Mediazona: Russian Show Trial Calendar

баршайRussian political prisoner Andrei Barshay, holding up a handmade placard reading “Free Everyone!” at his custody hearing in Moscow on October 16. Photo by Yevgeny Feldman. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mediazona

The regime has ratcheted up its crackdown, but the numbers of people willing to help those affected by the crackdown by writing letters to prisoners, sending care packages to remand prisons, and attending court hearings have increased as well. Mediazona has been covering all the important court cases in Russia, and so we will be publishing a “Court Schedule” in which we summarize all the important court hearings in the coming week, updating it as new information is made available.

Seventh Studio Case (Retrial)
Room 409, Meshchansky District Court, Moscow
Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva
10:00 a.m, November 5

Director Kirill Serebrennikov, Culture Ministry employee Sofia Apfelbaum, and ex-Seventh Studio heads Alexei Malobrodsky and Yuri Itin have been accused of embezzling 133 million rubles allocated to the Platform theater project.

Initially, the defendants in the case were under house arrest, but later they were released on their own recognizance. In early September, the court sent the case back to the prosecutor’s office after a comprehensive forensic analysis was performed. On October 8, Moscow City Court overruled that decision, ordering a retrial in the case.

Mediazona has been covering the Seventh Studio Case.

New Greatness Case (Main Trial)
Room 219, Lyublino District Court, Moscow
Judge Alexander Maslov
2:00 p.m., November 5

Moscow’s Lyublino District Court has been hearing the case of eight members of the little-known movement New Greatness, who have been accused of involvement with an “extremist” organization, as punishable by Articles 282.1.1 and 282.1.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. The prosecution’s case is based on testimony given by a person identified as “Ruslan D.,” who is presumably an informant employed by the security services. The defense has insisted it was “Ruslan D.” who encouraged the activists to create a political organization and drafted its charter.

Four of the defendants—Ruslan Kostylenkov, Pyotr Karamzin, Vyacheslav Kryukov, and Dmitry Poletayev—have been in police custody since March 2018. At the October 17 hearing, Kostylenkov and Kryukov slashed their wrists to protest the extension of their time in remand prison.

Three defendants—Anna Pavlikova, Maria Dubovik, and Maxim Roshchin—are under house arrest. The eighth defendant, Sergei Gavrilov, has left Russia and asked for political asylum in Ukraine. He is on the wanted list.

Mediazona has been covering the New Greatness Case.

Dmitry and Olga Prokazov (Child Custody Case)
Room 520 (Appeals Wing), Moscow City Court
Judge Olga Igonina
9:20 a.m., November 6

Dmitry and Olga Prokazov went to the protest rally in Moscow on July 27 with their one-year-old son. The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office decided they had put the boy in danger and asked the court to strip the couple of their parental rights. According to Dmitry Prokazov, on July 27 they had gone only to places where they saw no threat to their child.

“We were tired and decided to go home. I asked our friend Sergei [Fomin] to join us. He agreed and we headed home together. Sergei is my best friend, my childhood friend. He’s the godfather of my eldest son and my wife’s cousin. […] At some point, I asked Sergei to carry the child, and we went to the subway together and then home,” Prokazov recalled.

On August 15, police searched the Prokazovs’ home on the basis of a criminal investigation launched by the Investigative Committee, which suspected the couple of abandonment (Article 125 of the Russian Criminal Code) and failure to perform parental duties (Article 156). Defense lawyer Maxim Pashkov said investigators had no grievances against the couple after questioning them.

In early September, the Lefortovo District Court ruled in favor of the Prokazovs, refusing to deprive them of parental custody. The prosecutor’s office appealed the decision. The hearing at Moscow City Court has been postponed twice.

Penza Case (Main Trial)
Penza Regional Court
A panel of three judges, chaired by Yuri Klubkov
11:00 a.m., November 6, 7, 8

Seven antifascists—Maxim Ivankin, Vasily Kuksov, Maxim Kulkov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Anton Chernov, and Ilya Shakursky—have been charged with founding the “terrorist community Network.” According to the FSB, the defendants were planning to “stir up the masses in order to then destabilize the political situation in the country” and organize a rebellion during the 2018 presidential election and 2018 World Football Cup. The criminal case against the men was launched in the autumn of 2017.

Pchelintsev and Shakursky have said they were tortured with electrical shocks in the basement of the Penza Remand Prison. In September 2018, Sagynbayev, who initially pleaded guilty, said he had also been tortured into testifying. Another defendant, Viktor Filinkov, an alleged member of the Network’s Petersburg cell, has also said he was tortured with an electrical shocker after the FSB detained him.

Although the case is being heard by the Volga District Military Court, the hearings have been taking place at the Penza Regional Court. Experts and witnesses are to be examined at the upcoming hearings.

Mediazona has been covering the Penza Case.

Moscow Case: Eduard Malyshevsky (Merits Hearing)
Room 356, Tverskaya District Court, Moscow
Judge Belyakov
3:30 p.m., November 6

47-year-old Eduard Malyshevsky is accused of violence against a police officer (Russian Criminal Code Article 318.1). According to investigators, after he was detained at the July 27 rally, Malyshevsky kicked out the window of a paddy wagon, which grazed a police officer as it fell to the ground. The defense claims that when Malyshevsky saw two women being beaten by police, he was outraged and pounded on the window, but did not see the police officers next to the vehicle.

After the rally, a court sentenced Malyshevsky to thirteen days in jail for disorderly conduct (Article 20.1.1 of the Administrative Offenses Code). When he was released from the detention facility, Malyshevsky went home to Khimki. A month after the rally, on August 30, he was detained by police and remanded in custody.

Moscow Case: Nikita Chirtsov (Remand Appeal)
Room 225, Moscow City Court
10:00 a.m., November 7

Chirtsov, who took part in the July 27 rally, was detained in Minsk on August 28. Local law enforcement officials explained that Chirtsov, 22, was on the wanted list in Russia on suspicion of using violence against police officers and involvement in rioting.

Chirtsov was expelled from Belarus and banned from entering the country for ten years. On the evening of August 30, he flew from Minsk to Moscow. He was met at Domodedovo Airport by a Mediazona correspondent, but no one attempted to detain Chirtsov.

Chirtsov was detained only two days later, on September 2. Investigators charged him with only one crime: violence against a police officer (Russian Criminal Code Article 318.1), to which he has pleaded not guilty. Chirtsov was remanded in custody on September 3.

Moscow Case: Vladimir Yemelyanov (Remand Appeal)
Room 225, Moscow City Court
10:15 a.m, November 7

Yemelyanov, 27, is accused of grabbing [Russian National Guardsman] Kosov by the uniform at the July 27 protest and pulling him over, making it impossible for him to move and causing him physical pain. Yemelyanov has pleaded not guilty, insisting he did nothing illegal.

A store merchandiser, Yemelyanov suffers from asthma. An orphan, he lives with his 74-year-old grandmother and 91-year-old great-grandmother. Although his grandmother went to his custody hearing, the judge did not allow the parties to question her on the stand.

“I felt civically responsible for the people against whom force was used [at the July 27 rally] and took it upon myself to stop the illegal actions of the Russian National Guardsmen. For my part, I see nothing wrong in the fact that I tried to save a person,” Yemelyanov said in court.

Yemelyanov was remanded in custody on October 16.

Moscow Case: Andrei Barshay (Remand Appeal)
Room 225, Moscow City Court
10:30 a.m., November 7

Like the other defendants in the Moscow Case, 21-year-old Andrei Barshay, a student at the Moscow Aviation Institute, is accused of violence against a police officer, as punishable by Article 318.1 of the Russian Criminal Code.

According to investigators, Barshay pushed a Russian National Guardsman in the back at the July 27 protest rally. Barshay was detained only on October 14. He came to his custody hearing with a piece of paper on which he had written the words “Free Everyone!” On October 16, the Basmanny District Court remanded him in custody for two months.

After Barshay was sent to remand prison, his lawyers reported that his cellmates, who were ex-convicts, had joked about rape in their client’s presence and tried to persuade him to make a deal with investigators. Barshay was then sent for an inpatient psychological and psychiatric examination.

“Undesirable Organization” Case: Yana Antonova
Lenin District Court, Krasnodar
Judge Vitaly Gavlovsky
12:00 p.m., November 7

Antonova, a pediatric surgeon and former Open Russia coordinator in Krasnodar, is accused of involvement in the work of an “undesirable organization,” as punishable by Article 284.1 of the Russian Criminal Code.

The pretext for the case were two posts Antonova made on Facebook and her attendance of a protest rally. In the first post, she wrote about the lack of schools in Krasnodar; in the second, she encouraged people to attend a rally in support of Anastasia Shevchenko from Rostov-on-Don, who has also been charged with involvement in an “undesirable organization.”

Thanks to Elena Zakharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the 2019 Russian regional elections and the fallout from them, including the ongoing crackdowns against opposition politicians and rank-and-file protesters.

Olga Romanova: How “Law Enforcement” Works in Russia

calvey
Michael Calvey in court. Photo by Maxim Shemetov. Courtesy of Reuters and Republic

“We Give You Serebrennikov and You Give us Calvey”: How Law Enforcement Works
Olga Romanova
Republic
May 13, 2019

“Who would make the decision about your arrest?”

“My colleagues would betray me, but they would vet it with my bosses.”

“What about Vasya [a big businessman]?”

“Cops, the economic security squad. It’s enough for the word to come down from the district office to grab him. Vasya is a respected person. He’s a thief.”

“And me?”

“You’re an enemy of the state. If the neighborhood cops can decide to arrest Vasya, the Secret Chamber, so to speak, would have to give the orders to arrest you. The decision to arrest you would be made by no one lower ranked than Bortnikov’s deputy, although you’re naked and barefoot, and no one would ask the prosecutor’s office or the Investigative Committee to go after you. It’s creepy and pointless.”

This should give you an idea of the conversations I have with my acquaintances in the security forces nowadays. It helps to do business with people who know the score. None of them is surprised when you ask them who would arrest someone, how they would do it, and when they would do it. Everything would have been planned long ago, and there are no illusions. If a person has to be placed under arrest and charged, it is going to happen. If they do not need to be indicted, they can be kept in custody for a while. No one remembers, even for appearance’s sake, that there are courts in Russia, and courts decide whether to remand someone in custody after hearing arguments by all the interested parties. Everyone knows the decisions are not made in court.

Who Makes the Decisions?
Who made the decision to arrest Kirill Serebrennikov? Who decided to let him go for the time being? Who arrested Michael Calvey and the employees of Baring Vostok? Who let them out of jail? Why? Who made the decision to arrest Mikhail Abyzov?

There is no one with whom you can talk about these cases.

This is not quite true. My sources in all the law enforcement and security agencies, who can be frank with me as long as they remain anonymous, talk to me about these cases, too, but they look really worried when they do.

Rank-and-file law enforcement officers are confused. They do not understand why someone decided to back off the Serebrennikov case so abruptly and quickly. The train was rushing the director and filmmaker towards a sentence of the four years or so in the camps when a powerful hand jerked hard on the brakes. The passengers jumped off the train, of course, for they didn’t want to keep traveling in that direction, but the trainmaster, driver, and conductors were completely at a loss.

What should they do with the next train and its contingent of VIP passengers? Should they railroad them, as they were ordered to do, or should they avoid hurrying the case? After the emergency brake has been pulled, everyone emerges with injuries and bumps. Some of the crew were counting on promotions after they had wrapped up such a big case. Other members of the crew were acting on orders from a celestial. He will not forgive them because now they know there are tougher celestials in the system. He cannot forgive the people involved in the case for knowing that fact nor can he forgive the other celestials for intervening. The passengers could not care less. Either they get to where they are going or they do not get there, but the crew is always aboard the train.

True, a smart alec from the Investigative Committee told me something interesting about the procedural aspect.

“Why is everyone so angry? The Serebrennikov case was sent back to the prosecutor’s office, so what? You saw that the court ordered a forensic examination. The first forensic examination was really crooked. The judge in the trial of Serebrennikov’s accountant, Nina Maslyaeva,  wondered why everyone was so glad. Serebrennikov’s case would now be sent back to the prosecutor’s office because his circumstances are the same as Maslyaeva’s. You are mixing up cause and effect. The judge in the Maslyaeva case cannot reach a verdict because he understands the outcome of the forensic examination, which was the same as in the Serebrennikov case, will now be different, and Maslayeva will have to be re-indicted in the light of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case.”

Translated into ordinary language, he means the case can still go any which way. Procedurally, all the cards are still on the table, and the haggling could continue. Things could go one way or the other. The powers that be could change their minds and send Serebrennikov to prison, but they could also let him go. They could arrest him again and send him down. The statute of limitations is a flexible thing.

Somewhere above the clouds, the thunder gods fight over the case. Invisible to the world, they communicate with ordinary people by making motions to conduct additional forensic examinations. Ordinary people make of it what they will. Police investigators are also part of the rank and file, part and parcel of Russia’s unwashed masses.

In ordinary times, this is not what happens to ordinary defendants in ordinary cases. Everyone would have gone down five years each per capita, and no would have batted an eye. In this case, the decisions are obviously political. Look who made the decision! Who telephoned whom? What levers did they use? Who or what did they offer in exchange? Freebies are for freaks, after all. We will return to this subsequently when we discuss other factors.

If the boring procedural hypothesis made by my anonymous source at the Investigative Committee is right, events should unfold as follows. The authorities will get the results of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case. If the total damages are less than was claimed earlier (or, say, there were, miraculously, no damages at all), the charges against Serebrennikov and the other defendants will be dropped right in the courtroom. If, on the contrary, the sum of the damages is more or less hefty, a million rubles, at least, the defendants will be found guilty and sentenced to prison. Then you can appeal the verdict wherever you like.

No one would ask why a particular ruling was made. No one would ask what happened. Why are some people treated one way, while others are treated another way? The foot soldiers of law enforcement know the score. But when they do not know the score, they know it is better not to ask whether a mistake has been made but to follow orders.

How Things Go Down
The Calvey case bears a strong resemblance to the case against Vladimir Yevtushenkov. Yevtushenkov failed to take the hints. He was told directly what to do but refused to hand over his business. Then he was arrested and given a good talking. He and his captors came to an understanding. He was released and his business confiscated. Unlike Yevtushenkov, however, Calvey is as poor as a church mouse. Compared with Yevtushenkov, that is. Calvey does not own a Bashneft, after all.

The foot soldiers in the security forces have not been particularly surprised about how the Calvey case has unfolded. They expected something of the sort. They expected him to “cash out,” as they call it, and they believe he has, in fact, cashed out. They are uninterested in what this meant. It is not their war, and the spoils are not theirs to claim.

We should look at this more closely.

My source, whom I  trust, albeit warily, explains the obvious to me.

“All cases are business as usual except the cases in which there a phone call,” he says.

I have two questions for him right off the bat. What does he mean by “business as usual”? Who usually makes the  “phone call”?

He explains that people who follow high-profile cases and comment on them fail to take one important factor into account in their arguments. The high-profile cases are handled by another agency as it were. They involve the same players: the prosecutor’s offices, the courts, the remand prisons, and the Investigative Committee. All of them realize, however, when they are handling a special case involving the interests of high-ranking officials and elite businessmen. In these cases, they need to keep close track of which way the wind blows.

The bulk of cases are “mundane.” There is a huge number of such cases, and they can drag on forever. Take, for example, the Baltstroy case, the case of police anti-corruption investigator Boris Kolesnikov, and the case of ex-deputy culture minister Grigory Pirumov, cases that everyone has forgotten, and the Oboronservis case, the cases of the banks implicated in the so-called Russian Laundromat, and the case of Alexander Grigoriev, the man, allegedly, behind the Laundromat, who was mixed up with Putin’s cousin Igor Putin. New indictments in these cases are made all the time. More and more defendants are convicted in these cases and sent down. It never stops, but public interest in these cases is almost nil.

There are cases that collapse, however. Why does this happen?

Why was the case of ex-economics minister Alexei Ulyukayev not reviewed on appeal? Why was his prison sentence not reduced by four years during the sentencing appeal hearing? Does anyone know why? Perhaps the political spin doctors get it, but Russia’s law enforcers do not have a clue. What they understand is when an order comes down to reduce a sentence and when it does not. They leave the blabbing to the spin doctors.

Alexei Fedyarov is a former prosecutor from Chuvashia. Nowadays, he is the head of our legal department at Russia Behind Bars. He gave me permission to quote him.

“It happens. A case is going fine. In the morning, you have a meeting with your superiors. They tell you everything is great, keep pushing, you’ve got the bastards. I was handling a case against the management of the Khimprom factory in Novocheboksarsk. At briefings, I was told my group and I were doing a great job. We had done the initial investigation beautifully and now it was time to detain the suspects, remand them in custody, and put them away. I went to my office, where the city prosecutor was waiting for me. He asked me to hand over the case file. I gave him the case file and he told me it was over, I should forget it. He was personally going to deliver the case file to the head prosecutor of the republic and that would be the end of it.  There would be no supporting documentation or anything. The case really did disappear, although an hour before I had been told to push it.

“During that hour, the head prosecutor of the republic had got a message from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. A call from a deputy prosecutor general was enough for them to take the whole thing back, despite the fact it was a big, interesting case involving illegal wiretapping throughout the company and even the local police department and the tax police office. We had found tons of recorded conversations: they recorded everything. They were trying to protect themselves and investigate other people.”

Sources of the “Telephone Call”
How does the “telephone call” work?

The “telephone call” is a conventional name for the outcome of lengthy negotiations. We see only the reflection of this process: Calvey’s arrest, his transfer to house arrest, Serebrennikov’s arrest and his release on his own recognizance, Abyzov’s arrest.

I am going to quote my anonymous source verbatim. In this instance, the way he says what he says is as important as what he says.

“Anyone can hit the brakes. It could be Bortnikov. It could be Chaika. But it is the outcome of agreements among people, not an arbitrary decision. They do not do things that way. Maybe new factors have been brought into play, but there has to be someone who wants to negotiate on behalf of the accused person, who appeals on his behalf. He would be told, ‘Okay, fine. But you have to give us such-and-such in exchange.” Then it is a matter of talking with Lebedev [Chief Justice of the Russian Supreme Court] and everything is put into reverse. It could be like, ‘We’ll give up Serebrennikov if you take the heat off Calvey.’ You see, the siloviki are not all on the same side. There is no longer one side. Not even everyone in the FSB or its departments is on the same side. The Constitutional Department fights with the Anti-Terrorism Department. It’s the same thing in the prosecutor’s office and the Investigative Committee. In the Investigative Committee, there is the group loyal to Bastrykin and then they are the boys from the North Caucasus. There are also the guys from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, who are filthy rich but live orderly lives and are also capable of getting things done.

“Anything goes at this level. Why are you inclined to exaggerate how this works? Number One basically does not care about this stuff.”

I should try and explain.

The Investigative Committee and Prosecutor General’s Office are still at serious loggerheads. The conflict has even intensified. It is a personal conflict and a clash of business interests and a fight over resources. The amount of resources has not grown. On the contrary, there are palpably fewer resources. Relations between the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office are currently not just strained, they are intolerably strained.

In court, they take the same side, but those are the rules of the game. If a case has gone to trial, you cannot come out against your colleagues: you would be digging yourself a hole. As a prosecutor, you did not reverse the indictment. You were involved in prolonging the suspect’s custody in remand prison, and you seconded all the motions made by the case investigator. The case investigator, of course, always plays along with the prosecutor. In criminal trials, they are the prosecution.

Even the “groundlings” find it easier to make a deal. The big bosses may be at war with each other, but down on the ground, the workhorses plow away and know the score. There is no love lost for Bastrykin among Investigative Committee officers just as prosecutors are not fond of Chaika. But it is like this everywhere: people like their bosses only when they are standing right in front of them. There is a certain difference, however. Chaika and his deputies at the Prosecutor General’s Office are all former case investigators. They have paid their dues. Bastrykin does not have this background: he is not a criminologist. Their workhorses thus complain about different things. Bastrykin’s underlings complain about incompetence, while prosecutors grouse about their bosses’ passion for business.

The Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office have an innate tendency to divide up into clans, which are defined geographically: there are Circassian clans, Bashkir clans, etc. They are local fraternities of sorts, and they do not go away when someone moves and transfers to a new job. The clans are often at odds with each other. This is something you must always factor in when dealing with Russian law enforcers.

Internal disunity has also been increasing day by day in the conglomerate known as the FSB. Even mid-level officers have trouble getting along. For example, M Directorate, which oversees the Interior Ministry, the Federal Penitentiary Service, and so on, is often combined, in many regions, with the Economic Security Department, and there is a big problem with compatibility in terms of the cases they pursue. But there is also K Directorate, aka the 8th Directorate, which oversees banks and the financial system. Regarded as “blue bloods,” they are strongly disliked by other FSB officers.

“A guy from K Directorate worked out at the World Class gym where I worked out. His driver took him to work in a Maybach. Now he has transferred his membership to the gym in Zhukovka. A membership there costs 600,000 rubles a year [approx. $9,500] and the swimming pool is filled with mineral water. ‘My clients work out there,’ he said to me, ‘so I moved my membership there,'” an athlete and retired FSB veteran told me.

The FSB’s Constitutional and Anti-Terrorism Departments are a whole other story. They oversee everyone who has any dealings with the opposition and they inspire no confidence whatsoever. For example, I am flattered Kirill Serebrennikov and I are overseen by the same FSB officers. But we are overseen by officers from the Constitutional Department, while the Anti-Terrorism Department are working-class blokes who specialize in completely different cases. They were merged into a single directorate in which the Anti-Terrorism Department, supposedly, is subordinated to the Constitutional Department. Naturally, they cannot stand each other.

What about the top bosses? They are busy with other things, which is why they are in charge. They are busy with politicking and intrigues. These quiet squabbles surface as cases like the recent arrest of Colonel Kirill Cherkalin from K Directorate. Did he really take a bribe? Maybe he did: anything is possible. It is more likely, however, he was arrested as part of a war for turf, turf that has been shrinking exponentially with every passing day. Fattened cows no longer graze on this turf: there are basically no cows left to milk. The entire herd has been devoured.

What to Expect
I will quote in full the monologue my anonymous source delivered when I asked him about the future. I do no think there is any need to decode it.

“The turbulence will increase. Until all the issues with Russia’s natural gas and its transit through Ukraine are settled, Number One won’t have time for things happening here. They have been outsourced to our guys. They have been told to go and bite everyone’s heads off. They have temporary permission to do it.

“But there are few fat cats. All the money has been sent abroad. Everyone is living on loans. All of Rublyovka is up to their ears in loans. There will be searches in some people’s homes, and some folks will be ripped to shreds. There will be a lot of this kind of stuff this year. The government will be purged, too. People love this sort of thing.

“Abyzov made no impression on anyone. No one understood what it was about. The only thing people will remember is that he offered to pay a billion rubles in bail. No one will forget him and the billion rubles.

“Circumstances are such that even the system’s insiders cannot make any forecasts. The settings are changing constantly. There is no stable paradigm.

“It is like with water. At room temperature, we understand how it acts. You can stick your finger in it and blow on it. But now it is being warmed. It has not boiled yet and vaporized, but you do not know what to do with it and how it will act next.

“The tax police are busy with major shakedowns. They are kicking everyone’s ass. When we ask them why they are doing it, they reply, ‘Crimea is ours, and our job is to get people to make additional payments.’ But additional payments and penalties are different things, especially penalties meant to wipe people out. They are going after people’s last rubles.

“I have a friend who works as a business court judge on tax cases. Whereas earlier, when she would be asked why she reduced a claim from one hundred million rubles to ten million, she could have an off-the-record chat with the head judge of the court and explain she was doing it so the person could keep their business, such chats are not kosher nowadays.

“Hard times are coming. The Syrian project fell through, and Russia failed to get control of the pipeline going through Turkey. Nothing that was planned in Syria has worked out, and both the South Stream and Nord Stream projects fell through [sic]. Nor will they replace the Ukrainian transit, although that was the goal. But it impossible to exit Syria, and now they have butted their noses in Venezuela. Their luck has been bad. People’s nerves are on edge up top.

“Number One is interested only in oil and gas, and so other parties have got involved in the game. If it were up to Number One, he would crush everyone and no one would breathe another word. He probably decided the lower ranks should take care of this stuff themselves. The very top bosses are not concerned with these matters at all right now. The lower ranks are running things and a huge amount of haggling has been happening.  We are witnessing a classic turf war.”

Welcome to the magical world of turbulence in a pot of boiling water.

Olga Romanova is the director of Russia Behind Bars, a charitable foundation that aids Russian convicts and their families, people who have been victimized by the Russian justice system. Translated by the Russian Reader

Mark H. Teeter: Turn on the News

tumblr_m58pus9vFN1qz9qooo1_500Marilyn Monroe doing a spit-take.

And Now the News, With Somebody You Weren’t Expecting
Mark H. Teeter
Moscow TV Tonite
April 7, 2019

The accepted wisdom among high-dome media analysts here in Russia has been that Muscovites who checked on-the-hour radio news either tuned in Ekho Moskvy or Kommersant FM for actual news, in larger and smaller doses, respectively, plus commentary from sources who were relevant and informed or were supposed to be.

Or they got earfuls of untruths, half-truths or misrepresentations of the news from just about everywhere else on the dial, along with pseudo-commentary from various professional spokes-liars (presidential, ministerial, etc.) or professional dim bulbs (Russian MPs, selected idiots on the street, somebody’s cousin Vanya).

Whether or not you accept this accepted wisdom, there has been an interesting recent development you should note: an intriguing Third Way that you may have missed (as I did until recently) has opened up here in the New Muscovite ether for listeners keen on locally sourced radio news coverage. Its creators have given their project’s genre the highfalutin name Avtorskie Novosti, that is, Auteur News, by analogy with avtorskoe kino or auteur cinema.

You might, however, dub the genre The News from Somebody Noteworthy Who Doesn’t Do Radio News for a Living and Might Offer an Interesting Take on Today’s Edition of It.

Auteur News was the brainchild of the modest-sized NSN (Natsionalnaya Sluzhba Novostei), which described the project, as I discovered on its website, in alluring terms.

Auteur News from NSN is a radio program broadcast simultaneously by three stations (Nashe Radio, Rock FM, Radio Jazz) with a daily audience of 1.5 million people in Moscow and four million in Russia. The presenters of Auteur News are well known to listeners, as they are among the most famous people in the country. Currently, 200 contributors are involved in the project.

That thumbnail sketch should pique the interest of listeners numbed by Ekho’s necessary but wearisome good accounts of bad news and the embarrassing agitprop elsewhere on the dial: “President Vladimir Putin today signed another new law to make life better and happier.”

Question No. 1 in the minds of potential listeners would likely be, “Wait, just who are the Auteur 200?” And they would be right to ask. Nikita Mikhalkov is certainly a famous person, for example, but many people would feel more confident getting their news and commentary from a bag of doorknobs.

But let’s start with the glass half full: a brief retelling of how I came across Auteur News.

The wife and I often put on Radio Jazz quietly as background music to dinner, when the grandson, who hates jazz, isn’t joining us.

We were listening to it with one ear, as usual, when the news came on at 8:00 p.m. one recent evening.

Imagine my surprise when a measured female voice from the seemingly politics-free jazz station launched into a four-point litany of items-plus-commentary that seemed like something you’d call Real News with Real Attitude.

The Ministry of Finance, Radio Jazz told us, had “refused to provide the Russian Academy of Sciences funding for international scholarly and scientific cooperation,” which would result in Russia “finding itself in the backwaters of science again, the fruits of which we already know from the Soviet period.”

A repeat of that would be, the voice continued, a “very sad” prospect.

Hmm! My one-ear listening quickly ratcheted up to one-and-a-half-ear listening.

Radio Jazz continued on a more upbeat note.

“Kirill Serebrennikov’s ballet Nureyev was named Ballet of the Year by the jury of the professional music award BraVo,” with the presentation taking place at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

This wouldn’t seem a particularly newsworthy story: the ballet had won a sizable basket of international awards since its premiere in 2017. Ah, but then you recalled the scandals surrounding the production here, including the arrest of the director, and the overall public attitude toward things artistic identified with “non-traditional orientations.”

But the announcement of the award was not the end of the item, as the presenter continued.

“I had the good fortune to see the ballet Nureyev It really is a wonderful ballet, striking from many points of view. And considering that Kirill Serebrennikov, in fact, staged the ballet by long distance, so to speak, the outcome is little short of a miracle. It is sad our national know-how is linked to creative events in ways that are not positive. But I would like to congratulate Serebrennikov on this well-deserved award. May he have the strength to overcome all his trials.”

Wow, just wow. It dawned on me what I was hearing was not only not The News in Putinese. It was news-plus-opinion that would make many Putinistas angry and hostile. I was beginning to wonder whether black sedans and a police van were heading toward Radio Jazz that very minute.

Next, Radio Jazz reported that an ominous institution called the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, which sounds even more ominous in Russian (Federalnaya Sluzhba Ispolneniya Nakazanii, or Federal Service for the Enforcement of Punishments) now “want[ed] to oblige its employees to apologize to prisoners in cases where their rights and freedoms have been violated.” As in, “Sorry for the rubber hoses and the knuckle sandwich there, Petrov, we didn’t mean to, y’know, violate your rights and freedoms and stuff.”

As absurd as it sounded to me, it sounded even worse to the Radio Jazz news commentator.

“What a Kafkaesque reality! We will torture people, but then apologize to them. I don’t really understand how these things go together. Lately, I’ve been seeing various features of the old utopian Soviet mindset in a great number of legislative acts. You get the feeling lawmakers don’t understand what is happening in reality at all and create an attractive little mockup of it for themselves, to placate their consciences. As in, ‘Go right ahead, citizens, demand an apology from your jailers for beating and torturing you.'”

Kafka and sarcasm are surely justified in passing along this news item, I agree, but it was still hard to believe my ears. At this point, I was experiencing a flashback impulse to close the kitchen door and huddle around the radio so the neighbors wouldn’t hear us listening to illegal “foreign voices”!

The final item Radio Jazz offered its evening listeners to ponder was a question about as philosophical as a news broadcast gets: How happy are you?

First, the context.

“Finland is the happiest country in the world,” Radio Jazz told us by way of summing up the annual World Happiness Report. “This ranking of global happiness takes into account GDP per capita, life expectancy, charitable contributions, social support, the level of freedom and the level of corruption in terms of their impact on residents ‘vital decisions.’”

Well, Miss Radio Jazz News gave the neighboring Finns plenty of credit.

“Frankly speaking, I am ready to agree right off with this award, because in Finland they do a huge number of social projects. The Finnish people try to be at the center of their own culture. For example, if a festival takes place in a large city in this country, the residents of the surrounding villages are brought there free of charge by bus so  they can be involved in culture. I won’t even mention many other important laws related to social status, support for the population, and so on. In sum, we should follow the path of Finland, and not, say, North Korea.”

The last time I heard a Russian newsreader say, “Let’s not be North Korea” was, let’s see here, carry the two, ah, that’s right: never. Which was why I almost lost a mouthful of after-dinner decaf doing a Danny Thomas spit-take over the kitchen table as the news ended. A little went up my nose, but it was still worth it.

After the shock wore off, a little laptop skating yielded some background on the presenter and commentator of that evening’s edition of Auteur News: “Irina Prokhorova, editor-in-chief of the publishing house New Literary Review, specially edited what she thought were the top stories of the day for NSN.”

All I could say was, Nice job, Irina, and here’s hoping you get another turn at Auteur News before unpleasant men in ill-fitting suits are sent to chat with you at your place of work.

A further bit of web surfing still did not yield what I wanted most: a list of the Auteur 200 and a schedule of their appearances for, say, the upcoming month. But I did dig up a little more background.

I discovered that Auteur News had been on the air for nearly five years, and over 200 presenters had contributed, including politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, politican and TV presenter Pyotr Tolstoy, football star Ruslan Nigmatullin, actor Sergey Bezrukov, rock musician Andrei Makarevich, writer Sergey Lukyanenko and other Russian celebrities.

This was clearly a very hit-and-miss kind of thing, I could tell. You can imagine setting a long jump record with a sudden vault across the kitchen to turn the radio off before “Auteur News with Vladimir Zhirinovsky” (or Pyotr Tolstoy) abused your eardrums, but if such leaps of faith were what it took to get the likes of Makarevich, long implicitly banned from state-controlled media as an “enemy of the people,” back in the public arena, then maybe it was worth it, I figured.

Yes, perhaps sharing the airwaves with the loud and confused was not too great a price to pay for getting a great unheard voice of reason heard again.

And that, it has long been assumed here, is the same devil’s bargain by which the majority Gazprom-owned Ekho Moskvy stays on the air: lowbrow types and state shills get air time so real news and sane views can reach millions who would otherwise have to scan the dial for “foreign voices” or, more likely, give up the dial altogether and simply glue their eyes and ears to social media.

Which doesn’t sound so bad at first blush, until you recall that social media were instrumental in blessing our brave new millennium with President Donald Trump, who has in turn introduced us to a new and apparently effective form of zombie-generating, masses-manipulating monologue that substitutes for press releases, news conferences, and indeed governance itself: the Auteur Tweet.

Yikes.

In any case, I was still bothered by one thing: how a longtime listener to Radio Jazz could have remained blissfully unaware of Auteur News for the first five years of its existence. Were the presenters less outspoken before? Or did my long-suffering ears simply click automatically to OFF for any radio news that happened to reach them from a station other than Ekho or Kommersant? Possibly both, but one more net search yielded a more likely answer.

This time, I turned up NSN’s original announcement of Auteur News, dated November 7, 2012, which noted the program would air only on weekdays, and only twice daily, at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. If you were merely a one-ear listener, and your dinner usually ended before eight, it obviously took a bracing shot of Irina Prokhorova to get your attention.

This last search also produced a much better picture of the fabled Auteur 200, as the original announcement named names that were big time; indeed, almost all of them, as the list ran to some 178 people (if my count was correct). And the Big Picture spectrum is a broad one: there are plenty of presenters an educated listener would definitely like to hear an earful from. Beyond Makarevich, the list included director Serebrennikov himself, historian and journalist Nikoai Svanidze, progressive politician Irina Khakamada, saxophone legend Igor Butman, political scientist Nikolai Zlobin, filmmaker Alexei Uchitel, theater director Konstantin Raikin, satirist Mikhail Kononenko, producer and composer Stas Namin, national elections commissioner Ella Pamfilova, and a bunch more.

That said, there are just as many (probably more, actually) who would make the same listener wish he had taken his high-school long jump practice more seriously. Beyond Zhirinovsky and Tolstoy, you find motorcycle gang leader Khirurg (The Surgeon), the “pranksters” Vovan and Leksus, dim Duma stalwarts such as . . . but why list the losers here, have a look for yourself.

And relax. While there are definitely some wildcard types, including several rock musicians who use a single name (ask your grandson), you won’t find Director Doorknobs on the list. At least not yet.

Which is a reminder that, while Auteur News is a real find, without an updated contributor list and a schedule for it, you’ll need to be wary.

Irina Prokhorova was a great way to start, but the next presenter you hear might well focus on Putinista bikers running amok in Crimea.

Be prepared to leap.

Mark H. Teeter, a former opinion page editor and media columnist for the Moscow Times and the Moscow News, is the editor of Moscow TV Tonite on Facebook. His original article was lightly edited to conform with TRR’s nonexistent style guide. My thanks to Mr. Teeter for letting him reprint his article here.

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Maria Kuvshinova: What Sentsov Could Die For

What Sentsov Could Die For
Maria Kuvshinova
Colta.Ru
May 25, 2018

Detailed_pictureOleg Sentsov. Photo by Sergei Pivovarov. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Colta.Ru 

On May 14, 2018, Oleg Sentsov went on an indefinite hunger strike in a penal colony located north of the Arctic Circle. His only demand is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. According to Memorial’s list, there are twenty-four such prisoners.

In August 2015, Sentsov was sentenced to twenty years for organizing a terrorist community and planning terrorist attacks. The second defendant in the case, Alexander Kolchenko, was sentenced to ten years in prison. Mediazona has published transcripts of the hearings in their trial. Around three hundred people have read them over the last three years. The transcripts make it plain the only evidence of the alleged terrorist organization’s existence was the testimony of Alexei Chirniy, who was not personally acquainted with Sentsov. It is police footage of Chirniy’s arrest while he was carrying a rucksack containing a fake explosive device that propagandists often pass off as police footage of Sentsov’s arrest.

Before his arrest, Sentsov was an Automaidan activist. In the spring of 2014, he organized peaceful protests against Crimea’s annexation by Russia.

“Yesterday’s ‘suicide bomber auto rally’ took place in Simferopol yesterday, but in quite abridged form,” Sentsov wrote on Facebook on March 12, 2014. “Only eight cars, six reporters with cameras, and twenty-five activists/passengers assembled at the starting point. I would have liked to have seen more. Unfortunately, most of the armchair revolutionaries who were invited were afraid to go. The traffic cops and regular police also showed up at the starting line, insisting we not leave for our own safety. We told them our protest was peaceful. We had no plans of breaking the rules, so we suggested they escort us to keep the peace for everyone’s sake.”

The second defendant, Kolchenko, admitted involvement in the arson of an office that was listed in the case file as belonging to the United Russia Party, but which in April 2014 was an office of Ukraine’s Party of Regions. The arson took place at night. It was meant to cause physical damage while avoiding injuring anyone.

The Russian authorities tried to prove both Sentsov and Kolchenko were linked with Right Sector, a charge that was unsubstantiated in Sentsov’s case and absurd in the latter case due to Kolchenko’s well-known leftist and anarchist convictions. Gennady Afanasyev, the second witness on whose testimony the charges against the two men were based, claimed he had been tortured and coerced into testifying against them.

Sentsov and Kolchenko’s show trial, like the show trials in the Bolotnaya Square Case, were supposed to show that only a handful of terrorists opposed the referendum on Crimea’s annexation and thus intimidate people who planned to resist assimilation. The Russian authorities wanted to stage a quick, one-off event to intimidate and crack down on anti-Russian forces. But two circumstances prevented the repressive apparatus from working smoothly. The first was that the defendants did not make a deal with prosecutors and refused to acknowledge the trial’s legitimacy. The second was that Automaidan activist Oleg Sentsov unexpectedly turned out to be a filmmaker, provoking a series of public reactions ranging from protests by the European Film Academy to questions about whether cultural producers would be capable of blowing up cultural landmarks. Segments of the Russian film community reacted to the situation with cold irritation. According to them, Sentsov was a Ukrainian filmmaker, not a Russian filmmaker, and he was not a major filmmaker. The owner of a computer club in Simferopol, his semi-amateur debut film, Gamer, had been screened at the festivals in Rotterdam and Khanty-Mansiysk, while release of his second picture, Rhino, had been postponed due to Euromaidan.

The Ukrainian intelligentsia have equated Sentsov with other political prisoners of the empire, such as the poet Vasyl Stus, who spent most of his life in Soviet prisons and died in Perm-36 in the autumn of 1985, a week after he had gone on yet another hunger strike. The Ukrainian authorities see Sentsov, a Crimean who was made a Russian national against his will and is thus not eligible for prisoner exchanges, as inconvenient, since he smashes the stereotype of the treacherous peninsula, a part of Ukraine bereft of righteous patriots. Sentsov’s death on the eve of the 2018 FIFA World Cup would be a vexing, extremely annoying nuisance to the Russian authorities.

Sentsov is an annoyance to nearly everyone, but he is a particular annoyance to those people who, while part of the Russian establishment, have openly defended him, although they have tried with all their might to avoid noticing what an inconvenient figure he has been. Although he was not a terrorist when he was arrested, he has become a terrorist of sorts in prison, because his trial and his hunger strike have been a slowly ticking time bomb planted under the entire four-year-long post-Crimean consensus, during which some have been on cloud nine, others have put down stakes, and still others have kept their mouths shut. Yet everyone reports on the success of their new endeavors on Facebook while ignoring wars abroad and torture on the home front. Sentsov represents a rebellion against hybrid reality and utter compromise, a world in which Google Maps tells you Crimea is Russian and Ukrainian depending on your preferences. To what count does “bloodlessly” annexed Crimea belong, if, four years later, a man is willing to die to say he does not recognize the annexation?

The success of Gamer on the film festival circuit, which made Sentsov part of the international film world, and his current address in a prison north of the Arctic Circle beg three questions. What is culture? Who produces culture? What stances do cultural producers take when they produce culture? There are several possible answers. Culture is a tool for reflection, a means for individuals and societies to achieve self-awareness and define themselves. It is not necessarily a matter of high culture. In this case, we could also be talking about pop music, fashion, and rap. (See, for example, the recent documentary film Fonko, which shows how spontaneous music making has gradually been transformed into a political force in post-colonial Africa.) On the contrary, culture can be a means of spending leisure time for people with sufficient income, short work days, and long weekends.

Obviously, the culture produced in Russia today under the patronage of Vladimir Medinsky’s Culture Ministry is not the first type of culture, with the exception of documentary theater and documentary cinema, but the founders of Theater.Doc have both recently died, while Artdocfest has finally been forced to relocate to Riga. The compromised, censored “cultural production” in which all the arts have been engaged has no way of addressing any of the questions currently facing Russia and the world, from shifts in how we view gender and the family (for which you can be charged with the misdemeanor of “promoting homosexualism”) to the relationship between the capitals and regions (for which you can charged with the felony of “calling for separatism”). Crimea is an enormous blank spot in Russian culture. Donbass and the rest of Ukraine, with which Russia still enjoyed vast and all-pervasive ties only five years ago, are blank spots. But cultural producers have to keep on making culture, and it is easier to say no one is interested in painful subjects and shoot a film about the complicated family life of a doctor with a drinking problem and a teetotalling nurse.

When we speak of the second type of culture—culture as leisure—we primarily have in mind Moscow, which is brimming over with premieres, lectures, and exhibitions, and, to a much lesser extent, Russia’s other major cities. So, in a country whose population is approaching 150 million people, there is a single international film festival staged by a local team for its hometown, Pacific Meridian in Vladivostok. All the rest are produced by Moscow’s itinerant three-ring circus on the paternalist model to the delight of enlightened regional governors. It matters not a whit that one of them ordered a brutal assault on a journalist, nor that another was in cahoots with the companies responsible for safety at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam, where 75 people perished in 2009. What matters is that the festival movement should go on. There is no room in this model for local cultural progress. There can be no free discussion generated by works of art when everyone is engaged in total self-censorship. After I went to Festival 86 in Slavutych, whose curators have been conceptually reassessing the post-Soviet individual and the post-Soviet space, I found it painful to think about Russian film festivals. This sort of focused conceptualization is impossible in Russia. It is of no interest to anyone.

There are two more possible answers to the question of what culture is. Culture is propaganda. Or, finally, culture is only the marquee on a commercial enterprise profiting at the taxpayer’s expense. It is not a big choice, and the kicker is that by agreeing today to be involved in churning out propaganda, milking taxpayers, supplying optional leisure time activities, producing censored works, and colonizing one’s own countrymen for the sake of money, status, and membership in a professional community, the people involved in these processes automatically stop making sense. It is naïve to think the audience has not noticed this forfeiture. It is no wonder the public has an increasingly hostile reaction to cultural producers and their work.

No one has the guts to exit this vicious circle even in protest at the slow suicide of a colleague convicted on trumped-up charges, because it would not be “practical.” The events of recent months and years, however, should have transported us beyond dread, since everyone without exception is now threatened with being sent down, the innocent and the guilty alike.

Post-Soviet infantilism is total. It affects the so-called intelligentsia no less than the so-called ordinary folk. Infantilism means being unable to empathize, being unable to put yourself in another person’s shoes, even if that person is President Putin, a man with a quite distinct sense of ethics, a man who has been studied backwards and forwards for twenty years. Apparently, the message sent to the creative communities through the arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov was not registered. If you want to be a dissident, start down the hard road of doing jail time for misdemeanor charges, facing insuperable difficulties in renting performance and exhibition spaces, becoming an outsider, and experiencing despair. If you want a big theater in downtown Moscow, play by the rules. Like your average late-Soviet philistine, Putin regarded the creative intelligentsia with respect at the outset of his presidential career. (See, for example, footage from his visit to Mosfilm Studios in 2003.) However, a few years later, he was convinced the creative intelligentsia was a rampantly conformist social group who would never move even a millimeter out of its comfort zone and would make one concession after another. A lack of self-respect always generates disrespect in counterparts.

By signing open letters while remaining inside the system and not backing their words with any actions whatsoever, the cultural figures currently protesting the arrests of colleagues are viewed by the authorities as part of the prison’s gen pop, while people who live outside Moscow see them as accomplices in looting and genocide. No one takes seriously the words of people who lack agency. Agency is acquired only by taking action, including voluntarily turning down benefits for the sake of loftier goals. The acquisition of agency is practical, because it is the only thing that compels other people to pay heed to someone’s words. I will say it again: the acquisition of agency is always practical. At very least, it generates different stances from which to negotiate.

Sentsov has made the choice between sixteen years of slow decay in a penal colony and defiant suicide in order to draw attention not to his own plight, but to the plight of other political prisoners. Regardless of his hunger strike’s outcome, he has generated a new scale for measuring human and professional dignity. It is an personal matter whether we apply the scale or not, but now it is impossible to ignore.

Thanks to Valery Dymshits for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexei Malobrodsky: Speech in Court

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Alexei Malobrodsky, former director of Moscow’s Gogol Center theater, in Moscow City Court on September 6.

Zhanna Zaretskaya
Facebook
September 6, 2017

Alexei Malobrodsky is awesome. I am speechless. He is tough as nails.

What follows is the speech Malobrodsky made in Moscow City Court on September 6, 2017. Everyone who considers himself or herself a decent person in this fucked-up country, which destroys the best people and supports thieves and scoundrels, should read this.

“Today is the seventh court hearing in which I have taken part. Your honor, honor has a place in court. All parties to the proceedings should be guided by the law. So the police investigators should follow these rules. How long can they make do with false accusations and false facts? The team of investigators has been mocking the law. They have not carried out any investigative actions. They have only been busy with lies and intimidation. I refuse to take part in any investigative actions in handcuffs. I have a right to be treated decently and presumed innocent. When the investigators suggest I ‘confess to something or other,’ I refuse to reply. Except for the ridiculous story about [Gogol Center’s production of] Midsummer Night’s Dream, I have not been suspected of anything. I have been denied visits from and communication with my wife; my property has been arrested, our things and dishes; my and my wife’s work and home computers have been confiscated. What is this, if not coercion? I am ready to cooperate with the investigators and answer their questions, but don’t force me to bear false witness against my colleagues.”

Over thirty people agreed to stand surety for Alexei Malobrodsky, including Chulpan Khamatova, Lev Rubinstein, Vladimir Mirzoyev, Vasily Sigarev, Andrei Moguchy, Marina Davydova, Elena Koreneva, Ksenia Larina, and Yevgenia Shermeneva. But he was left behind bars.

I ask you to repost this text and Alexei’s speech so that as many people as possible find about Alexei Malobrodsky, who has been behind bars since June 21, although no charges have been filed against him.

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

Dust in Our Eyes

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“A third country hostile to the United States may have been involved.”

You don’t say? And what country might that have been?

Meanwhile, some of the most respected political pundits I know in this country have adopted as an article of faith that Putinist Russia is an “ordinary authoritarian regime.”

Why have they adopted this article of faith? Did the Archangel Gabriel appear to them in a dream and tell them the good news?

No. They’ve persuaded themselves this is the case so they don’t have to think about things such as why their country’s operatives tried to cause permanent hearing damage to US diplomats at the US embassy in Havana; why their country has invaded and occupied parts of Ukraine; why an unidentified agent of their country’s security forces went to the grassroots memorial to Boris Nemtsov in downtown Moscow the other day and broke the nose of the activist standing vigil there, thus eventually killing him; why their country’s armed forces have aided the bloody dictator Bashar Assad in crushing the massive popular rebellion against his tyrannical regime, a war that has killed, according to some estimates, at least half a million people, not to mention the millions of people it has forced to leave the country; why the country’s most famous theater director, Kirill Serebrennikov, has been arrested on manifestly absurd trumped-up charges; why their country has tried, valiantly it has to be said, to mess with elections in several other countries, including the US; and so on.

My catalogue of ships could have been a hundred times longer. It could have spanned as many of the past eighteen years as I would have liked or been limited to the last week or two. But what’s the point? Do all or any of these behaviors strike you as typical of an “ordinary authoritarian regime”?

They strike me, at very least, as the actions of an extraordinarily aggressive regime, hellbent on pushing its way back to the top (of what?) on the cheap, risking all-out war in the process, and long engaged in a “cold civil war” with its own people.

And so, some of Russia’s hepcat political pundits have adopted this new article of faith so that, no matter what new hellish stupidity the Putin regime commits at home or abroad today or tomorrow (it does something of the sort almost literally every day; sometimes, ten times a day) they can remark dryly to their concerned foreign colleagues, “Don’t look so worried. It’s just an ordinary authoritarian regime.” TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

Fruits and Vegetables

“Fruits Vegetables”

Anyone who blames the US Foreign Service and its 755 staffers, most of them Russian nationals, who even as I write this are either being removed from their posts and sent back to the States, or (the vast majority) summarily fired without cause from their jobs at the US embassy in Moscow and the US consulates in Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok, for the earth-crushing “visa crisis” now “unfairly affecting ordinary Russians,” should actually try and figure out what is going on and who is to blame for the so-called crisis before writing yet another wildly misinformed Facebook or Telegram post about how it’s all the fault of Donald Trump, the State Department, and the obtuse staffers in the visa departments at the US embassy and consulates in Russia.

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, is to blame for the “crisis,” because it was he who ordered the summary dismissal or removal of 755 embassy and consulate personnel by September 1, 2017.

He knew quite well his order would, among other things, make it difficult for the US embassies and consulates to process visa requests at the pace required by all those “ordinary Russians” and to do this in the big cities where they either live or live near.

But I have seen hardly any mention of Putin’s role in the affair, especially in the tumultuous fountain of collective wisdom known as Facebook, where yet another festival of free-floating anti-Americanism has erupted.

President Putin, if he actually read Facebook, would be pleased to see what some of his countrymen have been writing, because he would be witnessing the wild flowering of the anti-Americanism he has been carefully planting in place of communism as the country’s ruling ideology over the last eighteen years.

I admit he has been going about it in a way that sometimes suggested he was, instead, “fostering better relations” with the US, but nobody who has actually been following the vicissitudes of his regime and his actual moves and key policy statements would have been fooled by that transparent ruse.

But enough of Putin. He’s a super villain and can thus be excused for doing mean, hurtful things to hundreds of people he has never met. That’s his job.

What about his virtual countrymen, who for the last several days have been writing lots of mean, hurtful, and stupid things about hundreds of people, most of whom they have never met, most of them on the verge of losing jobs some of them have held for one or two decades (the Russians) or being uprooted again and sent to another posting after getting settled in Russia (the actual US diplomats)?

What have they done to deserve your wrath?

Nothing.

Which means, at least, that the minimum of solidarity you could have shown them as they go through something that will cause many of them and their family members a great deal of anguish, to put it mildly, was to think harder for a few minutes, find out what was really going on, and figure out who was really to blame for the problem, instead of once again taking an absolutely useless but “emotionally satisfying” punch at the Great Satan, as if you were taking your cues from Putin himself or the late Ayatollah Khomeini, Allah bless his soul.

I realize what I’ve written will be nearly inscrutable to people who have reacted this way. They just want their visas—and they want them now.

So I’ll leave it at this. Now matter how many times you may have been to the US and how much time you’ve spent there, you’ve demonstrated to me you’re not exactly friends of my country.

At the same time, you’ve shown you feel no solidarity for your own real countrymen, who are losing their jobs because a whimsical tyrant and his clique of friends have decided to rule Russia for as long as they can or until they drain it dry, whichever comes first.

Is the US State Department and its Russian national employees to blame for that state of affairs, too?

No.

So, at very least, you also have a very odd, contemptuous attitude toward your own countrymen and your own country.

Hence your signal inability to blame the man who actually caused the “crisis” for causing it.

Not to mention he scares you to death, so it’s always wiser to blame someone else for his regime’s excesses. It’s a lot safer to verbally roast the State Department, Kirill Serebrennikov, Kirill Serebrennikov’s accountant, and so on, for the “stupid mistakes” they made.

Anyone smarter than they are wouldn’t have done the stupid things they did, and we know you’re all much smarter than the State Department, Kirill Serebrennikov, his accountant, and all the other, now nearly countless victims of the eighteen-year-old Putinist tyranny. TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader