“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin

Ivan Astashin in prison. Photo by Maxim Pivovarov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin
Dmitry Volchek
Radio Svoboda
October 3, 2020

On the night of December 20, 2009, the eve of State Security Officers Day, a group of young people threw a Molotov cocktail into the FSB’s offices in Moscow’s Southwest District. No one was injured, and the room was slightly damaged: a windowsill and several chairs were burned. A video of the protest soon appeared on the internet, entitled “Happy Chekists Day, Bastards!” The author of the video was 17-year-old Ivan Astashin.

The arson sparked a large-scale, trumped-up criminal case against the so-called Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization (ABTO), which was headed, according to investigators, by Astashin. Initially, the alleged members of ABTO were charged with property damage, but soon they were also accused of disorderly conduct. The Investigative Committee later decided that the defendants in the case had wanted to impact state policy, so they should be tried for “terrorism”(as punishable under Article 205 of the criminal code). They were tortured into confessing.

Ten young people were involved in the ABTO Case. In 2012, they were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Astashin received the longest sentence—13 years in a high-security penal colony, which was later reduced to 9 years and 9 months. Astashin was first sent to Krasnoyarsk Correctional Colony No. 17, but in 2014 he was transferred to Norilsk Correctional Colony No. 15. Lawyers and human rights activists argued that the case was political, pointing out that ABTO did not exist, and the members of the alleged “terrorist organization” did not even know each other.

“In Ivan’s case, the FSB took revenge on teenagers who dared to throw a bottle of petrol through their window. The case was a bellwether. It showed how the security forces had degenerated: why should they stake out real criminals and document their every move, if they could torture children until they lose consciousness, forcing them to sign a horseshit ‘confession’ that will then be called ‘evidence’ in the verdict?” said lawyer Igor Popovsky, who argued Astashin’s case before the Russian Supreme Court.

In recent years, Astashin has become known as an op-ed writer, penning articles about prison mores. On September 1, 2019, Radio Svoboda published his letter “Breaking Convicts Under the Law’s Cover,” which detailed the injustices at Krasnoyarsk CC 17, about the differences among castes of prisoners, their collaboration with wardens, and the psychological coercion employed on prisoners by correctional officers. We soon received a response from the penal colony’s wardens that Astashin had not written the letter and that no violations of the law were permitted in the colony. Although we knew that the letter had been written by Astashin, we took down the article, fearing for his safety.

On September 21, 2020, Astashin completed his sentence and was released. He is currently working on a book about his prison experience. He told Radio Svoboda about what happened to him on the outside and in prison.

Your comrade Alexei Makarov said that he became a revolutionary when he was 15 years old. When did you get interested in politics?

When I was about 14 years old. And it all started with a nationalist agenda. There were violent clashes between [ethnic] Russians and Caucasians in Kondopoga [in 2006]. I looked for information and in early 2007 I joined the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI).

When they called you a nationalist in court, were they right?

At first I was a nationalist, then my views expanded. I left DPNI and in 2009 joined The Other Russia coalition, which at that time was led by Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Garry Kasparov, and it included nationalists, liberals, communists, and anyone else you can think of. In the same year, 2009, I visited Ukraine, where I got acquainted with the movement of autonomous nationalists, and I thought that we should do something like it. At that time, there was a split in The Other Russia coalition, everything there came to a grinding halt. My radicalization occurred because there were no people organizing above ground. Then there was the movement of autonomists in Russia, both nationalists and left-wing anarchists. Direct action against the police began: police departments and police cars were torched. I also thought that we should do something like this. At that time, I felt like a revolutionary. I was 17 years old, and we decided to hold a protest action against the FSB.

You made a video of the action. It is still accessible on the internet, and there is a slogan “Russian action.” So, this was a nationalist protest?

Yes.

Do you regret it or recall it with pleasure?

Neither one nor the other. I don’t regret anything: what’s done is done. At the same time, I now believe that it was ineffective: the protest’s efficiency rating was negative. We had wanted to draw attention to the dictatorship of the Chekists, but [the video had] ten thousand views, which is a drop in the ocean. It did not spark a public discussion, it was all a big waste of time. Meanwhile, the people involved in the protest received long prison sentences. Of course, these were ineffective actions.

You were also accused of trying to blow up a Lexus. Whose car was it?

That was a stupid story. As a chemist, I experimented, I was interested in pyrotechnic devices and explosives. I built this thing and decided to test it. I found a Lexus: I thought it was probably insured. That’s another social subtext.

Attack the rich?

Yeah.

The investigators claimed that you were the leader of an organization that consisted of about ten people. Who were these people?

Guys I knew, but not all of them. They also carried out direct actions: seven arson attacks. The only thing we had in common was that we were acquainted. We were tortured into confessing that we had collaborated. If you read the verdict carefully, there are many inconsistencies. They write that the guys saw a police department and decided to torch it. But why do they then write that I was in charge of the action? Nevertheless, we were tried as an organized criminal group: everything those guys did I was charged with as well, and I was convicted as the organizer.

But did you know of ABTO’s existence? And did the organization even exist?

It was during the investigation that I found out that I was the head of the organization. And I saw the videos that they posted on the internet. Neither they nor we had any organization. The person who posted the videos just decided that it would be more interesting if he wrote that it was some kind of organization. It was four people going round setting fires.

Are the Network and New Greatness cases similar to what happened in the ABTO Case, or have the methods of the Chekists changed over the last ten years?

They are very similar, only worse. We were arrested for real actions. There was no terrorism in our case, but there were actions: they can be qualified as property damage or disorderly conduct. In the Network and New Greatness cases, there were no actions at all, that is, they were tried simply for belonging to mythical organizations. The laws that are now used to judge the defendants in those cases simply did not exist in our time. If we were tried now, we would probably be given twenty years in prison. All those articles [in the criminal code] are getting tougher and tougher, and the cases are now tried by special military courts. In addition, now there is the Rosfinmonitoring list [a financial stop list of “extremists” and “terrorists”], plus probation until your conviction has been expunged from your record. It’s easier for [the security services] to work in this way, because they don’t have to wait for someone to set something on fire, they can just take some guys who behave the wrong way, talk about the wrong things, or look the wrong way, and whip up a nice terrorism case, and get awards and promotions.

Ivan Astashin and comrades holding a rally on Chekists Day, on December 20, 2009, on Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow. Their banner reads, “The FSB are enemies of the people.” Courtesy of Ivan Astashin and RFE/RL

I read the article in which you write that the FSB are the only terrorists in Russia.

Yes, I wrote that, because terrorism is defined in the criminal code as various actions (not necessarily explosions and arson) intended to frighten and intimidate the populace. And who is intimidating the populace now, other than the FSB? We have other security services, but they are also dependent on the FSB. You know, when I carried out the action against the FSB, I really didn’t fully understand what kind of an organization it was. I understood that they had a lot of power, that the country was actually a Chekist dictatorship, but I had no idea how big it was. Even ordinary cops shake in their boots when FSBniks show up. The doors to all government institutions are open to the Chekists. All civil servants, judges, and MPs obey them unquestioningly. That’s why I called the FSB the main terrorists.

Did FSB officers visit you in the prison camp and threaten you?

Yes, that was in 2015. As usual, they did not introduce themselves, but only mentioned that they had flow in from Moscow: I was serving my sentence in Norilsk at the time. They were interested in what I was going to do after my release. I said that there were five more years until the end of my sentence, and I didn’t know yet what I would do after my release. They told me something to the effect that I shouldn’t get it into my head to engage in any political activity. Not that they directly threatened me, but they mentioned that even if I went abroad and mad trouble for them there, they would still get to me.

How did ordinary prisoners perceive you? As a hero or as a weirdo whose motives were impossible to understand?

Differently. There really were convicts who would say, Well done, cool, they need to be burned. There were also who thought it was odd: you’ve been sent down for ten years, what was the point?

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You said in an interview that you saw all of Russia in the Siberian prison camps. What have you learned about Russia? Is it ready for the revolution you dreamed of?

Many people living in Moscow have no idea what is happening beyond the Moscow Ring Road, how people survive on a salary of 5-10 thousand rubles [a month; meaning between 55 and 110 euros, approximately]. They often live on the outside according to the same concepts as they do in prison. As for whether they are ready for revolution, that is a difficult question. Many people just can’t imagine that things could be different. There is the famous question: who [will be president], if not Putin? Indeed, many people have this notion in their heads.

Did you meet Putin fans even in the camps?

Yes.

Were they outliers or were there many of them?

The ardent Putin supporters were outliers, of course, but I would often hear people say that Putin was doing a great job: he’d lifted up the economy, whereas in the nineties there had been nothing to eat at all. But now the situation is moving away from Putin. Meaning that, whereas in 2014 everyone got behind “Crimea is ours” and Novorossiya, and sometimes a couple of prisoners would argue with several dozen [Putin supporters], but now they mostly chew out Putin’s policies.

Even in the Siberian camps in 2014, there was a patriotic upsurge and people were happy about the annexation of the Crimea?

Yes, but then the situation changed, and the whole upsurge fizzled out.

Last year, we published your letter about the situation at the Krasnoyarsk colony, and then the wardens demanded that it be removed: allegedly, you were not the author. We took it down so you wouldn’t get hurt. What happened to you then?

It was unexpected. It is clear that if you are institutionalized and you write something negative about the institution, then, of course, there will be a reaction. I was in Norilsk, describing the general practices that had developed in the prison system, and I mentioned the Krasnoyarsk camp as an example. And they got so upset! They made threats, very clear threats. In Krasnoyarsk Territory, there is Remand Prison No. 1, known for its torture cells. There is a regional tuberculosis hospital where convicts are absolutely illegally injected with the strongest psychotropic drugs. And when I was summoned for a chat about the matter by the head of the prevention and enforcement department [of the penal colony], he made it clear what could happen to me in the future. I know such stories about how a person wrote complaints about the wardens, and then he was taken to these places of torture, and then the person recanted his testimony while being videotaped. I knew that something similar could be done to me. I had to write the document that your editors received. Of course, when I wrote it, I really hoped that they would understand the situation.

Of course, we understood, but we were afraid for your safety and took down the article.

I was hoping they wouldn’t remove it. Both there and through the convicts, they tried to get to me, and for some time the email server was disabled, and the warden, when he went on rounds, made it clear that it was all because of me. Then I found out that I was to be transferred. Initially, there was information that I would be taken to that hospital in Krasnoyarsk. I had already been given to understand via the convicts that they could take me through the torture remand prisons there. Consequently, everything followed a completely different scenario: I was transferred to CC 17, which I had just been writing about. I was transported without any untoward happening to me. I arrived at the transit and transfer prison, and everything was cool: not a word was said about the situation. I was there for four days before arriving at CC 17, where the deputy warden said to me on my first day, “I know why you have been brought here. I don’t care about that article. Let’s put it this way: you are now going to quietly finish out your sentence, and you’re not going to create problems for me, and I’m not going to create problems for you.”

Did your other articles about life in the prison zones go unnoticed?

The others were also noticed, but there was a fairly calm reaction to them. At one time, there was a special field officer in charge of working with “extremists” and “terrorists,” and he sometimes called me in to say he’d read my articles.

I’m sure you met other prisoners convicted on similar charges.

Yes, there a lot of people convicted in high-profile cases in Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk. When I arrived at CC 15 in Norilsk, there were quite a lot of people who had been convicted under Article 205, but mostly they were people who had been involved in the fighting in the North Caucasus. When you read their verdicts you find mentions of [Chechen rebel commanders] Maskhadov, Khattab, and Shamil. And when I was transferred to CC 17 in Krasnoyarsk a year ago, I also saw quite a lot of people who had been involved in combat or attacks on security forces in the North Caucasus over the years.

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You rubbed shoulders in the camps with people of different ethnic groups living in Russia. Have you reconsidered the beliefs that moved you to become a revolutionary at the age of seventeen?

Yes, my views have changed. When I joined DPNI, I saw migrants as the problem, but over time I began to see the state as the problem. Migrants are not to blame for anything: they come here out of desperation, because their home countries are even worse than here, just as many people are leaving Russia for Europe now. In other words, these processes are quite natural. People of different ethnic groups and faiths can easily get along with each other. We just need competent policy to avoid conflicts. All this xenophobia is largely groundless. While I was on the inside, I read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, which examines why people are often biased against those who belong to a different race or ethnic group. If you get to the root of the problem, there is no reason for it. We need to think about what unites us, not what divides us.

I noticed in your interview with the BBC a reference to Vladimir Sorokin. Did you find something in common in what he describes with what you saw in the camps?

Yes, I love Vladimir Sorokin. One of the things that clicked with me was the idea of the new Middle Ages, as described in his novel Tellurium. I can say for sure that the Russian penitentiary system is the new Middle Ages. Here, in each region, there is a special way of life, which is shaped both by prison officials and prisoners, despite the fact that the law seems to be the same, and the codes prisoners live by is the same everywhere. In some places, prisoners live free and easy, while in others the wardens set up a totalitarian regime in the camps through beatings and torture, as, for example, was the case in Omsk before the riot there in 2018. In yet other places, the wardens and the pseudo-kingpins from among the convicts converge. There are unwritten rules, procedures, and forms of interaction everywhere. It really is the new Middle Ages.

Ivan Astashin with the artist Stanislav Tanichev, who illustrated his articles. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You have now been released, but you remain under probation?

Yes. The law on probation was adopted in 2011. I was arrested in 2010, but in 2017, changes were made to the law such that all those convicted of terrorist charges must be placed on probation until their criminal record is expunged, which in my case is eight years. No one cares about you behaved in prison. Whereas earlier, repeat offenders and those who were deemed repeat violators of prison rules were put on probation, now everyone convicted on terrorist charges is put on probation, too. No one cares that I went to prison long before the law was passed. Logically, according to the Russian Constitution and international norms, the law should not apply to me. However, it applies not only to me, but also to other people in this situation. Restrictions are imposed on us: we have to check in at a police department between one to four times a month. (I’m required to check in twice a month.) You cannot leave your home between ten at night and six in the morning. I have filed an appeal against my probation and plan to bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights, as I believe that this practice violates the European Convention on Human Rights. A complaint on similar grounds, filed by one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case, Sergei Udaltsov, has already been communicated to the European Court of Human Rights.

You don’t want to leave Russia?

I don’t. Everything is bad in Russia nowadays, but there are a lot of areas where you can do something and change things for the better. Nor am I talking about politics in the literal sense. For example, there is human rights advocacy. In any case, no matter what the circumstances, no matter where I am, I will still do something to change society for the better.

• • • • •

This translation is dedicated to Vladimir Akimenkov, a former Russian political prisoner and prisoner rights activist who over the years persuaded me to pay attention to Ivan Astashin’s remarkable story. If you have the means and the opportunity, please consider donating to Vladimir’s fund for Russian political prisoners. You will find the details below. || TRR

Ivan Astashin and Vladimir Akimenkov, October 11, 2020, Moscow. Courtesy of Vladimir Akimenkov’s Facebook page

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
June 7, 2020

My Annual Birthday Fundraising Event for Political Prisoners

On June 10, it will be eight years since I was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case. Every year on this date I hold a fundraiser in support of the political prisoners with whom I am currently working.

Every year we meet live on my birthday to help political prisoners. This year, for obvious reasons, we will not be able to meet on June 10. We will definitely do this later, when we can get together without the obvious threat of getting sick. (The live fundraising event will be announced later, via a separate post and an update to this post.)

In the meantime, I am launching a remote fundraising event. In recent years, we have managed to find over 16.8 million rubles [approx. 186,000 euros] for people who have been politically repressed. Please chip in. We need to raise a lot of money. I don’t want to be broken record, but such are realities of Russian society.

Bank details:

— Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410012642526680

— Sberbank Visa Card: 4276 3801 0623 4433, Vladimir Georgievich Akimenkov

Bank details for ruble transfer:

Correspondence account 30101810400000000225
Bank BIC 044525225
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Individual Tax Number 7707083893
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

Bank details for foreign currency transfers:

SWIFT Code SABRRUMM
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

You can send funds from one foreign currency account to another via the Western Union website.

If you send me a personal message, I can send you a final report on the funds collected.

Please share information about the fundraiser on different venues.

I’m worried about this fundraiser. But I believe in people.

Thanks.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Belarusian Environmentalist Marina Dubina Abducted by Unknown Men in Uniform in Minsk

Marina Dubrina

Marina Dubina, Director of NGO Ekodom, Detained, Unknown Men Used Teargas
Incident took place around 4 p.m. at Korpus Cultural Center in Minsk
Zjaljony partal
October 6, 2020

According to witnesses, unidentified men in uniform with no identifying marks, dragged the executive director of the NGO Ekodom outside, employing a tear gas canister in the process. She was dragged from building no. 6 at the Gorizont factory towards a bus stop before being forced into a Volkswagen passenger vehicle on Kuibyshev Street.

There is no more information at this time, but this article n will be updated.

Earlier, on September 8, persons unknown tried to force their way into Dubina’s house.

Thanks to Sasha Razor for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Special Op in Omsk (The Poisoning of Alexei Navalny)

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
August 20, 2020

Everything happening now around Navalny (and what is happening is a special op), including not letting his doctor see him, not letting his wife see him, the huge number of security forces [at the hospital in Omsk], the refusal to transport him [to another country for treatment] is aimed at one goal and one goal alone. And it’s not treating the patient, of course.

The goal is concealing traces of the crime, making it impossible to detect the toxin, making sure no one gets access to the biomaterials, so that there is no convincing evidence of what substance was used to poison him and how it was used. So what if this is wreaks havoc with choosing the optimal medical treatment.

But it will allow the Kremlin to play their favorite game, like with the Boeing [shot down over Ukraine by Russian forces in July 2014]: to put forward 300 different hypotheses of any degree of absurdity (except the obvious and true explanation), and to shout “What is your evidence?” in response to the obvious explanation. In fact, they have already started doing it.

Translated by the Russian Reader 

NKVD Captain Yermolai Remizov fights ruthlessly against the Motherland’s enemies. His task force has cracked dozens of cases, eliminating the remnants of the White Guard, and capturing foreign spies and Trotskyist henchmen. From reliable sources, Remizov gets a signal about an upcoming act of sabotage at the Proletarian Diesel plant. The plant is the flagship of its industry, and any accident there would be a serious political statement. Remizov needs to identify the saboteurs urgently. But how? Suddenly, among the plant’s staff, the captain notices a new engineer, who bears a striking resemblance to an acquaintance from the Civil War…

This novel, Chekists, was published yesterday (August 19, 2020) by the major Russian publisher Eksmo, a fact made known to me by LitRes, Russia’s leading e-book service. The burgeoning genre of neo-Stalinist revisionist pulp fiction and the equally flourishing genre of neo-Stalinist revisionist “historiography” that nourishes it are two big parts of the relentless culture war waged by the “Chekists” in the Kremlin to make their flagrant, brutal misrule of the world’s largest country seem natural, inevitable, and historically predetermined. As part of their overall campaign to hold on to power in perpetuity, while bleeding the country dry, it only makes sense that they would turn governance into an endless, gigantic “special op,” in which poisoning “the Motherland’s enemies,” like Alexei Navalny, is all in a day’s work. // TRR


Doctors ‘fighting for life’ of Russia’s opposition leader Navalny after alleged poisoning
Yuliya Talmazan
NBC News
August 20, 2020

Fierce Krmlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny is inh a coma as doctors fight for his life after he was poisoned Thursday mo rning, his spokespersoin said.

The 44-year-old foe of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin felt unwell on a flight back to Moscow from tTomsk, a city in Siberia, Kira Yarmysh said on iTwitter.

“The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. Alexei has a toxic poisoning,” Yarmysh tweeted.

Navalny is said to be unconscious and was placed on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. Yarmysh did not say who she believed may have poisoned Navalny, but said police had been called to the hospital.

The politician is in a grave but stable condition, hospital representative Anatoly Kalinichenko, deputy chief physician at the Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1., said in a video shared by Yarmysh on Twitter.

Kalinichenko said all possible reasons for Navalny’s sudden illness were being looked at, including poisoning. “Doctors are really dealing with saving his life right now,” Kalinichenko added at a later briefing with reporters.

The spokeswoman said that doctors were preventing Navalny’s wife, Yulia, from seeing her husband. Yarmysh quoted the doctors as saying her passport was insufficient evidence of her identity, instead asking for their marriage certificate which she wasn’t carrying.

Yarmysh told Russian radio station Echo of Moscow there are tests being conducted to determine the nature of the toxin used. She said Navalny only had a black tea at an airport coffee shop before getting on the plane in the morning, and they believe that’s how he could have been poisoned.

She said she was sure it was “an intentional poisoning.”

“A year ago, he was poisoned in a prison, and I am sure the same thing happened here,” she told the station. “It’s different symptoms, obviously a different toxin, but obviously this was done to him intentionally.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said an investigation would be launched if it turned out Navalny was indeed poisoned. Asked if this was a special case because of Navalny’s outspoken criticism of the Russian government, Peskov added, “the current government has many critics,” according to the state-run TASS news agency.

Meanwhile, elements of Russia’s tightly-controlled state media have been exploring the narrative that Navalny may have had a lot to drink the previous night and took some kind of hangover pill today.

An anonymous law enforcement source told TASS that authorities are not yet considering this a poisoning.

“For the moment this version is not being considered,” the official said. “It is possible that he drank or took something himself yesterday.”

Last year, Navalny was rushed to a hospital from prison where he was serving a sentence following an administrative arrest, with what his team said was suspected poisoning.

Doctors then said he had a severe allergic attack and discharged him back to prison the following day.

In 2017, he was attacked by several men who threw antiseptic in his face, damaging one eye.

Pavel Lebedev was on the same plane as Navalny and posted an image of the politician drinking something out of a cup before the flight on his Instagram Stories. NBC News could not confirm that the photo shows the beverage that his spokeswoman believes may have poisoned him.

In a series of videos uploaded to his Instagram, Lebedev said he saw Navalny go to the bathroom after lift-off, and he did not return for a while.

“I heard a commotion and took my headphones off,” he added. “It turned out that there was an emergency landing in Omsk, so I thought someone was feeling ill. Then I turned my head and I saw Alexei lying down.”

Navalny rose to prominence in 2009 with investigations into official corruption and became a protest leader when hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Russia in 2011 to protest electoral fraud.

A few years later, and after several short-term spells in jail, Navalny faced two separate sets of fraud charges, which were viewed as political retribution aimed at stopping him from running for office.

In his only official campaign before his first conviction took effect, Navalny garnered 30 percent of the vote in the race for Moscow mayor in 2013.

Navalny also campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but was barred from running.

Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation has conducted in-depth investigations into the highest ranks of Russian political elite, including his most famous investigation into former prime minister and president Dmitry Medvedev.

Alexei Navalny’s brilliant March 2017 exposé of then-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s corruption, viewed almost 36 million times

Last month, he had to shut down the foundation after a financially devastating lawsuit from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.

Russia holds regional elections next month and Navalny and his allies have been preparing for them, trying to increase support for candidates which they back.

Mikola Dziadok: When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

vera zasulich street, 46-permVera Zasulich Street, 46, in Perm, hardly seems a fitting monument to the fearless Russian revolutionary, but the street is, apparently, the only Vera Zasulich Street in Russia. Photo courtesy of perm.vsedomarossii.ru

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
November 3, 2018

When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

Ever since the events in Arkhangelsk, I have been waiting for the decent Russian media to publish a sensible portrait-cum-analysis of the new would-be member of the People’s Will, Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up at the local FSB office. My wait is over. Novaya Gazeta has published an article about him. It is a vile, shameful article, which I might have expected from anyone else, but not from Novaya Gazeta. Every quotation you can pull from the article, not to mention the conclusion, is a specimen of feeblemindeness compounded by fear.

“Unfortunately, now many people could come to regard [Zhlobitsky] as an icon, a martyr, a hero.”

That “unfortunately” tipped me off to the fact that nothing good lay ahead.

“Perovskaya and Zasulich: their forgotten names still grace street signs marking alleys.* Strictly speaking, nearly every municipality [in Russia] is thus guilty of excusing terrorism. Their ‘heroic deeds’ have never been duly judged. So, they have returned: a second-year student at a vocational college assembles a bomb at home in the evenings from available materials.”

Thanks to Sophia Perovskaya, Vera Zasulich, and people like them, people whom Novaya Gazeta‘s reporter [Tatyana Britskaya] considers reprehensible, Russia overthrew the tsarist autocracy, a realm in which the reporter’s great-grandfathers were whipped for not doffing their hats in the presence of their masters and were dispatched as cannon fodder to distant lands for the Empire’s glory. That was only a small fraction of the woes visited upon the heads of the common folk. The reporter, however, is still sad that streets are named after these heroines and heroes, and she brackets their heroic deeds in quotation marks.

“However, the three Arkhangelsk Chekists [sic] wounded by shrapnel were unlikely to be directly involved in the torture about which Mikhail Zh. wrote [in his farewell message on Telegram].”

This is really a masterpiece. According to the reporter, only a tiny group of FSB officers, a group that exists only in her head, has been involved in torture. All other FSB officers wear white gloves, compose poems, dance at balls, and have preventive discussions with schoolchildren, urging them not to become “extremists.” They also catch drug barons and ISIS fighters, interrogating them solely by looking at them sternly. Apparently, the reporter has forgotten about “repeat interrogations using an electrical memory aid” and the complaints by cops (!) accused of corruption that they were tortured by FSB officers.  The reporter must think that Zhlobitsky should have first approached [the three FSB officers he wounded] and asked them, “Do you torture people by any chance? No? Well, okay, then, I’ll go blow up somebody else.”

“Apparently, we never were able to assess or correct mistakes, and now history is taking us back for another go-round. This is facilitated quite readily by the fact that adults notice unhappy, confused children only when the latter perish while activating homemade infernal machines.”

What mistakes is she talking about? She is not condemning the butchers of the NKVD or the enslavement of entire nations, first by Imperial Russia, then by the Soviet empire. No, the “mistakes” were the members of the nobility who were among the organizers of the People’s Will and the members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, people who died martyrs’ deaths to liberate their own people from bondage.

Because reading it only provokes disgust, there is not pointing in parsing this libel any further. I would only note that the reporter is Novaya Gazeta‘s [Arctic Circle] correspondent, meaning she is a local reporter. This, apparently, is the reason for her condescending, judgmental tone and her attempt to turn a hero into a “confused child.” If you write too bluntly, you have unexploded FSB officers to deal with, as well as their colleagues and relatives. But she has keep working and get comments from the security service when she needs them. So, she will continuing putting a good face on a bad game, denouncing “violence of any kind.” My ass.

It is true what they say: scratch a Russian liberal and, deep down, you will find a statist and conservative. You want to live in a just society, but you think it can be achieved by pickets and petitions. You want the regime to respect you, but you condemn people who force it to respect them. You want freedom, but you are afraid to take it. You condemn the bravest people, thus projecting an image of victims, not fighters. In today’s stinking Russia, ninety-nine percent of you will end up hightailing it abroad. But not everyone has the opportunity, you know?

So, if you are scared, it is better to remain silent than to yap encouragingly at the butchers, who, for a change, suffered for their crimes.

I would like to emphasize I do not consider individual insurgency an acceptable or proper means of political militancy, nor would I advise anyone to engage in it. I believe everyone has the right to live, even a fucking FSB officer. But not everyone can adhere to the same beliefs I do while living amidst a terrorist dictatorship. I understand such people perfectly well, too.

* Translator’s Note. While there are a couple of dozen Sophia Perovskaya Streets extant in post-Soviet Russia, there seems to be only one Vera Zasulich Street—in Perm.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Special thanks to Mikola Dziadok for his kind permission to translate and publish his comments on this website.

Minority Report

DSCN4634

But in 2000 Putin came to power. Now Putin was director of the FSB (KGB), the executive branch, as it were, of the Soviet government’s war against God. [In reality, Putin was director of the FSB from 25 July 1998 to 29 March 1999. He was acting president of Russia from 31 December 1999 to 7 May 2000, when he assumed the same office as the popularly elected president of Russia.—TRR.] or such a man to become president was therefore a profound shock and a stern warning for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It was as if the head of the Inquisition had become head of the World Council of Churches, or Himmler, the president of Germany after the war.

Nothing similar would have been tolerated in a western country. But it was tolerated in Russia, first, because, as surveys showed, most Russians still considered the Soviet Union to be their native country, and Lenin and Stalin to be heroes; and secondly, because the west clung on to the stupid belief that over seventy years of the most terrible bloodletting in history (far longer and far more radical than Hitler’s twelve years in power) could be wiped out and reversed without any kind of decommunization, without even a single person being put on trial for murdering innocent people in the name of Soviet power’s collective Antichrist.

The tragic farce has reached such a stage that the KGB has become a hero of Russia literature and film, with its own church in the middle of its chief prison, the Lubyanka in Moscow, not, as it might be thought, to commemorate the martyrs who suffered so terribly within its walls, but for the executioners.

The west concurred with this filthy whitewash. The official Orthodox Church (itself run by KGB agents) concurred. The masses of the Russian people concurred by voting Putin into power repeatedly.

And then the rebirth took place. Without repenting in the slightest of his communist past, and while gradually reintroducing more and more Soviet traditions and symbols, Putin underwent a conversion to Christ. Or rather, from being part of the body of the Soviet Antichrist, which was anti-, that is, against Christ, he is now preaching a form of Communist Christianity that, as Makarkin puts it, copies Jesus Christ, placing its own ideas in place of Christ’s and passing them off as His. And if the copy is a poor one (just as Lenin’s stinking body is a very poor imitation of the fragrant relics of the saints, and the murderous “Moral Code of the Builder of Communism” is a very poor imitation of the Sermon on the Mount) this does not matter, so long as the masses are taken in by it or, if they are not taken in by it, at least convinced that Christ and the anti-Christian state are now on the same side.

So the Russian revolution has mutated from one kind of anti-Christianity to another, from Lenin’s anti-Christianity, which was openly against Christ, to Putin’s anti-Christianity, which pretends not to be against Christ but to copy Him and take His place.

There can be no doubt this new, more sophisticated kind of anti-Christianity is more dangerous than the former, and closer to the kind that will be practised by the actual Antichrist himself at the end of time. For of that Antichrist the Lord said, “I have come in My Father’s name and you do not believe Me: if another shall come in his own name, him you will believe” (John 5:43). In other words, you have rejected the real Christ, and as a direct result you will accept an imposter, a man-god, for the real thing, the God-Man.

But we must not be deceived, remembering Putin’s words: “Once a chekist, always a chekist.”

Excerpted from Vladimir Moss, “Putin, the Communist Christian,” 23 February 2018. Mr. Moss’s text has been lightly edited to make it more readable. Photo by the Russian Reader

I’ll Show You the Life of the Mind

the life of the mind
Screenshot of a virtual tour of the Spiridonov Mansion (1895-1896) aka the Baby Palace (since 1965), located at Furshtatskaya Street, 58, in central Petrograd. The room depicted here is known as the Oriental Room. Thanks to Comrade KK for the heads-up

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The Man Behind Dialogues: The FSB Are Listening to Us Now 
The creator of the project Dialogues, which has been shut down, explained to Fontanka.ru why he wants to start it up again at another public venue and why he is not leaving Russia
Elena Kuznetsova
Fontanka.ru
June 27, 2016

Nikolai Solodnikov. Courtesy of Open Library

Nobel Laureate Svetlana Aleksievich, musician Diana Arbenina, animator Garri Bardin, Deacon Andrei Kurayev, journalist Yulia Latynina, and poet Vera Polozkova are just a few of the celebrities who have been guests of the project Dialogues at Petersburg’s Mayakovsky Library. Hundreds of Petersburgers have attended the discussions in person, while even more have watched the live broadcasts on various media websites.

The project, which was run by Nikolai Solodnikov, former deputy general director of the Mayakovsky Library, on a voluntary basis, was shut down yesterday, June 26, after the FSB came to the library and carried out searches. One hypothesis is that the security forces were interested in the political activism of Dialogues. Another hypothesis is it was Solodnikov’s frequent visits to Latvia that bothered them. Fontanka.ru contacted the man behind Dialogues to set the record straight. 

Nikolai, if they were in your shoes, many other people would be in Latvia by now. Where are you now?

For reasons of safety, I cannot answer the question.

Meaning you are not in Russia?

All I can say is that I am not in Latvia. [In the background, a voice announcing flights can be heard—Fontanka.ru.]

After the incident with the FSB did you have thoughts of leaving the country?

I am Russian. I do my projects in Russian for Russians. I cannot imagine myself as a political émigré, and I have no plans to leave Russia.

You have said the FSB had been putting pressure on Dialogues for a year and a half. Why did you decide to shut the project down only yesterday?

Different things overlapped. The elections and the fact we had been spending a lot of time in Latvia, where Katya [Solodnikov’s wife Katerina Gordeeva, journalist and co-organizer of DialoguesFontanka.ru] had our fifth child. It is not the children who bother them, of course. They are annoyed by the Open Lecture project we have been doing in Riga, Tel Aviv, and Odessa. And they had been combating Dialogues, in fact. So now things boiled over and exploded.

Meaning that if there had been no searches, Dialogues would have continued?

Of course. I hope it will continue, only not at the Mayakovsky Library. Because what is it like for the elderly ladies who make up the core of the library’s employees to go through interrogations and seizures of equipment? That would be incredibly heartless.

Surely after yesterday’s announcement you have already received proposals to move the project to another location.

Private organizations have had some ideas, but I haven’t considered them yet. I am still hoping we can gather in a space where very different people in terms of views, age, and social status can come.

Are you implying the next venue for Dialogues will also be public?

I really hope so. I am a citizen of the Russian Federation, and the people who attend our events are citizens of the Russian Federation. We are, in fact, the Russian people, who have the right to gather in public cultural institutions.

Public institutions have a hard time accepting the opposition agenda, which Dialogues, in particular, supported.

I am not an opposition activist. I am someone who deals with education and awareness. Teaching was my first occupation. I taught for a long time, and I hope I will teach again in the future. The only thing I can do is teach people to talk to each other while maintaining different points of view.

We are speaking via Skype now. Before that you called from a new number.

Tell me straight that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is eavesdropping on us. When you call me, something clicks and hums on your end.

Before yesterday, did you have any sense that the security forces were following you personally?

Since May of last year [when Ukrainian politician Mustafa Nayyem was supposed to speak at Dialogues, but the trip was canceled—Fontanka.ru] I have had no doubt that all my phones have been tapped. Although I think they have not been following me. I have no documents or evidence, but I do have the sense they have been listening in on me.

“Aside from land we have no real estate in Latvia”

You resigned from the Mayakovsky Library yesterday. How will it affect the career of the library’s director, Zoya Chalova?

I really hope things will be a bit easier for her.

We tried to call her, but to no avail. There is no sense that Chalova supports you at all.

She is the director of a public institution. That says it all. I am very grateful to her for the entire time we worked together. She is one of the bricks in the wall who helped deter the people who carried out the search on Thursday and interrogated the librarians.

Cultural functionaries, including Konstantin Sukhenko, head of the Petersburg Municipal Culture Committee, have said that Zoya Chalova did not know what the sources of financing for Dialogues were, and she was very worried about it.

She knew what they were from day one of the project.  I have always said this, and I have said it repeatedly to Fontanka.ru: Dialogues is financed solely by Katya and me, meaning the salary I earned at the Mayakovsky Library, 43,000 rubles a month, and what Katya earns. Together, we have tried to combine what we have, borrow money here and there, and ask friends to pay for our guests’ tickets and accommodation. No oligarchs have been involved.

Can you name at least a few of the friends who have supported the project?

Nikolai Solodnikov and Katerinia Gordeeva. That is quite enough.

In addition to financing, the FSB were interested in your links to Latvia. Apparently, the Chekists [sic] assumed that you were not merely spending time there, but living there as well.

We have five children, aged six years to one and half months. We left in late 2015, because Katya was going to have our fifth child.  The heating main opposite our house on Chaikovsky Street was turned off. In November, the hot water and light were being turned off every other day. It was impossible to live with small children in a flat with no water and electricity. We decided to temporarily relocate to Riga so that Katya could finish her pregnancy in peace and give birth.

Do you have a residence permit or property abroad?

Everybody knows that three or four years ago Katya bought a small plot of land in Latvia to obtain a residence permit. We did this and, in accordance with the law, immediately informed the Russian Federal Migration Service about it.

You haven’t built a house yet?

No, except for the land, we have no property in Latvia.

How did you feel working at a public library? After all, it is almost like the civil service, but at the same time you had a residence permit in another country.

I felt great. My wish is that all other worthy people had a residence permit while not parting with their Russian passports for any reason. A residence permit makes it easier to get around the world: you don’t have to apply endlessly for visas.

But the FSB sees this as a certain duality and contradiction.

There are some not very healthy people working there, but there are also normal people. Just as there are more people than Sukhenko working in the municipal culture department. By the way, many Petersburg municipal officials also have resident permits abroad.

Getting back to Dialogues, if the project would have continued in the old format, what would have its future been?

We thought we would do Dialogues monthly at least until the end of 2016. We worked like bees, regularly inviting new guests.

What did you feel yesterday when you were told the project was over?

A huge amount of work has been done, and it is sad when it ends this way. But we are going to go forward. There are people who support us. We will cope.

Our conversation is now being constantly interrupted by other calls. Who is calling?

Your journalist colleagues.

You have probably been getting many expressions of support. What matters most?

What matters most is that Katya and I really support each other in these circumstances.

Translated by the Russian Reader