How a Petersburger Trucker Has Decided to Sue Plato

How a Petersburger Trucker Has Decided to Sue Plato
Venera Galeyeva
Fontanka.ru
October 16, 2017

After getting his first fine for non-payment of fees under the Plato road tolls system, a Petersburg trucker has challenged it in court. The case could become an important precedent. 

Как петербургский дальнобойщик решил «Платон» засудить
Truckers waiting outside a Plato office. Photo courtesy of Svetlana Kholyavchuk/Interpress

Individual entrepreneur Yuri Bubnov has two freight trucks, one of which is on the road, a MAN-produced box truck he uses to deliver consumer goods to Moscow and Vladimir. As a matter of principle, he has not registered the truck with the Plato road tolls system, has not put a transponder on the truck, and does not pay the new Plato fees. In 2015, he was one of the few people who took part in a road rally of truckers from Petersburg to Moscow. His runs take him past Plato sensors outside Tosno and in Tver, Klin, and Novgorod Region.

A sensor mounted on the Pokrov–Elektrogorsk segment of the M7 Federal Highway finally reacted to Bubnov’s truck on September 28. On October 6, the traffic police issued Bubnov a fine of 5,000 rubles for failure to pay his Plato road toll fees. Ironically, the very same day, the Russian government approved a fourfold increase in fines for non-payers. On October 14, Bubnov sent a letter to the Odintsovo City Court in Moscow Region challenging the decision to issue the fine and petitioning the court to move the venue for hearing the case to the Kalinin District Court in Petersburg, the plaintiff’s place of residence. The truck is registered in Bubnov’s wife’s name, so she will be acting as a defender in the case: “I consider the ruling in the administrative case unfounded and illegal, which I shall prove during the trial.” Yet Bubnov could pay a discounted fine of 2,500 rubles by October 26 and live peacefully.

Truckers have tried before to challenge the issuing of fines for failure to pay Plato road tolls, but for formal reason,s e.g., the paperworks was not drawn up properly, the truck’s owner was not behind the wheel during the alleged violation, and so on. Bubnov’s case if fundamentally different. He wants to challenge the law itself and is willing to give up at least a year of his life to do it.

Bubnov expounds his position.

“According to the Russian Federal Civil Code, damage must be paid be jointly by everyone everyone involved in causing damage. However much damage you caused that is how you pay,” he says.

[Bubnov has in mind the government’s original stated rationale for introducing the Plato road tolls system. Since cargo trucks, allegedly, cause more wear and tear on federal highways than other vehicles, the argument went, they should pay additional fees, based on the number of kilometers traveled, to compensate for this damage and thus provide more money for repairing major roads.—TRR]

“In addition, the damage I caused has to be proven. And, according to the Russian Federal Tax Code, payments cannot be arbitrary and should reflect the economic essence of the matter. Empty, my vehicle weighs 7,800 kilograms. The maximum weight of a loaded eighteen-wheeler is 44 tons. Obviously, we cause different amounts of wear and tear on the road. Why, then, should I pay the same amount as the driver of a loaded eighteen-wheeler?”

In May 2016, the Russian Federal Consitutional Court ruled the Plato road tolls system legal. Later, however, Constitutional Court Judge Gadis Gadzhiyev issued a dissenting opinion in which, among other things, he suggested clarifying the purpose of the fee, because, economically speaking, Plato is not compensation for damage, but a payment imposed on owners of heavy trucks for using the roads.

“As currently formulated, the Plato system is at odds with Russian federal laws,” says Bubnov. “By itself, travel on public roads is not an offense. There is a Russian federal government decree in which the maximum loads for different types of vehicle are set. The weight of my vehicle is legal.”

Bubnov also invokes an argument that truckers protesting Plato have made since 2015. If a toll is introduced for driving on a certain section of road, drivers should be provided with an alternative free detour. Otherwise, all federal highways would become toll roads for truckers.

Bubnov already has several legal victories under his belt. He has always served as his own defense counsel, and recently he has voluntarily defended his colleagues from different regions in court. On September 20, 2017, he won the so-called tachograph case, in which a trucker had been accused of violating work safety laws. A similar case is now being tried in Altai Territory.

If Bubnov’s appeal, as appended to his complaint against the Plato road tolls system fine, is rejected, first he will have to go to Odintsovo City Court, then to the Moscow Regional Court to appeal the ruling, and then to the Presidium of the Moscow Regional Court and, finally, to the Russian Federal Supreme Court and the Presidium of the Supreme Court. Bubnov plans to go to the bitter end with the final decision. According to his calculations, the whole process may take at least a year. If his petition is granted, the first three sets of hearings will be held in Petersburg. Bubnov plans on going the entire distance himself, without a lawyer.

“Essentially, Yuri Bubnov’s claims are correct,” says Irina Metel, executive director of the Northwest Carriers and Forwarders Union. “In practice, however, any case requires the assistance of a very competent laywer.”

“We are ready to support Yuri Bubnov in court,” says Maria Pazukhina, head of the OPR (Association of Russian Carriers) regional branch in Murmansk. “We have challenged fines before, but only on formal grounds, for example, due to incomplete lists of evidence or instances where agencies not empowered to do so tried to punish carriers. Yuri’s case is fundamentally different. In my view, the current authorities are unlikely to rule that Plato should be abolished. The OPR has been trying to detect the system’s faults in order to reveal its corruption and inefficiency. But so far we have not launched legal proceedings like this.”

“I’d been waiting for this fine for a year and a half, and I finally got it,” Bubnov told Fontanka.ru. “It’s good it came now, while the sensors have not been turned on everywhere. If the system were up and running normally, it would be harder to challenge the fine. The chances of a ruling in my favor are few, but what if suddenly the case is assigned to a judge who is about to retire and has nothing to lose, and he makes a ruling in accordance with the laws?”

FYI
According to Dmitry Pronchatov, assistant director of the Federal Road Agency, since the Plato road tolls system was launched, carriers have paid over 33.3 billion rubles [approx. 494 million rubles] into the road maintenance and construction fund. Over 900,000 vehicles have been registered in the system. The monies have been used to finance the construction of seven bridges and repairs on twenty-four emergency pipelines, as well as over a thousand kilometers of roads in forty cities and regions. Owners of twelve-ton trucks must pay 1.9 rubles for each kilometer of travel on federal highways.

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

Instant Pariahs, or, Fontanka Declares Jihad on Everyone Who Looks Funny

Frightened Passengers Do Not Let Ilyas Nikitin Board Plane in Vnukovo
IslamNews
April 4, 2017

On Tuesday afternoon, passengers did not let Russian citizen Andrei (Ilyas) Nikitin, identified by the media as the alleged organizer of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, on board a plan. The victim himself told IslamNews about the incident.

According to Nikilin, he had passed through passport control, but could not board the Rossiya Airlines plane due to protests from frightened passengers.

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Ilyas Nikitin at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. Photo courtesy of IslamNews

Even airport security personnel could not resolve the situation. Ultimately, Nikitin was forced to miss the flight.

Nikitin said the reaction of the passengers was a surprise to him, because on Tuesday morning he had flown from St. Petersburg to Moscow witn no problems.

He noted that law enforcement officials helped him get a refund for his ticket.

“The airline said it would not be able to put me on this plane. I hope to fly out on another plane tomorrow morning,” said Nikitin.

In connection with the incident, IslamNews appeals to its colleagues to comply with journalistic ethics. In particular, you should not publish unconfirmed information that could damage people’s reputations and cause panic in society.

Nikitin gave St. Petersburg law enforcement agencies high marks for their work after the terrorist attack in the city’s subway.

As previously reported, on the day of the terrorist attack, Nikita himself went to the police and said he was not complicit in the tragedy. Before this, video and photos of Nikitin, shot by a CCTV camera, went viral in the media. Because of his outward appearance (the clothes and beard typical of Muslims), the man was christened [sic] the alleged bomber.

____________________

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The Search for Jihad in St. Petersburg*
Denis Korotkov
Fontanka.ru
April 3, 2017

The guise of the suspect in the explosion in the Petersburg subway, whose photo has been distributed to police, is unambiguous. If the assumptions are correct, this is a public show. The man in a skullcap with a typical Muslim beard stepped right out of a poster for Islamic State, an organization banned in Russia.

Until April 3, 2017, terrorists did not try and blow Petersburg up [sic].** Homegrown skinheads, who assembled small DIY bombs, do not count in the bigger scheme of things. The first explosion in the subway has been marked with a clear trace. If the man wanted by the Chekists [sic] and police is guilty, he has issued a challenge. He wore no disguise, was emphatically Muslim in appearance, and was calm.

The explosion in the fourth car of the train that had departed from Sennaya Ploshchad subway station was heard around 2:30 p.m., when the train approached Tekhnologichesky Institut station. The dead and wounded are being counted. At the moment, officials agree that “about ten” people have been killed, and the number of wounded is around fifty. According to our information, the number of dead is fourteen. Another explosive device has been discovered and disarmed at Ploshchad Vosstaniya station.

Ambulance crews, Emergency Ministry teams, and police units, sirens blazing. The subway closed, endless traffic jams. Petersburg has never seen the likes of this.***

The prosecutor’s office initially declared the incident a terrorist act, then changed its mind. By 6:40 p.m., the Investigative Committee of Russia had decided the case would be investigated as a terrorist attack, with the proviso that the “investigation intends to look into all other possible explanations of this incident.”  Meanwhile, Petersburg police had already received the photo of the man who, presumably, could have placed the explosive device in the fourth car.

A tall, black skullcap, straight-cut black clothing, a typical beard with no mustache: for a considerable number of Petersburgers [sic], this is what a classic Wahhabi looks like [sic], the kind of person from whom the subway is closed by metal detectors and police units.

Subway explosions have been the “privilege” of the capital until now. On June 11, 1996, a blast between Tulskaya and Nagatinskaya stations in Moscow killed four people and injured sixteen. On January 1, 1998, an explosive device was discovered at Tretyakovskaya station; three subway workers were injured when it exploded. On August 8, 2000, a blast in the underground passage on Pushkin Square killed thirteen and injured sixty-one people. In 2004, an explosion in a train traveling between Avtozavodskaya and Paveletskaya stations killed forty-one and injured two hundred and fifty people. On August 31, 2004, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at Rizhskaya station, leaving nine dead and injuring fifty. On March 29, 2010, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up at Lubyanka and Park Kultury stations, killing forty-one people and injuring more than a hundred.

The outcome of the investigations of the 2014 [sic] and 2010 explosions is well known: the female suicide bombers were radical Islamists who blew themselves up at the behest of their religious mentors.

It was calm in Petersburg until then.**** The bell sounded in August 2016, when an FSB Grad special forces team stormed a rented flat on the tenth floor of a sixteen-storey building on Leninsky Prospekt by breaking through the ceiling [sic]. The details of the operation are unknown even now. According to official reports, four Islamist militants shot back and were destroyed by return fire. Judging by the fact that the liquidated militants were part of an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group, led by Timur Likhov, who had been killed several days earlier, they had not come to Petersburg for a holiday.***** The FSB’s press service did not say what exactly was contained in the canisters and bags that were taken from the ransacked flat and loaded into an official van.

In November 2016, FSB special forces again stormed a flat, this time on the first floor of a five-storey building on Sofia Kovalevskaya Street. The “peaceful taxi drivers” from Uzbekistan and Kirghizia [sic] who lived there had automatic weapons and explosives in their possession, which did not stop them from asking to go home with an infantile naïveté, right after embarrassed confessions of plans to set off bombs in the Galeriya shopping mall on Ligovsky Prospect or in the subway.

Given that immediately after the explosion on the approach to Tekhnologichesky Institut an explosive device was discovered on Ploshchad Vosstaniia, the Investigative Commission’s proviso about “other explanations,” except a terrorist attack, looks more like overcautiousness. Real explosives were discovered were almost simultaneously as the first explosion in the Petersburg subway happened. You can discuss how typical it is for Islamic terrorists to use a fire extinguisher as a casing for an explosive device or place a bomb under a seat in the subway instead of using suicide bombers, but the list of possible explanations is very short [sic].

Surveillance cameras recorded the man in black allegedly leaving a briefcase containing explosives in the fourth car, strolling across Sennaya Ploshchad without the briefcase, talking with someone on the phone, and then leaving [sic]. ****** He could not help but understand he was doing this in the crosshairs [sic] of video cameras. Then his skullcap and beard are not just a typical image, but a signal.

The signal has been received.

The Petersburg subway reopened at 8:40 p.m. For the time being, Petersburgers prefer not go to under ground.

*********

* This incendiary, Islamophobic article, which shows every sign of violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282 (stipulating incitement of racial, ethnic, and religious hatred as a criminal offense) was posted on Fontanka.ru‘s website on April 3 at 9:35 p.m. Since that time, the “terrorist” in the CCTV camera still photograph, above, has voluntarily visited the police, been identified as Ilyas Nikitin, and has told the police he had nothing to do with the bombing in the Petersburg subway on April 3. Apparently, the police believed his testimony, because they immediately released him. And yet, as of 9:30 a.m. on April 5, this article is still posted on Fontanka.ru without the slightest indication that there have been any developments in the case since then. Is this the way ethical journalists work?

** This claim is false, both in terms of Petersburg’s recent history and certainly in terms of its history more generally. What were the Nazi trying to do during the 900-day siege of the city, during WWII, if not “trying to blow [it] up”?

*** A city that went through three revolutions, a civil war, and a 900-day siege by the Nazis from 1905 to 1944 “has not seen the likes of this”?

**** Petersburg in the mid noughties was anything but “calm.” There were hundreds of assaults, perpretated by neo-Nazi skinheads, on Central Asian migrant workers, students and visitors from Africa and Asia, people from the North and South Caucasus, foreigners in general, and local anti-fascists, many of them fatal.

***** The reporter’s only sources here are articles previously published on Fontanka.ru. Given the website’s well-known connections with local law enforcement agencies, I see no reason to treat these stories as necessarily or wholly true. The Russian security forces would not be the first to exaggerate the terrorist threat by fabricating or embellishing the particulars of its counter-terrorist operations.

****** Where are these images? Where have they been published?

____________________

Evgeny Shtorn
Facebook
April 5, 2017

Everything that happened on April 3 was awful, sad, and alarming. Today, at the entrance to the Vladimirskaya subway station, I was asked to step aside for an inspection. My backpack was checked, and I was asked to take everything out of my pockets. A man of “Slavic” appearance had been walking right in front of me, carrying a big backpack. No one stopped him. On the way back, at Narvskaya subway station, me and another comrade were asked to show our IDs. There was a young woman with us who, sensing the injustice, asked whether she also had to show her ID, but she was told no, she didn’t have to. Racism in action. Everyone has it hard right now, I realize, but some people have it harder. Everyone is scared to go into the subway, but the fear and humiliation is double for some. Skin color, the shape of one’s eyes, and place of birth do not make anyone second-class human beings. We must always remember this. We must remember it everyday.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Mr. Shtorn for his kind permission to translate and reproduce his remarks here.

Defenders of the Fatherland

fatherland-defenders

Front page of St. Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru on the morning of 21 February 2017. The lead story is headlined, “Who Is Accused of Attempting to Kill Montenegro’s Prime Minister?” On the other hand, today’s most popular story is, allegedly, “Defenders of the Fatherland to Be Congratulated with a 30-Gun Salute.”

_________________

Russia law on killing ‘extremists’ abroad
Steven Eke
BBC News
27 November 2016

A new Russian law, adopted earlier in the year, formally permits the extra-judicial killings abroad of those Moscow accuses of “extremism”.

In the wake of the death of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko in London, the Sunday Telegraph has alleged that Russian spy agencies – “emboldened” by the new law – have carried out a number of such targeted killings.

In July, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament – the Federation Council – approved a law which permits the Russian president to use the country’s armed forces and special services outside Russia’s borders to combat terrorism and extremism.

At the same time, amendments to several other laws, governing the security services, mass media and communications, were adopted.

The overall result was to dramatically expand those defined as terrorist or extremist.

Along with those seeking to overthrow the Russian government, the term is also applied to “those causing mass disturbances, committing hooliganism or acts of vandalism”.

Much more controversially, the law also defines “those slandering the individual occupying the post of president of the Russian Federation” as extremists.

Specific law

Russian lawmakers insisted that they were emulating Israeli and US actions in adopting a law allowing the use of military and special forces outside the country’s borders against external threats.

But the Russian law is very specific in that it permits the president – alone, and apparently without consultation – to take such a decision.

The only proviso is that he must inform the Federation Council within five days.

At the same time, he is not obliged to disclose the location of the operation, which units are involved, or the timescale for its execution.

Memorial, one of the oldest and most-respected Russian human rights groups, reacted strongly to the new law.

In an open letter addressed to Vladimir Putin, it accused the Russian leader of sanctioning extra-judicial executions.

It said the country’s “highest leaders” had turned a blind eye to the activities of “death squads” in the North Caucasus for some years. And, it predicted, with the adoption of the new law, those activities would now be seen in other countries too.

‘Poison umbrella’

The case of Mr Litvinenko has led to an outpouring of conspiracy theories, many of which suggest he was killed by a Russian secret service, of which there are several.

But in reality, there have been only a very small number of killings by poison of Russia’s opponents abroad.

Indeed, the last known case abroad of this type of execution was of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident assassinated by “poison umbrella” in London in 1978.

Many years later, during the perestroika era, a retired KGB general admitted that he had provided the toxin.

Such events were, however, widespread inside the Soviet Union during the terror of the 1930s to 50s.

The 1958 trial of Pavel Sudoplatov – a lieutenant general in the Soviet secret service, who was closely involved in the execution in Mexico of Trotsky – heard how toxins were “illegally tested” on a large number of prisoners who had been sentenced to death.

In more recent years, there is convincing evidence that an extra-judicial killing was carried out by Russian special forces in Qatar in 2004 when the former Chechen separatist president, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, was blown up by a car-bomb.

“Combating Terrorism” in Petersburg

Metal detectors in the vestibule of a Petersburg subway station. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru
Passengers walking through metal dectors in the lobby of a Petersburg subway station. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru

“The pair discussed combating terrorism[.]”
Christi Parsons and Tracy Wilkinson, “Trump and Putin have first official phone conversation amid European anxiety about future relations,” Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2017

From April You’ll Need a Doctor’s Certificate to Get through Metal Detectors in Petersburg Subway
Fontanka.ru
January 25, 2017

Starting March 30, the Petersburg subway will be equipped with special barriers to stop people, including those whose medical conditions prevent them from walking through metal detectors.

The Petersburg subway’s press service told Fontanka.ru the special barriers had begun to be installed last year as part of the Federal Law on Transportation Security. They were tested at the Tekhnologichesky Institut station, and during the entire time they were in service, no conflicts with passengers arose, subway management insists.

Since the new year, the barriers have been installed at several more stations. Passengers with pacemakers and metal implants should proceed as follows at these stations: they should press a special button on the barrier to summon a trained staff member. The staff member is obliged to check the relevant doctor’s certificate and, if there are any more questions for the passenger, send him to have his personal belongings inspected. Passengers without doctor’s certificates will not be allowed to enter the subway, warns subway management.

Not all passengers are aware of the changes, and they have had trouble getting through the turnstiles. A Fontanka.ru reader has told us that, on the morning of January 25, he had been unable to bypass the metal detector at the Grazhdansky Prospekt subway station, as he had been able to do on previously. The man, who had metal implants installed in his head during an operation, claims he waited ten minutes for a subway staffer to personally inspect his belongings. When the subway employee arrived, he told the man that, according to regulations, he would not let him into the subway without a doctor’s certificate.

“No warnings had been posted in advance,” writes the reader, angry at having wasted so much time.

Subway management could not confirm additional efforts would be made to inform passengers, noting the necessary signage had already been posted in station lobbies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Beirut

Did happy looking customers know what danger they were in?
Did these happy looking customers know what danger they were in?

When It’s More Dangerous in Petersburg than in Lebanon
Denis Korotkov
Fontanka.ru
November 29, 2016

The police came to the home of the woman who owns the Café Beirut at seven in the morning with a search warrant. The grounds for the search were serious: the cafe lacked a germicidal lamp. Thus ended the three-month confrontation between the businesswoman and the Investigative Committee.

All the might of the Central District’s law enforcement and regulatory authorities came crashing down on Café Beirut, which serves Middle Eastern cuisine on Stremyannaya Street. To our knowledge, no one has complained about the service or quality of the food, but the Investigative Committee, police, fire inspectors, and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor are extremely concerned for the consumer’s safety at this eating establishment.

The Beirut is a small Middle Eastern café on Stremyannaya Street. Since early September 2016, it has been a battlefield between entrepreneur Liza Izvozchikova and regulators.

The first shot was fired on September 7, when Ivan Lyalitsky, an investigator in the Investigative Committee’s Central District office, visited the café, accompanied by police officers, Rospotrebnadzor inspectors, and Emergencies Ministry officials. Lyalitsky drew up a document of some sort and left. According to café employees who were present, he did not let them read the document. During this first visit, nothing but the cash register report was confiscated.

Izvozchikova says that on Sunday, September 18, Lyalitsky contacted her by phone and demanded she immediately report to his office. Otherwise, “criminal charges would be filed.”

Izvozchikova refused to go to the informal meeting. She went to see the investigator on a weekday, accompanied by a lawyer. They were presented with a long list of alleged violations. Izvozchikov says some of the alleged defects were simply not true. For example, the list stated the café lacked a fire alarm (it had one), that the café’s inventory was not labeled (it was), and that there were no employee health books at the café, although no one had bothered to check them.

Izvozchikova admits certain violations, for example, the lack of a chart showing the evacuation plan for the premises. These shortcomings were fixed, and a corresponding registered letter with notification of delivery was sent to the Investigative Committee. The letter was refused, and the notification returned.

Lyalitsky made a second visit to the Beirut on September 23. On this occasion, the café did not get off with an inspection, but had its cash register, computers, charter documents, contracts with suppliers, and other papers confiscated. Employees who were present say they were not provided with a list of the confiscated items. The café was paralyzed for a week, until it purchased and licensed a new cash register, and obtained copies of the documents.

Izvozchikova’s complaints to the prosecutor’s office and the Central Investigative Department of the Russian Investigative Committee’s Petersburg office were reviewed, but the confiscated cash register and computers were not returned to her, and Lyalitsky’s actions were deemed appropriate. On the other hand, the Beirut was left in peace for a month.

The break in the investigation lasted for all of October.

On November 9, the Beirut was once again visited by law enforcement officers, whose order of cognac, two coffees, and a salad turned out to be test purchases. No violations were found during the sample purchases, but they were followed by another inspection, led this time by investigator Ludmila Stepanova. A whopping five violations were found: no sink for washing hands in the kitchen, no germicidal lamp, the toilet door opened onto the kitchen, no second exit, and the width of the evacuation passages was narrower than necessary.

Izvozchikova installed a sink and germicidal lamp, and reported that the requirements for a second exit and wider corridors should not be apply to her café in accordance with the regulations, since it is small and located on the first floor.

It was no use. At seven in the morning on November 29, the investigator came to Izvozchikova’s apartment with a search warrant. From the warrant, Izvozchikova learned that a criminal case had been opened under Criminal Code Article 238.1 (“Production, storage, transport or sale of goods and products, works or services that do not meet safety requirements”), and that “relevant items and documents” might be located in her apartment. No one knew what this meant. The only item investigators confiscated was a Beirut LLC stamp, which no one had hidden.

Surprised by the investigation’s intransigence, Fontanka.ru contacted investigator Ludmila Stepanova and asked her to comment on the need for a morningtime search of an apartment in a case dealing with the lack of a sink and an emergency exit in a café. The investigator refused to comment, citing service regulations, and asked us to contact the Investigative Committee’s press service.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade KV for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of vk.com

Wayward Pines

khvoyny-map-1

Khvoyny is located south of Krasnoye Selo, an outlying suburb of St. Petersburg
Khvoyny is located south of Krasnoye Selo, an outlying suburb of St. Petersburg

A Town’s Story
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
September 14, 2016

This is Saint Petersburg too, but there is no medical clinic, no pharmacy, no legally operating shops, and no eateries here. The roofs are hastily under repair in time for the elections, but the trash is not hauled away. Fontanka.ru took a look at how this Petersburg gets along.

История одного городка

The letter was an invitation to journey, as the old rubric in the newspapers used to be called. Fontanka.ru got a call from a woman who introduced herself, requested we tell no one she had called, and complained about her unbearable life. She said her life and the lives of her two and a half thousand neighbors were unbearable.

“Just don’t tell anyone I called you,” she repeated, switching to a whisper.

We will honor Nina Petrovna’s request, although I never did figure out whom she was hiding from. (Nina Petrovna is not her real name.) When I came to visit her, when she gave me a tour of her town’s horrors, we were gradually joined by neighbors and even a former municipal councilman who had a roll of glossy paper tucked under his arm. I would nod, rustle my notepad, and feel like a high commission, registering people’s complaints. The procession would expand, and every passerby who did not join it would happily greet us. That is right, they would say, spell them all out in the newspaper. “They” were the authorities who had reduced the whole town to misery. Towards the end, everyone asked me in unison not to identify them.  They had secrecy down pat here. This was not surprising: Khvoyny is the former military garrison town L-237. So Nina Petrovna is a composite character.

Nowadays, the place is an exclave of Petersburg known as Khvoyny (“Coniferous”). Formally part of Petersburg’s outlying Krasnoye Selo district, all the local residents are registered as residents of Petersburg. In practical terms, this village of two and a half thousand residents is stuck between two districts of the surrounding Leningrad Region, Gatchina and Lomonosov. Khvoyny has ceased being a military town, but has still not become a civilian one.

“No one needs us!” Nina Petrovna bitterly informs me. She has spelled out what the trouble is in four words.

Nearly all of Khvoyny’s residents are retired army officers, officers’ wives, and officers’ children. In the early 1960s, they were allocated flats in this spot, which was considered a paradise. There are coniferous trees here, but even more hardwoods. The three-story brick residential buildings are almost in the midst the woods. I arrived here from downtown Petersburg and almost suffered oxygen shock. Here and there, you need to take a forest path to get from one building to another. Since construction of the town was completed in the 1960s, many of the buildings are Stalin-era houses with three-meter-high ceilings. On the upper floors, the ceilings have cracked in places and are covered in mold, because the roofs have not been repaired since the sixties, apparently. But now metallic structures tower next to the buildings: the roofs are rapidly undergoing major repairs.

“Oh, yes,” Nina Petrovna nods. “It was a miracle we were put on the capital renovations program. We have been promised our roofs will be fixed by September 18 [Russian election day this year—TRR].”

Previously, the only way to get into L-237 was through a checkpoint at the invitation of a local resident, but all that remains of the checkpoint are iron gates always left open. Before Nina Petrovna can tell me about the town’s hardships, I notice evenly laid asphalt in the passages between the houses, and cheerful flowerbeds and neat playgrounds in the courtyards. There are even public exercise machines next to the school. So my first impression of Khvoyny is that only profoundly ungrateful and picky people could complain about it.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” says Nina Petrovna, waving her hand. “We planted the flowers ourselves. And our municipal councilman pushed through the playgrounds and the asphalt. What he managed to do when he was on the council is left. But then someone from Krasnoye Selo was elected instead of him. No one deals with our problems anymore.”

We won’t be coming back to how the former municipal councilman “pushed” those things  through. The story looks shady, and the so-called ex-councilman absolutely refused to share the paperwork with us. The problem is that, formally speaking, everything in Khvoyny, including the land, still belongs to the Defense Ministry, and it is not quite clear on what grounds the municipal powers that be were trying to build a garden town, complete with asphalt and exercise machines. But the residents of the former L-237 are terribly worried that the asphalt and the playgrounds and the exercise machines and even the half-repaired roofs will all be taken away. Just as the swimming pool, the bathhouse, the cafeteria, the clinic, the pharmacy, and the shops have already been taken away. Khvoyny once had all these amenities.

“The swimming pool is still there,” Nina Petrovna corrects me. “I don’t know what is in there now, but the military garrison has put it under guard, and someone stops by there from time to time.”

The medical clinic is also still standing. I am led there as if it were a local landmark.

poliklinika1
The sign reads, “Working Hours of the Khvoyny Village Medical Clinic.”

“It used to be a hospital branch,” Nina Petrovna says. “It had everything: an X-ray machine, a lab, and complete staff of doctors. You could undergo physiotherapy here.”

The door has been wide open for many years, and you can walk in. Chair legs covered with a layer of dust lie in the hallways. Books are strewn about, and computer debris crunches underfoot. When the military moved out, it looks as if they did all they could to make sure the enemy would not get their hands on these precious things. The stench testifies to the fact the building is now used as a public toilet.

Their Krasnoye Selo residence permits mean the residents of Khvoinyi are assigned to the Krasnoye Selo Medical Clinic. But, says Nina Petrovna, it takes something like an hour to get there on the minibus. But to say that the residents of Khvoyny have been left without medical care would be shamelessly slandering the authorities.

“The outpatient clinic and the district doctor come three times a week,” Nina Petrovna admits.

The “outpatient clinic” is a minivan. The doctors sees patients right in the van. The patients queue up outside the van.

“If it’s raining, we stand under umbrellas,” sighs Nina Petrovna. “Can you imagine what it’s like in winter?”

Once, she tells me, a neighbor summoned an ambulance from Krasnoye Selo. It arrived the next day.

Another building the residents of Khvoyny like to show off is the former cafeteria. The military, apparently, retreated from this building in keeping with all the regulations, trashing everything they could not take with them. The cafeteria’s doors are securely locked, so visitors get in by climbing through a shattered window.

A wise man once conversed with the people via a TV screen. A old man complained to him about awful roads, roads on which it was impossible to drive a car. The wise man’s reply was reasonable. Why, he said, do you need a car if there are no roads? It is the same thing with the residents of Khvoyny. They don’t have a pharmacy, but why do they need a pharmacy if they don’t have a medical clinic, either?

“People who have cars are alright,” sighs Nina Petrovna. “But it’s so much trouble going by bus every time to buy medications.”

But residents have to take the bus in any case because neither are there any shops in Khvoyny. There is a building in town. The sign on it says, “Store.” The windows are boarded up.

“People from one of the big retailers came here, either Pyatyorochka or Magnit,” Nina Petrovna repeats a rumor. “The military demanded such high rent they left as soon as they arrived!”

“Store”

This story of how the military “demanded” high rent conceals, apparently, the reason why there no shops and no pharmacy in Khvoyny. All the buildings are still the property of the Defense Ministry. Local residents assure me the process of transferring them to the city has been going on for fifteen years or so. The ex-councilman, mentioned earlier, knows something about this, but once again he does not want to show me the paperwork. He says the problem will be resolved quite soon.

For now, though, anyone who wants to open a shop or pharmacy in Khvoyny has to contact the military about the rent. Apparently, such people do reach out to them. And certain people seemingly manage to luck out and agree on the rent. Products are sold in a cubbyhole in the boarded-up store. In a kiosk on the next street over, an enterprising fellow sells milk, bread, vodka, sausages, and other edibles that he ships in from Petersburg. An old woman bakes him pasties to sell. So the kiosk doubles, as it were, as a “branch” of the former cafeteria. All these businesses seem to have settled with the military on terms that are not suitable for large retail chains and even less so for pharmacies. But quality control of the products is as reliable as can be. It is implemented not by some consumer watchdog agency, but by the consumers themselves. If push comes to shove, they can beat up the retailers.

Another sight to see in Khvoyny is the rubbish dump on the outskirts of town. There used to be a path here that people took when going shopping in the neighboring village of Taitsy. When the dump appeared, they had to alter their route, because the dumpsters are hauled away, at best, on the eve of big holidays, and the perpetual puddle near the dump is so large that, at all other times, residents have to toss their rubbish into dumpster from a distance of three meters. You can see, however, that accuracy is not the principal virtue of Khvoyny’s residents.

pomoyka

If you think the military are so ruthless only to the civilian population, think again. This accusation completely falls away when you see their own dormitory. It is inhabited by those in Khvoyny who do not have their own flats. The garrison continues to operate, and despite the peacetime conversion I have described, the garrison’s current headquarters is still located in the town. Soldiers and officers assigned to the garrison are housed in the dormitory as well. If you are lucky, the ceiling in your room will leak only in one spot. At most, you will need to put two buckets on the floor to catch the water. And it is not so terrible there is one toilet per floor. As we recall, the former medical clinic functions as a public toilet.

My tour of Khvoyny lasted three hours. During those three hours, the hard lives of Khvoyny’s residents and the total neglect they suffer at the hands of the powers that be filled me with compassion for them. We said our goodbyes next to an imported car with a plush toy dog in the back window. A St. George’s Ribbon was tied round the doggy’s neck. Before leaving, I decided to have a look at the glossy scroll the ex-councilman had been carrying throughout my tour. It turned out to be a campaign poster for country’s main political party. He had to hang it on wall to do his part for the campaign. I asked the residents of Khvoyny whether they were going to vote for this party.
sobachka

“Of course!” said Nina Petrovna firmly, her lips pursed. “I don’t see an alternative. Otherwise, there will be war. The country will divided up, and the Americans will grab all our riches.”

I left town with a feeling of joy. It was a good thing, after all, the residents of Khvoyny would be hanging on to their riches.

All photos by Irina Tumakova. Map images courtesy of OpenStreetMap and Google Maps. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up

Fußball über alles

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The new football stadium on Petersburg’s Krestovsky Island, still unfinished after years of delays and rampant cost overruns. In the foreground is a monument to former city boss Sergei Kirov, murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1934. Photo courtesy of Pyotr Kovalyov/Delovoy Peterburg

Schools, Kindergarten, and Hospitals Sacrificed to the Stadium
Antonina Asanova
Fontanka.ru
August 15, 2016

The Smolny [Petersburg city hall] will finance construction of the football stadium on Krestovsky Island twice over. The advances of 2.6 billion rubles that have not been returned by VTB Bank and Transstroy will be issued to new contractor Metrostroy. Schools and kindergartens will have to wait.

To finish the stadium on Krestovsky, the Smolny is ready to sacrifice the completion dates of three dozen facilities, including kindergartens, schools, and hospitals. 2.6 billion rubles, earmarked for social infrastructure, will be “redeployed” to Petersburg’s construction project of the century. City hall is counting on recouping the reinvested funds later, and figures it can afford not to hurry with the construction of public facilities.

The Construction Committee has prepared a draft decree on reallocating its 2016 budget. By law, the agency can redirect up to 10% of the funds in its targeted investment program, i.e., 2.8 billion rubles, a committee spokesperson said on the record.

Off the record, sources at the Smolny have explained that the stadium’s former general contractor, Inzhtransstroy-SPb, has not run through the 3.6 billion rubles it received as an advance. The company can still deliver part of the construction work and purchased materials before August 25, a month after its contract with the city was terminated. But if the city does not succeed in offsetting the entire sum, it will have to try and collect the money either from the contractor or VTB Bank, which issued the guarantee for completion of the work.

Experience shows it is not worth counting on the good will of companies when it comes to giving back money. The Construction Committee is still in the midst of suing VTB for the return of funds issued under contracts for the construction of indoor ice rinks, which were terminated over a year ago.

A strategy of protracted litigation does not suit the Smolny at all. Completing the stadium before year’s end is a matter of honor to the city government. So the Construction Committee has decided to redeploy part of the funds allocated for new kindergartens and schools to Petersburg’s main construction project. Only facilities whose completion was planned for this year have not been touched.

The city’s calculation is simple. Construction of public facilities will be slowed down a bit for the time being. But when the stadium is delivered at the end of the year, and the monies that were advanced are returned to the budget, the long-awaited construction projects will again be accelerated to a proper speed.

Health clinics and hospitals will be most affected by the budget cuts. The Construction Committee has decided to withdraw nearly a billion rubles from construction of these facilities.

Expenditures on one of the city’s most protracted construction projects, a perinatal center at Maternity Hospital No. 9 on 47 Ordzhonikidze Street, have been reduced by a quarter billion rubles. Doctors were preparing to nurse premature and sick newborns in the facility, and spoke of modern operating rooms and a modern intensive care unit. The building, in fact, was supposed to be delivered at the end of 2015. But now the contractor, Stroykomplekt, owned by former Baltstroy top manager Dmitry Torchinsky and Alexei Torchinsky, has a new deadline: the end of 2017.

People in the suburb of Kolpino will also have to wait for the opening of the new surgical wing at Hospital No. 33. Only one million rubles has been left in this year’s budget for its completion, while 155 million rubles will be transferred to erecting the football stadium. However, the construction site on Pavlovskaya Street has already been idle for a year. The Construction Committee terminated its contract with the previous contractor, but has not yet found a new contractor.

The residents of Kolpino will not have to wait alone, however. Among the facilities where construction will be slowed down are health clinics in Strelna and Krasnoye Selo, an ambulance substation in Metallostroy, and a childen’s tuberculosis sanatorium in Ushkovo.

Funds for new school construction will not be slashed so drastically: only by half a billion rubles. Contractor ETS will have to slow down construction of a school in New Okhta, a massive housing complex on the far side of the Ring Road, near Murino. This year, financing of the construction project will be cut by 230 million rubles. New Okhta is being vigorously developed. Over the past three years, developer LSR Group has completed twenty-four residential buildings into which the city has been moving people on the affordable housing waiting list. But there are still no schools in the district. Parents have to shuttle their children over the Ring Road to the neighborhoods of Grazhdanka, built long ago.

Residents of the housing project on Badayev Street will also have to be patient. The city has stripped their future school of 90 million rubles in financing.

Finally, kindergartens will hardly suffer at all: funding of their construction will be reduced only by 310 million rubles. The biggest loser, to the tune of 130 million rubles, is the future kindergarten in the Golden Bay residential complex, near Tricentennial Park. Its completion has been postponed for a year, until the end of 2017.

The Smolny is even ready to cut funding for construction of a site directly linked to the new stadium: the waterfront near the Novokrestovskaya subway station, currently under construction. The contractor, Leokam, will have its funding for making improvements to the waterfront cut by nearly 240 million rubles. Apparently, the company will have to catch up next year. Under the terms of its contract, it has to deliver the works before the end of 2017.

The site of the new stadium was previously occupied by the Kirov Stadium, a federally listed architectural landmark, built by constructivist architect Nikolsky in
The site of the new stadium was previously occupied by the Kirov Stadium, a federally listed architectural landmark. Designed by world-famous constructivist architect Alexander Nikolsky and opened in 1950, it was unceremoniously demolished in 2006. Photo courtesy of Kommersant.

However, what matters is that the stadium on Krestovsky Island will be delivered before the end of this year, and cost estimates of its construction will not increase, formally speaking.

A total of 42 billion rubles [approx. 582 million euros] have been allocated on the stadium, Petersburg’s principal protracted construction project.

Translated 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

Igor Kalyapin: “Kadyrov Said He Would Not Let Us Work in Chechnya”

Igor Kalyapin, after he was assaulted by a mob on March 16
Igor Kalyapin, after he was assaulted by a mob in the Hotel Grozny City on March 16, 2016

“Kadyrov said he would not let us work in Chechnya”
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
March 18, 2016

The Committee for Prevention of Torture has been forced to withdraw from the Republic of Chechnya. Its chair, Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, was the latest victim of physical assault there. Kalyapin had long had a troubled relationship with Chechen headman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kalyapin was assaulted on the evening of Wednesday, March 16. Three days earlier, persons unknown had broken into the offices of the Committee for Prevention of Torture in Grozny. Three day before that, several journalists and human rights activists had been attacked while en route to Grozny. In an interview with Fontanka.ru, Kalyapin talked about the committee’s plans for defending torture victims in Chechnya.

“Igor Kalyapin was just assaulted outside the entrance to the Hotel Grozny City. He was beaten and pelted with eggs,” Dmitry Utukin, an attorney for the organization wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

Later, Kalyapin recounted what had happened to him.

“Around 6 p.m., I checked into Room 2401 in the Hotel Grozny City,” he wrote on Facebook. “About forty minutes later, two reporters and a cameraman came to my room. While I was still in Ingushetia I had promised to give them an interview as soon as I arrived in Grozny. We had begun recording the interview when there was a knock on the door. A man of about sixty years of age, who introduced himself as the hotel’s general manager, a security guard in a black uniform, and another middle-aged man entered. The manager told me that since I had criticized the head of Chechnya and the Chechen police, while he himself was very fond of Ramzan Kadyrov, I had to leave the hotel. […] After that, I was escorted downstairs, where I was detained by a mob of around thirty women, who had apparently been hastily assembled from hotel staff and the employees of the boutiques located on the first floor. They screamed in unison: how dare you speak ill of Ramzan. When I tried to respond, they screamed loudly: we do not want to listen to you. Nevertheless, I was not allowed to leave the hotel. I realized they were purposely delaying me until a team of assailants arrived. I had let my staff go home in a car before dark, and it would have been wrong for them to come after me at such a time in the evening in Grozny. It was apparent I would not be allowed to check into any hotel in Grozny. Any of my Chechen friends living in Grozny would have been exposed to mortal danger [if I had tried to stay with them]. So basically I was in no big hurry nor could I expect anyone to help me. I tried calling Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council. I did not manage to get through to him in time [.]”

Ramzan Kadyrov and Jean-Claude Van Damme at the opening of the Hotel Grozny City, October 16, 2012
Ramzan Kadyrov and Jean-Claude Van Damme at the opening of the Hotel Grozny City, October 16, 2012

In an interview with Kavpolit, Kalyapin said of his attackers, “I believe the men who attacked me were neither Chechens nor Muslims. People who have done such a thing cannot be called Chechens or Muslims.”

Who, then, were the assailants? What had the anti-torture campaigner done to enrage them? Fontanka.ru posed these questions to Igor Kalyapin.

Igor, how do you explain yesterday’s attack on you?

There is no cause to guess here, it is all fairly simple. Over the past two years, Ramzan Kadyrov has personally, frequently, and quite emotionally accused me of various horrible crimes in the Chechen media. He has said I have defended terrorists and financed terrorism in the Chechen Republic, and that our committee are agents of western intelligence agencies who earn money on the blood of the Chechen people. That is a literal quotation. For example, in December 2014, there was a terrorist attack in Grozny in which a dozen Chechen policemen, young guys, were killed.

Yes, that is a well-known story. Kadyrov blamed you personally for the attack.

He addressed people, including the relatives of the dead, and he did this in the first twenty-four hours after the attack, when people were blinded by grief and pain. And he said to them: I know that a certain Kalyapin transferred money from abroad to the organizers of the attack.

Let us also recall he was not angry with you for no reason. You had tried to prevent him from burning down without trial the houses of people suspected of being relatives of the terrorists.

Of course. But he has said it more than once; he has systematically repeated the charges. Only last month on Chechen TV there were two films about Kalyapin: montages of photographs, videos, and screenshots of our website, and all the charges against me read out against this visual backdrop.

So what is the reason? What has your committee done to Kadyrov?

Many of the kidnappings we have tried to investigate have led us to Kadyrov’s confidants. And he knows it quite well: I once personally told him about it. We constantly pressure the Investigative Committee, which deals with these matters, to perform certain investigative actions. They have tried to stop or suspend criminal proceedings, but we have constantly appealed their actions in the courts.

Well, we understand how our courts and investigators work. Could Kadyrov, for example, just not pay attention to your work?

We publicly talk about all of it. We point out that the Investigative Committee in the Chechen Republic has not been investigating such-and-such a case, although the evidence is there: for example, the case of Murad Amriyev, the case of Islam Umarpashayev, and other matters. We point out that a certain person has not been questioned only because he serves in the Akhmad Kadyrov Regiment, and the investigator is afraid to summon him. We have made such things public on many occasions. We have sent white papers on these cases to all the factions in the State Duma. We have periodically appealed to Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee. Moreover, we have done it openly, by publishing reports, and we have talked about cases not being investigated. I have also spoken about this at the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. There has been a lot of press about our work. Naturally, it infuriates Kadyrov.

Does it merely infuriate him? Or does he see your work as a serious threat?

Apparently, he does in fact see it as a threat. I think that from time to time he get signals he should stop illegally prosecuting people he does not like. I imagine the powers that be wag their finger at him. Until you stop, they say, your republic will be written about as a lawless land.

Why has everything intensified in recent days? The incidents involving your committee in a single region have been in the headlines for a week running. Whose toes have you stepped on lately?

No, there were incidents before this, too. It was just that nobody wrote about them. If it were not for the March 9 attack on the journalists, which made such a big splash, then no one much would have written about my getting pelted with eggs, probably. The two incidents just happened to coincide. In fact, we have been under intense pressure for at least the last two years. Many things have happened. I cannot detail all of them right now.

For example, three days ago, there was an incident at your committee’s office in Grozny.

Yes, three nights ago, people broke into an apartment in Grozny we use as an office. They tried to turn off the security camera. They thought they had succeeded, but the camera kept on working. So on the recording you can see Emergency Situations Ministry officers and police officers breaking open the door and entering. Then, apparently, they got to the router, and the signal went dead. Basically, one of the reasons I came to Grozny was to get to the bottom of what was going on with the apartment: inspect it, file a complaint with the police, and so on.

Your colleagues at the committee told Fontanka.ru that security officials also went into your office in Ingushetia on March 9.

It was not an office in Ingushetia, but an apartment where we kept documents. And that is important, because we have not done any work in Ingushetia. We do not have a single case in Ingushetia. We do not annoy the security officials in Ingushetia in any way. Moreover, I have had a great relationship with Yunus-bek Yevkurov, head of Ingushetia, and he has had generally good relations with human rights activists, even with the ones who annoy him. So Yevkurov was not behind it, of course. I cannot tell you who these people were. But people at the level of the North Caucasian Federal District have got involved, and I imagine the Interior Ministry could easily establish whether it was policemen or someone else.

Meaning, you are confident they have decided to figure it out?

No, I’m not confident, not confident at all. But if anyone can figure it out, it has to be federal district officials. But if it was security officials who were involved, they were not from Ingushetia.

Why could your committee’s employees not work in Chechnya quietly, without advertising themselves?

That is the specific nature of our work. We are not gathering information, after all; we are lawyers. We are constantly involved in public legal proceedings. Once or twice a week, for example, we are involved in court hearings dealing with the Investigative Committee’s unlawful actions or their inaction. The court sessions are open to the public. Information about them is posted at the entrance to the courthouse or on the court’s website. We are simply legally bound to operate publicly. That is, we have three areas of work: we do paperwork and file documents in court, we are involved in court hearings, and we take part in police investigations. It is quite easy to identify us. And there is nothing to be done about it.

You work to prevent torture, which is a crime. Theoretically, the state should have a stake in the success of your work. How does it help you? Perhaps by physically protecting you?

You know yourself how it “helps” us.

What if I didn’t know?

The work of the Committee against Torture, which is purely juridical and wholly confined to criminal proceedings, was deemed work aimed at changing state policy, and as such the committee was placed on the register of foreign agents. Honestly, I still have not recovered from the shock. We never denied we received foreign funding, but to say that the Committee against Torture had been trying to change state policy is—

A full confession?

In my opinion, it is self-incrimination. When a person says such things, it is called self-incrimination. But here it was the state saying this. Nevertheless, our organization was deemed a foreign agent. So now we have another organization: the Committee for Prevention of Torture does not receive foreign funding. True, they are trying once again to register us as foreign agents. Because they feel like it.

Okay, money from foreign organizations is a very bad thing. But has the Russian government subsidized the prevention of torture?

In 2013–2014, we got our first state subsidy, a so-called presidential grant. Then the organization was declared a foreign agent, and we announced we did not intend to go on working with this status. We discontinued operations and registered the new organization, which for the time being has not received anything from anyone.

How do you survive, then? Legal aid, trips to the regions (you operate in more than just Chechnya), and collecting information are probably all expensive things, no?

Legal aid is not the most expensive thing. And what information collecting do we need to do if people come to us themselves? We need money for other things—for collecting evidence and conducting forensic examinations, and for ensuring people’s safety. We very often send victims to a sanatorium, not only so they get medical treatment there but also to spare them from the intrusiveness of the law enforcement agency whose officers we suspect of having committed the crime. This is what we need money for. For example, last year a man sought our help. He told us a deputy minister of the Chechen Republic had tortured him: the minister had attached electric wires to his body and so on. The victim was in hospital. Moreover, he was disabled: he had only one leg. And he showed us so-called electrode traces, claiming they were evidence of torture. We had this conversation approximately a week after he had been tortured. To force the Investigative Committee to accept this as evidence, you need to carry out a quite complicated forensic examination. So we sent this man with a chaperon (since he was disabled) off to Moscow. In Moscow, we contracted with a licensed, state-accredited forensics bureau, which offers paid services among other things. They did the examination. When we did the numbers, it turned out the examination alone cost us over 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,300 euros at current exchange rates]. They are not always so expensive, but such forensic examinations are required in each case.

So maybe the examinations should be conducted at government expense as part of the investigation.

The Investigative Committee is not going to conduct them, and not only because it is expensive but also because they are afraid of finding out the results. When it does not want to deal with a criminal case, the Investigative Committee’s primary tool is delaying the forensic examination so it is impossible to establish either the nature of the physical injuries or the circumstances in which they were received. So in each case we have to carry out the forensic examinations ourselves.

But someone does pay for it, don’t they? Who are they? Charities, private sponsors?

Our work is divided. There is the Committee for Prevention of Torture. It employs lawyers who go to court, file appeals, and so on. It is a public organization that has no foreign funding. But there is another organization, also noncommercial, which works on the forensic examinations, collects evidence, and so on, that is, on things where money is absolutely necessary, including international protection. It receives foreign funding.

Have I understood you correctly that the fight against torture in Russia is subsidized by foreign organizations?

Yes, that is correct.

You want to return to Chechnya. I gather that the challenges you went there to solve have not been addressed.

The task I have already told you about has lost its relevance. I wanted to inspect our apartment in Grozny, but it is clear I am not going to be allowed to do that. So we will have to solve the problem differently. For example, attorneys can inspect the apartment along with police officers. But I had another objective: to try and organize a press conference in Grozny. Now I would not even risk inviting anyone to go there. In Chechnya, there are reporters who write good things about Kadyrov, and they are not in any danger. But those who have at one time or another permitted themselves even a bit of criticism had better not go there.

What will happen now to the cases your committee has been handling in Chechnya? Will you abandon them?

No, we do not abandon cases. We simply do not have the right, either the moral or the legal right. We will continue to be involved in them. For the time being, I cannot say how we will set up the work and where our lawyers will do the paperwork. It is obvious we will not be allowed to work in the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov himself has said so many times. But we will continue the work itself.

Your staff will still have to travel to Chechnya, won’t they?

Yes, they will. But we are officially involved in criminal cases as counsel for the victims. The investigative authorities are obliged to ensure our safety. They had better do it.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Images courtesy of Hotel Grozny City and Novaya Gazeta