“Foreign Agents”: Official Fearmongering Runs Amok in Russia

foreign agents piechartA pie chart, using information from November 2017, showing the numbers and kinds of NGOS designated as “foreign agents” by the Russian Justice Ministry. Moving clockwise, the chart shows that 24 Russian human rights organizations have been registered as “foreign agents,” along with 4 NGOs working on healthcare issues, 2 trade union associations, 6 analytical and social research organizations, 3 women’s organizations, 10 civic education organizations, 9 media support organizations, 3 ethnic minority organizations, 7 NGOs involved in defending democracy and democratic principles, 11 humanitarian and social welfare organizations, and 8 environmental organizations. Courtesy of Deutsche Welle. As of November 15, 2019, there were ten media outlets listed as “foreign agents” by the Russian Justice Ministry, including Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and eight RFE/RL affiliates.

Russian Duma Adopts Law on Designating Individuals “Foreign Agents”
Olga Demidova
Deutsche Welle
November 21, 2019

The Russian Duma has passed a law bill on designating private persons as “foreign agents” in its third and final reading. On Thursday, November 21, the bill was supported by 311 of the 315 MPs who voted. No one opposed the bill, although four MPs abstained.

Two days earlier, the Duma’s committee on information policy approved amendments to the bill in its second reading. The amendments make it possible to designate individuals as “performing the functions of a foreign agent” and thus on a par with legal entities. They can be deemed “foreign agents” if they create content for media outlets that have been designated “foreign agents” or distribute their content while receiving foreign funding.

Media outlets already registered as “foreign agents” will have to establish Russian legal entities in order to operate in the Russian Federation. In addition, they must mark their content as having been produced by a “foreign agent.” Leonid Levin, chair of the Duma’s information policy committee, promised the law would not been used against bloggers and current affairs commentators. Individuals would be designated “foreign agents” by the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry, which Levin argued would prevent “unreasonable” rulings.

In July 2012, the Duma amended several laws regulating the work of NGOs. The amendments obliged NGOs that engaged in political activities and received foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” The NGOs were to indicate this designation on their websites, for example, and provide regular financial reports. There are currently over seventy organizations in Russia registered as “foreign agents.”

Thanks to Marina Bobrik for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

_________________________________

Grigorii Golosov
Facebook
November 24, 2019

The law on individual foreign agents is innovative in the sense that the people who drafted it and pushed it have not disguised the fact it is meant to be enforced selectively. Certain critics have even remarked that this is a good thing: only a few people will be affected. I think they are wrong, but I wanted to talk about something else. It is no secret that laws are enforced selectively in Russia, but so far none of the laws that have caused a public stir has been meant to be enforced selectively. Now that has changed. A law that is selectively enforced is clearly no law at all, but a specimen of lawlessness, and so the new law is anti-constitutional. Unfortunately, it is pointless to challenge the law in the Constitutional Court, and not only due to the court’s peculiarities. After all, the authorities have not hidden their intentions and motives, but nor have they admitted them aloud. It is their usual M.O., the old “you just try and prove it” gambit. In fact, a good response would be a barrage of lawsuits petitioning the authorities to designate as “foreign agents” public loyalists they would have no wish to hurt, but who are 100% guilty if the letter of this law were obeyed. However, the human rights movement, which could take up this cause, has been defeated, in particular, by the previous laws on “foreign agents.” The way to lawlessness is thus open.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Lilia Shevtsova: Gutting Russia

1535459018_stena-1The Wall, one of the Russian National Guard’s new toys for crushing popular unrest. Photo courtesy of Voennoe obozrenie

Lilia Shevtsova
Facebook
September 27, 2018

Gutting the State
“They are crazy!” we wail as we gaze at the regime’s latest stunts.

“What stupidity!” the commentators exclaim in horror as they compile the Kremlin’s list of shame: raising the retirement age; a high-ranking silovik threatening to kill Navalny in a duel; the fiasco of the so-called Salisbury tourists; vote rigging in the Maritime Territory; the Russian fighter plane shot down by the Syrians with our own rocket; the hole in our spaceship, patched up with epoxy; threats to ban use of the US dollar in Russia; more lies about Malaysian Airlines Flight 17; and Navalny’s latest arrest.

The regime’s attempts to rectify its blunders only exacerbate the circumstances, turning them into farces. Did annulling the election in Vladivostok restore people’s faith in elections? Were the elections in Vladimir Region and Khabarovsk Territory not turned into farces when the winners did their level best not to win? And what about the televised interview with the Salisbury tourists? What should we make of attempts to blame Israel for downing the Russian warplane, and the Americans for punching a hole in the Soyuz capsule? The latest act of shooting ourselves in the foot was supplying the Syrians with a S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which is a threat to Israel and, of course, the US. (The Israelis will most certainly respond.)

If we regard all these topsy-turvy achievements as the outcomes of stupidity, the hope emerges that we can fix the stupidity by purging the ranks of officialdom, which is exactly what the Kremlin, in fact, sunk its teeth into today. Actually, what we regard as failure and stupidity have long become the new normal. What we see are the outcomes of a monopoly on political power, which has turned its own replication into an end in itself, and of a negative selection of members of the political elite based on the loyalty principle. In short, a duelist in charge of the Russian National Guard, and poisoners disguised as tourists are the new Russian normal. They are logical and inevitable consequences.

The wailing about a crisis at the top is, therefore, groundless. Russia skipped over the crisis stage. A crisis is a natural turn of events that compels society to look for new solutions and new people to implement them. When this does not happen, society and its superstructures rot. This stinky viscous goo is our current location. Decay prevents collapse: what is rotting cannot collapse. But decay also prevents our country from finding the strength to change.

The ruling class can seemingly take it easy, for the system somehow hobbles along. There are no large-scale protests, and the protests that do occur can either be ignored or quashed, especially since the National Guard has special new crowd-control armored vehicles at its disposal like the Shield, the Storm, the Wall, and so on.

In reality, things have taken a serious turn for Russia. By seeking to ensure its endlessness, the regime has been destroying the Russian state. That is a whole other ballgame. We have reached the point at which the ruling class has been rocking the pillars of statehood, destroying its own guarantee of survival in the bargain.

By outsourcing violence to volunteer oprichniki, the regime has deprived the state of one of its vital attributes: a monopoly on violence. By making Russia a global scarecrow, the regime has undermined the country’s international status and the external habitat in which it dwells. By rejecting strategic planning in favor of tactical maneuvers, the regime has stripped the country of the capacity for progress. By making the Russian state a tool of clan domination, the regime has destabilized the country, since society has been forced to defend its own interests by protesting on the streets.

Finally, by destroying institutions and making the rules of the game relative (there is more than one way to “get things done: in Russia), the regime has plunged the country into a state of lawlessness. When lawlessness ensues, no one is safe from it.

Do the guys in the Kremlin not realize how things will end? Apparently, they do understand, but they are incapable of stopping.

The autocracy survived in 1991 by scrapping the Soviet state. The autocracy has now been trying to survive by turning the post-Soviet Russian state into a lip-synched song about superpowerdom.

Lilia Shevtsova is a well-known Russian political scientist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yegor Lopatin: Oleg Sentsov’s Forty Days

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Oleg Sentsov’s Forty Days
Yegor Lopatin
Za-Za
June 22, 2018

We are witnessing a tragedy generated by incredible cynicism. Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for forty days.

Have you tried not eating for four days? For ten days? I once performed an experiment on myself and did not eat for eight days. What mattered to me was whether I could do it or not. I passed the test fairly easily.

As far as I can remember, no one has been on hunger strike for forty days in a row.*

I would imagine Sentsov, who is 42 years old, has already irreparably damaged his health and can never be completely normal again. This is quite sad. What is even sadder, however, is that he apparently has decided to die, thus challenging the people who sent him to prison for 20 years, annexed Crimea, and unleashed a war in Donbass.

Sentsov has no other means of influencing these people, who are firmly convinced anyone can be broken with a good spanking. We are thus witnesses to a invisible duel between Sentsov and Putin, who bears direct responsibility for everything that happens in Russia.

No one will emerge from this duel a winner. There will only be losers. Sentsov will most likely die an agonizing death, and the damage to Putin’s reputation will be worse than from the sinking of the Kursk and the downing of Flight MH17, although people with their heads screwed on straight have long understood that Putin’s reputation is beyond saving.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will also bear blame for Sentsov’s death. He has been incredibly passive during the hunger strike and has done basically nothing to save Sentsov.

All of us, the people of Russia, are directly responsible for the lawlessness of our authorities, who have destroyed a young man on trumped-up charges. I do not believe Sentsov could have planned terrorist attacks in Crimea or even laid a finger on anyone.

Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison because Putin illegally annexed Crimea, defying the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, signed on December 5, 1994.

This is a typical KGB move: doing something nasty and blaming the victim for it.

So, before you bask in the success of the Russian national football team, remember that an amazingly courageous man is dying a painful death right now for his beliefs.

His name is Oleg Sentsov.

This is not only his tragedy. It is our tragedy, too.

Yegor Lopatin is a Russian writer. Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

* Provisional IRA militant Bobby Sands was on hunger strike in the Maze Prison for 66 days in 1981, while Soviet dissident and political prisoner Anatoly Marchenko struck for 117 days in 1986. Marchenko died in a prison hospital several days after ending his strike, while Sands died in the prison hospital while still on strike. // TRR

Kemerovo

_100582490_kemslogansreutThe placards read, “How many victims really?”, “Who is really guilty?” and “What’s the cost of you turning a blind eye?” Photo courtesy of BBC and Reuters

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
March 25, 2018

The fire in Kemerovo. The official death toll is currently thirty-seven people. It is a two minutes’ walk from my old school. Maybe my acquaintances, people with whom I went to school or grew up, were there. The authorities have been lying about the number of dead, because the golden rule in Kuzbass is bad news must be kept to a minimum. The authorities will now play for time, but they are not about to tell the whole truth about what happened. The governor, who has become fused to his post, holding power longer than Putin, did not even put in an appearance at the emergency command center.

I scroll through my news feed and all I can feel is horror and anger. Children, adults, and animals from the petting zoo perished because someone permitted such a dangerous building to be erected, become someone permitted it to be operated without a proper firefighting system, because “It’ll do as it is,” because someone wanted to skimp on teaching employees what to do in an emergency, because, because, because.

Ten years ago or so, I worked at a kindergarten. Smoke appeared in the building during nap time. We evacuated two hundred sleepy children. It was winter. We donned their winter clothes over their pajamas and made a run for it. No one was injured, and the building was quickly aired out.

It transpired it was not the first time the kindergarten had problems with smokiness, because the Russian government had obliged all kindergartens to install new defective fuse boxes, due to the system of kickbacks prevailing in public procurements. The fuse boxes smoked like dragons, but everyone kept mum, because there was nothing one could do about it.

So now I read about Kemerovo and recognize my homeland, where human life has no worth, and anger leaves us speechless.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Three Years Later: Suicide by Crimea

Suicide by Crimea
Nikolay Klimenyuk
oDR
March 17, 2017

As long as Russia maintains its grip on the Ukrainian peninsula, significant changes for the better at home are impossible.

In the three years that have passed since the annexation of Crimea, a consensus has taken shape in Russia. Everything having to do with the Ukrainian peninsula is Russia’s internal affair, and far from the most important one.

The “accession” of Crimea has even quite succesfully happened in the heads of the regime’s opponents. In November 2016, while arguing on Facebook with Crimean Tatar journalist Ayder Muzhdabaev, Mikhail Khodorkovsky expressed a stance then supported by many publicly prominent liberals, including activists and intellectuals. Russian society, he argued, wants to deal with other problems. The opposition’s biggest task is regime change, but returning Crimea to Ukrainian jurisdiction by democratic means would be impossible because public opinion would be opposed. Crimea is not mentioned at all in Alexei Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign platform.

Russian media outlets generally considered “liberal” (these media usually eschew the word “opposition”) havealso swallowed the annexation and most of the rhetoric surrounding it without a peep. TV Rain, RBC (even before its top editors were replaced), and the online Meduza, which operates out of Latvia and is not not subject to Russian laws, have all long routinely called and depicted Crimea as part of Russia. The standard explanation—it is required by Russian law, and insubordination is fraught with penalties—sounds like an excuse. The law does not require that questions about Crimea be included in a quiz on knowledge of Russian cities (which was amended after public criticism) or that reporters term the annexation a “reunification” (Meduza edited the latter term to “absorption.”)

At the same time, Russian reporters usually have no problem demonstratively violating Ukrainian laws (which require them to enter the occupied territory through the checkpoint at Perekop) and flying to Crimea from Russia (as Deutsche Welle reporter Yuri Resheto did), because it’s cheaper, faster, and simpler, and because Ukraine’s rules are cumbersome, inconvenient, and nonbinding.

After that, you can write critical reports on human rights violations in Crimea till the cows come home, but it won’t change what matters. The voluntary observance of inconvenient Ukrainian rules is tantamount to acknowledging Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea, and hardly anyone in Russia wants to do that.

In fact, the seizure of Crimea has been the cause of many pressing problems in Russia that have been on the Russian opposition’s agenda. It has laid bare peculiarities of Russian society that existed longer before the attack on Ukraine.

For example, not only did the extent of imperialist moods become clear but also Crimea’s place in how Russians see themselves as a society and a nation. The imperial myth, still alive and well in Russia, was concocted during Catherine the Great’s reign. From the moment they were implemented, Peter the Great’s reforms had provoked a mixed response. They smacked of “sycophancy,” and modeling the country on Holland seemed somehow petty.

Catherine, on the contrary, conceived a great European power, rooted in antiquity, Byzantine’s direct heir, the Third Rome, a Europe larger than Europe itself. Her ambitious Southern Project, which involved defeating Turkey, uniting all the Orthodox countries in a single empire, and installing her grandson the Grand Duke Constantine on the throne in Constantinople, was brought low by political reality. The only one of her great fantasies she made come true was seizing the Crimean Khanate, in 1783.

The conquest was extremely atypical of Russia. A troublesome neighbor was not subjugated. Rather, the annexed lands were completely reimagined and rewritten. The rewriting was attended by the first mass expulsion of the Crimean Tatars. They did not fit at all into the pictures of the radiant past that Grigory Potemkin was painting in reality on the annexed lands. Crimea was resettled with Plato and Aristotle’s Orthodox descendants: Pontic Greeks, Great Russians, and Little Russians (i.e., Ukrainians). Naturally, all these particulars have been forgotten long since. What has not been forgotten is Crimea’s central place in the self-consciousness of a “great European nation,” as manifest, for example, in the absurd, endlessly repeated expression, “Crimea has always been Russian.”

The saying perfectly illustrates the peculiarities of historical memory in Russia. Crimea’s current “Russianness” is the outcome of over two hundred years of the uninterrupted genocide and displacement of the “non-Russian popuation,” which culminated during the Second World War. After the two Soviet deportations of 1941 and 1944 (ethnic Germans, Greeks, Bulgarians, Italians, Armenians, Karaites, and Crimean Tatatrs were deported), losses during battles, and the Nazi extermination of Jews and Crimeans, only a third of Crimea’s pre-war inhabitants were left. It was resettled with people from Russia and Ukraine, especially by military officers and veterans of the Party and the secret services.

Naturally, few people in Russia today regard Crimea as a conquered and ravaged country, in which a full-fledged state existed until relatively recently, an indigenous culture was long maintained, and Russians were never the ethnic majority even during the lifetimes of the present elder generation.

Regarding Crimea as a territory, not a society, and treating Crimeans as an annoying inconvenience, was a habit in Catherine’s times and has survived into the present. The formal excuse for the Russian incursion was the “defense of Crimea’s Russophone population,” and yet the “Crimea is ours” attitude of Russians to the peninsula’s residents has been quite skeptical from the get-go. They imagine the main business of Crimeans is leaching off tourists, and the only thing that attracts them about Russia is high wages.

Moreover, this opinion is common across the entire political spectrum. Sergei Parkhomenko, a liberal journalist and public figure, expressed it in a very telling way.

“If first you take five days to explain to the population of Crimea that if they return to Ukraine’s jurisdiction, their wages and pensions will be increased, and they’ll also be permitted to build even more chicken coops for holidaymakers in the coastal zone, and only then you ask them to vote in a referendum, 95% will vote for going back. […]  These people have proved they could not care less what country they belong to. And if there is anyone for whom I now feel not an ounce of sympathy as I read about how they are being fooled, robbed, milked, and put under the rule of gangsters pretending to be officials and bosses, it is the population of Crimea.”

The massive support of Russians for the annexation has much more serious and immediate consequences than a display of deeply rooted chauvinism. Having signed off on “Crimea is ours,” Russians have deemed their own power above the law and sanctioned its use in violating all laws and treaties for the sake of higher interests or “justice.” The Russian authorities had behaved this same way previously, but now they have obtained the relevant mandate from society. Quite naturally, the crackdown following the seizure of Crimea has been chockablock with spectacular acts of lawlessness.

One such act was the demolition of commercial kiosks and pavilions in Moscow, which happened despite legalized property rights and court rulings. There was nothing accidental about the fact the Moscow authorities justified their actions by citing the law adopted for settling real estate disputes in Crimea. And the twenty-year-sentence handed down to Oleg Sentsov set a new ceiling for verdicts in political trials. Before Crimea, activists would get a dvushechka (two years) for especially vigorous protests. After Crimea, the Russian authorities have been sentencing people for reposts on VK and holding solo pickets.

Actually, any regime that tasks itself with establishing the rule of law in Russia will first have to annul this “mandate to lawlessness.” The Russian opposition’s attitude to Crimea shows the rule of law is not among its priorities at all. Bewitched by the figure of Putin, the opposition does not regard regime change as a product of the rule of law. The fact that it cannot offer a realistic scenario for regime change is not a problem in itself. Russia’s currrent regime does not presuppose a peaceful change of power. Systemic change might happen as it did in the Soviet Union, at the behest of the bigwigs and under the impact of external circumstances: the state of the economy, public sentiment, foreign policy factors.

The opposition’s most serious problem is that it doesn’t have a meaningful outline of what would come next.

If we believe the alternative to Putin is neither Navalny, Khodorkovsky nor anyone else, but a democratic state based on the rule of law, there are two obstacles in our way: Crimea and Chechnya. The opposition has no vision of how to establish control over Chechnya and incorporate it into Russia’s legal system, but it is possible in theory, at least. There is no such possibility with Crimea. It is impossible to hope for international recognition of the peninsula as part of Russia, and if we keep regarding it as part of Russia, it will thus remain a legal anomaly. Moreover, no rule rule of law is even formally possible without observance of international law.

When discussing Crimea, the Russian opposition evinces a notion of democracy that differs little from Putin’s, although it is consonant with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the European populists: that democracy is rule based on majority support and not burdened by the observance of laws, procedures, and international obligations. Khodorkovsky, for example, considers “democratic procedure” not the restoration of law, but the adoption of a decision on Crimea based on the opinion of the majority, which, allegedly, is against giving Crimea back to Ukraine. Navalny has suggested holding a new, “normal” referendum.

Yet what the majority really thinks, whether there is such a thing as public opinion on any issue and how to measure it, obviously means nothing at all either to Khodorkovsky, Navalny or many other members of the opposition. By the same token, since Putin is supported by the majority of the Russian population, there is nothing for the opposition to do at all. All these contradictions can be eliminated only by unconditionally recognizing both the illegality of Crimea’s annexation and the total impossibility of keeping it in the Russian Federation on any grounds.

With Crimea in tow, Russia has no positive alternative to the current regime. And as long as the Russian opposition is concerned only about regime change and avoids discussing Crimea, the only thing it can offer is a Putinist Russia sans Putin. Whoever ends up in his place, however, the changes won’t be too noticeable.

Nikolay Klimenyuk writes about politics and culture in Germany and Russia. He was an editor at Forbes Russia, Bolshoi Gorod, and other periodicals. He has lived in Berlin since 2014 and writes for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other German mass media. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

It’s a Done Deal, or, The Miracle of the Bridge That Builds Itself

done deal

Putin Calls Issue of Crimea’s Ownership Done Deal
Kirill Bulanov
RBC
September 3, 2016

The question of Crimea’s ownership is closed, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum.

“The people of Crimea made a decision and voted. Historically, it’s a done deal,” he stressed, as quoted by Interfax.

“There is no way of returning to the previous system. None,” added Putin.

Crimea joined Russia on the basis of a referendum [sic] that took place March 16, 2014. More than 95% of those who took part in the plebiscite voted for joining the peninsula to Russia. Ukrainian and western authorities called the move an “annexation,” and the US and European Union introduced sanctions against a number of Russian citizens and Russian companies.

The head of the government made a similar statement at the beginning of the year.

“This issue is closed forever. Crimea is part of Russian territory,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in February.

On September 1, the US extended its sanctions list against Russia. The new sanctions affect companies involved in building the Kerch Strait Bridge. In particular, the list now includes construction subcontractor Mostotrest and SGM Most. The list also included seventeen individuals, among them Crimean officials and security officials.

Crimean Bridge, published on YouTube by user Krymskii Most on October 2, 2015. The annotation to the video reads, “They made a video about me. Wow!”


The same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the west’s political position of not recognizing Crimea’s accession to Russia [sic].

“No legal obstacles to recognition of Crimea’s accession, its reunification with the Russian Federation, exist,” he said, speaking to students at MGIMO.

_________

Meeting with students at MGIMO, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the main reasons the West had not accepted Crimea’s accession to Russia.

According to the minister, Europe and the US do not recognize Crimea as belonging to Russia solely for their own benefit and out of a desire to use the situation to their own political ends. Moreover, Ukraine and Kiev’s position on this issue have not interested the West for a long time.

“The West pursued this policy, a policy of containing Russia, long before the events in Ukraine,” said Lavrov.

The diplomat stressed it has long been recognized worldwide the peninsula’s reunification with Russia took place in full accordance with all the canons [sic] of the international world [sic], and in accordance with the wishes of the residents of Crimea themselves. Publicly, however, no one wants to confirm this.

Source: PolitEkspert, September 1, 2016

Translated by the Russian Reader. Inspirational message courtesy of Pinterest.com

Igor Kalyapin: “Kadyrov Said He Would Not Let Us Work in Chechnya”

Igor Kalyapin, after he was assaulted by a mob on March 16
Igor Kalyapin, after he was assaulted by a mob in the Hotel Grozny City on March 16, 2016

“Kadyrov said he would not let us work in Chechnya”
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
March 18, 2016

The Committee for Prevention of Torture has been forced to withdraw from the Republic of Chechnya. Its chair, Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, was the latest victim of physical assault there. Kalyapin had long had a troubled relationship with Chechen headman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kalyapin was assaulted on the evening of Wednesday, March 16. Three days earlier, persons unknown had broken into the offices of the Committee for Prevention of Torture in Grozny. Three day before that, several journalists and human rights activists had been attacked while en route to Grozny. In an interview with Fontanka.ru, Kalyapin talked about the committee’s plans for defending torture victims in Chechnya.

“Igor Kalyapin was just assaulted outside the entrance to the Hotel Grozny City. He was beaten and pelted with eggs,” Dmitry Utukin, an attorney for the organization wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

Later, Kalyapin recounted what had happened to him.

“Around 6 p.m., I checked into Room 2401 in the Hotel Grozny City,” he wrote on Facebook. “About forty minutes later, two reporters and a cameraman came to my room. While I was still in Ingushetia I had promised to give them an interview as soon as I arrived in Grozny. We had begun recording the interview when there was a knock on the door. A man of about sixty years of age, who introduced himself as the hotel’s general manager, a security guard in a black uniform, and another middle-aged man entered. The manager told me that since I had criticized the head of Chechnya and the Chechen police, while he himself was very fond of Ramzan Kadyrov, I had to leave the hotel. […] After that, I was escorted downstairs, where I was detained by a mob of around thirty women, who had apparently been hastily assembled from hotel staff and the employees of the boutiques located on the first floor. They screamed in unison: how dare you speak ill of Ramzan. When I tried to respond, they screamed loudly: we do not want to listen to you. Nevertheless, I was not allowed to leave the hotel. I realized they were purposely delaying me until a team of assailants arrived. I had let my staff go home in a car before dark, and it would have been wrong for them to come after me at such a time in the evening in Grozny. It was apparent I would not be allowed to check into any hotel in Grozny. Any of my Chechen friends living in Grozny would have been exposed to mortal danger [if I had tried to stay with them]. So basically I was in no big hurry nor could I expect anyone to help me. I tried calling Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council. I did not manage to get through to him in time [.]”

Ramzan Kadyrov and Jean-Claude Van Damme at the opening of the Hotel Grozny City, October 16, 2012
Ramzan Kadyrov and Jean-Claude Van Damme at the opening of the Hotel Grozny City, October 16, 2012

In an interview with Kavpolit, Kalyapin said of his attackers, “I believe the men who attacked me were neither Chechens nor Muslims. People who have done such a thing cannot be called Chechens or Muslims.”

Who, then, were the assailants? What had the anti-torture campaigner done to enrage them? Fontanka.ru posed these questions to Igor Kalyapin.

Igor, how do you explain yesterday’s attack on you?

There is no cause to guess here, it is all fairly simple. Over the past two years, Ramzan Kadyrov has personally, frequently, and quite emotionally accused me of various horrible crimes in the Chechen media. He has said I have defended terrorists and financed terrorism in the Chechen Republic, and that our committee are agents of western intelligence agencies who earn money on the blood of the Chechen people. That is a literal quotation. For example, in December 2014, there was a terrorist attack in Grozny in which a dozen Chechen policemen, young guys, were killed.

Yes, that is a well-known story. Kadyrov blamed you personally for the attack.

He addressed people, including the relatives of the dead, and he did this in the first twenty-four hours after the attack, when people were blinded by grief and pain. And he said to them: I know that a certain Kalyapin transferred money from abroad to the organizers of the attack.

Let us also recall he was not angry with you for no reason. You had tried to prevent him from burning down without trial the houses of people suspected of being relatives of the terrorists.

Of course. But he has said it more than once; he has systematically repeated the charges. Only last month on Chechen TV there were two films about Kalyapin: montages of photographs, videos, and screenshots of our website, and all the charges against me read out against this visual backdrop.

So what is the reason? What has your committee done to Kadyrov?

Many of the kidnappings we have tried to investigate have led us to Kadyrov’s confidants. And he knows it quite well: I once personally told him about it. We constantly pressure the Investigative Committee, which deals with these matters, to perform certain investigative actions. They have tried to stop or suspend criminal proceedings, but we have constantly appealed their actions in the courts.

Well, we understand how our courts and investigators work. Could Kadyrov, for example, just not pay attention to your work?

We publicly talk about all of it. We point out that the Investigative Committee in the Chechen Republic has not been investigating such-and-such a case, although the evidence is there: for example, the case of Murad Amriyev, the case of Islam Umarpashayev, and other matters. We point out that a certain person has not been questioned only because he serves in the Akhmad Kadyrov Regiment, and the investigator is afraid to summon him. We have made such things public on many occasions. We have sent white papers on these cases to all the factions in the State Duma. We have periodically appealed to Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee. Moreover, we have done it openly, by publishing reports, and we have talked about cases not being investigated. I have also spoken about this at the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. There has been a lot of press about our work. Naturally, it infuriates Kadyrov.

Does it merely infuriate him? Or does he see your work as a serious threat?

Apparently, he does in fact see it as a threat. I think that from time to time he get signals he should stop illegally prosecuting people he does not like. I imagine the powers that be wag their finger at him. Until you stop, they say, your republic will be written about as a lawless land.

Why has everything intensified in recent days? The incidents involving your committee in a single region have been in the headlines for a week running. Whose toes have you stepped on lately?

No, there were incidents before this, too. It was just that nobody wrote about them. If it were not for the March 9 attack on the journalists, which made such a big splash, then no one much would have written about my getting pelted with eggs, probably. The two incidents just happened to coincide. In fact, we have been under intense pressure for at least the last two years. Many things have happened. I cannot detail all of them right now.

For example, three days ago, there was an incident at your committee’s office in Grozny.

Yes, three nights ago, people broke into an apartment in Grozny we use as an office. They tried to turn off the security camera. They thought they had succeeded, but the camera kept on working. So on the recording you can see Emergency Situations Ministry officers and police officers breaking open the door and entering. Then, apparently, they got to the router, and the signal went dead. Basically, one of the reasons I came to Grozny was to get to the bottom of what was going on with the apartment: inspect it, file a complaint with the police, and so on.

Your colleagues at the committee told Fontanka.ru that security officials also went into your office in Ingushetia on March 9.

It was not an office in Ingushetia, but an apartment where we kept documents. And that is important, because we have not done any work in Ingushetia. We do not have a single case in Ingushetia. We do not annoy the security officials in Ingushetia in any way. Moreover, I have had a great relationship with Yunus-bek Yevkurov, head of Ingushetia, and he has had generally good relations with human rights activists, even with the ones who annoy him. So Yevkurov was not behind it, of course. I cannot tell you who these people were. But people at the level of the North Caucasian Federal District have got involved, and I imagine the Interior Ministry could easily establish whether it was policemen or someone else.

Meaning, you are confident they have decided to figure it out?

No, I’m not confident, not confident at all. But if anyone can figure it out, it has to be federal district officials. But if it was security officials who were involved, they were not from Ingushetia.

Why could your committee’s employees not work in Chechnya quietly, without advertising themselves?

That is the specific nature of our work. We are not gathering information, after all; we are lawyers. We are constantly involved in public legal proceedings. Once or twice a week, for example, we are involved in court hearings dealing with the Investigative Committee’s unlawful actions or their inaction. The court sessions are open to the public. Information about them is posted at the entrance to the courthouse or on the court’s website. We are simply legally bound to operate publicly. That is, we have three areas of work: we do paperwork and file documents in court, we are involved in court hearings, and we take part in police investigations. It is quite easy to identify us. And there is nothing to be done about it.

You work to prevent torture, which is a crime. Theoretically, the state should have a stake in the success of your work. How does it help you? Perhaps by physically protecting you?

You know yourself how it “helps” us.

What if I didn’t know?

The work of the Committee against Torture, which is purely juridical and wholly confined to criminal proceedings, was deemed work aimed at changing state policy, and as such the committee was placed on the register of foreign agents. Honestly, I still have not recovered from the shock. We never denied we received foreign funding, but to say that the Committee against Torture had been trying to change state policy is—

A full confession?

In my opinion, it is self-incrimination. When a person says such things, it is called self-incrimination. But here it was the state saying this. Nevertheless, our organization was deemed a foreign agent. So now we have another organization: the Committee for Prevention of Torture does not receive foreign funding. True, they are trying once again to register us as foreign agents. Because they feel like it.

Okay, money from foreign organizations is a very bad thing. But has the Russian government subsidized the prevention of torture?

In 2013–2014, we got our first state subsidy, a so-called presidential grant. Then the organization was declared a foreign agent, and we announced we did not intend to go on working with this status. We discontinued operations and registered the new organization, which for the time being has not received anything from anyone.

How do you survive, then? Legal aid, trips to the regions (you operate in more than just Chechnya), and collecting information are probably all expensive things, no?

Legal aid is not the most expensive thing. And what information collecting do we need to do if people come to us themselves? We need money for other things—for collecting evidence and conducting forensic examinations, and for ensuring people’s safety. We very often send victims to a sanatorium, not only so they get medical treatment there but also to spare them from the intrusiveness of the law enforcement agency whose officers we suspect of having committed the crime. This is what we need money for. For example, last year a man sought our help. He told us a deputy minister of the Chechen Republic had tortured him: the minister had attached electric wires to his body and so on. The victim was in hospital. Moreover, he was disabled: he had only one leg. And he showed us so-called electrode traces, claiming they were evidence of torture. We had this conversation approximately a week after he had been tortured. To force the Investigative Committee to accept this as evidence, you need to carry out a quite complicated forensic examination. So we sent this man with a chaperon (since he was disabled) off to Moscow. In Moscow, we contracted with a licensed, state-accredited forensics bureau, which offers paid services among other things. They did the examination. When we did the numbers, it turned out the examination alone cost us over 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,300 euros at current exchange rates]. They are not always so expensive, but such forensic examinations are required in each case.

So maybe the examinations should be conducted at government expense as part of the investigation.

The Investigative Committee is not going to conduct them, and not only because it is expensive but also because they are afraid of finding out the results. When it does not want to deal with a criminal case, the Investigative Committee’s primary tool is delaying the forensic examination so it is impossible to establish either the nature of the physical injuries or the circumstances in which they were received. So in each case we have to carry out the forensic examinations ourselves.

But someone does pay for it, don’t they? Who are they? Charities, private sponsors?

Our work is divided. There is the Committee for Prevention of Torture. It employs lawyers who go to court, file appeals, and so on. It is a public organization that has no foreign funding. But there is another organization, also noncommercial, which works on the forensic examinations, collects evidence, and so on, that is, on things where money is absolutely necessary, including international protection. It receives foreign funding.

Have I understood you correctly that the fight against torture in Russia is subsidized by foreign organizations?

Yes, that is correct.

You want to return to Chechnya. I gather that the challenges you went there to solve have not been addressed.

The task I have already told you about has lost its relevance. I wanted to inspect our apartment in Grozny, but it is clear I am not going to be allowed to do that. So we will have to solve the problem differently. For example, attorneys can inspect the apartment along with police officers. But I had another objective: to try and organize a press conference in Grozny. Now I would not even risk inviting anyone to go there. In Chechnya, there are reporters who write good things about Kadyrov, and they are not in any danger. But those who have at one time or another permitted themselves even a bit of criticism had better not go there.

What will happen now to the cases your committee has been handling in Chechnya? Will you abandon them?

No, we do not abandon cases. We simply do not have the right, either the moral or the legal right. We will continue to be involved in them. For the time being, I cannot say how we will set up the work and where our lawyers will do the paperwork. It is obvious we will not be allowed to work in the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov himself has said so many times. But we will continue the work itself.

Your staff will still have to travel to Chechnya, won’t they?

Yes, they will. But we are officially involved in criminal cases as counsel for the victims. The investigative authorities are obliged to ensure our safety. They had better do it.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Images courtesy of Hotel Grozny City and Novaya Gazeta