Ilya Shakursky: “Now and Then the Flame Dies Down, but Solidarity Is a Stream of Sparks”

ILYA SHAKURSKY, an antifascist political prisoner in Russia, appeals to you in this interview to write to him, and to others imprisoned in the infamous Network case. Please see a note at the end about where to send messages.

Tomorrow, Tuesday 19 January, is the anniversary of the assassination of antifascists Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov, who were shot dead in broad daylight in central Moscow in 2009. People will gather – in Moscow, to lay flowers at the place where they were killed, elsewhere online – and we publish this article on several web sites simultaneously, to express solidarity.

The Network case began in Penza and St Petersburg in October 2017, when the Federal Security Service (FSB) started detaining young anarchists and antifascists, who had supposedly participated in a terrorist group. The security services claimed that the young detainees were preparing terrorist acts, aimed at the presidential elections and the football World Cup in 2018 [which was staged in Russia].

It soon became clear that this “Network” had been dreamed up by the FSB, and the confessions extracted from the alleged participants with the use of the most barbaric tortures. Details of the methods used, including electric shock batons, were published widely before the defendants were tried.

Nevertheless, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced – in January 2019 in Petersburg, Igor Shishkin, to three and a half years in prison; in February 2020, seven defendants in Penza, including Ilya Shakursky, to sentences ranging from six and 18 years in prison; and in June 2020 in Petersburg, Viktor Filinkov to seven years, and Yuli Boyarshinov to five and a half years.

In October 2020, an appeal by the Penza defendants was heard and rejected. An appeal by Viktor Filinkov is in progress.

All ten defendants are included in a list of 61 political prisoners compiled by Memorial, Russia’s largest human rights defence group.  

This interview with Ilya Shakursky, who is serving a 16-year sentence, is by Dmitry Semenov. It was published by Free Russia House, an “alternative embassy for Russian civil society” based in Kyiv, and by the Rupression collective that supports the Network case prisoners. (The questions were sent via Elena Shakurskaya, Ilya’s mother, and answers received, via Elena, in written form.)

Ilya Shakursky, speaking at Anticapitalism 2013

Question: Do you feel the support from outside the prison system, and how important is it? Could you say something briefly to our readers and to people who support you?

Ilya Shakursky: It feels good to realise, every morning when they call out my surname and hand over letters I have received, that people remember me and continue to support me. At those moments, the grey monotony of imprisonment is broken up by different colours. It doesn’t matter whether the letter is a couple of lines or goes on like a whole essay. Just getting some news gives me strength and happiness. When I see photos of solidarity actions all over the world; when I read interviews with well-known people who speak about the absurdity of the criminal case against us; when I hear the drums and voices of friends [demonstrating] on the other side of the [prison] wall; when I think of the concert, at which the whole hall sang “This Will Pass” [“Vse proidet”] (a song about the Network case by the Russian punk group Pornofilmy), or of the rap-battle, where verses were read in support of our case, or of the street artist who used graffiti to speak out about repression in Russia today – I feel like it wasn’t all in vain.

Continue reading “Ilya Shakursky: “Now and Then the Flame Dies Down, but Solidarity Is a Stream of Sparks””

People and Nature: Labour Protests in Belarus (Rage Against the Machines)

Belarus: labour protest as part of political revolt
People and Nature
November 12, 2020

The popular revolt against the autocratic regime in Belarus and its thuggish security forces is now going into its fourth month. On Sunday, mass anti-government demonstrations were staged for the 13th week in a row – and more than 1000 people were arrested.

A first-class analysis of the relationship between the street demonstrations and the Belarusian workers’ movement was published last week in English, on the Rosa Luxemburg foundation site.

The article, by two researchers of labour movements, Volodymyr Artiukh and Denys Gorbach, compares the labour protests against the Belarussian regime, which they call “state capitalist”, with those in Ukraine, where private capital dominates.

In Belarus, the falsification of results in the presidential election in August first gave rise

Medical students demonstration in Vitebsk on 20 September. Polina Nitchenko is carrying the sign, which reads: “You can’t just wash away blood like that, I can tell you”. Photo: Ales Piletsky, TUT.By

to monster street demonstrations, and then to a wave of strikes, mass meetings and other workplace actions. (I published what information I could find herehere and here.)

This was not only “the most numerous, geographically diverse, and most sustained labour unrest” since 1991, Artiukh and Gorbach write, but also “the first large-scale labour protest to happen within the context of a broader political mobilisation”.

Three months on, the unrest has “gained a more individualised, sporadic and invisible form”, they argue. The workers’ acts of defiance “have been effective, but more on the symbolic level than in material terms”.

Workers “became an inspiration for the broader protesting masses” and were greeted on the streets with banners and chants – “a significant exception in the region, for in no other Eastern European country including Ukraine, have workers gained such symbolic prestige among society at large”.

Workers, Artiukh and Gorbach argue, derive their confidence from the streets, not from their workplaces where they suffer atomisation and strict management control.

Belarusian workers protest as citizens rather than workers. This is, however, an ambivalent process: the very experience of uniting and standing up to the bosses is vital for workers to overcome atomisation and gain organisational experience, but at the same time they have not yet learned to articulate politically their demands within a broader social agenda.

In fact work-related demands have been “only sporadically articulated”. Artiukh and Gorbach see a parallel with Poland and the Soviet Union in the 1980s: “political demands take precedence over bread-and-butter grievances”.

They discuss at length the post-Soviet history of “bureaucratic despotism in the workplace” that is now being challenged. Official unions act as an arm of state control; free and independent unions are small and weak.

In the near future, they expect that the opening-up of Belarus to Russian capital will impact workers.

On the one hand, it will increase the precariousness of workers’ living conditions: wages will not rise, enterprises will slowly be sold off to Russian capitalists, ‘optimised’ or closed. On the other hand, bureaucratic control over workplaces will also increase, while the state-affiliated trade unions will prove incapable of channelling workers’ discontent. This combination of workers’ newly gained politicisation and organisational experience, combined with a deteriorating economic situation, may spark new waves of labour unrest, perhaps more autonomous from larger political protests.

I hope readers will look at the whole article.

Now that Belarus has gone out of mainstream media headlines, it is hard to find insightful reports from the protest movement.

Judging by the Belarussian news site TUT.By, the focus of much anger this week are the Minsk police officers who on Sunday forced detainees to stand for several hours facing a wall in a police station courtyard.

Residents in flats overlooking the courtyard filmed the detainees in the afternoon, and again several hours later as night fell. The videos circulated on line, provoking outrage.

The police tactic of mass arrests and detention has led to a procession of court appearances against demonstrators. One that hit the news this week was Polina

Video, circulated on line, of detainees in a police station courtyard. They were forced to stand in this position for several hours

Nitchenko, who participated in a picket of the state medical university at Vitebsk singing protest songs. She was found guilty of participation in an unsanctioned demonstration and fined; she intends to appeal.

Medical staff and students played a prominent role in the early weeks of the movement by speaking out against the savage injuries inflicted by police thugs on demonstrators. And they have not gone quiet.

The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Natalya Kochanova, said last week that there would be “no dialogue on the streets” with protesting medical staff.

Nikita Solovei, a doctor and adviser to the Minsk health authorities, shot back in a facebook post that health workers had finished with being treated like “slaves” by officials. He denounced the “unlimited violence of the security forces against peaceful citizens”, the “imitation elections”, official “lying” about the coronavirus epidemic and repressive measures against medical staff and students alike.

As for there being no dialogue on the streets, he concluded, the dialogue “would be where the people of Belarus want it to be”.

The political strike at the Belaruskalii potash fertiliser plant, which People & Nature reported in August, led to the detention of strike committee members.

Anatoly Bokun, the committee chairman, was released last month after 55 days’ imprisonment. Sergei Cherkasov, a strike committee member and vice president of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, was released last week along with Yuri Korzun and Pavel Puchenya: they all served 45 days. The union reported that they are all at home and in good spirits.

The federation is hoping to expand its international contacts: if you are in a union, please get in touch. Another support network, Bysol, set up by Belarusians working outside the country, conveys financial support to victims of repression. GL, 12 November 2020.

Belaruskalii strike committee members Yuri Korzun, Sergei Cherkasov and Pavel Puchenya after their release. Photo: BITU

________________________________________________________________________________________

Gabriel Levy
Facebook
November 11, 2020

Rage against the machines

Plenty of lies on facebook. Donald Trump’s lying page is working fine. And Breitbart News’s. And Fox news presenter Tucker Carlson’s. And Trump’s former press secretary’s Kayleigh McEnany’s. And Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon’s (although, to be fair, facebook has stopped him adding posts, after he called for the execution of Anthony Fauci, the White House medical science adviser).

But facebook has blocked anyone from posting links to peoplenature[dot]org, my humble web site where I write about socialism, ecology, the labour movement in eastern European countries and stuff like that.

It’s certainly a computer that decided to block me (for “breaching community standards”. As if). I’ve complained to the computer. And the computer may eventually notice its mistake. Or not …

So if you usually follow peoplenature[dot]org on facebook – as many of you lovely people do – please let’s use alternatives:

■ Join the whatsapp group to get updates. https://chat.whatsapp.com/FLJtISmn1ew9Bg2ZcR5fDl

■ Follow @peoplenature on twitter. https://twitter.com/peoplenature

■ Drop an email to peoplenature[at]yahoo.com, and get updates that way.

And please circulate this message to friends. Thanks for your support.

Keep raging against the machines!

Belarus: “Without Organisation, Without Struggle, the Oppressive Unfreedom Will Never Disappear” (People and Nature)

Belarus: ‘Without organisation, without struggle, the oppressive unfreedom will never disappear’
People and Nature
August 14, 2020

The revolt against the authoritarian regime in Belarus has spread from the city streets, where thousands of protesters have been battling with police, to the workplaces. On Thursday 13 August workers at large enterprises – including chemical and food factories, and construction and transport companies – downed tools in protest at the monstrous surge of police violence and arrests. People are quitting the state-supported trade unions. Films and photographs of workers’ meetings, at which participants denounced police violence and the fraudulent election results, are spreading like wildfire across social media. Womens’ organisations are taking to the streets – against a president whose fury was provoked, especially, by the support for Svetlana Tikhonovskaya, the woman who dared to stand against him for election. Here are two appeals by independent trade union organisations that were published yesterday. Please share and re-post. GL.

Open Appeal by the Belarusian Independent Trade Union to workers

Dear Belarusians,

The authorities’ actions – in falsifying the election results, breaching human rights, instigating mass arrests and beatings of peaceful protesters and passers-by across the whole country – could all lead to irreversible consequences for Belarus. We are hearing ever-louder announcements from the European Union and the United States, that they are ready to impose various sanctions, including economic ones, on Belarus as a state that is trampling cynically on the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

a-factory-meetingA factory meeting in Minsk earlier this week

Closure of the western markets for our products and services would be a catastrophe for our enterprises. The impact of this would be borne first of all by ordinary workers, who are in a bad enough situation already.

To defend ourselves and our freedom of action at the workplace, we propose the following pattern of simple collective actions:

1. Quit the state’s social organisations, such as the [government-supported] Federation of Belarusian Trade Unions, [the pro-presidential civic-political association] Belaya Rus and the Belarusian Republican Union of Youth. If you remain in these organisations, you are actually confirming your support for [president] Aleksandr Lukashenko.

2. Join the independent trade unions at your workplace, and if there is not one, organise it yourself.

3. Organise a mass meeting, declare “no confidence” in the results of the elections, and send it to the Central Electoral Commission. Collect the signatures of those who did not vote for Lukashenko.

4. Present demands to the management of your workplace, and the local authorities, for the cessation of aggression and violence on the part of the security services; for guarantees of safety for the enterprises’ workers and their families; of a guarantee that no-one will be dismissed on account of being seized [by the police] on the streets.

5. Record any mass meetings and demands in minutes; record videos; take photos and send this material to independent media.

In unity there is strength!

In solidarity, Maksim Poznyakov, president of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union.

This statement was published here on 13 August.

The Belarusian Independent Trade Union English-language page is here.

Belarusian Independent Trade Union contact details: Telephone.+375 17 424 18 80. Fax. +375 17 424 18 90. E-mail: bnpsoligorsk@gmail.com

===

An appeal by the recently-established Telegram channel ZabastovkaBY (Strike Belarus)

Belarus is in the grip of a protest movement … and now many people are demanding that the factories be stopped, in order to stop police violence. But that is just the start.

We don’t just need a one-off strike for free elections. We need an organisation, that will rouse workers every time that the manager or boss “loses the plot”. All of us spend most of the day at our workplaces, and it is from the situation there, from the fear of losing our jobs, that the most oppressive unfreedom grows among us.

We need effective organisations of working people, constantly active, and independent of the authorities and the owners of companies.

Furthermore, such organisations are needed not only at the gigantic state-controlled industrial enterprises. Today the majority of Belarusians already work in the private sector, and the situation there is often no better than at the state-owned workplaces. And those private bosses, no less than the state enterprises, are “sponsors of the system”.

We hear about these issues less often, because there is not a single businessman who would want an organisation in his enterprise that could stop him feeding his appetites. But without organisation by working people, and without struggle in the private sector, that feeling of oppressive unfreedom that is suffered by most Belarusians will never disappear.

What we are fighting for:

►The democratisation of the political system;

►The immediate release of those who have been detained without cause at demonstrations;

►A ban on the privatisation of enterprises;

►No job losses;

►Abolition of Decree no. 3 “on the prevention of social parasitism”;

►A ban on fines and the cancellation of bonuses [in workplaces];

►Abolition of the contract [labour] system;

►Expansion of social welfare provision;

►No to the pension reform;

►For trade unions that stand up for our rights.

What to do:

Meet up with your colleagues outside of work time. Organise chats on social media and messaging networks. Work out which departments could most effectively stop production or the provision of services by striking. Join up with our resources, and at the right moment be ready to go on strike. (14 August 2020.)

■ Londoners! There’s a picket at the Belarusian embassy tomorrow (Saturday).

■ Belarusian workers support protesters, by Maxim Edwards on Global Voices – a first-class survey of actions

■ And here is some analysis by Volodymyr Artiukh, published on Open Democracy just before the election.

Some social media clips

■ Redfish film of security forces clashing with demonstrators in the centre of Minsk.

■ Film of a mass meeting at Grodnozhilstroya, a construction company. The chair asks who has voted for Lukashenko, “don’t be shy”, a handful raise their hands. He asks who voted against, an overwhelming cheer goes up. Posted on Facebook.

■ Film of a mass meeting at the huge Minsk automobile factory (MAZ). The crowd shouts “[Lukashenko] Go!” and “honest elections!”. Posted on Facebook by Boris Kravchenko, a Russian trade union official.

■ Medical staff demonstrating in Minsk, as reported by Current Time TV. Those interviewed say they are protesting at the appalling character of the wounds inflicted on patients by the security forces.

■ A film circulating widely on Russian social media. A police officer, completely unprovoked and without warning, smashes the windscreen of a passing car. The elderly driver gets up to complain and is beaten by five officers, in broad daylight, and arrested. Those filming the incident are exclaiming “bandits! fascists!”.

Thanks to Gabriel Levy for sending this to me and graciously permitting me to repost it here. // TRR

Lugansk Miners Occupy Pit to Protest Wage Arrears and Closures

lugansk-1From Saturday’s motorcade: “Employers, corporations and chain stores: we will not allow you to insult people”

Lugansk miners occupy pit and defy security forces
People and Nature
June 9, 2020

Mineworkers are staging an underground occupation in defiance of the authorities in the Lugansk separatist “republic” in eastern Ukraine, who have responded with a campaign of intimidation and arrests.

There were 123 mineworkers underground at the Komsomolskaya pit, in the mining town of Antratsit, for the third day running on Sunday (7 June), the News.ru site reported yesterday. One who had fallen ill was brought to the surface.

The protesters are demanding that their wages for March and April be paid in full. A similar underground protest on 21 April resulted in some money being handed over by Vostok Ugol, a new company set up in the “republic” and charged with closing pits and cutting the labour force.

lugansk-3

An earlier protest, in Zorinsk in the Lugansk “republic”, on 4 May, against the closure of the local pit. Photo from Dialog.ua

The Lugansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” were set up by separatist military forces, supported by the Russian government, who clashed with the Ukrainian army in the military conflict of 2014.

The militarised regimes have clamped down on labour and social movement activists, and made independent journalism impossible in the “republics”—meaning that protest has been rare, and news of it does not travel easily. But this week mineworkers and their supporters have taken action nonetheless.

On Sunday the Lugansk “republic” police blockaded the Komsomolskaya mine and stopped food and drink being passed in to the occupiers. Galina Dmitrieva, a local trade union activist, received a a message saying that state security ministry (MGB) officials were on their way to the mine.

After that, mobile phone reception was blocked and the popular Vkontakte social media (similar to Facebook) was blocked. News.ru published text exchanges with local residents who said that the internet could only be accessed with Virtual Private Network (encrypted anti-spying) technology.

Transport in Antratsit was shut down, and on Sunday evening the authorities announced that this was because a medical quarantine was in place.

Aleksandr Vaskovsky, co-chairman of the Independent Union of Mineworkers of Donbass, said in a statement to News.ru:

A quarantine was announced in Antratsit on the evening of 7 June and the whole town closed down. The intention was to deprive the striking miners of subsistence. A curfew was declared and a military force assembled. This force was assembled at Rovenki, and they completely surrounded the Frunze pit, where miners had also tried to strike. […]

In Antratsit on 7 June, from the evening, they started arresting people who had given informational and organisational support to the miners, and organised the strike movement at other pits. They sought out activists at other pits and in other towns. There were arrests in Krasnodon, Rovenki, Krasnyi Luch and Belorechensk. State security ministry officials just came and, without any documents, were taking people with all their computers and mobile phones to an unknown destination.

We were able to find out where some of these arrestees were, in the MGB’s buildings. During the course of the day they had been tortured, with the aim of identifying other activists. At 8:00 another seven people were kidnapped, including two women, one of whom is pregnant.

Vaskovsky told News.ru that workers at Belorechenskaya mine tried to stage an occupation on Monday, but were prevented from going underground by managers.

Since the separatist “republic” was established in 2014, out of 32 pits, 10 have been closed. The mines now employ 44,800 people, less than half of the workforce before the military conflict began.

The Eastern Human Rights Group said on its Facebook page yesterday (8 June) that MGB officials had been in the Dubovsky quarter of Antratsit, where the Komsomolskaya pit is, since Friday, “questioning workers about the instigators of the protest”. Two miners had been arrested and sent for questioning to Antratsit; their whereabouts were unknown. The union president at the mine, Georgii Chernetsov, had been questioned but not detained. The statement continued:

Now a road block has been set up in Dubovsky, and MGB officers have gone to the families of the protesting mineworkers, to put pressure on the protesters through their families. Mobile phone signals have been cut off throughout Antratsit district, although WhatsApp and Viber are working.

This activity by the security forces of the Lugansk “republic” is directed at intimidating workers and suppressing the protest movement in the occupied part of Lugansk district.

Pavel Lisyansky of the Eastern Human Rights Group, based nearby in Lisichansk, in territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, wrote in a Facebook post:

The Russian Federation’s occupying administration in [the Lugansk “republic”] is disturbed by the systematic protests by the labour collectives at the mining enterprises, which are related to the restructuring of the industry, in other words the threat of mass closures.

In the course of these protests new leaders of public opinion have emerged, who have the support of the local population and do not fear the repressive actions by the occupying administration’s special forces.

For the last month, the mood of protest has grown stronger in Perevalsky, Antratsit and Lutuginsk districts in the occupied part of Lugansk region. The leaders of the worker protests have the support and solidarity of other labour collectives in the coal mining enterprises.

It is for this reason that the Russian Federation’s occupation administration has decided to take measures to counter the protests.

On the Ukrainian side of the front line, the Eastern Human Rights Group on Saturday staged a motorcade “to draw attention to the problem of the breaches of labour and social-economic rights of workers during the pandemic and quarantine measures”.

lugansk-2The Eastern Human Rights Group’s motorcade

The group said: “We are concerned about the situation in which the state labour inspection does nothing; about the pressure and bribery practiced by criminal groups against trade union leaders, to try to influence workers and employers (there has been a case at Toretsk that we will report on); the unlawful dismissal of workers; and so on.”

Thanks to People and Nature for permission to republish this article here.

People and Nature

283128_106538682780432_4198293_n

I can recommend no blog more highly than People and Nature. Whether you’re interested in climate change and the environment, energy, Russia, Syria, Ukraine, the UK, labor and social movements, international solidarity campaigns or history, Gabriel Levy has written so many incise, supremely well-grounded articles and interventions on these subjects since 2011 that it would take a month of Sundays to take all of them in. But since you’ll undoubtedly learn more about our world by reading People and Nature than by subjecting yourself to the endless eardrum buzz of media and social media, this is exactly what you should do.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

I hope, dear readers, you get time for reflection, rejuvenation and relaxation in the midwinter holidays. If you find yourself reaching for your phone for something to read – then, rather than winding yourself up with news of Boris Johnson’s vileness, go a level more thoughtful: look at those People & Nature articles you missed out on first time round. Here is some stuff that has stood the test of time. Thanks for your interest, and see you all (virtually or really) in the 2020s.

Image courtesy of People and Nature

It’s Official

It’s official: the British political establishment, Benjamin Netanyahu, Jay-Z, “Moscow” Mitch McConnell, and Greyhound totally suck.

But you knew that, right?

thevoima

The Brexit process has already claimed victims: communities such as Scunthorpe, which are suffering job losses and hardship due to Brexit-related industrial closures; migrant workers from EU countries who find their lives thrown into uncertainty and themselves and their families vilified. Their anger is more than justified. But, in addition to this, the Brexit process has produced a gloom, a feeling of powerlessness, of fear, of uncertainty, that is obviously affecting millions of people. I think this feeling is the product of an illusion that our enemies are powerful enough to decide our fate above our heads. It’s another version of the illusions of power that have engendered fear, obedience and subservience to elites for centuries. It’s an illusion, because they, too, are tormented by crisis. It makes them more ruthless, it throws up the zealots – but it doesn’t necessarily make them stronger. We – social movements, communities, workplace organisations, movements about climate change – can find, and are finding, ways to challenge these enemies. (The FcK Boris demonstration when the new government took office was a reminder of this.) This is not a plea for false hope. It’s a suggestion that we evaluate our enemies’ strengths and weaknesses carefully. And be prepared for surprises.
—Gabriel Levy, “Zealots and Ditherers,” People and Nature, 15 August 2019

Tlaib and Omar aren’t the first critics of Israel penalized by the 2017 law, but they are the most prominent. The law targets those who “actively, consistently and continuously” promote boycotts of Israel. It applies to those who hold senior-level positions in pro-boycott organizations, are key activists in the boycott movements, or are prominent public figures (members of Congress, for instance) who support a boycott. More than 20 groups have been blacklisted, including the Nobel Peace Prize–winning American Friends Services Committee. One notable case was the banning of Lara Alqasem, an American college student of Palestinian descent who received a visa to study human rights at Hebrew University but was ordered deported and detained for two weeks on suspicion of being a boycott supporter. Her deportation was later overturned.
—Joshua Keating, “Israel Banned Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar Because They’re Anti-Trump, Not Anti-Israel,” Slate, 15 August 2019

In Mazur’s photo, Jay-Z’s right arm is pointed like an arrow. Goodell looks in the same direction, as does everyone else in the frame. It’s irresistible that way. What is Jay talking about, and why is everyone so rapt? Here’s a Brooklyn-born kid who made good, raised himself up from the projects, became one of the most recognizable names in pop music, and can now claim status as a self-made billionaire. It’s the kind of story you want to believe in. But then you stare a beat longer, holding your gaze, and the mirage begins to wither.

Illusion works both ways: It’s as much about who is in the photo as who isn’t. You ask yourself, Where is Kaepernick or Reid, the two players who sparked the protest? Why are other players who’ve since scrutinized the league, especially those who comprise the Players Coalition, absent from the meeting? That’s the danger in illusion, especially one cast by the NFL. Even though one might see through its hollow spectacle, there’s little to be done to break its spell. Jay-Z commands attention and everyone looks on, ghostly captivated. His arm stretches into an unknowable future. There are those who will follow, and others, who will rightly wonder: Is this the right direction?
—Jason Parham, “Depth of Field: Where Is Jay-Z Taking the NFL?” Wired, 15 August 2019

In January, as the Senate debated whether to permit the Trump administration to lift sanctions on Russia’s largest aluminum producer, two men with millions of dollars riding on the outcome met for dinner at a restaurant in Zurich.

On one side of the table sat the head of sales for Rusal, the Russian aluminum producer that would benefit most immediately from a favorable Senate vote. The U.S. government had imposed sanctions on Rusal as part of a campaign to punish Russia for “malign activity around the globe,” including attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election.

On the other side sat Craig Bouchard, an American entrepreneur who had gained favor with officials in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Bouchard was trying to build the first new aluminum-rolling mill in the United States in nearly four decades, in a corner of northeastern Kentucky ravaged by job losses and the opioid epidemic — a project that stood to benefit enormously if Rusal were able to get involved.

The men did not discuss the Senate debate that night at dinner, Bouchard said in an interview, describing it as an amicable introductory chat.

But the timing of their meeting shows how much a major venture in McConnell’s home state had riding on the Democratic-backed effort in January to keep sanctions in place.

By the next day, McConnell had successfully blocked the bill, despite the defection of 11 Republicans.

Within weeks, the U.S. government had formally lifted sanctions on Rusal, citing a deal with the company that reduced the ownership interest of its Kremlin-linked founder, Oleg Deripaska. And three months later, Rusal announced plans for an extraordinary partnership with Bouchard’s company, providing $200 million in capital to buy a 40 percent stake in the new aluminum plant in Ashland, Ky. — a project Gov. Matt Bevin (R) boasted was “as significant as any economic deal ever made in the history of Kentucky.”

A spokesman for McConnell said the majority leader did not know that Bouchard had hopes of a deal with Rusal at the time McConnell led the Senate effort to end the sanctions, citing the recommendation of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

McConnell “was not aware of any potential Russian investor before the vote,” spokesman David Popp said.

Bouchard said no one from his company, Braidy Industries, told anyone in the U.S. government that lifting sanctions could help advance the project. Rusal’s parent company, EN+, said in a statement that the Kentucky project played no role in the company’s vigorous lobbying campaign to persuade U.S. officials to do away with sanctions.

But critics said the timing is disturbing.

“It is shocking how blatantly transactional this arrangement looks,” said Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration and now teaches at Stanford University.

Democratic senators have called for a government review of the deal, prompting a Rusal executive in Moscow last week to threaten to pull out of the investment.
—Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman, “How a McConnell-Backed Effort to Lift Russian Sanctions Boosted a Kentucky Project,” Washington Post, 14 August 2019

Throughout the country, people rely on Greyhound to get to work, visit family, or to simply travel freely. But Greyhound has been letting Border Patrol board its buses to question and arrest passengers without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing. The company is throwing its loyal customers under the bus.

For more than a year, we’ve been urging Greyhound to stop letting Border Patrol board its buses, but the company is refusing to issue a policy protecting its customers. So now we’re taking our fight to the next level.

Greyhound is owned by FirstGroup plc, a multi-national transport group based in the UK, whose own Code of Ethics and Corporate Responsibility contradicts what its subsidiary has been doing to passengers.

“We are committed to recognising human rights on a global basis. We have a zero-tolerance approach to any violations within our company or by business partners.”

Greyhound’s complicity in the Trump deportation machine is a clear violation of the human rights values that FirstGroup professes to uphold. We must raise our voices: Sign the petition to demand that FirstGroup direct Greyhound to comply with its code of ethics. Greyhound must stop throwing customers under the bus.
—ACLU: Buses Are No Place for Border Patrol

Image courtesy of The Voima

Vocalese (The Network Trials)

DSCN0045Viktor Filinkov (left) and Yuli Boyarshinov (right) in the dock at the Network trial in Petersburg, discussing matters with their defense lawyers. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

Petersburg Defendants in Network Case Remanded in Custody till September 11
Zaks.ru
June 4, 2019

On Tuesday, June 4, a panel of judges from the Moscow Military District Court, presiding at a circuit hearing in Petersburg, extended the remand in custody of anarchists Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov, defendants in the trial of the so-called Network terrorist community, until September 11.

The defendants’ previous remand in custody would have expired on June 11. The prosecution insisted it be extended. The defendants asked to release them on house arrest. Filinkov and Boyarshinov have been imprisoned for nearly a year and a half.

Earlier in the hearing, the court granted a motion, made by Filinkov’s defense counsel, Vitaly Cherkasov, to order a phonoscopic forensic examination of an audio recording in the case files containing, allegedly, a conversation between the Petersburg defendants.

As part of the forensic examination, FSB Captain Maxim Volkov recorded their voices in the courtroom. They were told to say anything they liked in the microphone.

Filinkov spoke for around eleven minutes about what happened during the early days after he was detained by the FSB, including  the electrical shock torture to which he had previously accused the FSB officers who detained him of subjecting him.

Boyarshinov recounted the time he had spent in remand prison, his loved ones, and his passion for traveling.

The trials of the Network defendants have been taking place simultaneously in Petersburg and Penza.

There are nine defendants in the dock. They have been charged with establishing a terrorist organization that, allegedly, wanted to carry out terrorist attacks against officials and security services officers. They also, allegedly, planned to overthrow the government.

On the contrary, the defendants claim they practiced airsoft together and discussed anarchist ideas, but had no plans to commit any crimes whatsoever.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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They took a dynamo out of a bag and put it on the table. All the agents were wearing balaclavas and medical gloves.

They strapped my hands behind my back, I was only in my underpants, they strapped my legs to the bench with tape. One agent, Alexander, stripped the wires with a craft knife and attached them to my toes. They didn’t ask any questions, they simply started cranking the dynamo.

I felt electric currents in my legs up to the knees. It feels like you are being skinned alive, but when it stops, it’s as if nothing happened at all. There’s no pain when the electricity stops.

Well, it’s impossible to endure this. They hit me [with electric shocks] maybe about five times without asking any questions, probably, to stun me or something like that. Then they told me: if you haven’t figured it out, you are in the hands of the FSB, we are not going to play games, you will have to answer our questions now. The answers “no”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember” are wrong answers.

Excerpt from Network defendant Dmitry Pchelintsev’s testimony at the Penza Network trial, as published by People and Nature on June 4, 2019. Read the rest of Pchelintsev’s nearly unbearable story there.

FSB May Have Used Neo-Nazi Provocateur to Frame Network Suspects

Russian Security Services May Have Used Agent Provocateur to Frame Up Antifascists
People and Nature
January 31, 2019

Antifascists have launched an international campaign to defend Russian activists who have been arrested, tortured in detention, and charged with terrorism-related offences in the Network case.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) claims that 11 people arrested in St Petersburg and Penza were part of an underground terrorist group seeking to sow disorder ahead of the 2018 Russian Presidential elections and the football World Cup.

Several of the detainees have described in detail how they were tortured by the FSB. For example, Viktor Filinkov described how he was tortured with an electric shocker after being detained at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport in January 2018. Filinkov stated that FSB officers put him in a minivan, and then drove him around the city while torturing him into learning a forced confession.

pan-antifaDemonstrators showing their solidarity with Network defendants on January 19, 2019, in London. Photo courtesy of People and Nature

The quasi-official St. Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission has compiled evidence of torture, and the issue was raised at a meeting of the Kremlin’s own Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. Nevertheless, preparations for what the defendants and their families describe as a show trial continue.

On 19 January, demonstrations in solidarity with the defendants were held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kyiv, London, and other European and North American cities. (Information on the London event here and here.)

On 17 January, defendant Igor Shishkin received three and a half years for involvement in a terrorist organization. Shishkin admitted his guilt and came to a pretrial agreement with the investigation. Most other defendants have renounced their confessions, citing the fact that they were tortured by FSB officers.

The following article, by Tatyana Likhanova of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, describes the use of what appears to be an agent provocateur in the Network case. This agent, who attended the same sports club as one of the case investigators in Penza, previously gave information to Ilya Shakursky, one of the defendants, and appears to have encouraged Shakursky to take radical action. We translated it with the author’s permission.

***

Following the conviction of Igor Shishkin, his lawyer Dmitry Dinze published several extracts from the case materials in a Facebook post. According to the post, a certain “V.I. Kabanov (an agent who possesses audio files of conversations with members of the Network)” features on the list of witnesses who testified against the defendants.

Ilya Shakursky, one of the Penza-based defendants in the Network case, reported that this agent came into contact with the antifascists previously, in a statement made last April. Having introduced himself as “Vlad Dobrovolsky,” the agent encouraged them to take radical measures against the Russian authorities and engage in violent acts against law enforcement officials. Shakursky’s statement was given to Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev and attached to the case files. But this evidence was not verified by law enforcement.

At a recent court hearing on the extension of pretrial custody for Shakursky, the following statement by the defendant was read out by the presiding officer (the session was open to the public, and journalists made audio recordings):

In autumn 2016, I met a young man named Vlad Dobrovolsky on the VKontakte social network [a Russian network similar to Facebook]. His name and surname may not be real. He was of an average height, with short dark hair, a beard, and strong build. I can identify him. I also know that he was studying at Penza State University. Vlad had given me important information about upcoming attacks by neo-Nazis on antifascist events. According to him, he did it because of a personal grudge against the Penza Nazis.

He also told me that some neo-Nazis maintained close relations with officers from the counter-extremism department, who, in turn, do not prevent the organisation of neo-Nazi events (tournaments, meetings, concerts).

Vlad found out later that I play airsoft, and offered to give me a few training sessions on tactics. At one of his training sessions, he showed me his Wild Boar firearm.

Later, he told me that a radical neo-Nazi organisation operates in Siberia; its aim is to fight for the autonomy of Siberia. As a committed antifascist, I felt it was my duty to learn more about this organization in order to expose it later on by writing articles in the media. That is why I deliberately misled Dobrovolsky when I spoke about my views and supported his proposals. My goal was to gain his trust to learn more about the neo-Nazis.

In spite of his constant requests to meet, I rarely met Vlad. Communication with him was not a priority for me. I was busy with my studies and my personal life. At the last meeting in summer 2017, he talked about his desire to move on to radical action and try to make an explosive device. I thought he was a crazy fanatic and stopped talking to him, ignoring his calls.

In court, Shakursky clarified that the man called “Dobrovolsky” is known in Penza as a neo-Nazi.

Novaya Gazeta found a user with the same name on the Ask.fm social network. His jokes in the comments have a nationalist flavor.

Talking with relatives during breaks, Shakursky also said that he recorded conversations with Vlad on his smartphone. He also saved the correspondence with him and photographs of “Dobrovolsky” from several meetings (a friend of Shakursky’s, at his request, photographed them secretly).

pan-shakurskyIlya Shakursky

Law enforcement confiscated the smartphone and computer. According to Shakursky, the investigating officers showed his correspondence with “Dobrovolsky” to Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant, but this correspondence is not in the file. As for the audio recordings, they were added to the case file, but with omissions that allow the remaining phrases to be used against the defendants. The defense has no access to the original records, since Shakursky’s electronic devices remain in the possession of the investigation.

pan-pchelintsevDmitry Pchelinstev

When Ilya’s acquaintances showed a photo of “Dobrovolsky” to students at Penza university, they recognized a Penza State University student called Vlad Gresko. As Novaya Gazeta has noted, on Ask.fm, people address user wlad8 as “Gres.” Web searches revealed yet another coincidence: “Dobrovolsky” trains at the same sport club as investigator Valery Tokarev. Both appear in pictures on the zavod58_sport_club online community.

During breaks in court hearings, Shakursky also managed to report that, after one of his meetings with Vlad, a sporty-looking man came up to him on the street and tried to provoke a fight. Subsequently, after his arrest, Shakursky saw this same man in the FSB office. The man turned out to be Dmitry N., an investigating officer with the Penza branch office of the FSB.

According to Shakursky, the officer “listened to Nazi bands […] and talked to officer Shepelev about his desire to ‘shoot shavki’ [Russian neo-Nazi slang for antifascists – Novaya Gazeta]. I pretended that I did not recognize him.”

Indeed, according to Shakursky’s statement on torture, it was Captain Shepelev who subjected Shakursky to torture in an effort to force him to confess to terrorism charges. During a court session break, Shakursky said:

This man [Shepelev] participated in my torture and the torture of Dima [Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant]. He threatened to rape me. […] When the human rights ombudsperson [Elena Rogova] visited us, which was a while ago, when Dima and I couldn’t see each other, she asked me to draw the locations [in investigation detention] where I had been tortured. I drew them. In the office next door, Dima drew the same thing. She compared them, and it was the same place. Although I was not being kept there officially [according to the Military Investigative Commission’s investigation into the claims of torture – Novaya Gazeta].

There were three people there — Shepelev held me down, tied me up with black tape. [….] I was wearing only my underwear. He took my underwear off and said he was going to rape me.

Elena Bogatova, Shakursky’s mother, told journalists that when law enforcement searched her son’s apartment, officers went straight to a hole under the kitchen window. There, they found “an improvised explosive device camouflaged as a fire extinguisher”. When Shepelev ordered officers to look under the couch, a pistol was found.

The initial forensic test did not find any DNA or fingerprint traces belonging to Shakursky on these items. Then, after Shakursky gave a saliva sample, a second test was conducted. This test showed traces of Shakursky’s DNA on a piece of electrical tape stuck to the explosive device. But, as Elena Bogatova recalls, and photographs of the search confirm, after the device was found, it was left on the apartment floor for a period of time. Given that Shakursky had lived there for a significant period of time, there were bound to be traces of his DNA.

According to Bogatova, Captain Shepelev also tried to force her to give a “correct comment” to the television channel NTV when they interviewed her. She was advised not to deny the existence of a terrorist organization and not insist on her son’s innocence. Otherwise, Bogatova says, Shepelev threatened he would spread rumors in prison that her son was a pedophile.

■ A cash appeal to support the Network case defendants (for legal expenses and support of their families), initiated by the organizing committee for the 19 January demonstration in London, will close in nine days’ time on 8 February. It has raised more than £3000, surpassing the original target of £2000. But we are making a final push to try to hit £4000. You can see the details, and donate, here.

Thanks to Gabriel Levy for permission to republish the article. It has been edited very lightly to conform with our style guide. {TRR}

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists who have been tortured and imprisoned by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian security state, read and share the articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

Relentless Repression in Russia: Why Londoners Are Demonstrating on January 19

Relentless repression in Russia: why we will demonstrate on Saturday 19 January
People and Nature
14 January 2019

On Saturday, January 19, we will demonstrate in London in solidarity with Russian antifascists. Eleven of them, who have been arrested, tortured, and accused of fabricated “terrorism” charges, are awaiting trial. Many others have faced a relentless campaign of persecution by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the police, as summarized in the following article.

Please join us on Saturday to support the Russian antifascists and strengthen international solidarity against fascism, xenophobia, and state terror. Please repost and share this article.

Details of our London event here.

2018 summary

By Misha Shubin, 31 December 2018 (Original Russian text here)

I’ve also decided to sum up the year. Not my own year, but rather to remember what happened to anarchists and leftists in Russia in 2018. This post will be long, and many of you know  or heard something about the events I recount here.

But I think it is very important not to forget all this. [Note. Links from the original article to Russian-language sources are included. Links to English translations or relevant articles in English added where available. Translator.]

The Network Case

Eleven anarchists and antifascists have been arrested. They are accused of setting up a terrorist group and planning terrorist attacks. According to the Federal Security Service (FSB), they wanted to organise an armed uprising in Russia.

Almost all the evidence has been gathered on pain of torture. The detainees were beaten up. Some of them were tortured using shocks from a stationary electric dynamo, others with tasers. At least one of the accused, Dmitry Pchelintsev, was hung upside down.

The accused are Yegor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Andrei Chernov, Viktor Filinkov, Igor Shishkin, Yuli Boyarshinov, Mikhail Kulkov, and Maksim Ivankin.

What to read:

“How the FSB is manufacturing a terrorist case against antifascists in Russia”

What else you need to know about this case:

“A witness in the ‘network’ case, Ilya Kapustin, was tortured with a hand-held electric shocker.” Subsequently, he left for Finland, where he has applied for political asylum.

Viktoria Frolova, Ilya Shakursky’s girlfriend, was detained on Russia’s border with Ukraine. (Link in Russian.) Shakursky was threatened that “it would be bad” for his girlfriend if he did not make a confession.

The case of anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev

In early February 2018, anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev was arrested in Crimea [the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014]. They brought him to the police station with a bag over his head. There were fresh bruises on his temples and his knees. On the basis of

two videos that he had uploaded to various chat forums, he was accused of making public calls for terrorist activity.

What to read:

“A rifle stock to the heart, a fist to the gut: how left-wing activists are persecuted in Crimea”

(And more in Russian.) [And a report of Karakashev’s subsequent court appearance is here.]

What else you need to know about this case:

The main prosecution witness is a former comrade of Karakashev’s.

In the autumn, 16 people from various Russian regions were summoned to the Russian Investigative Committee for interrogations. Many of them have expressed left-wing views. Some of them did not even know Karakashev.

Torture of anarchists in Chelyabinsk

Anarchists in Chelyabinsk staged an event on the night of 14–15 February in solidarity with the Network Case defendants. They displayed a banner outside the FSB headquarters and threw a flare over a fence. The banner read, “The FSB is the chief terrorist.”

Three days later, five people were arrested: Dmitry Semenov, Dmitry Tsibukovsky, Anastasia Safonova, Maksim Anfalov, and their friend Maksim. Tsibukovsky and Anfalov were beaten up and tortured with electric shockers.

Over the summer, the criminal case against theChelyabinsk anarchists was dropped.

What to read:

“The main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive”

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, a new criminal case was opened against anarchists Tsibukovsky, Safonova, Grigory Potanin, Mikhail Perkov, and Dmitry Dubovoi. This time, they were charged with vandalism during their protest of the government’s pension reform.

The broken window in United Russia’s office and torture of Svyatoslav Rechkalov

On 31 January, persons unknown broke a window at the office of United Russia [the largest party in the Russian parliament, which supports President Putin] and threw a smoke bomb. A criminal investigation into vandalism was launched. Sixteen days later, Yelena Gorban and Aleksei Kobaidze were arrested. After questioning, they were released on their own recognizance.

On 14 March, searches were conducted of the homes of anarchists from the People’s Self-

Defence organisation in connection with the case. Subsequently, Svyatoslav Rechkalov and Andrei were detained; the latter, most likely, was released.

Rechkalov was driven around the city for several hours, blindfolded. Then security services officers beat him and tortured him with electric shocks. They warned that, if he did not make the necessary confession, he would end up a defendant in the Network Case. After being tortured, Rechkalov was released. He emigrated to France.

What to read:

“The horror continues”, and “They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser”.

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, Rechkalov started getting threats from the FSB. (Link in Russian.)

Torture of Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin

In late April, Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin was detained in Tomsk. On the way to his interrogation, security service officers beat him up in their vehicle and held his face against a heater. To protect his face from burns, Shulgin put his arms against the heater

and received first- and second-degree burns. Shulgin was accused of inciting hatred towards the police after posting songs on VK [a Russian social network similar to Facebook].

Shulgin filed a complaint about his having been tortured. In late December, he was again detained. This time, law enforcers tried to choke him to force him to withdraw the accusations he had made against FSB officers.

What to read:

Arrest in April. “Is Maxim Shulgin An Extremist?” and “Tomsk resident tortured for posting songs about police on VK.”

Torture in December. (Link in Russian.)

What else you need to know about this case:

Another nine Left Bloc activists were detained with Shulgin. They were forced to make confessions under threat of torture. (Link in Russian.)

Explosion in Arkhangelsk, interrogation of anarchists and leftist activists, and torture of Vyacheslav Lukichev

On 31 October there was an explosion at the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk, set off by Mikhail Zhlobitsky [who died at the scene]. As a result, all over Russia the police detained and brought anarchists, left-wingers, and those who hold alternative political views in for so-called discussions. (Link in Russian.)

In early November, anarchist Vyacheslav Lukichev was arrested in Kaliningrad. He was accused of vindicating the explosion set off by Zhlobitsky. It was later established that after Lukichev’s arrest he was beaten by six people. He was questioned for 36 hours.

What to read:

“Vyacheslav Lukichev: interrogated for 36 hours and beaten”

What else you need to know about this case:

After the explosion, a 14-year old who, allegedly, had contact with Zhlobitsky was detained in Moscow on suspicion of planning bombings. (Link in Russian.)

What else happened this year?

■ In March, the police checked the documents of participants in a football tournament organised by antifascists. (Link in Russian.)

■ In July, police and FSB officers went to the Pryamukhino Readings [an event held annually to discuss the ideas and legacy of Mikhail Bakunin, at his birthplace in Tver Region]. The conference theme was “Revolution and Culture”. The security service officers checked participants’ passports, and then detained Artem Markin, an anarchist from Belarus. He was detained for three days for allegedly using psychotropic substances. See: “A Funny Thing Happened in Pryamukhino”.

■ In August, officers from Centre “E” [Center for Combating Extremism] turned up at the Icebreaker [Ledokol] punk festival. They arrested two people, tried to persuade them to turn informer, and asked about the People’s Self-Defence group. (Link in Russian.)

■ In October, anarchist Ilya Romanov was sentenced to five-and-a-half years on charges of incitement to terrorism. He allegedly published on Facebook a video recording of jihadists and an occult ritual featuring a puppet named Vladimir. All the indications are that the criminal case was a frame-up. See: “Meet Russian anarchist Ilya Romanov. He’s spent nearly twenty years in prison”.

■ In late December, the anarchist Aleksandr Kolchenko [from Crimea, who since 2015 has been serving a ten-year sentence in Russia on trumped-up charges] was transferred, on a formal pretext, to a punitive isolation cell, where he saw in the new year. (Link in Russian.)

Moloko plus siloviki

[Moloko is Russian for “milk”. Siloviki is a widely used term for the heads and officers of Russia’s numerous, overlapping security services, including the FSB, Centre “E”, the Russian National Guard, and the Russian Investigative Committee.]

In mid June, there was a gathering in Krasnodar of members of the collective that publishes the countercultural almanac moloko plus. Sofiko Arifdzhanova and Pavel Nikulin had planned to present the latest issue of the almanac, on the topic of revolution. On the day before the event, the police arrested Sofiko and a volunteer [who helped with printing], Anastasia Kkhukhurenko. The police would not release them and demanded a meeting with Pavel. They then forced Sofiko and Anastasia to sign an undertaking not to organise unauthorised mass gatherings and warned them about the punishments for extremist activity before releasing them

The next day, persons unknown attacked Sofiko and Pavel with pepper spray. A few hours later, at the presentation, the police arrived and confiscated almanac’s print run.

In September, there was another presentation, in Petersburg, and FSB officers turned up. In this case, everything turned out relatively peacefully. They just got up and left.

After another two weeks, there was a presentation here in Nizhny Novgorod. A few minutes after it began, officers from Centre “E” burst in, with armed back-up. Sofiko, Pavel, and I were arrested and taken to the police station. Ninety copies of the almanac were confiscated, along with some gas cylinders [sic]. Pavel was detained for two days on charges of insubordination to a police officer. The issue of moloko plus is now being checked for any indications of extremism. There is a big text about our adventures in Russian here.

I am sure I have forgotten something and so not included it. Generally speaking, that was the sort of year we had.

More on defending Russian political prisoners:

 The Rupression site

 “Convoyed”, on The Russian Reader

Thanks to People and Nature for their generous permission to republish this important article and solidarity appeal here. I have lightly edited the original text to make it hew more closely to this website’s imaginary style guide. {TRR}

People and Nature: Break the Silence on Azerbaijan Oil Workers’ Deaths

An improvised memorial to the victims. Photo: OWRPO site
An improvised memorial to the victims. Photo: OWRPO site

Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths
People and Nature
August 4, 2016

Nine months after 31 workers drowned in Azerbaijan’s worst-ever oil industry disaster, the country’s authorities have still not said a word about how it happened or what mistakes could be avoided in future.

Most of the victims were thrown into the water when a lifeboat smashed against the side of production platform No. 10 at the Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea, as they tried to escape a fire during a force 10 gale on 4 December last year.

The Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation (OWRPO), a campaign group, says state oil company managers broke safety laws for the sake of keeping production going, and that workers did not even have life jackets on during the attempt to evacuate the platform.

State officials lied to the media and the public during the emergency, and treated oil workers’ families with contempt, the OWRPO said in a report published in February.

The government was quick to dismiss the report, but its own 14-person commission, set up to deal with the disaster’s consequences, has not breathed a word. The prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal case (which is standard procedure), but has made public no details of its investigation. It is not known whether it has questioned managers accused by oil workers of glaring safety breaches.

Mirvari Gharamanli, president of the OWRPO, said in an interview with People & Nature: “It’s ‘oil first, people second’, just like in Soviet times. The human factor is devalued. It should be other way round: people first, and then the oil.

“People should have been evacuated in a timely way. Attention should have been paid to these safety issues. But the human factor comes at the end”, she said.

The oil workers’ trade union should have been monitoring safety standards, but were “not interested” in that nor in investigating the causes of the accident, she said. “They helped with a bit of money to the families, that’s all. And we are talking about human lives here.”

The events of 4 December, as described in the media and the OWRPO’s report, were as follows. (The OWRPO report is here; there are news agency reports here and here; and a valuable analytical article on the Caspian Barrel web site.)

Wind speed had risen to 38-40 metres per second, and the height of waves rose from 8 metres to 9-10 metres. At about 17.40, a submarine gas pipe running from the platform broke.

Map of the Caucasus and Caspian Sea region
A map of the Caucasus and Caspian Sea region

There was an explosion of gas escaping from it, and a fire broke out, which soon spread to a number of the oil and gas wells operated from the platform.

Due to the strength of the storm, firefighting and rescue vessels were unable to reach the platform, which is operated by Azneft, a production division of Socar (the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic).

There were 63 workers on the rig; most of them evacuated via the north side of the platform and boarded two lifeboats. The OWRPO says that the way the evacuation was implemented by those in charge on the platform showed a lack of safety training and awareness.

Both of the boats were lowered on cables to about 10 metres above sea level: it was decided not to lower them into the water for fear of being dashed against the platform by the storm.

One of the lifeboats was blown by the wind and got wedged between the platform’s supporting legs. That saved the lives of its occupants, who were rescued after the storm subsided.

The cables holding the other boat snapped. It was blown against the side of the rig and broke into pieces. Those on board were thrown into the water.

The rescue vessels, still held back by the force of the storm, only managed to pull three men from the water, one of whom died straight away.

The rest of those who had been on that lifeboat perished. The OWRPO concluded that there were 12 dead and 19 missing, presumed dead (listed in the OWRPO report here). There has been no official list of victims published by the government or Socar.

Three other Azerbaijani oil workers lost their lives on 4 December: Dzhavad Khudaverdiev (44), Bakhman Dzhafarov (54) and Rovshan Mamedov (41) were swept out to sea from production platform No. 501 at the Oil Rocks oil field, bringing the total number of deceased on that day to 34. (Reported here in Russian.)

The OWRPO conducted its own investigation into the tragedy, and published it on 24 February this year. The organisation concluded that:

■ Workers had reported a gas leak from the pipeline a day before the disaster. They were told by the managers of the “28 May” oil and gas production department not to stop production, although doing so might have minimised losses when the accident happened.

■ The practice, and legal requirement in Azerbaijan, of reducing worker numbers on rigs to the minimum during stormy weather, was not followed. Of the 63 people on the rig when the fire began, 15 were members of a construction and drilling team, in breach of the Labour Code, which states that construction, installation and dismantling work on platforms should be stopped during stormy weather.

■ There were other non-essential workers, including five catering staff, on the platform. “The heads of departments are obliged to explain to society, and the families of killed and missing oil workers: why didn’t they send them away, if they received information about a hurricane?” the OWRPO report states.

■ Azerbaijan’s law requires that in storms of force 8 or greater, most types of production work should be stopped, and that in storms of force 10 or greater, all work, except to flush and cool tools, should be stopped. This did not happen.

■ Many of the workers were not wearing lifejackets during the evacuation. Mirvari Gharamanli said this is confirmed by photographic evidence from the scene, and her own meetings with survivors in hospitals. (Note. There are different requirements for safety clothing in different countries. On the North Sea, the standard now is for each worker to have a survival suit; in some oil producing countries, lifejackets are still the norm. UK oil worker trade unionists say it is unthinkable that, during an evacuation during stormy weather, either survival suits or lifejackets were not available.)

■ “Safety rules were seriously violated”, the OWRPO said; direct responsibility lies with the heads of the “28 May” oil and gas production department, the complex drilling trust, the transportation department, Caspian Catering Service and others.

■ “During the rescue operation, oil workers were not given proper instructions.” (The report stated that some industry experts believed that the evacuation should not have been attempted, and that workers would have had a better chance of survival by remaining on the platform, in the living quarters. Other industry specialists dispute this.)

■ Questions were raised by industry specialists about the quality of the lifeboats, and when they had been inspected.

The OWRPO report also detailed the fog of lies and deceit created around the accident by the government and Socar on the evening that it took place.

For six hours after the emergency began, no public comment was issued by Socar or the ministry of emergency situations; then Socar issued a statement that there had been no injuries or deaths. Mirvari Gharamanli explained in her interview how her Facebook page became a lightning rod for information in the midst of an official blackout.

The OWRPO also accuses the authorities of treating oil workers’ families with contempt. Although, under pressure, they established a central information point, no psychological support was provided, and some families were sent away by intolerant officials.

Socar in March issued an inconsequential rebuttal to the OWRPO report (reported here), which failed to deal with any of the main points, but has itself said nothing about the causes of the disaster, or the possibility that safety procedures could be improved.

It is hard to think of a more cynical, money-grubbing attitude to the safety of a company’s employees.

The background to the disaster is the generally poor safety culture in the Azerbaijani oil industry, the OWRPO says. In 2014, 19 people were killed; in 2015, as a result of the accident on platform No. 10, this figure more than doubled to 40. The organisation blames production-oriented management and the spinelessness of the officially sanctioned trade union, which has raised no protest at the official failure to investigate last year’s tragedy.

But this is also an issue for the oil industry, and oil workers, internationally. (James Marriott raised some key issues in December last year, in this article.)

The Guneshli death toll was the highest on an offshore oil platform since the explosion on Piper Alpha in the North Sea, which killed 167 British workers in 1988, and the highest in any offshore accident since the American drilling ship Seacrest capsized in the Gulf of Thailand in 1989, killing 90 people. And yet the international reaction to it has been minimal.

The British government, a key supporter of the Azerbaijan regime, has maintained a polite silence. BP, which operates the largest oil and gas fields in Azerbaijan, and has billions of dollars’ worth of joint projects with Socar (although it has no operational involvement whatever with the Guneshli field where the accident took place) sees the Azerbaijani company as one of its most important business partners.

An acquaintance who works in the oil business said: “You could see how important they think the lives of oil workers are, at the annual oil and gas business conference in Baku in June. No one from the oil companies or the government expressed any regret about the disaster. It was not even mentioned by any of the main speakers. Not even a moment’s silence.”

Senior BP managers and Baroness Nicholson, representing the UK government, were among those who had more important things to discuss.

Oil is an international business. We need to find a way to link up international struggles in workers’ and communities’ interests.

Let’s hope the international trade union federations can find ways of putting pressure on Azerbaijan over its appalling safety record. Maybe British and Norwegian oil workers could take up the issue.

Let’s find ways of supporting OWRPO’s efforts to organise Azerbaijani oil workers, to improve workplace conditions and dismantle the safety culture that subordinates human life to production. GL, 4 August 2016.

■ “It’s ‘oil first, people second’, just like in Soviet times – interview with Mirvari Gahramanli, Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization president

Also about the Caspian Sea region:

Kazakhstan: land protesters face police rampage – by Andrei Grishin. 25 May 2016

Activists imprisoned in Azerbaijan, the house that BP built. 7 June 2015

Kazakh oil workers. Links to articles on the 2011 strike, the shootings that ended it, and the campaign for justice that followed

Thanks to Gabriel Levy for his kind permission to reprint this article here. TRR