Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist

rudomakhaAndrei Rudomakha. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page and the Moscow Times

On the Watch: The Story of Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist
Vladimir Prikhodko and Angelina Davydova
Proekt
October 2, 2019

Protests against waste landfills, the clearcutting of parks, and illegally enclosed forests—the environment has been a frequent topic of regional protests in Russia. Persecution by the authorities, criminal cases, beatings, and even murders are everyday risks for environmental activists. Proekt tells the story of the persecution of the head of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EcoWatch), which has been going on for almost forty years.

They go to bed late in the private house on Kerchenskaya Street in Krasnodar. The place resembles a commune. This is the home and office of Andrei Rudomakha and Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus aka EcoWatch, perhaps the most famous grassroots environmental organization in Russia. Rudomakha has led EcoWatch for fifteen years.

At 5:55 a.m. on July 30, everyone was asleep. At that moment, Investigative Committee investigator Sergei Kalashnikov and an unidentified FSB officer in a mask rang the doorbell. Not waiting for the homeowner to open the door, they ordered Emergencies Ministry officers to break down the gate. Within a couple of minutes, officers in masks had flooded the house, and two masked men with automatic rifles had thrown Rudomakha to the floor. When Rudomakha attempted to get up, the officer holding the activist pepper-sprayed him in the face.

Enemies of the State
This was the fifth search at EcoWatch in less than three years, and the second in the last four months.

“That morning, I was supposed to go to court in Maykop to face charges that we allegedly broke the law on ‘undesirable organizations’ by linking to Open Russia’s website on our sites and social media pages. My trip was canceled because of the search, and no one from our group was at the court hearing. Naturally, we lost the case,” says Rudomakha, meeting with our correspondent at the selfsame commune-like house.

EcoWatch was the first nonprofit organization in Russia to be found guilty of collaborating with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia.

In recent years, the number of environmental protests in various regions of Russia has certainly grown—from campaigns against waste landfills in parts of European Russia to protests against coal dust in the port of Nakhodka, in the country’s Far East, says Svyatoslav Zabelin, coordinator for the International Socio-Ecological Union. The most turbulent environmental protests of the past summer were in the village of Shiyes in Arkhangelsk Region, where the authorities wanted to transport garbage from Moscow. It was in the village of Loginovskaya in Arkhangelsk Region where Rudomakha was born fifty-five years ago.

rud-2
A 2018 protest rally in Severodvinsk against the Shiyes landfill. Source: activatica.org

“My father was a descendant of Kuban Cossacks. My mother is from Perm. That is where my parents met when they were at university. After their studies, they were assigned to work in the taiga in Arkhangelsk Region, on one of the local farms. Shortly after, we all moved to my father’s native land, the Taman Peninsula. I was still a very young child when my parents divorced. My mother raised me on her own. She worked for more than forty years in the village of Oktyabrsky in the Seversky District, where we relocated. The test fields of the Tobacco, Shag, and Tobacco Products Research Institute were located there.”

At the age of sixteen, Andrei set out for Cuba. He went to Moscow, supposedly to matriculate at the university, and along the way, he hopped a freight train in order to leave the Soviet Union—but he was found by frontier guards at the Romanian border.

“During the interrogation, the KGB guys thought long and hard about what to do with me,” Rudomakha says with a laugh. “After all, I had said to them, ‘Send me to Cuba, to a school for revolutionaries.’ The KGB officers reacted to this with their peculiar sense of humor and sent me to the Kishinev Mental Hospital. I was retrieved from there by my mother. From that point on I’ve never been out of the sight [of the authorities].”

rud-3
Andrei Rudomakha and his mother

This was how the secret services, rebellion, and forests came into Rudomakha’s life.

“A military coup occurred in Chile in 1973. All of the news contrasted sharply with the reality in which I lived. Oktyabrsky was a very boring place. Books were my salvation. And the forest. I rather quickly got keen on hikes in the woods. Che Guevara was my idol and hero.”

Rudomakha studied Spanish and Greek, began playing guitar and formed a band. He calls his mid-1980s self a “rocker.” In 1987, immediately after his army service, Andrei was offered a job at the Krasnodar House of Young Pioneers, in the Candle Amateur Song Club.

The Rocker
Peaceful and troubled
Troubled and easy
What infuses the air
In the meadows around Pseushkho?

These are lines from a poem by the bard poet Vladimir “Berg” Lantzberg. In the 1980s, he was living in Tuapse, putting together amateur song festivals and establishing the first communes. It was then that Rudomakha first encountered the communard scene, whose principles he would later adopt. The Pseushkho of which Lantzberg sang is a mountain with an Adyghe name in Krasnodar Territory’s Tuapse District. In 2019, Rudomakha would protest against the construction of a limestone quarry there.

In the 1980s, however, the Kuban was fighting another construction project. A nuclear power plant was slated to be built in the Energetiki district of the village of Mostovskaya. In its waning years, the Soviet Union had planned to build dozens of such plants, from Crimea to the Ural Mountains.

rud-4Several Soviet nuclear plants whose construction was begun in the late 1970s and early 80s were not completed. After the breakup of the USSR, one of those stations, Krymskaya, came in handy anyway—not, however, for the nuclear energy industry, but for purveyors of electronic music: it became the venue for the Republic of KaZantip festival of electronic dance music.

“Back in the early 80s, the mammoth construction of a power plant similar to Chernobyl began. In 1988, I was one of the people behind a protest rally. We organized it near Goryachy Klyuch on Lysaya Gora.  I remember how we went underground and hid from the KGB. It was then that I first crossed paths with the Nature Conservation Brigades (DOPs), which had been organized at the universities,” recounts Rudomakha.

During perestroika, university students were often certified as conservation, fishing, and hunting inspectors; these groups were then dispatched into the forests to arrest poachers. Later, alumni of the DOPs would become the backbone of the Russian branches of the WWF and Greenpeace.

Like nearly all the nuclear power plants whose construction kicked off at the turn of the 70s and 80s, construction at the Krasnodar plant was soon frozen. But Rudomakha’s career as a music teacher also came to a screeching halt: KGB officers showed up at the Young Pioneers House, and Rudomakha lost his job. His employment at the Candle Club would be the only entry in his official work record book.

The Communard
Over the last nine years, four criminal cases have been brought against Rudomakha, and seven police searches conducted. He has been jailed on misdemeanor convictions more than fifty times. In the end, EcoWatch was even declared a “foreign agent,” although the decision was reconsidered last year.

In recent years, the growing physical and legal pressure on environmental activists has been as big a trend as the increase in the number of environmental protest rallies. Among the main methods of pressure are forcible dispersal of protests by police, pressure on activists at work, threats to relatives, court cases, straightforward violence, and even murder. In March 2019, environmental activist Denis Shtroo was murdered in Kaluga while participating in, among other things, a campaign against the building of a waste landfill near the village of Mikhali.

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Intimidation of Russian Environmental Activists in the First Five Months of 2019
According to information from the Russian Socio-Ecological Union

rud-5Denis Shtroo

activist murdered. In March 2019, environmentalist Denis Shtroo died of stab wounds in Kaluga. He was involved in a campaign against the construction of a waste landfill in the village of Mikhali.

5 cases of criminal prosecution.

7 attacks on activists, attacks on dwellings, property damage, and police searches.

110 cases of administrative prosecution. The total in fines has amounted to more than a million rubles [approx. 12,000 euros].

In 2019, cases of intimidation against environmentalists were most often recorded in Shiyes, Arkhangelsk Region, where illegal construction of a landfill for Moscow’s solid household waste is underway; in Yekaterinburg, where activists were defending the city’s green spaces; and, as in years past, against activists from Stop GOK, in Chelyabinsk, and EcoWatch.

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When the New Russia of the early 90s dawned, Rudomakha was in the woods.

“I decided to build a commune at Kisha Station in the Caucasus Nature Reserve. It is a secluded place in Adygea’s Maykop District. Later, our base moved to Ust-Sakhray. In 1988, for a ridiculously small amount of money (the cost of a Zaporozhets car), we bought a house there. It was an area of abandoned villages that people were trying to leave, but we were doing the opposite. I lived in Ust-Sakhray until 1995. I won’t mention the names of the comrades with whom I started out. Many have their own lives and families now,” he says.

Andrei has his own way of viewing everyday life. Remembering those days, he says with regret that the communes fell apart because people started romantic relationships and left.

“We had a lot of ideas: we wanted to transform all of Sakhray and build a public school. My first daughter was born there, and my wife left — she preferred me to another. All of our ideas were shattered by the internal conflicts and disagreements that arose among the settlers. And, basically, I regret that we sat out perestroika in the mountains. It would have been better, of course, in the city,” he says.

The New Russia brought big money to the Kuban. With its sea, mountains, forests, and springs, the southern region attracted businessmen and politicians from Moscow. Some businessmen began to cut down wood on the unique Bolshoi Thach Mountain and haul it out with helicopters.

“And I came out of the woods. The times had drastically changed, as it turned out. Grassroots organizations were on the upswing,” Rudomakha says.

Soon Rudomakha would turn up in Maykop, where he lived in a small house at a weather station run by Vladimir Karatayev, leader of the Union of the Slavs of Adygea. There a branch of the Socio-Environmental Union would be opened, the first environmental organization founded by Rudomakha.

rud-6Rudomakha examines a forest clearcutting in the Caucasus Nature Reserve

“With money from western foundations, we bought a computer and a modem—and things took off. We organized protest rallies, spiked tree trunks, and stopped clearcutting. And, as a result, Bolshoi Thach was made part of the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Rudomakha explains.

Pandora’s Box
The planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s cult science fiction novella The Word for World Is Forest is called Athshe. This planet would become the prototype for Pandora in the movie Avatar, and would also give its name to Rudomakha’s 1990s commune, from which EcoWatch arose. Le Guin grew up in leftist Berkeley and was interested in anarchism and environmental movements. In her novella, the kind forest inhabitants, called “creechies” by earthlings, defend their planet from the “yumens.” Athshe Commune was also focused on environmental protests. Commune members took names from the novella’s characters.

Today, activists would be jailed for many of the protest actions carried out then. Rudomakha’s commune took part in many of them alongside the Federal Anarchists of Kuban (FAK) and radical environmentalists from the Keepers of the Rainbow.

“We were always blocking or blockading something,” Rudomakha recalls. “There were tragedies, too. In 1997, we locked ourselves together with metal chains and blocked the road to Sochi. A crazy trucker drove at us, who knows why, and Anya Koshikovaya’s hand was torn off. In the late 90s, this sort of thing brought palpable results. We seriously considered the idea of creating a guerrilla environmental army, to waste everyone. The forests here are wonderful—one could be guerrillas endlessly. Theoretically, if the necessary contingent of people were found, all this would be quite feasible. To do that you would need to break with your usual life and go rogue. Basically, I’ve been ready for that since childhood. If I could find five people just as mad as me!”

rud-7An environmental protest involving Rudomakha, 1990s

In the finale of Le Guin’s novella, the creechies surround and kill almost all the earthlings. They are especially keen to hunt down the women to prevent new generations of humans from taking over their forests.

Palace Coup
“Sanya [i.e., Alexander] is a thief”: in November 2011, Rudomakha’s comrades in arms spray-painted this graffiti, among others, on the fence of a luxurious estate on the Black Sea shore in Blue Bay, not far from Tuapse. The estate was officially called the Agrocomplex JSC Recreation Center, and it was owned by the family of Alexander Tkachov, former Krasnodar Territory governor and former Russian federal agriculture minister. For all of 2011, enviro-activists battled against this dacha, on whose premises rare trees were presumably being clearcut and access to the sea was illegally fenced. A protest action in November, during which one section of the fence fell, was the last for many activists. Agrocomplex soon filed criminal charges for property damage. Rudomakha’s comrade in arms Suren Gazaryan left the country after receiving political asylum in Estonia. (He now lives in Germany.) Yevgeny Vitishko, another EcoWatchman, was given a three-year suspended sentence, with two years of probation; in December 2013, the suspended sentence was replaced with a real one, and Vitishko served more than a year in a work-release penal colony near Tambov. Amnesty International recognized the activist as a prisoner of conscience.

rud-8“Sanya is a thief”: graffiti on the illegally erected fence in Blue Bay

“The constitution is in a noose, Vitishko is in prison,” Pussy Riot sang at the time. And, in fact, environmental protests against palaces owned by high-ranking officials and the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics were perhaps the main public issue in southern Russia in the early 2010s.

EcoWatch had taken on palaces practically from its official founding in 2004. There was good reason to work on the issue—the Kuban had become a favorite spot for both officials and businessmen.

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rud-9Putin’s palace on Cape Idokopas. Source: navalny.com

The Kuban—Homeland of Palaces: Vladimir Putin’s Palace

In 2010, businessman Sergei Kolesnikov told the world about the construction of a luxurious palace for the Russian president. The site was located in the Kuban, not far from Praskoveyevka on Cape Idokopas. In 2006, the land plot was transferred from the Russian Federation to the Tuapse Vacation House of the Office of Presidential Affairs, and then to the Indokopas Company in 2010.

According to EcoWatch, during construction of the residence and the roads leading up to it, more than forty-five hectares of forest were clearcut; among them, parcels harboring the threatened Pitsunda Pine (Pinus pityusa) were destroyed. According to the calculations of EcoWatch and Greenpeace, the damage from illegal clearcutting came to more than 2.7 billion rubles. Inquiries to the authorities from EcoWatch about the illegal cutting on the palace territory went unanswered.

[Note: the original article in Russian also has short briefs on the Kuban “dachas” of Dmitry Medvedev, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Alexander Tkachov, Alexander Remezkov, Patriarch Kirill, and Anatoly Serdyukov. — TRR]

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“Lots of federal officials have dachas on the coast. And basically, we don’t care who owns them. We’d like for those people not to behave like swine. It doesn’t matter whose they are,” says Rudomakha.

The first and perhaps most well-known victory was scored in 2009 when the Watchmen halted construction of a proposed dacha for Dmitri Medvedev in the tiny town of Utrish.

The campaign against environmental violations in the runup to the Olympics brought Rudomakha and EcoWatch international fame: foreign journalists flocked to them in droves. Rudomakha is now certain that the series of refusals by European cities to bid to host the Olympic games (for example, when residents of Munich voted no in a referendum on the city’s bidding for the 2022 Olympics) came about precisely because “we succeeded in creating an image of the Sochi Olympics as the most anti-environmental, expensive, and absurd in the entire history of the Olympic movement.”

“It was then that the authorities started to vigorously persecute us,” Rudomakha says about the time. “I understood that serious ‘winds of change’ had begun to blow. They no longer tried to sit down at the negotiating table with us, and cops chased us around the woods. It was kind of funny.”

The Autocrat
“Andrei’s authoritarianism has always been my number one problem,” Yevgeny Vitishko now recounts. In 2016, he and another well-known EcoWatch alumnus, Suren Gazaryan, left the organization.

“From the outside, the Watch looked quite democratic, but in fact everything revolved around one person. His leadership style can be described in sociological terms as narcissistic,” says Gazaryan.

Vitishko and Rudomakha have since reconciled. However, for many, the head of EcoWatch remains a fanatic with autocratic manners.

For several years, local and even national media have been publishing stories about Rudomakha hinting that he is guilty of everything from pedophilia to cooperating secretly with officials. Rudomakha calls the reports nonsense, saying that the regional government is behind them.

rud-9“Gazprom is a murderer” / “Stop Blue Stream”: Kuban environmentalists protesting against Gazprom 

Rudomakha does not separate the personal from his work life: he admits that his activism has not affected his family’s fortunes in the best of ways. The first floor of the rented house on Kerchenskaya is used as an office, while the second floor is home to Rudomakha and his second daughter, who, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, enrolled in university in Krasnodar and moved in with her father. Rudomakha had once hoped that his daughter would also become an environmentalist, but now he has lost that hope.

“I am quite pessimistic when I assess the evolution of Russia’s environmental movement,” says Rudomakha. “The population is very inert and severely intimidated, and the level of passionarity among people is at a minimum. People rise up, for the most part, only when they are personally affected. If there were organizations like ours in every region, it would be possible to change the situation in this arena and in the country as a whole. After all, a large number of such organizations would naturally make it necessary for them to unite.”

“I haven’t seen an influx of new people into EcoWatch,” notes Rudomakha’s former colleague Gazaryan. “Andrei’s lifestyle and views are on the fringe, and his office is also his residence. It’s hard to work in this environment. And there is no [broad environmental] movement in Russia. There are separate organizations and local groups, but they have no coordination or goals. They are not represented on the political level, and fall apart after a problem is solved,” Gazaryan says, but after thinking about it, he adds that he could be mistaken. “I haven’t lived in Russia for a long time.”

* * *

Late in the evening of December 28, 2017, Rudomakha, his colleague Viktor Chirikov, and journalist Vera Kholodnaya had just arrived at the commune house on Kerchenskaya. Rudomakha had just exited the car when three men ran up to him. Dousing him in the eyes with pepper spray, they knocked him down to the ground and kicked him repeatedly. He lost consciousness. Chirikov was beaten less, and Kholodnaya was only “blinded” by the pepper spray. After that, the attackers took several cameras and a GPS navigator from the car. The entire incident lasted no more than two minutes.

Doctors diagnosed Rudomakha with broken bones in his face and nose, a concussion, and pneumocephalus—the leakage of air into his cranial cavity. He spent three weeks in the hospital.

An investigation into the attack yielded no results. But the enviro-activists have their own theory. They had returned that day from a trip to the area around the village Krinitsa, a small resort in Gelendzhik. There, in the forest, construction had begun on a site resembling a wine-making chateau—such was EcoWatch’s assessment. A prefabricated chapel had also been erected there by order of Axis Investment JSC.  The owner of this firm is Alexei Toth, a business partner of Nikolai Yegorov, who is a well-known Petersburg lawyer and a personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

Translated by Mary Rees. Except where noted, all photos courtesy of Proekt.

Krasnodar Environmentalist Diana Smirnova Detained by Police in Act of Revenge by Relatives of Kremlin Insider and Russian Latifundist Alexander Tkachov

Diana Smirnova, Defender of the Woodlands in the Lenin’s Farm District of Krasnodar, Detained: Police Crackdown Continues
Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus
August 25, 2018

Diana-Smirnova-2 Diana Smirnova

Last night, in the Lenin’s Farm district of Krasnodar, police raided the home of yet another defender of the district’s forest belt, clear-cut in July of this year at the behest of the Coastal Noncommercial Dacha Association, owned by Nikolai Tkachov and Anastasia Krattli, relatives of former Krasnodar Territory Governor and former Russian Federal Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachov.

Mastyaeva.previewAnzhelika Mastyayeva, after she allegedly “assaulted” a logger in July 2018.

The police had previously filed trumped-up charges against environmentalist Anzhelika Mastyayeva, claiming she had assaulted a logger. Prior to this, they had detained Mastyayeva without any legal grounds and held her for six hours in the lock-up at a police station.

This time,  the police targeted Diana Smirnova, who had also vigorously defended the forest belt from the Tkachov family’s loggers and had testified at Mastyayeva’s court hearing.

At seven in the evening yesterday, two policemen arrived at Smirnova’s home. One of the officers was beat cop Alexander Sergiyenko, who had cooked up the case against Mastyayeva. The policemen asked Smirnova to come to the station with them for questioning regarding an allegedly unpaid fine. They assured here they would bring her back home in short order. However, Smirnova had no idea about any outstanding fines, since she had not been convicted of any administrative offenses.

Smirnova’s three-year-old daughter cried when her mother was driven away, but this did not stop the policemen.

However, instead of questioning Smirnova about the nonexistent unpaid fine, they took her from the Lenin’s Farm district to Karasunsky District Police Precinct at 205 Stavropol Street in Krasnodar and arrested. Smirnova was jailed overnight in the precinct’s detention facility. She was told she would be jailed until her court hearing.

An EWNC activist was able to phone the front desk of the Karasunsky District Police Precinct at +7 (861) 231-7071. He received confirmation Smirnova had been detained and charged with violating Article 20.25 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code (“Evasion of an  Administrative Punishment”), although a search of the database of enforcement proceedings showed Smirnova had no outstanding fines.

Andrey Rudomakha, EWNC coordinator, had this to say about the incident.

“The people who run the Coastal Noncommercial Dacha Association are extremely vindictive. It was not enough they did not give a damn about the law, the wishes of local residents, and the deal they made with Krasnodar city hall, and cut down the forest belt. Now they have been harassing people who had the moxie to defend their own environment, since the forest belt that was cut down was the only green area near their homes.

2018-07-13_Lenina-Rubka_DSC03466.preview

“However, judging by the actions taken against Mastyayeva and Smirnova, who were charged with administrative offenses out of the blue by the beat cop Sergiyenko, the police are being used as a tool of revenge. The police used a special trick in their lawless raids on the homes of Mastyayeva and Smirnova. The former was arrested on a Saturday, while the latter was arrested on a Friday evening, times of the week when  it is extremely hard to find defense lawyers. Why arrest a very young woman and mother of a small child late in the evening and jail her overnight in the pretrial holding tank, even if it were true she hadn’t paid a fine? The only point of all this is to intimidate the locals, to discourage them from wanting to defend their rights,” Rudomakha said.

Read more articles on ENWC’s website about the destruction of the woodlands in Lenin’s Farm (in Russian). For more information on the case of Diana Smirnova, call Anzhelika Mastyayeva, member of the Lenin’s Farm residents pressure group,  at  +7 (965) 470-8444, or Police Inspector Alexander Sergiyenko, who detained Diana Smirnova, at +7 (999) 437-3516.

Thanks to Andrey Rudomakha for the heads-up. Photos courtesy of EWNC. Translated by the Russian Reader

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This realtor’s video about the charms of Lenin’s Farm makes it clear why sharks like the Tkachov family have sunk their teeth into the neighborhood.

“Popular”

32729013_1730140783711212_4715134261416427520_nA selfie taken by elections observer and Golos coordinator David Kankiya in Krasnodar. He writes: “Dear Veniamin Kondratyev [governor of Krasnodar Territory], I would like to know what you think about the fact I was beaten up today and the continuing pressure exerted on political and grassroots activists by law enforcement. This is how you see the region’s image right before the World Cup?”

Vladimir Putin is not “popular” in any meaningful sense of the term. He is the head of what may be the world’s largest mafia gang. Unless forces emerges within the gang to challenge his leadership, which seems unlikely, he will remain head of the gang (aka the Russian Federation’s ruling elite) until he dies of natural or other causes. It is as simple as that.

How do I know it? Because of the sheer amount of main violence and rabid intimidation visited upon anyone who challenges Putin’s unchallengeable rule in any way, even in ways that are almost imaginary, as in the case of Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, now on the sixth day of a hunger strike in a Siberian prison. Sentsov was sentenced to twenty years in prison by Putin’s mafia gang after it illegaly invaded and occupied Sentsov’s home of Crimea, part of the sovereign state of Ukraine.

Here is another example, closer to home and the notion that Putin is “popular” and was  thus “popularly” elected. The day after Putin’s “reelection” this past March, NPR filed a story that contained this passage.

A month before Russia’s presidential election, observer David Kankiya was informed by the police that his car might have been used to commit a crime, Reuters reported. He was detained, charged with disobeying police and sent to jail for five days. “I was detained and charged on a false pretext,” Kankiya told the news agency. “It’s political pressure.”

Police say Kankiya didn’t produce identification during a routine check.

As the presidential election drew closer, Kankiya’s car tires were slashed and pro-Kremlin journalists accosted him in two separate incidents, he told Reuters.

Kankiya is a coordinator at Golos, a nongovernmental election watchdog that was labeled a “foreign agent” because it received foreign aid. Volunteers from Golos — a word that translates to both “vote” and “voice” — say when entering or leaving Russia, they are often stopped by border staff who accuse them of having terrorist links, according to Reuters.

Now word has come that Mr. Kankiya was assaulted and battered by two men in the stairwell of his own home yesterday. The word comes from Mr. Kankiya himself, writing on Facebook.

Меня избили в подъезде дома. 2 амбала. Били руками и ногами. Пшикали перцовкой. Очень больно, но это тоже переживу. Господа, силовики, большое спасибо за такое внимание к моей скромной персоне. Но вы уже хотя бы прямо сказали чего вам от меня надо? То аресты, то слежка с избиением. Зачем вы так позоритесь?

I’ve been beaten up in the stairwell of my building. It was two palookas. They hit me and kicked me. They zapped me with pepper spray. I hurt like hell, but I’ll live through this, too. Dear security forces guys, a big thanks for the attention you pay to little old me. But didn’t you already tell me straight to my face what you wanted from me? But first you jail me, then you have me tailed and beaten up. Why do you behave so shamefully?

I could supply you with a thousand more stories like Mr. Kankiya’s. And people like him who are on the frontlines of the fight against Putin’s mafia rule in Russia, including a friend of his and a friend of mine who informed me yesterday about the attack on Mr. Kankiya, could tell you ten thousand more stories like it.

When you add all those stories up, you do not conclude that the country in question is ruled by a truly “popular” leader.

What you conclude is that, for nearly two decades running, a gang of violent thugs has been pummeling, scapegoating, jailing, murdering, intimidating and otherwise silencing its real and imagined enemies—in the world’s biggest country, the list of those enemies has proven almost endless—while a troika of absolutely shameless pollsters (Levada, FOM, VTsIOM), eager beyond belief to stay in the mafia boss’s good graces and “scientifically prove” his “popularity,” has been monitoring, almost by the day, sometimes by the hour, to test whether the rest of the Russian “populace” gets it, whether they realize they have only one choice: “like” their “popular” president for life or “dislike” him and face the unpleasant consequences faced by the likes of Mr. Sentsov and Mr. Kankiya.

The pseudo-pollsters are just as shamelessly seconded by a whole battalion of “Russia hands” and “veteran Moscow correspondents,” like Stephen Cohen and Mary Dejevsky, to name two of the most loathsome, who are ready to tell any lie or fib to justify or explain away Putin’s tyrannical rule and the punishments he and his secret services rain down on their enemies, real and imagined, great and small.

That is the whole story. Anyway who says otherwise really is a liar or a sophist or a “Russia expert” resident in Ottawa or New Haven. // TRR

Valery Brinikh: The News from Adygea

 

07_brinikh
Valery Brinikh

Valery Brinikh
Facebook
September 9, 2017

Hello!

I wrote a report on this Sunday’s elections. Don’t be lazy and read it to the end. You’ll learn a lot of new things.

Who Elects the Head of Adygea: A Political Portrait of the Republic’s Parliament

As you know, on Sunday, September 10, the State Council of the Republic of Adygea (in Adyghe, the Khase) will elect a new head for the republic. There are three candidates, but the outcome is predetermined. Who would doubt it? Correct me if I’m mistaken, but in the history of modern Russia this was probably the first instance when the outgoing head of a Russian region brought his own kinsman to Moscow so that Putin could view the bride, i.e. his chosen successor. Nor, we must note, were he and his kinsman immediately shown the door. This was probably taken by the petitioners from Adygea as a favorable sign.

Everything kicked off when, in March of last year, as it was about to give up the ghost, the members of the Adgyean parliament’s fifth convocation nearly unanimously voted (fifty yeas, four nays) to abolish direct, popular elections of the republic’s head, adopting a special law and making the relevant amendments to the Adygean Constitution. Having denied Adygeans the right to vote directly for head of the region, the “people’s” elected representatives formally explained their decision as a means of making the electoral process less expensive. However, no one abolished another law, a law of everyday life: cheaper doesn’t mean better.

So elections to the sixth convocation of the Adygean Khase, in 2016, took place with the understanding that it would be the new parliament, not the people, that would be picking the republic’s new head. So, the requirements for sifting out the winners were tougher than usuaul. It was boom or bust, literally, all or nothing. The powers that be backstopped its chosen candidates to the hilt, and the elections took place in a stifling climate of lawlessness, generated by the acting executive branch and the local office of the United Russia party. Functionaries of the Rodina (Motherland) party did everything they could to force the Adygean Central Elections Commission to remove the opposition party’s entire regional list of candidates from the ballot, although the party had a good chance of taking several seats in parliament. The billboards, posters, and flyers of all candidates and parties except United Russia and LDPR were destroyed hours, if not minutes, after they were posted. The vote tallies at the polling stations were skewed, and the votes received by candidates and parties that are not part of the so-called parliamentary grouping (United Russia, CPRF, A Just Russia, and LDPR) were totally nullified. The latter parties divvied up their shares of the vote totals in keeping with quotas that had been agreed in advance in Moscow. So, the current Adygean Khase consists of 38 MPs from United Russia, four MPS each from the CPRF and LDPR, and two MPs from A Just Russia. Two more MPs have to be elected in by-elections on September 10. There is no doubt that one of the two will be a United Russia member. Thus, MPs from United Russia make up 80% of the republic’s parliament, while the CPRF and LDPR have 8% of MPs each, and A Just Russia has 4% of MPs. Now let’s compare these proportion with the spread of MP mandates in the Russian State Duma. United Russia’s MPs occupy 76% of the seats; the CPRF, 9.5%; the LDPR, 8.7%; and A Just Russia, 5.8%. The Duma also has two MPs who are not members of these parties. One of them is a member of the Rodina party, the party that was successfully sent packing in Adygea. The outcomes are quite similiar, don’t you think? It’s as if the same templates had been used.

The lineup of MPs running in the 2017 elections has been thoroughly purged. Anyone who provoked the slightest doubts has been removed from the lists. Only five people who have been MPs for more than three convocations are left, and only nine MPS from the last three convocations are still in the running. Two of them are from the CPRF’s faction (Adam Bogus and Yevgeny Salov), while the rest are from United Russia. The other thirty-four MPs (out of a total of forty-eight) were elected during Aslan Tkhakushinov’s last two terms as head of the republic [he resigned in January 2017, after ten years in office], under the watchful eye of his team. In fact, they are part of his team.

Clearly, they express not the will of the people, but the will of their true masters, the men who got them elected. Thus, the clearly unelectable United Russian candidates Sergei Belokrys (District No. 16) and Rustam Kalashov (District No. 21) got the cherished mandates. During their party’s so-called primaries [the English word is used in Russian], they both took an honorable third place in their districts with 7% and 27% of the vote, respectively. Even more unelectable pawns were kinged after winning spots on United Russia’s party list.

They hardly all have the right to be called people’s representatives, if only because not all the MPs in the Khase’s sixth convocation were elected by the people on the new single voting day. Thus, seven of the winning candidates from United Russia list soon resigned for different reasons, and their mandates were automatically handed over to five new MPs from the party list (Yuri Gorokhov, Yevgenia Dyachkova, Zurab Zekhov, Azamat Mamkhegov, and Murat Shkhalakov). Two more MPs will be selected on September in single-mandate constituencies. LDPR’s list of of winners included party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the party’s regional leader Denis Ogiyenko, neither of whom took their seats in the Adygean parliament. Why Zhirinovsky did this is clear enough, but Ogiyenko works as an aide to an MP in the State Duma, where everything is grown-up and they feed you caviar sandwiches. The two LDPR leaders were replaced as Khase MPs by Valentina Chugunova and Tembot Shovgenov, thus technically bypassing the will of voters.

It is interesting to compare how much the majoritarian MP mandates in the republic’s urban districts and rural districts are worth in terms of votes cast by voters. Thus, Maykop, the capital city, is divided into nine electoral districts, inhabited by a total of 132,890 voters. One majoritarian mandate is thus worth, on average, 14,776 potential votes.  The Maykop Municipal District [not to be confused with Maykop per se] has three electoral districts and 46,111 voters, so an MP’s mandate is worth slightly more there: 15,370 votes. The Teuchezh District has only one majoritarian mandate, worth 13,549 votes. The Takhtamukay District is home to 51,840 votes, and so its four majoritarian mandates are worth an average of 12,960 votes. In the Giaginskaya District, the mandates are worth a bit less (12,563 votes on average), while in the neighboring Shovgenovsky District, it is worth 12,482 votes. Adygeysk’s single majoritarian mandate is worth 12,029 votes, while the Koshekhabl District’s two mandates are worth 11,407 votes apiece. The Krasnogvardeyskoye District has the “cheapest” mandates: two at 11,013 votes apiece. But strangers do not roam the homeland of the sweet couple of Aslan Tkhakushinov and Murat Kumpilov [Adygea’s acting head and Tkhakushinov’s chosen successor]. They elect only their own people and only on the advice of their superiors.

It was not entirely accurate to distribute MP mandates generally (whether from majoritarian single-mandate constituencies or party lists) in terms of the number of voters in the districts. The largest number of voters lives in Maykop (39% of all voters in Adygea), and its goes down from there. The Takhtamukay District has 15% of voters; the Maykop District, 13.6%; the Giaginskaya District, 7.4%; the Koshekhabl District, 7%; the Krasnogvardeyskoye District, 6.5%; the Teuchezh District, 4%; the Shovgenovsky District, 3.7%, and the town of Adygeysk, 3.5%. Meanwhile, the MPs from Maykop have only 30% of the mandates in the Khase; Takhtamukay District, 20%; Maykop District, 14%; Giaginskaya District, 6%; Koshekhabl District, 10%; Krasnogvardeyskoye District, 8%; Teuchezh District, 6%; Shovgenovsky District, 4%; and the town of Adygeysk, 2%.  The imbalance is obvious.

The sixth convocation of the Adygean Khase has only eight MPs (16.7% of the total number) employed in the state sector. Six MPs (12.5%) are party officials. The remaining MPs (over 70%) run businesses in different sectors of the economy. The largest number of them (21 MPs out of a total of 48) earn their money in construction, commerce (including wholesale commerce), and services. Four MPs (8.3%) get their income from agriculture. Three MPs (6.3%) work in banking and investing, while two MPs each (4.2% each) are involved, respectively, in the hotel and tourism business, logging and extractive industries, and industrial manufacturing. Yet the CRPF and A Just Russia factions are dominated by party officials (four out of six), while members of United Russia have a clear advantage in all other lines of work.

The sixth convocation of the Khase includes two high-profile businessmen with criminal pasts (according to the media): United Russia member Gissa Baste (aka Voloskevich) and non-partisan MP Adam Bogus (aka Mazai), who blocks with the CRPF faction. Several well-known businessmen from United Russia have close ties with different dubious firms and people with criminal pasts. In particular, nine deputies (six from United Russia, two from the LDPR, and one from the CPRF) are involved in the construction business in the Takhtamukay District, run by Azmet Skhalyakho aka the Foreman. According to the media, he earned the nickname not on the fields of his native Takhtumukay District, but by shaking down market traders in Krasnodar during the “wild” 1990s. The notorious prosecutor Murat Tkhakushinov, son of ex-republic head Aslan Tkhakushinov, worked in the same district until recently. The Takhtamukay District’s proximity to Krasnodar, the much lower prices for land in the district than in Krasnodar, and the total control over the black market for land plots by criminal gangs, who have fused with Adygea’s government agencies, have made the construction business in the district quite profitable. Especially if you are not bothered by the legality of particular transactions, do not waste money on pollution treatment facilities, and pay no mind to the quite costly environnmental requirements.

Questions also arise when you take a closer look at the life and times of Vladimir Narozhny, head of the United Russia faction and chair of the republic’s parliament. There are strange blanks in his CV from 1981 to 1991, which for some reason he does not particularly advertise. Judging by occasional references, he ran various agricultural businesses during this period. Currently, he is associated with a number of firms, also involved in agrobusiness, in Adygea and Krasnodar Territory. They have different names and legal addresses, and yet they have the very same Primary State Registration Number and Taxpayer Identification Number. Obsessive thoughts of criminal money laundering schemes come to mind, but I have probably read too many detective novels.

As a final touch to my sketch of the current Adygean Khase, I want to focus on yet another imbalance, which testifies to a deeply embedded problem, if not a chronic disease, that affects the regional authorities in Adygea. I have in mind the distortions in personnel policy that favor the so-called titular ethnic group, the Adyghe. This phenomenon, which I would dub the Adyghization of power in the republic, was especially rampant during Aslan Tkhakushinov’s second term and has kept evolving in the present. I would not argue it has anything to do with ethnic conflicts between two great peoples, the Russians and the Adyghe, but has been caused only by attempts by specific members of the so-called Ulyap clan, who have ruled the republic for the last ten years, to ensure they will stay in power for the indefinite future. This is done both by depriving the Adygean populace of the right to elect the republic’s leaders and local government officials in direct elections, and through a deliberate personnel policy of giving preference to members of the titular ethnic group when filling vacancies in state and municipal agencies—if possible, to members of one’s own clan and numerous kinsmen. This cup has also touched the republic’s legislative branch. Whereas the republic’s population consists of approximately 63% Slavs, 25% Adyghe, 3.5% Armenians, and 8.5% other ethnic groups, the Khase is dominated by members of the titular ethnic group, who hold 28 seats (or 58.33%), while the Slavs are represented by 19 MPs (or 39.58% of seats). There is also one Armenian MP in the parliament, and no one else. I do not insist on introducing ethnic quotas. (God forbid, we have already been through such attempts at achieving parity.) I merely want to draw attention to this obviously non-random outcome as the inevitable side effect of dishonest elections.

Valery Brinikh, Chair of the Adygean Regional Branch of the Greens Russian Ecological Party, September 8, 2017

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Bellona

Krasnodar Farmers Plan Another Tractor Convoy

Krasnodar farmers speaking to the press before heading out on the first protest convoy, last August. Photo courtesy of Meduza

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

Krasnodar Farmer Kills Himself after Land Seized

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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.

On September 23, convoy participants were in Moscow. Scheduled meetings with the president and the agriculture minister did not take place. They only managed to have a small get-together with Kuban officials. At the beginning of the week, Volchenko announced the farmers would be meeting with a presidential envoy in Yeysk on September 28, but ultimately this meeting did not take place, either.

“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.