the Putin regime has no intention of releasing political prisoners. On the contrary, it has only increased its crackdowns. The Kremlin does not even want to exchange hostages from Ukraine.

I am launching a new campaign to raise money for the political prisoners I have chosen help. You should note this group now includes the young men accused as part of the so-called Network case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.

You can make donations any time by transferring money to the following accounts.

Bank Transfers in Rubles
Bank’s Correspondence Account: 30101810400000000225
Bank’s BIC: 044525225
Recipient’s Account Number: 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Individual Tax Number: 7707083893
Recipient’s Name: Akimenkov Vladimir Georgievich

Bank Transfers in Foreign Currencies
SWIFT Code: SABRRUMM
Recipient’s Account Number: 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Name: Akimenkov Vladimir Georgievich

Please make a note on your transfers, identifying them as charitable donations.

In keeping with established practice, after the campaign has been completed and the money donated has been distributed to the political prisoners, I send a financial report to the donors whose identities are known to me.

Thank you.

You are welcome to disseminate information about this fundraising campaign.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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