The number of protests has been continuously growing in Russia throughout the year. In the first quarter, 284 protests were recorded; in the second quarter, 378; and in the third quarter, 445. Thus, as noted in the report, the overall number of protests has increased by almost 60% since the beginning of the year.
The analysts at the CEPF divide protests into political protests, socio-economic protests, and labor protests. They note that around 70% of protests had to do with socio-economic issues, including protests by Russian truckers against the Plato road tolls system, and protests by Russian farmers against the seizure of land by agroholdings, as well as protests by hoodwinked investors in unbuilt cooperative apartment buildings.
The number of conflicts related to labor relations has also steadily climbed throughout the year. The number of protests caused by cases of late payment and non-payment of wages, for example, has grown as follows: 142 in the first quarter, 196 in the second quarter, and 447 in the third quarter. Thus, by the third quarter, the number of such incidents had more than tripled.
The authors of the CEPR report cites figures provided by Rosstat, according to which the amount of unpaid back wages in Russia totaled 3.38 billion rubles [approx. 49 million euros] as of October 1, 2017. The number of incidents of late payment and non-payment of wages in the third quarter of 2017 (447 companies) was more than triple the number of such incidents in the first quarter (147 companies), and more than double the number in the second quarter (196 companies).
The analysts point out that Russia has not yet put in place a system for preventing and constructively solving social conflicts, and thus protests are still nearly the only effective means for employees to defend their rights.
“We should generally expect the high number of protests nationwide to continue, especially in the socio-economic realm. This is due to the fact the problems people (hoodwinked investors, truckers, farmers, opponents of construction projects, environmental activists et al.) have been currently protesting have not been solved. At the same time, evolution of the protest movement has been greatly hampered by the lack of capable political parties, grassroots organizations, and trade unions,” write CEPR’s analysts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (second right) and National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov (third left) take part in a ceremony marking National Guard Day in Moscow on March 27. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Klimentyev/TASS
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed legislation to widen the responsibility of the National Guard, an entity created last year and headed by Putin’s former chief bodyguard, to include protecting regional governors.
The bill was published on the website of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on November 6.
The Duma is dominated by the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party and supports almost all Kremlin initiatives.
The proposed change could enhance Putin’s ability to crack down on dissent or seek to impose order if there is unrest in Russia’s far-flung regions.
The National Guard reports directly to the president. Its director, Viktor Zolotov, was chief of the presidential security service from 2000 to 2013.
The initiative comes months before a March 18 election in which Putin is expected to seek and secure a new six-year term.
Putin will be barred from seeking reelection in 2024 if he does win a fourth presidential term in the March vote, raising questions about how Russian politics will play out in the coming years and how he will maintain his grip.
Putin established the National Guard (Rosgvardia) in 2016 on the basis of the Interior Ministry troops and other security forces.
Its stated tasks initially included preserving “social order,” fighting against terrorism and extremism, and guarding state facilities.
The National Guard announced that it will be also responsible for a fingerprints database, issuing weapons-possession licenses, averting “threats to state order,” and protecting information security.
At the same time as he has been getting ready for the anti-corruption protests, Navalny has been opening election campaign headquarters in different cities. These events have also been subject violent attacks. In Barnaul, Navalny was doused with Brilliant Green antiseptic (zelyonka). In Petersburg, the door of his headquarters was set on fire. In Volgograd, Navalny was dragged by his feet and nearly beaten.
Not Only Navalny: Crackdowns on Freedom of Assembly
Long-haul truckers have planned a nationwide strike for March 27. Around twelve people were detained during a meeting of truckers in Vladivostok. Police claimed they had received intelligence on a meeting of mafia leaders. In Krasnodar Territory, an activist got three days of arrest in jail for handing out leaflets about the upcoming strike.
Moscow City Court ruled that meetings of lawmakers with their constituents should be regarded as the equivalent of protest rallies.
The Constitutional Court ruled the police can detain a solo picketer only if it is impossible to ensure security. The very next day, two solo picketers bearing placards on which Vyacheslav Makarov, speaker of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, was depicted as a demon were detained by police.
Criminal Prosecutions and Other Forms of Coercion
Sergei Mokhnatkin, whose spine was broken in prison, was sentenced to two years in a maximum security penal colony for, allegedly, striking a Federal Penitentiary Service officer.
As for talk of a new Thaw, two Ufa residents, accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, had their suspended sentences changed to four years in a penal colony.
In Stavropol, Kirill Bobro, head of the local branch of Youth Yabloko, was jailed for two months, accused of narcotics possession. Bobro himself claims police planted the drugs on him.
A graduate student at Moscow State University was detained and beaten for flying a Ukrainian flag from the window of his dormitory. In addition, he was forced to sign a paper stating he agreed to be an FSB informant. Ukrainian journalist Roman Tsymbalyuk was detained while trying to interview the graduate student.
What to Read
LGBT activist Dmitry Samoilenko describes how he has been persecuted in Kamchatka for a brochure about the history of gender identity in the Far North. Activist Rafis Kashapov, an activist with the Tatar Social Center, who was convicted for posts on the social networks, sent us a letter about life in a prison hospital.
The Week Ahead (March 26—April 1)
Closing arguments are scheduled for March 27 in the trial of Bolotnaya Square defendant Maxim Panfilov, who has been declared mentally incompetent. Prosecutors will apparently ask the judge to sentence him to compulsory hospitalization.
On March 29, an appeals court is expected to hear the appeal against the verdict of Alexander Belov (Potkin), co-chair of the Russians Ethnopolitical Movement.
Thanks for Your Attention
We continue to raise money for our monitoring group, which collects information on political persecution and takes calls about detentions at protest rallies. Thanks to all of you who have already supported us. You can now make monthly donations to OVD Info here.
Farmers Plan Another Tractor Convoy Rosbalt
March 13, 2017
Krasnodar farmers intend to hold another protest against the illegal seizure of land on March 28, Alexei Volchenko, chair of the grassroots organization Polite Farmers, announced at a press conference at Rosbalt News Agency. According to Volchenko, the tractor convoy will set out from the village of Kazanskaya in the Krasnodar Territory’s Kavkazsky District and spread to other regions.
“You’ve all heard about the African Swine Fever that has been making its way around Russia. Farms are being destroyed, subsidiary farms are being destroyed, and people are simply going hungry. They take out million of rubles in loans to get their farms going, and as we see now, due to the fact these farms are being destroyed, people are hanging and shooting themselves. It’s a total mess,” said Volchenko.
The tractor convoy will be held as part of nationwide strike by truckers. Earlier, strike organizers announced their intention to call for the abolition of freight charges on federal highways and an amendment of the regulations concerning freight haulage. If the authorities do not react to the strike, the truckers will call for the government to resign.
According to Volchenko, organizers of the protest have faced pressure from officers of the regional Investigative Committee and the FSB. Criminal cases have been opened against several of the activists.
“This convoy is mainly about the fact that the squeeze has been put on farmers. Instead of helping farmers in some way (in fact, the problems of farmers are not so great: they canbe solved), criminal charges are filed against them,” Volchek added.
Polite Farmers activist Nikolai Maslov underscored the fact that the convoy participants so far have no plans to make political demands, insisting only that their legal rights are honored.
“We would like the situation resolved. For the time being we are not making political demands,” he said. “We don’t want a revolution, we know our history. We just want to solve our problems through dialogue.”
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up
Protesting Truckers Make Political Demands On Anniversary of Anti-Plato Protests, Police Were Lying in Wait for Activists at Famous Parking Lot in Khimki and Quickly Detained Them; Ambulance Summoned to Courtroom
Dmitry Rebrov Novaya Gazeta
November 12, 2016
The problems with the “anniversary”—it was exactly a year ago, on November 11, 2015, that Russian truckers kicked off their protest against the newly introduced Plato road tolls system—started long before the D-Day designated by the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR). On November 9, it transpired that the Khimki mayor’s office would not permit them to gather at their old spot under the MEGA sign, the place where trucks had stood parked for nearly six months.
The truckers responded by decided to replace the rally with a series of solo pickets, but problems arose in this case as well. First, the truckers, who had been going to the parking lot and checking it out over the course of the year, were not admitted to the site of their former camp. Arriving twenty-four hours before the start of the pickets, Mikhail Kurbatov, one of the movement’s leaders, discovered signs saying, “Truck traffic prohibited,” and a police squad who forcibly removed him from the parking lot. A video showing the police twisting his arms has already been posted on the web. And on the morning of the eleventh, it was discovered that maintenance services had managed to pile the spot itself with snow, given that the weather was forthcoming.
However, a genuinely cold reception lay in store for the activists.
“There will be protest rallies today in twenty-two regions, so there aren’t so many people here. All the activists have gone to their home regions to rock the boat. But Muscovites have bitten the bullet and installed Plato, because it costs to protest, and we are not a united group,” said activist Igor Melnikov, standing next to a blue truck emblazoned with the OPR logo.
He was trying to explain why no more than a dozen people had assembled for the rally.
Melnikov is a Muscovite himself, just like the five regular volunteers who have been helping the Khimki protesters since last winter.
“Not everyone would choose to travel to Khimki in this weather,” Melnikov continued. “That is partly why, in place of the banned rally, it was decided to hold a big rally on Suvorov Square in Moscow on November 12, and restrict ourselves to a small detachment here in Khimki.”
The rally in Moscow has been supported by the Communists.
“What of it? I know who the Communists are, that they destroyed my country. I grew up under them. But that is okay. They can hold the microphone. We’ll live through it!” Yekaterina Bolotova, a perky brunette, put in her five kopecks.
Bolotova, a private entrepreneur, lives in Lyubertsy. She has been in business since the 1990s.
While we were chatting, a grader kept shoveling dirty snow towards the MEGA sign as freezing rain fell.
“There is already more than three of you. What are you doing here?”
A delegation from the Moscow Regional Criminal Investigative Department had arrived to test the waters. Two gloomy figures, both dressed in black, approached us, obviously reluctantly. The larger of the two men showed us his ID: “Oleg Nikolayevich Kuznetsov.” The second man did not show us his badge, but explained the reason for the visit.
“The bosses sent us.”
“Speaking frankly, we’re expecting certain people,” the cops said in a roundabout way. “The people who are going to protest Plato.”
“We are those people. What else do you want?” the truckers unceremoniously informed them.
The police then withdrew, asking us not to photograph their faces.
“I’m a secret agent. My face cannot be published!” said “Oleg Nikolayevich Kuznetsov” self-importantly.
“Well, if you’re so secret, why don’t you stay at home, since we can’t look at you?” a trucker retorted.
Meanwhile, a paddy wagon and reinforcements were pulling up at the impromptu checkpoint behind them.
“We now have political demands. In addition to abolishing the Plato system, we want transport minister Maxim Sokolov to resign, Prime Minister Medvedev to resign, and the repeal of Article 20.2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code, which covers violations at political rallies, because it is insanity. People are no longer able to voice their opinions,” said Kurbatov.
According to the OPR’s official website, the truckers propose leaving only the fuel excise tax intact and scrapping the transport tax. They support judicial reform, including the recertification of all judges. And they want “all embezzlers to face criminal charges.”
Some of these demands are a natural response to the endless jail terms and arrests the once apolitical truckers have faced. Other demands have emerged in the aftermath of discussions with political activists who regularly visited the protest camp last winter.
Looking for the “Core” Activists
“Are they making arrests?”
“He raised flags on his trucks!”
We dashed through the snowdrifts to the other end of the parking lot, where a dozen cops were packing Sergei Einbinder, an activist with the Interregional Trade Union of Professional Drivers, into a car.
Led by Alexander Kotov, the Khimki protesters had managed to come to an agreement with police spokespeople about joint actions for the first time in a long time. Kotov had once led the resistance, but quickly surrendered, as the Khimki protesters explained, causing general annoyance among the striking truckers. Instead of blocking the Moscow Ring Road and driving a convoy into downtown Moscow, under Kotov’s leadership the protest had bogged down in attempts to slow down the “radicals” and in endless negotiations with federal MPs. Now, apparently, the irritation with Kotov had passed.
“The security forces had pressured Kotov back then,” explained Bolotova, a Kotov supporter.
She had come to Khimki to establish contacts, but unlike Eibinder, she had immediately gone over to her colleagues.
Bolotova had also been dragged in for interrogations by the Lyubertsy police and Center “E.”
Similar coercion had led to a break with the group of activists who had fought the Rotenbergs most fiercely, the Dagestanis. None of their members was present at Friday’s rally.
“At the moment, we have lost contact with Dagestan,” admitted Kurbatov. “All our work there was tied to Rustam Mallamagomedov, but after he was beaten up while we were waiting for the [Krasnodar] farmers in a camp near Rostov and then sentenced to administrative arrest in absentia, he was basically forced to give up the cause and go to ground. Currently, we are not even in contact with him.”
Kurbatov added that security forces coerced and terrorized the Dagestani truckers the most harshly.
“Are You Freezing?”
When, an hour later, the truckers emerged from the MEGA mall, where they had gone to get out harm’s way and discuss strategy, to take up their solo pickets, the police amassed in the parking lot reacted almost instantly.
The first to be sent to the precinct were Yekaterina Bolotova and Igor Melnikov. By midday, the security forces had managed to cram all the truckers, all their volunteer helpers from Khimki, and even the journalists, including a crew from TV Rain, into the paddy wagon.
“What we predicted last year has happened. As soon as [parliamentary] elections had taken place, the moratorium on raising rates was lifted. In fact, the government did not even keep its own promise of freezing prices until July 2017. So we decided there was no time to lose, and we have hit the streets, although we were not very well prepared,” said Kurbatov.
By six in the evening on Friday, all the detainees had been delivered to Police Precinct No. 1 in Khimki. But it proved difficult to find out what the truckers had been charged with.
In the morning, the truckers’ attorneys informed us that Sergei Einbinder, who had been detained first, had cut his hands and face to protest the police’s actions.
“After twenty hours at the precinct, they hadn’t even allowed me to see a lawyer or explain what I was being charged with, so I decided to take extreme measures,” Einbinder told Novaya Gazeta by phone.
Earlier, Einbinder had tried to leave the police station on his own after surrendering his internal passport, but police responded by detaining two lawyers that had been provided for him by the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). The two lawyers, Vitaly Serukanov and Artyom Khemelevsky, have already been released. The journalists taken down to the precinct with the truckers were released the same day. No arrest reports were filed against them nor were they subjected to additional questioning.
By Saturday, it had transpired the truckers involved in the protest had been charged with disobeying the police (Article 19.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code) rather than for violating the rules of public rallies (Article 20.2).
Elena Filippova, press secretary for the truckers, who was detained along with them, related what conditions have been like for the activists at the police station. According to her, the female activists who have been helping the truckers and the truckers themselves slept in separate cells.
“In the women’s cells, the three of us were given one dry mattress, which we could sleep on, and two wet mattresses. We have now just thrown out the wet mattresses. Apparently, they had long been waiting their turn, and such an occasion had presented itself. Girls had shown up at the station: why not torment them a bit? In the morning, one of the cops gleefully asked, ‘Are you freezing?’ We have been allowed to use the toilet only twice in twenty hours, and we had to demand to be given food, which was brought only six hours later.”
Court hearings commenced only at two in the afternoon, and they looked likely to run until Saturday evening.
After numerous requests, Sergei Einbinder was transported from the courthouse by an ambulance crew.
Currently, truckers Mikhail Kurbatov, Vladimir Sinitsyn, Dmitry Lazar, and Igor Melnikov, their assistants Ivan Gushchin and OPR press secretary Elena Filippova, and activist Olga Reznikova, who also was involved in Friday’s protest, are still in police custody.
Kuban Farmer Shoots Himself over Illegal Seizure of Land
Gella Litvintseva Proved.rf
October 1, 2016
A farmer in Krasnodar Territory has committed suicide because he was unable to get back a thousand hectares of land that had been illegally seized from him, according to Alexei Volchenko, organizer of the August 2016 tractor convoy and a farmer from the Kalininskaya Distrist.
“Nikolai Gorban, a farmer in the Timashyovsk District, shot himself. It happened three days ago. A thousand hectares of land were confiscated from him by court order. The man wrote a suicide note in which he named the people he blamed for his death. Prior to this, gangsters came to his place, threatening him and promising to do away with his family. His loved ones are now preparing for the funeral,” says Volchenko, head of the Kalininskaya District Peasant Farm Enterprise.
According to Volchenko, the victim received the land plot after buying the shares from the land’s owners. After the court ruled the land confiscated, he tried to get it back, but failed.
“The farmer had his own land. He had bought it from other shareholders, like himself, and had it marked off and registered. But later the meeting of shareholders [at which they had decided to sell the land to Gorban — TRR] was declared null and void by the courts, and the land was returned to the collective farm, which Oleg Makarevich has been trying to get his hands on. The farmer went to see Natalya Kostenko, of the Russian People’s Front [a pro-Putin astroturfed “civil society” organization — TRR], to ask for help. He went personally to see her twice, and he called her. He went to see Andrei Korobka, deputy governor of Krasnodar Territory, and asked him for help. He met with me. He said, ‘I’ve lost everything. I’m going to put a bullet in my head.’ I told him not to do anything, that all was not lost, that in the end it wasn’t worth his life. I told him we would tough it out, we would beat them come what may. But he said, ‘I don’t want to live.’ I tried to dissuade him, but now we’ve found out it’s all over,” recounts Volchenko.
“We got ready and went to Yeysk. I went into the hotel where the event was going to take place. They looked at me like I was an idiot. ‘Young man, are you smoking something or popping pills? What presidential envoy? What journalists? We have nothing scheduled.’ I went outside and saw cars with tinted windows, FSB officers walking around, and Vyacheslav Legkodukh (the Krasnodar governor’s envoy for farmer relations) sitting in a cafe and eating. I got the picture. I went to the farmers and said, ‘This is a setup. Let’s leave for home on the sly.’ They wanted us to gather outside the hotel so they could arrest us again for holding an unauthorized assembly,” recounts Volchenko.
Earlier, the protesting farmers met with Alexander Chernov, chair of the Krasnodar Territorial Court, who promised he would review all the cases the farmers requested. For now, he is their only hope.
“All the judges say Chernov is a very decent man, and keeps his word. Currently, farmers have won some of the cases that were before the courts. There are positive results, but it’s not clear whether this will be enough, because right now several farmers are under tremendous pressure, Nikolai Maslov, for example. Certain media outlets have been writing that he is a raider, that he has been trying to grab land from Shestopalov and his honest Dmitriyevskoye Agricultural Enterprise. But people just want to mark off and purchase their own land, 200 bloody hectares. Tremendous pressure has been exerted through the press. Andrei Koshik, a Kuban journalist, went to Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow and tried to get the journalists to publish this garbage. They refused and wrote about it on Facebook,” says Volchenko.
The problems of Kuban’s farmers became widely known in the spring, when they decided to travel to Moscow by tractor to tell the president about illegal land seizures in Krasnodar Territory and about corruption in the local courts and district councils. To capture the president’s attention, over the course of seven months the farmers released doves with messages for him, held several rallies in a field, set off for Moscow in tractors, and wrote to the president’s public relations office. Their tractor convoy in August ended on day two in Rostov-on-Don, when the farmers were jailed and fined. Subsequently, convoy participants have been subjected to continual pressure from local authorities and law enforcement agencies.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Anatrrra for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Viktor Pogontsev and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, where the caption to the photo reads, tellingly, “Record grain harvests in the Kuban region in recent years have bothered certain local farmers. They have been demanding a new redivision of the land.” Rossiyskaya Gazeta is the Russian government’s daily newspaper of record.
Arrest Dagestani Trucker Refuses to Report to Jail Voluntarily
Dmitry Rebrov Novaya Gazeta
September 16, 2016
The Rostov Regional Court ordered the arrest of a Dagestani trucker who took part in the tractor convoy of Krasnodar farmers, but law enforcement officials “forgot” to detain him.
On September 16, the court considered Dagestani trucker Rustam Mallamagomedov’s appeal of an August 26, 2016, ruling by the Aksay District Court. The court had found the activist guilty of violation of Article 188.8.131.52 of the Russian Misdemeanors Code (involvement in an illegal political rally) and arrested him in absentia for ten days.
The regional court judge confirmed the district court’s ruling, despite the fact that, by law, a ruling of this kind can be issued only in the defendant’s presence. Mallamagomedov was not present at either hearing. According to his attorney, Valentin Pyshkin, this is the source of the conflict. The police “forgot” to detain the trucker preliminarily, so in spite of the administrative arrest issued against him, Mallamagomedov continues to remain at liberty to roam the streets [sic], and has no intention of voluntarily “correcting” the mistake made by law enforcement officers.
“The thing is there no standard procedure as to what the police should do now. An administrative arrest cannot be issued in absentia. This is nonsense. For an individual to be put under administrative arrest he has to be present in the courtroom. At any rate, he is not obliged to report to jail himself. He bears no responsibility for failing to report to jail. Moreover, he cannot be detained and sent there forcibly, either, since this is not stipulated by Russian law,” said Pyshkin.
“Only arrest on criminal charges can be ordered in absentia,” the lawyer stressed.
In this case, the court can issue a detention order before the defendant is detained, Pyshkin explained. But this principle is not valid in the case of administrative [misdemeanor] violations. The lawyer was hard pressed to say what law enforcement officers would do now. In his opinion, it would be easier just to abolish the questionable ruling. That, however, is not what has happened.
“The Rostov Regional Court did not listen to our arguments, nor, when the case was heard on the merits, did it want to examine any of the witnesses we had brought to the hearing. And all our motions were rejected,” said Pyshkin.
When our correspondent asked about the trucker’s current whereabouts, the attorney declined to answer, saying that the telephones could be bugged. He did confirm, however, that Mallamagomedov was currently not in Rostov Region.
Beaten by the police when the tractor convoy was dispersed, the trucker himself does not admit his guilt.
“Aside from the fact we didn’t organize any political rally, it was the police who didn’t let the farmers and us leave our camp. I was elsewhere the day our other comrades were arrested,” Mallamagomedov explained to Novaya Gazeta by telephone.
“On August 22, the day before the convoy was dispersed, I was beaten by the police guarding the camp. After that, I went to the hospital and the Investigative Committee, where I stayed until the evening of August 23. On the morning of the 24th, I went to the police station to find out how the guys were doing. I was detained there, but police did not draw up an arrest sheet. I felt sick while I was sitting there and left again in an ambulance,” he added.
Nevertheless, during his time at the precinct, police officers confiscated the driver’s internal passport without explanation. Apparently, it was then they drew up the charge sheet that was the basis for the Aksay District Court’s August 26 ruling to arrest the missing activist. After receiving medical treatment, the trucker had no intention of returning to the police station voluntarily, since he had been held there without processing of the proper papers, that is, illegally. He could not attend the August 26 hearing, either, because he was undergoing outpatient treatment.
When it is a matter of arrest, the individual is usually detained first, and then taken before a judge. Then he is sent from the courtroom to jail for ten days. The court’s administrative ruling is thus implemented. The majority of truckers and farmers detained during the tractor convoy were taken to the police station and sentenced to jail terms ranging from five to ten days, in that order. They have served their sentences and returned home long ago.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Anatrrrafor the heads-up
According to Jim Jarmusch, director of the film by this name: “Down by law, at the time in the mid-80s, was kind of in use on the streets as meaning a very close connection with somebody. If somebody was down by law, they were close to you or you would protect them. I know that, earlier, in prison slang, if somebody was down by law, and they got out before you, they would contact your family or look after people outside if you needed them to. So it meant something very close or a code. I really liked the contradiction of that, being something that sounds like being oppressed by the law, which of course under that condition is where the slang came from. So, I liked that contradiction of it. And I liked it also in terms of the film being contradictory in that they are oppressed by the law but they also become down by law with each other.”
In Moscow, Farmers Talk about Latest Arrests, Beatings
Anna Bessarabova Novaya Gazeta
September 14, 2016
Nina Karpenko, a farmer from Krasnodar Territory’s Kanevskaya District, told our correspondent that late last week, during the maize harvest, seven men attacked her workers and the assistants of a court-appointed manager. A combine driver, who had earlier spent three days in jail for involvement in the thwarted tractor convoy to Moscow, has now been hospitalized. One of the men attempted to record the attack on a video camera, but he was thrown to the ground, his equipment was broken, and the recording was erased, said Karpenko.
On September 13, Kuban law enforcement officers blocked the car of Alexei Volchenko, leader of the farmers’ protest movement, as he drove to Ryazan to take part in the All-Russian Congress of Farmers and Cargo Haulers.
“They said they wouldn’t let him leave the region, held him up for a while, but then stopped pestering him. But Lyubov Nikishova, head of a farm in the Novokubansk District, has been put under house arrest. She has been charged under Article 119 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (threat of murder),” explains another outraged farmer, Nikolai Maslov. “You saw her during the tractor convoy: she’s small and thin. She told the deputy presidential envoy in the Southern Federal District about the machinations of Rosreestr (Russian Federal Registration Service) and the attack on her farm. This summer, two palookas entered her house and beat her up, but when she grabbed an ax to defend herself, they photographed it and went to the police. No, she didn’t hurt anyone. It was a set-up.”
Nikiskova herself claims that immediately after the incident she filed a complaint with the Territorial Directorate of the Interior Ministry.
“It was sixteen pages long, and the medical examiner’s report was appended (there were visible traces of the assault on my body), as well as documents about the seizure of land shares and illegal fiddling with the land. 172 pages in all. It is still lying around somewhere. Unlike those marauders, they will put me away, despite the fact I am taking care of my sick mother. She has cancer, but that doesn’t bother anyone. As a criminal, they won’t let me out of the house. They’re afraid I won’t settle down and will go higher up the chain of command.”
According to Elena Dryukova, a farmer from the Kavkazsky District, Krasnodar Territory Governor Veniamin Kondratiev said recently that Kuban’s peasants had no problems, and that the tractor convoy, an attempt by the farmers to make themselves heard to the President of Russia, was an election campaign show.
They Got Out of Their Tractors
Why the so-called common people are increasingly joining the ranks of the so-called fifth column Gazeta.ru
August 29, 2016
The arrest of the people involved in the tractor convoy, as well as new protest rallies in Togliatti after Nikolai Merkushin, governor of Samara Region announced wage arrears would “never” be paid off, are vivid examples of the top brass’s new style of communicating with people. After flirting only four or five years ago with the common people, as opposed to the creacles from the so-called fifth column, the authorities have, in the midst of a crisis, been less and less likely to pretend they care about the needs of rank-and-file Russians. Moreover, any reminders of problems at the bottom provokes irritation and an increasingly repressive reaction at the top.
Previously, top officials, especially in the run-up to elections, preferred to mollify discontent at the local level by promising people something, and from year to year, the president would even personally solve people’s specific problems, both during his televised town hall meetings (during which, for example, he dealt with problems ranging from the water supply in a Stavropol village to the payment of wages to workers at a fish factory on Shikotan) and during personal visits, as was the case in Pikalyovo, where chemical plant workers also blocked a federal highway. Nowadays, on the contrary, the authorities have seemingly stopped pretending that helping the common people is a priority for them.
The people have made no political demands in these cases. Moreover, the main players in these stories almost certainly belong to the hypothetical loyal majority.
The people who took part in the tractor convoy against forcible land seizures even adopted the name Polite Farmers, apparently by analogy with the patriotic meme “polite people,” which gained popularity in Russia after the annexation of Crimea.
In 2011–2012, the authorities used approximately the same people to intimidate street protesters sporting political slogans. That was when the whole country heard of Uralvagonzavod, a tank manufacturer whose workers promised to travel to Moscow to teach the creacles a lesson. Subsequently, the company’s head engineer, Igor Kholmanskih, was unexpectedly appointed presidential envoy to the Urals Federal Distrtict.
Back then, the cultivation of a political standoff between working people from the provinces and slackers, “State Department agents,” and self-indulgent intellectuals from the capitals seemed pivotal, but in the aftermath of Crimea and a protracted crisis, it has almost been nullified.
The people are still important for generating good ratings [via wildly dubious opinion polls — TRR], but it would seem that even rhetorically they have ceased to be an object of unconditional concern on the part of the government.
Nowadays, the authorities regard the requests and especially the demands of the so-called common people nearly as harshly as they once treated the Bolotnaya Square protests.
The government does not have the money to placate the common people, so people have to be forced to love the leadership unselfishly, in the name of stability and the supreme interests of the state. Since politics has finally defeated the economy in Russia, instead of getting down to brass tacks and solving problems with employment and wage arrears, the regime generously feeds people stories about war with the West. During a war, it quite unpatriotic to demand payment of back wages or ask for pension increase. Only internal enemies would behave this way.
“We are not slaves!” Coal Miners on Hunger Strike in Gukovo. Published on August 25, 2016, by Novaya Gazeta. Miners in Gukovo have refused a “handout” from the governor of Rostov Region and continued their hunger strike over unpaid wages. Video by Elena Kostyuchenko. Edited by Gleb Limansky.
So the coal miners in Rostov, who have continued their hunger strike under the slogan “We are not slaves,” have suddenly proven to be enemies, along with the farmers of Krasnodar, who wanted to tell the president about forcible land seizures, and the activists defending Torfyanka Park in Moscow, who were detained in the early hours of Monday morning for, allegedly, attempting to break Orthodox crosses, and the people defending the capital’s Dubki Park, slated for redevelopment despite the opinion of local residents, and the people who protested against the extortionate Plato system for calculating the mileage tolls paid by truckers, and just about anyone who is unhappy with something and plans to make the authorities aware of their dissatisfaction.
Grassroots initiatives, especially if they involve protests against the actions or inaction of the authorities, are not only unwelcome now, but are regarded as downright dangerous, almost as actions against the state. This hypothesis is borne out by the silence of the parliamentary opposition parties. In the midst of an election campaign, they have not even attempted to channel popular discontent in certain regions and make it work to their advantage at the ballot box.
The distinction between the so-called fifth column and the other four has blurred.
Nowadays, the fifth column can be a woman who asks a governor about back wages. Someone who defends a city park. Farmers. Coal miners. Even the workers of Uralvagonzavod, which in recent years has been on the verge of bankruptcy. The contracts the state had been throwing the company’s way have not helped, apparently.
If the authorities, especially local authorities simply afraid to show federal authorities they are incapable of coping with problems, continue to operate only through a policy of intimidation, they might soon be the fifth column themselves, if only because, sooner or later, they will find themselves in the minority.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sean Guillory for the heads-up
A surprisingly frank and dead-on editorial from Gazeta.ru, who usually have not struck me as wild-eyed radicals, about how the Russian authorities have increasingly come to behave as if nearly the entire Russian population, including the so-called common people, is a gigantic fifth column arrayed against them.
The reason they have sunk into this black pit of reaction is that the current regime is simply incapable of solving the country’s numerous political, social, and economic crises, because it has directly or indirectly generated nearly all of them, including the utter lawlessness in Krasnodar Territory that was finally too much for a group of farmers who climbed into their tractors and set out for Moscow several days ago. But because even allegedly simple farmers can become a fifth column as soon as they draw attention to their sorry plight and the role of the authorities in it, they got only as far the neighboring Rostov Region on their tractors before the police shut them down.
This editorial is also valuable for its catalogue of similar conflicts, most of which you probably have never heard of because they are not well covered or covered at all by the western press and only marginally better by Russian print and online media. Russian mainstream TV outlets mainly avoid them altogether, as do most of the opposition parties currently contending for seats in the Russian State Duma and regional legislatures, as the editorialists point out.
So the hunger-striking miners in Gukov and their wives are left to their own devices when dealing with their creepy regional governor, no doubt a KGB vet, who all but accuses them of acting on behalf of the CIA, although they just want to get paid for their hard, thankless work.
The only grain of salt one should chew while reading this editorial is the fact that these local grassroots campaigns have been going in rather large numbers across Russia throughout Putin’s 17-year reign. And in many cases the altogether uncommon common people who fought these battles were fifth-columnized (through beatings, murders, and jail time) as badly as the current grassroots campaigners mentioned by the editorialists. During the fat years of the noughties, however, times were much better economically in the Russian capitals for a lot of people than they had been just a few years earlier, so they preferred not to notice too hard what was going on in their midst, much less some part of their country they would never dream of visiting even.
The Putinist state has been waging a cold civil war against the people of Russia for seventeen years whether the media has noticed it or not. But a lot of the common people have noticed. TRR
“They Have Really Gone After Us” After returning to Krasnodar Territory, participants of tractor convoy feel the heat from the very people against whom they complained
Anna Bessarabova Novaya Gazeta
August 28, 2016
The farmers were threatened during the convoy. We will stage a second Novocherkassk massacre for you and dice you like cattle in a slaughterhouse, they were told by security officers, who after the protest was dispersed have been zealously carrying out checks of their homes and farms.
Around thirty FSB officers raided Nikolai Borodin’s farm in the village of Kazanskaya, which they turned upside down. The tax inspectorate has been looking into property owned by the relatives of protest leader Alexei Volchenko. Other men have been interrogated by the prosecutor’s office. Nina Karpenko escorted her driver Seryozha Gerasimenko, a young fellow with three small children, to the detention center. He has been jailed for three days. The other men were also issued misdemeanor charge sheets: the authorities even went to the trouble of delivering the documents to their homes. The hearings took place on the weekend (Saturday) in the Kavkazsky District. Sergei Gorbachev was jailed for five days, Slava Petrovsky, for four days, Andrei Penzin and Semyon Smykov, for three. The rest of the protesters are waiting their turn.
“Nearly everyone in the villages has been paid visits by prosecutors and police,” farmer Ludmila Kushnaryova told Novaya Gazeta. No one knows what they are looking for. Or what the charges will be, either. The pressure has not stopped.”
“I cannot believe this is happening to us, in our country. We had no idea it would be so frightening,” said Nina Karpenko. “They have really gone after us. The deputy chief of the district traffic police escorted my tractor drivers and me to the hearings. He followed us for 250 kilometers. Whatever for? There were two people working in the courthouse on Saturday: the judge and the chairman. Didn’t they have anything else to do?”
Nikolai Maslov and Oleg Petrov, two convoy participants jailed for ten days, have been transferred to Novocherkassk.
“Dad called early this morning. He said everything was alright. But who knows. Maybe he just didn’t want to scare us?” said Igor Maslov, worried about his father. “We still haven’t found lawyers for them. How much do you think they’ll gouge us?”
Alexei Volchenko’s colleagues and friends have been looking for him. He has not been answering calls to any of his phones. He is not to be found in his home village. He has disappeared. The last thing the farmers heard was that Volchenko had been fined in Rostov Region. He made it back to Kuban, where he was detained again and sentenced to ten days in jail in Ust-Labinsk. The authorities are now, allegedly, preparing to charge him with extremism.
The Russian government, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the Russian Investigative Committee have been pretending nothing is happening in Kuban. The official TV channels have been airing election campaign spots about the ruling party’s ability to listen to people, but they have not aired any stories about the events in Krasnodar Territory. They have maintained their silence for a week.
Alexander Popkov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, Boris Titov, federal commissioner for the rights of entrepreneurs, former Federation Council member Ivan Starikov, and Russian Federal Public Chamber chair Georgy Fyodorov have promised to help the participants of the tractor convoy.
“Obviously, the farmers have committed no offenses, and the wild imitation of law enforcement involving riot police and arrests for a ‘rally’ in a cafe are aimed at suppressing a peaceful and reasonable protest campaign,” said lawyer Alexander Popkov. “The first thing we are going to do is file appeals, and then we are going to see whether there is any point in beating our heads against the courts in Russia or whether we should immediately file a class-action complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.”
“I have been in contact with the farmers, their wives, and their children. They are drafting an appeal, and next week we plan to hold a big press conference in Moscow,” Ivan Starikov informed Novaya Gazeta. “Their problem needs to be solved systemically. People’s land shares are being confiscated, and there are around 300,000 victims of this practice nationwide.”
According to Valentin Pyshkin, attorney for convoy participants Nikolai Maslov, Oleg Petrov, and Sergei Vladimirov, the farmers have filed an appealed against the court decisions that sentenced them to ten days in jail.
“But we won’t get an answer earlier than Monday,” the lawyer explained. “On August 26, I was not admitted to the Novocherkassk detention center and allowed to talk with my clients, because, you see, according to their internal regulations, prisoners are entitled to representation by a lawyer only from two to four in the afternoon. It is an odd rule. But at four o’clock I had a court hearing in Aksai. Rustam Mallamagomedov from the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) was on trial. On August 24, he had gone to the police station on his own to find out what had happened to the detainees, and the police didn’t let him back out of the station.”
Truckers Ready to Fight for Farmers
Andrei Bazhutin, chair, Russian Association of Carriers (OPR):
“We arrived from Petersburg to Moscow, where we were getting ready for a car convoy through Siberia. We learned about the arrest of the tractor convoy on the morning of August 23 and changed our plans. We went to support the tractor drivers. We were stopped by police for eight hours on the Moscow Ring Road, and eight hours in Voronezh Region. Along the way, we were written up for violating Article 20.2 of the Misdemeanors Code [“Violation of the established rules for organizing or holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket” — Novaya Gazeta], but they did not stop us from traveling further.
“By the time we got to Rostov, two of our activists [who had been with the tractor convoy from the beginning — Novaya Gazeta] had been sentenced to ten days in jail, while another two had been fined 10,000 rubles. Now we are here in Rostov: we have four big rigs and some cars. We are working with the lawyers and human rights activists and trying to help the guys out. We think it is necessary to gather journalists and advance on Krasnodar Territory to draw attention to these court hearings. Center ‘E’ [the Interior Ministry’s Center for Extremism Prevention — TRR] has intimidated everyone here.
Court Orders Arrest of Tractor Convoy Organizer and Participants Lenta.ru
August 28, 2016
The Kavkazsky District Court in Krasnodar Territory has ordered the jailing of Alexei Volchenko, leader of the Polite Farmers movement, and eleven other participants of a planned tractor convoy to Moscow. Quoting Olga Golubyatnikova, a member of the Krasnodar Territory Public Oversight Committee, the news website Caucasian Knot reported the arrests on Sunday, August 28.
Volchenko will spend ten days in jail for not authorizing the convoy with Krasnodar Territory authorities. The other farmers will spend between five and ten days in jail. According to Golubyatnikova, the leader of the Polite Farmers admitted his guilt “due to pressure from the police.” According to her, Volchenko said at his court hearing that a policeman had threatened to charge him with extremism.
Golubyatnikov also reported that Volchenko would be serving his administrative arrest in the Ust-Labinsk detention center.
On August 24, the Rostov Regional Prosecutor’s Office organized an inquiry into the legality of the farmers’ protest.
The Krasnodar farmers’s convoy set off on August 21. Fifty people in seventeen tractors and several passenger vehicles left the village of Kazanskaya in Krasnodar Territory’s Kavkazsky District and headed towards Moscow. They had planned to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to solve the problem of the courts, which, in their view, issued unjust rulings [sic]. On August 22, the activists were invited to meet with Kuban authorities and temporarily halted the procession. On August 23, they were detained by police officers.
Translated by the Russian Reader
See my previous dispatches on the ill-fated Krasnodar tractor convoy: