Olga Romanova: How “Law Enforcement” Works in Russia

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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

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Contempt for Russia’s Kangaroo Courts May Soon Be Criminalized

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Imposing Punishment for Belittling the Judiciary Proposed in Russia
Znak.com
February 28, 2019

Viktor Momotov, head of the Russian Federal Council of Judges, has said criminal punishments for “holding the justice system in contempt” should be introduced in Russia. He meant instances when public opinion was manipulated or the judiciary’s authority was belittled in order to exert pressure on courts.

“Obviously, there is a need to submit to public discussion the issue of criminal penalties for holding the justice system in contempt. We are ready to join this discussion, including in connection with the legislation, currently under consideration, that would criminalize contempt for government institutions,” Momotov said, according to Interfax.

Mamotov recalled that, in the Anglo-Saxon legal system, contempt of court [skandalizatsiya pravosudiya] referred to any action or published information meant to belittle a judge’s authority or affect his decision.

A striking example of this would be “indiscriminate and baseless criticism that undermined public confidence in the administration of justice,” Mamotov said.

In Europe, people who commit such violations are fined and even face prison terms.

According to Momotov, there are currently no such penalties in Russia, and so judges were “basically defenseless in the face of the lies spread by unscrupulous media.”

Thanks to the Angry Defender for the heads-up. Image courtesy of Owlcation.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

Immigrant Song

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You can learn more about the “real,” “nuanced” Russia by gazing into this shop window than you can by reading all the crypto-Putinist “Russian experts” in the world. Central Petersburg, September 19, 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

In 2014, the well-known Russian journalist and editor Leonid Bershidsky emigrated to Germany. In an short article, published at the time on the website 72.Ru, Bershidsky explained he was not a political emigrant. Rather, he was leaving Russia because he saw no more point in launching big media projects in Russia, since the country no longer had major media performing what he regarded as the media’s main function, “defending the weak from the powerful.”

It is hard to disagree with his sentiments.

So what has Mr. Bershidsky been up too lately, in his principled exile?

He has been publishing op-ed columns on the Bloomberg website hotly defending a “weak” Russia from a “powerful” west.

In a column published in September, Bershidsky had the chutzpah and stupidity to claim Russia was an emerging global agriculture superpower because “climate warming” was making it possible to relaunch farming in areas of the country that had been given up for lost in earlier decades because the climate there was too cold, while exponentially increasing yields in areas that have long served as Russia’s grain belt.

He wrote this during the official 2017 Environmental Year in Russia, which I was made aware of only the other day, when I saw a billboard, advertising a new production at the the Young Spectators Theater, that was, somehow, part of this mostly invisible Environmental Year’s slate of events.

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“2017, Year of the Environment in Russia. Premiere! September 7, 8, 28, 29. ‘The Face of the Earth. A Play about the Planet.'” Fontanka River Embankment, Petersburg, September 19, 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader.

I guess Mr. Bershidsky’s “climate warming is good for Russia” column was another event in a calendar chockablock with consciousness-raising of the same obscurantist variety.

You do know that Russia’s economy is massively dependent on selling gas and oil, and that it is nearly the last country in the world that, officially or unofficially, is going to make any effort to tackle climate change? Whatever treaties, protocols or agreements Russia has ostensibly signed, the country’s message to its own population is that climate change is either a hoax or will be wildly beneficial to Russia, even as it destroys or submerges whole other countries.

Mr. Bershidsky’s latest op-ed on the Bloomberg website sees him hopping on the old “anti-Russophobia” train, the immediate occasion being the creation of something calling itself the Committee to Investigate Russia, which somehow involves Rob Reiner and Morgan Freeman, two beloved figures in American culture whom Mr. Bershidsky immediately derides as second-rank hacks, when, in fact, the latter is a terrific actor loved by literally every American, even by white supremacists, I suspect, while the former is not primarily an “actor,” as the ignorant Bershidsky claims, but a mostly former actor, the co-star of what many regard as the best, most politically charged situation comedy of all time, All in the Family. After he left the show, Reiner launched a directing career that has included such stellar films as Stand by Me and This Is Spinal Tap. Neither Mr. Morgan nor Mr. Reiner has ever struck me as an idiot, which is what Mr. Bershidsky immediately wants his readers to imagine.

This is not to dismiss Mr. Bershidsky’s reasonable point that the committee sounds hokey and pointless, and has no real “Russia experts” among the members of its advisory board.

The real “Russian experts” are both in short supply, he argues, and roundly ignored. To make his point, he cites “America’s Russia Blind Spot,” a blog post written by Samuel Greene, author of a book entitled Moscow in Movement: Power and Opposition in Putin’s Russia.

Mr. Greene does indeed echo many of Bershidsky’s complaints about the US and the west not seeking advice from real Russian experts and avoiding listening to the voices of real Russians.

But he begins his remarks with a proviso, a proviso that Bershidsky pointedly avoids making.

“There is no serious dispute about whether Russia tried to influence the American election: It did. And the British ‘Brexit’ referendum. And the French election. And the upcoming German vote. There is also no doubt about the role Russia is playing in eastern Ukraine, or in the world more broadly. Russia is a challenge, and we are right to worry about the fact that we don’t have an answer.”

Bershidsky, on the contrary, is loath to admit the anti-Russia hysteria that bothers him so much was provoked by real actions and decisions undertaken by the people currently running the country of his birth.

That is the real problem with so-called expertise on Russia. Half if not more of the west’s card-carrying “Russian experts” are incredibly quick to absolve “Putin’s Russia” (when can we ditch that phrase? Putin doesn’t own Russia, his ambitions and those of his Ozero Dacha Co-op buddies to the contrary) of all its crimes against its own people and its new drive to regain supah powah status on the cheap, by fucking with everyone’s elections, flooding the airwaves and internets with fake news and anti-immigrant hysteria in different shapes and sizes, and worst of all, serving its own population a steady diet of anti-Americanism, anti-westernism, xenophobia, and racism, especially on its national TV channels, for nearly the whole of Putin’s eighteen-year reign.

Think of Stephen Cohen, a “Russia expert” of high standing, who has been stalwartly defending every creepy, aggressive move the Kremlin has made over the past several years.

And there are whole battalions of other credentialed and self-made “Russia experts” out there like Stephen Cohen, more or less toeing the Kremlin’s line.

As for listening to the voices of the Russian people, that sounds like a great idea, but a) most so-called Russian experts don’t live in Russia itself and thus have little opportunity to listen to real Russian voices; and b) many Russian voices have either been badly singed by the relentless propaganda they have been subjected to in recent years or their voices have literally been drowned out by the din of that propaganda.

There is also the troubling tendency that many so-called Russian experts, when they want to evoke the “voices of the Russian people,” take the absolutely discredited shortcut of citing Russian public opinion polls, as carried out by the country’s three leading pollsters—FOM, VTsIOM, and the especially insidious Levada Center, which has a liberal, “dissident” street cred it does not deserve, painting its conclusions about “ordinary Russians” and what they think in the darkest terms possible, seeing them as benighted, dangerous creatures, akin to the zombies on The Walking Dead.

Why do the “Russia experts” they take these shortcuts? Because they don’t live in Russia and actually have no clue what real Russians really think.

One way to find out what some very different Russians think would be to read this website, which has been mostly devoted to translating the voices of people who have really been involved, usually at the grassroots, in dealing with their country’s problems or thinking through them in an eloquent way, a way not tainted by the thought patterns the powerful Putinist propaganda machine has been keen to implant in the minds of Russians too weak or too compromised by their stations in life to think for themselves.

There are lots of such people in Russia, unfortunately, including the men and women who serve the country’s bloated bureaucracy, law enforcement agencies, and secret services. Such people are several times more numerous under the current “liberal capitalist democracy” than they were under the Soviets or the tsars.

I have no doubt that, among these millions of officials, there are a good number of intelligent, decent people capable of thinking for themselves. Many of them are, I assume, not terribly happy with the road the Kremlin has led the country down and the roles they have been made to play in this deliberate degradation.

For example, would you like to be a district court judge who has to wait for a phone call from “upstairs” before rendering verdicts in high-profile cases? But this is what happens on a daily basis in the country’s judicial system.

In fact, if you listen to the voices of Russians who actually try and tell their stories—via Facebook and other social media, as well as the remaining online and print outlets where good journalism is practiced at least some of the time—and you listen to lots of these voices over an extended period of time (for example, I have been writing and translating this website and, before that, Chtodelat News, for the last ten years) and take to heart what they are actually saying, your hair will stand on end.

You will also be filled with intense admiration for the activists, researchers, and journalists who care about their country and have the courage to tell these stories.

You will not, however, come to the sanguine conclusion suggested by the last paragraph of Mr. Bershidsky’s latest op-ed.

“But Russia will still be there when this phase is over—resentful and hungry for Western praise, defiant and confused, thuggish and loftily intellectual, muscular and aggressive and weakened by graft and incompetence. Someday, the pieces will need to be picked up, and only people capable of taking in the nuance will be able to do it. These people have been ‘investigating Russia’ all along. It’s just that a less thorough and more politicized ‘investigation’ is temporarily supplanting their work.”

First of all, I am not sure Russia will still be there when this phase (of what?) is over, nor is Andrey Kalikh, whose alarming Facebook post from what have amounted to the frontlines of the Zapad 2017 War Games I posted yesterday.

Second, Russia’s problems are not the problems of a troubled teenager, as Mr. Bershidsky implies, but of a country ruled by an boundlessly greedy, ambitious tyranny that has had to test-run various sham ideologies (including homophobia, anti-Americanism, Russian Orthodoxy, xenophobia, migrantophobia, rampant state capitalism, etc.) in order to justify its continuing and, apparently, perpetual rule.

As Mr. Kalikh wrote on this website yesterday, this makes the current regime extremely dangerous primarily to Russians themselves. His argument has been borne out by the increasingly intense “cold civil war” the regime has waged not only against outright dissidents and oppositionists like Alexei Navalny, Anna Politkovskaya, and Boris Nemtsov, to name only a few people, but against otherwise ordinary Russians who have posted the “wrong” things on Facebook or VK (a Russian ripoff of Facebook more popular with the non-snobby crowd and activists who want to be in touch with them more than with the proletariat haters, but, unfortunately, a social network that is, apparently, absolutely transparent to the Russian security agencies) or, much worse, have banded together to solve their own problems, problems caused, as often as not, by their own local authorities or national government, which has not introduced “stability” after the chaotic years of Yeltsin’s rule, but has instead instituted “legal nihilism” (ex-President Dmitry Medvedev’s phrase) as its fundamental principle of bad governance.

If you deny all these basic facts about Russia today and, to boot, you don’t listen to the voices of active, thoughtful Russians, unfiltered by sham opinion polls, and finally, if you are not on the ground in Russia itself or have not spent oodles of time here talking to oodles of people and getting mixed up in oodles of different situations, I am afraid your Russian expertise is just a species of sophistry.

“Nuance,” after all, is a weasel word. Anyone with any feeling for English knows that.

Why was it that Mr. Bershidsky had to leave Russia only to land a job at Bloomberg supplying us with “nuanced” apologies for the current Russian regime? I really would like an answer to that question. TRR

UPDATE. RT has helpfully outed Mr. Bershidsky as a crypto-Putinist in a ridiculous hatchet job entitled “Russophobia: RT rates the top 10 Kremlin critics & their hilarious hate campaigns,” published on its website yesterday, September 28. In the piece, which seems to have been written by an alcoholic on a bender, RT praised Mr. Bershidsky for his criticism of their number ten “Russophobe” Molly McKew: “Perhaps the considerably more respected analyst Leonid Bershidsky said it best when he called her arguments against Moscow simplistic and misguided.'” My advice to RT would be to refrain from mentioning the Kremlin’s “secret” assets in the west in such a flagrant way.

UPDATE, October 12, 2017. Andreas Umland has brought my attention to more evidence that Leonid Bershidsky’s “exile in the west” was really a clever subterfuge for implanting a crypto-Putinist Russian journalist in a major western news agency. Mr. Bershidsky’s latest contribution to the art of the op-ed, “Why Catalonia Will Fail Where Crimea Succeeded” (October 4, 2017) is beyond the pale. Diane Francis turns the piece to chopped liver on the Atlantic Council’s website.

Alexei Malobrodsky: Speech in Court

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Alexei Malobrodsky, former director of Moscow’s Gogol Center theater, in Moscow City Court on September 6.

Zhanna Zaretskaya
Facebook
September 6, 2017

Alexei Malobrodsky is awesome. I am speechless. He is tough as nails.

What follows is the speech Malobrodsky made in Moscow City Court on September 6, 2017. Everyone who considers himself or herself a decent person in this fucked-up country, which destroys the best people and supports thieves and scoundrels, should read this.

“Today is the seventh court hearing in which I have taken part. Your honor, honor has a place in court. All parties to the proceedings should be guided by the law. So the police investigators should follow these rules. How long can they make do with false accusations and false facts? The team of investigators has been mocking the law. They have not carried out any investigative actions. They have only been busy with lies and intimidation. I refuse to take part in any investigative actions in handcuffs. I have a right to be treated decently and presumed innocent. When the investigators suggest I ‘confess to something or other,’ I refuse to reply. Except for the ridiculous story about [Gogol Center’s production of] Midsummer Night’s Dream, I have not been suspected of anything. I have been denied visits from and communication with my wife; my property has been arrested, our things and dishes; my and my wife’s work and home computers have been confiscated. What is this, if not coercion? I am ready to cooperate with the investigators and answer their questions, but don’t force me to bear false witness against my colleagues.”

Over thirty people agreed to stand surety for Alexei Malobrodsky, including Chulpan Khamatova, Lev Rubinstein, Vladimir Mirzoyev, Vasily Sigarev, Andrei Moguchy, Marina Davydova, Elena Koreneva, Ksenia Larina, and Yevgenia Shermeneva. But he was left behind bars.

I ask you to repost this text and Alexei’s speech so that as many people as possible find about Alexei Malobrodsky, who has been behind bars since June 21, although no charges have been filed against him.

Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Jenya Kulakova: My First Time as a Social Defender

russian courtroom

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 27, 2017

Today, for the first time in my life, I was a social defender [obshchestvennaya zashchitnitsa] in court. I wanted to record my experience here at least: six months ago (or fewer), it would have been hard for me to imagine doing such a thing. The hearing was perfect for starters: an appeal against charges filed in connection with the events of June 12. It was impossible to lose. However, it was just as impossible to win.

I was a bit worried yesterday evening: my first hearing was just round the corner. Lovely Alina told me that, first, I should treat it like having to deal with the housing management authorities, and second, she wished me success. When I asked her what success would look like, she said, “If you get a judge who isn’t too strident.” That was exactly the kind of judge we got: not too strident. The judge listened attentively to my babbling about the principle that forbids punishing someone twice for the same offense. She looked straight into my eyes and nodded. Finally, she asked whether we had anything else to say. And then she rejected our appeal. As usual, there is nothing interesting about any of this.

The human factor is much more interesting. Suddenly, you seemingly find yourself in the same boat as a complete stranger. There was no one besides us in the large courtroom, and the huge wooden table really resembled the deck of a ship. The “perpetrator” was a middle-aged man. As he put it, there had been only two “geezers” among the June 12 detainees in the police precinct where he had been taken. A few years ago, he was happy when Crimea was occupied, but later he changed his mind. June 12 was the first protest rally in his life, and, right off the bat, he was detained. He says he has no regrets. His colleagues at the small firm where he works concealed from management where he was while he served his jail sentence. The fact he travels a lot for a work made that possible.

On the way back from the hearing, I told him about the solidarity of the Crimean Tatars, and he told me about his wedding to a Georgian national, which almost didn’t come off, because the war suddenly broke out, and the embassy closed. His wife is now a Russian national and quite patriotic. After he was arrested, they even had a falling out, but they have made up. They have four small children. The judge was almost affectionate when she agreed to add a certificate to this effect to the case file.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Kulakova for her kind permission to translate and publish her remarks on this website. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Coming Out: A Lesson in Solidarity from Petersburg

“The Regime Is Making New Enemies with These Arrests”
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
June 22, 2017

The arrestees who served ten days in jail after Russia Day shared their plans for the future. They once again included the Field of Mars, and Navalny, and the special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street they had just left. 

«Этими арестами власть готовит себе врагов»
Ksenia Morozova, holding a placard that reads, “Freedom is within.” Photo courtesy of Sergei Mikhailechenko/Fontanka.ru

A new group of prisoners, who had finished serving the jail sentences they were given after Russia Day, was released on Thursday, June 22, from the Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street in central Petersburg. They had been sentenced to ten days in police custody, meaning they had committed violations of “moderate severity.” The die-hard violators, who were sentenced to fifteen days in jail, will not be released until next week. The least malicious violators, who had already been released, greeted their recent cellmates with soda pop, flowers, and rounds of applause. The former prisoners were cheerful and praised the prison food. They came out of jail with the same clear conscience they had when they left the Field of Mars in paddy wagons.

The Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya is a historical landmark. Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) and Felix Dzerzhinsky had done time there prior to 1917. In June 2017, people who attended an anti-corruption rally on Russian Independence Day were jailed there.

Around 10,000 people had gone to the Field of Mars on the national holiday. Some people celebrated, while others were arrested. Nearly six hundred hundred left the celebrations in paddy wagons, headed to police precincts round the city. From June 13 on, the city’s district courts worked like a conveyor belt for meting out punishment. The arrestees were sentenced for going to the anti-corruption rally and for failing to obey police orders to leave the rally, i.e., they had violated two articles in the Administrative Offenses Code. The majority of those detained at the event got off with 10,500-ruble fines [approx. 158 euros], but a hundred and fifty people were sent to jail, sentenced to terms of three to fifteen days.

The release of the prisoners whose time in jail ended on June 22 was due to start at two o’clock in the afternoon, when the lunch break ends on Zakharyevskaya. At the very same time, as recorded in their arrest records, exactly 240 hours had passed since the first of the “ten-dayers” had been detained. In fact, they had been detained and hauled to the courts wholesale. But the law enforcement machine was carefully counting off the minutes. One prisoner could be released at 2:30 p.m., but another had to be released at 4:00 p.m.

The Support Group
At a quarter to two, people holding plastic bags form a semi-circle at the exit from the detention center. Two vehicles are cruising nearby. One, emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo, is ready to give the released detainees a lift to the courts, where lawyers are waiting to appeal their fines. The other, emblazoned with the police’s logo, is also ready to take them somewhere.

“I’m going to detain you for jaywalking,” a policeman standing on the sidewalk warns me.

“Please arrest me for jaywalking,” I smile back at him, standing on the same sidewalk. The policeman goes back to his car.

The bags of the people waiting outside the detention center are stuffed with bottles of soda pop. There is also a bunch of pink chrysanthemums. Later, the chrysanthemums will be divided and given to the liberated comrades. Everybody knows who nice it is when people are waiting for you with chrysanthemums when you get out of jail. And you are also really thirsty when you get out. The greeters know all of this from personal experience.

“I was in for five days and got out last week,” says a man standing near the gates of the detention center.  “And today the guy I shared a cell with is getting out.”

The man’s name is Oleg Maksakov. He is forty-three. He doesn’t know why he was sentenced to five days, while his young cellmate got ten days. They didn’t know each other before they were jailed, but they made friends in the cell.

“The propaganda has no effect on the people aged eighteen to twenty-five who came to the Field of Mars,” Maksakov says of his “accomplice.” “What matters even more is that they’re not afraid. They’re not downtrodden. They have no experience of the Soviet repression machine. I mean, now they are finding out, of course. But it doesn’t scare them. It only makes them mad.”

Another person who celebrated Russia Day at the Field of Mars approaches us. In terms of age, Pavel Ilatovsky is one of the “non-downtrodden.” You could say he lucked out. He got off with a 10,500-ruble fine and spent two days at police precinct while he waited for his court hearing.

“Yeah, I was lucky,” Ilatovsky agrees. “I had my hearing at the Krasnoye Selo District Court, and the judges were okay. They said right off the bat there was no room in the cells, and so they were going fine us.”

The figures assembled by volunteers back up what Ilatovsky says. The Krasnoye Selo District Court heard 59 cases, and no one was sentenced to time in jail. The Kalinin District Court proved to be the most cruel and greediest. Among the 44 cases it heard, around three fourths (the volunteers don’t know for certain) resulted in fines alone, while the rest resulted in fines and jail time. The same court handed down the harshest sentence: fifteen days in jail plus a 20,000-ruble fine.

Ilatovsky volunteers with the detainees assistance group. The group brought care packages to Zakharyevskaya all ten days and raised money to pay the fines. And now they have brought a vehicle, soda pop, and chrysanthemums. This system of assistance improves with every series of arrests. It has started working like a well-oiled machine.

“There are lots of us,” says Ilatovsky. “And we know that if someone wasn’t detained this time round, he or she could be detained next time. When I was at the police precinct, they brought us water and helped out with food. They even brought us shawarmas.”

We are chatting next to the prison’s entrance. Everyone’s mood is upbeat, even joyful. Finally, the iron door opens and a young man exits holding his passport. He is carrying a backpack, and a container of liquid soap pokes out from the pocket. A yellow-and-blue ribbon is pinned to his jacket.

“Oh!” says Oleg Maksakov, rushing towards him. “I spent five days in a cell with that guy!”

“I Hung Out with Interesting People”
Denis Uvarov went to the Field of Mars with a purpose. He wasn’t celebrating the holiday, but combating corruption.

“This dude was walking around with a bullhorn and ordering everyone to disperse, but no one dispersed. Therefore, they did not obey [the police’s orders],” he says by way of explaining why he was convicted of disobeying the police.

Besides, Uvarov chanted slogans offensive to our president, and what is worse, waved the flag of Ukraine, with which he sympathizes. He caught flak for it: ten days in the slammer. He admits it could have been worse. He twice received care packages of food from complete strangers, and that amazed him most of all.

“Of course, we didn’t really need anything in the cell, but it’s nice knowing that you’re in there, and somebody cares,” says Uvarov.

In the two-person cells in which the June 12 arrestees were held, they really did not need anything. Uvarov compared it to a hospital, adding, only, that he couldn’t go into the hallway. But they were taken out for walks every day.

“The biggest problem was not being able to wash up,” he says. “They let us take a shower only once over the ten days. Well and, excuse me for mentioning it, but going to the toilet when you’re not alone in the cell, is, you know . . . Otherwise, it was okay. There was nothing to do, so I read a pile of books, slept in, studied English a bit, and hung out with interesting people.”

The interesting people were other prisoners sentenced to jail for June 12. Uvarov says it was the first protest many of them had attended. Some of them ended up there by accident and were not interested in politics.

“Now they say they’re going to be more active and angrier,” Uvarov continues. “So the regime is deliberately making new enemies with these arrests, as it were. You can do fifteen days in jail, after all. As long as there is a point.”

“What about twenty?” I ask. “That’s nearly a month.”

“Twenty?” says the young man thoughtfully. “Yes, I could probably do it.”

Then I remind him that, in Russia, it is a criminal offense to attend unauthorized rallies repeatedly.

“Yeah, but don’t you need to be arrested twice in six months,” Uvarov asks uncertainly. “I’ll probably need to take that into account. I’ll think it over.”

“I’ll Go to Jail Again”
Ivan Gerasimyuk is one of the young people who collided head on with politics at the special detention center. He looks about twenty years old.

“I was just hanging out on the Field of Mars,” says the young man. “There was a celebration of four eras taking place there. I looked at pre-revolutionary tanks, and then I went to eat kasha in the field kitchen. That’s where the police grabbed me. In court, I said I wasn’t interested in politics, but the judge didn’t believe me and gave me ten days in jail. It turns out you cannot attend celebrations in our country.”

Gerasimyuk thought jail was awful, especially the fact the prisoners were fed not according to schedule, but whenever. And his cell was very dirty.

“I don’t want to go back there,” Gerasimyuk frowns. “But I’ll definitely go to a protest rally now. We have to combat this lawlessness. Well, so I’ll go to jail again. But then other people won’t have to go.”

Alexander, who refuses to tell me his surname, works in a school. He won’t say what he does there, but he deals with young people like Gerasimyuk, only a bit younger.

He shakes his head.

“I don’t talk with the kids about politics at all. I don’t need to. They know it all anyway. They read about Navalny and Putin in the internet. Although what gets them hot and bothered is memes and all, not politics. But their teachers propagandize them, and they see it doesn’t synch with what is happening around them. That generates distrust in them.”

Alexander went to the Field of Mars knowing a rally was supposed to take place there, but he had no plans of taking part in the protest. He only wanted to watch.

“The numbers of true believers who were arrested were small, in fact,” he grins. “It was the rubberneckers like me who got caught. After doing time in jail, some of them are now true believers. But I’ve also spoken with other people, who say they would never do it again. As for me, I’m definitely going next time.”

Vladimir Drofa, who is released right after Alexander, has become a true believer. Or, at least, he says so.

“Until my arrest I was a sympathizer,” he says, looking at my dictaphone. “But now I’m a convinced revolutionary. I will devote the rest of my life to making sure I change places with the people who put me in here.”

“You want to sentence them to ten days in jail?” I ask.

“I’d start with ten at least.”

Drofa knows that, before him, his namesake Vladimir Ulyanov was imprisoned in a nearby cell.

“I need to read ‘The April Theses,’” he adds.

“Let Them Bust Me!”
The convicts opened the iron door one after another. The young women who were released were mobbed by other young women, who gave them bouquets and squealed in delight, as if they were greeting movie stars. The female arrestees who were the last to be released wearily thanked the public and refused to talk to the press, because they wanted to go home. Ksenia Morozova, a social media marketing manager for Sobaka.ru who had become famous over the last ten days, set her bags on the pavement. She held up a placard reading, “Freedom is within.” She did not hold it up very high, only as high as her own neck

“This is my first picket on the outside!” she yelled. “Let them bust me if they want!”

She was not busted. Her girlfriend grabbed her bags, and the flock of young women ran off towards the subway.

The young people were applauded as they left the jail. They were also given flowers, the very same pink chrysanthemums, until the entire bunch had been divvied up and was gone. The press drifted away. The bus emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo left, taking with it those who wanted to appeal their sentences to meet with lawyers. The last of the dozen and a half “ten-dayers” emerged from the jail after four o’clock, saying almost exactly the same things their special detention center cellmates said. None of them broke their toothbrushes at the doors of the prison.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up

Valery Brinikh: The District Council Has Left for the Front

"The district committee is closed. Everyone has gone to the front." Image courtesy of Valery Brinikh
“The district committee is closed. Everyone has left for the front.” Image courtesy of Valery Brinikh

Valery Brinikh
Facebook
July 5, 2016

Hello!

Yesterday, the latest hearing in my court case took place. It began at 2:15 p.m.

First, Judge Vitaly Galagan read out the findings of the forensic handwriting analysis of signatures made, allegedly, by Mugdin Guchetl, a prosecution witness from the village of Gabukay, who testified at the hearing before last that he had not signed the written record of the testimony he gave to the police investigator. Instead, at the investigator’s request, he had signed blank sheets of paper in the right places. As expected, the signatures were deemed authentic, although there had been the possibility the investigator had forged not only the interrogation records but also the signatures of witnesses.

The judge then returned to my deferred motion to rule the Teuchezhsky District Council an illegitimate injured party. We had requested the prosecution present written grounds for its legal position, as the prosecutors had objected to granting my motion, arguing that the Teuchezhsky District Council was a legitimate injured party.

The prosecution outdid itself, submitting in writing not only its own objections to granting the motion but also those of the so-called injured party. Surprisingly, the arguments made by district council head Khachmamuk and state prosecutors Shvetsov and Orlova were identical down to the details. Someone probably guided their hands from on high as they scribbled away. But, as the saying goes, paper cannot blush.

The point of their objections was so simple and straightforward that it was completely untethered from the case, leading the reader off into the boundless expanses of the fight against terrorism and extremism.

It transpires that “the leading role in the fighting terrorism and extremism has been assigned to the district council,” while my article “has provoked extremist sentiments in society and has had a negative impact on the work of the Teuchezhsky District Council in preventing extremism.”

Talk about the perpetrator blaming the victim, and without establishing any causal link between my article “The Silence of the Lambs” and the work of the Teuchezhsky District Council in preventing terrorism and extremism!

Attempting to demonstrate the absence of logic and common sense in the objections raised by the injured party and the prosecutors, I reminded the court that the case files contained the January 22, 2015, ruling by the Maykop City Court, which has entered into force, rejecting the Teuchezhsky District Council’s lawsuit against me, in my capacity as author of the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” by way of defending its professional reputation. I also pointed out that the article contains no criticism of the Teuchezhsky District Council’s work in general (it is not even mentioned in the article) nor, in particular, of its work in the field of extremism prevention.

In addition, the district council’s authority extends only to events that have occurred within the district itself, while the article was published on the World Wide Web. The events covered in the article (the actions of the Kievo-Zhuraki Agrobusiness hog breeding facility, the inaction of authorities at all levels in dealing with the Teuchezhsky District’s environmental problems, and my meetings with local residents) in no way touch on the Teuchezhsky District Council’s authority in combating terrorism and extremism.

After hearing all this, Judge Vitaly Galagan smiled cutely and retired to chambers at 2:50 p.m. As it turned out, he spent two and a half long hours in there. What could he have been doing all that time? It would be one thing if at least he had been consulting with smart folk on how to reasonably reject my motion. I realize it is illegal, but rehashing arguments that have nothing whatsoever to do with our case as grounds for rejecting my motion is not only illegal but also stupid. Basically, as they say in such instances, the mountain has brought forth a mouse.

According to the prosecution and Judge Galagan, who concurred with their arguments, the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” which I wrote in Maykop and published on the Internet, somehow diminished the vigilant work of the Teuchezhsky District Council in preventing extremism in the Teuchezhsky District, thus damaging the council’s professional reputation. In such cases, the saying goes, children are awfully sensitive. The district’s principle extremism preventer has been turned into a crybaby. Or, on the contrary, has the prosecution designated it the crybaby given the lack of actual injured parties?

As I listened to the prosecution’s counterarguments, I realized why our local councils take such bad care of local residents, why they take such bad care of roads, hot and cold running water, medical care and education, why everything is so bad: because our local authorities have bigger fish to fry. They have all left for the front to combat terrorism and extremism, and until they defeat the hydra of counter-revolution, the people will just have to suffer. And anyone who moans and groans and criticizes the authorities can be charged with violating Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

I want to give one more piece of sage advice to Russian judges. Lubricate the hinges of the doors to your chambers. Otherwise, the damn things squeak, and those of us sitting in the courtroom get all kinds of funny ideas about the secrecy of judicial deliberations being violated. Is their secrecy being violated, or is it just a draught of wind playing tricks with the door?

The next round in this exercise in umpiring is scheduled for today, July 5, at 10:00 a.m.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Read all my previous posts on Valery Brinikh’s extremism case.