Yulia Tsvetkova: Blues and Pinks

“He Threatened to Kill Us for Perverting Children”
A Feminist Staged a Children’s Play. She Has Been Accused of Extremism and Interrogated by Police
Larisa Zhukova
Lenta.ru
March 15, 2019

The police department in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has been investigating the work of feminist Yulia Tsvetkova, producer of the activist comedy theater Merak. The ostensible cause of the investigation is her production of a children’s play about gender stereotypes, Blues and Pinks, which the people who denounced Tsvetkova to the police regarded as promotion of homosexual relations among minors. The suspicions of the authorities have also been piqued by the anti-militarist dance productions Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition and Prague Spring, and the VK community page Komsomolka. Lenta.ru recorded Tsvetkova’s account of why regional activists have grown accustomed to threats of real violence and how the local extremism prevention center (Center “E”) inspects children’s dances and drawings.

“Are You Against the Soviet Union?”
Everyone who has known us for a long time agrees that something completely insane has been happening. We have pupils who have been working with us for almost sixteen years, starting with my mom’s early development workshop.

Our theater is me, the actors, and my mom, our manager. We are a tiny theater company in a really small city and the only young people’s theater of its kind. We are not a classic theater company, but a horizontal (egalitarian) and activist theater. We highlight societal problems and look for ways of solving them. We established the theater a year ago. We decided to call it Merak, with the stress on the first syllable. In Serbian, mérak means a buzz, a high, life’s little pleasures.

The actors are twenty-one children aged six and up. They write poems, contribute to the scripts, build scenery, and choreograph the dance numbers. As director, I supply the overall outline, but then I leave the creativity to them. How do you feel in this scene? I ask them. What should it be like? How should the dialogue sound? What words would  you use to say that? How would you dance it? Some find it odd I deal with children as equals, but I believe it has to be this way. We use improvisation, forum theater, gags, and free dance.

Everything was fine until February, until we decided to stage four danced-based plays, which we had been rehearsing for six months. Two plays are staged one day, while the other two plays are staged the next day. We came up with the idea of calling them a festival by way of combining them. It would have been the first activist art festival in the region. A week before the first performance we got a phone call from city hall. The next day, the Youth Center, a venue we had already confirmed, told us they were booked up on the dates we needed, and there were no openings for the next six months.

The telephone conversation with city hall lasted over an our. City officials went over our poster point by point. Why was our play called Blues and Pinks? We wrote, “We can do it again”: were we against the Soviet Union or something? We were asked what we meant by the word “individual.” Obviously, there was something about what we were doing they didn’t like. We also suddenly got the cold shoulder at other venues.

pic_08ab34d1a9a5f76eb7ff4c96411bec73Detail of a poster for The Color of Saffron Festival of Activist Art. The inscription reads “We can do it again. We can ban it!” 

After the news that the festival had been shut down was published, city hall called us and said we had misunderstood them. Actually, they supported our undertaking. They invited us to a meeting at which they made it understood that if we denied the news reports, they would help us find a venue. Since I don’t like having my arm twisted, and I didn’t think I had done anything wrong by talking about the connection between their first phone call and the sudden refusals to give us a venue, I was not about to refute any of the reports. That was when they interrogated the kids.

“The Kids Are Feared like Terrible Dissidents”
To be honest, I thought we would be called on the carpet for our anti-militarist production Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. It is a translation of a song by Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down. He often voices his opposition to war and the arms industry. The big dance number in the play is set to his song. It’s an urgent problem for us, because all the boys who attend our workshop, which has been functioning for over twenty years, try to smuggle in toy pistols at first. But we have a ban on weapons, even toy weapons. Why? We are trying to make sense of things. During the big dance number, one dancer acquires a “pistol.” Then another gets one, too, as a means of defense. A third dance gets hold of a machine gun, and the atmosphere heats up. It is satirical and exaggerated, of course, but it is a quite dramatic play as well.

pic_dc844038f81c1c5c70e0d764a49c0a98

Merak Theater’s poster for its four-play, two-day festival, The Color of Saffron. Originally scheduled for March 16 and 17, it was to have featured (in descending order) Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Spring [sic], Untouchables, and Blues and Pinks

But when we came up with the play, the shooting at the college in Kerch occurred. The kids were scared: the shooting affected them greatly. We talked a lot about what they thought about the incident and how it could have been avoided. No one at school discussed the incident with the children at all, although it should be said adults generally avoid discussing really important things with teenagers. The kids came up with the play’s finale on their own: it showed how the situation could have been avoided.

Prague Spring is a production based on Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We pay homage to Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography and Maurice Béjart’s 1955 choreography, using music by John Cage. Coincidentally, I got the idea during the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops: the two “springs” came together in my mind around the subject of human rights and resisting oppression. It’s a simple, obvious subject, but when you grow up in a small city like Komsomolsk, it can seem quite remote and forbidden. But this is just what I read into it, inner thoughts not meant for viewers. The kids simply dance spring. That’s it. Six-year-olds hop up and down and run around in circles, making up half of it as they go along.

Our fifteen-minute play Untouchables focuses on bullying at school and kindergarten. A lot of what the kids told us themselves about their own experiences went into the play. The more we talk things through, the easier it is for them to deal with them.

pic_eda40eabbbb3ba6a6ff95708693a0148Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

Blues and Pinks is a play that illustrates stereotypes about girls and boys. According to the script, we run through the list of clichés: girls like pink, boys like blue; boys are messy, girls clean up after them; boy are defenders and warriors and shouldn’t cry, while girls are future mothers who dream only of getting married; girls and boys can never understand each other. This is presented on stage as a lighthearted dance. We try and show the notion that if a boy pulls your pigtail, it means he likes you is a step away from the idea that if a man beats a woman he must love her.

We continue by suggesting a solution. One of the boys dances, releasing his pent-up feelings as it were. The other boys follow his example, realizing that, whether they dance or not, it does not make any more or less guys. The girls share their dreams. One of them wants to be a businesswoman, while another wants to be a director. They recite the names of great women: the first woman to climb Everest, the first woman to win an Oscar, and so on.

Sophisticated audiences in the western half of Russia would probably find it quite naive, but in our city it is timely and relevant. For example, the other day, a local radio presenter, Tatyana Zhemerenetskaya, announced she planned to run for mayor. She was fired: her bosses were outraged by her excessively “unfeminine ambitions.” Women are supposed to stay home and make soup. In the final scene of our play, the kids say they are individuals. They have dreams and passions.

The funny thing is I didn’t even think about the connotation of the play’s title, which the police caught. One of our pupils came up with it. I have hung out with female LGBT activists, and none of them ever call themselves “blues” or “pinks.” They are just colors to me. Honestly, if I had had doubts, I would not have bothered using the words in the title.

Our actors are between six and seventeen, but the authorities fear us as if we were terrible dissidents. Miraculously, we found a woman interested in contemporary young people’s theater who was not afraid to provide us with a venue. We intend to hold the festival there as planned, on March 16 and 17. But we have nowhere to seat viewers: we cannot find people who will give us chairs. One person said yes, but later he was scared off, apparently.

“She Drew the Rainbow of Her Own Free Will”
The policewoman who came to my office could not say out loud the reason for the investigation. The complaint read that we were promoting homosexuality among minors. She showed me the complaint and blushed.

During my interrogation, I was told I was at the local department for extremism and terrorism prevention (Center “E”). Three complaints had been filed against me: for promoting homosexual relations among minors, for inciting hatred towards men, and for “extremism,” I think.

The interrogation lasted nearly four hours.

First, the officers gave me screenshots of various posts and photos from my personal social media page and the community page Dandelion Field, where I write about really simple things like contraception, HIV, and condoms, things that, unfortunately, not all teenagers know about. There was also stuff from Komsomolka, which deals with feminism. By the way, there I don’t write at all about men: it’s a community page about women.

One of the screenshots showed a workshop from last year at which a girl had drawn a picture, and there was a rainbow in her picture. I was forced to write two paragraphs explains that my underage female pupil had drawn the rainbow of her own free will. No one had pressured and coerced her to draw it.

Next, we got hung up on the phrase “gender stereotypes.” The police officer thought gender had something to do with transgenders. I explained to him what gender stereotypes were, what I meant by the term, and gave examples of stereotypes, as if I were sitting for an exam at school.

Then I was shown a screenshot of a post in which I had negatively assessed the “gay propaganda law,” and I had described the persecution of the lesbians in Chechnya and the “corrective” rapes to which they had been subjected.

The detective asked whether I engaged in propaganda. He asked was sex education was, and who needed it and why. He asked what feminism was. He asked what intersectional feminism was. Ultimately, I had to describe to him how I imagined traditional family values, what I thought about families. I wrote that I wasn’t against traditional family values like love, acceptance, and warmth. This ridiculous testimony took up four pages.

This was followed by the persecution of our children and personal attacks on them. There is no other way of putting it.

“The Police Have Come for You. Let’s Go”
The police officers running the investigation are clueless about the questions they have been asking, and this incompetence has only exacerbated the circumstances.

On March 10, they came for one of boys and one of our girls. It is not clear why they were chosen. There are seventeen teenagers in our theater, and they attend different schools. The police did not pick on our oldest and youngest pupils.

The 15-year-old girl was summoned after school from her house and grilled for two hours by five adults: two police officers and three female school employees. They put the screws on her and descended into semi-insults. They quizzed her about LGBT. Did she know what it meant? they asked. How had she found out? Was I promoting homosexuality? Did I encourage girls to sleep with girls, and boys with boys? The subjects they discussed were such that they would have earned an 18+ rating, but the interrogation took place without the girl’s parents present.

pic_7bc908930662b55a0cdbabb1976b5037Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

The 13-year-old boy was kept after school. He was summoned to the headmaster’s office. “The police have come for you. Let’s go,” he was told. No one had the presence of mind to call his parents. The police officers showed him the likes I had awarded a post I no longer remembered, but they were showing this to a child! The absurdity was off the charts. They asked the boy and the girl about each other. Maybe they had picked the through the list of  numbers in their telephones.

When, the next day, they came for another of our boys, we warned him to call his parents immediately. He called his dad, who works as a beat cop, so he was not grilled for two hours, but twenty minutes, and the conversation was more polite and less biased.

Everyone is scared. Naturally, it is frightening when you’re interrogated for two hours. For now, no one wants to quit the theater, because everyone is aware of my work. They know I am opposed to violence, and I treat boys and girls equally. But, first of all, the subject itself scares the kids, because they are still kids and not tuned into all these issues. Second, they feel the pressure: they are afraid to say something wrong and inadvertently throw me under the bus.

Their parents and I have now been trying to understand the legal grounds of why we have been persecuted. We have been poring over the laws.

“Rewind to Fifty Years Ago”
Until recently, everyone really loved our theater and told us how cool we were. We did two productions wholly in English about the history of the English language, which were unprecedented in our city. At the Drama Theater, we did a dance performance about the problems of teenagers entitled Evolution. It was about how society puts pressure on carefree kids, but ultimately their friends help them and their problems are solved. This was all performed to poems written by one of the girls involved in the production. The show was a benefit for disabled children and the local organization Lighthouse of Hope. Not a bad track record for a single year!

Children grow up, and the problems they face get more complicated. First of all, they deal with domestic violence. I have had whole black months when it was one story after another, and I cried because I felt so helpless. It’s really scary: dad’s beating mom, dad’s beating me, dad’s beating my brother. Gender stereotypes are also something our kids deal with up close and personal. My fifteen-year-old female pupils are already pestered now with questions of when they are getting married and having kids, and why they should bother with careers. Homophobia is also a force. I know there are LGBT teenagers out there, and I cannot imagine how hard it is for them to cope alone. The streets in Komsomolsk are a really dangerous place, just as in most typical provincial towns, I would guess.

Komsomolsk is one half a factory town, and one half a gangster town. When you hear about us, rewind to fifty years ago. It is not the twenty-first century here, but the twentieth century. I think what really spooked the police was that I had been talking about activism and feminism. These words scare people.

Our local feminist community consists of two volunteers and me. I have an audience of a thousand some subscribers on our community page, but between two and twenty people in Komsomolsk itself. That is the number of people who come to our events. Unfortunately, that is our audience for the time being. It is a infantile scale.

But there have always been plenty of haters. When I decided to do a lecture on abuse, there were threats: we will come and show you what real violence is like, I was warned. Instead, a group of women showed up who sabotaged the lecture by insisting victims had only themselves to blame or something of the sort.

Even our women’s tea party was disrupted. We wanted to make it women-only, without men, so we could talk about our problems. Men wrote to us that they would come and show us what feminism was. There were so many threats that even the young women themselves got scared, along with the venue where we had scheduled the tea party. They asked us not to come.

I have stopped responding to death threats. Now, as we have been chatting, I have received three messages from a young man. The only word in the messages you can print is the word “you.” Yesterday, a man wrote on the community page of our theater workshop threatening to kill us for “perverting children.” This the general background.

After I was interrogated for four hours by the police about feminism and sex education, I felt I had a claim to the hashtag #FeminismIsNotExtremism. Six months ago, I would insert in posts in connection with the case of Lyubov Kalugina, when I was not even remotely in harm’s way. It is one thing to read about persecuted activists, but it is another thing to become one of them. People keep asking why I do it. What is the point?  My run-in with the police makes me think hard about the kind of country we live in. But I can name at least twenty-one people for whom what I do is not pointless. I can name even more people, actually.

pic_55145f4a6ff0238f1689b54bfaa9dccbPhoto from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

What scares me most is the kids think they did something wrong. I ask them, You believe in what we do? Yes, they reply. Do you see anything bad about it? No, they answer. But the whole situation puts them under psychological pressure. It is a really terrible precedent, because the kids have been rapped on the knuckles as it were. They really work their butts off staging our plays. They invest a tremendous amount of energy in them. They are sincerely looking for ways to change the world for the better. These kids are really delicate and sensitive, and they are close to each other as group. They volunteer their time, they visit orphanages, they support other social projects. They are totally maxed out: they try and get straight A’s at school, and they are involved in academic competitions. In the midst of all their activities, they manage to come to four-hour-long, physically draining rehearsals.

But then adults tell them activism is bad, activism is evil, without even fully understand what activism is. And when these adults show up a week before our festival and tell us to get lost, both the kids and I are stressed out. They are really worried.

I have not slept or eaten for three days. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I have been summoned again to the extremism prevention department. The phone is tapped, and calls with my lawyer are cut off. But I dream of opening a women’s crisis center in our city and an alternative independent school where the children would be not be bullied and hounded, and continuing to move the theater forward. In late spring, we are doing a production based on Svetlana Alexievich’s book Last Witnesses, about children during the Second World War, and in the summer we are staging a new English-language production.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader.

UPDATE. DVHab.ru reports that, despite the fact the local authorities ostensibly canceled Merak Theater’s Color of Saffron Festival, the festival went ahead way anyway at “closed” venues. DVHab.ru included a full video of Merak’s performance of Blues and Pinks in its article. I have reproduced it below.

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brazil.jpegJonathan Pryce and Terry McKeown in Brazil (1985). Courtesy of imdb.com

Authorized to Remain Silent
Why We Know Nothing about the Outcome of Most Criminal Cases and Verdicts against People Who, According to the Russian Secret Services, Planned or Attempted to Carry Out Terrorist Attacks 
Alexandra Taranova
Novaya Gazeta
April 27, 2018

High-ranking officials from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD), and the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) regularly report on the effective measures against terrorism undertaken by their agencies. If we add reports of constant counter-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan and Chechnya, operations involving shootouts and the storming of houses, we might get the impression the level of terrorism in Russia is close to critical, resembling the circumstances somewhere in Afghanistan, the only difference being that Afghanistan does not have the FSB, the MVD, and the NAK to protect it.

Over the past two weeks, there were at least two such stories in the news.

A few days ago, the FSB reported it had “impeded the criminal activity of supporters of the international terrorist organization Islamic State, who […] had begun planning high-profile terrorist attacks using firearms and improvised explosive devices.”

The FSB’s Public Relations Office specified the terrorist attacks were to be carried out in goverment buildings in Stavropol Territory.

Earlier, TASS, citing the FSB’s Public Relations Office, reported that, since the beginning of the 2018, six terrorist attacks had been prevented (including attacks in Ufa, Saratov, and Ingushetia), while three crimes of a terrorist nature had been committed (in Khabarovsk Territory, Dagestan, and Sakhalin Region), and this had been discussed at a meeting of the NAK. Other media outlets quoted FSB director Alexander Bortnikov, who claimed that last year the security services had prevented twenty-five terrorist attacks, but four attacks, alas, had gone ahead.

For the most part, however, it is impossible to verify these reports, because, with rare exceptions, the terrorists, either potential terrorists or those who, allegedly, carried out terrorist attacks, are identified by name. Neither the Russian Investigative Committee (SKR) nor the FSB informs Russians about subsequent investigations, about whether all the terrorists and their accomplices have been rounded up. Likewise, with rare exceptions, we know nothing either about court trials or verdicts handed down in those trials.

Novaya Gazeta monitored reports about prevented terrorist attacks from November 2015 to November 2017. We analyzed all the media publications on this score: the outcome of our analysis has been summarized in the table, below. The veil of secrecy makes it extremely hard to figure out what reports merely repeat each other, that is, what reports relate to one and the same events, and we have thus arrived at an overall figure for the number of such reports. Subsequently, by using media reports and court sentencing databases, we have counted the number of cases that officially resulted in court sentences.

Most news reports about prevented terrorist attacks in Russia are not followed up. For example, at one point it was reported (see below) that five people with ties to Islamic State had been apprehended in Moscow and Ingushetia for planning terrorist attacks, and this same news report mentioned that a criminal case had been launched. But only the surname of the alleged band’s leader was identified, and he was supposedly killed while he was apprehended. There is no more information about the case. Over a year later, we have no idea how the investigation ended, whether the case went to trial, and whether the trial resulted in convictions and verdicts.

Other trends also emerged.

During the two-year period we monitored, reports about prevented terrorist attacks and apprehended terrorists encompassed a particular group of Russian regions: Moscow, Crimea, Petersburg, Kazan, Rostov, Baskortostan, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, and Krasnoyarsk. When we turn to verdicts handed down in such cases, this list narrows even further. Rostov leads the country, followed by Crimea. There are two reports each from Krasnoyarsk and Kazan, and several isolated incidents. The largest number of news reports about terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage, i.e., 30% of all the reports we compiled and analyzed, originated in Crimea.

  FSB MVD NAK Russian Security Council (Sovbez)
Number of reports of prevented terrorists, November 2015–November 2017 3,505 reports (18,560 identical reports in the media) 1,702 reports

(3,571 identical reports in the media)

492 reports

(852 identical reports in the media)

236 reports

(1,122 identical reports in the media)

Outcomes: arrests, criminal charges, verdicts, etc. 13 verdicts,

14 arrests

3 verdicts,

2 arrests

2 incidents: in one case, it was reported that all the detainees had been killed; in the other, that the detainees awaited trial, but were not identified by name. It is impossible to find out what happened to any detainees, since no information was provided about them. The exception is Lenur Islyamov, who is currently at large and vigorously pursuing his objectives.

The Triumps of the Special Services with No Follow-Up
Here are the most revealing examples.

On November 12, 2016, RBC reported the security services had apprehended a group of ten terrorists, migrants from Central Asia. According to the FSB, they planned “high-profile terrorist attacks” in heavily congested areas of Moscow and Petersburg. Officials confiscated four homemade bombs, firearms, ammunition, and communications devices from the militants. The FSB claimed all the detainees had confessed to their crimes.

In the same news report, the FSB was quoted as having reported that on October 23, 2016 “there occurred an attack on police officers, during which two alleged terrorists were shot dead” in Nizhny Novgorod. The report stressed that, three days later, the banned group ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, just as it had taken responsibility for an attack on a traffic police post in Moscow Region on August 18, 2016.

There were no names and no details. The outcomes of the investigations, the plight of the detainees, and judicial rulings were never made public, nor did state investigators or defense counsel share any information.

This same RBC article mentions that, four days before the alleged incident in Nizhny Novgorod, the SKR had reported the apprehension of an ISIL supporter who had been planning a terrorist attack at a factory in Kazan, while Interfax‘s sources reported the apprehension of a man who had been planning a terrorist attack in Samara.  It was also reported that in early May 2016 the FSB had reported the apprehension of Russian nationals in Krasnoyarsk who were “linked to international terrorist organizations and had planned a terrorist attack during the May holidays.”

No names were mentioned at the time. Later, however, details of the case were made public.

Thus, on April 7, 2017, Tatar Inform News Agency reported that the Volga District Military Court in Kazan had handed down a verdict in the case of Robert Sakhiyev. He was found guilty of attempting to establish a terrorist cell in Kazan. The first report that a terrorist attack had been planned at an aviation plant in Kazan was supplied by Artyom Khokhorin, Interior Minister of Tatarstan, during a meeting of MVD heads. According to police investigators, Sakhiyev had been in close contact with a certain Sukhrob Baltabayev, who was allegedly on the international wanted list for involvement in an illegal armed group. Using a smartphone, Sakhiyev had supposedly studied the plant’s layout via a satellite image.

On August 2, 2017, RIA Novosti reported that a visting collegium of judges from the Far East District Military Court in Krasnoyarsk had sentenced Zh.Zh. Mirzayev, M.M. Abdullayev, and Zh.A. Abdusamatov for planning a terrorist attack in Krasnoyarsk in May 2016 during Victory Day celebrations. Mirzayev was sentenced to 18 years in prison; Abdullayev, to 11 years in prison; and Abdusamatov, to 11 years in a maximum security penal colony. According to investigators, Mirzayev worked as a shuttle bus driver in Krasnoyarsk and maintained contact with Islamic State via the internet. Mirzayev decided to carry out a terrorist attack by blowing up a shuttle bus.

On January 26, 2017, TASS reported the police and FSB had identified a group of eight people planning terrorist attacks in Moscow in the run-up to State Duma elections. Oleg Baranov, chief of the Moscow police, had reported on the incident at an expanded collegium of the MVD’s Main Moscow Directorate.

We know nothing more about what happened to the “identified” would-be terrorists.

On January 31, 2017, RBC issued a bulletin that the Russian secret services had prevented an attempt to carry out terrorist attacks in Moscow during the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championships. The source of the news was Igor Kulyagin, deputy head of staff at the NAK. The militants were allegedly detained on May 2.

“We succeed in catching them as a result of a vigorous investigative and search operation in the city of Moscow,” the FSB added.

The names of the militants were not reported nor was there any news about an investigation and trial.

In the same news item, Mr. Kulyagin is quoted as saying, “In total, Russian special services prevented around [sic] 40 terrorist attacks, liquidated [sic] about [sic] 140 militants and 24 underground leaders, and apprehended about [sic] 900 people in 2016.”

According to Mr. Kulyagin, in Ingushetia on November 14, 2016, the authorities uncovered five militants who “had been planning terrorist attacks in crowded places during the New Year’s holidays, including near the French Embassy in Moscow.”

Again, the reading public was not provided with any names or information about the progress of the investigation. The only alleged terrorist who was identified was Rustam Aselderov, who had been murdered.

“According to the special services, [Aselderov] was involved in terrorist attacks in Volgograd in 2013 and Makhachkala in 2011.”

We have no idea whether an official investigation of his murder was ever carried out.

Lenta.Ru reported on February 1, 2017, that FSB officers in Krasnodar Territory had prevented a terrorist attack. The supposed terrorists had planned an explosion at New Year’s celebrations. A possible perpetrator of the terrorist attack, a 38-year-old native of a Northern Caucasus republic, was apprehended. No other particulars of the incident were reported, and they still have not been made public to this day.

On October 2, 2017, Russia Today, citing the FSB, reported an IS cell had been apprehended in Moscow Region. Its members has allegedly planned to carry out “high-profile terrorist attacks” in crowded places, including public transport. The FSB added that foreign emissaries had led the cell, whose members had included Russian nationals.

No names or details were subsequently provided to the public.

The same article reported that, on August 31, 2017, the FSB had apprehended two migrants from Central Asia, who had been planning terrorist attacks in congested places in Moscow and Moscow Region on September 1. RIA Novosti reported the same “news” in August 2017. The detainees were, allegedly, members of IS.

According to the FSB, one of the men had “planned to attack people with knives.” His comrade had planned to become a suicide bomber and blow himself up in a crowd. Supposedly, he had made a confession.

We know nothing about what happened to the two men and the criminal case against them.

On November 7, 2017, Izvestia reported MVD head Vladimir Kolokoltsev’s claim that a Kyrgyzstani national had been apprehended in the Moscow Region town of Khimki. The man had, allegedly, been planning to carry out a terrorist attack outside a subway station using a KamAZ truck. The detained man was not identified. We know nothing about what has happened to him or whether the investigation of the case has been completed.

Trials of Terrorists
On July 19, 2016, RIA Novosti reported the Russian Supreme Court had reduced the sentence (from 16 years to 15.5 years) of one of two radical Islamists convicted of plotting a terrorist attack in the mosque in the town of Pyt-Yakh in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. 

“The panel of judges has decided the verdict of the court, which sentenced Rizvan Agashirinov and Abdul Magomedaliyev to prison terms of 16 and 20 years, respectively, should be mitigated in the case of Agashirinov, and left in force in the case Magomedaliyev.”

On August 31, 2016, TASS reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced Russian national Rashid Yevloyev, a militant with the so-called Caucasus Emirate, to six years in a penal colony for planning terrorist attacks.

On February 15, 2017, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported the Moscow District Military Court had sentenced Aslan Baysultanov, Mokhmad Mezhidov, and Elman Ashayev. According to investigators, after returning in 2015 from Syria, where they had fought on the side of ISIL, Baysultanov and his accomplices had manufactured a homemade explosive device in order to carry out a terrorist attack on public transport in Moscow.

Baysultanov was sentenced to 14 years in prison; Ashayev, to 12 years, and Mezhidov, to 3 years.

On May 10, 2017, Interfax reported the North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don had sentenced ISIL recruiters who had been apprehended in Volgograd Region. The alleged ringleader, Raman Radzhabov, was sentenced to 4 years in prison after being found guilty of recruiting residents of Volgograd Region. His accomplices—Azamat Kurkumgaliyev, Gayrat Abdurasulov, Nurken Akhetov, and Idris Umarov—were found guilty of aiding and abetting Radzhabov, and given sentences of of 2 to 2.5 years in prison.

On May 30, 2017, RIA Novosti reported the ringleader of a failed terrorist attack in Kabardino-Balkaria, Adam Berezgov, had been sentenced to 7 years in prison. The defendant was found guilty of “planning a terrorist attack, illegally acquiring and carrying explosive substances or devices, and illegally manufacturing an explosive device.”

On July 27, 2017, TV Rain reported the Russian Supreme Court had increased by three years the sentence handed down to Ruslan Zeytullayev, who had been convicted and sentenced to 12 years for organizing in Crimea a cell of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group banned in Russia. Zeytullayev’s sentence is now 15 years in prison.

On July 31, 2017, RIA Novosti reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced Ukrainian national Alexei Sizonovich to 12 years in a penal colony for involvement in planning a terrorist attack that was to have taken place in September 2016. The court ruled the 61-year-old defendant and an “unidentifed person” had, allegedly, established a group in Kyiv “for the commission of bombings and terrorist attacks in Ukraine and the Russian Federation.” It was reported the defendant “repented.”

On August 11, 2017, Lenta.Ru reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced 19-year-old Ukrainian national Artur Panov to 8 years in a medium-security penal colony for terrorism. Panov was found guilty of facilitating terrorism, planning a terrorist attack, and illegally manufacturing explosive substances. His accomplice, Maxim Smyshlayev, was sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security penal colony.

At the trial, Panov pled guilty to calling for terrorism, and manufacturing and possessing explosives, but pled innocent to inducement to terrorism. Smyshlayev pled innocent to all charges.

On September 18, 2017, RIA Novosti reported a court in Rostov-on-Don had convicted defendants Tatyana Karpenko and Natalya Grishina, who were found guilty of planning a terrorist attack in a shopping mall. Karpenko was sentenced to 14.5 years in prison, while Grishina was sentenced to 9 years.

“The investigation and the court established Karpenko and Grishina were supporters of radical Islamist movements. […] From October 2015 to January 2016, the defendants planned to commit a terrorist attack in the guise of a religious suicide,” the Investigative Directorate of the SKR reported.

Fakes
On April 17, 2017, Memorial Human Rights Center issued a press release stating the case of the planned terrorist attack in the Moscow movie theater Kirghizia had been a frame-up. The human rights activists declared the 15 people convicted in the case political prisoners. It was a high-profile case. Novaya Gazeta wrote at the time that the MVD and FSB had insisted on pursuing terrorism charges, while the SKR had avoided charging the suspects with planning a terrorist attacking, accusing them only of possession of weapons in a multi-room apartment inhabited by several people who barely knew each other. It was then the case was taken away from the SKR.

Whatever the explanation for the trends we have identified, it is vital to note that Russian society is exceedingly poorly informed about the progress of the war on terrorism conducted by Russia’s special services, despite the huge number of reports about planned terrorist attacks. Due to the fact the names of the accused are hidden for some reason, and the court sentences that have been handed down are not made public in due form (even on specially designated official websites), it is impossible to evaluate the scale of the threat and the effectiveness of the special services, and to separate actual criminal cases from those that never went to court because the charges were trumped-up. Meanwhile, using media reports on prevented terrorist attacks for propaganda purposes contributes to an increase in aggressiveness and anxiety among the populace, who has no way of knowing whether all the apprehended terrorists have been punished, and whether this punishment was deserved.

Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Strange Investigation of a Strange Terrorist Attack

The Strange Investigation of a Strange Terrorist Attack
Leonid Martynyuk
Radio Svoboda
February 3, 2018

The investigation of the April 2017 terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway continues. We have assembled thirteen facts that provoke questions and leave us bewildered.

Last year witnessed two major terrorist attacks in Russia’s so-called second capital: in the subway in April, and in a Perekrostok supermarket in late December. They claimed 16 lives and injured another 126 people. In addition, in December, two weeks before the New Year, a joint operation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Interior Ministry apprehended seven persons who, according to the security services, were planning a whole series of terrorist attacks in Petersburg, including a blast in Kazan Cathedral. According to the same sources, the CIA had assisted the Russian security services in uncovering the terrorists and their plans.

On December 17, “Vladimir Putin thanked Donald Trump for the intelligence shared by the CIA, which had assisted in detaining terrorists planning blasts in Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral and other sites in the city. The intelligence received from the CIA was enough to track down and apprehend the criminals.”

Given the fact that last year no similar terrorist attacks or attempted terrorist attacks took place anywhere else in Russia, the activeness of terrorists in Petersburg was especially shocking. Why was Petersburg chosen by terrorists as the only target? However, the security services should first answer not this question, which is, perhaps, rhetorical, but questions about the ongoing investigation and its findings. While little time has passed since the December terrorist attack, and there has been little news about its investigation, it has been nearly nine months since the April attack in the Petersburg subway, and so we can sum up and analyze the available information.

Thus, on April 3, 2017, at 2:33 p.m., a terrorist attack occurred in the Petersburg subway that left 16 people dead and 49 people hospitalized. From the very first minutes, reports about the attack contradicted each other.

1. Fake Terrorists

The first person whom the media, citing law enforcement agencies, named as the possible terrorist was Ilyas Nikitin, a truck driver from Bashkortostan, who was returning home that day from St. Petersburg’s central mosque.

fontanka+fake

“A photo of the man whom the CID are seeking in connection with the blast.” Screenshot from the Twitter account of popular Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru

A few hours later, however, Nikitin himself went to the police to prove his innocence. He had planned to fly from Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport to Orenburg. He had gone through the security check, but the flight crew of the Rossiya Airlines plane refused to let him board the plane due to the protests of frightened fellow passengers, who had “identified” him from his photograph in the press.

In the early hours of April 4, the media, citing the security services, identified Maxim Arishev, who was “in the epicenter of the blast in the subway car” and “could be the alleged suicide bomber.” cit

“Channel Five has published photos of the person who allegedly planted the second bomb at Ploshchad Vosstaniya.” Screenshot from Twitter account of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT)

Arishev was identified as a “22-year-old Kazakhstani national.” An hour later, the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of investigators, published a message stating Arishev was a victim of the terrorist attack, not the man who carried it out. cit2

“We have concluded that Maxim Aryshev [sic] was among the victims of the terrorist attack, not a suicide bomber.” Screenshot from Twitter account of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT)

The third and final hypothesis as to the perpetrator’s identity during the immediate aftermath of the attack was that it was 22-year-old Russian national Akbarjon Jalilov, who also died in the blast. The Investigative Committee’s guess was based on genetic evidence and CCTV footage.

Фотография Акбаржона Джалилова на его страничке в

A photograph of Akbarjon Jalilov on his page on the Russian social media website Odnoklassniki (“Classmates”)

 

Djalilov’s neighbors in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, where he lived until 2011, described his family as secular.

“His family is not religious. Akbarjon did not pray five times a day or grow a beard. On the contrary, he liked wearing ripped bluejeans. He knew Russian well.”

2. Reports of Two Blasts

In the first hour after the terrorist attack, Russian media reported that two blasts had occurred. They cited what they regarded as very reliable, informed sources: the Emergency Situations Ministry, the Investigative Committee, and the National Anti-Terrorist Committee.

An hour later, the concept had changed, and the Russian security services informed the public through the media there had been one blast, while a second explosive device, planted at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station, had been disarmed in time.

The news chronicle of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway is still available on the internet news site Lenta.ru, which is now absolutely loyal to the regime.

Between 3:12 p.m. and 3:44 p.m., that is, over thirty minutes, Lenta.ru published several reports that two explosive devices had exploded at two subway stations.

3:12 p.m.: “There were two blasts. They thundered at Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologicheskii Institut stations.”

3:17 p.m.: “Putin has been informed of the explosions in the Petersburg subway.”

3:44 p.m: The media report that “all stations of the Petersburg subway have been closed due to the blasts.”

After 3:49 p.m., only one blast is mentioned in every single one of Lenta.ru‘s dispatches.

3:49 p.m.: “The number of victims of the blast in the Petersburg subway has grown to thirty, reports Interfax.”

But at 3:55 p.m. Lenta.ru publishes a report of a second unexploded bomb.

3:55 p.m.: “Fontanka.ru reports that another, unexploded bomb has been found at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station.”

The media’s interpreters of information supplied by the Investigative Committee and Emergency Situations Ministry were offered the following explanation of the false report of two blasts at two stations.

“The explosion occurred on the stretch of track between Petersburg subway stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Teknologicheskii Institut. At the time of the explosion, the subway train had only set out from Sennaya Ploshchad, but it did not stop, braking only at Tekhnologicheskii Institut. Therefore, reports of a bomb exploding arrived from both stations. At one station, the explosion and smoke were seen, while the exploded subway car, and the injured and the dead were seen at the second station.”

But this account contradicts reports about the time of the explosion.

“The explosion occurred at 2:40 p.m. in the third car of an electric train traveling on the Petersburg subway’s Blue Line. It happened a few minutes after the train had left Sennaya Ploshchad for Tekhnologicheskii Institut.”

The average speed of a train traveling in the Petersburg subway is 40 kilometers an hour. The train left Sennaya Ploshchad and had been traveling a few minutes before an explosion occurred in one of the cars. Let us assume that train had been under speed for a minimum of two minutes, and during the first minute the train traveled slowly due to the need to pick up speed. During the second minute, the train was already traveling at around 30 kilometers an hour. In one minute, an object moving at a speed of 30 kilometers an hour travels half a kilometer.

This means that at the time of the explosion the train was at least half a kilometer from the departure station. Most likely, however, the train was much farther than half a kilometer from Sennaya Ploshchad. Eyewitnesses reported that the “train was flying along” when the explosion occurred, that is, it was traveling at a good speed.

As TV Rain reported, “According to eyewitnesses, the explosion in the car occurred on the approach to Tekhnologicheskii Institut.”

Under the circumstances, the smoke seen by eyewitnesses, and the noise of the blast, which could be heard at Sennaya Ploshchad, could not have been perceived by witnesses and, much less, by Emergency Situations Ministry and Investigative Committee officers as a “blast at Sennaya Ploshchad station.” It could be identified, for example, as an “explosion in the tunnel” or “smoke on the stretch of track between the stations.”

Another explanation is that reporters mixed everything up. The Emergency Situations Ministry and Investigative Committee never reported an explosion at Sennaya Ploshchad subway station. This hypothesis is easily refuted by the stories filed by news agencies and TV channels, for example, the Federal News Agency. They clearly show that, within an hour of the blast, there were emergency vehicles, firefighters, Emergency Situations Ministry officers, seventeen ambulance brigades, and even an medevac helicopter outside the station. The entrance to the station was cordoned off, and police herded passersby away from the station.

У станции метро Outside Sennaya Ploshchad subway station, April 3, 2017

Questions arise in this regard. How could professionals from the security services, whom many media quoted, confuse an explosion and a disarmed bomb? How could the Investigative Committee and Emergency Situations Ministry have known there should have been two explosions?

3. Confusion about the Time When the Explosive Device Was Found at Ploshchad Vosstaniya Station

The first report that an explosive device had been discovered at Ploshchad Vosstaniya station was filed at 2:21 p.m. on Motor Vehicle Accidents and Emergencies | Saint Petersburg | Peter Online | SPB, a popular page on the VK social network. (It has 800,000 subscribers.)

“A bag has been left at Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway. An inspector with a sniffing device has arrived. No police. The area has not been cordoned off.”

The post was read 509,000 times.

The post was published at 2:21 p.m, but a photograph was uploaded to VK even earlier, at 2:06 p.m. Reporters from the local business daily Delovoi Peterburg called the man who had taken the picture, Denis Chebykin, and asked him to check the exact time on his telephone when he snapped the photo.

“At 2:01 p.m. At any rate, my telephone displays more or less the right time,” he told them.

But in its official report, sent to all media, the FSB’s Petersburg and Leningrad Region Office said the bomb in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station was found fifty-nine minutes later.

“Around 3:00 p.m., a homemade explosive device armed with projectiles was found in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station. The device was promptly disarmed by explosives experts.”

Why did the Federal Security Service (FSB) not want to tell the truth: that the explosive device at Ploshchad Vosstaniya had been discovered at least 32 minutes before the explosion in the train headed to Tekhnologicheskii Institut? Are the security services concealing their own sluggishness?

4. Who Disarmed the Second Bomb?

The media supplied two completely different accounts of who prevented the second explosion. According to the account given at 12:10 p.m., April 4, on the website of Zvezda, the Defense Ministry’s TV channel, the bomb was disarmed by a Russian National Guard officer who happened to be in the subway at the time, was quite familiar with the particular type of explosive device, and thus quickly disarmed the bomb. This was also reported by Ren TV and Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

Another account emerged later, after three o’clock on the afternoon of April 5.

“The explosive device in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station of the Petersburg subway was defused by officers of the engineering and technical branch of the Russian National Guard’s riot police (OMON).”

The same day, April 5, NTV, known for its close ties to the Russian security services, aired a special report, in which a riot policeman, identified in the captions as “Maxim, senior explosives engineer,” says the riot police (OMON) discovered a black bag, containing a explosive device, which he and his colleagues defused.

The second account of how the bomb was defused was heavily spun by the media, while the original account, of the Russian National Guard officer who happened to be in the subway and defused the bomb, was dropped after April 4.

5. The Terrorist Attack Happened after Massive Opposition Protests 

Eight days before the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, on March 26, 2017, one of the biggest protest rallies in the past five years took place in Moscow. The protesters, who had not coordinated the event with the mayor’s office, demanded the authorities respond to the charges made against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s investigative report “Don’t Call Him Dimon.”

The protest led to numerous arrests. According to official sources, over 600 people were packed into paddy wagons. Human rights defenders claim that over a thousand people were apprehended. Protests took place not only in Moscow but also in other Russian cities. A total of between 32,359 and 92,861 people [sic] took to the streets nationwide on March 26, 2017, and between 1,666 and 1,805 people were detained.

The terrorist attack took place in Petersburg on April 3. The very next day, President Putin’s office recommended that regional governments hold rallies against terrorism on April 8. In keeping with the Kremlin’s instructions, all political parties represented in the Russian parliament were involved in the rallies, which were held in major cities nationwide.

“The governors are getting called and told to make everyone go to the rallies,” a source close to the Kremlin told the newspaper Kommersant.

This information was also confirmed by a source in United Russia, the country’s ruling party.

6. Islamic State Did Not Claim Responsibility for the Terrorist Attack

At the outset of the investigation, the FSB claimed Jalilov had been a member of an Islamic State commando group. At first, it made this claim anonymously.

“According to Kommersant‘s trustworthy source, the security services knew an attack was planned in Petersburg, but their intelligence was incomplete. It was provided by a Russian national who had collaborated with Islamic State, an organization banned in our country, and detained after returning from Syria. The man knew several members of a commando group dispatched to Russia.”

Subsequently, its claims were more specific.

“The terrorist attack in Petersburg was carried out by an Islamic State suicide bomber. […] FSB officers […] found out he had entered Russia via Turkey in 2014. Currently, the security services have been in contact with their colleagues in neighboring countries to find out the exact itinerary of Jalilov’s journey, but they are certain he visited Syria or, rather, Islamic State-controlled Syria.”

More than eight months have passed since the terrorist attack, but Islamic State never did claim responsibility for the explosion in the Petersburg subway, although Islamic State militants had claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack that happened ten days before the Petersburg attack: an attack on a Russian military base in Chechnya. The attack occurred in the early hours of March 24, 2017, leaving six Russian servicemen dead.

Islamic State also claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack carried out less than twenty-four hours after the attack in Petersburg: the murder of two policemen in Astrakhan in the early hours of April 4, 2017.

7. An Unknown Group Claimed Responsibility for the Terrorist Attack Only Three Weeks Later

On April 25, 2017, Russian and international media reported that an unknown group calling itself Katibat al-Imam Shamil, allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for the attack in the Petersburg subway twenty-two days after the attack. However, there is no information about the group in public sources, and experts have never heard of it.

The long period of time that elapsed between the terrorist attack and this “confession” also raises doubts that the statement was really made by Islamic fundamentalists, rather than by people passing themselves off as Islamists.

8. The Terrorist’s Suspected Accomplices Kept a Bomb in Their Home for Two Days after the Attack

On the morning of April 6, 2017, FSB and Interiory Ministry officers detained six men in Petersburg, claiming they had been involved in the terrorist attack. All the detainees lived in a flat on Tovarishchesky Avenue, where, according to police investigators, a homemade explosive device was discovered during a search. It was similar in design to the devices used by the terrorist in the subway. Investigators had located the suspects by studying telephone calls made by Akbarjon Jalilov.

Let us assume that the suspects really were accomplices in planning the terrorist attack. In that case, it transpires that two days after the attack they were keeping an explosive device in their home. Moreover, they made no attempt to leave Petersburg, knowing that investigators would check people the suspected terrorist had called, and so they would definitely track them down. Meaning that either the arrested men are quite stupid people or, as they have claimed themselves, the FSB planted the bomb in their flat.

9. The Accused Were Provided with State-Appointed Defense Attorneys Who Worked for the Prosecution

A total of ten people were arrested as part of the terrorist attack investigation in Petersburg. All of them were provided with state-appointed attorneys, who have a very bad reputation among human rights activists in Russia. Many of them perform their duties in such a way that no prosecutor is necessary. Meaning they do not need his help to send their defendants to prison faraway and for a long time. This has been borne out in full in the Petersburg terrorist attack case.

Thus, on April 7, 2017, the court considered a motion, made by investigators and supported by the prosecutor, to remand Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov in custody. The accused plainly stated he did not want to go to a remand prison.

“I object to the investigation’s motion to remand me in custody. I never saw this explosive device,” he said in the courtroom.

However, the defendant’s position was not supported by his lawyer, Nina Vilkina, who left the question of custody to the court’s discretion. Consequently, the court remanded Mirzaalimov in custody until June 2, 2018.

6Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov. Photo by Sergei Mihailichenko. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

During suspect Abror Azimov’s remand hearing, which took place on April 18, 2017, in Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, his state-appointed defense lawyer cheerfully reported to the judge, “He pleads guilty in fully.”

The lawyere made this statement before the investigation was completed and before any trial had taken place.

The father of the accused brothers Abror and Akram Azimov would later say about the state-appointed lawyers, “These lawyers do not call me and do not say anything. They hide everything. It was only from the press I heard my sons had been detained.”

10. Police Reports and Videos of the Azimovs’ Detention Were Falsified

Since mid April 2017, investigators have regarded brothers Abror and Akram Azimov as the principal suspects in the Petersburg terrorist attack.

According to a statement issued by the FSB, Akram Azimov was detained in New Moscow on April 19. A RGD-5 combat grenade was allegedly found on his person when he was apprehended.

Акрам и Аброр Азимовы с отцом Ахролом. Фото со страницы Ахрола Азимова в ФейсбукеAkram and Abror Azimov, and their father Ahrol Azimov. Photo taken from Ahrol Azimov’s Facebook page

 

According to Akram Azimova’s mother Vazira Azimova, law enforcement officers snatched her son from a hospital in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on April 15, the day after he had undergone an operation, and took him to an undisclosed location. The video recording released by the FSB on April 19, in which Akram Azimov is detained at a bus stop in New Moscow, was staged, she claims.

“He had no money for a ticket. He did not have his passport. It was obviously staged. I want justice,” Vazira Azimova said in a statement.

Akram’s father Ahrol Azimov provided RBC with a photo of his son’s boarding pass for an S7 flight from Domodedovo Airport in Moscow to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on March 27, 2017. The senior Azimov is convinced his son could not have traveled to Russia on his own: when he was hospitalized he had no money with him to buy a ticket.

The fact that Akram Azimov was snatched from a hospital in Osh by officers of the Kyrgyzstan State Committee for National Security (GKNB) on April 15, 2017, has been confirmed in writing by Zina Karimova, head doctor of the Hosiyat Clinic, a private facility, and Sanzharbek Tohtashev, the attending physician.

According to lawyer Anna Stavitskaya, illegal detentions are a common practice in the CIS countries.

“The security services in a number of post-Soviet countries cheerfully cooperate with the FSB when it comes to ‘unofficial’ exchanges of detainees. Practically speaking, it is often a matter of kidnapping. In my practice, there have been several cases when people were apprehended in Russia. The issue of whether to extradite them to Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, for example, was being decided, but the European Court of Human Rights forbade extradition. As soon as the people were released from custody, they were kidnapped with the assistance of the Russian security services and transported to these foreign countries. In this case, it is the other way round.”

Akram Azimov was transported by FSB officers from Kyrgyzstan to Moscow, where, his lawyer Olga Dinze claims, he was held for four days in an illegal prison, after which the FSB staged his apprehension.

“On April 19, the suspect, wearing a blindfold, was taken somewhere in a vehicle. He was told how to behave. He should sit with his hands in his pockets and keep quiet. The ‘officers’ would come up to him and take him to a car. This was the same staged video we all would see later on the internet. After his apprehension was staged, he was placed in the car. His hands were cuffed behind his back and a grenade was placed in his hand. He was ordered to squeeze it so he would leave his fingerprints on it.”

Something similar happened to Akram’s brother Abror Azimov. He was apprehended by FSB officers on April 4. After thirteen days in a secret FSB prison, he was apprehended a second time, for the video cameras, on April 17.

 

Abror Azimov claims that on April 17 he was taken from his cell, and a hood was pulled over his head and wrapped round with adhesive tape. His capture was then staged. Afterwards, he was put in a car, forced to leave fingerprints on a Makarov pistol, and taken to an investigator, who had already printed out his interrogation transcript.

Before Abror Azimov was officially apprehended on April 17, the house where he lived in Lesnoi Gorodok, Moscow Region, was searched. Investigators carried out the search without a judge’s warrant due to the urgency of the matter, as they explained. It was during this search that the Makarov pistol was allegedly found.

11. The Azimov Brothers Were Tortured After They Were Apprehended

The Azimov brothers were apprehended twice: first with no cameras present, and then for the cameras, so that FSB officers would have several days to illegally interrogate the accused men. The Azimovs claim they were tortured during these interrogations.

According to Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s attorney, her client was tortured with electrical shocks.

“He was brutally tortured. He was standing practically naked on a concrete floor. He was not fed or given any water. He was forced to memorize the testimony he would later give to the investigator. When he would give the wrong answer, they would shock him with an electrical current, counting to ten. Periodically, he fainted. He would be brought back to his senses and the torture would resume. The torture not only involved memorizing his testimony but also threats of violence against his wife and children. They threatened to rape his wife. Since Akram knows of such cases in his homeland, he took the threats seriously.”

After he was tortured, Akram Azimov was taken to the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, where he was interrogated in the presence of a state-appointed defense attorney. The FSB officers who had earlier tortured him told him what answers to give, but his state-appointed counsel said nothing, allowing the FSB officers and the investigator to coerce Azimov mentally.

The circumstances faced by the second accused man, Abror Azimov, have been similar. His defense attorney said his client was apprehended and jailed in a secret prison, where he was repeatedly tortured with electric shocks, dunked in water, humiliated in every possible way, and subjected to mental coercion. FSB officers spent two weeks forcing him to admit involvement in terrorist activities.

On April 18, 2017, during his custody hearing, Abror Azimov’s testimony was confused. At first, he stated he was not involved in the explosion, but after an Investigative Committee officer reminded him that he had earlier signed a confession, Azimov said, “I’m involved in this, but not directly.” When the judge asked whether the suspect wanted the court to assign non-custodial pretrial restrictions, Azimov answered in the negative. The question is what kind of person, if he has not been subjected beforehand to physical and mental coercion (torture and threats), would voluntarily agree to be jailed?

12. Their Lawyers Were Not Admitted to the Azimov Brothers

According to lawyers Olga and Dmitry Dinze, they could not begin defending the Azimov brothers for over a week.

“We could not start working on this criminal case, because neither the remand prison nor the investigator would let us see our clients, using whatever trick they could.”

The investigators from the Investigative Committee ignored the lawyers’ calls and conducted the investigation only in the presence of the state-appointed lawyers.

Investigators thus had nearly a month after the official arrest to pressure the accused without being distracted by the legitimate requests of real lawyers.

The Azimov brothers’ problems did not end with the refusal of authorities to let their lawyers see their clients. Since late June, according to their father, the Azimovs have been paid visits by FSB officers who have demanded they renounce their defense lawyers and employ the services of state-appointed lawyers.

13. The Justice Ministry Has Been Pressuring Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s Lawyer

On August 3, 2017, officials of Lefortovo Remand Prison in Moscow detained Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s lawyer, for three hours, demanding she hand over the notes she received from Azimov concerning the case of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway.

The prison wardens wanted to get their hands on documents Azimov had given to his lawyer. The wardens suggested Olga Dinze could sit in a cell for awhile, while her client was threatened with time in a punishment cell. According to Dinze, she had not done anything illegal. Before the visit, guards had searched Azimov and not found anything that could not be taken out of the prison.

In November 2017, the Justice Ministry requested Olga Dinze be barred from the case due to the conflict over obtaining her client’s written testimony. Ramil Akhmetgaliyev, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, believes this was obvious coercion of the lawyer.

“Correspondence is one thing, but communication with your lawyer, including written communication, is something else altogether. Usually, the guards do not have a problem with it, but the FSB got involved. They are trying to establish total control over the accused.”

The current Russian regime, conceived in September 1999 amidst the smoke from the exploded residential buildings in Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk, has a bad reputation when it comes to terrorist attacks. Any doubts, as a rule, are chalked up by independent observers as strikes against the authorities.

Taken separately, each of these thirteen points cannot serve as proof that the account of the explosion in the Petersburg subway on April 3, 2017, offered by state investigators, is falsified. Taken together, however, these facts do generate serious suspicions.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Polite Farmers Are Dangerous Farmers

Court Orders Arrest of Tractor Convoy Organizer and Participants
Lenta.ru
August 28, 2016

Alexei Volchenko, leader of the Polite Farmers movement. Photo courtesy of Nikita Tatarsky (RFE/RL)
Alexei Volchenko, leader of the Polite Farmers movement. Photo courtesy of Nikita Tatarsky (RFE/RL)

The Kavkazsky District Court in Krasnodar Territory has ordered the jailing of Alexei Volchenko, leader of the Polite Farmers movement, and eleven other participants of a planned tractor convoy to Moscow. Quoting Olga Golubyatnikova, a member of the Krasnodar Territory Public Oversight Committee, the news website Caucasian Knot reported the arrests on Sunday, August 28.

Volchenko will spend ten days in jail for not authorizing the convoy with Krasnodar Territory authorities. The other farmers will spend between five and ten days in jail. According to Golubyatnikova, the leader of the Polite Farmers admitted his guilt “due to pressure from the police.” According to her, Volchenko said at his court hearing that a policeman had threatened to charge him with extremism.

Golubyatnikov also reported that Volchenko would be serving his administrative arrest in the Ust-Labinsk detention center.

On August 25, the Askay District Court in Rostov Region ordered three of the participants in the tractor convoy jailed for ten days and fined eleven others, ruling their actions an organized political rally. The farmers themselves claimed they had not organized a political rally but had simply been attending a meeting with Leonid Belyak, deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, and Andrei Korobka, deputy governor of Krasnodar Territory.

On August 24, the Rostov Regional Prosecutor’s Office organized an inquiry into the legality of the farmers’ protest.

The Krasnodar farmers’s convoy set off on August 21. Fifty people in seventeen tractors and several passenger vehicles left the village of Kazanskaya in Krasnodar Territory’s Kavkazsky District and headed towards Moscow. They had planned to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to solve the problem of the courts, which, in their view, issued unjust rulings [sic]. On August 22, the activists were invited to meet with Kuban authorities and temporarily halted the procession. On August 23, they were detained by police officers.

Translated by the Russian Reader

See my previous dispatches on the ill-fated Krasnodar tractor convoy:

A Funny Kind of Anti-Americanism

US_Flag_Backlit
Despite the unrelenting anti-US rhetoric of recent years, the Russian elite has been quite happy to invest both government funds and their own money in the Great Satan’s economy.

Russia Has Bought US Treasury Bonds Worth 91 Billion Dollars
Lenta.ru
August 16, 2016

As of the end of June, Russia had increased its total investments in US Treasury bonds to 90.9 billion dollars. The figure increased by three percent during the month. This is borne out by data published the US Department of the Treasury on its website on Tuesday, August 16.

A year ago, Russian held 72 billion dollars in securities. Thus, the amount of bonds it has purchased has risen by 26 percent over the last twelve months.

Russia ranks sixteenth among major holders of US Treasury bonds. Saudi Arabia ranks fifteenth and holds 98.3 billion dollars in bonds. China is in first place. The People’s Republic of China owns 1.24 trillion dollars’ worth of securities. In second place is Japan (1.15 trillion dollars), followed by Ireland in third place (270.6 billion dollars).

Various countries own a total of 4.04 trillion dollars in Treasury bonds.

US Treasury bonds are considered among the safest securities in the world. Their low yields (around three percent) are offset by guaranteed payouts. US Treasury bonds have never defaulted even once since they were first issued.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Valentin Urusov for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

One Solution: Import Substitution!

Audit Chamber Forecasts Meat, Milk, and Cheese Deficits
November 3, 2015
Lenta.Ru

The Audit Chamber argues that under the import substitution program, Russia may experience shortfalls of meat, dairy products, and cheese in 2016. This outcome is expected because raw produce from countries subject to the embargo are often used in food production, reports RIA Novosti.

“There is a risk of partial compensation of shortfalls of produce banned for import from a number of countries,” the Audit Chamber reported. It is likewise expected that in the medium term, problems with consumer demand might arise in the process of import substitution.

As the agency noted, after using high-quality products, shoppers refrain from [purchasing] “Russian counterparts with lower consumer characteristics.”

“Accordingly, support, ‘voting with rubles,’ should not be expected from consumer demand for domestic products in the event of their qualitative deterioration,” said the chamber.

It was reported on October 28 that ten suppliers of imported meat and dairy products, as well raw materials for confectioneries, had filed a complaint against supermarket chains with the industry’s good practices compliance commission. The reason for the complaint was the fact the chains had been fining the suppliers for stopping the supply of goods affected by Russian anti-sanctions.

On October 1, Russian agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor released findings that 78.3% of cheese in Russia is adulterated, since it contains vegetable oils. According to the agency, this figure is as high as 45% in Moscow and Moscow Region. The overall level of adulteration in the dairy market is 25.3%, as revealed by monitoring conducted from January to September of this year.

Counterfeit
“Counterfeit”

According to a study done by the Roskontrol Consumers Union, 75% of the cheese and 58% of the butter sold in major Moscow supermarket chains is adulterated.

In August 2014, Russia imposed a produce embargo on EU member states, as well as the US, Australia, Canada, and Norway. In late June 2015, Moscow extended the embargo for a year. Later, the Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree extending the produce embargo to countries supporting sanctions against Russia. The restrictions were extended to Albania, Montenegro, Iceland, and Lichtenstein. The list of banned produce includes, in particular, beef, pork, fish, and milk. If imported into Russia, these goods are subject to destruction.

On June 24, 2015, Russian President Vladimir extended the counter-sanctions for a year, until August 6, 2016.

orthodox import substitution
“For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55). Full Russian Orthodox import substitution to the masses!

Price of Cucumbers in Russia Soars by 1,000 Percent!
Elena Rotkevich
November 2, 2015
Gorod 812

According to Rosstat, the price of fresh cucumbers in late October rose by almost a third in a week. In Petersburg, the price of cucumbers has soared by 500–1000% over the [last] month. Gorod 812 tried to get to the bottom of what has happened with cucumbers and whether we are threatened by a deficit.

Shopkeepers cannot keep up with rewriting price tags. A month ago, dimpled cucumbers cost a little over 20 rubles a kilo, but now the average price is 150 rubles a kilo. In small stores and produce markets, the price has already surpassed 200 rubles a kilo. On the web, farm-grown long cucumbers are selling for 525 rubles a kilo. They are more expensive than meat.

What has happened with cucumbers? Gorod 812 talked to producers and suppliers.

maxresdefaultThe first thing we have discovered is that a deficit has set in. There is a shortfall of cucumbers in Petersburg.

“[We are selling] only greenhouse-grown cucumbers and only on order. We have a contract with a greenhouse in Leningrad Region. We supply their produce to supermarket chains. At the moment, we are really standing in line waiting for the harvest. We are even giving some of our clients the runaround,” a source at the company Veles told us.

“There are not enough cucumbers?”

“There is a total shortfall. The price for them now varies from 80 to 160 rubles a kilo. But that is today. The prices change practically daily. There are no spiny, dimpled cucumbers at all. Everyone is trying to grown medium-sized cucumbers, because it is unprofitable to grow short cucumbers: their mass is too small. There are loopholes for shipping cucumbers from abroad, of course, but it is very expensive anyway,” our source at Veles said.

Gorod 812 contacted local cucumber producers. On the website of the agricultural enterprise Victory (Annino Village, Leningrad Region), cucumbers were listed at 85 rubles a kilo. We gave them a call.

“The information online is outdated. We have run out of cucumbers. We only have ingredients for borscht: cabbages, carrots, beets, and potatoes. We had cucumbers in the summer, because we have summer greenhouses. We don’t have winter greenhouses,” a source at Victory told us.

The situation with the scarce product is also tense in the warm climes of our country.

“It’s already cold. Cucumbers aren’t growing,” we were told by a farm in Volgograd Region that only a couple weeks earlier had still been selling cucumbers.

It was the same thing in Krasnodar Region.

The Flagma agricultural enterprise in Krasnodar was reluctantly willing to part with their cucumbers.

“We have very few cucumbers now. A client came yesterday. He offered a good price, but we couldn’t find him the tonnage he needed. We even asked around the greenhouses. They all said they couldn’t give us cucumbers, because the entire harvest is bespoken a month in advance. If you don’t need much, we can sell them to you for 100 rubles a kilo. The  cucumbers are local Ghermans, pendular cucumbers.”

At the Petersburg company Gold, which supplies cucumbers from Belarus, the price for a kilo of cucumbers rose from 110 rubles to 115 rubles in fifteen minutes.

“It was 110 rubles for the previous batch. But now it is 150 rubles a kilo. There is little supply on the market, and Belorussia [sic] is running out. Wholesalers are starting to ship from other places, like Turkey and Azerbaijan. Delivery is more expensive, and the price is higher,” our source at Gold explained.

vitaminy-v-ogurcahThe online price for imported cucumbers starts at 1.35 euros a kilo, plus delivery costs. The previous supply chain of cheap cucumbers from the EU has been blocked by the produce embargo. Businesses are trying to organize the delivery of cucumbers from China and Moldova. Petersburg is mainly supplied with Turkish cucumbers. Local cucumber producers advise checking them carefully for nitrates and other chemicals just in case.

By the way, relatively inexpensive cucumbers (starting at 1.69 euros a kilo, i.e., around 120 rubles a kilo) can be found in hypermarkets in [neigboring] Finland.

In Leningrad Region, Gorod 812 managed to find only one producer of fresh cucumbers, the agricultural holding Vyborzhets. It has a virtual monopoly on the local market. Vyborzhets sells its produce to everyone, wholesale and retail buyers, on the same terms, at the same price. Long and medium-sized cucumbers go for 140 rubles a kilo; short cucumbers, for 190 rubles a kilo.

“What did you expect? Our businesses have realized there is going to be a cucumber shortfall, and are now trying to recoup their costs from previous years. It is a predictable situation. On the other hand, we cannot blame them. Back in the day, they almost declared bankruptcy when cucumbers were imported to Russia and our economy was demolished,” said Alexander Bykov, president of the Leningrad Region and Petersburg Farmers Union.

According to Bykov, the cost of producing local cucumbers has remained unchanged.

“Maybe it has increased a bit, depending on energy costs. There is no competition in this market. The term ‘competition’ is applicable if two producers grow produce using the same technology. But if two products are produced in different conditions, the price will be different. The Antimonopoly Service cannot pin anything on them. They are free to do their own pricing. Plus, there is a chain of middlemen and retailers who ratchet up the prices. One could force chain stores to contract directly with producers, thus bypassing the layer of intermediaries. But dealers usually own the storage warehouses and take the risks involved in selling the produce. Producers do not have big warehouses. They have nowhere to put produce,” explained Bykov.

It seems that Russia is returning to Soviet times. Those who were alive then will remember there were no cucumbers in winter at all. They would run out in October, and the first long greenhouse cucumbers would hit the shelves for March 8 [International Women’s Day]. They cost 2 rubles and 20 kopecks a kilo, the same price as baloney, while meat (beef) cost 2 rubles a kilo. Then the cucumbers would disappear again until summer. During the dacha season, the price for cucumbers would fall, but it was no longer the tasteless “eighth of March” long cucumbers that were on sale, but normal cucumbers. In Leningrad, they cost around 20 kopecks a kilo. The current deficit is also an omen from Soviet times.

“I think the authorities should pay attention to the shortfall of cucumbers in Petersburg. And pay more attention to agriculture, because it is the industry that can replace oil in Russia,” said Alexander Bykov.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Second image, above, courtesy of paperdaemon