Anarchist Rechkalov Detained in Investigation of Attack on United Russia Campaign HQ, Tortured Grani.ru
March 15, 2018
Anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, detained yesterday as part of an investigation of the attack on the United Russia party campaign headquarters in the Moscow district of Khovrino, has been remanded in custody to the Temporary Detention Center, as reported in the early hours of Thursday by OVD Info, who cited Yevgenia, a friend of Rechkalov’s who was detained at Rechkalov’s flat along with him and another person whose name has not been ascertained. It cannot be ruled out the person in question was an anarchist named Andrei, who as of Wednesday evening had also not been released from police custody.
Rechkalov informed his comrades that,when he was in the Moscow police’s investigation department, police officers had tortured him, demanding he confess his involvement in the attack. They put a plastic bag over Rechkalov’s head and administered electrical shocks to his legs.
It has not been ascertained whether Rechkalov confessed or not. Yevgenia maintains he had nothing to do with the attack on the United Russia headquarters.
Yevgenia and the unidentifed third detainee were released last night, but on Thursday they were summoned to the investigative department for questioning as witnesses.
On Thursday morning, lawyer Mikhail Biryukov reported he was going to the investigative department to obtain permission to see Rechkalov.
Yesterday, we reported that Left Bloc activist Vladimir Zhuravlov and an anarchist named Artyom had been questioned as witnesses in the case. Both men said they had no information about the attack.
In addition, security services officers searched the Left Bloc’s headquarters, confiscating all the equipment they found there and cracking open a safe. The three activists present the headquarters—Vadim Timergalin, Grigory Sineglazov, and Denis Avdeyev—were detained and taken to a police precinct. They were later released without charge.
The Left Bloc’s VK page reports officers at the precinct had “conversations” with the activists during which they repeatedly threatened them, demanding they testify against their Left Bloc comrades.
It was also noted that, during the search, a lawyer [sic] received messages from unknown accounts, messages supposedly written by the activists. They informed him they did not need his help.
Left Bloc linked the search of their headquarters and the interrogation of Zhuravlov with the ongoing campaign to boycott the upcoming Russian predisdental election. In particular, they mentioned a protest opposite the Nikulin Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard during which a banner emblazoned with the slogan “March 18: Tricks and Clowns” had been unfurled.
We assume that, as the presidential election approaches, the police and FSB want to intimidate everyone who has been calling for a boycott. They are justifiably afraid a low voter turnout is a danger to the political farce wrongly called an “election.” All activists involved in the election boycott are now in danger. We concede the outrageous instances of coercion could continue. However, no crackdown can force us to abandon the fight. Boycott the election! We cannot be intimidated! We cannot be forbidden!
“March 18: Russian presidential election. Dissenters in the cellars of the FSB.” Image from the VK page Popular Self-Defense
The attack on United Russia’s campaign headquarters in Khvorino occurred late on the evening of January 30. Three people, including a young woman, took part in the attack. The attackers broke a window in the office and tossed a lighted flare inside. One of attackers filmed the attack on video.
Antifascists Yelena Gorban and Alexei Kobaidze were detained in the case on February 13, charged with vandalism under Article 214 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The crime entails a maximum punishment of three months in jail and, consequently, does not stipulate that people accused of the crime be remanded in police custody until a verdict has been reached, according to Article 108 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Procedural Code, which covers incarceration. Nevertheless, both Gorban and Kobaidze were sent to the Temporary Detention Center, as Rechkalov has been now.
However, forty-eight hours after they were apprehended, Gorban and Kobaidze were released on their own recognizance. Gorban had confessed her guilt, while it was reported Kobaidze had refused to testify, invoking his right not to incriminate himself under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.
Thanks to Comrades AR and ZV for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Facebook Closes Account of Zapretno.Info Grani.ru
1 March 2018
Facebook has shut down the page of Forbidden in Russia (Zapretno.info), a project focused on the Russian government’s crackdowns on freedom of speech. As the project’s proprietor informed Grani.ru, its Facebook account was deleted without warning and without explanation. The site’s creator did not disclose his name for security reasons.
Zapretno.info publishes texts, images, and other content that, when published or posted in Russia, has led to the filing of administrative or criminal charges.
Zapretno.info’s website is blocked in Russia and is accessible only through Tor, anonymizers, and VPNs.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up.
Readers of this website might be interested to learn the mighty Facebook blocked both my Russian Reader account and my personal account for most of the day on Wednesday, February 28. This message briefly flashed on the interface before I lost access to my news feeds:
“If you’re temporarily blocked from sharing posts on Facebook, it may be because you shared too much in a short amount of time, or shared posts that were marked as unwelcome. A few things to keep in mind about your block: Blocks are temporary and can last a few hours or a few days. We can’t lift this block for any reason. To avoid being blocked again, you should avoid sharing many posts or messages in a short amount of time. Otherwise, your account could be permanently disabled. Additionally, you can learn more about what we allow on Facebook and other policies in our Community Standards.”
I was later told by a friend he had heard of numerous cases of anarchists, antifascists, anti-Putinists, and anti-Assadists whose accounts had also been temporarily blocked for up to three days without warning and without explanation.
The only question is whether Facebook has been acting alone or encouraged by anonymous complaints from fascists, Putinists, and Assadists (“shared posts that were marked as unwelcome”).
It would be great if Facebook would issue a statement explaining its policy, especially in the wake of revelations about the signal role played by fake Facebook accounts in the 2016 US presidential debacle. TRR
Extremists (The Serial) Grani.Ru
December 29, 2017
Hundreds of people throughout Russia are being prosecuted or have already been convicted for voicing their own thoughts, which the current regime does not like. The campaign against dissent has been masked as a campaign against “extremism.” Our video project’s goal is to acquaint you more closely with several so-called extremists. The FSB and the Interor Ministry have spared neither time nor effort in combating them.
Propaganda represents extremists as dangerous people, ready at the drop of a hat to segue to terrorism. Posters hung on billboards in Moscow call on citizens to identify “extremists” on grounds such as the desire to manipulate, megalomania, identification with a hero, a low level of education and culture, and a tendency to risky behavior and devaluing the lives of others.
“Extremists are people ¶ who call for destruction of the country’s integrity, ¶ try and seize power, ¶ organize illegal armed bands, ¶ engaged in terrorist activity, ¶ finance or facilitate terrorist activity, ¶ besmirch the flag, seal, and anthem; ¶ call for the introduction of Russian troops [sic], ¶ spread lies and slander, ¶ incite mutual hatred, ¶ call for violent, sow fear and panic. Psychological portrait of an extremist: aggressive, cruel, radical, many prejudices, stereotypical thinking, irration behavior; low level of education and culture. How to identify an extremist: megalomania, fanaticism, desire to manipulate, tendency to risky behavior and devaluing the lives of others, the search for enemies, self-identification with a hero.” The poster also includes local telephone numbers for the FSB, police, and Emergency Situations Ministry.
Do the subjects of our video project fit the propaganda portrait?
Krasnoyarsk resident Semyon Negretskulov really likes Scandinavia. His blog on the social network VK mainly dealt with Finnish history and modern life in Finland. When he posted a few texts about the Greater Finland project and historical photographs of Vybog (Viipuri) that was enough for the FSB to charge him with promoting Finnish greatness. His call to help political prisoners was also deemed extremism.
Danila Buzanov had to spend a year and a half in prison for an ordinary brawl at the VDNKh in Moscow. “Anti-extremism” police officers from Center “E” turned a fight with a vendor selling Donetsk People’s Republic paraphernalia into charges under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code: inciting hatred and enmity towards the social group “ethnic Russians/Russian citizens who support the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic.”
Boris Yakovlev, a musician from the town of Dno, believes that sooner or later a revolution will happen in Russia. People are poor, the authorities are thieves. When Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia had exhausted its limit of revolutions, Yakovlev reacted like this, “Hey, Medevedev, who exhausted it? You, the Rotenbergs, the Putins, the Chaykas? We haven’t exhausted our limit, Medvedev. He doesn’t want revolutions. Kiss my ass, Medvedev! He doesn’t want revolutions. But we want them to get rid of you Medvedevs and all the rest. What part of his body does this guy think with, huh?”
The FSB regarded this and similar posts as calls to extremism. Yakovlev would have been sentenced to five years in prison, but he did not wait around to hear the verdict and requested asylum in Finland.
Darya Polyudova decided to troll the authorities, who in 2014 demanded the federalization of Ukraine. Polyudova organized a March for the Federalization of the Krasnodar Region. As a result, she was the first person in the Russian Federation to be convicted of calling for federalism.
Alexander Byvshev, a teacher of German in the village of Kroma in Oryol Region has gone to court to face a third set of charges for poems he wrote in support of Ukraine, and a fourth criminal case is in the works. More frightening than the revenge of law enforcement agencies has been the reaction of his fellow villagers.
These are just a few of the many hundreds of cases of Russians who have been prosecuted for words, opinions, and reposts. You can find a collection of banned “extremist” content at zapretno.info.
Pskov Region Singer-Songwriter Boris Yakovlev Charged with Calls for Extremism Grani.ru
April 20, 2017
The FSB’s Pskov Region office has charged Boris Yakovlev, a 44-year-old resident of Dno, under Article 280.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (public calls for extremism using the internet). Grani.ru was informed about the case by lawyer Dmitry Dinze, who is representing the musician.
“Yakovlev has denied his guilt and refused to testify, since the defense needs to analyze the evidence on which the charges are based,” said Dinze. “In addition, a forensic examination of the digital media seized from Yakovlev’s home has now been ordered, and in the near future, the court will order and perform a linguistic forensic examination. The forensic experts are being chosen. The defendant has been released on his own recognizance.”
Besides the recorded songs posted on YouTube, the FSB alleges that between June 20 and June 29, 2016, Yakovlev posted on his personal page on the social network Vkontakte five pieces of writing in which he outlined his ideas about the situation and events in Russia. The texts in question begin with the words “About elections,” “We have already gone over our limit on revolutions,” “Above the dwarf’s head,” “I find it curious,” and “Reading the newswire.”
On March 20, 2017, Senior Lieutenant A. Filippov, a detective in the First Branch of the Department for Protecting the Constitutional Order and Combating Terrorism in the FSB’s Pskov Region office, filed a crime report. He claimed there was evidence of a crime in Yakovlev’s published texts: public calls for extremism on the internet.
In a specially conducted study, Andrei Pominov, an associate professor in education and psychology at Bashkir State University’s Sibai Institute, wrote that Yakovlev’s texts “contain psychological and linguistic means aimed at inducing an unspecified group of persons to carry out extremist actions aimed at forcibly changing the existing state system or seizing power.”
Consequently, Captain of Justice I. Karpenkov, senior investigator in the Investigative Department of the FSB’s Pskov Region office, filed criminal charges against Yakovlev.
Boris Yakovlev, “Confession of an Enemy of the People”
On March 16, Judge Yevgeny Naydenov of Moscow’s Presna District Court fined rapper David Nuriyev (aka Ptakha) 200,000 rubles [approx. 3,300 euros] in an extremism case. Ptakha was found guilty of violating Article 282.1 of the Criminal Code (inciting hatred or enmity toward a group of people united on the grounds that they “assisted law enforcement agencies in locating and apprehending criminals”). The “social group” in the case was the Anti-Dealer Movement, founded by Dmitry Nosov, an ex-LDPR MP and former professional judoka.
The prosecutor had asked the defendant be given a suspended sentence of one and a half years. The musician fully acknowledged his guilt and apologized to Anti-Dealer. The case was tried under a special procedure. The trial consisted of a single hearing.
Boris Yakovlev, “I Want to Be There at the Hour”
I want to be there at the hour When the millions of nationalist riffraff Howl as one: We were opposed! We knew everything!
We pretended deliberately. You understand: work and kids. But deep down we resisted. We don’t want Crimea, please note.
We realized he was a murderer. We don’t want war and death. We really love Ukrainians. We’re innocent, believe us!
We don’t want Lugansk and Donbass. It’s the first we’ve heard about the “Russian world.” Standing in line for rotten meat, That’s what the mouse people will whisper.
I want to look in the eyes of the followers, Those Pharisees of the mob, In whom honor and conscience are vestiges, And who have an ass instead of a head.
Translated by the Russian Reader. A huge thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up
The fantastic story of how a small Moscow monastery has contrived to sue the state and take over a huge wing of the Fisheries Research Institute forces us to take a closer look at at a church official who has long remained partly in the shadows, Mother Superior Ksenia (Chernega), abbess of the selfsame St. Alexius Convent that sued the state and, simulaneously, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s legal department. Chernega is not entirely unknown to the public. She has often been quoted in official reports of restitution of large pieces of real estate to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). However, as holder of a “boring” post, she has not been particularly prominent in the public eye.
And that’s too bad. Chernega is not only one of the most influential women in the ROC (in 2013, she took fourth place in an internal church rating) but also a successful raider who skillfully manipulates clerics and laymen alike. The adjudged research institute, a huge building that incorporated part of the foundations and a wall of a demolished church, is the most striking but hardly the largest victory in her career. The 46-year-old Oksana Chernega (her name until 2009, a name she still uses in secular contexts) is probably the longest-serving staff member of the Moscow Patriarchate’s legal office. She has worked there since 1993, while also working in secular law schools, achieving professorial rank. She became a leading authority on church law in the early 2000s. Generations of politicians and MPs have come and gone, but Chernega has the whole time testified at hearings of the relevant parliamentary committees and governmental review boards, lobbying the laws the ROC has wanted passed.
Her main achievement has been the law, signed by President Medvedev in late 2010, “On the Transfer of Religious Assets in State or Municipal Ownership to Religious Organizations.” It is this law under which movable and immovable property has been transferred to the ROC the past six years. Yet the Church has behaved capriciously, taking only what looks good or has real value. The Perm Diocese is unlikely to restore to its former use the huge military institute that took over what used to be its seminary: there are catastrophically few people who want to go into the priesthood, and the poor diocese is incapable of maintaining the enormous premises. But how sweet it is to get a huge building on the river embankment in the city center as a freebie. Whatever you do with it you’re bound to make money.
But not everything has been had so smoothly. The property the ROC has set its sights on has owners, and they are capable of mounting a resistance. That is when Chernega takes the stage. When she announces the Church has set its sights on a piece of real estate, it is usually a bad sign. The day before yesterday, it was St. Isaac’s Cathedral, yesterday it was the Andronikov Monastery, today it is the Fisheries Research Institute. What will it be tomorrow? Anything whatsoever.
On the eve of March 8 [International Women’s Day] and amidst the debates on feminism in Russia, it would seem that Chernegas has pursued a successful, independent career as a woman in the Church. But it’s not as simple as all that.
It is well known in ecclesiastical circles that Chernega acts in tandem with a notable priest, Artemy Vladimirov. He is not only confessor at the St. Alexius Convent but is also well known throughout the Church. A graduate of Moscow State University’s philolology department and rector of All Saints Church (a neighbor of the convent and the reclaimed fisheries institute), Vladimirov is a glib preacher who specializes in denouncing fornication; he is, therefore, a member of the Patriarchal Council on Family and Motherhood. The council has become a haven for the Church’s choicest monarchistically inclined conservatives, including Dmitry Smirnov, who has led an aggressive campaign against Silver Rain radio station, Konstantin Malofeev, Igor Girkin‘s ex-boss and, concurrently, an expert on web-based pedophilia, and the wife of Vladimir Yakunin, former director of Russian Railways, a billionaire, and former KGB officer.
Vladimirov vigorously espouses monarchist views and has made a huge number of basically stupid public statements, such as the demand to remove a number of works by Chekhov and Bunin from the school curriculum and a call to campaign against Coca-Cola. Such radicalism is not rare in the ROC, however, Since the late 1990s and the publication of the novel Celibacy by church journalist Natalya Babasyan, Vladimirov has served as a clear example for many observant and quasi-observant Orthodox believers of where the line should be drawn in interactions between a priest and his flock, especially his young, female parishioners.
Because of this reputation, Vladimirov has remained in the background even during periods when the grouping of monarchists and Russian nationalists to which he has belonged has had the upper hand in the ROC. But if you can’t do something directly, you can do it indirectly, and Oksana Chernega has come in very handy in this case. As is typical of a young woman in the modern ROC, she is utterly dependent on her confessor. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Orthodox fundamentalists and monarchist heterosexuals developed a curious lifestyle. Young and handsome, usually university grads with the gift of gab, and often married, many of them newly arrived in the Church, they formed small “communities” consisting of young women, communities with unclear or flexible status in terms of ecclesiastical law.
In theory, a convent is established by order of a bishop, and a married or elderly priest is appointed as the convent’s confessor. He does not live on the convent’s grounds and is present there during “working hours,” when he has to serve mass and take confession from the women who inhabit the convent. As part of the so-called Orthodox revival, a monk or a young priest who had “complicated” relations with his wife would first form a group of female “adorers” in the church, later organizing them into a “sisterhood” and then a “convent community,” which he would settle in a building reclaimed from local authorities, sometimes the site of a former convent, sometimes not. He would immediately take up residence there himself in order to “revive Orthodoxy” and denounce fornicators and homosexuals in the outside world. The record holder in this respect was Archimandrite Ambrosius (Yurasov) of the Ivanovo Diocese, who built a huge convent in Ivanovo, where he officially lived in the same house as the mother superior and yet never left the apartments of the rapturous Moscow women whom he had pushed to come live with him after they had bequeathed their dwellings to the convent.
For those who did not want to leave the capital even nominally, historical buildings in the city center were found. That, for example, was the story of the ultra-fundamentalist Abbot Kirill (Sakharov), who took over St. Nicholas Church on Bersenevka opposite the Kremlin. There, according to a correspondent of mine, “the Old Believer girls creatively accessorized their robes with manicures.” In Petersburg, the so-called Leushinskaya community, led by the main local monarchist Archpriest Gennady Belobolov, has been “restoring” a church townhouse for twenty years. However, the archpriest himself lives on site, while his wife raises their children somewhere else in town. It is a good arrangement for a young man from the provinces: come to the capital, occupy a large building in the city center under a plausible pretext, and shack up there with attractive and spiritually congenial sisters in the faith while putting on shows at press conferences stacked with selected reporters and confessing pious female sponsors who are thrilled by their pastor’s superficial strictness and inaccessibility.
So in this system of interwoven personal and political interests how could one not help out a dear friend? The affairs of the alliance between Vladimirov and Chernega, especially when it comes to dispensing other people’s property, are so broad and varied that observers sometimes wonder whether it isn’t time for police investigators to have a crack at them.
Where do you think the part of the church community sympathetic to Belovolov’s plight would want to transfer such a managerially gifted and cultured pastor, a pastor capable of creating a little museum and one who knows a thing or two about restoration? To St. Isaac’s Cathedral, of course, and the post of sexton, the chief steward of the church and its property. What would Chernega, who is coordinating the legal aspects of transferring such a huge chunk of public property, have to do with this? Formally, of course, nothing, and it isn’t a sure bet that the appointment will take place, just as it’s not a sure bet the ROC will get its hands on the entire cathedral.
Police Search Homes of Torfyanka Park Defenders Grani.ru
November 14, 2016
Defenders of Moscow’s Torfyanka Park have had their flats searched by police. Olga Romanova, founder of the Imprisoned Russia project, reported the searches on her Facebook page.
According to Romanova, police visited the home of attorney Marina Verigina, who has been consulting the activists, and her husband Vladimir Grechaninov. Law enforcement officers broke into their apartment.
Police cordoned off Natalya Fyodorova’s stairwell and did not let her neighbors act as witnesses to the search, explaining they had brought their own witnesses with them. Fyodorova was loaded into a paddy wagon along with her disabled mother, her husband Boris, and her 18-year-old daughter. The door to the Fyodorovs’ apartment was cut down with a metal grinder.
After the search of his home, Pavel Alexeev was put in the paddy wagon with his underage son Alexander. Evgeny Lebedev and his wife were loaded into the paddy wagon with their underage daughter.
Police likewise searched the home of activist Vladislav Kuznetsov and his wife Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kuznetsov’s forehead was injured while he was detained. He was then handcuffed and a scarf was wrapped around his head.
In addition, Konstantin Yatsyn and his father Yuri Yatsyn were detained. It has been reported that several more families of Torfyanka’s defenders were incommunicado.
Natalya Kutlunina, a member of the Communist Party, has reported that her apartment has been searched as well. Law enforcement officers arrived there at six in the morning. Kutlunina is out of town, and the apartment was searched with her son present.
“The search lasted three hours,” wrote Kutlunina. “They confiscated placards, Party literature, my son’s and my husband’s laptops, and my younger son’s mobile phone.”
Meanwhile, OVD Info has reported that the search at the Verigina and Grechaninov household was still underway after 6:30 in the evening. Yet since lunch time law officers had refused to let lawyer Sergei Shank into the apartment, despite the fact he produced a warrant.
The people detained during the searches were taken to the Russian Investigative Committee’s Northwest Moscow District Office. According to RBC, each activist was escorted by fifteen to twenty police officers, and the arrests were filmed by employees of the national TV channel NTV.
All the detainees were interrogated as witnesses in a case opened up under Article 148 of the Criminal Code (insulting the feelings of religious believers) before being released.
OVD Info claims violation of Paragraph 1 of the article, which stipulates a maximum punishment of one year in a penal colony, is at issue in the case. Meanwhile, after his interrogation, activist Evgeny Lebedev wrote on the For Torfyanka Park! VK community page that a case had been opened under Article 148.3 (obstructing the activities of religious organizations), which carries a maximum penalty of a year of corrective labor or three months in jail.
Orthodox clerics want to build a church in Torfyanka. Local residents are opposed to their plans, and they have been protesting them since June 2015. The decision to permit construction of the church was made illegally. In the autumn of 2015, the Moscow Town Planning and Land Commission acknowledged this and canceled the permit, demanding that the construction site at the park be dismantled. However, this still has not been done.
Moreover, the park’s defenders have been assaulted several times by Russian Orthodox militants. In the early hours of February 13, militants from the Multitude (Sorok sorokov) movement attempted to start building the church without authorization, but they were stopped by police.
In the early hours of March 3, a camp set up activists maintaining a 24-hour vigil in the park was demolished with assistance from the police. Law enforcement officers drove the environmentalists from their tent and pushed them aside as persons unknown arrived in a GAZelle minivan, loaded up the tent and the activists’ personal belongings, and drove off. It transpired that the minivan belonged to the Losiny Ostrov (Moose Island) District Council.
In the early hours of August 29, police detained twelve people, claiming that activists had been trying to break the fence around the proposed construction site.
Yekaterina Schulman, political scientist
This is a bad story, and it is bad because of the numbers of people involved. Nine people have been detained. The police came to their homes at six in the morning and took them to the Investigative Committee on suspicion they have violated Article 148.1 of the Criminal Code (“Public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed to insult the feelings of religious believers”), for which the maximum penalty is a year in prison. Meaning that it is a minor offense. Why is the Investigative Committee involved at all? They supposedly deal with serious and very serious crimes in Russia, no? All the detainees are neighbors, husbands and wives, meaning the police carpet-bombed a neighborhood that had been protesting construction of a new church in a park. What is the magnitude of their crime, which did not involve violence? What, are they terrorists? If charges of insulting religious believers have been filed in connection with a complaint, then investigate the case the usual way. Dear Investigative Committee, as a law enforcement agency you are not in the best position nowadays, and if you think you are going to strengthen it by suddenly arresting a dozen ordinary Russians for the glory of the Russian Orthodox Church, you have another think coming. If you haven’t noticed, the trend now in Russia is against exacerbation, incitement, and extremism, and for keeping people calm during the economic crisis. The FSB at least pulled some terrorists from its sleeve who wanted to blow up shopping malls. People understand that, but what was your bright idea for cheering up the media scene? Source: Facebook
We were born to sin
We were born to sin
We don’t think we’re special sir
We know everybody is
We’ve built too many walls
Yeah, we’ve built too many walls
And now we gotta run
A giant fist is out to crush us
We run in the dark
We run in the dark
We don’t carry dead weight long
We send them along to heaven
I carry my baby
I carry my baby
Her eyes can barely see
Her mouth can barely breathe
I can see she’s afraid
She could see the danger
We don’t want to die or apologize
For our dirty God, our dirty bodies
Now, I stick to the ground
I stick to the ground
I won’t look twice for the dead walls
I don’t want a white pillar of salt
I carry my baby
I carry my baby
Her eyes can barely see
Her mouth can barely breathe
I can see she’s afraid
That’s why we’re escaping
So we won’t have to die, we won’t have to deny
Our dirty God, our dirty bodies
In any other country, the appointment of Anna Kuznetsova as ombudsman for children’s rights would be deemed a win for feminism. She is a mother of several children, relatively young (thirty-four), a certified psychologist, a veteran of public organizations where she has helped single mothers, a woman from the provinces, and, finally, pretty and feminine. All these qualities set her apart in the positive sense from the Putinist bureaucracy. She could have been a style icon for feminists and liberals.
However, the appointment has caused a flurry of attacks. The first wave of criticism hit Kuznetsova when it transpired her husband was a priest. The second wave rolled over her when it was discovered she supported the pseudo-scientific concept of telegony, long popular among the Russian Orthodox crowd. But is that so unforgivable? After all, the liberal segment of the Russian political elite features people like Garry Kasparov, who is fond of Anatoly Fomenko’s “new chronology,” and Vyacheslav Maltsev, an alleged psychic who is running in the number two spot on the PARNAS list in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Russian society is politically passive, but all the same it sees right though a person when a few details of his biography are outed. This applies to all of Putin’s recent appointments. Police general Tatyana Moskalkova was appointed the federal ombudsman for human rights, while Anton Vaino, grandson of the former head of the Estonia Communist Party and a specialist in protocol, was made the president’s chief of staff. Olga Vasilyeva, a former staffer in the presidential administration’s propaganda office, has been tapped as education minister, and now a priest’s wife, an activist with the pro-Putin Russian People’s Front (ONF), and the manager of a large grant program has been appointed the ombudsman for children’s rights. We really can see through all of them. Anna Kuznetsova’s appointment fits the pattern of how Putin has been reforming the upper ranks of the nomenklatura, a pattern that became obvious after a series of dismissals and appointments over the summer.
Putin has been solving several problems. The whistle-blowing campaign in the liberal media and social networks against people from the president’s inner circle has borne fruit. Putin has been reacting to criticism from the urban middle class, including the liberal public, which he still fears, despite his ostentatious contempt for them and his reliance on his “base in the heartlands” as figured, allegedly, by the workers of the Uralvagonzavod tank factory, in Nizhny Tagil. He decided to clean the stables of wildly self-indulgent siloviki, governors, and old pals, thus seemingly pulling the rug from under the liberals’ argument. The sacking of Sergei Ivanov, his former of chief of staff, has been symbolic of this tack. Other controversial figures, like former education minister Andrei Furskenko, former Central Electoral Commission chair Vladimir Churov, and former federal ombudsman for children’s rights Pavel Astakhov, were ousted before the big 2016-2018 election campaign. And theirs are not the last names on the black list: culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, Federation Council member Yelena Mizulina, and Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko have also been marked for possible sacking.
Why, though, has Putin been replacing them with Russian Orthodox conservatives and anti-westerners rather than nominal liberals? Why have there been three Moskalkovas to every one Pamfilova?
The information available on Anna Kuznetsova’s life and views, as well as the reaction to her appointment in certain circles, gives us a sense of the social milieu whose support Putin finds vital at the end of his third term. An interview with Kuznetsova’s brother, Konstantin Bulayev, and a search of the social networks help us piece together her family history. Apparently, her father is Yuri Bulayev, deputy warden of Penal Colony No. 4 in Penza. In the penal colony, he runs the convict labor adaptation center, where he is responsible for “expanding the product portfolio, prospecting for potential clients, and recruiting potential contractors for employing convicts.”
The children, apparently, have taken after him rather than their mother, an engineer at the Penza Electrotechnical Research Institute, which develops “cryptographic information protection hardware and telecommunications equipment for ministerial and departmental special communications networks.” Kuznetsova, as we know, specialized in the social adaptation of single mothers and administered government grants for this purpose. Her brother, a 31-year-old lawyer, has a plum job as head of the contracts and legal department at the Samouchet Center in Penza, which sends utility bills to customers. A year ago, he and the center were harshly criticized for the exorbitant prices they charged for their services as intermediaries. This did not faze Konstantin Bulayev, though. The local press quoted him as saying, “What, you want to dazzle people with figures?”
Through Kuznetsova and her husband, this hard-working family of provincial officials is linked to the Russian Orthodox Church. Through Viktor Bulayev, Yuri Bulayev’s brother, the family is linked to the Great Don Army. In recent years, Viktor, a former military man with combat experience in Chechnya and an ex-firefighter, has been an activist with the Great Don Army, the organization that seized the southeast part of Lugansk Region and was driven out by Russian special forces and Lugansk People’s Republic units in 2015.
However, all of this is clearly insufficient to unleash a nationwide charity foundation.
Kuznetsova’s foundation is called Intercession. It receives the bulk of its private donations from the Moscow-based Alexander Foundation, which also renders assistance to children, in Penza Region, via Intercession, and Smolensk Region, where it operates independently. In November 2014, the Alexander Foundation essentially became Intercession’s sole sponsor. The man behind the nearly anonymous organization is Alexander Popov, former head (2012-2013) of Rosnedra, the Federal Service for Subsurface Resources Management. A former staffer for Igor Sechin, Putin’s most trusted ally, Popov now runs Itera Oil and Gas Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rosneft, which is run by Sechin. The Alexander Foundation has the same address as Itera’s headquarters.
Another organization allied with Intercession (there are few such organizations identified on the foundation’s website) is the Penza branch of the Law and Order Center. This foundation for KGB-FSB veterans is an affiliate of the organization Officers of Russia. Nikolay Kovalyov, former FSB director (1996-1998) and longtime member of the State Duma (to which Kuznetsova recently tried to get elected), heads the Law and Order Center’s expert council. On the Penza branch’s website, you can find many articles about the peculiar memorial events held by the former KGB officers, including Route of Mercy, which provides “material assistance to veterans [of the KGB-FSB] who have been actively involved in the patriotic education of young officers.” However, after the December 2014 arrest of Vladimir Zarechnev, head of the Law and Order Center and a colonel in the FSB’s anti-corruption directorate, for brokering a bribe given to the governor of Sakhalin, the foundation has clearly curtailed the scope of its work.
In terms of church policy, the position taken by the Kuznetsov family is also fairly clear. They are affiliated with the Pro-Life Movement within the church, which now operates under the name Association of Organizations for Protecting the Family. The movement is involved not only in opposing abortion but also in promoting radical anti-western and monarchist ideas. Judging by the blogs of the movement’s leaders, such as Ruslan Tkachenko and Father Maxim Kolesnik, liberals and Ukrainians are objects of special hatred. The movement’s leader is the Moscow-based Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, known for his outrageous escapades. Smirnov heads the Patriarchal Commission on Family and the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood. With the general support of the Moscow Patriarchate, the ideological group of priests he controls has been lobbying for restrictions and bans on abortion and biotechnology, as well as opposing juvenile justice.
On July 3 of this year, Kuznetsova’s husband, the priest Alexei Kuznetsov, posted an article on his Facebook page by a leader of the Pro-Life Movement, the Moscow priest Maxim Obukhov. The article had been published on the radical nationalist website The Russian People’s Line. The article frankly outlines the movement’s principles and objectives.
“Everyone agrees, even Matviyenko, that the country’s priorities are the traditional family and procreation. It is a feature of our Eurasian civilization. This consensus exists among the various religions and social strata, with the exception of a narrow segment of liberals who do not represent the public. This universal understanding must be incarnated on the legislative level: we must shake up the legislation and change the laws. But this cannot be accomplished by sudden attacks and shouting. What is needed is serious creative and systematic work. Such work was done by Yelena Mizulina, who drafted a decent package of anti-abortion amendments.
“Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox community has not established its own lobbying groups, which testifies to [its] immaturity and the improper application of [its] exertions. However much we have struggled over abortion legislation, we have continued to avoid lobbying. Lobbying is staff work that requires systematic professionalism and quality. But we just march out, sword unsheathed, to various rallies and demonstrations.
“There is no end in sight to the Orthodox community’s work. We have to sift through all the laws to check whether they are compliant with the interests of the family.”
So it would seem the public has interpreted the sparse details of Ms. Kuznetsova’s life correctly. Her party’s program will be her main guide in her work as a high-ranking government official. All of her previous public work has somehow been linked to the radically anti-western segment of the ROC and Russian society in general. It suffices to say she systematically received donations from an organizer of the Russia-Ukraine war, the adventurer Konstantin Malofeev. In turn, she raised funds for the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics in her own region.
In practice, all of Kuznetsova’s work is endlessly remote from both Orthodoxy and traditionalism. In an argument on Facebook, she defends her pro-family position not in terms of Christian values, but solely in nationalist Newspeak:
“if there had been fewer normal large families, you just would not exist)) The population has died out [sic]. Calculate what would have happened to the population if one child had been born in all six or seven generations, considering that some people don’t have children, some people were unable to have a family? Your grandchildren would already be speaking Chinese or something else))) Currently, the 3% of large families provide at least some dynamism in the demography, where is the deficit in the pension fund from? Why is the working generation fewer than the pensioners, whose ‘only’ children just cannot earn money for them, even if they are as you say, ‘high-quality,’ and what if they are not? What if the one is prison? What if he is disabled? The pension fund is also meant for such children, but who will put it [sic] in this fund? Your ‘only’ child again?” [Spelling and punctuation preserved—NM.]
This replacement of Christ and religion in general by hypertrophied fears over family and children is a typical trait of the new Christian fundamentalism. Under the patronage of the Life Center, it arrived in Russia via the US, and over the past decade, it has become popular in the intellectually secular circles of anti-westerners like Mizulina and Sergey Kurginyan. Whereas, ten years ago, Father Maxim Obukhov spun his horror stories about “black demographers,” sponsored by western foundations, “interested only in reducing the birth rate,” on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website, Russian politicians can often be heard saying such things nowadays.
But the general public doesn’t necessarily need to know about Kuznetsova’s real views. The newly minted state official and her husband have already disowned telegony, blaming the whole thing on malicious journalists. This week, they will have to disown monarchism, a distaste for vaccinations, and doubt about the existence of AIDS. By appointing Kuznetsova, Putin has appealed to the so-called patriotic segment of the political spectrum, which, nonetheless, does not go in for excessively radical views and likes pretty pictures. For these patriots, traditionalism is when someone else has six children, but they still have the right to an abortion. In this circle, it is the done thing to jabber about the danger of vaccinations, but they will make sure to have their own children vaccinated. “Tradition” means wishing an atom bomb would rain down on America’s head after the Saturday evening news, but definitely taking the kids to McDonald’s on Sunday. So Kuznetsova’s public representation will be as false and ambiguous as Putinist propaganda as a whole.
Kuznetsova will speechify on support for the traditional family, and once a quarter she will post a photo of a large family, a church in the background, on her blog, but she herself will be on business trip or just on her own, as has long been the custom in families with infants, apparently. First and foremost, judging by her statements, Kuznetsova will defend Russian children from adoption by foreigners. She is unlikely to bother to do anything about the longstanding problems of oversight of Orthodox orphanages and foster families who have taken in dozens of children to raise, but she has already promised to deal as harshly as possible with Moscow School No. 57.
The country will hear a lot about the hardships of children in Donbass, but don’t expect to hear anything news about the lives of children in Kuzbass from the ombudsman’s office, and good-hearted anti-Putinist Muscovities will continue to raise money for the medical treatment of both groups of children. The fight to outlaw abortion will intensify, and Kuznetsova will become the main ally of Vitaly Milonov and his soul mates in the new Duma, but in the next five years there will probably be no drastic changes in this area, because the presidential administration will not back off from its neutral stance. And, of course, the employees of Kuznetsova’s foundation will not be idle. They will have to allocate many more presidential grants and sponsorship money. A place at Putin’s right hand is worth a lot.
Like Matviyenko, Pamfilova, Moskalkova, and Vasilyeva, Kuznetsova is following the peculiar career path of Russia’s sovereign feminism. The number of women in senior positions in Russia has increased in Russian years, and I would not be surprised if, ten or so years from now, the selfsame Kuznetsova, having done a couple of ideological flip-flops, takes up the post of defense minister in a future (not necessarily Putinist) government. That would make sense in its own way.