One Righteous Man

mokhnatkinSergei Mokhnatkin. Courtesy of the Moscow Times

Since it is my practice report all real Russian opposition to the Kremlin’s war crimes against the Syrian popular revolution, however rare and nearly invisible though it may have been over the past four years, I have to report the comments of the renowned Russian ex-political prisoner Sergei Mokhnatkin, a man who was put through the wringer by Putin’s fascist gangster clique for having the temerity to defend a woman being beaten by a riot policeman in Moscow.

If you are interested in the extraordinarily frightening details of Mr. Mokhnatkin’s case, his time in Russian prisons, and his equally extraordinary courage and fighting spirit, look him up on the internet. (His name can also be written as Sergey Mohnatkin, as on his Facebook page.)

Mr. Mokhnatkin writes, “I will go on smacking down anyone who directly or indirectly supports Russia’s bullying of Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria (the real Syria, of course, not the Syria of Assad, who is more of a cannibal than Kim Jong-un and Putin himself). I could not care less about how the people and governments in these countries view this bullying. The bully must be destroyed and punished regardless of what they think. The lack of a firm stance on this issue on the part of the [Russian] opposition and [Russian] human rights activists allows the bully to behave like a rogue at home and abroad. It encourages Putin, and he takes advantage of it. The current priority is defending these countries. If we succeed in doing this, it won’t take long to scratch Putin off and discard him.”

Hallelujah!

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Sergey Evgenevich Mohnatkin
Facebook
July 3, 2019
Мочил и буду мочить всех, кто прямо или косвенно поддерживает агрессии России против Грузии, Украины и Сирии (естественно подлинной, а не асадовской, людоеда почище Ким Чен Ына или самого Путина. Мне наплевать как народы и правительства этих стран воспринимают эти агрессии. Агрессор должен быть уничтожен и наказан не зависимо от их мнения. Отсутствие жёсткой позиции по этому вопросу у оппозиции и правозащитников и позволяет агрессору творить беспредел не только внутри страны но и за рубежом. Это поощрение Путину, и он им пользуется. Сегодня первая задача-защитить эти страны. Удастся сделать это, и Путина сколупнуть будет не долго.

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Entweder Gehst Du oder Ich Gehe!

friedrichshain police state.JPGGermany has begun implementing the Putinist police state in parts of Berlin to make its Russian partners feel less lonely in their pursuit of absolute tyranny. Photo by the Russian Reader

Council of Europe and Russia Reach Tentative Compromise
Deutsche Welle
May 17, 2019

Russia said it had no desire to leave the Council of Europe and was ready to pay its dues following an apparent breakthrough between Moscow and Western nations. Russia’s delegation had faced sanctions over Crimea.

France and Germany pushed through a compromise that would allow Russia to return to the Council of Europe (CoE), as foreign ministers from the 47 member states resumed their two-day summit in Helsinki.

The Russian delegation has faced sanctions at the CoE over the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. One of the measures included stripping Russia’s representatives of their voting rights, which in turn prompted them to boycott CoE plenary sessions.

On Friday, the body adopted a declaration saying “all member states should be entitled to participate on an equal basis” in the CoE. The declaration also states that its members “would welcome that delegations of all member states be able to take part” in the assembly next June.

“We do not intend to leave the Council of Europe, as some rumors would have you believe,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “We are not evading any of our commitments, including the financial ones.”

Germany’s top diplomat Heiko Maas previously met with Lavrov on Friday. Maas said it was “good that we have agreed that Russia should stay in the CoE Parliamentary Assembly—also to give millions of Russians the protection of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Berlin has actively supported Russia’s full reinstatement into the council, but that did not come without conditions, Maas told DW.

“We have also agreed on a mechanism by which it will be possible in future to sanction members of the CoE who violate fundamental legal provisions.”

In 2017, Russia stopped its financial contributions, leaving the CoE with an annual budget hole of some €33 million ($37 million). Russia could be suspended from the body next month for not paying its membership fees.

Activists Want Russia in CoE
Human rights activists were concerned that suspending or expelling Russia from the assembly, which is a non-EU organization to uphold human rights, could have a disastrous effect on civil society in Russia. The watchdog body is in charge of electing judges for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the largest percentage of ECHR cases comes from Russia. Others worry that revoking Russia’s membership could eventually bring back capital punishment in the country.

Ukraine Warns of “Normalizing” Russia’s Actions
Ukraine responded angrily to the reconciliatory signals between Russia and France and Germany. In protest, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin decided to send his deputy to Helsinki.

In a Facebook post, Klimkin also said that ending sanctions would start the process of “normalizing” everything Russia has done.

“And if some people in Europe respond to Kremlin blackmail and hide their heads in the sand, very soon there might be nothing left of the Council of Europe and ultimately of all European values,” he said.

Thanks to Jukka Mallinen for the heads-up.

_____________________________________________

When you make endless compromises with gangsters, you end up shredding your own principles into pulp.

The Russian Federation does not honor or observe the European Convention on Human Rights in any way, shape or form, and it knows it.

Keeping it in the Council of Europe at all costs will, ultimately, ensure the collapse of democracy and the rule of law all over Europe.

Kicking it out would speed up the Putin regime’s collapse and finally spark a crisis among Russia’s elites and grassroots in which Russians would have a chance to get rid of Putin and his thugs.

But it is a job they have to do themselves. The dicey argument that human rights defenders in Russia need the European Court of Human Rights to defend human rights in Russia only postpones what has to happen sooner or later.

On the contrary, diplomatic victories like this tell the Putin regime in no uncertain terms to ratchet up the crackdowns at home and the neo-imperialist military adventures abroad, because both its own people and European democracies are too weak to call it on the carpet.

Europe doesn’t want to deal with Putin’s twenty-year-long war against democracy and human rights in Russia, despite the fact that ordinary Russians in faraway places like Yekaterinburg and Shies are fighting the regime tooth and nail

But who cares about them? Who in Europe has ever heard of Shies? How many European officials can find Yekaterinburg on a map?

This compromise gives the Kremlin the green light to crack heads in both places, if push comes to shove, knowing it has Europe firmly on its side. {TRR}

Sergei Vilkov: Everything You Thought You Knew About the Russian Working Class Was Wrong

kalashnikov workersWorkers of the Kalashnikov plant in Izhevsk, Russia, on September, 20, 2016. Photo by Mikhail Svetlov (Getty Images). Courtesy of Fortune

The Heroes of the Day: What We Know about the Russian Working Class
How the Proletariat Stopped Fearing TV and Came to Dislike It
Sergei Vilkov
News.ru
April 30, 2019

It has been a tradition on the eve of May Day to recall the working class, which in Russia has seemingly been usurped by televised images of the “patriots” and regular blokes who work at the Uralvagonzavod plant in Nizhny Tagil.

Actually, Russia’s workers are a genuine black hole to sociologists. No one had seriously researched their circumstances, sentiments, and views for thirty years.

The first tentative attempts to research today’s Russian industrial laborers have produced a portrait that many had not expected. It transpires that today’s proletarians, at least, the most politically and civically dynamic among them, almost never watch television. They have a sober take on politics. They are immune to state propaganda. They have a relatively relaxed attitude toward migrant workers.

They regard themselves as outside observers in the debates between the regime and the opposition, not finding their own interests reflected in them. They are more likely to feel trampled upon by plant management than by a new law passed in the State Duma.

It is the factory where they fight their battles, which are usually invisible to official statisticians. Most important, according to researchers, they have more in common with early twentieth century social democrats than with current parties who try and speak on behalf of workers. However, the new research leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. News.ru took a look at it.

They Got What They Fought For
According to official data, 26 million people in Russia or over 36% of the able-boded population are employed in industry, transport, agriculture, fishing, and several similar sectors. These figures do not include, for example, the large numbers of people employed in commerce and services. Overall, however, sociologists estimate that workers make up 40% of Russia’s population. They identify them as the largest group in society.

These people dwell on the dark side of Russia’s moon, as it were. It would be hard to say when someone last tried to examine them through an academic lens. However, understanding the nature of Russian society and its largest segments is, perhaps, the most ambitious humanities research project in the country today.

In government reports, Russia’s workers are imagined as a passive, homogeneous milieu that positively exudes tranquility. In 2017, Rosstat, the state statistics service, recorded only one strike, while in the preceding years their official number oscillated between two and five strikes annually.

By comparison, in 2005, according to official data, there were 2,600 strikes in Russia. And yet the following year, Rosstat claimed the number of strikes had decreased by a factor of 325. Since then, according to official statistics, it has remained consistently scanty, despite the economic crises of 2008 and 2014.

However, the Center for Social and Labor Rights, which has monitored the situation on its own, claims there were an average of 240 labor protests between 2008 and 2014. In 2016, when the political opposition was quiet, there were twice as many labor protests, while in the first six months of 2018, the last period for which it has data, the center recorded 122 strikes and acts of civil disobedience. Nearly half of these incidents led to workers downing tools.

Since 2014, a year dominated by an apparent “patriotic” consensus in politics, the number of strikes has increased abruptly due to an upsurge of resistance in provincial cities, including district seats. The largest number of walkouts and protests occurred in industry, especially the machine building and metalworking sectors, which have accounted for 28% of the overall number of strikes. The transport sector has accounted for the same percentage of strikes and protests, despite the fact they have mainly been carried out by employees of private transport companies based in the cities. The construction industry has accounted for 19% of strikes and protests during the period.

The main cause of protests and strikes remains unpaid back wages, which accounted for 60% of incidents. Demands to raise pay were factors in 19–20% of incidents.

The Center for Social and Labor Rights noticed a curious thing. In 2018, the number of spontaneous, unorganized protests by workers rose abruptly by 22%. Trade unions were involved in a mere 17% of all strikes and protests. The experts claim this was partly due to the fact that the Russian hinterlands, where there have been no real trade unions for the last one hundred years, have taken the lead in labor activism, along with sectors dominated by precarious employment.

Shop Floor Intellectuals
Someone has been organizing these strikes and protests, however. It is evident there is a core of energetic progressive activists among Russia’s workers.

On April 22, Alexander Zhelenin gave a lecture at a round table held in the offices of Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Zhelenin is a well-known expert on workplace conflicts, and part of his talk dealt with a research study on the Russian proletariat. In July and September 2018, he and his fellow researchers did a small-scale qualitative sociological research study in Kaluga and Omsk that focused on the self-identification and sociopolitical views of workers.

A total of twenty-three people were interviewed. The small sample was offset by a thorough probing, through in-depth interviews, of the respondents’ attitudes and views, which are never revealed by run-of-the-mill public opinion polls. The workers interviewed by the sociologists were somehow connected to independent trade unions, which had, apparently, supported the research study. However, in the main, the interviewees were not politically engaged: only one of them was a member of a political organization.

We should also not forget it is usually the most energetic people who agree to be interviewed for ordinary official public opinion polls, which affects their outcomes.

In Kaluga, the respondents worked in the food industry and the new auto assembly plants, while in Omsk, they were employed at old Soviet military-industrial complex plants. They ranged in age from twenty to fifty, and included women and men. They were quite well-paid technicians who were proud of their contributions to society. On the other hand, they had a constant sense of their status as subordinates. They tended to strongly associate themselves with their workplaces. Family “labor dynasties” were a possible factor in their outlooks.

Most of the workers interviewed at the auto plants had been abroad one or more times, and this partly had to do with Volkswagen’s work exchange programs. One of the things they had learned on these trips was independent trade unions were ordinary, valuable organizations.

On the contrary, a foreign-travel passport was a rarity among the workers of the old defense plants, and yet both groups of workers tended to spend their holidays on the Black Sea coast. Some respondents in Omsk said they had never seen the sea or had seen it in early childhood.

Mortgages were the main financial obstacles to holidays away from home. Financially, the skilled workers felt they were members of the so-called middle class. In terms of standards of living in their regions, however, they noticed the gap between the more affluent segment of the populace and themselves. Thus, they had a keen sense of the difference in life chances for their children and the children of rich families, talking about it with great indignation.

Pavel Kudyukin, ex-minister of labor and employment and a lecturer in public administration at the Higher School of Economics, commented on the growing social segregation in Russia.

“It comes to the fore when talk turns to children’s futures. It is an aspect that will become more acute, because we are moving from segregation to social apartheid. I think it will facilitate [grassroots] civic activism,” he said.

The authors of the report did not hide their amazement at the fact that the respondents were quite well-educated, intelligent people. Nearly a third of them had a higher education or an uncompleted university degree. Many of them pointed out it was ordinary to find university-educated workers on the shop floor.

Tellingly, a man from Kaluga, identified as Anatoly, who did not finish his university degree, and whose outward appearance (a bespectacled intellectual), cultivated manner of speaking, and hobbies (music and organizing non-profit music festivals) gave the researchers the impression he was a local intellectual, although he said he had been employed as a skilled laborer for over eleven years. Like some other respondents, Anatoly noted he had become a laborer because life had worked out that way and he had to earn money. Industry was the only place where it was possible to earn a more or less decent wage, the study noted.

They Have Their Own Values
And yet 74% of of the respondents unambiguously identified themselves as workers, stressing their difference from other groups in society and their direct involvement in production. The remaining 26% preferred to call themselves “employees” and supported the notion of so-called social partnerships with management. However, despite their decent standard of life, it followed from the interviews that the workers believed they occupied one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. This had to do with their palpably subordinate positions at work and the lack of prestige in their occupations. This circumstance was painfully apparent in the tension between blue-collar and white-collar workers at one plant, a tension exacerbated by the arrogance of the latter towards the former.

The workers were very annoyed by the fact that, as Sergei, a grinder who was involved in the Omsk focus group, said, “In terms of wages and education, the blue-collar workers often outperform the office workers, but the latter still treat them as inferiors.”

In Omsk, for example, the wages of workers fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000 rubles a month, but workers at some defense plants could earn up to 70,000 or 80,000 rubles a month. However, according to the same interviewee, the well-paid jobs were “inherited.”

Besides, he said, to earn such a wage, one virtually had to live at the factory, working twelve hours a day and enjoying only one day off a week, something not all workers would do. Meanwhile, office workers at the same plant could earn only 20,000 rubles a month, but they treated the workers “as if they were above [them],” said Sergei.

“A really interesting thing is the split in self-identification as workers and members of the middle class,” said Kudyukin. “It clearly manifests the pressure exerted in society by hegemonic views. It is like what Marx wrote: ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.’ Since the notion of the middle class is constantly in the air, people give no thought to the fact that it’s a sociological fiction. People realize they are workers. They work on an assembly line or operate a machine. Yet in terms of income they identify themselves as middle class in the sense that they are neither rich nor poor. Maybe this has to do with the notion that the middle class is formally defined by income.”

“Russia is a quite highly stratified country, and it is constantly becoming more stratified,” explained Gregory Yudin, a professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “It’s not a matter of income gaps, but of what these people say: the sense of symbolic superiority in cases where there is no income gap. When this sense takes root at a particular factory, what happens is quite predictable. In this sense, Marx was more or less right.”

Speaking about their place in production, the workers voiced the opinion their plants could run without managers, but without them the shop floors would grind to a halt. However, they sensed the arrogant attitude towards manual labor that had emerged in other parts of society. They realized that, from this perspective, their status was not considered prestigious at all. The factory laborers responded by opposing the values of their milieu to “other” values, saying that nowadays the chic thing to do was to steal and mooch, to make lots of money for doing nothing.

“I think this is an ordinary means of compensation, a psychological defense mechanism. We are considered impoverished in some way, whereas in fact we are the salt of the earth, and everything would grind to a halt without us. Their sentiments are quite justified. Despite the importance of managerial work, if you got rid of the management staff, the shop floor would function all the same. But if the workers suddenly disappeared, the plant would shut down,” said Kudyukin.

The research study showed the respondents perceived Russian politics as an established system that ignored their interests. This applied not only to the government but also to the opposition. Nearly half of the respondents consciously refrained from voting. By comparison, during the last presidential election, in March 2018, the Central Electoral Commission reported that 32.5% of registered voters did not vote.

Some of the respondents voted for the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), A Just Russia, and LDPR [Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party], although they noted these parties were entangled in establishment and supported workers’ interests more in words than in actual deeds. They were not a serious opposition.

What they had to say on the matter was telling.

“I have little trust in politicos and parties. I have more faith in the people here, the people with whom I work, the people I know. Here, at the local level, there are decent people among the members of different [political] movements. But the leadership is usually a bloody shambles,” said Sergei, 35, a grinder at the Aggregate Plant in Omsk.

“There are currently no parties that would defend workers’ interests. We need to create such a party,” said Sergei, who works at the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga.

Volodya, who also works at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was likewise certain such parties did not exist.

“All of them are against us [workers]. They represent business and big money, even the CPRF and A Just Russia. Those parties just use the ‘movements’ to score political points. They have great jobs. United Russia try and pass bad laws. They have the majority in the Duma, so [the three other parties represented there] can pretend to oppose them, since the bad laws will be passed all the same,” he said.

He quoted Mark Twain.

“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”

The federal government was a source of considerable irritation to the workers, especially in connection with the pension reform.

Roman, a 45-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was the only respondent in either city who said he had always voted for Putin and United Russia, but since the pension reform had passed, he was severely disenchanted and was more inclined to vote for the CPRF.

Vladislav, a 28-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, had a confession to make despite the fact he had never voted.

“I was never opposed to Putin. But I did not believe to the last that he would say yes to this cannibalistic reform,” he said.

“Their statements jibe with what we see in other studies,” said Yudin. “People are depoliticized, yes. They distrust the system profoundly. This distrust grew even deeper last year. It’s a typical Russian scenario, and I am not entirely certain it has something specifically to do with workers. It typifies many segments of the populace. People who espouse this worldview serve as the base for different populist projects.”

Researchers describe their views as a contradictory mix of spontaneous anarchism and paternalistic expectations from the state. They would like to see the state solving society’s problems and intervening in the economy to raise wages, create jobs, and distribute incomes more fairly.

Igor, a worker from Omsk, had a typical view of the matter.

“The government should definitely solve these issues if workers have hired them to serve the people. When are they going to handle all of this if they work six and seven days a week? They just don’t have the time to deal with their own improvement [sic],” he said.

However, their political beliefs were more leftist and democratic than conservative and reactionary, even when it came to ethnic, religious and gender issues.

“The workers with whom we spoke, irrespective of whether they believed in God, wanted to lived in a secular state, while hoping the Russian Orthodox Church would be behave more modestly when it came to secular issues and would be less politicized. The views of workers on gender roles, the place of women in families, society, and the state were generally quite democratic. In terms of their worldviews, the workers had more in common with classic leftists than with a good number of current leftist parties and movements in Russia,” write the study’s authors.

Cool Heads
The researchers claim the workers they surveyed were clearly not victims of government propaganda. Their attitude towards Russia’s involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria was generally very restrained, if not sharply negative. Many of them argued that Russia’s foreign policy, as defined by the country’s leadership, had nothing to with their interests and was even capable of harming them. They also had a skeptical attitude to the promotion of great-power patriotism, seeing it as a means of distracting working people from real problems. But while they openly voiced their attitudes to foreign policy, the workers were cautious about discussing it, emphasizing a lack of information on the subject.

Many of them said society was not told everything.

To the surprise of the sociologists, most of the interviewees (78%) identified the internet as their main source of information, despite the fact they were asked about this part of their lives in a way that mentioned television and newspapers first, while the internet was among the information sources listed last.

By comparison, in March 2018, Levada Center published a poll claiming 85% of Russians got most of their information by watching television; moreover, 72% of respondents preferred watching state-controlled Channel One. On the contrary, only five of the workers (22% of the focus group) watched news and political programs on television. They regarded what they saw on television quite skeptically, trying to detect the influence of certain third-party interests.

They had a rather low opinion of the state of the nation.

“Lately, I’ve been ashamed of my people,” said Roman, a worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga.

Another worker, Vladimir, countered Roman.

“To stop feeling ashamed of your nation, just don’t identify yourself with it. Russia, the people, and the nation are illusions that have been pounded into our heads. There is just the earth and the people who live on it. The people who lived before us dreamed up border: here is Russia, there is Ukraine, here is America. In fact, we are all people. If you look at things from this standpoint, everything falls into place. For example, I don’t acknowledge the existence of national Olympic squads. My world is the people I know. When they say, “Our guys are playing football,” I think of “our guys” as my neighbors, workmates, family members, and the clerks at the shop. I could not care less what is going on in Syria and Donbas,” said Vladimir.

The researchers got rather unexpected and ambivalent results when they asked the workers about their attitudes towards migrant workers. In July 2018, Levada Center reported that 67% of Russians regarded them negatively. It is such sentiments that currently fuel nationalism and xenophobia. Among the workers in the survey, however, the intensity of these sentiments was considerably lower.

The different focus groups were split in their opinions of migrant laborers.

“Why hide it? I have a positive attitude toward them, because they are former brothers [within the Soviet Union]. We have the same troubles as they do. They get paid under the table, and so do we. And sometimes they are not paid at all,” said Mikhail, a 55-year-old freight handler.

“I tend to believe we need to create jobs for our own people first, and only then can we create jobs for migrants. As a worker, I consider them competitors, but as a human being I have no problems with them. On the other hand, how do we employ Russians if no Russians want to work as janitors?” said Svyatoslav, a truck driver at the Volkswagen plant.

Ultimately, 45% of the respondents took anti-migrant worker stances. In Omsk, the breakdown between migrantophobes and internationalists was six to four. In Kaluga, on the other hand, where the focus groups and in-depth interviews were dominated by workers from modern, foreign-owned production facilities, there were seven internationalists, as opposed to three migrantophobes.

The study’s authors argue the discrepancies are due to the different types of industry in the two cities, contrasting the workers from the old Soviet defense plants with the employees of foreign companies. However, we would be remiss not to note the relatively low level of nationalism in all the groups surveyed.

“In our view, this is because the workers have closer and more frequent contacts with migrant workers, and thus have more personal experience with them, something that always shatters stereotypes. It is yet another testimony to the fact that the dominant media coverage in Russia has less impact on the views of workers,” argue the study’s authors.

As for attitudes towards religion, twelve of the twenty-three respondents identified themselves as believers, while eleven identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. Two of the respondents regarded themselves as deeply religious Russian Orthodox believers. However, all the respondents said they wanted to live in a secular country in which the Russian Orthodox Church should have a smaller role in secular issues and politics.

The views of the workers on gender relations and the place of women at home and in society were quite democratic. According to the researchers, nearly all the men agreed women had the right to pursue any career or calling. They would not stop their own wives from getting involving in public life and politics or pursuing a career.

However, they regarded female politicians in the State Duma quite skeptically, since they did not see them as politicians who hailed from the grassroots. The respondents named German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović as positive examples of women involved in politics.

At the same time, both of the experts we interviewed, Pavel Kudyukin and Gregory Yudin, agreed the research study had serious methodological flaws. Besides, it gave its readers no sense of the particular life experiences that had prompted the workers to embrace particular outlooks.

Thanks to Alexander Zamyatin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Deza

deza

The bog standard “progressive internationalist leftist” narrative on today’s Russia can be encapsulated in four simple words: “Everything is Yeltsin’s fault.”

There is thus no need to shell out your hard-earned money on books with lots of pages and fancy words in them when the takeaway message is so easily memorized and painlessly digested.

If you suffer from panic attacks, as I do, repeating this message like a mantra will also calm you down in no time at all and put you to sleep on restless nights.

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ДЕЗА

Messages like the one quoted below don’t jibe with the standard narrative aggressively enforced these days like Stalinist dogma among the west’s champagne socialist hipsters, who see Vladimir Putin as the nearly blameless victim of forces unleashed in the 1990s by the real villain of post-Soviet Russian history, Boris Yeltsin.

The problem with the standard hipster socialist narrative, however, is that it’s mostly wrong. It simply cannot account for wild variations among supposedly capitalist countries, just as it has trouble making sense of all the oddities and excesses of the Putinist system, many of which have nothing or almost nothing to do with capitalism and class relations as such.

Vladimir Putin. Let the Russian president stand in for any number of his country’s adept hackers. The country may have been relatively quiet—though not inactive—during the midterm elections, but Russia’s hackers still caused all manner of trouble throughout the world. Upset over a doping-related ban, they hacked and released emails of the International Olympic Committee in January, then attacked the Pyeongchang Olympics themselves, wreaking havoc during the opening ceremonies with so-called Olympic Destroyer malware. When a lab investigated the nerve agent used in the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, Russia tried to hack it, too. They continue to probe the US power grid for weaknesses. And on and on, all before you even get to Putin’s continued, unprecedented cyber-aggression against Ukraine. Russia has spent this year actively, opening lashing out at the world online—with Putin at the command.

Ivan Davydov: The Russian Protest Federation

614352f5bad27acc282af798084aa5e3Protest rally in Abakan against plans to raise the retirement age. Photo by Alexander Kryazhev. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Republic

The Russian Protest Federation: How Moscow Has Stopped Shaping the Political Agenda. Will Ordinary Russians Realize Pension Reform and Geopolitical Triumphs Are Linked?
Ivan Davydov
Republic
September 27, 2018

The people who took to the streets long ago on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue deserve the credit for the reinstatement of gubernatorial elections in Russia. It was a time that would be unimaginable now. There was no war with Ukraine. Crimea had not been annexed. No one had given Syria a second thought. It still makes you wonder why the Kremlin took fright then, albeit briefly. Instead of guessing, we should note it was the capital that led the national protest movement then, confirming yet again the centripetal nature of life in Russia. Over a 100,000 people attended the first two protest rallies in Moscow, on December 10, 2011, and February 4, 2012. Petersburg took second place, sending 25,000 people onto the streets for its February 2012 rally, but no one other city was even close. Protests took place in dozens of cities, including all the major ones, but the best the regions achieved was something on the order of 5,000 people in attendance. In most places, the average crowd numbered around a thousand people.

The opposition failed just like the regime. It transpired the national agenda and the agenda of Muscovites were the same thing. The farther you went from Moscow, the less people were worried about the issues exercising newspaper reporters. Least of all were they worried about their own real problems, about local issues, and thus there was no chance of changing things in Russia.

But the credit for transforming gubernatorial elections into something really resembling elections, albeit quite remotely, must go to the regions. The takeaway message is that the regime’s electoral fiasco in the regions on September 9 is a nationally significant event. The rank-and-file voters there, who cast their ballots for sham candidates from parties other than United Russia as a way of registering their disgust with the local political bosses, have turned circumstances inside out. The regions are now dictating their agenda to Moscow, as governors who seemed invulnerable only recently look shaky, and even Putin himself has been forced to break a sweat.

Airbag
As befits a myth, the Moscow myth that, putting it as succinctly as possible, Moscow is not the real Russia, is not true at all. But, like any good myth with life in it, it is based on real things. As I write this column, water is gurgling in the radiators of the standard Moscow high-rise where I live, because the heating season has kicked off. It is ten degrees Celsius outside, and Moscow’s tender inhabitants would freeze otherwise. Meanwhile, all the news agencies are reporting as their top news item that a place in the queue to buy the new iPhone at Moscow stores will set you back 130,000 rubles [approx. 1,700 euros]. That is expensive, of course, but you would let yourself be seen as an outdated loser at your own peril.

Muscovites protest often, although in fewer numbers than during the fair elections movement. To outsiders, however, protesting Muscovites almost always look like whimsical people who are too well off for their own good. Everyone knows Moscow has wide pavements, new subway stations, the Moscow Central Ring, and perpetual jam festivals and nonstop carnivals on Nikolskaya Street. People who live in places where even today anti-tank trenches pass for roads, and the mayor nicked the benches from the only pedestrian street (urbanism is ubiquitous nowadays, no longer a Moscow specialty) and hauled them to his summer cottage, find it really hard to take seriously people who are up in arms over a new parks whose birches were imported from Germany, and holiday lighting whose cost is roughly the same as the annual budget of an entire provice somewhere outside the Black Earth Region. The residents of “construction trailer accretions” (you will remember that during one of President Putin’s Direct Lines, the residents of a “construction trailer accretion” in Nyagan came on the air to complain) find it hard to understood people protesting so-called renovation, as in Moscow, that is, people who protest the demolition of their old residential buildings and being resettled in new buildings. For that is how it appears when geographical distance obscures the particulars.

The regime has skillfully manipulated this gap. Remember the role played by the “real guys” from the Uralvagonzavod factory during the fair elections movement, or the out-of-towners bussed into the capital for pro-Putin rallies on Poklonnaya Hill and Luzhniki Stadium. But the gap functions as yet another airbag for the Kremlin even when it makes no special effort to manipulate it. Moscow is part of Russia when we are talking about national issues and the fact those issues are debated in Moscow as well, but since any sane non-resident of Moscow believes Moscow is no part of Russia, the big issues end up being issues that exercise Muscovites, but do not interest people beyond Moscow.

The Main Political Issue
Alexei Navalny has bridged the gap slightly. His attempt to set up regional presidential campaign offices seemed absurd since everyone, including Navalny, realized he would not be allowed on the ballot and there would be no reason to campaign. He ran a campaign anyway, and his campaign offices turned into local pockets of resistance, into needles that hit a nerve with the regime while simulatneously stitching Russia together and removing Moscow’s monopoly on national politics. His campaign offices are manned by bold young people willing to take risks and good at organizing protest rallies. Of course, even now more people in Moscow attend Navalny’s protest rallies than in other cities, but people have still been taking to the streets in dozens of cities for the first time since the fair elections protests of 2011–2012. Navalny’s campaign offices splice issues that the locals get with national issues, thus producing the fabric of real politics. When I discussed the subject of this column with the editors of Republic, one of them joked Navalny was a “franchise.” The joke has a point, but the point is not offensive.

It was Vladimir Putin, however, who really turned the tide or, rather, the federal authorities, of which Putin is the living embodiment. The pension reform has made it abundantly clear the Russian authoritarian state no longer intends to be paternalist. The state has suddenly discovered what people actually liked about it was the paternalism. Or they put up with the paternalism. It is hard to say what word would be more precise. But they did not put up with it due to its victories on the geopolitical front.

The pension reform has erased the line between the big issues, debated by well-fed people in Moscow, and the real issues that constitute the lives of real people. This is quite natural, since being able to claim Russia’s miserly pensions a bit earlier in life is more important in places where life is harder. Moscow is definitely not the worse place in Russia to live. Despite the myth, Moscow is no heaven on earth, either, but the central heating has already been turned on, for example.

So, even a dull, boring, well-rehearsed formality like gubernatorial elections has become an effective tool of protest. The regime made a single mistake, a mistake to which no one would have paid attention to a year ago. (Since when has vote rigging seriously outraged people in Russia? Since days of yore? Since 2011?) The mistake set off a chain reaction. The new single nationwide election day had been a boon to the Kremlin, its young technocrats, and its not-so-young handpicked “businesslike” governors. If the elections had not taken place simultaneously everywhere, and the fiasco in the Maritime Territory had occurred at the outset of the elections season, it is not clear how powerful a victory the no-name candidates from the loyal opposition would have scored.

Maybe Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky would have had to disband their parties for fear of reprisals from the regime, since, the way they have long seen things, there is nothing more terrifying than success, and nothing more dangerous than real politics.

A Moscow municipal district council member from the opposition can easily make a coherent, meaningful speech about how the war in Syria has impacted the clumsiness of Mayor Sobyanin’s hired hands, relaying the tile in some unhappy, quiet alley for the third time in a single year. The council member’s speech would elicit laughter, and the laughter would be appropriate. But amidst the customary laughter we need to be able to discern the main question of a reemergent Russian politics.

The issue is this. Will ordinary Russians understand—and, if so, how quickly—that the pension reform (the first but not the last gift to the common folk from their beloved leaders) is part and parcel of the mighty Putin’s geopolitical triumphs, their inevitable consequence, rather than a betrayal and a rupture of the social compact, as certain confused patriotic columnists have been writing lately?

Ultimately, it is a matter of survival for Russia and for Putin. One of the two must survive. As in the films about the immortal Highlander, only one will be left standing at the end of the day.

Ivan Davydov is a liberal columnist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Oleg Sentsov

37388658_2052268531474743_764773632051249152_nThe room in the prison infirmary where Oleg Sentsov is kept. 

Anton Naumlyuk
Facebook
July 19, 2019

Oleg Sentsov

Attorney Dmitry Dinze visited Oleg Sentsov in the Labytnangi penal colony today.

“He looked even worse than last time. He was quite pale. He walked under his own power. Around a week ago, he went through a second health crisis. He got sick. The doctors wanted to hospitalize him and force-feed him as much as possible, to give him IV drips with more nutrients. He refused. He was left in the penal colony on the condition he would ingest the nutrient mix himself under a doctor’s supervision. He takes two spoonfuls a day. He is kept in a room in the prison infirmary. He has no intention of quitting the hunger strike. ‘I’ll hold out as long as I can last,’ he says.”

Sentsov also expressed bewilderment as to why Ukraine and Lyudmila Denisova, human rights ombudsman for the Verkhovna Rada, had ended their vigorious campaign of support for Ukrainian political prisoners.

“Sentsov thinks the Ukrainian side should do more to press for the release of the other political prisoners,” said Dinze.

Sentsov also sent his greetings to Yevgeny Panov (Yevhen Panov), a defendant in the case of the so-called Crimean saboteurs, and to Vladimir Balukh.

Thanks to Askold Kurov and Vladimir Akimenkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Zoya Svetova: Interview with Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission Members Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya

The Network Case: “He Was Tortured in the Woods for Six Hours to Force Him to Testify, and Then Some More So He Would Memorize the Right Wording”
Zoya Svetova
MBKh Media
April 20, 2018

Снимок-экрана-2018-04-20-в-11.19.46Viktor Filinkov. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Mediazona

The Russian Federal Investigative Committee has refused to open a criminal case in connection with a complaint filed by Viktor Filinkov, one of the young antifascists accused in The Network case [aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case—TRR], who claims that Russian Federal Security Service officers tortured him. Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina (“Katya”) Kosarevyskaya, members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, were the first people Filinkov told he had been tortured. Now they are under police surveillance themselves.

The human rights activists talked to Zoya Svetova about why they decided to join the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, what goes on in Petersburg’s remand prisons and penal colonies, and how they have been harassed by reporters from Russian TV channel NTV.

____________________

Yana, Katya, and I talk in a cafe. They have come to Moscow for a day. They have many meetings scheduled, and the young women interrupt each while discussing what they have seen in remand prisons, but mostly they discuss the young men accused in The Network case, which has shaken them. It is not every day people tell you they have been brutally tortured and you see burns on their bodies left by tasers. As for me, this is my first meeting with these young and incredibly mature human rights defenders, who are only twenty-six years old.

Why did you decide to visit prisons and police precincts?

Yana: I wanted to join the Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) as soon was it was established, but you have to be at least twenty-five years old to join, so we didn’t end up on the previous commission. But we helped train other candidates and assisted them in their work. As soon as we turned twenty-five, we submitted our applications.

What do you do for a living?

Yana: I’m a mathematician.

Are you a schoolteacher?

No, I don’t teach. I do research.

Katya: I’m also a mathematician. I work at a school, but I also do research and teach math at a university, probability theory. We met before we studied at university, and then we went to university together. And we both decided to join the PMC.

How did you find out about the PMCs and public oversight?

Katya: I read Anna Karetnikova’s LiveJournal blog, I think. (Anna Karetnikova was a member of the Moscow PMC from 2009 to 2016 — ZS.)

Yana: When we got on the PMC, we already knew what it was, because we had been involved in shaping the PMC’s previous roster. We talked about the PMC to various people and organizations, and got them together.

Katya: And we worked with them when there were large-scale detentions at protest rallies. We found out who could visit detainees in police stations.

Who nominated you to the PMC?

Yana: We lucked out. We were nominated by Azaria, an organization of mothers against narcotics. Azaria is not on the list of “foreign agents” and looks completely innocent. In reality, it is a really cool organization. They are not afraid of anyone, and they really support and help us.

Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya outside Penal Colony No. 5

Until you found yourselves in the middle of the scandal surrounding The Network case defendants, was your work with the PMC completely routine?

Yana: We were not admitted to police stations seven times in a row, meaning that at some point the police just stopped letting us in to do inspections. The first time they didn’t let us in, they had detained young people coming home from a concert. Policemen stopped them and asked to see their papers. They refused to do that until the police had identified themselves by name and explained why they needed to see their papers. The policemen responded by pepper-spraying and detaining them. We were not let into the police precinct to see them. Subsequently, we were not let into police stations under different pretexts. Ultimately, we were able to overcome the problem. Fifteen Interior Ministry employees were brought to justice for not letting PMC members into police stations. We were not the only ones to file complaints. We posted our reports on the incidents, and our readers filed complains on the basis on this information.

Apparently, one of our readers on the social networks played a role. He filed complaints anywhere he could, and the authorities responded to his complaints, referring to him as “the PMC’s community volunteer.” The police officers who did the audit later told us that he had worn them down and asked us to tell him they would fix everything as long as he stopped complaining. Many other people helped out as well, including Human Rights Council member Andrei Babushkin. We also filed lots of detailed complaints ourselves. We managed to navigate around the problem, and this was a victory, of course, in whose wake our visits to police stations suddenly improved dramatically. The police were now afraid of us. Initially, we had good relations with the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN). The FSIN was inclined to cooperate, while the Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] was not. At our very first meeting with them, they told us we had to send notifications when we were planning to visit police stations only by fax, but we were not cool with that, of course. We ourselves had written the rules for how the PMC functioned. Our rules state that our rights as PMC members cannot be infringed. There is nothing in the rules about notifying a police station or remand prison by fax, as had been the case in the first two sittings of the PMC. Back then, only the PMC’s chair could notify penitentiary facilities about commission visits. He could do this only during business hours, because the fax was in his office.

How do you now notify the authorities you are coming to visit their facilities?

Yana: We give them five minutes’ warning. There is no need to notifiy the police ahead of time, whereas the FSIN does need to transfer staff to escort the PMC members around its prisons. We rarely need to catch the FSIN unawares with our visits, while the police often hide detainees from us, and try and take them out of precinct houses via emergency exits. Our latest conflict with them has to do with the fact that they must provide us with records of the people they detain and bring to their stations. They are convinced they do not need to show us these records.

How many people on the Petersburg PMC are on your side?

Katya: Four of the PMC’s twenty-five members.

Yana: It is not that they are all evil monsters. I think we have a fairly good working atmosphere in the commission. For example, there is one lovely lady. She doesn’t always feel well, but she goes out with us on inspections when she can.

When you met the young men accused in The Network case, was it the first time you had dealt with complaints of torture by people in police custody?

Katya: We had usually received really old reports about torture. We would go to a remand prison, where the inmates told us they had been tortured at a police station. There have been many such complaints, around twenty, concerning various police precincts.

What do you do with such reports?

Katya: If the individual is willing, which is not always the case, we publicize them. We try and describe the circumstances on our group page on Facebook, we write down the detainee’s full testimony in an official report, we file a criminal complaint, and send it off. But we don’t have the manpower to keep track of the complaint and file another complaint, about the lack of an official response, when the time comes. We usually try and find lawyers to take over the case, and we always find them.

Yana: So far, we have no criminal cases pending against police officers. On the contrary, the Interior Ministry’s Central District Petersburg office has filed suit against me. They were miffed when I published the story of a woman who claimed she was tortured at the 78th Police Precinct in Petersburg. The woman was pregnant, and police officers abused her. The lawsuit against me claims I published “information that undermines the reputation” or “discredits” the precinct. We published the women’s complaint on the social networks without revealing her last name. The news website Moi Rayon [My Neighborhood] reprinted it. The Interior Ministry mixed everything up, filing suit against me because they thought I’d written the article. In fact, we are involved in lots of lawsuits. We are usually the ones on the attack, and Team 29 helps us out with this.

You won the right to bring recording equipment into a penal colony in court, yes?

Katya: Yes. Recently, Petersburg City Court took the penal colony’s appeal of this ruling under consideration. We have not been let into the penal colony with recording equipment a single time even after the court’s decision came into force. The court ruled that the actions of a specific staff member of the penal colony who had not let us bring recording devices into the colony had been illegal, but this does not mean they have to let us and our equipment into the colony the next time round, although the FSIN’s public stance was originally that they would let us in if we informed them in advance that we planned to bring equipment. But then they changed their minds. We were not allowed to bring recording equipment into the remand prisons from the get-go.

Where are the young men accused in The Network case currently located?

KatyaSix of the accused in The Network case are in Penza, while the other three are in Petersburg and Leningrad Region. Two of them were originally jailed in Remand Prison No. 3 in Petersburg, a place we visit all the time. On March 15, Viktor Filinkov, who was the first person charged in the case to complain of torture, was transferred to a remand prison in Leningrad Region, which is considered a torture chamber. Immediately after he was detained, Filinkov himself was tortured in the wood for six hours, first to force him to testify, and then to make him memorize the right wording. Before his custody hearing, he was told that if he dared to recant his testimony, he would be sent to Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo.

That is the torture chamber remand prison where he is currently in custody?

Yes, he was transferred after he was shown an “optimization” order, although there is room for fifty inmates in Remand Prison No. 3, and there are vacant spots in the cells. Gorelovo, on the other hand, is horribly overcrowded. The cells are meant for one hundred inmates, but there are one hundred and fifty inmates living in them. What kind of “optimization” are we talking about? Yuli Boyarshinov, the third Petersburg man charged in the case, is also being held in Gorelovo.

We cannot visit the remand prison in Gorelovo. The Leningrad Region PMC goes there. When we arrived in Remand Prison No. 3 on March 16, we were suddenly told Filinkov had been transferred to Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo. We asked the Leningrad Region PMC to go out there. They made the trip and told us everything was okay, that Viktor was not being tortured. But they cannot visit him as often as we could.

Do you think he was transferred there so you would be unable to visit him?

That was not the only reason. First, Remand Prison No. 6 is the worst pretrial detention facility in Petersburg and Leningrad Region. Second, he refused to testfiy, so what use was he to the FSB? He had to be sent somewhere where we could not visit him.

Of the men charged in the case, which of them have been tortured, according to your evidence?

Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shishkin, whom we saw, were brutally tortured. Compared to the accounts from Penza, it would appear this was not the worst FSB operatives were capable of. According to testimony given to one of the defense attorneys, one of the accused men in Penza was tortured with electrical shocks for a month. In Penza, the FSB does not even bother to hide what they are doing. The FSB officers show up at the remand prison there, and take their man to another room, where they have a generator and electrical wires set up, and they torture the guy right in a cell in the remand prison. Defense attorney Olga Dinze said there was a secret prison in Moscow where inmates were constantly tortured with electrical shocks for a week. Why? Because they had to be forced to testify.

Have the accused in The Network case testified?

Katya: Yes. Viktor was tortured for six hours, but he agreed to confess after ten minutes. But then he was tortured simply so he would memorize his testimony. It was like animal training.

He told you this in the remand prison?

Yes, he told us, and then he provided a detailed written account of the first forty-eight hours after he was detained. He wrote us a letter and sent it to us by mail. When he was taken to the remand prison, the torture stopped. He had forty taser burns on his body, tiny spots on his thigh and around his groin. And on his chest. We didn’t see his groin area.

Traces of tasers burns on Ilya Kapustin’s body. Photo courtesy of his attorney and Mediazona

How did the staff at Remand Prison No. 3 react to the stories of torture?

Igor Shishkin had taser burns all over his back, buthe burns are listed as “bruises” in the prison’s medical journal.

One staff member forbade Igor from lifting his trousers and showing us the wounds he suffered when tortured. But we documented the injuries anyway. First, we examined Viktor’s taser burns, writing them down by hand, and then we drew pictures for each day, seeing as how the FSB investigators were in no hurry to show up. We documented all the injuries with the remand prison’s physician and warden present.

What was the reaction when you you went public with it?

Yana: Unfortunately, when Igor Shishkin was being tortured, there was not enough public pressure to stop the torture or get into the FSB building and see Igor. After we published our findings, we received support, and lots of it. (Igor Shiskin has not filed a complaint that he was tortured. He claims not to remember how he got the burn marks— ZS.)

How did the other members of the Petersburg PMC react?

The question was whether the PMC would interfere with our work or not. The commission members have not interfered in any way. A month after Shishkin and Filinkov were detained, the Petersburg human rights ombudsman and the chair of the Petersburg PMC visited them in the remand prison and wrote a very carefully worded report that did not gainsay our report. Of course, all traces of their injuries had vanished by that time.

What was the outcome of the Investigative Committee’s review of Filinkov’s torture complaint?

YanaOn Thursday, April 19, it transpired that the investigator refused to file criminal charges. His report says that not all the videos were preserved, the report by PMC members cannot be admitted into evidence, and Viktor was tasered, but only two times in order to prevent him from falling out of the vehicle and “escaping.”

Do you feel that you are being shadowed?

Yana: Yes, I have some notion the police have opened a dossier on us. We have the sense our telephones are tapped and we are being followed. There was a time when the surveillance was demonstrative. It was not a huge inconvenience.

On Friday, NTV will show a film about The Network case. Apparently, you are central characters in this film.

YanaAn NTV crew ambushed me on Sunday, and they ambushed Yekaterina on Saturday.

Katya, the NTV crew ambushed you during a scheduled visit to the Doctor Haass Prison Hospital. NTV asked two questions. Why do you defend terrorists? Why do you defend Ukrainians? Why do think that interested NTV?

Katya: The Ukrainian consul general in Petersburg visited Ukrainian prisoners with me and we wrote about it on Facebook. We visited an inmate in a penal colony who was convicted on drugs charges. He had not been receiving anti-retroviral therapy for a while.

They aren’t political prisoners?

No. Maybe they wanted to make a connection between The Network case and Ukraine? Or maybe they just took a gander at my Facebook page and read that I had spoken to the Ukrainian consul.

They started filming in Penza. There are many parents of the young men accused in the case there, and they have teamed up to defend their children.

An investigator with the Penza FSB summoned one of the mothers to his office and spent two and a half hours persuading her she would help her son out by going on camera and saying the right words, saying the young men were practicing to blow up the Lenin Mausoleum. When she left the FSB building, her husband was waiting for her, but she was put in a vehicle with the NTV crew, and the FSB officer got in with her. They took her to her house and taped the interview there. That was on April 11, I think, and I basically already guessed NTV had begun shooting a film, but I didn’t think I’d be in it.

Yana: They ambushed me at the exit of a house where I don’t spend much time, but where I’m officially registered as living. I had it a bit easier, because they taped Katya after a difficult visit to a hospital. She was tired, but I was rested. Besides, I was ready, because I knew about Katya’s so-called interview. So my time with them was much easier and shorter. The questions were literally the very same ones. There was no individual approach: they could not really tell me and Katya apart, nor could I tell them apart. I accused the young woman questioning me that yesterday she was Maria, and today she was Alexandra, because they looked a lot alike. She show me her ID, but she did not me show me her editorial assignment or tell me the name of the program. I heard the same thing Katya had heard: “You defend terrorists. Ukraine. Right Sector. You prey on the sorrow of parents.”

Yana runs off to catch a train to Petersburg, but Katya and I continue the conversation. I wanted to ask her about Petersburg’s prisons. There is much less known about them than about Moscow’s prisons.

How often do you visit remand prisons?

Katya: I sometimes don’t have the strength. On Saturday, I visited the Doctor Haass Prison Hospital, chatted with NTV, and went to Remand Prison No. 3. Previously, I had visited Remand Prison No. 5, but before that there had been a long break, because it didn’t work out. Sometimes it happens we don’t do any visits for several weeks, but then we do visits. For The Network case we were going to Remand Prison No. 3 on a daily basis. On average, we do around two visits a week.

Tell me about Petersburg’s remand prisons.

We have separate PMCs for Petersburg and Leningrad Region, although the FSIN has one office in charge of the city and the region. The very worst remand prison in Leningrad Region is in Gorelovo, but we are not allowed to visit it.

In Petersburg, there is the renowned remand prison The Crosses on the Arsenal Embankment. It is a historic landmark, and it has been closed. A work-release penal colony from the region was temporarily transferred there. There is talk the local FSIN office will move its headquarters there.

What about The New Crosses?

That remand prison was built to house 4,000 inmates, but something went wrong. Corruption charges have been filed, and so one of the two crosses (wings), designed to hold 2,000 inmates, is the subject of court battles, and it cannot be accessed. There are no inmates there. If it were opened, the inmates from Gorelovo would be transferred there.

The New Crosses remand prison

Are Petersburg’s remand prisons overcrowded?

The Old Crosses was overcrowded. Eight square meters per four inmates, which was two times less space than necessary, but there were always enough beds. There had bunk beds there.

Besides torture, what are the most egregious human rights violations in Petersburg’s remand prisons and penal colonies?

There is a penal colony in which a suspiciously high number of inmates die from cardiac arrest and a suspiciously high number of inmates are a brought injured to hospital and die from their injuries. There is a psychiatric ward in a remand prison that the PMC is not allowed to visit. Complaints about torture and abusive treatment came from the psychiatric ward of The Crosses.

Why are you not allowed into the remand prison’s psychiatric ward?

We are currently fighting a court battle over just this issue. The staff read the law on the provision of psychiatric care, which says individual members of public organizations can enter psychiatric wards only when accompanied by medical personnel. Then they incorrectly read the law on public oversight and decided PMC members are members of public organizations, so we also should be escorted by medical personnel. We get there and are told no medical staff are on duty. We have to wait a while, because they won’t let us in just like that. We are let in only during working hours and only in the company of a physician. We are allowed into the intensive care units only when the attending physician allows it. I appealed our not being admitted to the ward in court. A district court said it was fine we were not being allowed into the ward. Look at the Azaria website, said the judge: Yekaterina Kosarevskya is a member of a public organization. I’ve filed an appeal.

Have you dealt with the case of businessman Valery Pshenichny, who died in Remand Prison No. 4 in Petersburg? Have you heard about his death?

Yana and Roma, the chair of our PMC, went to the prison after the suicide. But they had no contact with the relatives, so it was impossible to do anything. The Investigative Committee had already confiscated the CCTV tapes, which was all the evidence there was, and the only hting Yana and Roma could do was talk with remand prison staff, and try and understand whether the story Pshenichny had committed suicide could be trusted. But they could not understand a thing.

But now, after the article in Novaya Gazeta, which claims that, according to the forensic examination, Pshenichny was murdered and raped, will you conduct a public investigation?

Probably. But it’s not very clear what we can do as PMC members. It is doubtful whether there is any evidence left in the remand prison.

Do you feel any danger due to the fact that you and Yana were the first people to to talk about Filinkov’s torture at the hands of the FSB?

At first, I probably felt danger, because I didn’t know how the FSB would react, and it didn’t know how to react. My nerves were on edge. But now? Everything is a source of danger, probably. NTV has shown its face.

Do you continue to keep track of Filinkov’s plight?

Yes. We continue to file various appeals. I write letters to Viktor, and we visit Igor Shishkin in Remand Prison No. 3.

What is Remand Prison No. 3 like? It probably resembles Lefortvo Remand Prison in Moscow.

It’s a tiny historical building. The warden once boasted of the various famous people who were jailed there. Various wings of the building are under repair all the time. The cells are eight measures square and have bunks for two people. The toilet is separated by a low wooden partition.

Who is jailed there?

There are people accused of treason. One just went to trial in Sevastopol. He lived in Crimea, where he had an interesting job. He was accused of spying for China against Russia, although the evidence in the case relates to 2013, when Crimea was part of Ukraine.

How do prisoners treat you? How do they react to the fact you are so young?

I listen to them carefully, and some PMC members get angry at me that I talk with the prisoners for so long. As for my youth, sometimes it can be an advantage, because certain inmates tell me a lot: a nice young lady has paid them a visit and they feel they can talk with me. So it is not as if these inmates are complaining, they are just having a chat with a nice young woman. When we are able to help them, they say the PMC is a good thing. When we are unable to help them, they complain they turned to us for help and we didn’t help them.

“No, we didn’t,” I say.

It is amazing that both you and Yana are mathematicians, and suddenly you’re inspecting prisons. Why such interest in human rights?

My parents, the books I read. Books about the Decembrists, the Harry Potter books. Grandfather consistently refused to join the Party. But I learned the KGB was a bad thing when I was nine years old, in 2000.

It is the first black hole that has sucked me in. I planned to join the PMC, because I had always been interested (the Peter and Paul Fortress was nearby), but it was one interest among others. I was interested in the rights of migrant workers, in books about social organization. I was certain that, at most, I would spend a third of my free time on the PMC, but then it dragged me in all on its own.

What dragged you in?

Prisons suck me in. It’s bad, of course. I was once driving from the Arsenal Embankment to the Sverdlovskaya Embankment, and I glanced at a building not far from the place where I grew up. I thought I should probably stop my involvement in this nonsense. I should earn money and buy a flat in that building, because it was a beautiful red-brick building, wonderfully designed, with a view of the Neva River. But then I realized that the building merele reminded me of The Crosses.

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, the case of the mysterious death in custody of Petersburg businessman Valery Pshenichny, and related cases involving alleged frame-ups and torture by the Russian police and secret services, please have a look at some of the recent articles I have published on these subjects.