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.

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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.

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Petersburgers Protest Torture and Crackdowns

trofimov-january 19-petersburgPetersburgers marching along the former Robespierre Embankment towards Mikhail Shemyakin’s Monument to Victims of Political Repression, January 19, 2019. Photo by Anatoly Trofimov. Courtesy of the Russian Socialist Movement

Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)
Facebook
January 19, 2019

Petersburg Stands Against Torture and Crackdowns

A  rally against torture and crackdowns took place on the day the murdered antifascists Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, and Anastasia Baburova, a journalist, are commemorated. Around 300 people gathered on the boulevard near Chernyshevskaya subway station. Their ranks included Sergei Mokhnatkin, the recently released political prisoner, activists from the leftist and democratic movements, and human rights defenders. The marchers held red carnations, and many of them had put sticker denouncing torture, crackdown, and fascism on their clothes. The January 19 march had not been authorized by Petersburg city hall, and so numerous policemen and plainclothes officers from Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”) joined the marchers at the gathering point. At two o’clock, the marchers set out for the Monument to Victims of Political Repression on the Voskresenskaya Embankment. The police refrained from obstructing the march. The protesters laid flowers at the base of Mikhail Shemyakin’s sculptures of two sphinxes, situated directly opposite the old Crosses Prison. Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) activist Ivan Ovsyannikov spoke about the frame-up known as the Network case, the torture employed by officers of the Russian Interior Ministry and the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, and Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, and other victims of neo-Nazi terrorism in Russia. The march ended without arrests.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Friendship of Peoples

Elena Zaharova
Facebook
September 4, 2018

It’s impossible for non-Russians to live in the Russian Federation. They should leave the country. I know it’s complicated, but it’s more complicated than burying your children or having to nurse them back to health like this.

I know from my own experience. I’ve heard my fill of stories.

The harder life becomes in Russia, the tougher people will be on non-Russians. The blame here lies not with young, uneducated morons from troubled families, but with the ideologues of neo-Nazism and nationalism. And maybe the Kremlin will pick up the topic again when it needs to look for “enemies.”

Just don’t tell me the Soviet Union was a friendship of peoples. A friendship of people, sure, but the peoples were always pitted against each other.

nephew

Svetlana Choyzhinimayeva
Facebook

September 4, 2018

My nephew was beaten up on Sunday evening, just for the heck of it. Or, rather, not just for the heck of it, but because of his narrow eyes and the color of his skin. We spent all night at the hospital. The examination was brief, but the doctors said they had to wait another two to four days to be sure of the final diagnosis. My nephew’s left eye hurts, and he cannot open it. You can see for yourself.

Something similar happened to another nephew of mine around fifteen years ago, when he was in his sixth year at the Sechenov Medical Academy in Moscow. We had been returning from a concert by the beloved People’s Artist and singer Lyudmila Zykina, a concert to which she had invited us.

We took different trains in the subway. The boy was dozing in the train, his eyes half closed, when suddenly a boot smashed into his face with savage force. Although my nephew was a boxer, there was nothing he could do against a two-meter-tall, thickheaded lout. The result was a broken jaw, being fed through a tube for three months, and having to prepare for his thesis defense. The boy lost forty kilos.

How are non-Russians supposed to go on living?

Photo courtesy of Elena Zaharova and Svetlana Choyzhinimayeva. Translated by the Russian Reader

Xenophobia and Corruption Making Russia Less Attractive to Central Asian Migrant Workers

DSCN3525To give only one of a thousand examples, without Central Asian migrant workers, there would be almost no one left to do the heavy and, sometimes, dangerous work of clearing freshly fallen snow from rooftops and pavements during the winter. February 5, 2018, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Fists and Epaulettes: Xenophobia and Corruption Making Russia Less Attractive to Central Asian Migrant Workers
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Yulia Reprintseva, with Madina Kuanova
Novaya Gazeta
February 5, 2018

Novaya Gazeta continues to investigate the lives of migrant laborers in Russia. In our last issue, we discussed the magnitude of the corruption faced by immigrants when they apply for resident permits and work permits (“Luck and Labor,” February 2, 2018). However, even when migrant workers finally obtain these papers, their lives in Russia are not made any easier.

Police, Open Up!
In the run-up to New Year’s 2018, detectives from the Perovo and Kuntsevo police precincts in Moscow detained 520 migrant workers. All of them were taken to a police station, where they were forced to stand outside in the cold from six in the evening to two in the morning. According to Valentina Chupik, head of the human rights organization Tong Jahoni (Morning of the World), only those who gave the police 10,000 rubles [approx. 140 euros] each were released. The police said they were collecting money “for celebrating the holiday.”

The police regularly hold such “celebrations” for migrant workers. In a ranking of offenses against immigrants, the police take first place with a large margin (86% of all complaints). Most often, the police extort money during groundless document checks.

“In Russia, the attitude is he is an Asian, so he’ll give us money,” claims Chupik.

In police stations, up to twelve migrant workers are held in seven-meter-square cells for forty-eight hours and not allowed to go to the toilet. Police sometimes assault them. In October 2017, according to human rights activists, the officers at Perovo and Novogireevo precincts in Moscow beat up 39 people.  It was a tough month, apparently.

“Volunteer work days” are another police practice. According to human rights activists, migrant workers were forced to repair a police station in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi on April 21, 2017.

The migrant workers complain, but to little effect. In 2016, Valentina Chupik filed 6,232 complaints with various police internal affairs departments in Moscow and Moscow Region, but only four of them were passed up the command chain for further review. Meanwhile, the system for expelling migrants on the basis of police complaints operates without fail. In 2016 (there is no data for 2017), Moscow courts expelled over 14,000 migrant workers from Russia for living somewhere other than their registered domicile. They expelled almost 12,000 migrant workers for being in public without their papers on them.

“The main problem is the right the police have accorded themselves to check the papers of migrant workers for any reason,” says Chupik.

“Yes, they do have this obligation, but only when a migrant worker is involved in a criminal case,” she says.

According the Interior Ministry’s latest orders, even a neighborhood police inspector can check someone’s immigration status. He can write the person up for a nonexistent violation, which is immediately entered into a special data base. Two violations are sufficient cause for deportation from hospitable Russia, explains Chupik.

Curiously, at the same time, migrant workers are far from the most dangerous social group in Russia, formally speaking. Moreover, the number of crimes committed by migrant workers has been steadily declining, which has been noted even by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. As reported by Kommersant, according to the Prosecutor General, foreign nationals and stateless persons committed 41,047 crimes in Russia in 2017, which was 6.6% fewer than in 2016. In November of last year, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev mentioned an even earlier nine-percent drop in crimes committed by migrant workers when presenting the new immigration policy. But what the top brass has said is not digested fully and immediately by rank-and-file police officers.

Commentary
Valentina Chupik, head of Tong Jahoni
State agencies and the police do not hate migrant workers because they are so despicable. The authorities pretend to hate them so it is less shameful when they rob them for their own profit. When you talk to on-duty cops, they claim eighty percent of crimes are committed by migrant workers. When you ask them to go to the Interior Ministry’s own website and take a gander at the stats, they switch to saying most crimes are committed by North Caucasians. Then they say, “Well, it’s just our policy.” When you tell them they should not implement a criminal policy because they are law enforcement officers, they get it. But they complain they have arrest quotas to fill. 

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Muhiddin, a janitor. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. See Muhiddin’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

Xenophobia Has Momentum
On January 12, the body of 41-year-old Tahirjan Hamrayev was found in Noginsk, Moscow Region. Hamrayev had been stabbed over twenty times. Hamrayev left Kyrgyzstan as a migrant worker in May 2017 and got a job on the construction site of a multi-storey residential building. As reported by Kyrgyzstani media, the dead man’s mother, Hairins Hamrayeva, said her son was supposed to have come home for the New Year’s holidays, but decided to stay in Noginsk since his employers, impressed by his work, had offered him extra jobs. On the fateful day, Hamrayev went into a shop and fell into the hands of at least ten neo-Nazis, local law enforcement official claim, citing an eyewitness’s testimony.

In the various ultra-right groups on social media where the incident is discussed, commentators occasionally write languidly that Hamrayev got what was coming to him. Generally, after the security services were pressured by the Kremlin into mopping up the sector, nationalism and neo-Nazism have died out as phenomena [sic], and nowadays assaults on migrant workers have gradually become something out of the ordinary,although in Petersburg on January 31, for example, a Tajikistani national was attacked with a knife in the subway.

No one, however, has abolished xenophobia, which, although it has displayed a downward trend [sic], is still firmly entrenched in the minds of Russians.

In early 2017, Tong Jahoni published the findings of a study on nearly 50,000 housing rental ads in Russian media. Only one out of every twelve ads was free of xenophobic  insinuations. Most of the people who placed the ads wanted to rent their flats or rooms to “Russian citizens” (50%), “Slavs” (28%), and “ethnic Russians” (7%). The picture presented by help wanted ads was even more distressing. Only one in twenty ads among the 20,000 vacancies examined did not contain xenophobic allusions. Fifty-six percent of employers were seeking “Slavs” to fill the jobs, while 35% were eager to see “Russian citizens” in the positions.

Human rights activists say the situation is typical, and no one wants to change it for the most part. In turn, the media fuel the fire. In 2016, there were approximately 120,000 news reports involving migrant workers. News search websites focused mostly on crime reports, which constituted nearly 98,000 of the news reports filed.

However, the attitude to migrant workers on the part of the rank-and-file population is often quite neutral when they encounter each other face to face. Moreover, human rights activists can cite instances in which the police have helped migrant workers. But in terms of society at large, although xenophobia decreased by 10% last year, according to the official estimates produced by the Russian Federal Public Chamber, it still remains a serious problem. According to pollsters VTsIOM [sic], two thirds of the people they surveyed believed migrant workers took jobs away from Russian citizens.

Commentary
Alexander Verkhovsky, director, Sova Center for Information and Analysis 
There is xenophobia as a mass phenomenon: people’s attitudes and emotions. In this case, we can track changes through public opinon polls [sic]. I am quite glad that there is a growing number of people who, when asked about the feelings they have towards migrant workers (e.g., fear, apprehension, hatred, love), respond that they feel nothing, that they could not care less. The perfect relationship is precisely this, when people do not see a group as something that provokes emotions. They are just other people.

There is xenophobia as discrimination, when seeking employment, for example. Unfortunately, practical discrimination has been underresearched. What matters most is that people do not even perceive some forms of it as discrimination. For example, people are not ashamed to write in an ad that they will rent a flat only to a Slavic family. It is useless to fight this. It is a matter of the social atmosphere [sic].

Finally, the most aggressive form of xenophobia is physical violence. In recent years, the figures have been steadily declining. Just the other day, Sova Center published a new report based on the figures for last year. I would note there is not necessarily a meaningful connection with the decline of popular xenophobia, because assaults are not committed by the masses, but by ideologically motivated young people, who might have completely different opinions from the masses. This is more likely the consequence of a depression amongst radically minded young people. They are scared. They don’t really want to commit assaults [sic]. In the previous decade, they did not know the fear of God at all, as the saying goes, but then Center “E” [Russia’s “anti-extremism” police, established from disbanded anti-organized crime squads during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency] went after them. Many street fighters went to prison, and this changed the situation.

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Shirinsho “Handsome” Vohidov, from Tajikistan. Photo by Anna Artemieva. See Shirinsho’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

Medical Disenfranchisement
When migrant workers take ill in Russia, it is no simple matter for them to recover.

“To enroll at a district outpatient clinic, you need to have a temporary residence permit or residence permit, permanent registration,” says Daniil Kashnitsky, a junior researcher at the Higher School of Economics. “However, a poor command of information and the Russian language, as well as a lack of legal knowledge, means that when migrant workers are yelled at by employees at the intake desk, they leave and do not come back. There are many such instances.”

There is the option of going to a private clinic, but sometimes only a state clinic can help, for example, when tuberculosis is diagnosed. It can help, but it is not obliged.

“Tuberculosis has a dangerous phase when it is communicable through airborne droplets. Patients must be hospitalized during this phase. They should stay in hospital until the tuberculosis bacterium goes away, and they are no longer a danger to others. This usually takes two or three months,” explains Kashnitsky.

If migrant workers are hospitalized due to an accident, the treatment is free, of course, but the attitude towards them will be correspondingly shabby. Last year, when a busload of migrant workers was hit by a train near Vladimir, killing seventeen people, the local hospitals treated several severely injured people.

“I asked that an injured child be sent to Moscow. Two days later, he died in our regional hospital. I remember the child. He was a year and a half old, from an Uzbek family. I said, ‘Why did you send him to our hospital? Call a helicopter and take him to Moscow: he’ll get better help there.’ I was told the decision had been made by the health department,” recounts Alla Boyarova, director of an employment agency for migrant workers. On the morning of the tragedy, her husband had rushed to help the affected immigrants.

Zoyir Karimov, Boyarova’s husband, is deputy chair of the Tajik diaspora in Vladimir. He recalls that the adult victims had huge problems.

“Two of them did not make full recoveries in hospital. They were not operated on and were sent back in this shape to Uzbekistan. They were told they could buy special plates, but they had no money. One broke his shoulder, the other, his leg,” says Karimov.

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Infographic No. 1: Sources of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, per information gathered by the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. Police — 1,814 incidents (86.3%); immigration centers — 196 incidents (9.3%); migration service — 53 incidents (2.5%); other state agencies — 29 incidents (1.4%); other organizations — 11 incidents (0.5%). Infographic No. 2: Forms of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, according to the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. “Verification” of registration status — 5,304 incidents (78.3%); arbitrary interpretation of the law — 896 incidents (13.1%); threats by police to file trumped-up administrative charges — 340 incidents (5.0%); high-pressure selling of unnecessary “services” — 196 incidents (3.0%); forcing migrant workers to use a particular middleman when filing papers — 41 incidents (0.6%). Infographics courtesy of Veronika Tsotsko and Novaya Gazeta

Blockchain to the Rescue
It is tempting to dub what is happening in the Russian migrant labor sector a mess. In fact, however, it is more likely a restructuring of the system after the Federal Migration Service (FMS) was incorporated into the Interior Ministry in 2016. The relationship with migrant workers has changed because what the Interior Ministry does most of all is punish people. Many of the organizations that dealt with drawing up papers for migrant workers have been turned into limited liability companies, meaning it has become nearly impossible to monitor their policies, and human rights activists have huge gripes with the new state-run immigration centers. New law bills that have been tabled will only aggravate the circumstances, reducing migrant workers to semi-slave status in Russia.

The question is simple: what to do? At a January 29 meeting of human rights activists to discuss the issue of immigration (a meeting not attended by diaspora leaders) various proposals were voiced. Vladimir Khomyakov, co-chair of the grassroots movement People’s Assembly (Narodnyi Sobor), made the most radical and regressive proposal at the round table.

“We need the strictest possible oversight of each person’s stay in Russia, not just this buying a work permit and hanging out wherever you want,” said Khomyakov. “We need a system of mutual obligations. We need a single government agency that would deal with immigration and use a single database.”

People who intend to travel to Russia should obtain all the papers they need at Russian consulates in their own countries, and each migrant worker should be assigned an ID number under which all information about him or her would stored, argued Khomyakov.

Totalitarian oversight in return for peace and quiet.

But Khomyakov’s idea was not met with unanimous approval by round table participants, just like the proposal, made Vyacheslav Postavnin, former deputy head of the FMS and president of the 21st Century Immigration Foundation [sic], to move immigration registration online or, at least, make it obligatory for immigrants to check in with the migration service by telephone. Some human rights activists were outraged by the fact this would make it easier for terrorists to hide [sic].

“Terrorists never violate immigration laws. Terrorist acts are complicated operations. What, they are going to put themselves at risk of being stopped by police for failing to reregister on time?” Postavnin countered crossly.

He was told that hackers could erase or damage the entiere online database, to which the former deputy head of the FMS showed off his knowledge of the word “blockchain.”

“Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t erase it,” he said.

Tatyana Dmitrieva, deputy head of the Department for Coordinating Local Immigration Offices and Accountable Forms in the Immigration Directorate of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Moscow Office, did not like any of these proposals. She only remarked that the ministry wholly supported a new law bill that would punish legal entities for providing fictitious registration, and that a consensua had to be reached with regard to thorny issues.

The discussion’s moderator, Fyodor Dragoi, chair of the Committee for Safety, Public Diplomacy and Public Oversight at the Council for Ethnic Affairs in the Moscow City Govermnent, suggested drawing up a list of proposals after the discusssion, since “this tumor [could] burst any minute,” and the problem had to be solved.

Another, autonomous proposal has been made by the Center for Strategic Research (CSR), which has published its report on immigration. Recognizing a decline in migration flows from the CIS countries in recent years—2017 saw an increase the numbers of migrant workers from many countries, but the numbers have not returned to pre-crisis levels—the report’s authors propose their own measures for maintaining a migration flow of 250,000 people to 300,000 people annually, which they claim is a necessary number for modern Russia. In particular, they propose introducing something like a green card for highly qualified immigrants in order to stimulate the influx, as well as work cards that would make it easier to obtain a residence permit.

Something has to be done, since Russia will have lost thirteen million able-bodied people by 2030, but internal resources for population growth have been exhausted.

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Viorel, a Moldovan, on a lunchbreak with his workmates. Photo by Viktoria Odissonova. See Viorel’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

The problem is that there are not unlimited numbers of highly qualified immigrants, and the ones there are drift in other directions. To take one example, the number of migrant workers from Moldova has decreased over the last two years by more than one and a half times, from 250,000 to 157,000. They have begun looking towards the European Union.  The number of migrant workers from the Eurasian Union has been growing, but their numbers are also limited, especially because Kazakhstani workers, for example, are needed in Kazakhstan itself, a country that, due to geographical proximity, grabs Kyrgyzstani workers away from Russia. The number of immigrants from Tajikistan have been growing steadily. On the other hand, while the number of Uzbekistanis coming to Moscow has grown over the past year, to a million and a half registered nationals, it would seem the numbers will eventually decline, since more convenient job markets have opened up to them.

“Turkey and the Emirates are currently very interesting and attractive to migrant workers from Asia,” says attorney Yulduz Ataniyazova. “The economy there is civilized, and there is a niche in the economy for unskilled workers. At the same time, the workers are provided with normal working conditions. For example, I know that in the Emirates migrant workers who clean houses and work in restaurants note that the cleaning liquids there are less harsh [sic]. This has now become important to them.”

However, the wages there are less than in Moscow, generally, but it depends on how you look at it.

“Uzbeks start doing the maths, and it turns out that here they will pay out more in bribes, whereas in Turkey a policeman would never approach them for no reason at all,” explains Chupik.

Workers from the CIS will keep coming to Russia for some time, of course. But if Russia toughens the rules for migrant workers, even the most desperate adventurers from the CIS countries will prefer, in time, to go somewhere else, to a place where they can work without risking their lives, health, and human dignity, not to mention their wallets.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. Perhaps I should have a three [sic]s and you’re out rule on this website, but despite the number of dubious or simply odd claims made by the article’s authors and the experts they quote, I thought there was enough important information and nontrivial viewpoints in the article to make it worth my while to translate and your while to read.

However, on one point—the claim that nationalists and neo-Nazis have come to naught in Russia, and hence the number of assaults on migrant workers has precipitously decreased—I was so bothered I turned to my friend W., a person who has been involved with immigrant rights in Russia both professionally and personally for many years. Here is their response.

“They are engaging in wishful thinking. Nationalism and neo-Nazism have not gone away. It has become very difficult to keep track of attacks. Officially, such reports are not welcome and are rarely discussed in the media. This is the current trend. None of this exists anymore in Russia, allegedly, while in Ukraine, for example, there has been a serious increase in anti-Semitism. According to the official interpretation, there is almost no anti-Semitism in Russia, although there were several egregious incidents in January. Basically, nobody cares about this business, and Jewish organizations mainly smooth over the potentially negative consequences of vociferous discussions.” 

I should also point out the folly of relying on public opinion polling data in an authoritarian country like Russia, where respondents can be expected to give what they think is the “right” answer out of a fear bred into the society in Soviet times.

Nevertheless, in the absence of free elections and other real political freedoms, the Putin years have been a boom time for the country’s main pollsters, VTsIOM (mentioned in this article), FOM, and the supposedly independent Levada Center. They have polled away with merry abandon, and Russian and international journalists, many of them too lazy or lacking the time to do real reporting, have become increasingly dependent on the utterly falsified portrait of “average Russians” the country’s troika of loyalist pollsters has been painting over the last eighteen years. I have dubbed the phenomenon “pollocracy” and discussed it many times on this website. TRR

“The Blacklist” Rewrites Recent Russian History (The Murder of Stanislav Markelov)

Watching the third season of my favorite crime thriller, The Blacklist, starring the scintillating James Spader, I was surprised when the show’s other star, Megan Boone, launched into a briefing for her FBI colleagues about the real-life Russian human rights lawyer and antifascist Stanislav Markelov, murdered by Russian neo-Nazis in broad daylight in downtown Moscow on January 19, 2009.

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The show’s Wiki reinforces this revisionist history by describing the sinister Karakurt as follows.

“Known in the intelligence community as ‘the Left Hand of the SVR,’ Karakurt (Turkic languages: kara (black) and kurt (wolf)), whose real name remains unknown, is an assassin employed to silence Russian dissidents and known high-profile critics of the Russian regime. He specializes in making his murders look like non-criminal causes, such as accidents, suicides, or the actions of other criminals. He has at least [two] assassinations to his name. The first was Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer who was shot to death in Moscow in January of 2009. The murder was blamed on a Neo-Nazi youth group. The second is Boris Berezovsky, another critic of the Russian regime, who died in a staged suicide in 2013. Karakurt is also known to have lent his skills to the Cabal.”

I don’t know how teachable this odd plot twist in The Blacklist‘s lethal fairytale spy-versus-spy kingdom is, but it is worth recalling the real life and death of Stanislav Markelov, as reflected on this website and its predecessor, Chtodelat News.

Although it sounds fun on TV, it’s ludicrous to suggest the SVR would have had anything to do with Markelov’s murder. It is not, however, ludicrous to suppose his real killers, the neo-Nazi group BORN (Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists), had ties with high-ranking government officials.

As artist Victoria Lomasko wrote in her graphic reportage of their 2015 murder trial, “Only one thing was forbidden in [presiding Judge Alexander] 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.”

So, The Blacklist is not as far from the truth as we might have imagined at first. TRR

Remembering Timur Kacharava Ten Years Later

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Timur Kacharava, 1985-2005

Remembering Timur Kacharava Ten Years Later
David Frenkel
Special to the Russian Reader
November 17, 2015

On the evening of November 13, 2015, more than fifty people gathered near the Bukvoyed bookstore on Ligovsky Prospect in the Vosstaniya Square area of downtown Petersburg to mourn anti-fascist and hardcore punk musician Timur Kacharava, who was murdered at the spot ten years earlier by Russian neo-Nazis.

Mourners gathered at the site of Kacharava's murder on Ligovsky Prospect
Mourners gathered at the site of Kacharava’s murder on Ligovsky Prospect

In 2005, Kacharava and a friend were attacked by a group of young men after participating in a Food Not Bombs action in another part of the downtown. Kacharava was stabbed in the neck five times and died at the scene.

Kacharava’s murder alarmed certain segments of Russian society. Over three thousand students at Saint Petersburg State University, where Kacharava had been majoring in philosophy at the time of his slaying, petitioned President Putin to find and punish the murderers.

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In December 2005, police arrested seven suspects who eventually confessed to the crime. In 2007, Alexander Shabalin was sentenced to twelve years in prison on charges of murder and incitement to ethnic or racial hatred. The other suspects were charged with inciting social hatred and sentenced to two or three years in prison. (Three of them were released on parole).

Since 2005, people have come to the crime scene every year on November 13 with flowers, candles, and pictures of Timur.

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This year, police did not interfere with the mourners, although they asked them to remove pictures from the parapet and not to shout out any slogans.

Photographs by and courtesy of David Frenkel

A Letter from Socrates in Prison

A Letter from Socrates

You can imprison us but you can never break us. We are not neo-Nazis who when they find themselves in prison try to slash their wrists, hang themselves, and swallow razor blades right off the bat. And who in the camps  quickly join the “goats” (kozlyatnya), the prison household work brigades. We can be part of the general prison population. We don’t have to fear that our fingers will be beaten off with a hammer or we will be whacked upside the head with a slipper, because we haven’t done anything “gross.” We don’t judge people by ethnicity, color, and creed. Here in prison we are all “wogs” and “bandits” in the eyes of the law, because we valued honor and truth  more than liberty. We are not Moscow chumps who imagined they were Aryan Vikings, but who as soon they went into the system realized they were not fascists but were like everyone else here. No, in Russia there will never be an Aryan Brotherhood like in the US. In our prisons there is a friendship of peoples.

sokrat_bwAlexei Sutuga

Moscow Babylon has seduced, hoodwinked, and punished all the poor fellows from all over the Soviet Union. Now we all hate those greasy pushers in suits flashing IDs, the stupid cops who have involuntarily become polizei, and we laugh at each other when we tell the stories of how we ended up here. Now, as in the years of the Soviet-era Great Terror, there are entire social groups getting run through the system for the same crimes. This is no fight against crime. It is a war with competitors for control of business and against their own (potential) poverty. The law enforcement agencies are doing business when they jail businessmen and officials for fraud (Article 159 of the Criminal Code). They nick their businesses from them and get rid of competitors who got caught with their hands in the till and did not cut them in on the action. Since the entire Russian business world is built on financial scams and fraudulent schemes, there is no shortage of new criminal cases.

The same is true in drugs trafficking. The terrible Criminal Code Article 228, Parts 3 and 4 (drug dealing), introduced by the president, has made it possible to populate the prisons and camps with Central Asian nationals, which has done nothing at all to disrupt the well-regulated flow of drugs, but justifies the work of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service and the entire Russian Federal Penitentiary Service. And such a time-honored crime among  prisoners as theft (Article 158) gives police investigators wide berth for padding solved cases stats and packing the penitentiaries with mobs of working stiffs and poor folk, who bust their humps in the prison colonies, thus directly lining the pockets of the wardens.

Our entire penitentiary system is a post-Soviet Gulag that has not fully embarked on the capitalist path. Formally, all the system’s rules and regulations have remained as they were in Soviet times, but the current Federal Penitentiary Service employees has no clue how to rehabilitate us. On the other hand, they have learned how to make money off us, from embezzling allocated funds to the personal deals made by criminal investigators at the local level. Russia now has commercial prisons. If you have money, you can forget about the unwritten “understandings” that once reigned. Watch TV and tuck into groceries ordered from the cops’ online store at inflated prices. Almost anything can be bought.  Just don’t rock the system.

Prison is a mirror of our society. But the atomization of the individual is not as forceful as it is on the outside. It is harder to survive alone. That is why it is better to live in “families” than to go crazy alone between four walls. For a long time there has been no doubt that the regime plans to combat and jail us anarchists and anti-fascists. For the time being they are only jailing us. Though now we are not such a big threat to the state, we justifiy the existence of the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), which does everything it can to defend its beloved regime. Although in most cases this amounts to combating seditious posts on the Internet.

sokrat_pismoManuscript of Sutuga’s letter

Our country is big, and things like the riots on Bolotnaya Square or the capture of ruthless antifa hooligan do not happen every months. So for the time we are the smallest group in the prison community. And yet the anti-extremism police eat their government-issued bread for nothing. They are unscrupulous. Although they are clumsy at fabricating cases,  they are doing quite well for themselves. And so every criminal case against a comrade of ours must be turned into a campaign to defend the individual from the state’s power over him or her. All the punitive institutions of the state should be subjected to attack. We and the people are on one side, and this leviathan with legs and dressed in a uniform is on the other.

Alexei “Socrates” Sutuga

*****

This letter was originally written as an article, entitled “Alexei Sutuga’s Letter from Behind Bars,” and published on July 19, 2015, in Avtonom 36 (2015).

Images, above, courtesy of Autonomous Action

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenkov for the heads-up. If you follow this last link you will find information, in Russian, about Sutuga’s address at the prison colony in Angarsk where he is currently serving his sentence, where and how to send letters to him, and how you can help him and his family financially.

OVDInfo.org has published the following summary of Sutuga’s case:

Alexei Sutuga is an anti-fascist and member of the Autonomous Action anarchist movement. In April 2012, he was arrested on suspicion that on December 4, 2011, he and a group of anti-fascists had assaulted a group of young nationalists, and that on December 17, 2011, he and his friend the anti-fascist Alexei Olesinov had assaulted security guards at the Vozdukh Club in Moscow. The accused and people who had been attending a concert at the club testified that the security guards had themselves provoked the fight and used weapons. In 2013, police investigators admitted that Sutuga had had nothing to do with the incident on December 4, 2011. In  the summer of 2013, he was released on bail from remand prison, and in January 2014 the case against him was closed as part of an amnesty. Afterwards, according to Sutuga, Center “E” officers threatened him with “problems.”

In April 2014, Sutuga was detained  by Center “E” operatives after an anti-fascist concert in Moscow’s Izmailovo district. According to a report by the For Human Rights Movement, ten other people were detained besides Sutuga. The pretext was a crime committed by a person unknown in the vicinity of the concert, but according to the human rights activists, there were no grounds for suspecting the anti-fascists. Sutuga was asked about a trip to Maidan as he was being detained. All the other detainees were soon released, but a disorderly conduct report was filed against Sutuga and he was kept at the police station.  He was later charged with having delivered multiple blows with a chair, his feet, and an improvised hammer to several people during a fight at a Sbarro chain restaurant outlet on January 2, 2014. Sutuga himself claimed that he had been trying to separate the people involved in the fight, which, according to him, had taken place between a group of right-wing youth and another group of young people, and that in the process of pulling them apart he had struck someone once. On October 1, 2014, Sutuga was sentenced to three years and one month in a medium-security penal colony. On December  17, 2014, an appeals court upheld the judgment.

In April of this year, Antti Rautiainen reported the following to Infoshop News (which I have summarized).

Sutuga has been transferred to the Irkutsk Region. He has refused to do household work in prison (which could reduce his sentence), unlike neo-Nazis Maxim Martsinkevich and Roman Zheleznov, as this form of collaborating with prison wardens is impossible for an anarchist.

Sutuga is twenty-nine years old. His sentence will end in May 2017.

On March 17, Sutuga went on hunger strike, demanding that his confiscated letters and books be returned to him and that he be transferred from the remand prison in Irkutsk, where he was incarcerated, to a prison colony.

On March 22, Sutuga was transferred to Prison Colony No.14 in Angarsk.

The Memorial Human Rights Center declared Sutuga a political prisoner on March 20.

Sutuga has a wife and child who live in Ukraine. His spouse is studying for a PhD and raising their child.

The cost of a two-way flight to Angarsk for his wife and son is about 60,000 rubles (approx. 1,200 euros). Only one long-term conjugal/family visit is permitted every three months. Alexei’s family needs money for sending parcels of food and other necessities to the prison colony.