Ivan Davydov: The New Greatness Trial

new greatness.jpegDmitry Poletayev, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and Pyotr Karamzin, defendants in the New Greatness trial, during a court hearing. Photo by Pyotr Kassin. Courtesy of Kommersant and Republic

Russia’s Most Important Trial: The New Greatness Case as a Model of Relations between State and Society
Ivan Davydov
Republic
July 11, 2019

The term “hybrid war” has been in vogue for a while. The folks on Russian TV, who long ago unlearned how to do anything good or, maybe, never knew how to do anything good constantly mention the “hybrid war against Russia.” The term is infectious. At any rate, I have the sense you could not coin a better phrase for describing the Russian state’s attitude toward Russian society.

The Russian state has been waging a hybrid war against Russian society, and it has also been a guerrilla war. It is as if the state has been hiding on the edge of the woods, lying in ambush, sometimes leaving the woods on forays to do something nasty, like hitting someone over the head with a billy club, fining someone, passing a law that defies common sense and threatens the populace or just blurting out something terrifying and stupid. Then it goes to ground in the woods again. The sound of steady chomping is audible and, occasionally, peals of happy laughter.

Russian society sometimes tries to fight back, of course. Actually, society exists only when it tries to fight back. When there is no fightback, there is no society, only confused, atomized individuals whom the “guerrillas,” happily chomping their food in the woods, consider food. Society rarely tries to fight back, and it scores victories even more rarely. This summer, it managed to drag reporter Ivan Golunov out of jail before the guerrillas could chew him up. I cannot recall any other victories.

Although I am mistaken. Last summer, for example, society secured house arrest for the two teenaged girls, Maria Dubovik and Anna Pavlikova, accused in the New Greatness case. They were nearly killed in remand prison, but they were finally released. There was a tidal wave of articles in the press, an angry buzz on the social networks, and a March of Mothers that the authorities decided not to disperse.

It is not clear why: the riot cops would have made short work of the mothers. The tough guys who constitute the rank and file of the OMON would have enjoyed beating up women armed with stuffed animals.

Even Margarita Simonyan emerged from the woods to shout something about the “serious people” in the Kremlin who cut short their summer holidays to make the right decisions. Then it was back to the woods, whence the steady sound of chomping and slurping could be heard.

I still cannot get used to the fact that we in Russia consider house arrest for the victims of police lawlessness a victory for our side and incredibly good luck. I mean to say I understand why people think this way, but I cannot get used to it.

And now all of them—Maria Dubovik, Anna Pavlikova, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Ruslan Kostylenkov, Sergei Gavrilov, Pyotr Karamzin, Maxim Roshchin, and Dmitry Poletayev—are on trial.

Pavel Rebrovsky and Rustam Rustamov have already been convicted. They made a deal with investigators and prosecutors before the case went to trial. They were sentenced to two and a half years in prison and two years probation, respectively.

It is not as if there is no buzz in society about the case, but it amounts to background noise at most. Our society is short of breath: it has enough air in its lungs to make one attempt at resistance. Meanwhile, amazing things have been happening at the trial.

Courtroom Miracles
In brief, the story is that young people who were not entirely happy with their lives shared their thoughts in chat rooms. (By the way, have you ever seen young people who were completely satisfied with their lives? Didn’t you feel like going out of your way to avoid them?)

A nice man emerged in their midst. He suggested they organize a group to fight for everything good and oppose everything bad. They met in real life a couple of times. Prompted by the nice man, they drafted a charter for their movement. The nice man, it transpired, was a police provocateur, and the members of the so-called New Greatness movement were detained by police, not without a certain amount of pomp and ceremony, right before the 2016 presidential election.

And how could the security services get by without pomp and fanfare? They had apprehended dangerous criminals and exposed an entire group of “extremists.” If you believe the case investigators, New Greatness were planning “mandatory participation in popular uprisings, revolutionary actions, [and] clashes with authorities of the current Russian regime.”

Can you imagine someone using the phrase “voluntary participation in popular uprisings”? Security services officers who specialize in such matters have decided to destroy the lives of these unfortunate young people. In fact, they have already destroyed them. But these same security services officers have a slippery grasp of Russian and are not terribly worried whether what they write makes any sense. The takeaway message is that the New Greatness kids have to be sent to prison whatever the cost and the words used to do it play an auxiliary role.

The goings-on at their trial leave no one in doubt that this is the point. None of the defendants has pleaded guilty. Pavel Rebrovsky testified against his friends as part of the pretrial deal he made with prosecutors. In court, he testified he had been promised probation, and so he had agreed to say what state investigators wanted him to say, not tell the court what had actually happened.

“You call me. Do you have Whatsapp? I’ll send you the testimony you need to give in court,” Investigator Anton Malyugin had said to Rebrovsky to encourage him.

I don’t know how to judge Rebrovsky’s actions. It is easy to feign you are an honorable person when you are not locked up in remand prison. Rebrovsky was locked up in remand prison. Nevertheless, the investigator pulled the simplest trick in the book on him. Rebrovsky was sentenced to actual prison time, not probation, but he had the guts to tell the truth in court.

Except the court does not want the truth. Prosecutor Alexandra Andreyeva petitioned the court to examine the witness again, and Judge Alexander Maslov granted her motion. Investigators now have the time they need to explain clearly to the defenseless Rebrovsky how wrong he was to do what he did and what happens to people who pull what he pulled so everything goes smoothly the second time around.

It is vital we know the names of all these people. They should become household names. We should not think of them as generic investigators, judges, and prosecutors, but as Case Investigator Anton Malyugin, Judge Alexander Maslov, and Prosecutor Alexandra Andreyeva, who pulled out all the stops to send these young people down on trumped-up charges.

Rustam Rustamov, whose testimony is also vital to the investigation’s case, mysteriously vanished the day he was scheduled to testify in court. He was in the court building, but he did not appear in court. Apparently, the prosecution decided not to risk putting him on the stand. There are also ways of making a person on probation realize that the desire to tell the truth can be quite costly. It is better to coach the witness properly. There is no hurry.

The Russian State’s Self-Defense
The whole story is quite pointed. The case has been cobbled together haphazardly. This was already clear last year, but now it has become completely obvious. No one plans to retreat, however. When the Russian state’s guerrillas come out of the woods, they always bag their prey. Otherwise, their prey might get funny ideas.

This is a story about decay, you see. It is not that Russia’s law enforcement agencies have nothing else to do. Unfortunately, there are real criminals aplenty. Nor have the Kremlin’s military adventures abroad been a panacea for terrorists. But it has been harder and harder for Russia’s law enforcers to find the time to deal with real criminals and real terrorists.

Recently, a friend’s elderly mother was taken to the cleaners by scammers. When he went to the police, they worked hard to persuade him there was no point even trying to investigate the crime. Everyone remembers the case of the serial poisoner in Moscow, who was released by police after he was detained by passersby. He was apprehended again only when a scandal erupted, the press got involved, and the big bosses voiced their outrage.

Who has the time to work on silly cases like that if you have been ordered to take down a reporter who has been snooping around? And why should you bother when you can “solve” a terrible crime you concocted in the first place and you also had the good sense to detain your homemade “extremists” right before an election?

All you have to do is remove one rotten log from this house for the whole thing to come tumbling down immediately. The Golunov case, which cost several police commanders their jobs, was an excellent illustration of this fact.

By the way, there are no suspects in the new Golunov case, which has been entrusted to the Russian Investigative Committee. The drugs planted themselves on the reporter. They were treacherous drugs. No wonder they say drugs are bad.

The investigators, the judge, and the prosecutor handling the New Greatness case understand this perfectly well. They will use all the means at their disposal to put away the defendants, most of whom have been locked up in remand prison for over a year. As they themselves like to say, it is a matter of honor or, simply put, a matter of self-defense. The investigators, the judge, and the prosecutor are defending themselves: if the case comes unglued, a scandal would be inevitable, and a scandal could cost them their cushy jobs. It would also do irreparable damage to the system, to the fabled woods, because the more such unhappy endings there are, the less comfortable it will be for the guerrillas to chow down in the woods.

This is a curious aspect of what I have been describing. When the current Russian authorities engage in obvious wrongdoing, they do not experience discomfort. Of course, they don’t: when they defend themselves in this way they only aggravate the injustice. The lives of villagers who are raped and pillaged by brigands hiding in a forest mean nothing to the brigands, naturally. What the big men of the woods do not like is noise. The sound of their own slurping is music to their ears. If a hullabaloo arises, they could lose the little things that make life in the woods so pleasant.

So, I would like to write that the New Greatness case is the most important criminal case in Russia at the moment. The lawlessness and injustice evinced by the Russian authorities have been obvious and flagrant. But there is also the Network case, whose takeaway message is that the FSB can torture anyone it does not like, and it is nearly legal for them to do it.

There is also the case of the Khachaturian sisters, in which the lesson is that “traditional values” are interpreted in Russia in a way that can tear society apart.

There is also the war on environmentalists who have been trying to prevent the opening of a giant landfill for garbage from Moscow near the town of Shies in Arkhangelsk Region.

And there is the case of Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopieva.

Finally, there is a mountain of smaller cases, which are no less terrifying even though they have generated less buzz or no buzz at all.

The menu of the forest brothers is too extensive, while Russian society is short of breath, as I wrote earlier. All arguments about Russia’s future boil down to a simple question: are their appetites hearty enough to eat all of us? None of them have complained about a lack of appetite so far.

And yet it would be unfair not to mention Anna Narinskaya, Tatyana Lazareva, and the other women involved in March of Mothers, who have been forcing their way into the courtroom and supplying accounts of what has been going on there. This is no easy task: the Lyublino District Court simply lacks room, but the judge has refused to have the trial moved to another court.

Then there are the musicians (Alexei Kortnev, Boris Grebenshchikov, Andrei Makarevich, Roma Zver, Pyotr Nalich, Vasya Oblomov, Maxim Leonidov, and MANIZHA) who recorded a video with Lazareva in which they performed an old song by the group Chizh & Co. about the “commissar contagion” as a way to draw attention to the case.

Finally, there is the website Mediazona, which has scrupulously chronicled the deeds of Russia’s law enforcers. It has also attempted to make the investigators, the prosecutor, and the judge in the New Greatness case household names.

It says a lot about Russia that a news website wholly devoted to covering the lawlessness of so-called law enforcers can function here and enjoy well-deserved popularity. Thank you, colleagues.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Pskov Rallies in Solidarity with Reporter Svetlana Prokopieva

prokopievaSvetlana Prokopieva. Courtesy of Article 19

“People Haven’t Found Another Way to Voice Their Opinions and Make Themselves Heard” 
moloko plus
February 16, 2019

In early February, the home of journalist Svetlana Prokopieva was searched by the security forces, who suspect her of “vindicating terrorism.” If charged and convicted, she could face seven years in prison. In November 2018, Prokopieva shared her thoughts about the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk live on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. In December, Roskomnadzor, the Russian media watchdog, claimed the journalist’s statement could be interpreted as “vindication of terrorism.”

What do the people in Prokopieva’s hometown of Pskov think? We spoke with people who attended a rally there in support of her on February 10 and wrote down what they told us.

Nikita, 24, woodworker
I came to this rally to support someone whom the authorities are attempting to punish unjustly simply because she analyzed certain things on her radio program. And for that her home was surrounded by a SWAT team.

First, it’s a shame this is happening in Pskov. I’d always had the sense Pskov was a democratic city, a city of free speech. But things have a changed a bit, apparently.

I don’t think Russia has passed the point of no return yet, but, judging by such cases, it is trying to get there whatever the cost.

Rallies like this also give a boost to the people who attend them. You get the sense you’re not alone, that there are quite a few other people who think like you. Maybe this will also help Svetlana.

Maria, 40, homemaker
I came to this rally to support Svetlana, who back in the day wrote about us and really helped us. She got the attention of our region’s governor, who was then Andrei Turchak, because it was really hard to get to him. But Svetlana helped us with that.

The authorities just took our property. Rosimushchestvo [the Federal Agency for State Property Management] used photocopies of documents to register our house in their name, and so we lost everything. Then our daughter Serafima was born. The doctors diagnosed her with Down Syndrome. We were immediately faced with a whole slew of trials. But Svetlana wrote about us from the very beginning of this business. She found our family when we were still building the house. It was then we had given a gift to the city by restoring a fourteenth-century wall. My husband was given an award for that. They gave him an award, but then they confiscated our house.

Around the same time, there was the “Direct Line” TV program with Vladimir Putin. I think Svetlana is the sort of person who should be on the president’s team, who should work with governors and officials.

Svetlana did an investigative report and helped us. Turchak himself took charge of the matter of our house and an inspection team (sent by President Putin, I think) came to have a look. I would like our rulers to have incorruptible and honest people like Svetlana Prokopieva on their teams.

We don’t want revolutions. We just want there to be good people close to our president and our governors. Now we have a new governor. [Instead of persecuting Prokopieva], they should make her part of his team, and then everything would be terrific in our city.

Guslyana, 40, works in agriculture and handicrafts
I have read the newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya for fifteen years. It’s an excellent newspaper, one of the few independent newspapers in Pskov Region and Russia.

So, I think it’s quite important to defend a reporter from the newspaper, just like any independent reporter who tells the truth.

I think [the charges against Prokopieva] are fabricated and far-fetched. Lots of people say similar things publicly and privately. The lack of opportunities for peaceful protest cause certain people to become radicals, terrorists, and so on. I don’t consider what Prokopieva said a call for terrorism or vindication of terrorism.

It’s just getting at the root of the problem.

I would argue that when the authorities persecute journalists they are just trying to crack down on the independent press and intimidate activists and freethinkers.

God forbid the case should end with Prokopieva’s actual imprisonment. Whether it does or doesn’t happen primarily depends on us.

I would like to quote another of my favorite op-ed writers and journalists [sic], Yekaterina Schulman. She says the only effective thing is public scrutiny and grassroots protest. When they don’t work, nothing else will work at all.

Natalya, 65, pensioner, village councilwoman
I came to this rally because I had to come. That’s all there is to it. There was no way I would not come.

I think it’s a disgrace when a person is punished for her honesty and integrity.

When I heard about the case on Echo of Moscow radio station, the word “lawlessness” [bespredel] came to mind, since this is state-sponsored lawlessness.

I listened to the program on the radio and I wanted to find the article on the internet, but couldn’t find it. I recall, though, that what Svetlana had said was quoted verbatim on the radio program, as far as I understood. There was nothing criminal about it. Moreover, I agreed with her.

I believe we should value, respect, and help such people, not run them into the ground by filing criminal charges like that against them. If it weren’t for such people, the government would simply rot due to a lack of criticism. Maybe the government doesn’t want to be criticized, of course, but if wants to progress and see its mistakes, it has to have people like this. And help them.

Anya, 38, businesswoman
We came to Svetlana’s rally carrying placards about free speech. This illustration of a pencil clenched in a fest was used at the peace march in Paris in 2015 after the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. I was part of that demo in France four years ago, and now I am here. Of course, there are fewer of us in Pskov, but Pskov is not Paris.

All of us are in the media and on the social networks. We all voice our opinions. None of us is immune to this terror directed against us, actually. We want the right to speak our minds.

Svetlana, 38, content manager
I know Svetlana personally: my previous job had to do with the mass media. Personally, I want to live in a free country where I have the right to speak out, where I can voice my thoughts freely. It’s due to all these things that I’m here.

I read the article for which they are trying to bring Svetlana up on criminal charges. I didn’t find any vindication of terrorism in it. She was simply making an argument. She said nothing radical and made no calls for terrorism.

She merely discussed the situation and why it happened.

First, one of the speakers [at the rally] was right. I don’t consider it a terrorist attack. The individual could find no other way to voice his opinion so it would be heard. After all, he left a note, a message on a Telegram chat channel that he was opposed to the FSB’s use of torture.

How could he make himself heard? It turns out he couldn’t.

Pavel, 21, vigilante, guarding the rally
The people’s militia here in Pskov sent me to the rally to maintain order.

I gather [the authorities] are prosecuting a journalist for a critical article. I didn’t read the article, but I don’t think anyone has abolished freedom of speech [in Russia]. It’s another matter altogether that it falls under our country’s laws.

From the ethical point of view, however, she did nothing wrong, of course.

I believe that peaceful rallies like this one, only publicity and dissemination of information, can help individuals avoid criminal prosecution in Russia.

Translated by the Russian Reader