Russia’s Most Dangerous Shaman

shamanAlexander Gabyshev. Photo by Andrei Zatirko. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Riot Police Storm House of Alexander Gabyshev, Yakut Shaman Who Promised to Exorcise Putin
Radio Svoboda
May 12, 2020

Riot police have detained Alexander Gabyshev, the Yakut shaman who last year promised to exorcise Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin, and taken him to a mental hospital, according to MBKh Media, citing Alexei Pryanishnikov, the coordinator of Pravozashchita Otkrytki [Open Russia’s human rights program].

According to the human rights activist, at least twenty special forces officers had stormed the shaman’s house in Yakutsk. The reason for his arrest is unknown. Earlier in the day, Gabyshev had been visited several times by people who presented themselves as medical professionals, and asked to test him for the coronavirus. Two of Gabyshev’s supporters were detained along with him for violating self-isolation rules.

Gabyshev gained notoriety in the spring of 2019, when he set off on foot to Moscow to perform an exorcism ritual to force Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin.

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A Shaman for Putin: What Siberians Are Telling Gabyshev on His Way to Moscow, Radio Svoboda, September 12, 2019. Yakut shaman Alexander Gabyshev believes that Vladimir Putin is the “spawn of dark forces,” so he set off on foot to Moscow to “exorcise” him. The shaman began the journey alone, but soon followers began to join him. In Chita, he spoke to a large rally. Buryatia was the next region on Gabyshev’s journey: mass protests started in Ulan-Ude after his supporters were arrested. Gabyshev planned to take two years to get to Moscow so he could unhurriedly converse with the people along the way. The shaman and his followers moved along the roads, covering an average of twenty kilometers a day, stopping for the night in tents, sometimes at roadside motels. Local residents and passing people went to talk to Gabyshev, taking pictures, and helping with food and money.

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On September 19 of last year, Gabyshev was detained at the border between Buryatia and Irkutsk Region during an operation involving special forces. He was identified as a suspect in a criminal investigation into alleged instances of “incitement to extremism” and released on his own recognizance. A psychological and psychiatric examination ordered by police investigators found that Gabyshev was mentally incompetent.

Gabyshev subsequently tried to resume his campaign, promising to make another march on Moscow in June.

The criminal case against Gabyshev was suspended for the duration of the epidemic. International human rights organization Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

“‘What sounds like a tale from Russian folklore has become, in today’s Russia, just another act of brutal suppression of human rights,” the organization noted.

Translated by the Russian Reader

BBC Russian Service, From Yakutia to Moscow: A Shaman’s Journey Against Putin, September 24, 2019

Spooky Knowledge and the Russian Police State

gabyshevOpposition shaman Alexander Gabyshev was detained while walking to Moscow to exorcise Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy of yakutia.info

Superstitious Democracy
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
September 20, 2019

The arrest and possible criminal prosecution of self-declared shaman Alexander Gabyshev, who was en route to Moscow to exorcise Vladimir Putin, whom the shaman had dubbed a demon, is less a consequence of Gabyshev’s involvement in protest rallies and more the outcome of a serious attitude toward superstitions and occult practices on the part of high government officials and the security forces.

On Thursday, Gabyshev’s traveling companions reported that security services officers, armed with machine guns and billy clubs, had raided their tent camp on the border between Buryatia and Irkutsk region, where the shaman was spending the night. The siloviki detained Gabyshev and spirited him away on a police bus that took off towards Ulan-Ude.

In the afternoon, the Buryatia Interior Ministry reported, without naming a name [sic], that Gabyshev had been detained by order of a police investigator on suspicion of his having committed a crime in Yakutia, and he would be extradited to Yakutsk. According to sources cited by news agencies and TV Rain, Gabyshev could be charged with extremism.

Gabyshev’s trek to Moscow had already been marred by the arrest of his traveling companions, which partly sparked the unrest in Ulan-Ude that led to a protest rally at which protesters demanded a recount of the recent mayoral election in the city and generated a tactical alliance between shamanists and the Communists.

In our age of smartphones and supercomputers, the attempt to exorcise demons from the Kremlin seems like a joke, just like the possible charge of extremism against Gabyshev: it transpires that occult rituals are regarded as real threats to the Russian state.

We should not be surprised by this, however. Many of our fellow Russians have lost faith in the rational foundations of the world order and the state system. The paucity of scientific explanations in Russian society has been compensated by superstitions and conspiracy theories, which are broadcast by national TV channels, among others.

But that is only half the problem. Such explanations of reality and occult methods are widespread among the highest ranks of the security services, that is, among people who have the ear of the country’s leaders. Cheka officers were intensely interested in occultism in the 1920s and 1930s, an interest shared, later, by the NKVD and the Nazi secret services.

In post-Soviet Russia, arcane practices were promoted by the late General Georgy Rogozin, who served as deputy chief of the president’s security service.

“There are powerful techniques that reveal psychotronics. This is the science of controlling the brain. […] In order to see the trajectory of a person’s life, their ups and downs, it is enough to know when they were born,” Rogozin told Komsomolskaya Pravda in an interview.

In December 2006, General Boris Ratnikov of the Federal Protective Service (FSO) told Rossiiskaya Gazeta that the secret services had tapped into the subconscious of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and detected a “pathological hatred of Slavs” and dreams of controlling Russia. In 2015, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev reproduced this as Albright’s “statement” that Siberia and the Far East did not belong to Russia.

We can only guess what threats the current security forces were able to “scan” (concoct, that is) in Gabyshev’s subconscious.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Valentin Urusov: A Worker’s Struggle (August 2012)

One of the most egregious frame-ups on drug charges in Russia in recent memory was the case of Yakutia trade union activist Valentin Urusov.

The weekly magazine Russian Reporter told Urusov’s story in August 2012, after he had been in police custody and then prison for over three years.

The article was, in fact, part of a second international campaign, led by Russia’s independent trade unions, to persuade the Russian authorities to release Urusov from prison.

This time around, their efforts paid off, and after his release, Urusov was awarded the Arthur Svensson Prize, the “Nobel Prize” of international trade unionism.

When I posted the following translation of the Russian Reporter article on January 25, 2013, Urusov was still in prison, doing time for crimes everyone who knew anything about the case knew he had not committed.

It is silly to compare these things, but I think Urusov’s story is much more horrifying than the much more recent story of Meduza reporter Ivan Golunov. First, it happened at the end of the earth, geographically speaking. Second, Urusov’s supporters had neither the social capital or the numbers to instantly launch a widespread moral panic to secure his immediate release.

Powerful men, including the men who run Alrosa, Russia’s state-owned diamond mining company (whose board at the time included Alexei Kudrin, laughably regarded as a “liberal” by people who do not want to know any better), wanted Urusov to go down, and so he went down, despite the absurdity of the charges against him, despite the fact that the police officer who engineered his frame-up was later found guilty of fraud and abuse of authority, and despite the fact that the Yakutia Supreme Court overturned his conviction in May 2009. (It was reinstated by the original, lower court a little over a month later.)

In fact, although Urusov’s story is a central episode in the recent history of independent trade union activism in Russia, I would wager a large amount of money that the vast majority of Russians have never heard of Urusov and his horrifying ordeal at the hands of Russian “law enforcement.” || TRR

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A Worker’s Struggle
How an attempt to create a real labor union lands you in a penal colony
By Andrei Veselov
Russian Reporter
August 23, 2012

It is now acceptable to talk about political prisoners in Russia—it has become good form. But for some reason, bankers and financiers now and again end up on lists of “prisoners of conscience.” Their troubles are discussed in great detail, and there is sincere sympathy for them. Little is said about the fact that for the last four years Valentin Urusov, a rank-and-file worker, has been doing time at the penal colony in Verkhny Vestyak, Yakutia, for attempting to establish an independent labor union. Russian Reporter has decided to rectify this.

“When they drove off the road into the taiga, I hear, ‘Take out the plastic sheet so nothing gets splattered.’ That, as they say, is when I bid farewell to life, calmed down and resigned myself. I lay on the floor of the car and waited. Hands cuffed behind my back. They pulled me out, put me on my knees and fired three shots over my head. But they didn’t kill me.”

urusov

Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter

The senior officer for education at the colony listens attentively to my conversation with Valentin Urusov, a prisoner at Penal Colony No. 3 in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and former leader of the independent labor union local in the town of Udachny. After the interview, the officer comes up to me and says, “You know, maybe he is really innocent. But if five percent are wrongly convicted in America, what can you expect from us?”

“What a terrific job!”

The idea that a full-fledged rather than puppet labor union could emerge in Udachny occurred to Valentin, a rank-and-file employee at Almazenergoremont, a subsidiary of the local mining and processing plant, after the scandalous “affair of the sandblasters.” Urusov himself is a local man, although he was born in Karachay-Cherkessia: he has lived in Yakutia since he was two years old and worked here since he was sixteen, mostly at facilities run by the state-owned diamond mining company Alrosa. There are few other options here.

Udachny is a town fourteen kilometers from the Arctic Circle, and one of the three main sites, along with Mirny and Aikhal, where diamonds are mined. Among the workers involved in the mining process are the so-called abrasive blasters or, more simply, sandblasters, whose job is to work solid surfaces with an abrasive, high-pressure stream of air pumped through a hose. It is not a job that is good for the health of the worker, to say the least: pulmonary silicosis is the occupational illness. Neither a safety helmet nor a [hazmat] suit, like cosmonauts wear, helps.

In 2007, a team of these sandblasters demanded overtime pay, which at that time went chronically unpaid. The workers filed a lawsuit and even managed to win their case: the Labor Code was clearly on their side.

“A special commission arrived in Udachny to arbitrate the dispute directly,” explains Andrei Polyakov, an Alrosa spokesman. “The company agreed with the validity of the claims, an agreement settling all grievances was signed, and compensation was paid out. The managers who were in direct dereliction of their duties were punished.”

This happened, it is true, but later. The main scandal occurred when the dispute was still being settled: the semi-official labor union at Alrosa, Profalmaz, negotiated not on the side of the workers, but on behalf of . . . management. This provoked astonishment and outrage in Udachny.

So, on the one hand, Profalmaz’s authority was undermined. On the other, the feeling arose that one’s labor rights could be protected—moreover, in a civilized manner, through the courts and arbitration, the European way, so to speak.

“I just found it interesting. I’m a generally curious person, and that is probably why I’m in prison,” jokes Valentin. “I went online and came across Sotsprof, a trade union association that is an alternative to the FNPR (the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia). I wrote an email to its leader, who was then Sergei Khramov. He replied by sending me documents on how to create a new union.”

“But why a new one?” I ask. “Was it really impossible to make things work within the existing union?”

“All [organizations] belonging to Mikhail Shmakov’s FNPR, including Profalmaz, are not labor unions but appendages of personnel departments. All they do is allocate vacation vouchers. They will never oppose management.”

“Was the only problem overtime and the fact it wasn’t being paid then?”

“Of course not. There were a lot of problems! And then, you understand, this is very difficult work: you have to work night and day, and on holidays, and take someone else’s shift, whatever management says. But you get paid for an eight-hour day. And then there are the working conditions and safety. In the department where I worked, the equipment should have been scrapped twenty years ago, at best. There are a lot of accidents as a result. The ones that were made public were like a speck in a big heap of sand. I got a big piece of flesh taken out of my hand, and that was nothing. Of course, it’s hard to hush up fatal incidents. But fractures and injuries are different. There are thousands of them and nobody cares. It was a shame that the company was so wealthy, that it built five-star hotels and all kinds of business centers, but scrimped on us.”

In Moscow, I met with Sergei Khramov, to whom Valentin had sent the email and who had instructed him on creating a union local.

Udachnaya_pipe

The open pit of the Udachnaya Diamond Mine, Russia, from a helicopter, July 17, 2004. Photo by Alexander Stepanov

“Add to this the aggressive water in the gully where they mine diamonds.” Khramov hands me a complaint from Udachny miners addressed to Vladimir Putin. “It’s nearly acid and it penetrates their rubber suits. Here they write, ‘We don’t know what it is we are breathing when the ventilation equipment is lubricated with used oil.’ Or there’s this one: ‘Cold, unheated air is pumped into the mine, even in winter.’ And it’s minus forty-fifty in winter there. What a terrific job!”

How to frighten a republic’s leadership

Right at this time, in August 2008, the so-called Siberian Social Forum was held in Irkutsk. “Free” trade unions were among the forum’s founders. Urusov’s new acquaintances invited him there, too. In fact, it was a small event, attended by no more than two hundred people, but it made a strong impression on Valentin.

“[Civil rights lawyer] Stanislav Markelov, who was later murdered in Moscow, lectured on legal issues. He was a very competent, energetic, lively man—it’s a shame [what happened] to him. He talked about how to act in this or that situation so as not to set oneself up and achieve [your goals] at the same time. And then the call came. Problems with pay had begun at the second motor depot, and the guys had decided to organize a strike.”

Events unfolded rapidly. In a small suburban home outside of Udachny, Urusov met with motor depot drivers and mechanics in an almost conspiratorial atmosphere and began persuading them to join the union. Armed with new knowledge, Urusov tried to prove to his comrades that if a strike began they would immediately be fired for trumped-up excuses, and there would be no one left to work on getting them reinstated. During the second “conspiratorial” meeting, sixty-two people joined Urusov’s union local.

There were two options as to how to proceed. First, a classic strike. But the Udachny miners had no experience with strikes, and therefore they could easily have been fired for “absenteeism.” And even if they had managed to get fired workers reinstated, they would have lost the initiative, and the remaining workers would have been demoralized. The second option was a hunger strike. Everyone goes to work; there is no downtime and, therefore, nothing for management to complain about. But demands are loudly declared and, basically, a scandal erupts. They chose the second option.

“At first, [management] demonstratively paid no attention to us. Then they see we aren’t going to back down. That is when they began dropping by,” Urusov laughs. “People came from the police, from plant security, from the company itself, trying to talk us out of it. In exchange for setting up a conciliation commission, we suspended the hunger strike.”

However, the commission was unable to achieve a compromise. Management made no concessions.

“We decided to hold an open union meeting right on the town’s central square. It wasn’t a [protest] rally, and by law, we weren’t required to notify anyone. On the first day, all the motor depot workers came, plus another two hundred people. The director of the plant came and tried to say something. But he couldn’t answer a single question and left. And right there on the square, people began joining the union. By the end of the day, something like three hundred people had joined. We decided to repeat the meeting. The second time, more than eight hundred people gathered. There was no rioting and no laws were broken. We didn’t even have a loudspeaker. By evening, I remember it even now, 1,012 people had joined the union.”

We have to remember that Udachny is a very small town with a population of slightly over ten thousand, and such developments outright scared both the local authorities and certain people in high places. The situation was headed towards a citywide strike and a potential stoppage of diamond mining in the Udachnaya kimberlite pipe—the largest in the world, by the way.

“We have enormous enterprises in our country. Often [they] monopolize their regions, and so a strike or simply a large [industrial] action could freeze an entire industry,” explains Alexander Zakharin, Urusov’s friend and colleague, and chair of the Sotsprof local in Surgut. “And if you organize such an action, you risk running into a brutal response. From the owners and from the authorities. But it happens that milder measures don’t work. Then you need to choose: take a risk or keep your mouth shut.”

At Alrosa itself, the union’s activities in Udachny are seen primarily as an attempt at self-promotion.

“A media effect—promoting awareness of Sotsprof and the number of times it got mentioned in the press—was probably the main objective for some of its executives,” argues company spokesman Polyakov.

As during the [dispute in 2007], Profalmaz adopted a peculiar position in the new confrontation. Its leader, Il Tumen (Sakha Republic State Assembly) deputy Pavel Tretyakov, not only failed to help the workers but also asked the republic’s leaders to reason with the “rebels.” Profalmaz’s executive committee sent an appeal to the President of Yakutia, Vyacheslav Shtyrov, and FNPR head [Mikhail] Shmakov asking them to prevent “incitement of a conflict.”

Tretyakov later, in a similar vein, told Vasily Gabyshev, the Mirny town prosecutor, “It’s surprising that law enforcement authorities didn’t respond to attempts by various persons to artificially incite conflicts, to calls for illegal hunger strikes and [labor] strikes.”

The Yakutia presidential administration composed a panicked memo on the basis of Tretyakov’s appeals. The President instructed law enforcement agencies to figure out what was happening. (Russian Reporter has all these documents in its possession.) What exactly Shtyrov wanted from the security services is still unclear, but the local office of the FSKN (the Federal Drug Control Service) reacted to the situation, let’s say, in an extremely original way.

Udachny—Aikhal—Mirny

“Then what happened? Then the third of September came. I was leaving my place. I heard a car door open. I instinctively turned around.  It was a simple UAZ[-452], a “Pill” [i.e., a van] with tinted windows. Out came three guys in leather jackets and jeans with shaved heads. I didn’t know them. I immediately knew something was wrong and ran. They caught up to me and knocked me down.”

“Did they show you any identification?”

“Absolutely nothing. They restrained me and brought me to the van. First, they handcuffed me with my hands in front. Later, in the van, they tried to cuff me with my hands behind my back. I clasped my hands and held on. They pulled and pulled, broke my finger, and finally handcuffed my hands behind my back. They threw me to the floor and one of them sat on top of me. We drove for a long time.”

It subsequently emerged that Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Rudov, the head of drug control in the Mirny District, had personally led this “operation.” In order to apprehend Urusov, he and his subordinates had driven six hundred kilometers [to Udachny]: [his] “Hunter” [i.e., jeep] was waiting for the “Pill” on the outskirts of the town. In court, Rudov claimed to have had “operational information” that Urusov was involved in selling drugs.

“We asked the court to confirm or refute Rudov’s testimony, and requested written confirmation that the ‘operational information’ had been registered in the police operational ledger,” says Urusov’s attorney Yevgeny Chernousov, a former police colonel who specializes in narcotics cases. “We didn’t demand that this information itself or its source be revealed. We just wanted to confirm that the information had existed. The court did not fulfill our request. There is thus no evidence of its existence. In light of this, Rudov’s unwarranted trip to Udachny and back seems more than suspicious.”

Valentin says that Rudov was on the phone with a certain Alexei Yurevich or Yuri Alexeyevich the whole time, reporting to him that they had “taken” Urusov and wanting to know what to do next. After one of these conversations, the van pulled off into the taiga. There the narcotics officers spread out plastic sheeting and fired a few shots over Urusov’s head, recounts Urusov.

“They were shooting the whole time,” says Valentin. “They shot at birds, and at trees. Apparently, they wanted to frighten me. We had already driven far from town, and basically, they could have done whatever they wanted with me.”

At a fork in the Udachny-Aikhal-Mirny road, the car of Grigory Pustovetov, head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant, drove up to Rudov’s group “entirely by accident.” Only then did the police decide to search Urusov for drugs. Pustovetov and his driver acted as official witnesses. The search was a complete success: sixty-six grams of hashish oil were found in the union activist’s pocket.

“A number of questions arise,” says an outraged Chernousov. “First, when the arrest happens in one place, but the [official] search with witnesses happens dozens of kilometers away, it’s a clear sign that the drugs could have been planted. Second, if the head of one of a company’s security units serves as a witness when an employee in a labor dispute with that company is being searched, it also gives rise to the most unpleasant thoughts.”

Urusov himself claims the hashish was planted on him in the car after the fake execution. He says that hash oil was specially applied to his hands so that traces of the drug would later be detected when his hands were swabbed.

“When we were organizing the miners’ union in Neryungri (a major industrial center in Yakutia), I was reminded of this story,” says Valery Sobol, first secretary of the Neryungri Communist Party City Committee. “I won’t name the names [of the persons involved] because I live there. Employees of the so-called organs [i.e., the security services] invited me to a pub. We hung out there for a while. Then at another place, and then another. I myself didn’t drink, [but] they drank a lot. And, as if it was an afterthought, though they had summoned me there [to deliver just this message], one of them says, ‘You remember that thing with Urusov? You also better not be naughty. If anything happens, we’ll plant a gun [on you] or whatever.’ And then he laughed. Like it was a joke.”

Several months ago, Sobol nearly won the election for the head of the Neryungri District. He came in second by only a small margin. And if a potential district head can be threatened almost openly, then the kidnapping of a simple working stiff like Urusov, who has no political backing at all, does not seem farfetched.

Sobol and I sat in the kitchen of Sergei Yurkov, an engineer, businessman, and leader of [an organization called] the Russian Community of Yakutia. He met Urusov in a pre-trial detention facility. I ask him how he had ended up there.

“My story is simple. Transneft was building a pipeline here. They didn’t want to pay normal wages to the locals. So when the locals balked, they brought in rural Chinese willing to work for peanuts and live in barracks. When we organized a rally and put up flyers saying this wasn’t how things were done, I was arrested under Article 282 of the Criminal Code for ‘incitement of interethnic hatred.’ What does ‘incitement’ have to do with it? I was sentenced to two years in prison.”

Drugs via the Special Courier Service?

It must be said that the theme of drugs, with which they decided to shut Urusov up, did not arise by accident. Drug use is a local scourge. And this makes sense. There are few other ways to have fun in small towns and villages in the North. That is why on the surface Urusov’s prosecution under a drug statute was meant to have appeared more or less plausible.

“It’s a big problem here, as is drinking,” says Maxim Mestnikov, a Sotsprof spokesman in Yakutia. “When Friday comes, hang onto your head: there is a deluge of knife wounds [and] head injuries.”

But Urusov, in fact, never had the reputation of a mischievous drug addict. In his youth, at the beginning of the 2000s, he and a few friends created an organization called Youth for an Athletic Movement-North, whose activists patrolled the city monitoring places where drugs were sold. Eventually, the mayor of Udachny even suggested that they create a branch of City Without Drugs on the line of [Yevgeny] Roizman’s [controversial anti-drugs organization].

The relationship between certain local [Alrosa] subcontractors and drug dealers, however, may require a separate investigation. Russian Reporter has in its possession an official memo written by Sergei Denisov, the predecessor of [Grigory] Pustovetov (the man who acted as a witness during the police search of Urusov) as head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant.

The memo is addressed to Yuri Ionov, former vice-president for security at Alrosa, and it deals with the overall crime situation in the area. Among many others, the memo contains the following passage: “It is impossible to ignore the fact that a drug trafficking network has developed in the village. According to operational information from the Mirny office of the FSB, the delivery of drugs is carried out by the [Federal] Special Courier Service, with which Alrosa has a contractual relationship for the transportation of diamonds.” Moreover, the memo shows that confidential and friendly relations exist between certain high-ranking Alrosa executives, law enforcement officers, and outright criminals.

“I’ll say this: the criminal world is generally in first place here,” [Sotsprof’s] Mestnikov says with conviction. “In this respect, it is still the nineties here. Something needs to be done so you go to them and they handle it. And this could also have happened with Valentin. Perhaps it was better that they sicked the cops on him and not the wise guys.”

After he presented the memo to Ionov, Denisov was forced to resign and move to Novosibirsk.

“No decision was taken on my report. Ionov showed me the door and said he didn’t need any unnecessary problems. As for Urusov, I can say that it’s a pure frame-up,” [Denisov says].

In May 2010, Lieutenant Colonel Rudov was sentenced to three years of probation for fraud and abuse of authority. According to [Urusov’s other] lawyer Inga Reitenbakh, “He was charged with receiving 2.5 million rubles from Alrosa for the purchase of an apartment in Mirny.” The investigators and Rudov himself categorically denied any connection between this case and the Urusov case. Nevertheless, the funds were allocated to Rudov shortly after Urusov’s arrest. According to Russian Reporter’s source, Rudov now works as a procurements specialist in the repair and construction office at the Mirny mining and processing plant.

“He shoots before he thinks”

Urusov was also unlucky in that he had set about creating a Sotsprof local in Udachny exactly when the union’s leadership had entered the complex process of building relations with the Kremlin.

“Beginning in 2007, people from the Russian Presidential Administration began to pressure us very actively,” says Sergei Khramov. “We were strongly recommended to name Sergei Vostretsov from the United Russia party as [our] new leader. I had good reason to believe that if we didn’t, we would simply be destroyed. And I figured, the heck with him, let Vostretsov be the leader and do public relations, while I, as Sotsprof’s general labor inspector, will do the day-to-day work.”

The first outcome of this “castling” move was that the formerly oppositional Sotsprof supported Dmitry Medvedev in the 2008 presidential elections.

”And when they began pressuring Valentin, Vostretsov told me not to make any unnecessary noise, because he would fix everything anyway. I knew that the Vostretsov family—his younger brother was the youngest FSB colonel in the country—was very close to General Alexander Mikhailov, the then-director of the Federal Drug Control Service. I thought that Valentin’s case would be decided with a single phone call.”

For the sake of fairness, we should note that complicated events were underway at the Federal Drug Control Service at the time. Viktor Ivanov had replaced Viktor Cherkesov, who had famously publicized the existence of a war within the security services in an article [entitled “We Can’t Let Warriors Turn into Traders”]. In October, General Mikhailov left the FSKN as well. There was simply no one left to make that “single phone call.”

Subsequently, Vostretsov pushed Khramov out of Sotsprof altogether, and the organization became completely loyal to the Kremlin.

In December 2008, the Mirny District Court sentenced Valentin Urusov to six years in prison for drug possession. Vostretsov tried to fight it, but more from behind the scenes: he met with officials from the Yakutia administration and officials of the security services, and even, allegedly, raised the issue of Urusov with Medvedev. It was no use.

Khramov, in contrast, acted publicly. It was he who got the famous lawyer Chernousov to take the case. Chernousov convinced the Yakutia Supreme Court to overturn the verdict (on procedural grounds: the judge had not retired to chambers while considering a motion to dismiss), after which the case was retried.

“I had absolutely no illusions,” Valentin smiles. “After the Supreme Court decision, many people thought I would be exonerated.  I was certain of the opposite, that now I would be ‘shut down’ for sure. This was evident from the faces of those in the courtroom at the second trial. After the first hearing, I gathered my belongings, put on the track suit I’d been wearing while traveling between pre-trial detention facilities and prisons, and from then on I went to hearings in this outfit.”

In Udachny, there is a small newspaper with the humorous name of Gorodok [“The Burg”], edited by a local journalist named Alla Demidova. After Urusov was released, she published a short article. Immediately, the very same day, she got a call from Maxim Dobarkin, one of the police investigators who had participated in Urusov’s “arrest.”

“Dobarkin called me at home,” says Demidova. “Drunk. He told me how many bullets he would put in me, said that ‘he shoots before he thinks,’ that he knows where I live, and that he would ‘get’ me ‘whether in Udachny or in Sochi.’”

“What did you do?”

“I filed a complaint with the FSB.”

“Did they respond?”

“They responded by sending me a one-line answer: ‘There is no threat.’”

Dobarkin, however, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and together with Rudov took command of the Federal Drug Control Service’s interdistrict department in Mirny.

Another Yakutia journalist, Aitalina Nikiforova, was also threatened for covering Urusov’s case.

“I reported on every hearing during the trial from the courtroom. Rudov called me over during one of the hearings and said word for word, ‘Your oldest daughter is fifteen. It would be interesting to see how you’ll defend Urusov after some old drug dealers drug her up and pass her around.’ This definitely sounded like a threat. At the time I was working as editor-in-chief at the only independent newspaper in Mirny, Moya Gazeta. The only printing plant in town refused to print us. Local Federal Drug Control Service agents began coming to my house, allegedly because of anonymous tips that I also used and dealt drugs. Some of [the agents] were insolent and rude; others were ashamed because the last visits took place when I was six to seven months pregnant with my third child.”

After that Nikiforova decided it would be safer to leave her hometown and move to Yakutsk.

In June 2009, the Mirny District Court delivered a new verdict in the Urusov case that completely upheld the previous verdict, but in September the Yakutia Supreme Court lightened Urusov’s prison sentence by one year. The Sotsprof local in Udachny had been crushed. The second motor depot has been completely shut down. The company has had no more problems with the workforce in this town.

“Valentin, who do you tend to blame for what happened to you?” I finally asked.

“Alrosa is a state-run company. It is owned by the government, by the state, so . . . you understand.”

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Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter

***

“Our government is fascist,” Yurkov, the leader of the Russian Community of Yakutia, suddenly declares, and it sounds quite equivocal.

Sobol, the man who missed becoming head of the Neryungri District by a heartbeat, turns and stops smoking next to the window.

“We have to be precise with our terms: neither Nazi nor nationalist, but precisely fascist as it is understood in Mussolini’s theory of the corporate state, as Franco, Salazar, and even Pinochet understood it. In our country, the authorities and big business are intertwined in a ball. And anyone who gets in their way is crushed. Here in Yakutia, in the provinces, it’s just more clearly felt.  But it’s the same thing all over the country.”

Translated by Sean Guillory and Chtodelat News. Slightly different versions of the same translation were published by n+1 and Sean’s Russian Blog.

“Lie Still, Bitch!”

ammosov-1Anton Ammosov. Courtesy of OVD Info

Beaten, Sacked and Threatened with Torture: The Story of a Man Detained for Posting Comments about the FSB
OVD Info
April 24, 2019

In November 2018, libertarian Anton Ammosov was detained in Yakutsk by FSB officers. The officers beat him in their car and threatened to torture him. Then his home was searched, he was sacked from his job, and his home was searched a second time. Ammosov had warranted this treatment only because he had commented on news stories about the Network case and the suicide bombing at FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk in October 2018. Ammosov told OVD Info about what happened to him and how his life changed with the FSB’s advent.

I was then still employed as a systems administrator at the Ammosov Northeastern Federal University. My boss telephoned me on the evening of November 20, 2018. He told me I had to go to the personnel department at eight the following morning and bring my [internal] passport with me. I was really surprised, because the personnel department opened at nine. But my boss insisted I had to be there by eight and the matter was urgent.

The next day I arrived at the university at the scheduled time. I was seen by the deputy head of the personnel department. I wondered why he was personally handling the matter. He took my passport and left the office for five minutes. He said he had to make photocopies. He told me some rubbish about problems with the database. I realized he was doing what the FSB told him to do. I heard him talking to someone on the phone, but I did not put two and two together. I spent ten to fifteen minutes in the personnel department.

I went outside, planning to walk to the building where I worked. I had walked only a few meters when I heard a van’s side door opening. Armed, masked men threw me down on the snow.

“Lie still, bitch!” they screamed.

They beat me, cuffed my hands behind my back, and pulled my cap down to my nose. I could not see a thing. I was dragged into the van, which immediately took off.

I was placed in the front row of seats with my knees on the floor. My scarf and the cap pulled down over my face suffocated me. I was beaten on the back, kidneys, and buttocks. I was hit in the head several times, but when I screamed I was officially disabled and had glaucoma, they stopped hitting me in the head.

When I asked why I had been detained, the masked men responded by beating me harder. One of them either sat on my back or pressed it with his knee. He twisted my fingers, trying to unblock my phone, but there was no fingerprint sensor on my smartphone. The man twisted my little fingers. He said he would break them if I did not tell him the password to my telephone. Then he said they would take me straight to the right place for such things and torture me with electrical shocks by hooking me up to a generator. One of the FSB guys quoted what I had written in the comments section of the regional news website ykt.ru.

I had written there that FSB officers were cooking up criminal cases and torturing people with generators. I had written about the Network case. I wrote about the young man who had blown himself up in Arkhangelsk. There was also a news item about the FSB’s having detained someone for a post on the social network VK, and I had published an unflattering comment about them.

We drove for twenty minutes. They beat me the entire way, threatening to torture me with electrical shocks.

ammosov-2FSB headquarters in Yakutsk. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info

The car stopped. They pulled me roughly to my feet and dragged me somewhere. Along the way, they constantly dropped me on the marble floor. I hit my knees on the floor several times. They also made a point of slamming my whole body against door jambs and columns. They joked about how clumsy they were. Every time they dropped me on the floor they told me to get up. When I was unable to get up on my own, they would jerk me to my feet by pulling me up by both arms. The handcuffs dug into my wrists.

I was taken into a room. I could see only the floor and my feet: the caps was pulled over my face the whole time. They stood me beside the wall while they rifled my backpack. They took the cap off and asked about the medications in my backpack. It was then I saw them: five men in sand-colored uniforms and balaclavas. They were strapping and tall, with blue eyes, meaning they were not locals. Apparently, locals are not hired by the FSB in the ethnic republics.

I was asked about the medicine before they pulled the cap back over my eyes. They said they were going to eat meat and when they returned, they would torture by shocking me using a generator. I was really afraid. I did not understand what was happening. I had not yet been told why I was detained.

An FSB field officer wearing no mask came in a while later. I gathered he was an investigator. He asked me about the password to my phone. I was standing next to the wall, the cap pulled over my eyes. I said nothing. I refused to speak to him. He said he would call in the boys in masks. They would “do their number” on me and I would talk whether I wanted or not. It was thus in my interests to give him the password; otherwise, I would  be tortured badly. I cracked and told him the password. The field officer was happy.

My hat was removed and I was sat down in a chair.

“What is happening? Why have you detained me?” I asked him.

“You know why,” the field officer replied. He said they had been watching me for a long time. They had a case file on me. He was glad to meet me in person.

I found out why I had been detained only a few hours earlier.

A major entered the office. He said someone had posted a picture containing threats against the FSB in the comments section of the website ykt.ru. They thought I had done it. I replied I had not done it. There were 20,000 students and 6,000 staff member at the university, and they all had the same IP address. I got the impression the major did not understood much about this stuff. He said the FSB surveilled WhatsApp and Telegram and read everything.

Interrogation
When they unblocked my phone, they asked me what I thought about anarchism, whether I knew Mikhail Zhlobitsky, what I thought about him, and what my political views were. They asked about Telegram and what I had been doing on the chat group Rebel Talk, whether I had been looking for allies there. They asked me what I thought about Putin, Russia, and Navalny.

I had joined the chat group out of curiosity for a day or two. I had learned about it in the news reports about the bombing in Arkhangelsk. I was on it for a while, wrote a bit, left the group, and forgot about. I did not write anything worth mentioning in the chat group.

During the interrogation. I realized I was on lists of theirs. I could have got on the lists due to the speech I gave at an anti-corruption rally in Yakutsk in June 2017.

I was in the FSB office for around eight hours. It was a room three meters by four meters, and it was not heated. I was handcuffed to the chair. I was not provided with legal counsel.

They threatened to shoot me, saying traitors like me should be executed. They were surprised by my ethnicity. They said I was the first Yakut they had detained on such charges. They threatened to leave me in the FSB’s remand prison. The field officer told me he had murdered many people. He asked me to give him an excuse to beat the crap out of me or cripple me.

ammosov-3Remand Prison No. 1 in Yakutia. FSB officers threatened to send Anton Ammosov there. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info 

The masked mem threatened me when they did not like my answers to questions. They had to tell me what they wanted to hear from me. They told me my home would be searched. They would be looking for a bomb or part for making a bomb.

At around five in the evening, I was taken to another office, which had windows. I realized it was evening, because it was dark outside. The state-provided attorney came. I told him I had been beaten and threatened. He could not have cared less. He made no mention of my complaints in the papers that were drawn up. He signed them and left.

I spent approximately twelve hours at FSB headquarters, until nine in the evening. I was not fed, given anything to drink or allowed to make a phone call the entire time.  My wife had no idea what had become of me.

My wife thought I had been hit by a car or died. She called all the morgues. All my relatives searched for me, because I had never disappeared before. My wife was getting ready to go to the police when the FSB agents brought me home. My wife wept when she saw us.

They showed us a document claiming the search was conducted due to my comments on the website. They did not let us photograph the search warrant, which had been issued by a court only at five in the afternoon te same day, meaning after they detained me.

The search took two hours. They confiscated two desktop computers, my work laptop, flash drives, hard drives, a router, and telephones. They told me to buy a new telephone and SIM card right away and report to FSB headquarters at one o’clock the next day.

I was told they wanted to charge me with vindicating terrorism because I had written “Well done, kid” under a news report about the bombing in Arkhangelsk.

They found out about the comment because of what I told them during the interrogation. I had thought the whole affair had kicked off due to the remark, but it later transpired they did not know about it.

My posts on Telegram and comments to news reports were sent off for a forensic examination by linguists.

I fell asleep that day only towards morning. I did not eat at all for the next three days: I had no appetite. I went to FSB headquarters as if I were going to work. I was summoned nearly every day.

They asked me again about my political views and what anarchism was. I replied I did not support anarchism. I identified myself as a libertarian, but not a radical one. I believed the state was a necessity, but not a state like the one we had in Russia.

I was also asked about Navalny. I said I supported him.

The Beating
Because I was summoned to the FSB, I was not able to have my injuries from the beating medically certified. I made it to the emergency room only on November 23. The medics refused to document my injuries when I told him FSB officers had beaten me. They kicked me out of the emergency room, telling me they did not need any trouble. They suggested I go to the medical examiner’s office.

When I came to the medical examiner’s office, they initially agreed to document my injuries, but when they found out who had injured me, they kicked me out of the surgery and demanded a reference from the Russian Investigative Committee.

The lawyer whom my mom helped me find after what happened at the FSB suggested I go to an outpatient clinic and have my injuries documented there, but without telling them who injured me. Otherwise, they would turn me down, too. That was just what I did.

The GP, a woman, documented I had been beaten all over, suffering soft-tissue bruises on the back, the buttocks, and both knee joints. It was not certain whether my kidneys had been injured. An eye doctor prescribed drops. In the summer of 2018, I had glaucoma implant surgery. After I was beaten in the van, not allowed to put drops in my eyes at the FSB, and stood hunched over, which I am definitely not supposed to do, I had poor vision in my sick eye.

Sacking
A few days later. I learned that. on November 21, the day I was detained, FSB officers had come to my workplace at the university around two in the afternoon. They confiscated my two desktop computers and all the laptops in the office, despite the fact they were not mine. They also took three printers, one of which was out of order, routers, flash drives, and notebooks.

The videotape from university surveillance cameras showing the FSB abducting me also vanished from the university.

On December 29, university rector Yevgenia Isayevnva Mikhaylova summoned me to her office.

She asked what happened, why security services officers had come after me, and inquired about my political views. She then said I should write a resignation letter. I told here I did not want to do it. She replied it was people like me who undermined the university’s image. She disparaged Navalny every which way to Sunday. She said Putin was the best president and he should reign forever.

That is verbatim.

After I refused to resign voluntarily, Mikhaylova said she had to react to events so the FSB would see she had punished me. She suggested I quit for a while. Then she would rehire me and transfer me to a new department. I would not have minded such a transfer, by the way, but I did not trust her, of course.

ammosov-4Ammosov Northeastern Federal University. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info 

When I came back to work after the New Year holidays, I learned by chance a few days later that I had been sacked in late December. A colleague had access to the university’s 1C Database. It said there I had turned in my resignation letter on December 29, that is, the day after my meeting with the rector. But that was not true.

The folks in the personnel department twisted every which way in the wind. They said I had been sacked in order to transfer me to another position. They suggested I sign a resignation letter and backdate it. I refused to do this. But then the head of the personnel department told me the FSB had called. She thought it had been a signal to sack me. It was clear, however, she had not made to decision to sack me. The rector had told her to do it.

When I told the FSB officer handling my case I was being sacked, he said he would phone the university and find out what the problem was. Subsequently, I was transferred to another department.

There I was assigned work that did not fit my specialization: I was supposed to do paperwork. I was transferred to a job I was unable to do. I was put in the coldest corner of the room and given an old computer.

I resigned two weeks later. I realized that was the whole point. Subsequently, I got a job at a technical creativity center, where I now teach robotics to children. After the new year, the FSB ceased summoning me to interrogations.

The Second Search
At six in the morning on April 2, regular police and Investigative Committee officers rang our doorbell, demanding we open it. The security forces offices showed us a search warrant issued by the Basmanny District Court in Moscow. The search’s ostensible purpose was to confiscate electronic devices that could contain correspondence with Zhlobitsky. I was an official witness in the case.

I was told I had been corresponding with Zhlobitsky on VK under the pseudonym Pyotr Vasilyev or Vasily Petrov. However, I had not been registered on VK for many years. The accusation was thus utter rubbish.

During the search, the authorities confiscated two desktop computers, a flash drive, a hard drive, and two telephones. I was then taken to the Investigative Committee for an interrogation. I was again questioned about Zhlobitsky.

A few days later, I got another phone call from the FSB field agent. He chewed me out. He said I had concealed the Investigative Committee’s visit from him. He told me I had not been sincere with the FSB. He threatened to put me on a list of politically unreliable citizens. I would be banned from employment in the state sector and sacked from my current job.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Neocolonialism

7d34dc1c84d3ef36Tatarstan’s second largest city, Naberezhnye Chelny, is known as Yar Chally in Tatar. Photo courtesy of Realnoe Vremya

Minority Languages Ready for Third Reading
State Duma Updates Standards for Teaching Official Languages
Viktor Khamrayev and Kirill Antonov
Kommersant
July 25, 2018

On Wednesday, July 25, the State Duma should pass in its third and final reading a law bill that would make study of the Russian Federation’s official language, Russian, and the official languages of the country’s ethnic republics an obligatory part of the school curriculum. However, parents would freely choose the language their children study as their native tongue. MPs are confident they have defused the anxiety felt in the ethnic republics over the plight of minority native languages. Experts in a number of the republics, however, are still concerned minority native tongues will gradually outlive their usefulness.

On Tuesday, July 24, the Duma approved in their second reading amendments to the law “On Education.” During their first reading, the draft amendments had drawn criticism from the ethnic republics due to the fact they introduced the principle of choice when studying native languages.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, chair of the Duma’s education committee, told Kommersant two important provisions had been inserted into the law bill for the second reading. The Federal Education Standards “should guarantee the opportunity to be instructed in the native languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation” and, to this end, they should provide for the study of “the official languages of the Russian Federation’s republics, the native languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation, including the Russian language.”

According to Mr. Nikonov, this rule should diffuse “concerns in the republics that the study of minority languages would become optional.”

“The federal standard means mandatory inclusion in the curriculum,” Mr. Nikonov said.

At the same time, the law establishes the free choice of the language of classroom instruction, as well as the choice of what language children would study as their native tongue, as determined by their parents.

During its second reading, 371 MPs voted for the law bill. It should pass during its third reading on Wednesday.

Mr. Nikonov reported the education committee had already negotiated with the relevant parties to establish a fund to support native languages.

“We suggest establishing the fund through a presidential decree, making it a presidential fund with appropriate federal financing,” he said.

In addition, Mr. Nikonov said MPs had been asked to develop the basic concept on which the new Federal Education Standards would be based. The government has established a working group in accordance with the resolution adopted by the Duma after the first reading of the bill.

As approved by MPs, the draft law does not provide for a transitional period while the government elaborates the new concept and educational standards. The law would come into force as soon as it was signed by the president and published. In this regard, the republics are afraid of the consequences set in motion once the law has been adopted. The free choice of a native language would come into play in the absence of new federal standards.

Under current guidelines, pupils attend five hours of Russian classes a week, while minority language classes are offered only three hours a week, Svetlana Semyonova, director of the Ethnic Schools Research Institute, explained to Kommersant.

This means, Ms. Semyonova said, that “pupils who choose Russian as their native language will have eight hours of Russian class a week, while those pupils whose native language is Yakut will study Russian for only five hours a week.”

Given that the Leaving Certificate Examination (EGE) is administered only in Russian, Ms. Semyonova argues Yakut children would be more poorly prepared for it.

Due to the EGE, very few pupils would risk choosing a minority language as their native language, Marat Lotfullin, a researcher in ethnic education at the History Institute of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences, told Kommersant. Even non-Russian children in Tatarstan would choose Russia as their native language. He fears the Tatar language will gradually outlive its usefulness.

Mr. Lotfullin draws attention to the fact that the new law stipulates the teaching of minority native languages and classroom instruction in these languages only for primary and secondary schools, meaning ethnic schools would function only until the ninth grade.

This is “a serious restriction of the rights of the peoples of the Russian Federation,” he argues.

“If we take Tatarstan, Tatars have always enjoyed instruction in Tatar all through secondary school, including the upper grades,” Mr. Lotfullin said.

Translated by the Russian Reader. See whether you can square this story with my previous post, about a young Khakas woman in Abakan who has been charged with “extremism” by the FSB for promoting Khakas language and culture, and publishing a blog post about the discrimination Khakas experience at the hands of ethnic Russians, who constitute the majority in the nominally “ethnic” Republic of Khakassia.