Valery Pshenichny: Tortured, Then Murdered

ByEkK6EZL1H45U3VA1r3Businessman Valery Pshenichny did not kill himself in his cell in a Petersburg remand prison, as the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service has claimed. 

Tortured, Then Murdered
Irina Tumakova
Novaya Gazeta Sankt-Petersburg
April 16, 2018

Valery Pshenichny, a defendant in the case of embezzlement at the Defense Ministry in connection with the building of a submarine at the Admiralty Shipyards in Petersburg, did not die from a lack of medical care. He did not take his own life. He was not tormented by abominable living conditions, something the wardens arrange for other inmates. He was simply tortured and then murdered, and his murderers did not even try to hide their tracks. This was the unambiguous verdict reached by the Petersburg Bureau of Forensic Medical Examiners, thus ruling out the possibility of suicide.

Novaya Gazeta wrote in February about the businessman’s strange death at Petersburg Remand Prison No. 4. Valery Pshenichny stood accused of embezzling money from a Defense Ministry contract for construction of the submarine Varshavyanka. His company, NovIT Pro, was developing a 3D computer model of the submarine for servicing the craft after it was sold. In 2016, Pshenichny, who owns the company, suspected his partner and company director Andrei Petrov had stolen millions in funds from the firm’s accounts and persuaded police to open a criminal investigation. Petrov was arrested. After several months in police custody, Petrov testified the embezzlers were Pshenichny himself and Gleb Yemelchenkov, a deputy head engineer at Admiralty Shipyards. Allegedly, they had colluded and deliberately overstated the cost of the contract. Investigators determined how much the contract should actually be worth, based on their own calculations.

Petrov was released while the new suspects were arrested. Three weeks later, Pshenichny was found hanged in his cell. Before the incident, his cellmates had been removed simultaneously from the cell under various pretexts. The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service insisted Pshenichny had committed suicide, while his loved ones accused prison wardens of not giving him medical care after he had suffered a stroke.

The forensic examination was completed last week. Now we can establish what happened.

Don’t Pay Anyone Anything
Pshenichny shared a cell with three other inmates. At around two in the afternoon on February 5, 2018, two of the inmates were taken to talk to police investigators, while the third was taken to a meeting with his lawyer. CCTV footage shows Pshenichny was removed from the cell fifteen minutes later. He did not leave the remand prison. We do not know how long he was gone from his cell, where he was during this time, what condition he was in when he returned to his cell, and who was with him.  But after four o’clock in the afternoon a guard escorted his cellmate back to the cell and found Pshenichny hanged. An electrical cord torn from a water boiler and the destroyed sneakers of a cellmate lay near his body. Prison wardens explained Pshenichny had tried to slash his wrists with the arch support from the sneakers, but had failed. He then tore the cord from the water boiler, hoping to electrocute himself. Finally, he pulled the lace from his hooded sweatshirt and hanged himself.

A graduate of the Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute, Valery Pshenichny was an engineer. He would hardly have attempted to use a 220-volt current to kill himself. The lace from his hooded sweatshirt was forty centimeters long. It would have been impossible to hang himself with this length of lace. And everyone who knew Pshenichny is unanimous. The last thing this strong, cheerful man used to winning would have done was given up and taken his own life.

“My husband and I were together for forty years, since our first year at the Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute,” says Natalya Pshenichnya. “I’d never met such an intelligent, striking, strong positive person before. I’m not exaggerating. He was confident in himself and the stance he took. He knew he was innocent, and he was not afraid of anything.”

An incitement to suicide investigation was opened. But then rumors flew around the remand prison that all staff members had been made to submit sperm samples for analysis.

Cuts and stab wounds were found on Pshenichny’s body. His spine was broken. Simply put, he was tortured. Forensic experts have identified blunt trauma to the neck and asphyxiation as the causes of death. Translated into Russian, this means Pshenichny was strangled with the forty-centimeter-long lace from his own hood. Tests showed it was not remand prison staff who raped him. Most likely, someone from the outside was sicced on Pshenichny to have his way with him.

None of the businessman’s intimates can imagine what the cause of this stupid brutality could be. However, before his death, Pshenichny managed to pass a note to his wife in which he asked three times not to give money to anyone.

“Don’t pay anyone anything,” he wrote.

A Russian Elon Musk
The work for which, according to investigators, Pshenichny artificially inflated the price, was completely unique. Nobody in the world had done anything like it before. In the future, it could have generated new opportunities not only in shipbuilding, but also for oil and gas companies. NovIT Pro had been negotiating with Gazprom and Rosneft to produce similar designs.

Friends dubbed Pshenichny a Russian Elon Musk. The talk was that he was not only a brilliant engineer but also a maverick genius whose risks paid off sooner or later.

“He arrived in Leningrad to enroll at the institute carrying a tiny suitcase,” Natalya Pshenichnaya continues. “He had nothing. No one helped him, he was a self-made man. At the institute, he was the most talented student in our year. Things came easily for him, but he was a hard worker. Intelligent, cultured, well-read, he could talk with you about any subject. He would immediately pick it up. Sometimes, I would ask him how he knew something. He would laugh and say, ‘It’s obvious.'”

The student with the tiny suitcase eventually became the owner of a major IT company. NovIT Pro occupies two floors in a building on a corner of the Moika River Embankment and Palace Square in downtown Petersburg, and it has worked on defense procurement orders for many years. Staff say that when investigators arrived to search NovIT Pro’s offices in January, they laughed at first. It was clear this was a fly-by-night firm, they said, joking the place had three desks and one and a half diggers. Then they went down to the floor below and were shocked when they saw a large engineering center.


Admiralty Shipyards

One of Pshenichny’s breathtaking ideas was the selfsame 3D digital model of the submarine. He came up with idea back in 2011 after attending the Naval Salon. NovIT Pro had previously worked on orders from the Defense Ministry for seperate units and parts of ships. But nobody had ever produced a virtual model of an entire ship. Technical specs are attached to each part of the computer model, and mechanics can have access to repair documentation and blueprints wherever the ship is deployed. But it was not this design Pshenichny had planned to patent.

As Novaya Gazeta reported, the contract was signed in 2015. But then Pshenichny went even further in his thinking. What if he could make it possible to carry out repairs of the boat remotely as well? After all, no one knows how far from the shipyards where it was built the submarine will be when it needs servicing, and the specialists capable of doing the repairs all work in Petersburg at the Admiralty Shipyards. The idea of mobile repair centers thus arose.

The mobile data center for the Varshavyanka is a room the size of two railway container cars put together. It can be quickly delivered to anywhere the ship is deployed. The technician from the nearest shipyard enters the room and finds himself inside the submarine as it were. He сan produce a cross section of the ship at any point and peer into any compartment of the ship. He communicates in real time with specialists at the Admiralty Shipyards, who see the same picture as he does in the stationary center in Petersburg. This idea had no impact on the cost of the contract. Pshenichny decided to implement it using the funds approved for the contract. He was curious.

Pshenichny was planning to patent the idea for the mobile center, but he did not have the time. On January 16, investigators came to search his company and his home, and he was arrested. All documentation, including the documentation needed to apply for the patent, was confiscated and entered into evidence. It is currently in the hands of investigators.

All You Need Now Is a Grave Two Meters Deep
“When they came to search our home, those men looked at my husband’s suits in the closet and immediately said, ‘Well, you won’t be needing any of that anymore,'” Natalya Pshenichnaya says. “The investigator said that now all he needed was a grave two meters deep.”

Pshenichnaya had suffered a stroke a few years ago. The doctor had told him a second stroke would be his last. Since then, Natalya had been afraid to worry her husband unnecessarily. During the search of their home, his blood pressure jumped to 250 over 140. She begged the investigator to call an ambulance, but he refused. The police asked her only to confirm whether her husband was really in danger of a stroke. Natalya found her husband’s medical records and handed them over to the investigator. Both she and Pshenichny’s lawyer Larisa Fon-Arev say these medical records were not listed in the search inventory. Moreover, during Pschenichny’s custody hearing, the defense asked the court to order house arrest for Pshenichny or release him on his own recognizance, citing the accused man’s  health, but it transpired that the medical records, confiscated during the search, had not been entered into evidence.


The submarine Varshavyanka

It is unclear what happened to Pshenichny at the remand prison. It is clear he was tortured, that is. A wealthy man who was visited by his lawyer nearly every day was tortured. But then he was killed, and his killers did not even bother to hide their tracks, attempting to get off by making up a lie about his suicide.

What did they want from Pshenichny? Perhaps they were trying to extort money from him, because, as we have already mentioned, he wrote to this wife that she should not pay anyone. Maybe they wanted to force Pshenichny to testify, but in that case it is unclear against whom. As Novaya Gazeta has reported, Pshenichny could not have turned on anyone because he was confident the contract was clean, and to this day no new defendants have been named in the embezzlement case.

Gleb Yemelchenkov, the deputy chief engineer at the Admiralty Shipyards, was Pshenichny’s co-defendant in the case. Yemelchenkov had no financial authority and could not have unduly influenced the contract. He was arrested and charged in the case only due to Petrov’s testimony: he and Petrov had fallen out over Yemelchenkov’s wife. Yemelchenkov is still jailed in the remand prison. The term of his detention was extended to May.

Thanks to Julia Galkina et al. for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Impotent

DSCN1619

And [Putin] just stands there and watches them destroy each other, and doesn’t interfere. Because then, on the one hand, he gets to maintain his position above the fray and watch all these ministries mutually weaken each other and become incapable of monopolizing power (which he’s afraid of). But on the other hand, he’s afraid even to give an order, because he senses that his orders have no weight anymore, that he can’t do anything. It’s a hideous situation, and as a result everyone turns into these trembling slaves who have no idea what will befall them, because there’s no one to appeal to, there’s no ordering principle to appeal to anymore. There’s no law, Putin is absolutely impotent, he can’t do anything.

I am sorry for writing what I am about to write, because I have a decent amount of admiration for the man who wrote the passage I have quoted, above, but if there is anything nuttier than thinking that Putin (or any other dictator) is absolutely powerful, it is thinking that Putin has no power at all.

The “impotency” heresy seems to be all the rage these days, because Putin was, allegedly, persuaded by his ex-finance minister and ex-Petersburg city hall colleague Alexei Kudrin to write not one but three official letters telling whoever has been hassling the European University in St. Petersburg to back off and leave it alone, and all three times these sinister forces, whom no one has yet properly identified, because no one believes Rosobrnadzor, the federal education watchdog, and the courts could arrange this sick, nine-ring circus on their own, willfully ignored Putin’s instructions.

The explanation, given by Fontanka.ru investigative reporter Irina Tumakova in the latest edition of Novaya Gazeta v Petersburge, that the mess kicked off due to four complaints filed with the prosecutor’s office against the university by non-entities who now cannot even remember why they filed the complaints and have lost all the paperwork, may be factually true, but unfortunately it will have the effect of reinforcing the “impotency” camp’s convictions.

In reality, there are as many ways to exercise power as there are ways to be impotent, and so it is easy to confuse the two, especially if you are naive enough to believe that when Vladimir Putin says or writes something, he always means what he says or writes.

Let’s suppose Putin really is not averse to handing over the two mansions on the corner of Gagarin Street and the Kutuzov Embankment to his arch-crony Gennady Timchenko or whomever else Tumakova mentions in her article, and, in the process, getting rid of the European University, towards which he, plausibly, only feels antipathy, since in the past it was involved in using European Union funds to study election monitoring, something Putin, who has stayed in power this long only by rigging elections on a massive scale, would hardly approve.

(Putin even publicly said as much at the time, in late 2007 or early 2008, and soon afterwards, fire inspectors showed up at the European University and shut it down for two months.  It was reopened after a loud, noisy, vigorous public campaign by its faculty, its students, and its numerous supporters in the local and international community. I took part in that campaign.)

More generally, the Putin regime has been engaged in a long-term, deliberate program of clamping down on any and all independent forces and entities in Russia, from small and medium businesses and NGOs of all stripes (even ones not mixed up in politics and without financial or other connections to foreign partners) to independent religious groups (e.g., the Jehovah’s Witnesses) and independent educational institutions such as the European University. Hardly surprising for a regime chockablock with “former KGB officers” at all levels and led by another “former KGB officer,: it has increasingly come to regard everyone trying to operate beyond the Russian government’s overweaning oversight as extremely suspicious at best, “national traitors,” at worst.

Putin could make large numbers of people loathe him more than they already do by openly issuing a decree closing the European University and turning over its building and the neighboring building to his buddy Timchenko. Or he could play it smart and make clear through all the hundreds of channels he has at his disposal that he wants to shut down the university and hand over the building to Timchenko, all the while feigning to Kudrin and his liberal fans that he is worried enough about that fine little university to write the “back off” letters Kudrin asked him to write.

But the fix is already in, because Rosobrnadzor, the courts, Timchenko, and everyone else who needs to know, know that Putin’s letters of “support” for the university are meantto be roundly ignored. They know this because he has somehow indicated they should ignore them. How he did this exactly is immaterial and, ultimately, uninteresting.

So, in reality, this is yet another example of Putin’s exercising his rather considerable power, not evidence of his impotence. Of course, like any reasonably smart dictator or just plain leader, he wants to appear above the fray, but that does not mean he really is above the fray. He is right in the midst of it, whatever “it” is: making peace among the made men in his mafia empire, awarding them for their loyalty, slapping them on the wrists for their lapses, and adjudicating their conflicts between each other as they arise.

A real example of impotence are tenured and celebrated academics who persuade themselves, after being suckered by one of the oldest cons and mythologemes in Russian history (the powerless tsar surrounded by perfidious boyars), that since the allegedly powerful Putin is, in fact, impotent, they can be excused from empowering themselves and their students, and mobilizing them and the rather large community of people in Petersburg and around the world who are sympathetic to the European University to fight the power and get the university’s full rights as a research and teaching institution reinstated, while also forcing the powers that be to have the university’s grand old building restored to it and let it go ahead with renovating the building, as the university had carefully been preparing to do for several years.

That would be a real cause to rally round, but instead we have been treated, in turn, to long bouts of radio silence, various implausible conspiracy theories, and self-defeating disempowerment sessions, disguised as the worldly-wise acceptance of defeat and the lowly station of academics in Russian life.

But we have not seen the slightest hint of a coherent, militant public campaign to save the university, most of whose seemingly feeble supporters have the temerity to call it the “best in Russia.”

If it is really the best, it should be worth fighting tooth and nail for, no? Even and especially if you think the emperor has no clothes. TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

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

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