Wave Theory, or, Everyone Is Police

FRANCE. Essonne. Near Juvisy-sur-Orge. 1955.Henri Cartier-Bresson, Près de Juvisy-sur-Orge, France, 1955. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos.

Can you imagine reading an “expert” opinion, like the one I have translated and reproduced, below, published by a political commentator in a more or less democratic country?

I won’t bother arguing about the accuracy of the analysis. It may, in fact, be wildly inaccurate. Actually, if you read it two or three times in a row, you would find that is ridden with glaring contradictions.

For example, it is strange to accuse Alexei Navalny, who was jailed nearly the entire time, of being on the sidelines during the anti-pension reform protests when, in fact, his team’s activists organized protests all over Russia, some of them quite large, and this despite the fact that dozens of them were also treated to so-called preventive arrests by the Putin regime’s legally nihilistic law enforcers.

It is even stranger to argue that Navalny matters so little to the Kremlin now that it has decided it is high time to send him to prison and throw away the key.

I am no great fan of Jeremy Corbyn’s, alas, but I am grateful, nonetheless, that Theresa May and her minions could not even contemplate framing him on trumped-up charges and sending him down for however many years they think would “neutralize” him.

If you do not understand this essential difference between flat-out authoritarian-cum-fascist countries like Putinist Russia and the world’s democracies, most of them in bad shape, like May and Corbyn’s UK, you should probably disqualify yourself from commenting on politics.

Because this is police, not politics, as Jacques Rancière would have put it, even if it is only expressed as a prediction by a think-thankerette-cum-spin doctor who claims to have inside knowledge of what the Kremlin has been contemplating, but for some reason lives in a suburb of Paris. {TRR}

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Tatiana Stanovaya
Facebook
October 2, 2018

The Kremlin is seriously discussing a tangible prison sentence for Alexei Navalny. There are several key arguments that would favor making such a decision.

First, Navalny was sidelined during the anti-pension reform protests. By and large, no one was able to saddle the wave of discontent. The Kremlin thinks it would be better to neutralize Navalny now while it is not too late. It would be harder later.

Second, Navaly’s negative rating [sic] is high. Television has done its job. The expectations are that, if Navalny were sent down, no serious wave [of protest] would rise up. Society would fail to notice it, and liberals hardly worry anyone, while the liberals who are in power would risk losing a lot [if they came to Navalny’s defense].

Third, the Zolotov factor has played its role. The head of the Russian National Guard was so hurt by Navalny’s exposé that he himself has become a source of concern. The Kremlin believes it is better not to rub him the wrong way, since an angry Zolotov is a danger not only to the regime’s alleged enemies but also to the regime itself or, rather, to various spin doctors [sic].

Fourth and finally, while Putin was previously opposed to sending [Navalny] down, fearing it would make Navalny a hero (this, supposedly, was Volodin’s argument), Putin now sees this risk as too trivial compared with other risks, including an abrupt drop in his own rating and the general sense that everything has been set in motion, and he does not have time for Navalny [sic].

If, in the very near future, something does not happen at the grassroots that would interfere with sending [Navalny] down, it is nearly inevitable. And yes, the current domestic policy spin doctors take Navalny much less seriously than their predecessors [sic].

Tatiana Stanovaya is identified on her Facebook page as a “Columnist/Commentator at Moscow Carnegie Center” and “Former [sic] CHEF DU DÉPARTEMENT ANALYTIQUE, CENTRE DES TECHNOLOGIES POLITIQUES” who lives in Juvisy-sur-Orge, France. Thanks to The Real Russia. Today mailer, compiled daily by Meduza, for the heads-up. Kudos to its editor for realizing suddenly that Russian social media are an important source of information, gossip, and fairy tales about Russian politics. The emphases, sics, and italics in the text are mine. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia Has No Senate or Senators

800px-Maccari-CiceroCesare Maccari, Cicero Denounces Catiline, 1889. Fresco. Palazzo Madama, Rome. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Russia’s Senate wants a visit from Mark Zuckerberg.”
The Real Russia. Today email newsletter, May 30, 2018

I am not a huge fan of Mark Zuckerberg, but he can easily turn down this invitation, if only because Russia does not have a senate.

It does have something called the Federation Council, which is supposedly the upper house of the Russian parliament, a mostly fictitious organization itself, considering how its MPs are essentially appointed to their seats, not elected by popular vote.

The members of the Federation Council are a group of Putinist lackeys. They are handpicked by the Kremlin to represent Russia’s ninety-some regions. In most cases, however, they have nothing whatsoever to do with those regions, unlike during the rough-and-tumble Yeltsin administration, when each region’s two-person Federation Council consisted of its elected head and an elected representative of its own parliament. As I recall, this was the set-up not because Yeltsin decreed it, but because the regions themselves decided to run their own house of parliament this way, meaning the Federation Council was often a rowdy bunch, opposed to Yeltsin’s proposals and policies, just like the parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, which was so notoriously rowdy it often made the news in other countries. That does not happen anymore.

Nowadays, however, most Federation Council members are either natives or longtime residents of Moscow and Petersburg, both called “capitals” for similarly pompous reason. Like their fellows MPs in the State Duma, Federation Councillors engage in neither vigorous debate nor rebellion, but in rubber-stamping the increasingly odious law bills drafted for them by the Kremlin and various government ministries. They do their jobs as executioners of the remnants of Russian democracy and civil liberty so uncomplainingly and speedily that opposition-minded Russians have taken to calling the parliament the “mad printer.”

Naturally, given their real condition as contemptible yes-men, the Federation Councillors decided it would be more dignified if they fancied themselves “senators” and dubbed their rinky-dink collective sinecure a “senate.”

The funny thing is the non-senators have succeeded in hoodwinking nearly all reporters, even foreign reporters, into adopting this utterly groundless, self-aggrandizing, hokey moniker.

This is hardly surprising, since, in my experience, reporters are gullible creatures. I once persuaded a Russian reporter I was an unemployed Finnish shipbuilding engineer from Turku who had turned his life around by making fresh mango and salt lasses from a cart in downtown Helsinki. She duly reported this non-fact about my fictional alter-ego in her article about the latest edition of International Restaurant Day. The article was duly published in a well-known Petersburg daily, which has since gone defunct. I had just been joking to pass the time of day while making lasses outside in less than clement late-spring weather, but the reporter took me seriously. She even snapped my picture or, rather, the picture of the Finnish ex-shipbuilder from Turku, and it, too, was printed, properly captioned, in her overview of Restaurant Day in Petersburg.

The resident of New Haven, Conn., who edits the daily English newsletter for the online Russian-language news website-in-exile Meduza has bought into the “Russia Senate” con hook, line, and sinker, too. Seemingly indifferent to what really happens in our rapidly re-totalitarianizing country, he has endowed us with a senate on several occasions, in fact. You see, it is the done thing nowadays, whether it is actually true or not.

But I don’t have to buy it, nor does Mark Zuckerberg. And neither should you.

Russia has no senate and, hence, no senators. Anyone who says or writes otherwise is indulging in glibness for reasons that should make you question everything else they write or say. Good reporters write something because it it true or reported to be true. They don’t involve themselves in collective hoaxes, especially, as in this case, in an easily disproved imposture that has gone on for years. // TRR

Does Vladimir Putin Have a Niece?

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Vera Putina, Vladimir Putin’s niece

On October 31, 2017, New Yorker staff writer Masha Gessen published a short piece about the plea deal between former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopolous and special counsel Robert Mueller, entitled “The Papadopoulos Plea Deal and the Great Blowhard Convergence of the 2016 Election.”

The articles contains the following passage.

“Take the Female Russian National. Papadopoulos, according to the plea agreement, believed her to be Vladimir Putin’s niece. To have a niece, however, the Russian President would have had to have a sibling. All of the available biographies of Putin, both official and unauthorized, agree: the Russian President had two older brothers who died as children, before Vladimir was born. He was an only child. He doesn’t have a niece.”

While it is definitely true Putin doesn’t have a niece in the English sense of the word, it seems he does have a niece in the Russian sense of the word.

Many Russians refer to what English speakers call cousins as their “brothers” and “sisters,” without specifying that these blood relatives are in fact двоюродные братья and сестры, something on the order of “brothers and sisters once removed.”

It took me exactly five seconds of digging on the internet to find out Putin has a двоюродная племянница, meaning the niece of a cousin or a “niece once removed,” so to speak.

In this case, the cousin’s name is Igor Putin, and Igor Putin has a niece named Vera Putina. That makes Vera Putina Vladimir Putin’s двоюродная племянница.

It is entirely conceivable that Vladimir Putin and other Putin family members simply refer to Vera as Vladimir Putin’s племянница or niece.

As Gessen points out toward the end of her article, Papadopolous later learned the Russian woman in question was not Putin’s relative after all.

However, Putin seemingly does have a niece in the broader Russian sense of the term, despite what Gessen has said on the subject.

I can even vouch for Vera Putina’s existence, because I have a close friend who has met her in person on a few occasions.

You can read what Vera Putina does in this article about her and other members of Vladimir Putin’s extended family, published in 2015 by the independent Russian-language news website Meduza. TRR

Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Asmolov/Delovoi Peterburg

If You Get the “Context” Right, You Can Turn Black to White (Meduza Reaches a New Low)

If you just get the “context” right, you can turn black into white, night into day.

“Context: The majority of U.S. Mission Russia employees are not Americans, and won’t be expelled: Of 1,200 people employed in 2013 in Mission Russia, 333 were U.S. citizens and 867 were Foreign National Staff, most of whom were probably Russian nationals. Using the 2013 numbers, if the U.S. Mission is forced to let go of 755 people, a majority of them would not be U.S. citizens, and probably would not be expelled from the country.”
The Real Russia. Today, July 31, 2017, 
Meduza′s daily English-language email newsletter

No, but lots of those pesky Russian nationals, perhaps the majority, would be fired from their jobs thanks to Putin’s little presidential campaign stunt. They would be instantly unemployed and, perhaps, unemployable.

Is that cause for rejoicing in Connecticut or wherever the newsletter’s editor really lives?

And what reason could the current Russian government (not the Soviet government, which did such things) have for expelling its own citizens?

Are we already that far along in the re-Stalinization process?

As a friend of mine who works at the Moscow embassy wrote in response to Meduza′s amazingly clueless and insensitive exercise in contextualizing, “I am speechless.” TRR

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The Russian Media in Exile

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meduza likes Pavel Durov and Telegram, but hates Alexei Navalny.

Russia’s regions grow increasingly hostile to Mr. Navalny. Alexey Navalny’s campaign coordinator in Barnaul was stabbed by two men when trying to enter the local city hall building to apply for a demonstration permit. Artem Kosaretsky told reporters that he sewed up the wound himself and didn’t need to be hospitalized. Police have detained the attackers, though security guards at city hall reportedly refused to believe that Kosaretsky had been stabbed, attributing his wound to a scratch or even a mosquito bite. Hours earlier, unknown persons in Barnaul reportedly tried to set fire to Navalny’s local campaign headquarters.

(Source: Meduza’s daily “The Real Russia. Today” e-mail newsletter, June 26, 2017)

How do these incidents, no doubt arranged by the local security forces, prove that “Russia’s regions have grown increasingly hostile” to Navalny?

Everyone needs to make the Supreme Leader happy once in a while, even Russian media “exiled” to Latvia.

P.S. Or is the guy who writes Meduza’s English summaries increasingly hostile to Navalny? I can easily imagine that’s the case. Just as I can easily imagine that he doesn’t live in Russia, Latvia or anywhere in the vicinity. These days, you can just phone it in, so to speak, while living the good life in Albuquerque or Austin.

Photo by the Russian Reader

National Guard and Riot Cops Face Protesting Truckers in Dagestan

“To protest the fact that submachine gunners have blockaded them in Dagestan, the truckers have climbed onto the roofs of their semis.” Twitter post by Echo of Moscow correspondent Arseny Vesnin, posoted at 5:53 p.m. on March 31, 2017. Image courtesy of Meduza

National Guard and Riot Cops Face Protesting Truckers in Dagestan
Andrei Dubrovsky and Yulia Reprintseva
Novaya Gazeta
March 31, 2017

Russian National Guardsmen and riot police (OMON) have surrounded truckers protesting the Plato freight haulage road tolls system in the city of Manas in Dagestan, according to Mikhail Kurbatov, a member of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR).

Anatoly Shilov, coordinator of the OPR’s St. Petersburg branch, said the troops had surrounded the truck drivers on the morning of March 31, and they have been kettled for several hours. No one has been allowed in or out.

According to an eyewitness, around 600 truck drivers are involved in the protest. Their trucks are stretched along the roadside of the Makhachkala-Baku Highway in Manas.

“About 200 law enforcement officers and riot police arrived on the scene. The troops deployed their vehicles along a one-kilometer stretch of the highway, completely surrounding us. They have blocked our way out, and we have been stuck here for about four hours. The riot are wearing masks with shields, but they have been behaving calmly. There have been no provocations against the truckers,” said the activist.

He added that one of the policemen had suggested to the truckers to peacefully settle the situation.

“We have been promised that lawmakers would come here tomorrow, and that we would talk with them. We will definitely be here until tomorrow,” he said.

Our source also emphasized the fact the trucker drivers had parked strictly on the roadside and were not interfering with traffic on the highway.

Earlier, the OPR announced a nationwide protest by truckers would take place on March 27. Protests were scheduled for at least nine Russian cities, according to the OPR’s website.

Organizers did not cancel the protest despite the fact that on March 24 Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree raising rates under the Plato system only by 25%, whereas earlier the rate was to have been doubled. Thus, as of April 15, the toll for trucks will be 1.91 rubles a kilometer, not 3.06 rubles a kilometer, as had been planned previously.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Alexei for the heads-up. See my previous post in this series on the ongoing struggle of independent Russian truckers to abolish the draconian Plato tolls system.

Victoria Lomasko: The BORN Trial

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Defendants Isayev, Baklagin, Volkov, and Tikhomirov

BORN: A Graphic Reportage by Victoria Lomasko
How the most brutal nationalist gang in Russia was tried
Apri1 21, 2015
Meduza

On Tuesday, April 21, the Moscow Regional Court will render its verdict in the trial of the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), one of the most violent nationalist gangs in Russia. They have a series of murders of immigrants and antifascists to their credit, as well as numerous attempted murders. In addition, BORN members murdered a federal judge, Eduard Chuvashov. A jury tried the members of the gang. In their verdict, the jury acquitted one of the defendants, Yuri Tikhomirov (who continues to serve a sentence, handed down earlier, for involvement in the murder of antifascist Ilya Dzhaparidze). The three other defendants—Mikhail Volkov, Vyacheslav Isayev, and Maxim Baklagin—were declared wholly or partially guilty, but deserving of leniency for most of the counts of the indictment. However, prosecutors have requested life sentences for Baklagin and Isayev, and twenty-five years in a maximum-security facility for Volkov. The final decision is now up to the judge.

Throughout the trial, artist Victoria Lomasko worked in the courtroom. Meduza presents her graphic reportage on the BORN trial. Meduza special correspondent Andrei Kozenko, who also followed the trial, has annotated the drawings.

01_10 dec
Isayev, Baklagin, Volkov, and Tikhomirov. December 10, 2014

Photography was strictly forbidden at the trial. It was Tikhomirov who petitioned the court to ban photography; he was the only of the four who completely denied involvement in the gang. The other defendants supported his claim. They said that Tikhomirov was “slow on the uptake,” and was of no use at all in serious matters, such as planning murders.

02_10 dec
Judge Alexander Kozlov. December 10, 2014

Moscow Regional Court Judge Alexander Kozlov presided over the trial. Overall, he was exceptionally tactful and pointedly polite.

“I understand nationalism and all that, but why did you have to kill?” he asked at one point.

Only one thing was forbidden in Kozlov’s courtroom: mentioning that the criminal case had obvious political overtones, that the ultra-rightists had been communicating with people from the presidential administration through a series of intermediaries, and that BORN itself was a project that could not have been conceived without their involvement. Kozlov ruthlessly barred all attempts to discuss this.

03_10 dec
Baklagin: “I came to the conclusion that the state weasels out when immigrants commit crimes.” December 10, 2014

 

Baklagin is a lawyer by training. He honestly testified that one of the murders was committed on a particular day, because on other days he had to be in court early in the morning. Baklagin was charged with six counts of murder, accessory to murder, and attempted murder. He said that he committed the crimes to restore the justice that was absent in the Russian state.

04_22 dec
Volkov: “I regarded my actions as self-defense in the broadest sense, as an attempt to put the thugs tormenting my people in their place.” December 22, 2014

 

Mikhail Volkov is a veteran football hooligan and member of the skinhead gang OB-88. He did hard time for a nationalist pogrom at the Tsaritsyno Market in 2002. Several times he was forced to explain he got neo-Nazi tattoos when he was “young and stupid,” but had later changed his views. Volkov was charged with one murder committed on his own and another murder committed with an accomplice. He himself said that his motives were about the same as those of Robin Hood.

05_22 dec
Goryachev: “I have never seen these people before. Until I was arrested I had never heard their names.” December 22, 2014

Ilya Goryachev’s testimony was billed as one of the key episodes in the whole trial, but it did not turn out that way. Educated as a historian, nationalist and spin-doctor Goryachev is regarded by investigators as the organizer of BORN. His case is being tried separately; it has only just been sent to trial. He served as a witness at the main BORN trial. He was expected to name the names of people close to the Kremlin who had in some way been involved in the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists. But Goryachev denied everything. He allegedly did not even know any of the defendants.

06_12 jan
Tikhomirov: “I do not consider myself guilty, and was not a member of BORN. FSB officers cajoled Isayev and Baklagin into testifying against me.” January 12, 2015

The testimony of the defendants was riddled with inconsistencies. Judge Kozlov occasionally accused them of trying to shield themselves and evade responsibility. One of their main arguments was that BORN did not exist. Volkov, in particular, insisted he had heard the acronym only after he had committed the crimes.

07_12 jan
Tikhomirov and his lawyer. January 12, 2015

Yuri Tikhomirov sat quietly and spoke the least of all. He had never heard of any such gang, had been involved in only one point of the indictment, and had received a ten-year sentence for that crime before the others had been charged. The jury believed him.

08_12 jan
The court views a video recording. January 12, 2015

A significant part of the evidence against the defendants consisted of photos and video. In particular, thanks to surveillance cameras, prosecutors were able to prove that Volkov had committed one of the murders.

09_11 feb
Prosecutor (addressing jurors): “The BORN members were not in the habit of verifying information. Unverified information served as grounds for murders.” February 11, 2015

Prosecutors repeatedly attacked the ideological aspect of the BORN case. The nationalists did not want Russia to become like France, which was “swamped with immigrants.” However, they themselves had never been to France. And yet they sought information about future victims on ultra-rightist websites and in the media.

10_11 feb
Prosecutor (standing behind BORN’s attorneys): “As you have seen yourselves, the gang had more than enough weapons.” February 11, 2015

The hearing during which the physical evidence—the weapons seized from the gang—was presented was like a trip to a theme park. The BORN members used sawed-off hunting rifles and pistols, manufactured in the early twentieth century. They came by these weapons, apparently, through people who illegally excavate battlegrounds.

11_11 feb
Donara Dzhaparidze, mother of a murdered antifascist (Yuri Tikhomirov is seated to the left): “I can’t go into the apartment: Ilyusha is not there.” February 11, 2015

The mother of antifascist Ilya Dzhaparidze left Moscow for Georgia after her son was murdered. She could not go back to the flat where she lived with her son. Few cursed the defendants as she did. The defendants only looked away.

12_16 feb
Isayev’s attorney: “Baklagin has correctly pointed out that the antifascists are just another gang, but with different ideas. They were involved in a turf war.” February 16, 2015

Another mitigating argument mustered by the defense was that contemporary antifascists are nothing like the ones we saw in Soviet films about World War Two. They are an aggressive subculture with whom the nationalists would fight, including on the streets. It sounded plausible, but still did not answer the question of why it had been necessary to commit murder.

13_16 feb
Volkov (his mother seated in the foreground): “What sort of bandit am I? I have a family, kiddies… I read them to sleep at night.” February 16, 2015

The defendants’ relatives rarely came to the hearings and never together. They sat with the reporters, glancing occasionally at the ultra-rightists as they gave testimony. They flatly refused to talk to the press.

14_16 feb
Baklagin: “When the war in Ukraine began, I immediately applied in writing to join a penal battalion.” February 16, 2015

Baklagin asked to be sent to fight in the Donbas: his blood would atone for what he had done. BORN is closely linked to Ukraine. Volkov had escaped there before being extradited back to Russia. One of the most violent members of BORN, former FSB officer Alexei Korshunov, had escaped to Zaporozhye and died when a grenade he was carrying exploded. Finally, another suspect is still in hiding in Ukraine. According to unconfirmed reports, he is even fighting against the separatists.

16_20 feb
Tikhomirov’s lawyer: “Khasis and Tikhonov called each other ‘bunny rabbit’ and ‘kitty cat.’” February 20, 2015

Nikita Tikhonov and his common-law wife Yevgenia Khasis gave the most detailed testimony against the BORN members, which visibly irritated the latter. Tikhonov is serving a life sentence for the murders of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Khasis is serving eighteen years as an accessory to the murders. On the sidelines, the lawyers did not rule out that Tikhonov was taking responsibility for more than what he had done so that he could stay in a Moscow remand prison—near the crime investigation scene—rather than in the transpolar prison for lifers with its incredibly poor living conditions. Khasis just wants to get out early.

18_30 mar
Judge Kozlov: “If you decide that Isayev, Baklagin or Volkov deserve leniency, the court cannot sentence them to life in prison.” March 30, 2015

It took a very long time to empanel the jury in the BORN trial. Ordinary residents of Moscow Region were not chomping at the bit to serve on the jury. The defendants themselves rejected several candidates for “looking like antifascists.” Nevertheless, a jury was seated and they produced a verdict in the trial. The defendants were found worthy of leniency. But not Baklagin and Isayev, who had shadowed Judge Chuvashov. (The late Korshunov was deeemd to be his killer.) The chance of a life sentence for them persists.

19_31 mar
Jury forewoman: “Has it been proven that Tikhomirov was a member of BORN? No, it has not been proven. Six jurors voted yea; six, nay.” March 31, 2015

Those who followed the trials called the jury’s verdict a little too soft on some counts. But be that as it may, only Tikhomirov was acquitted.

20_
The jurors

Court juries have this peculiarity: all parties to the trial focus the attention of jurors less on the legal aspects and try more to play on their emotions. No lawyers are empanelled, after all. Both the prosecutors and the defense asked the jury to be fair. It rendered its verdict. The judge will turn the verdict into specific sentences for the BORN trial defendants.

Editor’s Note. I thank Victoria Lomasko and Meduza for their permission to translate this article and reproduce Ms. Lomasko’s reportage here. All illustrations courtesy of and copyright Victoria Lomasko and Meduza.  Translated by the Russian Reader