They Have Nothing Better to Do

Dmitry Gudkov
Facebook
January 9, 2021

I understand that Russians there is no problem more important than Trump’s showdown with Twitter. The precedent of blocking a social network account is not a very good one, of course, but the folks in the US will cope without us. I would venture to throw out a different topic for discussion.

On Monday, January 11, the verdict in the case of Azat Miftakhov will be read out in the Golovinsky District Court in Moscow. Trump was banned on Twitter, but Azat, a graduate student in mathematics from Moscow State University, has been locked up in for allegedly breaking a window at United Russia party office. He has been in a pretrial detention center for two years, although there is no evidence of his guilt.

If you’re worried about freedom of speech, Azat’s case is also cause for worry. At the last court hearing in the case, people who came to support Azat were not only not allowed into the court building. They were simply locked up in the courtyard of the building. A paddy wagon was brought  in and shipped them out of there. The detainees included two journalists, with press cards, but that means nothing to our authorities.

If the Miftakhov case were given at least 1% of the attention that has been spent on Trump in Russia, the case would not have happened. And we’re not taking about a ban on Twitter here, but arrest, torture, and a [possible] imprisonment in a penal colony.

Today, someone spelled out the message “FREE AZAT” on Lake Kaban in Kazan. This was protest action in support of mathematician and anarchist Azat Miftakhov. On January 11, at 12:00 p.m., the Golovinsky District Court will announce the verdict. The prosecution has asked for six years in prison for the young academic. If you have the opportunity, be sure to come to the hearing!

Boris Vishnevsky
Facebook
January 9, 2021

In our country, Roskomnadzor can block any media outlet or website that tells truths that the authorities find unpleasant.

But this does not cause popular outrage.

In our country, people are put in jail for reposting things on the internet.

But this does not cause popular outrage.

In our country, hundreds of political prisoners are being held on falsified charges, starting with Yuri Dmitriev and ending with the defendants in the Ingush protest movement trial.

But this does not cause popular outrage, and rallies and pickets in support of these people attract almost no attention.

In our country, anyone who disagrees with the authorities can be declared a foreign agent.

But this does not cause popular outrage.

In our country, the president has been given lifelong immunity from prosecution for any and all crimes, and he does not even need to pardon himself in advance.

But this does not cause popular outrage.

But what an explosion of indignation there has been over the blocking of Trump’s Twitter account. It has been the main topic of discussion in Russia!

As long as this is the case, the Kremlin can rest easy.

__________________

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
January 9, 2021

It’s stunning. Russia has hundreds of political prisoners, political assassinations and political persecution, two ongoing wars involving tens of thousands of dead and the occupation of territory in several [foreign] countries, a personal dictatorship that has been de facto and legally established, and laws that permit total censorship in the mainstream media. And yet Russian intellectuals are hotly debating whether it is right or wrong to block the American president’s Twitter account two weeks before the end of his official term.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Political Prisoner Dmitry Pchelintsev: “Please Tell Mom That I’m Well”

“Please Tell Mom That I’m Well”: An Antifascist in the Vyatka Prison Castle
Ekaterina Loushnikova
Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
January 7, 2021

Dmitry Pchelintsev. Archive photo courtesy of RFE/RL

In December 2020, Dmitry Pchelintsev was transferred to the Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 in Kirov aka the Vyatka Prison Castle, where he met with members of the Kirov Public Monitoring Commission.

Pchelintsev was detained in October 2017 in Penza by the FSB. Before his arrest, he worked as a shooting instructor for the Union of Paratroopers of Russia, a veterans organization, and played airsoft (a team sport involving the use of pneumatic weapons). Among young people in Penza, Dmitry was known as an antifascist, campaigning against neo-Nazism, chauvinism and social inequality.

According to FSB investigators, Pchelintsev and his comrades from Penza, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Belarus organized a “network” of “combat groups,” planning an armed seizure of power via attacks on military enlistment offices, police stations, armories, and United Russia party offices. Pchelintsev was charged with organizing a “terrorist community” and illegal possession of weapons. During interrogations at the Penza Pre-Trial Detention Center, the antifascist confessed that he was the “leader of a terrorist organization.” Later, Pchelintsev told lawyer Oleg Zaitsev that his “confessions” had been obtained under torture.

“They pulled off my underpants. I was lying down on my stomach, and they tried to attach the wires to my genitals. I shouted and asked them to stop tormenting me. They started saying, ‘You’re the leader.’ So that they would stop the torture, I would say, ‘Yes, I’m the leader.’ ‘You were going to commit terrorist acts.’ I would answer, ‘Yes, we were going to organize terrorist attacks.'”

Despite complaints from Pchelintsev and other defendants in the so-called Network Case about being tortured during the investigation, no criminal case on the matter was opened.

On February 10, 2020, the Volga District Military Court found Pchelintsev guilty of “creating a terrorist community” and sentenced him to eighteen years in prison in a high-security penal colony. The Memorial Human Rights Center said that the testimony in the Network Case had been obtained under torture, and recognized Pchelintsev and his comrades as political prisoners. The lawyers of the defendants in the Network Case have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.

The meeting at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 in Kirov was held via video link: during the coronavirus pandemic , all visits, including with members of the PMC, have been prohibited at the prison. During the conversation with Pchelintsev, two employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service were present: Pchelintsev did not insist on “privacy.” He unexpectedly praised the Vyatka Prison Castle for obeying the law.

“The conditions of detention are excellent!” said the political prisoner. “Especially in comparison with the Penza Pre-Trial Detention Center. There is no pressure on me: they do not beat me, they do not intimidate me, they treat me politely.

“And how are they feeding you?” the human rights activists asked.

“The food is good, too, the food is delicious. But the problem is that I’m a vegetarian, and in keeping with my beliefs I don’t eat meat dishes. So, I’m looking forward to having money transferred to my account from Penza to Kirov so that I can buy my own food in the prison store. Also, I still have things and medicines in Penza. I was taking drugs to treat my joints, but none of this has been sent yet.”

“How is your health?”

“I’m an asthmatic. I got the condition during my imprisonment in the Penza Pre-Trial Detention Center, and now I constantly need a Seretide inhaler. I have a prescription from a doctor. By law, I should get Seretide at public expense. But when I submitted a request for an inhaler to he Kirov Pre-Trial Detention Center, I was told that all funds were going to fight covid, that there was no money for other drugs.”

“Are you being held in solitary confinement?”

“No, there are four people in my cell. I have good relations with everyone, there are no conflicts. Recently, I was transferred to the ‘quarantine’ wing, where I will stay for twenty-one days, after which I will be sent to the penal colony. However, I have already been told that when I arrive at the camp, I will most likely be placed in the ‘strict conditions’ wing since I have a terrorism conviction, and from the viewpoint of my jailers, I am an ‘extremist.’ No, I have not been charged with any rules violations in the Kirov Pre-Trial Detention Center. But I suspect that the ground is being prepared for putting the squeeze on me. For some reason, many people believe that I was convicted not only for terrorism, but also for murder. I think this bias toward me is based on hearsay.”

“You mean the article in Meduza about the murder of two young people, your comrades?”

“Yes, in the Kirov detention center, as it turned out, everyone had read this article or heard something. I really don’t want to be seen as a murderer when I arrive at the camp. I had no dealings with those guys (Ekaterina Levchenko and Artyom Dorofeyev), and I don’t know anything about their murder. I have deep sympathy for their relatives, but I’m not to blame for this tragedy. I think that it’s another provocation on the part of the FSB, which, nevertheless, many people believe is true.”

“Are you a believer? Do you have any religious problems?”

“Yes, I believe in God. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the Kirov detention center, I wasn’t allowed to read the Torah in the cell. Before that, I tried to devote the entire Sabbath to studying Holy Scriptures. But in the Kirov detention center, I have not had the opportunity, because I was told that prisoners, according to internal regulations, have the right to read only books from the prison library in their cells, books that have been vetted.

“In keeping with my complaint, they can commission a religious expert examination of the text, but I was told by the staff at the Federal Penitentiary Service that this would take a long time. I was advised to resolve the issue with the Torah when I got to the penal colony. But this is not some homemade book, it is a book from a synagogue!”

“Have you written complaints?”

“It is my impression that, in Russian prisons, complaints and even letters to and from relatives very often do not reach the addressee.”

“For example, when I was in the Penza Pre-Trial Detention Center, my complaints didn’t go anywhere, they were simply not sent. And even a letter from my grandmother, who congratulated me on my birthday, was destroyed by the staff at the detention center, because, according to my jailers, the letter contained a coded passage . . . The last letter I sent, from the Kirov detention center, I sent to my wife, who is both my public defender and representative at the ECtHR. I hope this letter is received. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, my wife cannot visit me, despite her status as my defender. In the Kirov detention center, there is basically no way to call relatives by phone, there is no FSIN-Pismo system for online correspondence, and when relatives and human rights defenders make inquiries by phone, prison officials usually tell them that they don’t have the right to disclose the ‘personal data’ of prisoners. Consequently, you are completely cut off from the world: no one knows where you are or what is happening to you. Please tell Mom that I’m well, and I will call her as soon as I am sent to the penal colony!”

Political prisoner Dmitry Pchelintsev will be transferred to a high-security colony in Kirov Region immediately after completing a twenty-one-day quarantine. In Kirov Region, there are five high-security penal colonies, and two of them are earmarked for first-time serious offenders. One of them is Correctional Colony No. 11 in Kirovo-Chepetsk, and the other is Correctional Colony No. 27 in the Verkhnekamsk District. This colony already has one political prisoner, Sergei Ozerov, who was convicted on charges of terrorism and sentenced to eight years in prison for involvement in Vyacheslav Maltsev’s “revolution” of 5 November 2017. The penal colony is located on the site of the former Stalinist prison camp Vyatlag.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the Network Case (see the list, below), and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with the defendants in the case.

#NetworkCase 

A Letter to the International Congress of Mathematicians on the Azat Miftakhov Case

January 4, 2021

To the members of the Executive Organizing Committee and Local Organizing Committee of the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM):

Dear ICM Organizers,

The international mathematical community is deeply concerned about the situation of Azat Miftakhov, the graduate student from Moscow State University who has been detained by Russian state authorities for nearly two years.

Azat is a talented young mathematician who comes from the Tatarstan region in the Russian Federation. Already in school he won prizes in several math competitions and received support given to talented young people by the Ministry of Education and Science. As a student in Moscow he became involved with the anarchist movement. In February 2019, right after his return from a conference in Nizhni Novgorod where Azat gave his first talk in English, he was detained by the police and accused of manufacturing explosives. He was tortured at the police station. After three days Azat was released, since the court found no evidence to justify his detention. Less than two days later, on February 9, 2019, he was again arrested and accused of destruction of an office window of the United Russia political party, an act which had taken place more than a year earlier. He has been kept in jail since then. The lack of evidence in Azat’s case is disturbing, as is the fact that, for most of the time since his arrest, he has remained in pre-trial detention.

Azat pleads not guilty. During his detention he has managed to publish two mathematical preprints on arxiv.

Azat Miftakhov has been recognized as a political prisoner by the Russian human rights organization Memorial. The American Mathematical Society and Société Mathématique de France have issued statements of concern. A recent petition in support of Azat has been signed by more than 2000 mathematicians from more than 15 countries.

On December 23, 2020 it was announced that Azat faces six years of prison if convicted.

While Russia is going to host the ICM in less than two years, Miftakhov’s trial reminds us of the host country’s frequent violations of human rights and repression of freedoms, which are regularly condemned by human rights organizations. Let us recall that in 1982 the International Congress in Warsaw was postponed by one year, during which various actions were taken by the international mathematical community to free political prisoners in Poland.

Freedom is one of the highest values for us as scientists. Attending the congress while our colleague Azat Miftakhov is arbitrarily detained will pose a serious dilemma for us and for the entire mathematical community. We kindly ask you to take an active position on this case and to communicate with the state authorities to free Azat.

[Signatories]

Ahmed Abbes, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Zofia Adamowicz, Professor, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Fabrizio Andreatta, Professor of mathematics, Università Statale di Milano

Michèle Audin, mathematician and writer

Viviane Baladi, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Arnaud Beauville, Professor emeritus of mathematics, Université Côte d’Azur

Michel Broué, Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Paris

Antoine Chambert-Loir, Professor of mathematics, Université de Paris

Bruno Chiarellotto, Professor of mathematics, Università degli studi di Padova

Henri Darmon, Professor of mathematics, McGill University

Chandler Davis, Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Toronto

Adrien Deloro, Associate professor of mathematics at Sorbonne Université

Fabien Durand, Président de la Société Mathématique de France, Professor of mathematics, Université de Picardie Jules Verne

Ivar Ekeland, FRSC, Professor emeritus of mathematics and former President, University of Paris-Dauphine

Pavel Etingof, Department of Mathematics, MIT

Javier Fresán, Professor, École polytechnique

Dennis Gaitsgory, Professor of mathematics, Harvard University

Paul Garrett, Professor of mathematics, University of Minnesota

Damien Gayet, Professor of mathematics at Institut Fourier and Editor-in-chief of the Gazette des mathématiciens

Catherine Goldstein, Director of research at CNRS, Institut de mathématiques de Jussieu-Paris Gauche, Paris

Timothy Gowers, Professor of combinatorics, Collège de France

Michael Harris, Professor of mathematics, Columbia University

Frédéric Hélein, Professor, Université de Paris

Ilya Kapovich, Professor of mathematics, Hunter College of CUNY, Chair, Committee on the Human Rights of Mathematicians, American Mathematical Society

Vincent Lafforgue, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Grenoble

François Loeser, Professor of mathematics, Sorbonne University

Wiesława Nizioł, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, IMJ-PRG, Sorbonne University

Joseph Oesterlé, Professor emeritus of mathematics at Sorbonne University, Paris

Arthur Ogus, Professor emeritus of mathematics, University of California at Berkeley

Fabrice Planchon, Professor of mathematics, Sorbonne University

Bjorn Poonen, Distinguished professor in science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Raphaël Rouquier, Professor of mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles

Claude Sabbah, Director of research at CNRS, Université de Paris-Saclay

Takeshi Saito, Professor of mathematics at the University of Tokyo

Peter Sarnak, Professor of mathematics, Princeton

Pierre Schapira, Professor emeritus of mathematics, Sorbonne Université

Peter Scholze, Professor of mathematics at the University of Bonn and Director of Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn

Adam Skalski, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Stephen Smale, Professor emeritus of mathematics, University of California at Berkeley

Christophe Soulé, mathematician, member of the French Academy of Science

Bernard Teissier, mathematician, Director of research emeritus at CNRS, Paris

Dylan Thurston, Professor of mathematics, Indiana University, Bloomington

Claude Viterbo, Professor of mathematics at the University of Paris-Saclay and at the École normale supérieure de Paris

Masha Vlasenko, Professor, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

David A. Vogan, Jr., Professor emeritus of mathematics, MIT

Jarosław A. Wiśniewski, Professor of mathematics at the University of Warsaw and corresponding Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Hatem Zaag, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Thanks to the authors of this letter for sending it to me. Photo courtesy of MSU Pressure Group and Radio Svoboda

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin

Ivan Astashin in prison. Photo by Maxim Pivovarov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin
Dmitry Volchek
Radio Svoboda
October 3, 2020

On the night of December 20, 2009, the eve of State Security Officers Day, a group of young people threw a Molotov cocktail into the FSB’s offices in Moscow’s Southwest District. No one was injured, and the room was slightly damaged: a windowsill and several chairs were burned. A video of the protest soon appeared on the internet, entitled “Happy Chekists Day, Bastards!” The author of the video was 17-year-old Ivan Astashin.

The arson sparked a large-scale, trumped-up criminal case against the so-called Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization (ABTO), which was headed, according to investigators, by Astashin. Initially, the alleged members of ABTO were charged with property damage, but soon they were also accused of disorderly conduct. The Investigative Committee later decided that the defendants in the case had wanted to impact state policy, so they should be tried for “terrorism”(as punishable under Article 205 of the criminal code). They were tortured into confessing.

Ten young people were involved in the ABTO Case. In 2012, they were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Astashin received the longest sentence—13 years in a high-security penal colony, which was later reduced to 9 years and 9 months. Astashin was first sent to Krasnoyarsk Correctional Colony No. 17, but in 2014 he was transferred to Norilsk Correctional Colony No. 15. Lawyers and human rights activists argued that the case was political, pointing out that ABTO did not exist, and the members of the alleged “terrorist organization” did not even know each other.

“In Ivan’s case, the FSB took revenge on teenagers who dared to throw a bottle of petrol through their window. The case was a bellwether. It showed how the security forces had degenerated: why should they stake out real criminals and document their every move, if they could torture children until they lose consciousness, forcing them to sign a horseshit ‘confession’ that will then be called ‘evidence’ in the verdict?” said lawyer Igor Popovsky, who argued Astashin’s case before the Russian Supreme Court.

In recent years, Astashin has become known as an op-ed writer, penning articles about prison mores. On September 1, 2019, Radio Svoboda published his letter “Breaking Convicts Under the Law’s Cover,” which detailed the injustices at Krasnoyarsk CC 17, about the differences among castes of prisoners, their collaboration with wardens, and the psychological coercion employed on prisoners by correctional officers. We soon received a response from the penal colony’s wardens that Astashin had not written the letter and that no violations of the law were permitted in the colony. Although we knew that the letter had been written by Astashin, we took down the article, fearing for his safety.

On September 21, 2020, Astashin completed his sentence and was released. He is currently working on a book about his prison experience. He told Radio Svoboda about what happened to him on the outside and in prison.

Your comrade Alexei Makarov said that he became a revolutionary when he was 15 years old. When did you get interested in politics?

When I was about 14 years old. And it all started with a nationalist agenda. There were violent clashes between [ethnic] Russians and Caucasians in Kondopoga [in 2006]. I looked for information and in early 2007 I joined the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI).

When they called you a nationalist in court, were they right?

At first I was a nationalist, then my views expanded. I left DPNI and in 2009 joined The Other Russia coalition, which at that time was led by Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Garry Kasparov, and it included nationalists, liberals, communists, and anyone else you can think of. In the same year, 2009, I visited Ukraine, where I got acquainted with the movement of autonomous nationalists, and I thought that we should do something like it. At that time, there was a split in The Other Russia coalition, everything there came to a grinding halt. My radicalization occurred because there were no people organizing above ground. Then there was the movement of autonomists in Russia, both nationalists and left-wing anarchists. Direct action against the police began: police departments and police cars were torched. I also thought that we should do something like this. At that time, I felt like a revolutionary. I was 17 years old, and we decided to hold a protest action against the FSB.

You made a video of the action. It is still accessible on the internet, and there is a slogan “Russian action.” So, this was a nationalist protest?

Yes.

Do you regret it or recall it with pleasure?

Neither one nor the other. I don’t regret anything: what’s done is done. At the same time, I now believe that it was ineffective: the protest’s efficiency rating was negative. We had wanted to draw attention to the dictatorship of the Chekists, but [the video had] ten thousand views, which is a drop in the ocean. It did not spark a public discussion, it was all a big waste of time. Meanwhile, the people involved in the protest received long prison sentences. Of course, these were ineffective actions.

You were also accused of trying to blow up a Lexus. Whose car was it?

That was a stupid story. As a chemist, I experimented, I was interested in pyrotechnic devices and explosives. I built this thing and decided to test it. I found a Lexus: I thought it was probably insured. That’s another social subtext.

Attack the rich?

Yeah.

The investigators claimed that you were the leader of an organization that consisted of about ten people. Who were these people?

Guys I knew, but not all of them. They also carried out direct actions: seven arson attacks. The only thing we had in common was that we were acquainted. We were tortured into confessing that we had collaborated. If you read the verdict carefully, there are many inconsistencies. They write that the guys saw a police department and decided to torch it. But why do they then write that I was in charge of the action? Nevertheless, we were tried as an organized criminal group: everything those guys did I was charged with as well, and I was convicted as the organizer.

But did you know of ABTO’s existence? And did the organization even exist?

It was during the investigation that I found out that I was the head of the organization. And I saw the videos that they posted on the internet. Neither they nor we had any organization. The person who posted the videos just decided that it would be more interesting if he wrote that it was some kind of organization. It was four people going round setting fires.

Are the Network and New Greatness cases similar to what happened in the ABTO Case, or have the methods of the Chekists changed over the last ten years?

They are very similar, only worse. We were arrested for real actions. There was no terrorism in our case, but there were actions: they can be qualified as property damage or disorderly conduct. In the Network and New Greatness cases, there were no actions at all, that is, they were tried simply for belonging to mythical organizations. The laws that are now used to judge the defendants in those cases simply did not exist in our time. If we were tried now, we would probably be given twenty years in prison. All those articles [in the criminal code] are getting tougher and tougher, and the cases are now tried by special military courts. In addition, now there is the Rosfinmonitoring list [a financial stop list of “extremists” and “terrorists”], plus probation until your conviction has been expunged from your record. It’s easier for [the security services] to work in this way, because they don’t have to wait for someone to set something on fire, they can just take some guys who behave the wrong way, talk about the wrong things, or look the wrong way, and whip up a nice terrorism case, and get awards and promotions.

Ivan Astashin and comrades holding a rally on Chekists Day, on December 20, 2009, on Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow. Their banner reads, “The FSB are enemies of the people.” Courtesy of Ivan Astashin and RFE/RL

I read the article in which you write that the FSB are the only terrorists in Russia.

Yes, I wrote that, because terrorism is defined in the criminal code as various actions (not necessarily explosions and arson) intended to frighten and intimidate the populace. And who is intimidating the populace now, other than the FSB? We have other security services, but they are also dependent on the FSB. You know, when I carried out the action against the FSB, I really didn’t fully understand what kind of an organization it was. I understood that they had a lot of power, that the country was actually a Chekist dictatorship, but I had no idea how big it was. Even ordinary cops shake in their boots when FSBniks show up. The doors to all government institutions are open to the Chekists. All civil servants, judges, and MPs obey them unquestioningly. That’s why I called the FSB the main terrorists.

Did FSB officers visit you in the prison camp and threaten you?

Yes, that was in 2015. As usual, they did not introduce themselves, but only mentioned that they had flow in from Moscow: I was serving my sentence in Norilsk at the time. They were interested in what I was going to do after my release. I said that there were five more years until the end of my sentence, and I didn’t know yet what I would do after my release. They told me something to the effect that I shouldn’t get it into my head to engage in any political activity. Not that they directly threatened me, but they mentioned that even if I went abroad and mad trouble for them there, they would still get to me.

How did ordinary prisoners perceive you? As a hero or as a weirdo whose motives were impossible to understand?

Differently. There really were convicts who would say, Well done, cool, they need to be burned. There were also who thought it was odd: you’ve been sent down for ten years, what was the point?

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You said in an interview that you saw all of Russia in the Siberian prison camps. What have you learned about Russia? Is it ready for the revolution you dreamed of?

Many people living in Moscow have no idea what is happening beyond the Moscow Ring Road, how people survive on a salary of 5-10 thousand rubles [a month; meaning between 55 and 110 euros, approximately]. They often live on the outside according to the same concepts as they do in prison. As for whether they are ready for revolution, that is a difficult question. Many people just can’t imagine that things could be different. There is the famous question: who [will be president], if not Putin? Indeed, many people have this notion in their heads.

Did you meet Putin fans even in the camps?

Yes.

Were they outliers or were there many of them?

The ardent Putin supporters were outliers, of course, but I would often hear people say that Putin was doing a great job: he’d lifted up the economy, whereas in the nineties there had been nothing to eat at all. But now the situation is moving away from Putin. Meaning that, whereas in 2014 everyone got behind “Crimea is ours” and Novorossiya, and sometimes a couple of prisoners would argue with several dozen [Putin supporters], but now they mostly chew out Putin’s policies.

Even in the Siberian camps in 2014, there was a patriotic upsurge and people were happy about the annexation of the Crimea?

Yes, but then the situation changed, and the whole upsurge fizzled out.

Last year, we published your letter about the situation at the Krasnoyarsk colony, and then the wardens demanded that it be removed: allegedly, you were not the author. We took it down so you wouldn’t get hurt. What happened to you then?

It was unexpected. It is clear that if you are institutionalized and you write something negative about the institution, then, of course, there will be a reaction. I was in Norilsk, describing the general practices that had developed in the prison system, and I mentioned the Krasnoyarsk camp as an example. And they got so upset! They made threats, very clear threats. In Krasnoyarsk Territory, there is Remand Prison No. 1, known for its torture cells. There is a regional tuberculosis hospital where convicts are absolutely illegally injected with the strongest psychotropic drugs. And when I was summoned for a chat about the matter by the head of the prevention and enforcement department [of the penal colony], he made it clear what could happen to me in the future. I know such stories about how a person wrote complaints about the wardens, and then he was taken to these places of torture, and then the person recanted his testimony while being videotaped. I knew that something similar could be done to me. I had to write the document that your editors received. Of course, when I wrote it, I really hoped that they would understand the situation.

Of course, we understood, but we were afraid for your safety and took down the article.

I was hoping they wouldn’t remove it. Both there and through the convicts, they tried to get to me, and for some time the email server was disabled, and the warden, when he went on rounds, made it clear that it was all because of me. Then I found out that I was to be transferred. Initially, there was information that I would be taken to that hospital in Krasnoyarsk. I had already been given to understand via the convicts that they could take me through the torture remand prisons there. Consequently, everything followed a completely different scenario: I was transferred to CC 17, which I had just been writing about. I was transported without any untoward happening to me. I arrived at the transit and transfer prison, and everything was cool: not a word was said about the situation. I was there for four days before arriving at CC 17, where the deputy warden said to me on my first day, “I know why you have been brought here. I don’t care about that article. Let’s put it this way: you are now going to quietly finish out your sentence, and you’re not going to create problems for me, and I’m not going to create problems for you.”

Did your other articles about life in the prison zones go unnoticed?

The others were also noticed, but there was a fairly calm reaction to them. At one time, there was a special field officer in charge of working with “extremists” and “terrorists,” and he sometimes called me in to say he’d read my articles.

I’m sure you met other prisoners convicted on similar charges.

Yes, there a lot of people convicted in high-profile cases in Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk. When I arrived at CC 15 in Norilsk, there were quite a lot of people who had been convicted under Article 205, but mostly they were people who had been involved in the fighting in the North Caucasus. When you read their verdicts you find mentions of [Chechen rebel commanders] Maskhadov, Khattab, and Shamil. And when I was transferred to CC 17 in Krasnoyarsk a year ago, I also saw quite a lot of people who had been involved in combat or attacks on security forces in the North Caucasus over the years.

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You rubbed shoulders in the camps with people of different ethnic groups living in Russia. Have you reconsidered the beliefs that moved you to become a revolutionary at the age of seventeen?

Yes, my views have changed. When I joined DPNI, I saw migrants as the problem, but over time I began to see the state as the problem. Migrants are not to blame for anything: they come here out of desperation, because their home countries are even worse than here, just as many people are leaving Russia for Europe now. In other words, these processes are quite natural. People of different ethnic groups and faiths can easily get along with each other. We just need competent policy to avoid conflicts. All this xenophobia is largely groundless. While I was on the inside, I read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, which examines why people are often biased against those who belong to a different race or ethnic group. If you get to the root of the problem, there is no reason for it. We need to think about what unites us, not what divides us.

I noticed in your interview with the BBC a reference to Vladimir Sorokin. Did you find something in common in what he describes with what you saw in the camps?

Yes, I love Vladimir Sorokin. One of the things that clicked with me was the idea of the new Middle Ages, as described in his novel Tellurium. I can say for sure that the Russian penitentiary system is the new Middle Ages. Here, in each region, there is a special way of life, which is shaped both by prison officials and prisoners, despite the fact that the law seems to be the same, and the codes prisoners live by is the same everywhere. In some places, prisoners live free and easy, while in others the wardens set up a totalitarian regime in the camps through beatings and torture, as, for example, was the case in Omsk before the riot there in 2018. In yet other places, the wardens and the pseudo-kingpins from among the convicts converge. There are unwritten rules, procedures, and forms of interaction everywhere. It really is the new Middle Ages.

Ivan Astashin with the artist Stanislav Tanichev, who illustrated his articles. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You have now been released, but you remain under probation?

Yes. The law on probation was adopted in 2011. I was arrested in 2010, but in 2017, changes were made to the law such that all those convicted of terrorist charges must be placed on probation until their criminal record is expunged, which in my case is eight years. No one cares about you behaved in prison. Whereas earlier, repeat offenders and those who were deemed repeat violators of prison rules were put on probation, now everyone convicted on terrorist charges is put on probation, too. No one cares that I went to prison long before the law was passed. Logically, according to the Russian Constitution and international norms, the law should not apply to me. However, it applies not only to me, but also to other people in this situation. Restrictions are imposed on us: we have to check in at a police department between one to four times a month. (I’m required to check in twice a month.) You cannot leave your home between ten at night and six in the morning. I have filed an appeal against my probation and plan to bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights, as I believe that this practice violates the European Convention on Human Rights. A complaint on similar grounds, filed by one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case, Sergei Udaltsov, has already been communicated to the European Court of Human Rights.

You don’t want to leave Russia?

I don’t. Everything is bad in Russia nowadays, but there are a lot of areas where you can do something and change things for the better. Nor am I talking about politics in the literal sense. For example, there is human rights advocacy. In any case, no matter what the circumstances, no matter where I am, I will still do something to change society for the better.

• • • • •

This translation is dedicated to Vladimir Akimenkov, a former Russian political prisoner and prisoner rights activist who over the years persuaded me to pay attention to Ivan Astashin’s remarkable story. If you have the means and the opportunity, please consider donating to Vladimir’s fund for Russian political prisoners. You will find the details below. || TRR

Ivan Astashin and Vladimir Akimenkov, October 11, 2020, Moscow. Courtesy of Vladimir Akimenkov’s Facebook page

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
June 7, 2020

My Annual Birthday Fundraising Event for Political Prisoners

On June 10, it will be eight years since I was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case. Every year on this date I hold a fundraiser in support of the political prisoners with whom I am currently working.

Every year we meet live on my birthday to help political prisoners. This year, for obvious reasons, we will not be able to meet on June 10. We will definitely do this later, when we can get together without the obvious threat of getting sick. (The live fundraising event will be announced later, via a separate post and an update to this post.)

In the meantime, I am launching a remote fundraising event. In recent years, we have managed to find over 16.8 million rubles [approx. 186,000 euros] for people who have been politically repressed. Please chip in. We need to raise a lot of money. I don’t want to be broken record, but such are realities of Russian society.

Bank details:

— Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410012642526680

— Sberbank Visa Card: 4276 3801 0623 4433, Vladimir Georgievich Akimenkov

Bank details for ruble transfer:

Correspondence account 30101810400000000225
Bank BIC 044525225
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Individual Tax Number 7707083893
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

Bank details for foreign currency transfers:

SWIFT Code SABRRUMM
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

You can send funds from one foreign currency account to another via the Western Union website.

If you send me a personal message, I can send you a final report on the funds collected.

Please share information about the fundraiser on different venues.

I’m worried about this fundraiser. But I believe in people.

Thanks.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Jenya Kulakova: A Sunny Downpour

sunny downpour

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
July 28, 2020

I exit the remand prison on Shpalernaya Street—and find myself in a sunny downpour. From inside, the storm seemed much darker. (Many things probably seem much darker inside the prison.). I stand under the awning of Center “E” and look across the road at the prison, dazzling in silver drops from the sky, in the spray made by the wheels of passing cars. I’m under the awning and safe, but my feet are getting a little wet. For a short time the street is quiet, there are no people or cars. A small rainbow falls directly on Shpalernaya from the sky, vanishing in a few minutes.

I will tell Vitya [Viktor Filinkov] about this when we meet, just I told him about the bat that flies at night in the courtyard near the prison. And he told me how a pigeon had flown into their prison cell and landed on his trousers, and how he and his cellmate had caught it by donning plastic bags. They had chased it out of the window and fed it prison bread.

About the verdict.* Vitya had received it on Thursday and immediately read it, but he hadn’t looked at it again. Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, he plans to write and send an appeal. When I asked him to comment on the verdict, he could not say anything printable—he cursed loudly and waved his hands. When I asked him one more time to make a publishable statement on the matter, he slumped his head on the table. That was when I realized that it was his verdict and his seven years in prison, and he could comment or not comment on them as he wished.

He will write an appeal, of course, there is no doubt about it. Although he doesn’t feel like doing it at all: he says that he is always busy with something, and there is not enough time. He reads a lot about math (I only remember something about graph theory, but there are a lot of other topics), devises assignments for a training course on “pogromming,” and studies English. He’s apparently in good health, and his mood is also cheerful. However, the last couple of weeks he has had increased problems with sleep. He falls asleep in the morning, when it is already time to get up. (And this is despite the fact that since February, he has been taking drugs that should also level out his sleep.)

The censor is on vacation, and for three weeks, Vitya has received no letters from the outside world. (I don’t think he is able to send letters, either). But he gets Novaya Gazeta once a week, so Vitya is more or less aware of all the news. The library has been undergoing repairs of some kind, so a month ago, Vitya and his cellmate had to return all their library books, but they cannot take out new ones yet.

Update (added here from the comments). The coronavirus restrictions, imposed in early April, have almost all been lifted: the receipt of care packages and parcels has resumed, as well as visits with relatives. Meetings with lawyers no longer take place through glass, but all visitors must still wear masks and gloves. The mysterious “cleaning day” on Friday, when lawyers cannot visit clients, is also still in place.

*The verdict has been mailed to Vitaly [Cherkasov] and me by mail, and is still on its way, but Olga Krivonos has posted it here, so you can read it.

Photo by and courtesy of Jenya Kulakova. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on Viktor Filinkov and the Network Case (see below), and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with him and the other defendants in the case. All of them now face long terms in prison unless their guilty verdicts are reversed on appeal, which is not going to happen as long as the current regime remains in power, unfortunately.

#NetworkCase 

Pornofilmy, “This Will Pass”

After a hearing in the so-called Network trial in Petersburg this past Thursday, supporters of Russian political prisoners Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov chanted the lyrics of the song “This Will Pass,” by Russian rock group Pornofilmy, as the young men were led out of the courthouse and put in a paddy wagon for transport back to the remand prison where they have been jailed for the last two years. Since the song mentions the Network Case defendants and their torture at the hands of the FSB, and contains a brief but telling catalogue of the current Russian regime’s crimes, I made this hyperlink-annotated translation of the lyrics for you.

Pornofilmy: This Will Pass

Аll of it will pass, like thunderstorms in May
Someone’s tears, a V sign on the mouth
Like a United Russia MP’s mandate
Like an interrogation, like a cop’s sneer
Like the corridors at Lefortovo Prison
Like Beslan, like the poison gas at Nord-Ost
Like the federal pack of soulless majors
Sevastopol, Donetsk and Luhansk
This will definitely pass . . .

This will definitely pass!
A wet plastic bag on its head
Electric shock marks on its hands
My Russia is behind bars
But trust me
It will pass!
What black times we live in
But in the distance I seem to see
The forgotten light of living hope, so trust me
This will definitely pass

Like the swastika of the Russian world
Like the fires in Siberia’s forests
Prison sentences for honest guys from Penza and Petersburg
Paddy wagons packed with children
Or the lying scum on the telly
Article 228 and shakedowns at five in the morning
Like riot crops bravely maiming women
Like December, January and February
This will definitely pass…

putin enemy of people“Putin is an enemy of the people.” March 1, 2020, Petersburg. Photo by and courtesy of VA

This will definitely pass!
A wet plastic bag on its head
Electric shock marks on its hands
My Russia is behind bars
But trust me
It will pass!
What black times we live in
But in the distance I seem to see
The forgotten light of living hope, so trust me
This will definitely pass

All of it will pass, everything passes sometime
In a year, in a day, in an instant
Yesterday’s dictator will lie alone in the morgue
Now just a dead old man
And the doors at Lefortovo will be cut from their hinges
And Russia will rise from its slumber
Like the battered and blown-up Malaysian airplane
Spring will burst into your icy hut

This will definitely pass!
A wet plastic bag on its head
Electric shock marks on its hands
My Russia is behind bars
But trust me
It will pass!
What black times we live in
But in the distance I seem to see
The forgotten light of living hope, so trust me
This will definitely pass

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Prisoners of the Article 212 Case

Our Common Cause
The criminal investigation of the “riot” on July 27, 2019, in Moscow is absurd. The frame-up has been concocted by Russian law enforcement authorities in plain view. All of the people charged in the case are innocent.

We demand that the authorities drop the case.

What Is the Article 212 Case?
On July 27, 2019, thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow to protest the invalidation by the Moscow City Elections Commission of the signatures of thousands of Muscovites in support of independent candidates for the Moscow City Duma, who were consequently barred from standing in the September 8 elections. The peaceful protest was marred when police and other security forces detained 1,373 protesters, an unprecedented number, and injured 77 protesters.

On July 30, 2019, the Russian Investigative Committee launched a criminal investigation of the events of July 27, 2019, under Article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code, which means the authorities want everyone to believe the peaceful protest was a “riot.”

At present, 13 people have been arrested in the case. All of them have been remanded in custody and faced three to eight years in prison if they are convicted as charged.

The Prisoners

212-1.JPG

Sergei Abanichev
25, manager
Arrested: August 3, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2 (“involvement in rioting”). According to investigators, Abanichev threw a tin can at a police officer on July 27.

212-2

Vladislav Barabanov
22, grassroots activist from Nizhny Novgorod
Arrested: August 3, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2. Barabanov is accused of “directing” protesters on Petrovsky Boulevard on July 27.

212-3

Danila Beglets
27, self-employed
Arrested: August 9, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2
Remanded in custody until October 9, 2019.

212-4

Aydar Gubaydulin
25, graduate of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
Arrested: August 9, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2

212-5

Yegor Zhukov
21, student, Higher School of Economics
Arrested: August 2, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2. Zhukov is accused of directing the crowd on August 27 by “pointing to the right.”
Moscow’s Presna District Court remanded Zhukov in custody until September 27. Currently jailed in Matrosskaya Tishina Remand Prison.

212-6

Kirill Zhukov
28, studied physics, engineering, and psychology at university
Arrested: August 4, 2019
Currently jailed in Remand Prison No. 4.

212-7

Daniil Konon
22, student, Bauman School
Arrested: August 3, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2
Currently jailed in Matrosskaya Tishina Remand Prison.

212-8

Yevgeny Kovalenko
48, railroad security guard
Arrested: August 2, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2 and Article 318
On August 5, the court remanded Kovalenko in custody for two months. He and his legal counsel will appeal the ruling at a hearing scheduled to take place at Moscow City Court, Room 327, at 11:10 a.m. on August 22.

212-9

Alexei Minyaylo
34, entrepreneur, volunteer
Arrested: August 2, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2
Currently jailed in Matrosskaya Tishina Remand Prison.

212-10

Ivan Podkopayev
25, technician
Arrested: August 2, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212
Currently jailed in Matrosskaya Tishina Remand Prison.

212-11

Samariddin Radzhabov
21, construction worker
Arrested: August 2, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212, Article 30.3 (“Preparations for a crime, and attempted crimes”), Article 318.1
Remanded in custody until September 27. Currently jailed in Matrosskaya Tishina Remand Prison.

212-12

Sergei Fomin
36, self-employed
Arrested: August 8, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2

212-13.JPG

Valery Kostenok
20, student, Moscow State University of Design and Technology
Arrested: August 12, 2019
Charges: Russian Criminal Code Article 212.2. Kostenok is accused of tossing two empty plastic bottles towards the police on July 27.
Currently jailed in Remand Prison No. 5 (Vodnik).

Our job is protecting innocent people from the lawlessness of Russia’s law enforcement agencies.

Our Team
We are a pressure group, established by activists, and friends and relatives of people who were detained by police in the aftermath of grassroots protests during July and August 2019 in order to coordinate assistance to protesters charged with felonies.

Our goal is to help the people arrested in the Article 212 Case and their families and friends, publicize the criminal prosecution of the protesters, and encourage other forms of solidarity and support.

We want to make everyone recognize there was no “riot” on the streets of Moscow on July 27, 2019.

We seek the release of everyone wrongfully prosecuted by law enforcement and the courts.

We want to see human rights honored and observed.

We are:

  • Armen Aramyan, graduate student at the Higher School of Economics, editor of the independent student magazine DOXA
  • Alexandra Krylenkova, civil rights activist
  • Nikita Ponarin, student at the Higher School of Economics, grassroots activist
  • Roman Kiselyov, civil rights activist
  • Maria Chernykh, co-founder, Verstak Design Bureau

And many, many others.

How Can I Help?

  • Sign the petition on the Article 212 Case, as launched by Novaya Gazeta on Change.org.
  • People in jail are cut off from the outside world. Letters are nearly their only connection to life, so you can write letters to the prisoners. If you don’t want to write and send a paper letter, you can send an electronic letter via FSIN-Pismo and RosUznik.
  • We are recruiting volunteers and organizing the systematic delivery of care packages to each prisoner in our chat room on Telegram.
  • Attend court hearings in the case: this is a really good way to support the prisoners. We will be publishing the schedule on Facebook, VK, and Telegram, as well as on this website.
  • If you want to join the campaign and you have ideas and the energy to support the prisoners and their loved ones, write to us on our chatbot.

What About Money?
Prisoners of the Article 212 Case is a volunteer project. We realize, however, that the people jailed in remand prisons need care packages, and their families need assistance. This costs money, sometimes at short notice, and that is why we are launching a campaign fundraiser in the coming days.

Sign up for our mailing list and we will send you an email when the fundraiser is launched.

Our support of the Article 212 Case prisoners and their loved ones would be impossible without our friends from OVD Info, Moscow Helsinki Group, and Team 29.
You can contact the project team on our chatbot.
Design
Visual identity: Sergei Tidzhiev
Website: Irina Nikolaeva

Source: delo212.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Support RosUznik!

162

Azat Miftakhov is one of the many Russian political prisoners whom RosUznik by making it easier for people on the outside to correspond with them.

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
August 17, 2019

Thanks to the titanic work of only two RosUznik [Russian Political Prisoner] volunteers, if I’m not mistaken, many Russian political prisoners are now able to keep in touch with hundreds of people on the outside.

You can write to Russian prisoners via RosUznik anonymously and free of charge.

RosUznik is run entirely by volunteers, without any grants, despite the fact that printing and sending letters cost money, and sending letters electronically costs a lot of money. On average, if I send a letter with an attached reply form to an inmate via the Federal Penitentiary Service, it runs me 250 rubles [approx. $3.75].

Letters from the outside are incredibly important to inmates. Ask any inmate you know, read interviews with them or memoirs written by them.

If you don’t have time to write, but you want to support political prisoners, support RosUznik. They have run out of money, but the political crackdown continues.

[…]

Thanks, RosUznik!

12717178_1095998840431593_4618969564697505905_n.jpg

RosUznik
Facebook
August 17, 2019

As of today, we have received exactly 400 letters for all the people arrested in the Moscow case. We have dispatched nearly half of the letters.

We have enough money left only for 25 short letters and replies.

Help us so we can continue to send letters to political prisoners.

Send your donations to:
Sberbank Card No. 4817 7600 3252 4161 (The card belongs to our volunteer Nikita.)
Yandex Money Account No. 410011434636201
PayPal: post.rosuznik@gmail.com

Images courtesy of RosUznik. Translated by the Russian Reader

Valentin Urusov: A Worker’s Struggle (August 2012)

One of the most egregious frame-ups on drug charges in Russia in recent memory was the case of Yakutia trade union activist Valentin Urusov.

The weekly magazine Russian Reporter told Urusov’s story in August 2012, after he had been in police custody and then prison for over three years.

The article was, in fact, part of a second international campaign, led by Russia’s independent trade unions, to persuade the Russian authorities to release Urusov from prison.

This time around, their efforts paid off, and after his release, Urusov was awarded the Arthur Svensson Prize, the “Nobel Prize” of international trade unionism.

When I posted the following translation of the Russian Reporter article on January 25, 2013, Urusov was still in prison, doing time for crimes everyone who knew anything about the case knew he had not committed.

It is silly to compare these things, but I think Urusov’s story is much more horrifying than the much more recent story of Meduza reporter Ivan Golunov. First, it happened at the end of the earth, geographically speaking. Second, Urusov’s supporters had neither the social capital or the numbers to instantly launch a widespread moral panic to secure his immediate release.

Powerful men, including the men who run Alrosa, Russia’s state-owned diamond mining company (whose board at the time included Alexei Kudrin, laughably regarded as a “liberal” by people who do not want to know any better), wanted Urusov to go down, and so he went down, despite the absurdity of the charges against him, despite the fact that the police officer who engineered his frame-up was later found guilty of fraud and abuse of authority, and despite the fact that the Yakutia Supreme Court overturned his conviction in May 2009. (It was reinstated by the original, lower court a little over a month later.)

In fact, although Urusov’s story is a central episode in the recent history of independent trade union activism in Russia, I would wager a large amount of money that the vast majority of Russians have never heard of Urusov and his horrifying ordeal at the hands of Russian “law enforcement.” || TRR

__________________________

A Worker’s Struggle
How an attempt to create a real labor union lands you in a penal colony
By Andrei Veselov
Russian Reporter
August 23, 2012

It is now acceptable to talk about political prisoners in Russia—it has become good form. But for some reason, bankers and financiers now and again end up on lists of “prisoners of conscience.” Their troubles are discussed in great detail, and there is sincere sympathy for them. Little is said about the fact that for the last four years Valentin Urusov, a rank-and-file worker, has been doing time at the penal colony in Verkhny Vestyak, Yakutia, for attempting to establish an independent labor union. Russian Reporter has decided to rectify this.

“When they drove off the road into the taiga, I hear, ‘Take out the plastic sheet so nothing gets splattered.’ That, as they say, is when I bid farewell to life, calmed down and resigned myself. I lay on the floor of the car and waited. Hands cuffed behind my back. They pulled me out, put me on my knees and fired three shots over my head. But they didn’t kill me.”

urusov

Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter

The senior officer for education at the colony listens attentively to my conversation with Valentin Urusov, a prisoner at Penal Colony No. 3 in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and former leader of the independent labor union local in the town of Udachny. After the interview, the officer comes up to me and says, “You know, maybe he is really innocent. But if five percent are wrongly convicted in America, what can you expect from us?”

“What a terrific job!”

The idea that a full-fledged rather than puppet labor union could emerge in Udachny occurred to Valentin, a rank-and-file employee at Almazenergoremont, a subsidiary of the local mining and processing plant, after the scandalous “affair of the sandblasters.” Urusov himself is a local man, although he was born in Karachay-Cherkessia: he has lived in Yakutia since he was two years old and worked here since he was sixteen, mostly at facilities run by the state-owned diamond mining company Alrosa. There are few other options here.

Udachny is a town fourteen kilometers from the Arctic Circle, and one of the three main sites, along with Mirny and Aikhal, where diamonds are mined. Among the workers involved in the mining process are the so-called abrasive blasters or, more simply, sandblasters, whose job is to work solid surfaces with an abrasive, high-pressure stream of air pumped through a hose. It is not a job that is good for the health of the worker, to say the least: pulmonary silicosis is the occupational illness. Neither a safety helmet nor a [hazmat] suit, like cosmonauts wear, helps.

In 2007, a team of these sandblasters demanded overtime pay, which at that time went chronically unpaid. The workers filed a lawsuit and even managed to win their case: the Labor Code was clearly on their side.

“A special commission arrived in Udachny to arbitrate the dispute directly,” explains Andrei Polyakov, an Alrosa spokesman. “The company agreed with the validity of the claims, an agreement settling all grievances was signed, and compensation was paid out. The managers who were in direct dereliction of their duties were punished.”

This happened, it is true, but later. The main scandal occurred when the dispute was still being settled: the semi-official labor union at Alrosa, Profalmaz, negotiated not on the side of the workers, but on behalf of . . . management. This provoked astonishment and outrage in Udachny.

So, on the one hand, Profalmaz’s authority was undermined. On the other, the feeling arose that one’s labor rights could be protected—moreover, in a civilized manner, through the courts and arbitration, the European way, so to speak.

“I just found it interesting. I’m a generally curious person, and that is probably why I’m in prison,” jokes Valentin. “I went online and came across Sotsprof, a trade union association that is an alternative to the FNPR (the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia). I wrote an email to its leader, who was then Sergei Khramov. He replied by sending me documents on how to create a new union.”

“But why a new one?” I ask. “Was it really impossible to make things work within the existing union?”

“All [organizations] belonging to Mikhail Shmakov’s FNPR, including Profalmaz, are not labor unions but appendages of personnel departments. All they do is allocate vacation vouchers. They will never oppose management.”

“Was the only problem overtime and the fact it wasn’t being paid then?”

“Of course not. There were a lot of problems! And then, you understand, this is very difficult work: you have to work night and day, and on holidays, and take someone else’s shift, whatever management says. But you get paid for an eight-hour day. And then there are the working conditions and safety. In the department where I worked, the equipment should have been scrapped twenty years ago, at best. There are a lot of accidents as a result. The ones that were made public were like a speck in a big heap of sand. I got a big piece of flesh taken out of my hand, and that was nothing. Of course, it’s hard to hush up fatal incidents. But fractures and injuries are different. There are thousands of them and nobody cares. It was a shame that the company was so wealthy, that it built five-star hotels and all kinds of business centers, but scrimped on us.”

In Moscow, I met with Sergei Khramov, to whom Valentin had sent the email and who had instructed him on creating a union local.

Udachnaya_pipe

The open pit of the Udachnaya Diamond Mine, Russia, from a helicopter, July 17, 2004. Photo by Alexander Stepanov

“Add to this the aggressive water in the gully where they mine diamonds.” Khramov hands me a complaint from Udachny miners addressed to Vladimir Putin. “It’s nearly acid and it penetrates their rubber suits. Here they write, ‘We don’t know what it is we are breathing when the ventilation equipment is lubricated with used oil.’ Or there’s this one: ‘Cold, unheated air is pumped into the mine, even in winter.’ And it’s minus forty-fifty in winter there. What a terrific job!”

How to frighten a republic’s leadership

Right at this time, in August 2008, the so-called Siberian Social Forum was held in Irkutsk. “Free” trade unions were among the forum’s founders. Urusov’s new acquaintances invited him there, too. In fact, it was a small event, attended by no more than two hundred people, but it made a strong impression on Valentin.

“[Civil rights lawyer] Stanislav Markelov, who was later murdered in Moscow, lectured on legal issues. He was a very competent, energetic, lively man—it’s a shame [what happened] to him. He talked about how to act in this or that situation so as not to set oneself up and achieve [your goals] at the same time. And then the call came. Problems with pay had begun at the second motor depot, and the guys had decided to organize a strike.”

Events unfolded rapidly. In a small suburban home outside of Udachny, Urusov met with motor depot drivers and mechanics in an almost conspiratorial atmosphere and began persuading them to join the union. Armed with new knowledge, Urusov tried to prove to his comrades that if a strike began they would immediately be fired for trumped-up excuses, and there would be no one left to work on getting them reinstated. During the second “conspiratorial” meeting, sixty-two people joined Urusov’s union local.

There were two options as to how to proceed. First, a classic strike. But the Udachny miners had no experience with strikes, and therefore they could easily have been fired for “absenteeism.” And even if they had managed to get fired workers reinstated, they would have lost the initiative, and the remaining workers would have been demoralized. The second option was a hunger strike. Everyone goes to work; there is no downtime and, therefore, nothing for management to complain about. But demands are loudly declared and, basically, a scandal erupts. They chose the second option.

“At first, [management] demonstratively paid no attention to us. Then they see we aren’t going to back down. That is when they began dropping by,” Urusov laughs. “People came from the police, from plant security, from the company itself, trying to talk us out of it. In exchange for setting up a conciliation commission, we suspended the hunger strike.”

However, the commission was unable to achieve a compromise. Management made no concessions.

“We decided to hold an open union meeting right on the town’s central square. It wasn’t a [protest] rally, and by law, we weren’t required to notify anyone. On the first day, all the motor depot workers came, plus another two hundred people. The director of the plant came and tried to say something. But he couldn’t answer a single question and left. And right there on the square, people began joining the union. By the end of the day, something like three hundred people had joined. We decided to repeat the meeting. The second time, more than eight hundred people gathered. There was no rioting and no laws were broken. We didn’t even have a loudspeaker. By evening, I remember it even now, 1,012 people had joined the union.”

We have to remember that Udachny is a very small town with a population of slightly over ten thousand, and such developments outright scared both the local authorities and certain people in high places. The situation was headed towards a citywide strike and a potential stoppage of diamond mining in the Udachnaya kimberlite pipe—the largest in the world, by the way.

“We have enormous enterprises in our country. Often [they] monopolize their regions, and so a strike or simply a large [industrial] action could freeze an entire industry,” explains Alexander Zakharin, Urusov’s friend and colleague, and chair of the Sotsprof local in Surgut. “And if you organize such an action, you risk running into a brutal response. From the owners and from the authorities. But it happens that milder measures don’t work. Then you need to choose: take a risk or keep your mouth shut.”

At Alrosa itself, the union’s activities in Udachny are seen primarily as an attempt at self-promotion.

“A media effect—promoting awareness of Sotsprof and the number of times it got mentioned in the press—was probably the main objective for some of its executives,” argues company spokesman Polyakov.

As during the [dispute in 2007], Profalmaz adopted a peculiar position in the new confrontation. Its leader, Il Tumen (Sakha Republic State Assembly) deputy Pavel Tretyakov, not only failed to help the workers but also asked the republic’s leaders to reason with the “rebels.” Profalmaz’s executive committee sent an appeal to the President of Yakutia, Vyacheslav Shtyrov, and FNPR head [Mikhail] Shmakov asking them to prevent “incitement of a conflict.”

Tretyakov later, in a similar vein, told Vasily Gabyshev, the Mirny town prosecutor, “It’s surprising that law enforcement authorities didn’t respond to attempts by various persons to artificially incite conflicts, to calls for illegal hunger strikes and [labor] strikes.”

The Yakutia presidential administration composed a panicked memo on the basis of Tretyakov’s appeals. The President instructed law enforcement agencies to figure out what was happening. (Russian Reporter has all these documents in its possession.) What exactly Shtyrov wanted from the security services is still unclear, but the local office of the FSKN (the Federal Drug Control Service) reacted to the situation, let’s say, in an extremely original way.

Udachny—Aikhal—Mirny

“Then what happened? Then the third of September came. I was leaving my place. I heard a car door open. I instinctively turned around.  It was a simple UAZ[-452], a “Pill” [i.e., a van] with tinted windows. Out came three guys in leather jackets and jeans with shaved heads. I didn’t know them. I immediately knew something was wrong and ran. They caught up to me and knocked me down.”

“Did they show you any identification?”

“Absolutely nothing. They restrained me and brought me to the van. First, they handcuffed me with my hands in front. Later, in the van, they tried to cuff me with my hands behind my back. I clasped my hands and held on. They pulled and pulled, broke my finger, and finally handcuffed my hands behind my back. They threw me to the floor and one of them sat on top of me. We drove for a long time.”

It subsequently emerged that Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Rudov, the head of drug control in the Mirny District, had personally led this “operation.” In order to apprehend Urusov, he and his subordinates had driven six hundred kilometers [to Udachny]: [his] “Hunter” [i.e., jeep] was waiting for the “Pill” on the outskirts of the town. In court, Rudov claimed to have had “operational information” that Urusov was involved in selling drugs.

“We asked the court to confirm or refute Rudov’s testimony, and requested written confirmation that the ‘operational information’ had been registered in the police operational ledger,” says Urusov’s attorney Yevgeny Chernousov, a former police colonel who specializes in narcotics cases. “We didn’t demand that this information itself or its source be revealed. We just wanted to confirm that the information had existed. The court did not fulfill our request. There is thus no evidence of its existence. In light of this, Rudov’s unwarranted trip to Udachny and back seems more than suspicious.”

Valentin says that Rudov was on the phone with a certain Alexei Yurevich or Yuri Alexeyevich the whole time, reporting to him that they had “taken” Urusov and wanting to know what to do next. After one of these conversations, the van pulled off into the taiga. There the narcotics officers spread out plastic sheeting and fired a few shots over Urusov’s head, recounts Urusov.

“They were shooting the whole time,” says Valentin. “They shot at birds, and at trees. Apparently, they wanted to frighten me. We had already driven far from town, and basically, they could have done whatever they wanted with me.”

At a fork in the Udachny-Aikhal-Mirny road, the car of Grigory Pustovetov, head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant, drove up to Rudov’s group “entirely by accident.” Only then did the police decide to search Urusov for drugs. Pustovetov and his driver acted as official witnesses. The search was a complete success: sixty-six grams of hashish oil were found in the union activist’s pocket.

“A number of questions arise,” says an outraged Chernousov. “First, when the arrest happens in one place, but the [official] search with witnesses happens dozens of kilometers away, it’s a clear sign that the drugs could have been planted. Second, if the head of one of a company’s security units serves as a witness when an employee in a labor dispute with that company is being searched, it also gives rise to the most unpleasant thoughts.”

Urusov himself claims the hashish was planted on him in the car after the fake execution. He says that hash oil was specially applied to his hands so that traces of the drug would later be detected when his hands were swabbed.

“When we were organizing the miners’ union in Neryungri (a major industrial center in Yakutia), I was reminded of this story,” says Valery Sobol, first secretary of the Neryungri Communist Party City Committee. “I won’t name the names [of the persons involved] because I live there. Employees of the so-called organs [i.e., the security services] invited me to a pub. We hung out there for a while. Then at another place, and then another. I myself didn’t drink, [but] they drank a lot. And, as if it was an afterthought, though they had summoned me there [to deliver just this message], one of them says, ‘You remember that thing with Urusov? You also better not be naughty. If anything happens, we’ll plant a gun [on you] or whatever.’ And then he laughed. Like it was a joke.”

Several months ago, Sobol nearly won the election for the head of the Neryungri District. He came in second by only a small margin. And if a potential district head can be threatened almost openly, then the kidnapping of a simple working stiff like Urusov, who has no political backing at all, does not seem farfetched.

Sobol and I sat in the kitchen of Sergei Yurkov, an engineer, businessman, and leader of [an organization called] the Russian Community of Yakutia. He met Urusov in a pre-trial detention facility. I ask him how he had ended up there.

“My story is simple. Transneft was building a pipeline here. They didn’t want to pay normal wages to the locals. So when the locals balked, they brought in rural Chinese willing to work for peanuts and live in barracks. When we organized a rally and put up flyers saying this wasn’t how things were done, I was arrested under Article 282 of the Criminal Code for ‘incitement of interethnic hatred.’ What does ‘incitement’ have to do with it? I was sentenced to two years in prison.”

Drugs via the Special Courier Service?

It must be said that the theme of drugs, with which they decided to shut Urusov up, did not arise by accident. Drug use is a local scourge. And this makes sense. There are few other ways to have fun in small towns and villages in the North. That is why on the surface Urusov’s prosecution under a drug statute was meant to have appeared more or less plausible.

“It’s a big problem here, as is drinking,” says Maxim Mestnikov, a Sotsprof spokesman in Yakutia. “When Friday comes, hang onto your head: there is a deluge of knife wounds [and] head injuries.”

But Urusov, in fact, never had the reputation of a mischievous drug addict. In his youth, at the beginning of the 2000s, he and a few friends created an organization called Youth for an Athletic Movement-North, whose activists patrolled the city monitoring places where drugs were sold. Eventually, the mayor of Udachny even suggested that they create a branch of City Without Drugs on the line of [Yevgeny] Roizman’s [controversial anti-drugs organization].

The relationship between certain local [Alrosa] subcontractors and drug dealers, however, may require a separate investigation. Russian Reporter has in its possession an official memo written by Sergei Denisov, the predecessor of [Grigory] Pustovetov (the man who acted as a witness during the police search of Urusov) as head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant.

The memo is addressed to Yuri Ionov, former vice-president for security at Alrosa, and it deals with the overall crime situation in the area. Among many others, the memo contains the following passage: “It is impossible to ignore the fact that a drug trafficking network has developed in the village. According to operational information from the Mirny office of the FSB, the delivery of drugs is carried out by the [Federal] Special Courier Service, with which Alrosa has a contractual relationship for the transportation of diamonds.” Moreover, the memo shows that confidential and friendly relations exist between certain high-ranking Alrosa executives, law enforcement officers, and outright criminals.

“I’ll say this: the criminal world is generally in first place here,” [Sotsprof’s] Mestnikov says with conviction. “In this respect, it is still the nineties here. Something needs to be done so you go to them and they handle it. And this could also have happened with Valentin. Perhaps it was better that they sicked the cops on him and not the wise guys.”

After he presented the memo to Ionov, Denisov was forced to resign and move to Novosibirsk.

“No decision was taken on my report. Ionov showed me the door and said he didn’t need any unnecessary problems. As for Urusov, I can say that it’s a pure frame-up,” [Denisov says].

In May 2010, Lieutenant Colonel Rudov was sentenced to three years of probation for fraud and abuse of authority. According to [Urusov’s other] lawyer Inga Reitenbakh, “He was charged with receiving 2.5 million rubles from Alrosa for the purchase of an apartment in Mirny.” The investigators and Rudov himself categorically denied any connection between this case and the Urusov case. Nevertheless, the funds were allocated to Rudov shortly after Urusov’s arrest. According to Russian Reporter’s source, Rudov now works as a procurements specialist in the repair and construction office at the Mirny mining and processing plant.

“He shoots before he thinks”

Urusov was also unlucky in that he had set about creating a Sotsprof local in Udachny exactly when the union’s leadership had entered the complex process of building relations with the Kremlin.

“Beginning in 2007, people from the Russian Presidential Administration began to pressure us very actively,” says Sergei Khramov. “We were strongly recommended to name Sergei Vostretsov from the United Russia party as [our] new leader. I had good reason to believe that if we didn’t, we would simply be destroyed. And I figured, the heck with him, let Vostretsov be the leader and do public relations, while I, as Sotsprof’s general labor inspector, will do the day-to-day work.”

The first outcome of this “castling” move was that the formerly oppositional Sotsprof supported Dmitry Medvedev in the 2008 presidential elections.

”And when they began pressuring Valentin, Vostretsov told me not to make any unnecessary noise, because he would fix everything anyway. I knew that the Vostretsov family—his younger brother was the youngest FSB colonel in the country—was very close to General Alexander Mikhailov, the then-director of the Federal Drug Control Service. I thought that Valentin’s case would be decided with a single phone call.”

For the sake of fairness, we should note that complicated events were underway at the Federal Drug Control Service at the time. Viktor Ivanov had replaced Viktor Cherkesov, who had famously publicized the existence of a war within the security services in an article [entitled “We Can’t Let Warriors Turn into Traders”]. In October, General Mikhailov left the FSKN as well. There was simply no one left to make that “single phone call.”

Subsequently, Vostretsov pushed Khramov out of Sotsprof altogether, and the organization became completely loyal to the Kremlin.

In December 2008, the Mirny District Court sentenced Valentin Urusov to six years in prison for drug possession. Vostretsov tried to fight it, but more from behind the scenes: he met with officials from the Yakutia administration and officials of the security services, and even, allegedly, raised the issue of Urusov with Medvedev. It was no use.

Khramov, in contrast, acted publicly. It was he who got the famous lawyer Chernousov to take the case. Chernousov convinced the Yakutia Supreme Court to overturn the verdict (on procedural grounds: the judge had not retired to chambers while considering a motion to dismiss), after which the case was retried.

“I had absolutely no illusions,” Valentin smiles. “After the Supreme Court decision, many people thought I would be exonerated.  I was certain of the opposite, that now I would be ‘shut down’ for sure. This was evident from the faces of those in the courtroom at the second trial. After the first hearing, I gathered my belongings, put on the track suit I’d been wearing while traveling between pre-trial detention facilities and prisons, and from then on I went to hearings in this outfit.”

In Udachny, there is a small newspaper with the humorous name of Gorodok [“The Burg”], edited by a local journalist named Alla Demidova. After Urusov was released, she published a short article. Immediately, the very same day, she got a call from Maxim Dobarkin, one of the police investigators who had participated in Urusov’s “arrest.”

“Dobarkin called me at home,” says Demidova. “Drunk. He told me how many bullets he would put in me, said that ‘he shoots before he thinks,’ that he knows where I live, and that he would ‘get’ me ‘whether in Udachny or in Sochi.’”

“What did you do?”

“I filed a complaint with the FSB.”

“Did they respond?”

“They responded by sending me a one-line answer: ‘There is no threat.’”

Dobarkin, however, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and together with Rudov took command of the Federal Drug Control Service’s interdistrict department in Mirny.

Another Yakutia journalist, Aitalina Nikiforova, was also threatened for covering Urusov’s case.

“I reported on every hearing during the trial from the courtroom. Rudov called me over during one of the hearings and said word for word, ‘Your oldest daughter is fifteen. It would be interesting to see how you’ll defend Urusov after some old drug dealers drug her up and pass her around.’ This definitely sounded like a threat. At the time I was working as editor-in-chief at the only independent newspaper in Mirny, Moya Gazeta. The only printing plant in town refused to print us. Local Federal Drug Control Service agents began coming to my house, allegedly because of anonymous tips that I also used and dealt drugs. Some of [the agents] were insolent and rude; others were ashamed because the last visits took place when I was six to seven months pregnant with my third child.”

After that Nikiforova decided it would be safer to leave her hometown and move to Yakutsk.

In June 2009, the Mirny District Court delivered a new verdict in the Urusov case that completely upheld the previous verdict, but in September the Yakutia Supreme Court lightened Urusov’s prison sentence by one year. The Sotsprof local in Udachny had been crushed. The second motor depot has been completely shut down. The company has had no more problems with the workforce in this town.

“Valentin, who do you tend to blame for what happened to you?” I finally asked.

“Alrosa is a state-run company. It is owned by the government, by the state, so . . . you understand.”

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Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter

***

“Our government is fascist,” Yurkov, the leader of the Russian Community of Yakutia, suddenly declares, and it sounds quite equivocal.

Sobol, the man who missed becoming head of the Neryungri District by a heartbeat, turns and stops smoking next to the window.

“We have to be precise with our terms: neither Nazi nor nationalist, but precisely fascist as it is understood in Mussolini’s theory of the corporate state, as Franco, Salazar, and even Pinochet understood it. In our country, the authorities and big business are intertwined in a ball. And anyone who gets in their way is crushed. Here in Yakutia, in the provinces, it’s just more clearly felt.  But it’s the same thing all over the country.”

Translated by Sean Guillory and Chtodelat News. Slightly different versions of the same translation were published by n+1 and Sean’s Russian Blog.