Olga Romanova: How “Law Enforcement” Works in Russia

calvey
Michael Calvey in court. Photo by Maxim Shemetov. Courtesy of Reuters and Republic

“We Give You Serebrennikov and You Give us Calvey”: How Law Enforcement Works
Olga Romanova
Republic
May 13, 2019

“Who would make the decision about your arrest?”

“My colleagues would betray me, but they would vet it with my bosses.”

“What about Vasya [a big businessman]?”

“Cops, the economic security squad. It’s enough for the word to come down from the district office to grab him. Vasya is a respected person. He’s a thief.”

“And me?”

“You’re an enemy of the state. If the neighborhood cops can decide to arrest Vasya, the Secret Chamber, so to speak, would have to give the orders to arrest you. The decision to arrest you would be made by no one lower ranked than Bortnikov’s deputy, although you’re naked and barefoot, and no one would ask the prosecutor’s office or the Investigative Committee to go after you. It’s creepy and pointless.”

This should give you an idea of the conversations I have with my acquaintances in the security forces nowadays. It helps to do business with people who know the score. None of them is surprised when you ask them who would arrest someone, how they would do it, and when they would do it. Everything would have been planned long ago, and there are no illusions. If a person has to be placed under arrest and charged, it is going to happen. If they do not need to be indicted, they can be kept in custody for a while. No one remembers, even for appearance’s sake, that there are courts in Russia, and courts decide whether to remand someone in custody after hearing arguments by all the interested parties. Everyone knows the decisions are not made in court.

Who Makes the Decisions?
Who made the decision to arrest Kirill Serebrennikov? Who decided to let him go for the time being? Who arrested Michael Calvey and the employees of Baring Vostok? Who let them out of jail? Why? Who made the decision to arrest Mikhail Abyzov?

There is no one with whom you can talk about these cases.

This is not quite true. My sources in all the law enforcement and security agencies, who can be frank with me as long as they remain anonymous, talk to me about these cases, too, but they look really worried when they do.

Rank-and-file law enforcement officers are confused. They do not understand why someone decided to back off the Serebrennikov case so abruptly and quickly. The train was rushing the director and filmmaker towards a sentence of the four years or so in the camps when a powerful hand jerked hard on the brakes. The passengers jumped off the train, of course, for they didn’t want to keep traveling in that direction, but the trainmaster, driver, and conductors were completely at a loss.

What should they do with the next train and its contingent of VIP passengers? Should they railroad them, as they were ordered to do, or should they avoid hurrying the case? After the emergency brake has been pulled, everyone emerges with injuries and bumps. Some of the crew were counting on promotions after they had wrapped up such a big case. Other members of the crew were acting on orders from a celestial. He will not forgive them because now they know there are tougher celestials in the system. He cannot forgive the people involved in the case for knowing that fact nor can he forgive the other celestials for intervening. The passengers could not care less. Either they get to where they are going or they do not get there, but the crew is always aboard the train.

True, a smart alec from the Investigative Committee told me something interesting about the procedural aspect.

“Why is everyone so angry? The Serebrennikov case was sent back to the prosecutor’s office, so what? You saw that the court ordered a forensic examination. The first forensic examination was really crooked. The judge in the trial of Serebrennikov’s accountant, Nina Maslyaeva,  wondered why everyone was so glad. Serebrennikov’s case would now be sent back to the prosecutor’s office because his circumstances are the same as Maslyaeva’s. You are mixing up cause and effect. The judge in the Maslyaeva case cannot reach a verdict because he understands the outcome of the forensic examination, which was the same as in the Serebrennikov case, will now be different, and Maslayeva will have to be re-indicted in the light of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case.”

Translated into ordinary language, he means the case can still go any which way. Procedurally, all the cards are still on the table, and the haggling could continue. Things could go one way or the other. The powers that be could change their minds and send Serebrennikov to prison, but they could also let him go. They could arrest him again and send him down. The statute of limitations is a flexible thing.

Somewhere above the clouds, the thunder gods fight over the case. Invisible to the world, they communicate with ordinary people by making motions to conduct additional forensic examinations. Ordinary people make of it what they will. Police investigators are also part of the rank and file, part and parcel of Russia’s unwashed masses.

In ordinary times, this is not what happens to ordinary defendants in ordinary cases. Everyone would have gone down five years each per capita, and no would have batted an eye. In this case, the decisions are obviously political. Look who made the decision! Who telephoned whom? What levers did they use? Who or what did they offer in exchange? Freebies are for freaks, after all. We will return to this subsequently when we discuss other factors.

If the boring procedural hypothesis made by my anonymous source at the Investigative Committee is right, events should unfold as follows. The authorities will get the results of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case. If the total damages are less than was claimed earlier (or, say, there were, miraculously, no damages at all), the charges against Serebrennikov and the other defendants will be dropped right in the courtroom. If, on the contrary, the sum of the damages is more or less hefty, a million rubles, at least, the defendants will be found guilty and sentenced to prison. Then you can appeal the verdict wherever you like.

No one would ask why a particular ruling was made. No one would ask what happened. Why are some people treated one way, while others are treated another way? The foot soldiers of law enforcement know the score. But when they do not know the score, they know it is better not to ask whether a mistake has been made but to follow orders.

How Things Go Down
The Calvey case bears a strong resemblance to the case against Vladimir Yevtushenkov. Yevtushenkov failed to take the hints. He was told directly what to do but refused to hand over his business. Then he was arrested and given a good talking. He and his captors came to an understanding. He was released and his business confiscated. Unlike Yevtushenkov, however, Calvey is as poor as a church mouse. Compared with Yevtushenkov, that is. Calvey does not own a Bashneft, after all.

The foot soldiers in the security forces have not been particularly surprised about how the Calvey case has unfolded. They expected something of the sort. They expected him to “cash out,” as they call it, and they believe he has, in fact, cashed out. They are uninterested in what this meant. It is not their war, and the spoils are not theirs to claim.

We should look at this more closely.

My source, whom I  trust, albeit warily, explains the obvious to me.

“All cases are business as usual except the cases in which there a phone call,” he says.

I have two questions for him right off the bat. What does he mean by “business as usual”? Who usually makes the  “phone call”?

He explains that people who follow high-profile cases and comment on them fail to take one important factor into account in their arguments. The high-profile cases are handled by another agency as it were. They involve the same players: the prosecutor’s offices, the courts, the remand prisons, and the Investigative Committee. All of them realize, however, when they are handling a special case involving the interests of high-ranking officials and elite businessmen. In these cases, they need to keep close track of which way the wind blows.

The bulk of cases are “mundane.” There is a huge number of such cases, and they can drag on forever. Take, for example, the Baltstroy case, the case of police anti-corruption investigator Boris Kolesnikov, and the case of ex-deputy culture minister Grigory Pirumov, cases that everyone has forgotten, and the Oboronservis case, the cases of the banks implicated in the so-called Russian Laundromat, and the case of Alexander Grigoriev, the man, allegedly, behind the Laundromat, who was mixed up with Putin’s cousin Igor Putin. New indictments in these cases are made all the time. More and more defendants are convicted in these cases and sent down. It never stops, but public interest in these cases is almost nil.

There are cases that collapse, however. Why does this happen?

Why was the case of ex-economics minister Alexei Ulyukayev not reviewed on appeal? Why was his prison sentence not reduced by four years during the sentencing appeal hearing? Does anyone know why? Perhaps the political spin doctors get it, but Russia’s law enforcers do not have a clue. What they understand is when an order comes down to reduce a sentence and when it does not. They leave the blabbing to the spin doctors.

Alexei Fedyarov is a former prosecutor from Chuvashia. Nowadays, he is the head of our legal department at Russia Behind Bars. He gave me permission to quote him.

“It happens. A case is going fine. In the morning, you have a meeting with your superiors. They tell you everything is great, keep pushing, you’ve got the bastards. I was handling a case against the management of the Khimprom factory in Novocheboksarsk. At briefings, I was told my group and I were doing a great job. We had done the initial investigation beautifully and now it was time to detain the suspects, remand them in custody, and put them away. I went to my office, where the city prosecutor was waiting for me. He asked me to hand over the case file. I gave him the case file and he told me it was over, I should forget it. He was personally going to deliver the case file to the head prosecutor of the republic and that would be the end of it.  There would be no supporting documentation or anything. The case really did disappear, although an hour before I had been told to push it.

“During that hour, the head prosecutor of the republic had got a message from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. A call from a deputy prosecutor general was enough for them to take the whole thing back, despite the fact it was a big, interesting case involving illegal wiretapping throughout the company and even the local police department and the tax police office. We had found tons of recorded conversations: they recorded everything. They were trying to protect themselves and investigate other people.”

Sources of the “Telephone Call”
How does the “telephone call” work?

The “telephone call” is a conventional name for the outcome of lengthy negotiations. We see only the reflection of this process: Calvey’s arrest, his transfer to house arrest, Serebrennikov’s arrest and his release on his own recognizance, Abyzov’s arrest.

I am going to quote my anonymous source verbatim. In this instance, the way he says what he says is as important as what he says.

“Anyone can hit the brakes. It could be Bortnikov. It could be Chaika. But it is the outcome of agreements among people, not an arbitrary decision. They do not do things that way. Maybe new factors have been brought into play, but there has to be someone who wants to negotiate on behalf of the accused person, who appeals on his behalf. He would be told, ‘Okay, fine. But you have to give us such-and-such in exchange.” Then it is a matter of talking with Lebedev [Chief Justice of the Russian Supreme Court] and everything is put into reverse. It could be like, ‘We’ll give up Serebrennikov if you take the heat off Calvey.’ You see, the siloviki are not all on the same side. There is no longer one side. Not even everyone in the FSB or its departments is on the same side. The Constitutional Department fights with the Anti-Terrorism Department. It’s the same thing in the prosecutor’s office and the Investigative Committee. In the Investigative Committee, there is the group loyal to Bastrykin and then they are the boys from the North Caucasus. There are also the guys from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, who are filthy rich but live orderly lives and are also capable of getting things done.

“Anything goes at this level. Why are you inclined to exaggerate how this works? Number One basically does not care about this stuff.”

I should try and explain.

The Investigative Committee and Prosecutor General’s Office are still at serious loggerheads. The conflict has even intensified. It is a personal conflict and a clash of business interests and a fight over resources. The amount of resources has not grown. On the contrary, there are palpably fewer resources. Relations between the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office are currently not just strained, they are intolerably strained.

In court, they take the same side, but those are the rules of the game. If a case has gone to trial, you cannot come out against your colleagues: you would be digging yourself a hole. As a prosecutor, you did not reverse the indictment. You were involved in prolonging the suspect’s custody in remand prison, and you seconded all the motions made by the case investigator. The case investigator, of course, always plays along with the prosecutor. In criminal trials, they are the prosecution.

Even the “groundlings” find it easier to make a deal. The big bosses may be at war with each other, but down on the ground, the workhorses plow away and know the score. There is no love lost for Bastrykin among Investigative Committee officers just as prosecutors are not fond of Chaika. But it is like this everywhere: people like their bosses only when they are standing right in front of them. There is a certain difference, however. Chaika and his deputies at the Prosecutor General’s Office are all former case investigators. They have paid their dues. Bastrykin does not have this background: he is not a criminologist. Their workhorses thus complain about different things. Bastrykin’s underlings complain about incompetence, while prosecutors grouse about their bosses’ passion for business.

The Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office have an innate tendency to divide up into clans, which are defined geographically: there are Circassian clans, Bashkir clans, etc. They are local fraternities of sorts, and they do not go away when someone moves and transfers to a new job. The clans are often at odds with each other. This is something you must always factor in when dealing with Russian law enforcers.

Internal disunity has also been increasing day by day in the conglomerate known as the FSB. Even mid-level officers have trouble getting along. For example, M Directorate, which oversees the Interior Ministry, the Federal Penitentiary Service, and so on, is often combined, in many regions, with the Economic Security Department, and there is a big problem with compatibility in terms of the cases they pursue. But there is also K Directorate, aka the 8th Directorate, which oversees banks and the financial system. Regarded as “blue bloods,” they are strongly disliked by other FSB officers.

“A guy from K Directorate worked out at the World Class gym where I worked out. His driver took him to work in a Maybach. Now he has transferred his membership to the gym in Zhukovka. A membership there costs 600,000 rubles a year [approx. $9,500] and the swimming pool is filled with mineral water. ‘My clients work out there,’ he said to me, ‘so I moved my membership there,'” an athlete and retired FSB veteran told me.

The FSB’s Constitutional and Anti-Terrorism Departments are a whole other story. They oversee everyone who has any dealings with the opposition and they inspire no confidence whatsoever. For example, I am flattered Kirill Serebrennikov and I are overseen by the same FSB officers. But we are overseen by officers from the Constitutional Department, while the Anti-Terrorism Department are working-class blokes who specialize in completely different cases. They were merged into a single directorate in which the Anti-Terrorism Department, supposedly, is subordinated to the Constitutional Department. Naturally, they cannot stand each other.

What about the top bosses? They are busy with other things, which is why they are in charge. They are busy with politicking and intrigues. These quiet squabbles surface as cases like the recent arrest of Colonel Kirill Cherkalin from K Directorate. Did he really take a bribe? Maybe he did: anything is possible. It is more likely, however, he was arrested as part of a war for turf, turf that has been shrinking exponentially with every passing day. Fattened cows no longer graze on this turf: there are basically no cows left to milk. The entire herd has been devoured.

What to Expect
I will quote in full the monologue my anonymous source delivered when I asked him about the future. I do no think there is any need to decode it.

“The turbulence will increase. Until all the issues with Russia’s natural gas and its transit through Ukraine are settled, Number One won’t have time for things happening here. They have been outsourced to our guys. They have been told to go and bite everyone’s heads off. They have temporary permission to do it.

“But there are few fat cats. All the money has been sent abroad. Everyone is living on loans. All of Rublyovka is up to their ears in loans. There will be searches in some people’s homes, and some folks will be ripped to shreds. There will be a lot of this kind of stuff this year. The government will be purged, too. People love this sort of thing.

“Abyzov made no impression on anyone. No one understood what it was about. The only thing people will remember is that he offered to pay a billion rubles in bail. No one will forget him and the billion rubles.

“Circumstances are such that even the system’s insiders cannot make any forecasts. The settings are changing constantly. There is no stable paradigm.

“It is like with water. At room temperature, we understand how it acts. You can stick your finger in it and blow on it. But now it is being warmed. It has not boiled yet and vaporized, but you do not know what to do with it and how it will act next.

“The tax police are busy with major shakedowns. They are kicking everyone’s ass. When we ask them why they are doing it, they reply, ‘Crimea is ours, and our job is to get people to make additional payments.’ But additional payments and penalties are different things, especially penalties meant to wipe people out. They are going after people’s last rubles.

“I have a friend who works as a business court judge on tax cases. Whereas earlier, when she would be asked why she reduced a claim from one hundred million rubles to ten million, she could have an off-the-record chat with the head judge of the court and explain she was doing it so the person could keep their business, such chats are not kosher nowadays.

“Hard times are coming. The Syrian project fell through, and Russia failed to get control of the pipeline going through Turkey. Nothing that was planned in Syria has worked out, and both the South Stream and Nord Stream projects fell through [sic]. Nor will they replace the Ukrainian transit, although that was the goal. But it impossible to exit Syria, and now they have butted their noses in Venezuela. Their luck has been bad. People’s nerves are on edge up top.

“Number One is interested only in oil and gas, and so other parties have got involved in the game. If it were up to Number One, he would crush everyone and no one would breathe another word. He probably decided the lower ranks should take care of this stuff themselves. The very top bosses are not concerned with these matters at all right now. The lower ranks are running things and a huge amount of haggling has been happening.  We are witnessing a classic turf war.”

Welcome to the magical world of turbulence in a pot of boiling water.

Olga Romanova is the director of Russia Behind Bars, a charitable foundation that aids Russian convicts and their families, people who have been victimized by the Russian justice system. Translated by the Russian Reader

Denis Sokolov: Police Feudalism in Russia

medievalA scene from a protest against the government’s raising the pension age, September 9, 2018, Saint Petersburg. Photo by Anton Vaganov. Courtesy of Reuters and Republic

Police Feudalism
Denis Sokolov
Republic
July 15, 2019

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, former head of Ingushetia, was “upmoted” to the Defense Ministry, but Russia’s police machine has continued to persecute protesters in Ingushetia. On July 12, Rashid Maysigov, a correspondent with the website Fortanga, was arrested. When police searched his house, they found, allegedly, the now-obligatory “package containing a white substance” and—apparently, to make the image of Maysigov as a troublemaker complete—leaflets calling for Ingushetia’s annexation by Georgia lying on a coffee table. In the wee hours of July 13, Zarifa Sautiyeva, deputy director of the Memorial for the Victims of Repressions in Nazran, was arrested. Sautiyeva has risen to prominence as one of the female leaders at the protest rallies in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, in 2018–2019. Sautiyeva was charged with complicity in violence against the authorities. This is the first case when a woman has been sent to the remand prison in Nalchik, in neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, as part of the continuing investigation of the Ingushetian protests. On July 14, Russia’s federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor blocked Fortanga, the main source of news about the protests.

zarifa sautiyevaZarifa Sautiyeva. Courtesy of Caucasian Knot

What’s Good for Jupiter
There is one thing the arrests of Ingush and Circassian activists, the searches in the homes of people who protested construction of a church in a Yekaterinburg park, the fines meted out to people who marched in solidarity with Ivan Golunov on June 12, the New Greatness case, the arrests for “extremist” posts on the VK social network, and the harsh arrests of protesters outside the Moscow City Elections Committee on Sunday have in common.

None of them have anything to do with keeping the peace and administering justice. They are rituals meant to mark the territory of a class. Equipped with firearms and badges, Russia’s new service aristocracy enthusiastically shows unarmed civilians without badges their place.  The statistics for “ritual” criminal charges—drugs charges, “extremism” charges, and weapons possession charges—speak for themselves. The willingness of law enforcement officers to beat up arrestees harks back to hazing in army barracks and the prison practice of “registering” new inmates by ritually humiliating them.

Russia’s political elite—the siloviki, the officials who control financial flows, organized criminals, and insider businessmen—live by other rules. They are governed by other articles in the Russian criminal code and have other means of resolving conflicts. The fight against corruption and economic crimes is the political weapon that has replaced elections up and down Putin’s “power vertical.” The number of criminal cases against high-ranking officials and officers of the Interior Ministry, the FSB, and the GRU has risen exponentially.

Particularly touching are several cases that are interrelated, according to reporters who covered them. The first case involves the arrests of FSB Colonel Kirill Cherkalin and two of his accomplices on April 25, 2019. They were charged with fraud, i.e., they forced a businessman to hand over a share, worth 490 million rubles [approx. $7.8 million], in a company. Cherkalin was also charged with taking an $820,000 bribe for “protection.” The second case is the flight abroad of Valery Miroshnikov, deputy head of the Deposit Insurance Agency (ASV). Allegedly, he and Cherkalin had cooked up a scheme for making money from the restructuring of banks. Finally, there is the arrest of an entire gang of FSB special forces officers and K Directorate officers: they robbed a bank while on duty, so to speak. Several officers from Alpha, the FSB’s special forces unit, decided not to return from an assignment in the North Caucasus, going to ground instead.

Now that is the sporting life, the life of a medieval knight. A jail sentence for posting the “wrong” thing on social media or attending a peaceable protest rally cannot compare. What is good for Jupiter is bad for the bull. The new division of Russia into quasi-medieval estates is borne out by the fact that, unlike their victims, police officers get suspended sentences for cooking up “drugs” cases, not actual prison time.

The number of businessmen who have been “skimmed” by being charged with economic crimes has skyrocketed. In a report entitled “The Fortress Subsides,” Kirill Rogov recently cited data on the sharp increase in the number of economic crimes investigated by the FSB. We do not need statistics, however, to understand the implications of the attack on Sergei Petrov, the arrest of Michael Calvey, and similar cases.

The Siloviki Revolution
What we are talking about is not the ruling regime’s collapse but its logical evolution, the emergence of a new Russian state. The runaway growth of cases in which criminal prosecution has been used to combat competitors and extract feudal rent from various social groups, including grassroots activists, businessmen, and other siloviki and officials, could point to a qualitative transformation of the social order in Russia. Eliminating competitors for fiefs can, however, be regarded as a form of political competition, while squeezing rents from vanquished regions and sectors is something akin to the victor tasting the fruits of victory. This is borne out by Vladimir Vasilyev’s administration of Dagestan, where the new order entailed a complete purge of the regional bureaucracy and an invasion of officials from more advanced Tatarstan. In other regions, on the contrary, the siloviki revolution has come off more quietly.

The actions of the special services in Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other regions of Russia enables us to make certain generalizations about the new political reality.

First, Russian law enforcement’s apparatus of violence has gradually turned into a ritual apparatus of violence. Planting drugs, “extremist” pamphlets, ammunition or (when a system insider has been targeted for arrest) marked bills on victims has nothing to do with real criminal investigations. They are parts of the arrest ritual, informal parts of the processual code. All that remains is for the State Duma to draft the relevant amendments and vote them into law. Aside from the main program, the arrest ritual contains supplementary messages for the civilian populace: “We will arrest your women,” “We will beat your children and send them to jail,” “All resistance to the punitive machine will be punished disproportionately,” “When a regional head is dismissed or a journalist is released, it does not mean protesters have won,” and so on.

Second, in recent years, the Russian state has been reduced to a police apparatus of violence. All other branches of government are its appendages and palace retinue. At the same time, the state has devised a completely modern media policy. Field officers arrest the regime’s undesirables, and the press services of the security forces voice the “official position” while anonymous Telegram channels, social media forums, and dubious websites leak the “real” reasons for the arrests to the hoi polloi.

For example, the Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko was arrested for possession of marijuana. The police who detained him rubbed his hands in the weed just in case, while the Telegram channels that get their information from law enforcement authorities told readers about Kochesoko’s links with foreign foundations and his dangerous love for federalism.

Third, the police machine is hierarchical, and it is organized on the principle of feudal vassalage. Each police unit has its own turf, its own sectors, its own fief, whether it is a bank, an oil company, the Deposit Insurance Agency, the war in Donbas or the Chinese markets in Moscow. This fief should automatically become a hereditary or corporate fiefdom. Ingush law enforcement officers cannot operate in Moscow or neighboring republics without getting special permission. Zarifa Sautieyva was arrested only when she showed up in her home region. Moscow avoids meddling in the affairs of vassals for no good reason. Ramzan Kadyrov wants jurisdiction over all Chechens, including Chechens in exile, and he gets it.

Fourth, Moscow can recall regional governors and replace one viceroy with another, but the Kremlin has no intention of stopping the punitive machine because there is nothing else left of the state. The inert, corrupt, and hierarchical police machine has become the caste of security forces (siloviki), a parody of medieval knights. Initially, it saw itself as owning all of Russia; later, it has divided the country into fiefdoms according to unwritten rules. It is not only the Kremlin that wants it this way. Russia’s punitive machine has an “on” switch, but no “off” switch. The only recent exception to this rule is the Ivan Golunov case. This case had many idiosyncrasies, however. His supporters were able to free the arrest reporter partly by following the special rules for the regime’s insiders.

Finally, police feudalism and the Russian state are the same things. When protesters appeal to the Russian constitution and the rule of law, the state regards this as an attack on its sovereignty. The constitution, the courts, and the laws belong to the state. The state or, rather, its beneficiaries will do as they like with these privatized institutions. This machine can be employed for private commercial ends or political goals, but it is forbidden to change the regime and disband the service aristocracy.

Feudal Zombies
If these generalizations are valid, we must thoroughly reexamine the strategies of ethnic and grassroots movements. It is naive and pointless to seek justice from the Leviathan.

Ethnic movements can never find support in the current system because a police state is unable to negotiate. It simply does not have the option of negotiating with unarmed people who are not endowed with the proper authority in the shape of badges. Therefore, the most reasonable demand made by the Ingush activists so far is the demand to release political prisoners. They must be freed from the punitive system’s jurisdiction.

We can say the same thing about grassroots movements, authentic local government, and democratic elections. They are possible only in the absence of police feudalism. Tackling Russia’s new service aristocracy is a separate, thorny issue that neither Putin nor the person who succeeds him can solve even if they wanted to solve it. The system is not amenable to reform. It can only shrink, gradually devouring itself.

Police feudalism is so obsolete, however, it is hard to imagine it will be able to maintain itself for long. We need to think about how to organize public life without these time travelers from the past; we must know what to do when this army of skeletons vanishes into thin air. As soon as we have a notion of what institutions and public organizations are needed, how much it would cost to build them, and who would be ready to invest in new political projects, this will happen spontaneously and inevitably.

Translated by Thomas Campbell

Alexander Podrabinek: Murder in Tyumen

“Russian counter-terrorism police say they prevented an imminent Islamic State attack in the Siberian city of Tyumen, as two armed terror suspects were eliminated in an intense raid with heavy gunfire and explosions. The militants, who were holed up in a private home, refused to lay down their arms and opened fire at the law enforcement on Friday. ‘They were neutralized during a gunfight,’ the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAC) said. There were no casualties among civilians and security personnel as a result of the exchange of fire. The terrorists were planning an attack in [a] public place in the city and the decision to launch an operation was made swiftly, the NAC said. Numerous unconfirmed videos on social media appeared to show the nighttime operation in full swing, with heavy gunfire, a building on fire, and a score of police cars and military vehicles amassed in the streets.” Published on April 12, 2019, by user AS2017

Murder in Tyumen
Alexander Podrabinek
Grani.ru
April 14, 2019

The killing of two suspected terrorists in Tyumen has been spun as a showcase counter-terrorist operation. It went off without a hitch, that is, you do not count the spontaneous undertaking by curious locals who attempted to livestream it on the internet. On the other hand, Tyumen Regional Governor Alexander Moor had lots of nasty things to say about local video bloggers, commentators, and social media users.

On Friday, security forces cordoned off the area around Amur Street in Tyumen. They claimed two Islamic State terrorists had holed themselves up in a private house in the street. The cordoned-off area was declared a counter-terrorist operation zone, and approximately one hundred local residents were forcibly evacuated from the area. I think it superfluous to ask whether the suspected terrorists noticed the evacuation or not. If the terrorists had been real terrorists and the operation itself risky, not a staged textbook operation, the security forces would have tried to use the element of surprise. But no, all possible eyewitnesses were first removed from nearby houses, and only then did the security force go after the “terrorists.”

tyumen“Counter-terrorism operation” in Tyumen. Photo by Maxim Slutsky. Courtesy of TASS

The two people who had been designated terrorists were killed, of course. Half of their one-storey wooden house was burnt to the ground. This makes sense: the fire destroyed inconvenient evidence. The Russian Investigative Committee reported that two machine guns, two explosive devices, and religious pamphlets were found in the house, along with twenty-first-century weaponry in the shape of electronic devices. In short, they predictably found the usual kit of the modern “terrorist.”

Surprisingly, the fire did not damage the damning evidence. The explosive devices did not explode, the religious pamphlets were not reduced to ashes, the smartphones did not melt. If we recall that in many other cases the Russian security forces planted weapons and narcotics on “suspects,” nothing surprising happened. The “clues” the investigators need will be entered into physical evidence, while the stuff it does not need will not be registered anywhere.

We might learn the identities of the dead men in the coming days. Someone must have known them, and someone will tell us about them. The security forces identify them as “terrorists,” but the charges filed are not for terrorism, but conspiracy to murder and attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. This is odd, as is the fact that the FSB carried out the counter-terrorist operation, while the Investigative Committee has headed the investigation.

The Investigative Committee and FSB claim the “terrorists” were Islamic State members who were planning massacres in public places. They have not made any details of the case public, much less the overall circumstances. We are asked to take their word on it, although after the “bags of sugar” in Ryazan, Alexander Litvinenko’s murder, the attempted assassination of the Skripals, and many other exploits, the security forces cannot imagine the public will trust them.

The Tyumen “terrorists” have been accused of conspiracy to commit a crime (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 30), but they were unable to commit any crimes because their lives were taken. Along with their lives, they were deprived of the chance to defend themselves and attempt to prove their innocence in court.

Is it possible they were real terrorists and eliminating them was necessary to ensure the safety of others? Of course, it is possible. On the other hand, are we not aware of numerous instances when the security forces provoked crimes only to kill the “suspects” while covering their tracks—their own tracks more than the tracks of the “criminals”? I have in mind not only the crimes of the NKVD but also the events of the past two decades, especially in Dagestan and the rest of the North Caucasus?

One of the most telling examples of this kind was the so-called Nord-Ost hostage crisis at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow in 2002. While freeing the hostages, the security forces killed all thirty-six terrorists. Most of them were killed by being shot in the back of the head while lying unconscious, knocked out by the poisonous gas the special forces released in the theater’s auditorium. They thus got rid of the defendants and the need for a trial, a trial during which parts of the story that shed an unflattering light on the regime could have come out.

Heir of the old Soviet ways, the current regime has aspired to conduct all cases and campaigns against people who have opposed it under arms and people who have fought it with words and people who have been the accidental victims of deliberate provocations by the security services in secret. Reporters are not allowed into counter-terrorist operation zones, inconvenient eyewitnesses are rubbed out, defense attorneys are made to sign nondisclosure agreements, and court trials are held in closed chambers.

Consequently, we have no reliable means of judging whether a particular individual has committed a crime or not. We are well aware, however, that despotism and lawlessness are fond of silence but no friends of publicity. We have been through this before. So, every time a clandestine operation is carried out, every time “criminals” and witnesses are eliminated, and every time a trial is heard in closed chambers, we have every reason to suspect the security forces of provocation, dishonesty, and fraud.

Thanks to Nastia Nek for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Torture First, Ask Questions Later (The Case of Azat Miftakhov)

азатAzat Miftakhov. Courtesy of Autonomous Action

Detained Moscow State University Mechanics and Mathematics Grad Student Tells Lawyer Security Forces Beat Him
Mediazona
February 3, 2019

Defense lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina reported to Mediazona that Azat Miftakhov, a graduate student in the mechanics and mathematics department at Moscow State University, told her he was beaten by security forces officers after they detained him.

“In the office [at the Balashikha police station — Mediazona] where he was held, they demanded he confess and were upset he asked to call family members or a lawyer. As he told me, one of the officers pressed an object that appeared to be a screwdriver to his chest and said he would use it if [Miftakhov] did not do as they asked,” Sidorkina told us.

“Then he was beaten on the arms and face. As [Miftakhov] said, they kicked and punched him in the chest. But there were no visible injuries. Then [one of the security forces officers]  wanted to stick the screwdriver in his anus. [Miftakhov] took the threat seriously, but [the officers] did nothing. Ultimately, [Miftakhov] did not tell them anything nor did he sign a confession,” said Sidorkina.

She noted that, aside from a bruise on Azat’s ear and a mark made by the screwdriver, there were no visible injuries on his body.

Miftakhov did not know what security agency the men who beat him represented.

Sidorkina added that Miftakhov was detained as part of an investigation into a violation of Russian Criminal Code Article 223.1 Part 1 (illegal manufacture of explosives).

According to Sidorkina, Miftakhov was detained on the morning of February 1. After his dwelling was searched, he was delivered to the Balashikha police station. In the evening, after he was interrogated by security services officers, he was taken to hospital, where he was treated for abrasions from the screwdriver and injected with a sedative. He was driven back to the police station, but held in the car until three in the morning.

Sidorkina suspects the security forces did not know how to charge the detained graduate student.

Ultimately, Miftakhov was placed in a room for people detained on administrative charges in the Balashikha police station’s other building, which houses its investigative department.

On the morning of February 2, however, he was taken back to the first building. According to Miftakhov, he was held in a office there for the entire day, but he was handcuffed. Around seven o’clock in the evening, he was driven back to the Balashikha police station’s investigative department, where the written record of his detention was read out to him.

At least eleven other people were detained as part of the explosives investigation. Except for Miftakhov, all of them have been released.

Mediazona has spoken with six of the former detainees. Daniil Galkin told us that, after the search, FSB officers tortured him with a taser and tried to force him into testifying against Miftakhov and doing an interview with a news crew from Channel One.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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

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

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

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

Details of our London event here.

2018 summary

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

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

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

The Network Case

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

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

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

What to read:

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

What else you need to know about this case:

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

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

The case of anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev

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

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

What to read:

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

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

What else you need to know about this case:

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

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

Torture of anarchists in Chelyabinsk

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

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

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

What to read:

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

What else you need to know about this case:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to read:

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

What else you need to know about this case:

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

Torture of Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin

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

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

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

What to read:

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

Torture in December. (Link in Russian.)

What else you need to know about this case:

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

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

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

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

What to read:

“Vyacheslav Lukichev: interrogated for 36 hours and beaten”

What else you need to know about this case:

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

What else happened this year?

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

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

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

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

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

Moloko plus siloviki

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on defending Russian political prisoners:

 The Rupression site

 “Convoyed”, on The Russian Reader

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

It Was a Joke

rostovpapaRussians do not swallow the regime’s propaganda hook, line and sinker, argues Ivan Mikirtumov, but use it to guide their public behavior. Photo by the Russian Reader

Why the Russian President Made Fun of Russian Propaganda
Ivan Mikirtumov
Vedomosti
October 22, 2018

Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 18, Vladimir Putin told his audience the punchline of what would later emerge as a “funny” joke about nuclear war.

“As martyrs, we will go to heaven, and they will simply croak, because they won’t even have time to repent,” said Putin.

Judging by the overall reaction, the joke has been a success.

The genre of the humorous anecdote, including the political anecdote, was typical of the Soviet period, that is, of a communist dictatorship in the midst of the Cold War. Unlike texts and drawings, anecdotes were an oral genre and, therefore, were relatively harmless to disseminate. The technical difficulties of proving someone had told a joke made it a less than reliable tool for snitching on other people. This sometimes had to do with the content. If you wanted to inform on someone who had told you a joke about Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, the KGB, the Politburo, etc., then likely as not you would have had to quote in writing what you had heard or, at any rate, admit you knew the joke. Under certain circumstances, however, this knowledge could be used against you.

In post-Stalinist times, people were rarely punished for telling jokes. Jokes were widespread in Soviet culture, achieving exceptional heights of wit and observation. Jokes could be used to track public opinion, since they reflected society’s critical self-consciousness. Jokes were a form of feedback, but by virtue of its unique incompetence the Soviet regime ignored them, too.

Everything dangerous, hostile, evil, harmful, stupid, and meaningless is made into a figure of fun when it fails and falls through. People do not laugh at things that are huge and horrible until they are rendered pitiful, proven weak, and shown to be a sham. Stalin gave people little occasion to laugh, because he rarely failed, but the leaders of the late-Soviet period and the entire Soviet system were perfect targets for jokes and other species of ridicule. It is said Brezhnev was smart enough to laugh at jokes about himself, but it was not something he did publicly.

Putin told his audience the punchline of a joke whose opening line we can imagine as an oral exam question at the General Staff Academy, a question asked by the examiner in a room adorned with framed photographs of the commander-in-chief and the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

“Tell me, how will the outcome of a nuclear war differ for Russians and people in western countries?

Why is it that Putin’s answer to this imaginary question might seem funny? What was he ridiculing?

Mentioning heaven, martyrdom, and repentance in a military context in Russia, a country in which cynicism has reigned supreme, is tantamount to a direct attack on official religiosity, as instilled by the regime, a religiosity that has become dreadfully tiresome to everyone. The notion Russians will go to heaven wholesale, whether they believe in God or not, whether they are religious believers of any denomination at all, and whether they are vicious or virtuous, is tantamount to a scathing parody of religious beliefs.

Nuclear war is the business of the military. It thus transpires souls are saved and people canonized as martyrs at the behest of the Russian army’s top brass. With Putin in charge of it, heaven promises to be something like an army barracks, so the entire satire on martyrdom and salvation was performed as a “humorous shtick” of the sort favored by Russia’s siloviki.

What do generals have to say about the soul’s salvation? They say what they are supposed to say, as they gaze at the patriarch’s framed photograph on the wall.

Recently, General Zolotov and the two heroic Russian tourists who took a trip to Salisbury this past March found themselves in the limelight nearly at the same time. We can easily imagine these men holding forth on heaven, martyrdom, and repentance. Putin’s joke was clearly a sendup of the symbiosis between state-imposed religiosity and militarism, a crucial concept in current Russian agitprop.

It is short step from a joke like this to jokes about Orthodox secret policemen, monarchist communists, sovereign democracy, the Kiev “junta,” the US State Department’s vials and cookies, and ritual murders, performed by Jews, of course, on Orthodox babies (and the tsar’s entire family in the bargain), and so on. During the years of Putin’s rule, a whole Mont Blanc of drivel has sprung up, and whole hosts of freaks have come out of the woodwork. It is simply amazing there are still so few jokes about Putin and Putinism in circulation, but now, I imagine, things will kick off, since the main character in these jokes has taken the bull by the horns.

This does not mean, of course, that, by artfully telling his joke, Putin meant to take the piss out of himself and his regime. We are dealing here with the long-familiar militarist bravado summed up by the saying “Broads will give birth to new soldiers,” with the teenage frivolity typical of the siloviki, a frivolity they enjoy acting out.

“We’ll wipe the floor with them,” as they would say.

If, however, Putin was publicly ridiculing the concept behind current state propaganda, we are confronted with a bad joke, a bad joke told to the selfsame ordinary Russians who are targets of the propaganda so ridiculed, while the guy who made the cute joke is the same guy who presides over production of this propaganda and benefits from it.

The rules of the genre have been violated, for now it is the audience, the public that has been ridiculed. Clearly, Russia’s ruling elite despises the people it attempts to manipulate, and the propagandists sometimes laugh themselves silly backstage after they have concocted a particularly nimble con.

I don’t think Russians are gulled by the Kremlin’s propaganda. Rather, they register the messages transmitted to them by the regime as signals telling them what to say and do in certain circumstances. This lovely consensus is destroyed when the concept underpinning the propaganda has been publicly turned into a laughingstock, because people who have been pretending in recent years that they take it seriously find themselves in an awkward situation. They have lost face, having themselves been made ludicrous.

How, then, do they answer the question as to why they played along with the regime in its efforts to gull them? The only plausible explanation for this behavior is shameful thoughtlessness, fear, and impotence, things to which no one wants to admit.

Ivan Mikirtumov is a visiting lecturer at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Wires

DSCN1673This is what you will typically see when you look up at the sky in central Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

One thing I find especially charming about certain Russians, often academics, who have lived for decades in “straunge strondes” (чужбина), is their conviction, now that the current “vegan” times have permitted them to make occasional and even annual junkets back to the Motherland, that life here is now nearly the same in every respect as back in the straunge strondes.

I’ll leave to one side the political aspects of this queer conviction, focusing instead on a single aspect of everyday life. I’ve heard it said a million times by many a Russian not resident in God’s Heavenly Kingdom on Earth full time or even part time (really) that wi-fi and internet connections here are the top of the pops, so much better than wherever they live, surrounded by black people and Mexicans and uncultured rednecks.

I have to admit that, outside of Russia, my only experience of wi-fi and internet connections over the last ten years or so has been places in the States and elswhere where I’ve stayed for short stretches, including my parents’ farm, my sister’s house in a big city in the Midwest, and the apartments of friends in other cities and countries, as well as my own secret hideout in Free Finland.

In all these places, I enjoyed shockingly fast, nearly outage-free internet and wi-fi connections. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times there were full-fledged outages in Free Finland, and all of them were sorted out in a matter of an hour or two, if not in a few minutes, with the sincerest of apologies by my Finnish providers.

As for the Cradle of Three Revolutions, everything was cool and seemingly getting cooler until sometime in the past year when, I suspect, the FSB placed so many demands, both physical and financial, on internet providers, that they are now no longer capable of doing routine maintenance on their networks and upgrading their hardware and software, despite the growing demand for their services on the part of the taxpaying and fee-paying populace.

But the ISPs serve a higher power—the siloviki—who are so out of their minds right now as to imagine you can organize a revolution on VK by reposting pictures of Nazis and Navalny or something of the sort. They thus have to have ever-increasing capacities for surveilling the peons they rule over like medieval liege lords (or so they imagine), and they have tasked the country’s internet providers with giving them lots of electronic windows into the souls of these traitorious worms.

At least, I hope this is the case, because otherwise the sheer misery and torment visited on us since approximately last spring by our once faithful internet provider, long ago swallowed up by another company from Moscow and bereft of all the charms and virtues it had back in the days when I was one of its first customers, are inexplicable.

Suffice it to say that one look at the junction box in our attic will tell you tell that, in fact, is where the problem lies, and yet every time our internet goes under, which can be several times a day, the mumblers who man the phones at our provider’s tech support service run us through the same routines, all meant to persuade us morons that the problem is with our computers or even with our ignorant selves, not with the woeful state of the junction box in the attic or farther down the line.

Things turn from irritating to tragicomic when our provider sends an actual person to fix the mess. Nearly all of them (at this point, a dozen or so have darkened our door since spring) start out by ringing the changes on our wi-fi router, which supposedly has to be replaced, or the plastic snap connector on the end of the broadband cable or the cable itself.

If we can induce them to go up into the attic and open the junction box or just look at the junction box, which has wires poking out from in in all directions, like a Dalek gone south, they break down and admit the problem is on their end. If they’re kind and competent, they might apply a temporary fix by switching out a couple of cables in the box.

Then we have the joy of living humanity’s shared electronic life for an hour or two, or day or three, or, god forbid, a whole week. Sooner or later, though, the plug will be pulled on our meager joy, and our provider, unable or unwilling to give us the real explanation for the problem (our junction box? their servers back at the head office? SORM?), will plunge us back into their rehearsed routine of selling snake oil to their loyal customers, their nerves shattered, their hearts broken, their ability to do their own work suspended indefinitely.

I think all of us who actually live in the real Russia full time could make a list of the country’s practical shortcomings, without once touching on politics per se, and the list would be long and sobering and, occasionally, incredibly frightening.

But the crypto-Putinists who teach at places like Berkeley and don’t really live here never or hardly ever deal with this failed state, nor do they want to have the really hard talk about how nearly all of these eminently practical failures are caused, ultimately, by wildly bad governance and poisonous, sometimes deadly politics.

And what is the point of having that talk with them? They’ll only get testy and resort to whataboutism, the last refuge of scoundrels. {TRR}

Valery Rashkin: The Return of the Oprichniki

1024px-0NevrevNV_Oprichniki_BISHNikolai Nevrev, Oprichniki, 1870s. Oil on canvas, 102 cm x 152 cm. Courtesy of the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Pillaging the Opposition
Valery Rashkin
Echo of Moscow
June 21, 2018

The Russian Supreme Court has ruled law enforcement and secret service officers can confiscate without a court order personal property used in the commission of terrorist and “extremist” crimes. The items that can be confiscated include computers, cell phones, and office equipment. This means personal property can be seized without payment of compensation and made the property of the state.

Can you believe it? The times of Ivan the Terrible have resurfaced. Courtesy of the state, Russia’s siloviki have been transformed into oprichniki and robbers. The ruling is completely unlawful, considering what passes for “extremist” crimes. Such criminal cases are usually frame-ups. They are so absurd they make you laugh and shudder at the same time.

The state has mandated law enforcers to hark back to the old system of remuneration (kormlenie, literally, “feeding”): the more “extremism” charges you file, the more iPhones and computers you can get your hands on. It is tantamount to legalized enrichment at the opposition’s expense. Moreover, even if the person who was criminally prosecuted is pardoned, their property will not be returned.

Don’t write nasty things about the regime on the VK social network, my dears, or the regime will fleece the living daylights out of you. Given the importance and high cost of electronic communications devices in our day and age, that is what it amounts to. The top brass, apparently, has decided that if people aren’t afraid of going to jail, they will intimidate them with the threat of robbery. I wonder who hatched this humiliating plan.

The rationale of hitting people in their wallets, enacted several years ago when fines for involvement in “unauthorized” demonstrations were increased precipitously, has gone beyond legal boundaries. Nothing of the sort exists in European countries: after a criminal investigation is wrapped, the accused has their property restored to them, nor are people are tried as felons for writing posts on social networks.

Naturally, the new dispensation is useless when it comes to deterring terrorists. The risks undertaken by an individual who rigs an explosive device and plots a terrorist attack are completely incommensurable with the risks taken by someone who posts a link to a book banned by the Prosecutor General or a satirical picture. In the first case, the criminals knowingly risk their lives and could not care less what happens to their property, while in the second case people do not even realize they are breaking the law.

Considering the vagueness of the anti-“extremist” laws and the way they are liberally interpreted and employed by law enforcement, the confiscation of property belonging to so-called extremists will only exacerbate the confrontation between the security services and ordinary Russians.

The advantages of the new measure are questionable, while the harm it will cause is obvious.

Valery Rashkin is a Communist MP in the Russian State Duma. Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia Set to Fall Further Behind US in Terms of Living Standards

DSCN2995“Change Yourself for the Better.” If you read the following article, about the OECD’s forecast for economic growth in Russia, between the lines, you will discover a takeaway message that has been apparent to numerous observers for a long time. Until Russia does away with official kleptocracy, rampant corruption, outrageously bad governance, and the shock-and-awe policing of politics and business by the siloviki—i.e., unless it renounces Putinism and all its ways—there is little chance the living standards of ordinary Russians will improve much in the next forty years. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russia Set to Fall Further Behind US in Terms of Living Standards
OECD’s Experts Have Predicted the Futures of the World’s Major Economies
Tatyana Lomskaya
Vedomosti
March 7, 2018

Russia is one of the few member states and parters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in which real per capita GDP will fall by 2060 relative to the benchmark, the United States, according to an OECD reported entitled “Long-Term Prospects: Scenarios for the World Economy, 2060.” Vedomosti has had access to the eport. A source at the OECD confirmed its authenticity while noting it was a preliminary draft.

In the absence of reforms, Russia’s per capita GDP will grow only 0.7% in the next twelve years, predict OECD economists. The stumbling block is low workforce productivity. In recent years, it has not increased at all, and it will accelerate to a mere 0.5% in the period 2018–2030. Another brake on economic growth is poor demography: the economically active and able-bodied segment of the populace has been declining. By way of comparison, due to its positive demographic circumstances, Turkey’s standard of living will increase considerably by 2060 to about three fourths of the figures for the US, write the report’s authors.  In Russia, it will increase to 40% of the benchmark before decreasing slightly.

It is hard not concur with the diagnosis, notes Alexander Isakov, VTB Capital’s chief economist for Russia. Demography and workforce productivity are the biggest constraints on economic growth in Russia.

In his March 1, 2018, address to the Federal Assembly, President Putin promised to increase per capita GDP by 50% by 2025. He said = Russia must firmly gain a foothold among the world’s top five economies by then. Putin meant GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP), Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin explained on the TV program Pozner. According to the IMF, Russia is now in sixth place in terms of GDP (PPP), four percent points behind Germany. The goal is to “bypass Germany,” explained the minister.

The goal can be brought within reach by applying active budgetary (e.g., tax cuts and increases in oil and gas costs) and monetary (e.g., lending) stimuli, says Kirill Tremasov, director of the analytics department at Locko Invest, but this is fraught with great risks.

Without reforms, Russian and the other BRICS countries will slow the growth of the world’s real GDP for forty years beginning in 2019, warn the report’s authors. To accelerate growth, they must increase workforce productivity by reforming governance, increasing the duration of schooling, and reducing trade tariffs.

If during the period 2020–2060, the BRICS countries develop the rule of law (which the World Bank evaluates on a scale from minus two to plus two), increase schooling to the median level of the OECD countries, and decrease trade tariffs to OECD median levels by 2030, the growth of per capita GDP will be 25% to 40% higher than in the baseline scenario. A key factor is governance reforms: combating corruption, improving law enforcement and the judiciary, increasing the efficiency of the civil service, and involving ordinary citizens more actively in politics.

The report notes this is especially important for Russia. Among the BRICS countries, Russia has the worst score for rule of law (-0.8) and the best score for average length of schooling (10.8 years). The Russian civil service has been adapted to the current political system, which assumes maximum centralization and the absence of political competition. Tremasov is skeptical: it is impossible and pointless to reform the civil service without democratizing the political system.

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“How Living Standards Will Change: The OECD’s Baseline Scenario. Real Per Capita GDP at Purchasing Power Parity in 2010 Prices (US=100).” The blue horizontal lines represent predicted outcomes for 2018; the red lines, predicted figures for 2060. The countries included in the survey, as  listed from top to bottom, are Brazil, Russia, Turkey, Poland, Italy, France, Great Britain, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, and Ireland. Source: Preliminary Calculations from the OECD. Courtesy of Vedomosti

In his May 2012 decrees, Putin charged the government with increasing workforce productivity by one and a half times by 2018, but it had increased only by 3.8% as of 2016. Minister Oreshkin listed the obstacles: underinvestment, insufficiently developed infrastructure, and a lack of resources to upgrade productive assets.

Managers do not have a “culture of constantly improving efficiency and productivity,” he complained.

Workforce productivity is indeed the main obstacle to economic growth, but an increase of investments is needed in order to increase it, notes Natalya Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank. In 2017, about 50% of the increased investments in Russia were due to the extractive resources sector, although the bulk of GDP is generated in other sectors, says Orlova. Investments in agriculture grew by a mere 1.3%, fell in manufacturing and construction, and the commercial sector crashed altogther, falling 9.7%. Investment growth has been hindered by economic and geopolitical uncertainty, and the government has an ever harder time of reducing that uncertaintlywith sanctions in place, notes Orlova. Business, on the contrary, needs guarantees the rules of the game will not change for a long time.

Growth in productivity is impossible without increased competition, Tremasov points out. It is competition that compels companies to introduce new technology, reduce costs, and improve management. The more intense the competition in a sector, the higher the productivity, he notes, citing the retail trade and metallurgy as examples. Therefore, the main means of increasing economic efficiency is reducing the state’s share in the economy, argues Tremasov, as well as attracting foreign investors, reforming the judiciary, and reining in the security services [siloviki].

Measures to improve the country’s demographic circumstances will bear fruit in twenty-five years, when the corresponding generation enters the labor market, notes Isakov. The authorities should thus concentrate on increasing productivity.  If the market functions smoothly, the difference in productivity between companies in the same industry decreases, he argues, because they borrow technology and methods from each other, while inefficient companies are forced out of the market. In Russia, on the contrary, differences in productivity within industries are some of the highest in the world, due in part to gray sector employment practices, Isakov concludes.

Economic growth could take off if reforms are implemented, argues Orlova. The Russian economy is currently so inefficient that the jumpstart supplied by reforms would be huge.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Breaking Bad with the FSB

ae8d99e04e9a4f73aaeff376d2df1ed5The Russian Federal Security Service or FSB enjoys breaking doors down in its pursuit of fictitious “extremists” and “terrorists.” Photo courtesy of Pinterest

The FSB Breaks Left
A second anarchist from the mythical organization The Network (Set’) has been remanded to police custody at the request of counterintelligence. Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shiskin are suspected of planning an armed insurrection to seize power
Alexander Yermakov
Fontanka.ru
January 27, 2018

The purge of the anarchist movement in Petersburg is due to no more and no less than alleged plans to violently overthrow Vladimir Putin. This is the background the FSB has invoked as it has arrested the young men. They are accused of involvement in a terrorist association about which the courts, the Justice Ministry, and the National Anti-Terrorist Committee have never heard. 

Anarchist Igor Shishkin was sent to the remand prison on Shpalernaya Street in Petersburg on the evening of January 27. He was detained two days earlier by FSB officers, taken to their regional headquarters on Liteiny Prospect, and interrogated for nearly twenty-four hours, except for short breaks. His interrogators focused on Shishkin’s involvement in the anarchist movement and alleged plans for violent acts whose objective was overthrowing the current government through an armed insurrection.

As someone suspected of involvement in a terrorist network (Criminal Code Article 205.4 Part 2), the 26-year-old Shishkin was detained only this morning. After Petersburg’s Dzerzhinsky District made its ruling, he joined Viktor Filinkov, a 23-year-old programmer and Kazakhstani national, who had been remanded to police custody a day earlier, in the remand prison.

According to investigators, Shiskin, Filinkov, and unidentified persons who espoused the anarchist ideology were involved, allegedly, in the so-called Field of Mars (aka Mars) branch of the terrorist organization The Network no later than August 2016. Their purpose was to plan crimes and engage in terrorist activists that the Criminal Code defines quite clearly: the violent seizure of power and armed insurrection.

There is no mention of The Network (Set’) on the web, unless, of course, you do not count the eponymous organization set up by the pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi. You will also not be able to find The Network in official documents. The Unified Federal List of Terrorist Organizations, as established by court rulings, contains twenty-seven organizations, including foreign and international organizations, but you will not find The Network on the list, a list that is published, in particular, on the websites of the FSB and the National Anti-Terrorist Committee.

Fontanka.ru has learned that the Petersburg anarchists were detained due to possible links with the failed albeit highly publicized “revolution of November 5, 2017,” as promised by Vyacheslav Maltsev, leader of the banned movement Artillery Barrage (Artpodgotovka).

Residents of Russian cities were urged to engage in mass protests. Most of the oppositionists were detained preventively two days before the event. The day passed peacefully in Petersburg, except for the comic arrest of a pacifist in a car chockablock with weapons, and a small gathering near the Smolny, Petersburg city hall. Five people were given jail time for not complying with lawful orders of the police: they refused to show police officers the contents of their bags.

Maltsev himself lives abroad, where he has been granted political asylum, but a wave of detentions has rolled across Russian cities. Among others, the Petersburg native Arman Sagynbayev was arrested in Penza. According to the human rights website OVD Info, Sagynbayev has also been charged with involvement in a terrorist organization. He has, allegedly, made a full confession.

According to our information, FSB officers asked Shiskin and Filinkov whether they knew Sagynbayev. Attorney Igor Mangilev, who has been representing Shishkin, corroborated that a transcript of Sagynbayev’s interrogation was included in the case file used at his client’s remand hearing.  According to other sources, Filinkov and his wife Alexandra, who is currently located in Ukraine, met Sagynbayev around a year ago, in  early 2017.

Criminal charges were filed against Filinkov and Shishkin on January 24, 2018. The case file contains testimony from a large number of witnesses, many of whom are classified.

The media have reported that the FSB managed to chat with another supporter of leftist views [sic], Igor Kapustin. Apparently, he was also interrogated and then released. He has told the press about the threats made by investigators.

Documented proof that the FSB used prohibited methods to pressure a suspect or witness in the case is available only with regard to Filinkov. He was detained on the evening of January 23 at Pulkovo Airport, and was identified formally as a suspect in the case around midnight on January 24. For over a day, he was in the hands of the FSB without any outside oversight. Yesterday, January 26, Filinkov was visited in the remand prison by members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, who filed a report substantiating numerous recent injuries to Filinkov’s body, including burns on his thigh and chest, produced by a electric cattle prod. Filinkov confirmed in writing he had been subjected to violence, and FSB officers had demanded he memorize his testimony and the names of people whom he, allegedly, knew. Attorney Vitaly Cherkasov confirmed to Fontanka.ru that his client was forced to confess his involvement with the Field of Mars branch of the terrorist organization The Network.

Filinkov and Shiskin have been remanded in police custody until March 23, 2018. In all likelihood, theirs will not be the last names on the list of Petersburg “Networkers.” According to our sources, the FSB has possession of electronic media [sic] that Filinkov tossed in trash containers before heading to Pulkovo Airport.

As for Vyacheslav Maltsev, the criminal case against him has been under investigation since November. He has been named as the organizer of a terrorist network (Criminal Code Article 205.4 Clause 1) and has been accused of pubicly calling for extremist actions (Criminal Code Article 280). Several suspects in the Maltsev case have been charged with planning a terrorist attack.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. Although Fontanka.ru has long been Petersburg’s most popular news website (or, at least, it has long claimed to be the city’s most popular website), the foreign reader should bear in mind that its founders, publishers, and editors have backgrounds in military intelligence and the Soviet and Russian police’s criminal investigative divisions. While this has no doubt come in handy over the years and permitted the website’s reporters to do what the name of its founding organization (AZhUR or Investigative Reporting Agency) suggests, there are other times when it is not clear whether Fontanka.ru believes the malarkey which Russia’s so-called siloviki are capable of spinning from whole cloth or whether it is mocking their incompetence. In this article, Fontanka.ru seems to want to have its cake and eat it, too. They suggest the FSB has invented a nonexistent terrorist network from scratch while at the same hinting the FSB has plenty of evidence the young men so far arrested in the case were actually involved in this nonexistent organization. Even a local reader with average intelligence and a healthy amount of skepticism would find this story and how it is reported by Fontanka.ru perplexing, to say the least. TRR