Alexei Gaskarov: What Politics?

Alexei Gaskarov: Many People Ask Whether I Am Going to Take up Politics. But What Politics Are There Nowadays?
Olesya Gerasimenko
Snob
November 1, 2016

Anti-fascist Alexei Gaskarov has been released from prison after serving three and a half years in prison for alleged involvement in the Bolotyana Square riot in Moscow in 2012. Snob asked Kommersant special correspondent Olesya Gerasimenko to meet with Gaskarov to discuss the Bolotnaya Square case, life and education in the penal colony, and the death of the protest movement. 

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob
“Why would they ask me about organizing a riot if they knew no one organized it?”

Was your trial fair?

I regret we agreed to be involved in it. Like Soviet political prisoners, we should have stood with our backs turned and kept our mouths shut, and not treated it as an attempt to get at the truth. I had illusions after Khimki. [In 2010, Gaskarov was arrested and charged with attacking the Khimki town hall during a protest in defense of Khimki Forest, but the court acquitted him. — Snob] Several videos showed clearly that the incidents involving me happened before the riot kicked off, according to police investigators themselves. In the end, I ticked off the evidence, the judge nodded her head, but there was no reaction. The entire trial looked as if the decision had already been made, the sentence written out, and let’s get this over as quickly as possible.

So did you push a policeman and pull a soldier out of the police cordon?

I never denied it from the get-go. A year had passed since the rally on Bolotnaya Square. I was working on an important project. I had a week to go, and it was uncool to have to go to jail. I had to go to work on the Sunday the cops came for me. I had gone to the shop to buy food for the cat, and the whole clown show was waiting outside my building: two jeeps and a van. Young dudes half dressed like boneheads stepped out of the van. I decided they were from BORN [a group of radical right-wing nationalists who carried out a series of murders and assaults — Snob]. I was pondering what moves to make, but they produced their IDs.

Did you feel relieved?

No, just the opposite. I could have run from BORN or done something else. So they detained me and kept mum about what the charges were for a long while. They made me lie face down in the van and  the whole works. There were lots of things they could have detained me for. We had been defending the tenants of the Moscow Silk (Mosshyolk) dormitories from eviction and the Tsagov Forest in Zhukovsky from logging by developers. And shortly before my arrest, people who are now serving in the Azov Battalion attempted to assault my wife and me. I tussled with them, and it ended up on camera. So there were different possibilities. I was not thinking about Bolotnaya at all. When it finally became clear why I had been detained, I stared at them.  It was total rubbish. I told them I agreed to admit what I had done. We had been walking amid the crowd, when a riot cop attacked this dude. A dogpile ensued, and people pulled them apart. I was accused of pulling a policeman’s leg. The evidence was a poor quality video and a forensic report that concluded it was not me. But I knew it was me. So I told them right away, Guys, let’s do this the right way. But they could not have cared less whether I admitted my guilt or not. It would have been a different story if I had confessed to violating Article 212 of the Criminal Code (organizing a riot) or testified against someone else.

Were you asked?

They didn’t even mention it. Why would they ask me about organizing a riot if they know no one had organized it, including from their own wiretaps? They kept the charges to the incident with the leg pulling. Then they found a second incident. A stampede started in front of the police line. People were falling on the ground, and I tugged one policeman by the shoulder to make room. The indictment said I had broken the police line so that everyone could get to the riot. But this line had been at the passage in the other direction.

OIesya Gerasimenko and Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

Did you expect such a sentence?

They had already told me at the Investigative Committee they were going send me down. I said, Well, of course. Later, the Center “E” guys showed up and threatened me with ten years in prison, but I know that could not happen. The rules of the game are still followed, and punishment for a particular crime is usually consistent with ordinary practice.

How do you feel about the case of Udaltsov and his associates?

I have very negative feelings about it, of course. I ran into [Leonid] Razvozzhayev in the pre-trial detention facility, but I wasn’t really able to chat with him, because he was always in very bad shape. Udaltsov and his associates operated like real con men. Before May 6, 2012, they had no clue how the march would go, and there is no mention of sitdown strikes and rushing police lines in the wiretaps. But after everything had happened on Bolotnaya, they began acting in their meetings with Targamadze as if everything had gone according to their plans. Their initial excuse, that they had traveled to Georgia to talk about wine and mineral water, was pure idiocy. Naturally, it is not against the law to have meetings and discuss business. But there is a political ethic that does not let you behave this way. You go meet dudes from the government of another country, a country with whom [your country] recently had a conflict. You ask for money, and you take money. If these meetings had not taken place, the Kremlin would have failed to generate the image of the Bolotnaya Square case that it did. We should not have had to answer for things over which we had no control. The benefits to Udaltsov were personal, but everyone shared the risks.

So you received no money from Givi Targamadze?

Are you kidding? What money?

Who was the anonymous anarchist informer who testifed against you?

I didn’t even find out. I have had nothing to do with them for many years. The guys still have their little movement. Like Tolkien fans, they attend meetings and discuss for hours on end how they should make a revolution. They have been doing this for the last twenty years. It was of no interest to anyone. The FSB sent its people in. They went and had a look at it and said, Well okay, you have a cool club. When Center “E” was established, they went after them big time to push up their arrest stats. All anarchist meetings are open, anyone can come. So they are known to the authorities. The teenager from this scene who went to Bolotnaya and was involved in breaking through police lines was identified in this way. They put the squeeze on him: either we send you down or you tell us what we want to hear. I have no idea why this was necessary, because he just said I was a bad dude and the leader of the anti-fascists and anarchists. But nobody charged me with that.

“The rules of survival are simple: don’t do anyone harm”
Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

 

Tell me about life in prison. Everyone is interested in that. You know, reveille at six, lights out at ten.

Yeah. As you understand, people who are drug addicts, people going through withdrawal, basically live at night. After lights out, they either smoke or brew chifir [a super strong tea brewed in Russian prisons]. You just set that aside. You have your routine, and basically it is good for you. No one limits the amount of exercise you do: there is a horizontal bar, parallel bars, and a few weights. You are either working or busy with your own things. I got into shape there like I never have before. The point is to come up with as many things to do as possible so you have no spare time at all.

What did you read?

The library there was okay, because everyone who does time gets books and then leaves them behind. They see who has been nominated for the Booker Prize and order their books. It’s not hard to find new releases in prison. I also subscribed to several pro-Kremlin publications, and I read lots of your articles, too. And I read The New Times and Novaya Gazeta. I wanted different viewpoints. Plus, there is a legal video link in there. It is limited to fifteen minutes a day, but in fact nobody keeps track of the time.

Who were your cellmates? 

I spent half my sentence in a pre-trial detention facility. The dudes in there had been charged under Article 228 of the Criminal Code [purchase, storage, production, and sale of narcotics — Snob]. Their stories were horrible. One group of teenagers had gotten hash in the mail from Holland, and they had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Or there were the dudes who decided to cook amphetamine using a recipe they found on the Internet. They got nineteen years in prison. I was even ashamed to explain what my case was about, because I was surrounded by people facing over ten years in prison.  When the trial began, we were kept in Butyrka Prison. They were thieves, crazies, teenagers, street kids, and Dagestanis in there. I also met defendants in the Rosoboronexport case, the APEC Summit case, and the Sochi Olympics case, and I went to the gym with Alexander Emelianenko.

The general population at the penal colony consisted of three hundred men. Eighty percent of them were local dudes from Tula Region who had attacked somebody while drunk, stolen things from dachas, and committed petty robberies. But what is the catch about the general population? That a homeless man who broke into someone else’s dacha to spend the winter got sent down to the penal colony, and his life there is better than on the outside, and he is in the same place as a big-shot businessman who has lost a billion rubles and used to go sailing on his yacht on the outside.

Does this lead to lots of conflicts?

There are lots of conflicts, but the instigator always takes the rap for a fight. That doesn’t mean there are no fights. They are criminals, after all, and they tend to take risks. But the rules of survival are simple: don’t do anyone harm. If you watch TV after lights out, turn down the sound. Don’t drag in dirt. It’s all basic.

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

Was it easy for you to understand them?

Yeah. In 2010, I was in a pre-trial detention facility with repeat offenders and learned the tricks. And during my early days in the penal colony I read Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn’s stories about the prison camps.

Like a set of rules?

Yes. The Center “E” officer who led the investigation in my case told me a lot and advised me what books to read. When I was on the inside, people asked my advice on how to behave.

When you got out you said the main thing had been to maintain contact with reality and your health. How did you maintain your health? Was the food there okay?

Due to the fact that support from the outside was good, I almost never ate in the cafeteria.

But what about hot meals?

There is a microwave there. The Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) now has taken the approach of not keeping you from improving your living conditions. They need to implement their strategy for improving conditions in the penal colonies, but their budget has been trimmed. When you arrive, everything is crappy. Water is dripping from the ceilings, and there is mold. But they don’t mind if you want to invest your own resources. You write everything up as humanitarian aid, and you get electric kettles and microwaves. We had a projector hanging in our cell for watching films.

Now everyone will want to roll back two years to read books and watch films on a projector.

We also purchased a bunch of armchairs from IKEA. So when the head office comes to make an inspection, they show them how cool everything is in their colony.

I think you wanted to get another degree in prison.

Unfortunately, it turned out the university with which the colony collaborates is just a degree mill that sells them for money. I did something else there. At work, I would often teach the basics of entrepreneurship and planning. There were people doing time in the colony with whom it was interesting to talk, bank chairmen and ministry officials. There was a space, an evening school. I brought around fifty people together and asked the wardens permission to run something like seminars. Everyone had to come up with his own project, and over eight months (my sentence was coming to an end) we would try and whip it into shape, with a business plan as the outcome. At first, they turned me down outright, saying I was in for the Bolotnaya Square case and would lead political discussions. But then there was a change in management at the penal colony, and they met us halfway. It was like a little piece of the outside world.

Generally, of course, the colony’s disciplinary and educational function has been tapped out. There are no resources. The majority of guys in there do not have the most basic skills. They cannot write a letter, but there is no one there at all to educate them. There is this option of watching films on the weekends. They show this rubbish, total nonsense. I went to the wardens and said, Let’s make a selection of good films; we can watch ordinary films in our cells. But they could not even decide to do that. They get their action plans from the head office, where the theorists work. They say, Let’s hold a sports day, even though athletic clothing is prohibited in the general population.

“They aren’t winning this game by turning to crackdowns”
Olesya Gerasimenko and Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

While you were away, the Khimki Forest was cut down. The Moscow Silk tenants were evicted. Anti-fascists fell out over Ukraine. Many of the people who rallied on Bolotnaya have emigrated. When you all; were being arrested one by one, everyone said it would be the case of the century, that everyone would close ranks because of you and for your sake, but ultimately you have got out of prison, the Bolotnaya Square case is still underway, and there is no longer any interest in it. Maybe you went to prison for nothing?

What does that mean, “nothing”? I had no choice. It’s good that the anti-fascist thing is no longer on the front burner. Nowadays, there are no more clashes with neo-Nazis, who were killing people in the early 2000s. Back then, they really needed a counterweight. Our job was to point out the problem and make things decent on the streets. We succeeded in doing this. But the anti-fascist movement cannot defeat xenophobia in society.

What do you think about the split among anti-fascists, that one group went to Kiev, while the other went to Donbass? They were at each other’s throats.

I always assumed that very different people joined the anti-fascist movement, and that was fine. There were aspects that just did not make sense to me. For example, why were European leftists strutting their stuff in Donbass? It looks as if they were totally conned.

As for Bolotnaya, choosing to be involved in this movement was fraught with risks. If we draw an analogy with Ukraine (although many people don’t like to do this), I don’t think that if the events on Bolotnaya had gone further those people would have balked at shooting the crowd. A bunch of people were killed in Kiev, while here in Moscow we were supposed to be scared off by prison sentences. They randomly picked a group of people and put them in prison. The rationale is clear. Whoever you are, if you oppose the tsar, you will suffer. How can we respond to this? We have to debunk the myth that such crackdowns are effective.

But that is what happened. Everyone really was afraid of being hit once with a truncheon, to say nothing of prison. Many members of the opposition have said the fight against the regime is not a worth a centimeter of their personal comfort. You are practically the only who does not think this way. Don’t you feel lonely?

Most people haven’t been to prison, and they really imagine it is the end of world. If I go to prison, I can kiss my life goodbye, they think. I just dealt with it more or less normally. But this is how I see it. When the authorities crack down on dissent, people lower their level of activism. They lose the desire to invest themselves in something. Ultimately, the system falls apart, rather than becoming more stable, as the authorities imagine. The country becomes less competitive. In prison, I saw many people who were doing time for economic crimes, and they all said approximately the same thing. People who have satisfied their material needs develop political demands, and that is fine. Everyone wants to be involved in changing things. When this desire for change is blocked, they are blocking the segment of society that generates the most added value. They aren’t winning this game by turning to crackdowns. Especially because the system is not as terrible as it makes itself out to be.

But people need to remain minimally active. It is too bad that many people have chosen the passive way. I have just got out, and it really seems to me that a lot has changed, even in Moscow itself. Although, theoretically, I saw it all ten years ago, only in Europe. We can live this way a long time. Hence the complexity of the political arguments around Bolotnaya. Given the resources we have have, we could live better, but the way things are also suits lots of people. In this case, the system can survive for a long while. We should not get involved in direct confrontations. This was clear to me on Bolotnaya Square as well. We wanted to get the hell out of there, because it was obvious the sitdown strikes and so on were just what the authorities wanted. But there are other ways of doing things. We don’t have to limit ourselves to demonstrations and rallies.

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

What ways?

There are the demands made at Bolotnaya—fair elections and the transfer of power—but there is the option of engaging in specific targeted campaigns in order to develop one’s ideas under the existing regime.

You mean the theory of small deeds?

Among other things. For example, I read that many Bolotnaya activists have gone into charity work. In fact, that is not so bad. What matters is maintaining the energy. Or there is the successful fight against corruption, all those publications that impact the system, whatever you say. Or there are people in the leftist milieu who think there should be progressive taxation: they can also advance their arguments. Or form an anti-war movement given all the conflicts underway.

In prison, I realized how strongly the regime affects people’s brains. There are people who show up there who are not inclined to heavy discussions. Real peasants. All the myths that exist are in their heads. But when you are around them, you don’t even have to argue. Even the most impenetrable guys would change their minds just as a result of conversation. So any work aimed at disseminating information and minimal education is vital.

What did you change their minds about?

A variety of things, including their overall attitude to the opposition. In the beginning, it was even convenient for me, like there were only drug addicts at Bolotnaya, that they all had gone there to score heroin, and everybody would leave me alone [after I would say that]. But over time people see what you read, what films you watch on the Culture channel, that you can help draft a court appeal, and they understand you are not an idiot and would not have gone to a protest rally for a dose of heroin. There were lots of conflicts over Ukraine, especially because there were many people doing time who had managed to fight in Donbas, come back to Russia, and get sent to prison.

Olesya Gerasimenko and Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

For what?

Disorderly conduct, theft, and armed robbery. They were typical soldiers of fortune. We even managed to talk about this most difficult issue and iron out our differences.

Is Crimea ours?

I have a simple position on this issue. People went out on the Maidan because they did not like the current regime. I think what happened to Crimea was Putin’s attempt to punish them for this. The Ukrainian people made their choice, Putin didn’t like it, and [Russia] acted like the interventionists during the Russian Civil War. It is not a matter of what the inhabitants of Crimea wanted. It was an action directed against all the values we tried to defend on Bolotnaya.

So it’s not ours?

I consider it a real violation of international law. It was unethical and wrong. Clearly they did this to stick an example in everyone’s face: see what protests have done to the country. But I don’t have an opinion about what should happen next.

To return it or not?

Well yes. Because it is clear that most people who live there want to be part of Russia.

You went to prison in one country, but came out of prison in another country. What was it like finding out on the news about the historic events that were happening on the outside? Did you feel sorry you were observing them from afar? Or, on the contrary, was it easier?

To be honest, the latter. It was often difficult to make up my mind. For example, when refugees left Ukraine en masse, they would come work in the penal colony. You communicate with them and realize there is ideology, and then there are people’s stories, and it was hard to make up one’s mind. I actually thought it was cool this was going on in the background.

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

What is your work situation? What are you planning to do?

Of course, I would like to do the work I was educated to do, as a financial systems analyst, as it says in my diploma. My old job did not survive the crisis. I will have problems, of course.  I have even asked acquaintances at several companies, but I was told no way, especially in offices that work on state commissions or state projects. So things are rough. I will have to start everything from scratch. But I am sure that the fourteen percent have some businesses. [Gaskarov has in mind VTsIOM’s polling data, showing that 86% of Russians support Putin — Snob.]

Earning money is my priority now. Many people have asked me whether I am going to take up politics. Everyone has so many expectations, but what politics are there nowadays? It is impossible to be involved in politics without having your own resources. Of course, I say you shouldn’t be afraid of prison, but it is a serious setback all the same: three and a half years. A lot of missed opportunities and a backlog of problems.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Gabriel Levy for the heads-up

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Chop It All Down!

Chop It All Down! Molotov Cocktails versus Woodland Defenders in the Town of Zhukovsky
Maria Klimova
Mediazona
July 13, 2016

Photo by Fyodor Karpov

Over the past month, several environmentalists in the Moscow Region town of Zhukovsky fighting against the illegal logging of trees to make way for construction have suffered at the hands of persons unknown. Two of them have had their cars set on fire and burned, while a female activist had a Molotov cocktail thrown at her windows. Municipal authorities see no reason to worry yet, although the victims are certain someone has been trying to intimidate them.

Around four o’clock in the morning on June 15, a Molotov cocktail was tossed at the windows of the flat occupied by Zhukovsky activist Olga Deyeva, who lives on the first storey of a block of flats. Hearing a bang, which set off the alarms of cars parked in the yard, she looked out the window and saw shards of glass on the pavement. What turned out to be a broken bottle was wrapped in electrical tape and a thick layer of solvent-soaked cloth. According to police summoned to the scene by Deyeva, the persons unknown had failed to ignite the cloth, which had been soaked in a flammable liquid. According to Deyeva, the assailants had aimed at her window but had missed, and the bottle had hit the window frame.

A week and a half later, on June 27, a Ford Focus owned by Mikhail Yuritsin, an environmentalist and member of the grassroots organization Lyubimy Gorod (Beloved City), was torched and burned. According to Yuritsin, he heard the loud sound of glass being broken at around three in the morning, looked out the window, and saw his car burst into flames. Yuritsin was unable to extinguish the fire, and the car was completely destroyed. Cars parked next to it were mildly damaged, as firefighters arrived quickly on the scene.

In addition, a car used Svetlana Bezlepkina, a Yabloko Party member who sits on the Zhukovsky city council, was torched in the early hours of July 7.  Although the car was registered to the council member’s sister-in-law, Bezlepkina often used it herself.

“Yes, I have used the car. I used it for business when I needed, and everyone knew it. You couldn’t think of anything more cynical: my brother and sister-in-law had their wedding that day. After celebrating at a cafe, they came home and parked the car, and during the night it was torched. Then the police showed up, took our testimony, and that was all. They didn’t really take a hard look at anything. On the other hand, what do you expect from a police force who back in the day guarded loggers chopping down a forest,” said Bezlepkina.

A suspicious incident happened the same day to Fyodor Karpov, leader of the Yabloko Party’s Zhukovsky branch. Persons unknown torched an abandoned car, which had recently been left outside the gate to his garage.

Karpov related the sequence of events.

“The abandoned car drifted around the yard for two weeks, and then it ended up in front of my gate. I gently shoved it away from the gate, but on a day I was attending a court hearing on illegal construction in the forest, it was torched.”

Except Karpov, all the victims are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Zhukovsky city hall and businesswoman Irina Gorodnova, who has been given permission to build a consumer services center on Nizhegorodskaya Street and a children’s center on Semashko Street. Both lots slated for construction are located on woodlands in the city limits.

Local residents began vigorously fighting to save their woodlands in 2012, when the authorities announced the construction of an access road from the M5 Ural Highway that would pass through the Tsagov Forest. When workers began clear-cutting a twelve-hectare site, grassroots protests erupted throughtout the city, and activists set up a camp in the woods, later dispersed by private security guards. The protesters proposed several alternate routes for the road. Several months later, Sergei Shoigu, who had recently been appointed governor of Moscow Region, intervened in the conflict. He criticized the actions of the Zhukovsky authorities and spoke of the need for dialogue with the public, but his statements had no impact on the situation. The access road to the city was built through the forest.

1109928 02.05.2012 Плакат в лагере защитников Цаговского леса в Жуковском. Гражданские активисты-экологи протестуют против вырубки леса для строительства новой трассы. Артем Житенев/РИА Новости
A placard in the camp of people defending the Tsagov Forest in Zhukovsky, May 2, 2012. The placard reads, “Occupiers! Get the hell out of Zhukovsky.” Photo: Artyom Zhitenyov/RIA Novosti

A year after the conflict over clear-cutting in the Tsagov Forest broke out, Alexander Bobovnikov, mayor of the city, lost his post. He resigned after a meeting with Andrei Vorobyov, who had succeeded Shoigu as governor of Moscow Region. Andrei Voytyuk was elected to Bobovnikov’s post. In 2013, protests against logging in Zhukovsky broke out again when it transpired that municipal authorities had issued long-term leases to woodland lots. 5,000 square meters of woodland were allocated for construction of a consumer services center on Nizhegorodskaya Street, while another lot measuring 6,000 square meters was allocated for construction of a leisure center in the woods near the railroad station. Activists entered into a prolonged legal battle with city hall and the potential developer.

“According to the documents, in 2010, Natalya Lebedeva, head of Stimul-K, Ltd., obtained preliminary permission to rent the lot. But Lebedeva herself claims she never came to Zhukovsky in 2010, and signed no rental agreement. In 2012, she decided to get rid of the company and she transferred it to another person so he would close it. But he failed to do this and, apparently, used the company. Later, the lot was transferred to Gorodnova,” explains Olga Deyeva.

According to Deyeva, permission to lease the lot had been issued, apparently, by Stanislav Suknov, Bobovnikov’s deputy, who served as acting mayor of Zhukovsky for a couple of months in 2013.

“We have been trying to prove in court there was no preliminary agreement to rent the land. The paperwork was drawn up after the fact so as not to violate the city’s General Development Plan, adopted in 2012,” explains Deyeva.

The right to rent the woodland lots now belongs to businesswoman Irina Gorodnova. Zhukovsky activists are afraid municipal authorities might try and bypass the 2012 General Development Plan and rezone the woodland lots to permit construction of residential buildings and shopping centers on them. That, ultimately, was what happened to the lot on Nizhegorodskaya Street. Without holding public hearings and without involving city council members, the Zhukovsky City Court rezoned the area from recreational use to residential use and thus suitable for redevelopment. Immediately after obtaining the construction permit, Gorodnova also obtained a permit from municipal authorities to fell deadwood. According to Deyeva, however, workers cut down healthy pine trees while clearing the deadwood.

“When this came to light, Gorodnova batted her eyes and said, ‘I don’t know how it happened. I was abroad at the time.’ Policemen guarded the logging process. Ultimately, the ‘illegal’ loggers were not located and punished, but the story made such a big splash that Gorodnova was unable to open the consumer services center she had built on the lot. On the basis of this violation, the municipal authorities went to court and terminated the lease on the land,” says Deyeva.

Now it was Gorodnova’s turn to go to court. She demanded the court recognize her ownership of the consumer services center, and in October 2015, Zhukovsky City Court granted her claim. Activists asked city hall to appeal the decisions, but the local authorities failed to do this.

“City hall was not about to challenge the ruling. They could not even explain why. So now we have been handling the litigation ourselves,” explains city council member Bezlepkina.

The appeal hearing has been scheduled for July 25.

The status of the second woodland lot, on which Gorodnova’s company had planned to build a leisure center, has not yet changed. It is still zoned for recreational uses, where it is forbidden to erect any structures.

In February 2015, however, activists discovered large round holes in the bark of pine trees on the site of a planned clear cutting. The holes had been presumably made with a drill. A total of seventy-eight trees had been damaged in this way. Local residents marked each of the trees with green paint and photographed them, subsequently filing a complaint with the police. After an inspection was carried out, police refused to open a misdemeanor investigation. Staff at the Zhukovsky municipal environmental and land management technologies department had assured police there was no danger of the trees weakening and dying. Many of the damaged pine trees that once grew on the lot slated for development have now indeed died. The forest’s defenders believe they were damaged deliberately. Developers thus decided to get rid of trees that were preventing them from launching construction.

According to Valentin Ponomar, who has been representing Gorodnova’s interests in court, the land plot rented for construction of the leisure center is now not being used by anyone in any way.

“The lease runs out soon, in 2017. During this time, the city has to issue a construction permit. There is no permit at present, just as there are no plans to build the children’s center,” Ponomar explained to Mediazona.

According to Ponomar, without such permission, the development company cannot commence construction in a green belt zone. Moreover, city authorities cannot issue such a permit due to the land plot’s status. Ponomor was unable to explain why his client concluded an agreement with the city on such conditions.

In an interview with Mediazona, Zhukovsky Mayor Andrei Voytyuk said he was unaware of the arsons of the urban activists’ cars, although he had heard about the Molotov cocktail thrown at Deyeva’s window.

“I’ll tell you this. If they had wanted to set fire to her, they would have done it,” the mayor commented on the incident.

He expressed his willingness to meet with the urban activists victimized by criminals.

“They can meet and talk with me if they wish, but so far no one has reached out to me,” said Voytyuk.

Bezlepkina is certain the torching of the cars will never be investigated.

“Now it is a matter of intimidation, but no one knows how far it might go. Our families are fearful. They have asked us not to attend the court hearings. They are afraid they might be in danger,” says the city council member.

The case of the Molotov cocktail tossed at Deyeva’s window has been assigned to the local beat cop.

“I went to see him, but, apparently, they are not planning to make any complicated moves in this connection. There was no damage either to my health or my flat. So I wouldn’t rule out the police will be working in keeping with the principle ‘No body, no case,” Deyeva admits.

Translated by the Russian Reader