Olga Romanova: How “Law Enforcement” Works in Russia

calvey
Michael Calvey in court. Photo by Maxim Shemetov. Courtesy of Reuters and Republic

“We Give You Serebrennikov and You Give us Calvey”: How Law Enforcement Works
Olga Romanova
Republic
May 13, 2019

“Who would make the decision about your arrest?”

“My colleagues would betray me, but they would vet it with my bosses.”

“What about Vasya [a big businessman]?”

“Cops, the economic security squad. It’s enough for the word to come down from the district office to grab him. Vasya is a respected person. He’s a thief.”

“And me?”

“You’re an enemy of the state. If the neighborhood cops can decide to arrest Vasya, the Secret Chamber, so to speak, would have to give the orders to arrest you. The decision to arrest you would be made by no one lower ranked than Bortnikov’s deputy, although you’re naked and barefoot, and no one would ask the prosecutor’s office or the Investigative Committee to go after you. It’s creepy and pointless.”

This should give you an idea of the conversations I have with my acquaintances in the security forces nowadays. It helps to do business with people who know the score. None of them is surprised when you ask them who would arrest someone, how they would do it, and when they would do it. Everything would have been planned long ago, and there are no illusions. If a person has to be placed under arrest and charged, it is going to happen. If they do not need to be indicted, they can be kept in custody for a while. No one remembers, even for appearance’s sake, that there are courts in Russia, and courts decide whether to remand someone in custody after hearing arguments by all the interested parties. Everyone knows the decisions are not made in court.

Who Makes the Decisions?
Who made the decision to arrest Kirill Serebrennikov? Who decided to let him go for the time being? Who arrested Michael Calvey and the employees of Baring Vostok? Who let them out of jail? Why? Who made the decision to arrest Mikhail Abyzov?

There is no one with whom you can talk about these cases.

This is not quite true. My sources in all the law enforcement and security agencies, who can be frank with me as long as they remain anonymous, talk to me about these cases, too, but they look really worried when they do.

Rank-and-file law enforcement officers are confused. They do not understand why someone decided to back off the Serebrennikov case so abruptly and quickly. The train was rushing the director and filmmaker towards a sentence of the four years or so in the camps when a powerful hand jerked hard on the brakes. The passengers jumped off the train, of course, for they didn’t want to keep traveling in that direction, but the trainmaster, driver, and conductors were completely at a loss.

What should they do with the next train and its contingent of VIP passengers? Should they railroad them, as they were ordered to do, or should they avoid hurrying the case? After the emergency brake has been pulled, everyone emerges with injuries and bumps. Some of the crew were counting on promotions after they had wrapped up such a big case. Other members of the crew were acting on orders from a celestial. He will not forgive them because now they know there are tougher celestials in the system. He cannot forgive the people involved in the case for knowing that fact nor can he forgive the other celestials for intervening. The passengers could not care less. Either they get to where they are going or they do not get there, but the crew is always aboard the train.

True, a smart alec from the Investigative Committee told me something interesting about the procedural aspect.

“Why is everyone so angry? The Serebrennikov case was sent back to the prosecutor’s office, so what? You saw that the court ordered a forensic examination. The first forensic examination was really crooked. The judge in the trial of Serebrennikov’s accountant, Nina Maslyaeva,  wondered why everyone was so glad. Serebrennikov’s case would now be sent back to the prosecutor’s office because his circumstances are the same as Maslyaeva’s. You are mixing up cause and effect. The judge in the Maslyaeva case cannot reach a verdict because he understands the outcome of the forensic examination, which was the same as in the Serebrennikov case, will now be different, and Maslayeva will have to be re-indicted in the light of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case.”

Translated into ordinary language, he means the case can still go any which way. Procedurally, all the cards are still on the table, and the haggling could continue. Things could go one way or the other. The powers that be could change their minds and send Serebrennikov to prison, but they could also let him go. They could arrest him again and send him down. The statute of limitations is a flexible thing.

Somewhere above the clouds, the thunder gods fight over the case. Invisible to the world, they communicate with ordinary people by making motions to conduct additional forensic examinations. Ordinary people make of it what they will. Police investigators are also part of the rank and file, part and parcel of Russia’s unwashed masses.

In ordinary times, this is not what happens to ordinary defendants in ordinary cases. Everyone would have gone down five years each per capita, and no would have batted an eye. In this case, the decisions are obviously political. Look who made the decision! Who telephoned whom? What levers did they use? Who or what did they offer in exchange? Freebies are for freaks, after all. We will return to this subsequently when we discuss other factors.

If the boring procedural hypothesis made by my anonymous source at the Investigative Committee is right, events should unfold as follows. The authorities will get the results of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case. If the total damages are less than was claimed earlier (or, say, there were, miraculously, no damages at all), the charges against Serebrennikov and the other defendants will be dropped right in the courtroom. If, on the contrary, the sum of the damages is more or less hefty, a million rubles, at least, the defendants will be found guilty and sentenced to prison. Then you can appeal the verdict wherever you like.

No one would ask why a particular ruling was made. No one would ask what happened. Why are some people treated one way, while others are treated another way? The foot soldiers of law enforcement know the score. But when they do not know the score, they know it is better not to ask whether a mistake has been made but to follow orders.

How Things Go Down
The Calvey case bears a strong resemblance to the case against Vladimir Yevtushenkov. Yevtushenkov failed to take the hints. He was told directly what to do but refused to hand over his business. Then he was arrested and given a good talking. He and his captors came to an understanding. He was released and his business confiscated. Unlike Yevtushenkov, however, Calvey is as poor as a church mouse. Compared with Yevtushenkov, that is. Calvey does not own a Bashneft, after all.

The foot soldiers in the security forces have not been particularly surprised about how the Calvey case has unfolded. They expected something of the sort. They expected him to “cash out,” as they call it, and they believe he has, in fact, cashed out. They are uninterested in what this meant. It is not their war, and the spoils are not theirs to claim.

We should look at this more closely.

My source, whom I  trust, albeit warily, explains the obvious to me.

“All cases are business as usual except the cases in which there a phone call,” he says.

I have two questions for him right off the bat. What does he mean by “business as usual”? Who usually makes the  “phone call”?

He explains that people who follow high-profile cases and comment on them fail to take one important factor into account in their arguments. The high-profile cases are handled by another agency as it were. They involve the same players: the prosecutor’s offices, the courts, the remand prisons, and the Investigative Committee. All of them realize, however, when they are handling a special case involving the interests of high-ranking officials and elite businessmen. In these cases, they need to keep close track of which way the wind blows.

The bulk of cases are “mundane.” There is a huge number of such cases, and they can drag on forever. Take, for example, the Baltstroy case, the case of police anti-corruption investigator Boris Kolesnikov, and the case of ex-deputy culture minister Grigory Pirumov, cases that everyone has forgotten, and the Oboronservis case, the cases of the banks implicated in the so-called Russian Laundromat, and the case of Alexander Grigoriev, the man, allegedly, behind the Laundromat, who was mixed up with Putin’s cousin Igor Putin. New indictments in these cases are made all the time. More and more defendants are convicted in these cases and sent down. It never stops, but public interest in these cases is almost nil.

There are cases that collapse, however. Why does this happen?

Why was the case of ex-economics minister Alexei Ulyukayev not reviewed on appeal? Why was his prison sentence not reduced by four years during the sentencing appeal hearing? Does anyone know why? Perhaps the political spin doctors get it, but Russia’s law enforcers do not have a clue. What they understand is when an order comes down to reduce a sentence and when it does not. They leave the blabbing to the spin doctors.

Alexei Fedyarov is a former prosecutor from Chuvashia. Nowadays, he is the head of our legal department at Russia Behind Bars. He gave me permission to quote him.

“It happens. A case is going fine. In the morning, you have a meeting with your superiors. They tell you everything is great, keep pushing, you’ve got the bastards. I was handling a case against the management of the Khimprom factory in Novocheboksarsk. At briefings, I was told my group and I were doing a great job. We had done the initial investigation beautifully and now it was time to detain the suspects, remand them in custody, and put them away. I went to my office, where the city prosecutor was waiting for me. He asked me to hand over the case file. I gave him the case file and he told me it was over, I should forget it. He was personally going to deliver the case file to the head prosecutor of the republic and that would be the end of it.  There would be no supporting documentation or anything. The case really did disappear, although an hour before I had been told to push it.

“During that hour, the head prosecutor of the republic had got a message from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. A call from a deputy prosecutor general was enough for them to take the whole thing back, despite the fact it was a big, interesting case involving illegal wiretapping throughout the company and even the local police department and the tax police office. We had found tons of recorded conversations: they recorded everything. They were trying to protect themselves and investigate other people.”

Sources of the “Telephone Call”
How does the “telephone call” work?

The “telephone call” is a conventional name for the outcome of lengthy negotiations. We see only the reflection of this process: Calvey’s arrest, his transfer to house arrest, Serebrennikov’s arrest and his release on his own recognizance, Abyzov’s arrest.

I am going to quote my anonymous source verbatim. In this instance, the way he says what he says is as important as what he says.

“Anyone can hit the brakes. It could be Bortnikov. It could be Chaika. But it is the outcome of agreements among people, not an arbitrary decision. They do not do things that way. Maybe new factors have been brought into play, but there has to be someone who wants to negotiate on behalf of the accused person, who appeals on his behalf. He would be told, ‘Okay, fine. But you have to give us such-and-such in exchange.” Then it is a matter of talking with Lebedev [Chief Justice of the Russian Supreme Court] and everything is put into reverse. It could be like, ‘We’ll give up Serebrennikov if you take the heat off Calvey.’ You see, the siloviki are not all on the same side. There is no longer one side. Not even everyone in the FSB or its departments is on the same side. The Constitutional Department fights with the Anti-Terrorism Department. It’s the same thing in the prosecutor’s office and the Investigative Committee. In the Investigative Committee, there is the group loyal to Bastrykin and then they are the boys from the North Caucasus. There are also the guys from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, who are filthy rich but live orderly lives and are also capable of getting things done.

“Anything goes at this level. Why are you inclined to exaggerate how this works? Number One basically does not care about this stuff.”

I should try and explain.

The Investigative Committee and Prosecutor General’s Office are still at serious loggerheads. The conflict has even intensified. It is a personal conflict and a clash of business interests and a fight over resources. The amount of resources has not grown. On the contrary, there are palpably fewer resources. Relations between the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office are currently not just strained, they are intolerably strained.

In court, they take the same side, but those are the rules of the game. If a case has gone to trial, you cannot come out against your colleagues: you would be digging yourself a hole. As a prosecutor, you did not reverse the indictment. You were involved in prolonging the suspect’s custody in remand prison, and you seconded all the motions made by the case investigator. The case investigator, of course, always plays along with the prosecutor. In criminal trials, they are the prosecution.

Even the “groundlings” find it easier to make a deal. The big bosses may be at war with each other, but down on the ground, the workhorses plow away and know the score. There is no love lost for Bastrykin among Investigative Committee officers just as prosecutors are not fond of Chaika. But it is like this everywhere: people like their bosses only when they are standing right in front of them. There is a certain difference, however. Chaika and his deputies at the Prosecutor General’s Office are all former case investigators. They have paid their dues. Bastrykin does not have this background: he is not a criminologist. Their workhorses thus complain about different things. Bastrykin’s underlings complain about incompetence, while prosecutors grouse about their bosses’ passion for business.

The Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office have an innate tendency to divide up into clans, which are defined geographically: there are Circassian clans, Bashkir clans, etc. They are local fraternities of sorts, and they do not go away when someone moves and transfers to a new job. The clans are often at odds with each other. This is something you must always factor in when dealing with Russian law enforcers.

Internal disunity has also been increasing day by day in the conglomerate known as the FSB. Even mid-level officers have trouble getting along. For example, M Directorate, which oversees the Interior Ministry, the Federal Penitentiary Service, and so on, is often combined, in many regions, with the Economic Security Department, and there is a big problem with compatibility in terms of the cases they pursue. But there is also K Directorate, aka the 8th Directorate, which oversees banks and the financial system. Regarded as “blue bloods,” they are strongly disliked by other FSB officers.

“A guy from K Directorate worked out at the World Class gym where I worked out. His driver took him to work in a Maybach. Now he has transferred his membership to the gym in Zhukovka. A membership there costs 600,000 rubles a year [approx. $9,500] and the swimming pool is filled with mineral water. ‘My clients work out there,’ he said to me, ‘so I moved my membership there,'” an athlete and retired FSB veteran told me.

The FSB’s Constitutional and Anti-Terrorism Departments are a whole other story. They oversee everyone who has any dealings with the opposition and they inspire no confidence whatsoever. For example, I am flattered Kirill Serebrennikov and I are overseen by the same FSB officers. But we are overseen by officers from the Constitutional Department, while the Anti-Terrorism Department are working-class blokes who specialize in completely different cases. They were merged into a single directorate in which the Anti-Terrorism Department, supposedly, is subordinated to the Constitutional Department. Naturally, they cannot stand each other.

What about the top bosses? They are busy with other things, which is why they are in charge. They are busy with politicking and intrigues. These quiet squabbles surface as cases like the recent arrest of Colonel Kirill Cherkalin from K Directorate. Did he really take a bribe? Maybe he did: anything is possible. It is more likely, however, he was arrested as part of a war for turf, turf that has been shrinking exponentially with every passing day. Fattened cows no longer graze on this turf: there are basically no cows left to milk. The entire herd has been devoured.

What to Expect
I will quote in full the monologue my anonymous source delivered when I asked him about the future. I do no think there is any need to decode it.

“The turbulence will increase. Until all the issues with Russia’s natural gas and its transit through Ukraine are settled, Number One won’t have time for things happening here. They have been outsourced to our guys. They have been told to go and bite everyone’s heads off. They have temporary permission to do it.

“But there are few fat cats. All the money has been sent abroad. Everyone is living on loans. All of Rublyovka is up to their ears in loans. There will be searches in some people’s homes, and some folks will be ripped to shreds. There will be a lot of this kind of stuff this year. The government will be purged, too. People love this sort of thing.

“Abyzov made no impression on anyone. No one understood what it was about. The only thing people will remember is that he offered to pay a billion rubles in bail. No one will forget him and the billion rubles.

“Circumstances are such that even the system’s insiders cannot make any forecasts. The settings are changing constantly. There is no stable paradigm.

“It is like with water. At room temperature, we understand how it acts. You can stick your finger in it and blow on it. But now it is being warmed. It has not boiled yet and vaporized, but you do not know what to do with it and how it will act next.

“The tax police are busy with major shakedowns. They are kicking everyone’s ass. When we ask them why they are doing it, they reply, ‘Crimea is ours, and our job is to get people to make additional payments.’ But additional payments and penalties are different things, especially penalties meant to wipe people out. They are going after people’s last rubles.

“I have a friend who works as a business court judge on tax cases. Whereas earlier, when she would be asked why she reduced a claim from one hundred million rubles to ten million, she could have an off-the-record chat with the head judge of the court and explain she was doing it so the person could keep their business, such chats are not kosher nowadays.

“Hard times are coming. The Syrian project fell through, and Russia failed to get control of the pipeline going through Turkey. Nothing that was planned in Syria has worked out, and both the South Stream and Nord Stream projects fell through [sic]. Nor will they replace the Ukrainian transit, although that was the goal. But it impossible to exit Syria, and now they have butted their noses in Venezuela. Their luck has been bad. People’s nerves are on edge up top.

“Number One is interested only in oil and gas, and so other parties have got involved in the game. If it were up to Number One, he would crush everyone and no one would breathe another word. He probably decided the lower ranks should take care of this stuff themselves. The very top bosses are not concerned with these matters at all right now. The lower ranks are running things and a huge amount of haggling has been happening.  We are witnessing a classic turf war.”

Welcome to the magical world of turbulence in a pot of boiling water.

Olga Romanova is the director of Russia Behind Bars, a charitable foundation that aids Russian convicts and their families, people who have been victimized by the Russian justice system. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Crossing Jordan: Day Three of the Network Trial

Jordan and Maidan: The Network Trial, Day Three
Sergei Kagermazov
OVD Info
April 11, 2019

ovd1Yuli Boyarshinov in court. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of OVD Info

The left-wing radical community Network existed, but its young anarchists were training to fend off attacks by ultra-rightists when and if a coup like the one that took place in Ukraine kicked off in Russia. In any case, this was the takeaway message of the testimony given by defendant Yuli Boyarshinov. Echo of Moscow in Petersburg correspondent Sergei Kagermazov describes day three of the Network trial for OVD Info.

The Guerrilla School
The courtroom at the 224th Garrison Military Court in Petersburg is unable to accommodate everyone. Some members of the public are left standing on the far side of the metal detector. The bailiffs claim there is no room and do not let people into the hallway even.

Later, it transpires that several university students who had not heard of the case wormed their way into the courtroom. Someone asked them to attend the hearing, and so reporters from Novaya Gazeta, TASS, and Rosbalt are unable to get into the courtroom. Subsequently, one of the students was identified as a member of the local branch of United Russia’s Young Guard (Molodaya gvardiya). Fontanka.ru would write that the FSB were behind the restricted access to the courtroom.

The highlight of day three of the trial is defendant Yuli Boyarshinov’s testimony. He pleaded guilty and moved to have his case tried separately under a special procedure involving elimination of the evidence phase, but the court denied his motion.

According to Boyarshinov, he knew he was an antifascist approximately since 2009. Six years later, he met another person accused [and convicted] in the case, Igor Shishkin. Shiskin also pleaded guilty, made a deal with case investigators, and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

“Around 2015 or 2016, I came to think a violent coup was possible in Russia. On the internet, I learned about radical right-wing groups planing something like what happened in Ukraine in 2014,” says Boyarshinov, who speaks as if he were reading the case file aloud.

People ordinarily do no talk like this.

Boyarshinov insists he was interested only in self-defense in the event radical nationalists emerged in Russia. He learned to handle weapons at the Guerrilla Club, a place in Petersburg affiliated with the DOSAAF [Voluntary Society for Assisting the Army, Air Force and Navy]. Other suspects in the Network case, whom Boyarshinov identified as Yegor and Polina, also took instruction there. Boyarshinov cannot recall their surnames. The young people purchased mock-ups of Kalashnikov rifles and practiced with them. However,  their only goal was self-defense. Boyarshinov emphasizes the young people were not planning any attacks.

It was also then the suspect [sic] met Alexandra Aksyonova, who introduced herself as Olya. Aksyonova is the wife of another defendant in the case, Viktor Filinkov, who is being tried together with Boyarshinov. The young woman is currently in Finland, where her application for political asylum is under review. NTV has reported Aksyonova was one of the leaders of the Network and alleged she had ties with Ukrainian nationalists.

As for the Guerrilla Club, it was also a place where future Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic volunteer fighters trained, as well as the Swedes responsible for the bomb attacks in Gothenburg in 2016 and 2017. But none of these people had yet piqued the FSB’s curiosity. When Filinkov asks whether Boyarshinov knew numerous nationalists trained at the Guerrilla Club, Judge Roman Muranov disallows the question as having no bearing on the case.

Jordan 1
Boyarshinov also testifies that, in the early summer of 2016, he was invited to a meeting in the Priozersk District of Leningrad Region. The meeting was attended by Yegor, Polina, and Shishkin, as well as Anton and Pasha, Network members from Penza (the men’s real names were Maxim Ivankin and Dmitry Pchelintsev, who are two more defendants in the case), and two other people. Since the Petersburgers did not know the people from Penza, they also used pseudonyms. Boyarshinov introduced himself as Yura, Yegor as Matvei, and Shishkin as Maxim.

At the meeting, the young men from Penza showed the others a document they called “The Code.” It was a draft project for a community called the Network. Boyarshinov says “The Code”{ ran to around fifteen pages, but only a couple of pages were read aloud to him. The case file contains a document resembling “The Code,” but that is the problem: it only resembles it. Boyarshinov was able to read the entire text of “The Code” only during the pretrial investigation. The young men from Penza said [at the meeting in the Priozersk District] they wanted to encourage the cooperation of different groups involved in self-defense.

ovd2Yuli Boyarshinov in court. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of OVD Info

“So, formally, I joined the Network community,” Boyarshinov admits.

Due to security considerations, it was decided to identify the Petersburg group as “Jordan 1.”

Subsequently, members of the Network would choose different specialties for themselves. Since he had studied demolition and explosives at the Guerrilla Club, Boyarshinov became the group’s sapper.

Another meeting was held in western or northwestern Moscow Region in the woods. Six people attended, including members from Moscow. A third meeting took place in the winter of 2016 at Shishkin’s mother’s dacha. There were also several meetings in the autumn of 2016.

It was at one of these meetings that Boyarshinov met Filinkov. After Boyarshinov has testified, the people in the courtroom learn that, according to the case file, the FSB was already staking out both defendants at the time.

In February 2017, another meeting was held in a rented flat in Petersburg. Shishkin did not come to the meeting, but Filinkov, the Muscovites, and Pchelintsev and Ivankin were present. It was at this meeting that what the FSB identifies as “the minutes” was left behind, finding its way into the case file.

“I cannot corroborate what is described in the minutes of the meeting: I did not take notes. But the description seems more or less accurate,” says Boyarshinov.

When he read the minutes of the meeting, he realized the Network had decided not just to learn self-defense, but to try and destroy the regime.

“I don’t believe in violence, in violence against state authorities. I am sorry I was in such a community,” Boyarshinov repents.

Boyarshinov was detained by police. He claims to have found the smoke powder [with which police apprehended him] on the the roof of a building, since he worked as an industrial climber. He found the powder interesting, since he was studying demolition and explosives. When it was reported Pchelintsev had been detained, Boyarshinov decided to throw the powder away. He left his house and was caught by police.

“Russia’s Falling Apart, We Have to Leave”
The next to testify is Stepan Prokofiev, in whose flat Filinkov lived while he was looking for a place to rent. Prokofiev’s flat was searched by the FSB after they detained Filinkov.

The defendant [Filinkov] immediately points out Prokofiev might commit perjury and slander him.

“The FSB coerced the witness,” argues Filinkov.

[On the day of the search at his flat], Prokofiev was awoken, forced to lie face down on the floor, and handcuffed. He would spend the night at a police station. When Filinkov’s defense attorney, Vitaly Cherkasov, asks whether police explained to him why spent the night at a police station, Judge Muranov disallows the question as having no bearing on the case.

ovd3At the courthouse: members of the public holding pieces of paper inscribed with the message “NTV lies.” Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of OVD Info

“Filinkov went to Ukraine to see his wife. When he got back, he told me he had met someone who had fought in Donbas while he was in Kyiv. Filinkov told me a couple of times that Russia was falling apart and we had to leave. He said it would happen after the [March 2018 Russian] presidential election. He would talk about leaving for Georgia or Ukraine after this happened, because it was cheaper to live there,” Prokofiev recounts.

Filinkov counters that he never mentioned talking with anyone who fought in Donbas.

Prosecutor Yekaterina Kachurina is more interested in two guns that were legally registered in Filinkov’s wife’s name. However, it follows from the testimonies of Filinkov and the witness that, for the time being, there is nothing for the prosecution to get its hooks into.  The papers for the guns were in order, and the guns were kept in a safe.

The day ends with an attack by an NTV crew on the attorneys and parents of the defendants. However, members of the pubic cover the lens of NTV’s camera with pieces of paer inscribed with the message “NTV lies” and rattle the young woman holding the microphone by peppering her with absurd questions. Meanwhile, the defense attorneys are able to escape, while the parents get into taxis and quickly quite the scene.

_____________________________________________________________________

Vitaly Cherkasov
Facebook
April 10, 2019

Today, defendant Yuli Boyarshinov, while generally admitting his guilt, did not corroborate the prosecution’s position.

The prosecution has insisted that the members of the Network terrorist community, via “direct involvement in training sessions” that took place in St. Petersburg, Leningrad Region, and Penza Region, mastered “tactical methods of seizing buildings, facilities, and individuals” in order to “forcibly capture and eliminate” state authorities and “change the constitutional order.”

When examined in court, Boyarshinov corroborated the testimony he had given during the pretrial investigation: the goal of the training sessions was to master the skills of self-defense against ultra-nationalists. Defense, not offense!

[…]

_____________________________________________________________________

He Admitted His Guilt But Did Nothing Wrong: Yuli Boyarshinov’s Testimony at Network Trial Gives Prosecution’s Case No Trump Cards
Тatyana Likhanova
Novaya Gazeta in Petersburg
April 11, 2019

The authorities decided to restrict access to the trial of the so-called terrorist community Network, which is an organization now officially banned in Russia.

The high-profile case is being heard by a circuit panel of judges from the Moscow District Military Court at the Garrison Military Court in Petersburg. The hearings have been held in a cramped courtroom with two rows of benches accommodating ten people each. It is thus out of wildly out proportion with the heightened attention paid to the case by the public and the media.

On Tuesday, journalists from several periodicals appealed to the Moscow District Military Court to provide them with normal working conditions. On Wednesday morning, the approaches to the courtroom were occupied by groups of students from the Chemical and Pharmaceutical University and Herzen University’s law school.

The former said they had been sent there by a university official responsible for military training and patriotic education, while the latter claimed they had come to witness a high-profile case they had long been following, although they could not answer a single question about what was at stake in the case.

Among those crowded around the door to the courtroom was a young man bearing a resemblance to Vlad Girmanov, secretary of the military and patriotic club at the Pharmaceutical University, as well as people who had picketed the Petersburg office of [Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption crusader] Alexei Navalny.

nip1Yuli Boyarshinov arriving at the courthouse. Photo by Elena Lukyanova. Courtesy of Novaya in Petersburg

The influx of “extras” was an excuse to limit the access of the press and the public to the trial. The bailiffs refused to let correspondents from Deutsche Welle, TASS, Fontanka.ru. Bumaga, Rosbalt, and other media outlets into the courthouse to cover the trial, as well as Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission member Yekaterina Kosarevskaya. Complaints were filed with the head of the St. Petersburg bailiff service and the chairs of the Petersburg Garrison Military Court and the Moscow District Military Court. They were asked to verify the legality of the actions taken by the bailiffs and secure a courtroom large enough to accommodate everyone interested in witnessing this high-profile case. According to Fontanka.ru, the order to restrict access to the courtroom was made by FSB officers, who thus bypassed the top officials in the Petersburg judicial system.

The hearing opened with testimony by Yuli Boyarshinov, who has pleaded guilty. He said he had been an antifascist since 2009. In the winter of 2015–2016, he concluded that riots involving violence by nationalist groups (“along the lines of the events in Ukraine in 2014”) were possible in Russia. In order to acquire self-defense skills, Boyarshinov attended a month-long course at the Guerrilla Tactical and Firearms Training Center. (Its website says it is affiliated with the DOSAAF [Voluntary Society for Assisting the Army, Air Force and Navy] and “teaches civilians survival skills in local armed conflicts, social unrest, and martial law.”) The course included instruction in handling firearms, surviving in the woods, first aid, radio communication, and mines and explosives.

Boyarshinov attended the classes with his friend Yegor and a young woman identified as Polina. In addition to lectures, training sessions were held at a shooting range near the village of Olgino, during which Boyarshinov used a mock-up of a Kalashnikov assault rifle he acquired. Alexandra Askyonova, co-defendant Viktor Filinkov’s future wife, also went to the shooting range.

In the summer of 2016, Boyarshinov was invited to a meeting with “guys from Penza who were also interested in self-defense.” The meeting took place in the woods of Leningrad Region.

“We made bonfires, discussed different social problems and issues of self-defense, and trained with dummy weapons,” he said.

The attendees used fictitious names because they did not yet trust each other. One of the four attendees would later be identified as Dmitry Pchelintsev, another as Maxim Ivankin.

According to Boyarshinov, the Penza attendees talked about a project provisionally entitled the Network, designed to unite different groups for self-defense classes.

They presented their vision of the organization in a manifest of sorts, entitled “The Network Code,” one or two pages of which were read aloud.

Boyarshinov claimed he did not take what he heard seriously, and when someone later sent him the entire text of “The Code,” he did not bother to read it from cover to cover. He read the full text, nearly twenty pages, only when he was recently reviewing the criminal investigation case file. He was unable to corroborate whether what he read was identical to what had been sent to him earlier, but he said it seemed similar.

The document also outlines possible areas for studying self-defense skills: tactician, medic, signalman, and other roles, with no reference to specific people.

“These areas correspond to the disciplines I studied during the course at the Guerrilla Center,” Boyarshinov noted.

nip2Yuli Boyarshinov’s father Nikolai in the courtroom. Photo by Elena Lukyanova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta in Petersburg

The second meeting that summer took place in the Moscow Region. Several young people from the capital joined the attendees of the first meeting. Boyarshinov remembered only that one of them was named Lev. There were more conversations around campfires and training sessions with dummy weapons.

In the winter of 2016–2017, the group traveled to Igor Shishkin’s mother’s dacha, spending their time in much the same way.

Boyarshinov stressed they worked only on fending off attacks during all the meetings and training sessions: they never practiced raids and assaults. Political issues were not discussed, and there was no talk of drilling for terrorist-like crimes.

Shishkin, who made a deal with case investigators, also noted the absence of violent actions during the training when he described the trip to his mother’s dacha in his testimony.

Boyarshinov corroborated that Filinkov did not attend the first two meetings. Aksyonova introduced Boyarshinov to Filinkov in the autumn of 2016. Filinkov took part in a couple of training sessions at the firing range near Olgino. One dealt with first aid and evacuating the wounded, while the second focused on fending off attacks of VIPs [sic] by employing the methods of private security companies. No knives or firearms were used during the training sessions, only dummy machine guns.

As for the group’s allegedly strict conspiratorial methods, among which case investigators identified the use of messengers and encrypted correspondence, Boyarshinov explained they had been his usual means of communication in the years prior to his involvement with the group.

The third meeting with the young men from Penza and several Muscovites took place in a rented flat in Petersburg in February and March 2017. In the case file, this meeting has been identified as a “national congress of the Network terrorist community.”

Boyarshinov, on the contrary, described a two- or three-day meeting, involving approximately a dozen people. They discussed a little of everything, from music to social, environmental and antifascist events. Filinkov was in attendance, but Boyarshinov could not remember him giving a report, showing any initiative or shouldering any responsibilities for further action.

Boyarshinov could not say who organized the meeting and who kept the minutes of the meeting. (A printed file entitled “Minutes of the Congress” was entered into physical evidence.) He could not corroborate whether Filinkov was present the entire time or whether he came and went, since he had himself had come to and gone from the meeting. As far as he could remember, “The Network Code” was also discussed.

However, some of those present said the group should prepare vigorously to fend off potential violent actions when circumstances in Russia deteriorated, while others had advocated “provoking actions themselves,” Boyarshinov recalled uncertainly.

Only after carefully reading the redaction of “The Network Code” provided to him by case investigators did Boyarshinov discover “it had been proposed to establish combat cells and target the authorities.”

“I have never espoused terrorism and I am sorry I wound up in this community,” he added.

However, Boyarshinov was unable to clarify who he believed had authored the document, how its contents were regarded by any of his current co-defendants, and whether it had been backed by someone specifically.

UPDATE
The next day, April 11, the hearing started nearly two hours late. (Allegedly, the armed escort bringing the defendants to court had got stuck in traffic, although it takes fifteen minutes to drive from the remand prison to the courthouse.)

The hearing was brief. The court heard the testimony of the two janitors who had served as official witnesses during the search of Filinkov’s place of residence. The presiding judge then announced the trial was adjourned until May 14.

One explanation for such a long adjournment is the reluctance of Petersburg investigators to wind the case up before the scandal surrounding the lead investigator in the main part of the Network case, Valery Tokarev, a senior investigator in the FSB’s Penza Region office, has been cleared up.

The previous day’s evening news broadcast on state TV channel Russia 24 featured a segment on fugitive businessman Alexei Shmatko.

Shmatko, who complained he was tortured by Tokarev, has been granted political asylum in Great Britain. (The segment starts at the fifty-minute mark.)

This was not the first time the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company had discussed the vicissitudes of this Penza businessman’s career. Shmatko had been on federal business ombudsman Boris Titov’s list of fugitive Russian businessmen who had voiced a desire to return home. But Tokarev’s name had never been mentioned on the air before. (Although Shmatko claims he had mentioned it during previous TV interviews.)

This time round, the presenter on state television was insistent, encouraging the businessman to dot his i’s and cross his t’s. Who had bribed him? What was the reason?

“He subjected me to torture,” Shmatko said, specifying his charges against Tokarev, “and accepted a bribe from me to release me from remand prison.”

Shmatko complained he had informed the Russian Investigative Committee about this incident in a written statement, but they “had not batted an eye.” He also assured the news presenter he was willing to return to Russia if his case were transferred to the feds, investigated thoroughly, and Senior Investigator Tokarev were arrested.

If this happened, Shmatko would return to Russia for Tokarev’s trial and testify against him.

The interview with Shmatko was chockablock with quotations from the President’s Address to the Federal Assembly on the need to criminalize illegal investigations and punish those responsible for launching them.

On April 10, Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, speaking in the Federation Council, reported the number of corrupt FSB officers who had been outed had more than doubled. He also drew attention to “egregious cases of cruelty toward inmates.”

Three defendants in the Network case in Penza—Dmitry Pchelintsev, Ilya Shakursky, and Arman Sagynbayev—complained they had been tortured with electric shocks in an attempt to force them to incriminate themselves and others, including the Petersburg defendants.

Translated by the Russian Reader. You can find links to my previous coverage of the Network case here.

You’ll Have Your Day in Court, But Keep Your Mouth Shut

dzersud1
Police guarding the entrance to the Dzherzhinsky District Court, in downtown Petersburg, on the morning of June 13, 2017. Many of the people detained during the previous day’s anti-corruption protest rally on the nearby Field of Mars were brought to this courthouse for their administrative (misdemeanor) hearings after spending the night in police custody. According to media reports and eyewitness accounts, most of the six hundred and fifty some detainees, who had in fact merely been exercising their constitutional rights to assembly and free speech on a site deliberately designated by the mayor’s office, several years ago, as the city’s “Hyde Park,” have been sentenced to several days in jail and heavy fines. Photo courtesy of zaks.ru

Supreme Court Rules Courts Have Right to Deprive People of Right to Speak during Administrative Hearings
Echo of Moscow
June 13, 2017

A plenary session of the Russian Supreme Court ruled today that courts have the right to deprive people of the right to speak during administrative [misdemeanor] hearings. As Interfax reported, the move was requested by the Prosecutor General’s Office, which had argued it would speed up administrative proceedings and prevent the misuse of procedural rights. This argument was made in a statement by the Prosecutor General’s Office issued after the plenary session, at which Deputy Prosecutor General Leonid Korzhinyok was present. In an interview with Echo, Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer and head of the Team 29 association of lawyers and journalists, said the Prosecutor General’s Office’s motives were clear.  According to Pavlov, the office, headed by Yuri Chaika, realizes the judicial system simply cannot cope with the number of detainees under the standard procedure, as stipulated by law. Pavlov added that, unlike laws, rulings by plenary sessions of the Supreme Court take effect immediately, so today’s ruling can be applied from now on. The Supreme Court’s plenary ruling “On the Use of Procedural Coercive Measures during Administrative Hearings” renders the court system meaningless. Such was the opinion voiced to Echo by Elena Lukyanova, professor of constitutional and municipal law at the Higher School of Economics. She added that a broad public discussion of the issue would be needed to force an overturning of the ruling.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexei Kouprianov for the heads-up

What Russia Means to Me

Fyodor Vasilyev, The Thaw, 1871. Oil on canvas, 107 x 53.5 cm. Image courtesy of Wikiart
Fyodor Vasilyev, The Thaw, 1871. Oil on canvas, 107 x 53.5 cm. Image courtesy of Wikiart

A Circus, Psychopaths, and a Great Power: We Found Out What You Associate Russia With 
Guberniya Daily (Petrozavodsk)
June 14, 2016

On Friday [June 10], on the eve of Russia Day, we asked what you associate our country with. We suggested more or less decent answers and waited for the results to roll in. Ultimately, we learned that many of you associate our country with “a circus,” “psychopaths,” and “corruption.” And also with Putin. We got the impression that the respondents lived in different countries: some had it all bad, while others, on the contrary, had it all good. That is why a serious discussion, numbering over a hundred comments, broke out below the survey. So let us have a look at what many people associate Russia with.

First, the results of the survey:

opros
“I associate Russia with . . .” Putin: 204 votes, 22%; Bears, balalaikas, and vodka, of course: 125 votes, 13.5%; The tricolor, the double-headed eagle, and other symbols: 70 votes, 7.5%; Souvenirs: matryoshka dolls, Gzhel ceramics, Khokhloma tableware, etc: 43 votes, 4.6%; Stern men in uniform: 38 votes, 4.1%; The ballet, the theater, and the arts generally: 41 votes, 4.4%; Birch trees: 117 votes, 12.6%; actor Sergei Bezrukov and birch trees: 48 votes, 5.2%; Women wearing hats inside: 36 votes, 3.9%; My answer is not listed here; I’ll write it in the comments: 206 votes, 22.4%. A total of 928 people voted on June 10, 2016

As you can see, the answer “Putin” came in first place, “Bears, balalaikas, and vodka,” second, and “Birch trees,” third. It was in the comments that things got complicated.

Here are just a few of your answers (the original spelling and punctuation have been preserved):

I would like to associate it with birch trees. But, alas, I associate  it with Krushchev-era blocks of flats [khrushchovki] and Brezhnev-era blocks of flats [brezhnevki] ))

With a complete lack of prospects for a decent life.

Brezhnevki. Photo courtesy of Guberniya Daily
Brezhnevki. Photo courtesy of Guberniya Daily

A country where happiness is forever in the future.

Where can I answer “with a total f–ing mess”?

With beautiful girls

With bad roads and a country where it is extremely hard to find a good job (even with a university degree)

The Motherland, just the Motherland

With a slave mentality, neo-feudalism, the lack of a future, vatniks,* and a huge ego trip about its “greatness”

Recently, only with “seagulls,” cellos, and Panama hats . . .**

alas, I feel like splitting from here like Peter the Pig, a typical post-Soviet space with khrushchovki and rutted roads and yards that have not been repaired since Soviet times

With psychopaths.(

With people who work and earn less than a living wage.

With corruption, drunkenness, and parasitism . . .

Motherland, history, childhood,  family . . .

Minus all the sarcasm and crap written [here]. MOTHERLAND to me is MOM, CHILDHOOD AS A YOUNG PIONEER, THE COMMUNIST YOUTH LEAGUE, BIRCH TREES AND LAKES, SAYING FAREWELL TO KINDERGARTEN IN THE VILLAGE OF SNEZHNOYE, AND THE SIMPLE PRIDE THAT I AM A RUSSIAN

With a strong country!!! And Putin. 

Strange that nearly everyone answers in the present tense.=) Or is that how we should answer? Then,  apparently, I didn’t understand the question.  The country is ancient and large, with a difficult destiny and history. Loving the Motherland . . . in my view you love it no matter who rules it. True, then your love manifests itself differently at different times. What you cannot take away from it is the natural beauty and the people . . . The people in this country are still good. The times are often complicated. But you can get through them by looking at the beauty of nature and the spiritual beauty of people.=) Something like that.

To answer simply and cornily, Russia is the place where I learned to walk and talk. But to answer the question from the viewpoint of a person who is a citizen of Planet Earth: Russia is a multiethnic, multi-party country. It has become the rage in Russia to say what one thinks about Putin, about world politics and foreign policy. I am afraid it will soon become a ritual, like the morning conversation about the weather among the English.

Kickbacks and dog and pony shows.

With the permafrost.

With poverty

* vatnik = “Russian patriot and nationalist (An outspoken follower of Putin, who aims to compensate his meaningless life by glorifying the motherland. This insulting term derives from the name of an iconic Soviet padded uniform jacket issued during WWII.” Source: Multitran.ru

** A reference to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika (his surname means “seagull” in Russian), recently reappointed to another five-year term despite substantial allegations of corruptions against him and his family, and cellist Sergei Roldugin, implicated as Putin’s bagman in the Panama Files.

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

Ilya Budraitskis: Putrefaction as the Laboratory of Life (The 2016 Elections)

Nikolai Yaroshenko, Life Is Everywhere, 1888. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Nikolai Yaroshenko, Life Is Everywhere, 1888. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The 2016 Elections: Putrefaction as the Laboratory of Life
Ilya Budraitskis
OpenLeft
April 29, 2016

How do the upcoming Duma elections threaten the regime?

Today, it would seem that the upcoming September elections to the State Duma are a cause of growing concern only in the Kremlin. While polls continue to record a low level of public interest in the event, and the tiny number of parties allowed to run in the election wanly prepares to fulfill their usual roles, the president and his entourage are increasingly talking about possible threats.

The rationale of radicalization
At a recent meeting with activists of the Russian People’s Front, Putin noted that external enemies would preparing ever more provocations to coincide “with elections to the State Duma, and then with the presidential election. It’s a one hundred percent certainty, a safe bet, as they say.”

Regardless of their real value, the upcoming elections have been turning right before our eyes into a point of tension on which the state’s repressive apparatus has focused. Beginning with the establishment of the National Guard, the process has been mounting. Each security agency has now inaugurated its own advertising season, designed not only to remind the president and public of its existence but also to show off its unique capabilities, inaccessible to other competing agencies, for combating potential threats.

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has uncovered a plot by the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector, while in his programmatic article, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin essentially suggested canceling the elections since holding them could prove too dangerous. He made a direct appeal to stop “playing at pseudo-democracy” and provide a “tough, appropriate, and balanced response” to the country’s enemies “in light of the upcoming elections and the possible risks presented by the stepping up of efforts by destabilizing political forces.” With the appointment of Tatyana Moskalkova, even the previously neutral office of the human rights ombudsman has, apparently, been turned into yet another bastion of the fight against conspiracies.

This nervousness is certainly due to the fact that the growing economic and social crisis has had no visible political fallout for the time being. There have been no mass spontaneous revolts or sectoral strikes, although there has been an overall uptick in isolated labor disputes.  The political realm has long ago been securely purged of any uncontrollable opposition, while the president’s personal rating has remained phenomenally high. Nothing, it would seem, portends serious grounds for political destabilization this autumn. The absence, however, of real threats itself has become a threat to the internal stability of the state apparatus.

Where does the threat lie? In recent times, it has become obvious that decision-making at all levels and whatever the occasion has been subjected to a rationale of radicalization. Its principle can be described roughly as follows: no new decision can be less radical than the previous decision. Bureaucratic loyalty is measured only by the level of severity. MPs must propose more sweeping laws against latent traitors. Law enforcement agencies must expose more and more conspiracies, while the courts must hand down rulings that are harsher than the harshest proposals made by the security officials and MPs. Permanently mounting radicalism enables officials to increase budgets, expand powers, and prove their reliability, while any manifestation of moderation or leniency can cost them their careers. This radicalization, whose causes are rooted in the political psychology of the Russian elite (which suffers from an almost animal fear of uncontrollability), has set off an extremely dangerous bureaucratic momentum. Its main problem is the inability to stop. It is not only unclear where the bottom is, but who is ultimately interested in reaching that bottom and leaving it at that.

All this generates a strange situation vis-à-vis the elections, which have generally functioned primarily as a political balancing mechanism for the Putinist system, and even now function in this way. Elections have always been a reminder—not to voters, but to the elite itself—that varying opinions within a clearly defined framework have not only been possible but have also been encouraged. This reminder has been important not out of faithfulness to an abstract principle, but as confirmation that political bodies (first of all, the presidential administration) have had the monopoly on deciding domestic policy, not a military or police junta.

Fixing the broken mechanism?
For the Kremlin, the upcoming elections are overshadowed by the political trauma of 2011, when the smoothly functioning system of managed democracy suffered a serious breakdown. The current chief political strategist Vyacheslav Volodin has more or less consistently focused on making sure the failure of five years ago is not repeated. Volodin’s mission is to fix the broken mechanism with political methods, not by force.

It is worth remembering that, for the greater part of the Putin era, parliamentary and presidential elections were parts of a single political cycle, in which the same scenario was played out. The triumphal success of the ruling United Russia party was supposed to precede and ensure the even more resounding success of Vladimir Putin. In December 2011, however, the cycle’s unity backfired against the Kremlin’s plans. The interval between elections enabled the protest movement to maintain its grassroots energy for several months.

The political rationale of Putin’s third term is now aimed not only at technically but also at conceptually disrupting this cycle. Amidst a sharp drop in confidence in the government, the Kremlin decided last summer to move parliamentary elections up from December 2017 to September 2016, and, on the contrary, postpone the presidential election from March 2017 to March 2018. The point of the maneuver is obvious. The presidential and parliamentary elections must now represent not two parts of the same script but two completely different scripts. In the first script, a limited number of parties, which make up the symphony of the Crimean consensus, will criticize the government and each other, thus competing for the sympathies of the dissatisfied populace. In the second script, the natural patriotic instinct of voters should leave no doubt as to the need to support Putin unconditionally.

The new ideological content was embodied by Volodin’s famous statement: “There is no Russia today if there is no Putin.” This personification virtually means that, as a symbolic father, Putin transcends everyday politics. You can be a liberal or a nationalist, a proponent of greater intervention in the economy or a fan of the free market. You can choose not to like the government or government officials. But the nexus Putin-Crimea-Russia is beyond any doubt. Those who fundamentally disagree with it are simply removed from the Russian political spectrum and branded “national traitors.”

In keeping with this rationale, responsibility for the sharp drop in living standards and the consequences of the neoliberal “anti-crisis” measures has been borne by ministers, MPs, and governors, by anyone except the president. Even now, when the propaganda effect of the “reunification” of Crimea has obviously begun to fade, the president’s personal rating remains high. Thus, according to the latest opinion polls, 81% of respondents trust Putin, while 41% do not trust Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and 47% do not trust his government overall.

Within the new-model Crimean consensus, United Russia will no longer play the role of the backbone it played in the noughties. Untethered from the non-partisan figure of the president, it will take on the burden of unpopularity borne by its formal leader, Dmitry Medvedev, and his government. The mixed electoral system will enable candidates from local “parties of power” in single-member districts to dissociate themselves from United Russia, presenting themselves as “non-partisan Putinists” criticizing the soulless federal authorities. Volodin’s scheme involves loosening United Russia’s grip on power and slightly increasing the value of the pseudo-opposition as represented by the Communist Party and A Just Russia.

It is worth noting that the very existence of a bureaucratic mega-party previously played a stabilizing role by dampening intra-elite conflicts. Now they will inevitably come out into the open, including in the shape of inter-party struggles. Of course, the presidential administration counts on being able to effectively ensure compliance with the clear rules of this competition, but there are no guarantees. The managed multi-party system with the “father of the nation” towering over it consummates the new architecture of the Putin regime as a personalistic regime, and becomes more and more vulnerable.

In the new reality of the crisis, Putin’s depoliticization also facilitates a more intensive “natural selection” among bureaucrats at all levels by culling those who have not mastered the art of maintaining the conservative sympathies of the populace while simultaneously implementing what amount to aggressively anti-social policies. The September campaign is supposed to go off without a hitch, culminating in a predictable outcome. Having given a human face to the Central Elections Commission, which was seriously discredited by the previous leadership, Ella Pamfilova is meant to increase this manageability and predictability. It turns out that the upcoming elections are the primary pressure test of the new, post-Bolotnaya Square design of managed democracy. The future of Vyacheslav Volodin and his team, as well as Putin’s willingness to trust them with the extremely important 2018 presidential campaign, probably depends on how smoothly they come off.

From the foregoing it is clear that the objective of reestablishing the rules of managed democracy is directly at odds with the above-mentioned rationale of radicalization, whose standard-bearers are the competing law enforcement agencies. Their individual success in the internal struggle is vouchsafed by the failure of the political scenario, which would give rise to the need for a vigorous intervention by force. After all, the National Guard’s value would be incomparably increased if it put down real riots instead of sham riots, and Bastrykin’s loyalty would all the dearer if, instead of the endless absurdity of the Bolotnaya Square Case, he would uncover real extremists. To scare someone seriously, the ghosts have to take on flesh and blood.

Life is everywhere
Marx said that putrefaction is the laboratory of life. Now we see how Putinist capitalism has embarked on a process of gradual self-destruction. The upcoming elections provide a clear picture of how this has been facilitated by two opposing rationales, the political rationale (Volodin and the presidential administration) and the law enforcement rationale. Thus, the first rationale, in order to generate the necessary momentum and expand the range of opinions, must respond to social discontent by providing United Russia’s managed opponents with greater freedom to criticize. Restoring the internal political balance will inevitably lead to the fact that topics related to the crisis and the government’s anti-social policies will become the centerpiece of the entire election campaign. On the other hand, the security forces will destabilize the situation outside parliament. Together, they will do much more to undermine an already-flawed system than the long-term, deliberate efforts of any western intelligence agency.

Of course, Russian leftists should in no way count on events following an automatic course. But it is absolutely necessary to take into account the conflicts of interest within the elite and understand their decisive influence on the shape of the upcoming elections. These elections have nothing to do with the real struggle for power or traditional parliamentarianism in any shape or form. But they are directly related to the internal decomposition of an authoritarian, anti-labor, and anti-social regime. So our policy vis-à-vis these elections should be flexible and remote from all general conclusions. That means we can and should support certain leftist candidates in single-member districts. We must use all the opportunities provided by the leftist, socialist critique of the Medvedev government’s so-called anti-crisis policies. We must be ready to go to the polls. Or we must be ready to reject them, taking to the streets when the time comes.

Ilya Budraitskis is a writer, researcher, and editor at OpenLeft. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

The Russian National Idea

Putin Proclaims National Idea
Fontanka.ru
February 3, 2016

In Russia, there can be no other unifying idea than patriotism, argues President Vladimir Putin, as reported by TASS.

“This is, in fact, the national idea,” the head of state announced during a meeting with the Leaders Club, which brings together entrepreneurs from forty of the country’s regions.

According to Putin, this idea is not ideologized and is not linked to the work of a particular party, reports RIA Novosti.

“It is a common rallying point. If we want to live better, the country has to be more attractive to all citizens and more effective,” the president stressed.

_________

Who Killed a Transsexual in Ufa and Why?
Ufa1.ru
February 2, 2016

On Monday, February 1, Angela Likina was stabbed in the chest and killed in Ufa. The Ufa resident had gained notoriety in 2014, when a video recorded on a traffic police dashcam entitled “Ufa Traffic Cops Stop a Transvestite” [sic] went viral on the Web. Ufa1.ru found out who killed Oleg Vorobyov, who had changed his sex and become Angela Likina, and why.

2-z23-8ba7384a-0952-45c2-a705-e03be67de8d4
Angela Likina. Photo courtesy of Ufa1.ru

The controversial video from the traffic police car dashcam recorded an inspector checking the papers of a female motorist. It transpired, however, that the motorist’s name, according to his internal passport, was Oleg Vorobyov. The inspector was very surprised by this. The motorist was a transsexual who had been preparing for a sex change operation for several years, becoming Angela Likina. The restricted video was leaked to the Web.

Later, the State Auto Inspectorate conducted a review of the incident, because the restricted footage should have not ended up on the Web. Angela Likina also commented on the video herself. She was surprised the incident had provoked so much interest among Web users.

“People die in accidents, children get hurt, cars are stolen, blood is needed to save someone’s life. Gentlemen, why are you setting records for likes and reposts about me? I honestly don’t understand,” said Likina, adding, “I don’t care how you live, what you do, and so on, so long as you are alive, healthy, and happy. But my life does not concern you in absolutely any way.”

How Did Oleg Live?
Ufa1.ru spoke with friends and acquaintances of Angela Likina, who talked about the life of the murdered woman. We found out this sad ending had emerged from a number of factors. Before becoming Angela Likina, Oleg Vorobyov had been married. Acquaintances confess that, outwardly, the couple were seemingly happy. They were raising two daughters, now aged fourteen and nine. The family lived in a private house, which also housed Oleg’s auto repair garage. Many of the people with whom we spoke said automobile owners were satisfied with Oleg’s work, that he had a magic touch.

Over five years ago, Oleg realized he was living in someone else’s body. He understood he wanted to change his sex and become the person he thought he was. Oleg began calling himself Angela Likina and started the complicated process of preparing to change his sex. He took hormone pills and began dressing like a woman. According to his internal passport, however, he remained Oleg Vorobyov. He could only change his name after finally changing his sex.

Five years ago, the Vorobyovs divorced, but the former husband and wife and their two children kept living under the same roof. The house was the wife’s property, and her former husband had an established business there. Several of the family’s acquaintances believe that Angela did not want to lose her income from the auto repair garage and spend money on renting a place to live. After all, she had to save up a large sum of money for the operation, and the medicines she took to prepare for the procedure were expensive. Close friends emphasize that Angela worked a lot, sometimes seven days a week.

At the same time, Ufa1.ru’s sources noted the Ufa resident simply had no choice.

“He once tried to rent a flat, but was kicked out. A neighbor had said, ‘I don’t want my children to see this!’ Consequently, he was evicted and didn’t even get his money back,” said one of our sources.

Friends of the family noted that those who have lived under the same roof with ex-spouses can imagine the atmosphere that prevailed in the Vorobyov house. Some say that the rows over living arrangements caused the Vorobyovs to come to blows. Things were aggravated by the fact that the head of the family had become a woman. Their children also became the targets of reproaches and ridicule at school.

“They would come home in tears, and sometimes refuse to go to school, but Angela loved her daughters and gave them a lot of time,” acquaintances noted.

Who Killed Angela?
According to friends, a boyfriend came to visit Oleg’s ex-wife on the ill-fated evening. The criminal investigation will shed more light on what exactly happened in the house. For now, the family’s acquaintances have their own hypotheses. Perhaps the man intervened in yet another family row. Maybe he stood up for his girlfriend and wanted to intimidate Angela by demanding she pack her things and leave. The row, however, escalated into something bigger.

“She was stabbed in the chest near the heart. She did not die immediately. She made it to a neighbor’s house, told him what had happened and who had done it, and an ambulance was summoned. Then Angela died in the neighbor’s arms. It was apparently too late to help her. I don’t know what was happening in the family. Angela was a good person, but strangers often beat her up. Her neighbors respected her choice. It is a bad thing when a person steals, kills or rapes, but everything else is a private matter,” said an acquaintance of Angela’s.

“The best human qualities—kindness, fairness, compassion, and unselfishness—were powerfully manifested in her. Unfortunately, that is a rarity nowadays. And she really never held a grudge against anyone, although there were a fairly large number of people who wished her ill. Most of them, it is true, were people who did not know her at all. They insulted and mocked her. You could say she was understanding about it: far from everyone in our city, or even our country, is ready to comprehend the decision to have a sex change. And that is another reason I have endless respect for her: the determination to go her own way to the end, to change her life fundamentally, the willingness to take one and overcome all the difficulties,” another girlfriend of Angela’s confided to Ufa1.ru.

“Apparently, Angela sensed her impending death. Not long before this she had asked forgiveness from her wife for all the rows that had happened between them,” said another family acquaintance.

__________

Fire at Moscow workshop kills 12 people, including 3 children
Boston Globe
January 31, 2016

ASSOCIATED PRESS, JANUARY 31, 2016, MOSCOW — A fire at a textile workshop in Moscow has killed 12 people, including three children, officials said.

The victims were not identified but were reportedly immigrants.

The Investigative Committee, the top state investigative agency, said the fire broke out late Saturday in northeastern Moscow, damaging more than 32,000 square feet of the structure.

Investigators said they are looking at negligence or arson as possible causes.

Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, said Sunday on his Twitter account that three children were among those who died, including a baby. He said the victims were migrant workers who lived next to their workplace.

Several dozen fire engines responded to the blaze, and it took firefighters about five hours to extinguish the blaze.

Investigators continued to sift through the rubble Sunday for evidence.

Many immigrants work in Russian factories, some of which have been investigated for hazardous working conditions. In April, a blaze on the outskirts of Moscow killed 17 migrant workers.

__________

The death toll of Kyrgyz citizens (according to the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the Russian Federation):

1. Sajida Masaliyeva, born 1988. Home address: Village of Kyzyl-Bel, Batken District, Batken Region.

2. Toktokan Saliyeva, born 1983. Home address: Village of Tayan, Batken District, Batken Region.

3. Uulkan Saliyeva, born 1997, sister of Toktokan Saliyeva.

4. Isa kizi Aizat, born 1995. According to available information, Isa was a native of the Village of Kaiyndy, Batken Region.

5. Milikajdar uulu Koshonbay, born 1990.

6. Tologon Kozuyev, born 1991.

7. Manas, born 1995; brother of Tologon Kozuyev; no other details.

8. Daniel, 4-5 years old, son of Ergeshbay Japarov, a Russian national who perished in the fire; born in the village of Rout, Batken District, Batken Region; according to the victims, Daniel was a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Source: Radio Azzatyk

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The four-minute-and-twenty-five-second rap version of Alexei Navalny’s exposé of Russian prosecutor general Yuri Chaika, as performed by Nadya Tolokonnikova. Thanks to Comrade SC for the heads-up.

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[Elena Bobrova:] You are something of a patriot yourself?

[Nikolai Kolyada:] How else should I relate to Russia? I love her whatever she be like. Like Gogol I can tell the whole unvarnished truth about her. And Nikolai Vasilyevich said such awful things about Russia. He sobbed bloody tears when thinking about the country. But not because he hated it. On the contrary, because he loved it. When foreigners start speaking badly about Russia, I begin to boil: “Shut up, it is none of your business. I have the right to say anything about her, but you do not.” Well, it is okay when Europeans or Americans sling mud at us: they have a hard time coping with the fact we are different, unpredictable, and freer than they are. But when our own people hate their own country, that is terrible. This morning, I was reading Facebook and I thought, “Why do you live here if you hate Russia so much?”

[Bobrova:] But you just said yourself we have a right to chew out Russia because we live here.

[Kolyada:] Chew out but not hate. But Facebook is just seething with hatred.

—Excerpted from “20% of the Petersburg audience are loonies,” Gorod 812 (print edition), February 1, 2016, page 34

Items one, two, four, and six translated by the Russian Reader

Who Whom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“DANGER ZONE,” Petrograd, December 15, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Leonid Volkov
December 29, 2015
Facebook

According to the official (i.e., government) investigation, driver Ruslan Muhudinov ordered the killing of Boris Nemtsov.

Meaning that Ramzan Kadyrov has not been hurt in any way. Not only did he not surrender [State Duma deputy] Adam Delimkhanov and [Federation council member] Suleiman Geremeyev, he did not even surrender Ruslan Geremeyev.

This is just by way of understanding the hierarchy of the people in power in Russia.

The political wrangling went on for ten months. In March, Putin “went to ground” for a couple of weeks when the siloviki were demanding he surrender Kadyrov. It was clear he would not give up Kadyrov. Then for several months they demanded Geremeyev and his high-ranking relatives, but ultimately they did not get him, either.

This is what it basically comes down to.

The toughest guy in the real table of ranks in Russia is Ramzan Kadyrov.

The second rank includes Vladimir Putin, the selfsame Chechen elite, and members of the State Duma and Federation Council.

The third rank includes Bastrykin, Patrushev, Bortnikov, Chaika, and Geremeyev, whose degree of untouchability is the same. Any of them can steal anything and kill anyone, and he will get off scot-free.

The fourth rank includes any general in the Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service (FSB), and somewhere in there as well is Ruslan Muhudinov, driver of the deputy commander of the North Battalion [i.e., Ruslan Geremeyev].

Leonid Volkov is a project manager for opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Zhanna Nemstova
Moving Backwards: Russia’s Moral Decay
December 28, 2015
The Moscow Times

The Public Opinion Foundation conducted a survey this month asking Russians two questions: “What was the main event of the year in Russia?” and “What was the main global event of the year?” 

Noteworthy is that fully 40% of the respondents had trouble answering either question. And the most brutal political murder in modern Russia – the assassination of my father – did not even figure in the responses. State-controlled television hardly mentions it, with the exception of the first few days after the killing, when commentators spoke of him in contemptuous tones.

But the problem is not only the silence of the Kremlin’s official propaganda. The problem is the condition of Russian society. A Levada Center survey conducted in March of this year found that one-third of all Russians are indifferent to my father’s murder. That is a moral numbness best conveyed by the popular Russian sentiments of “It does not concern me” and “That does not affect me.” The well-known military journalist Arkady Babchenko refers to that type of thinking by his countrymen as “infantilism.” Perhaps he is right. 

This attitude finds expression not only in widespread apathy, but also in people’s inability to recognize even obvious causal relationships. It is understandable why some people cannot see the medium-term and long-term negative consequences of the annexation of Crimea, but it was not so difficult to predict that consumer prices would rise as a result of Moscow’s food embargo and the hefty tolls imposed on trucks traveling on federal highways. 

The political system that President Vladimir Putin has built robs the Russian people of the ability to think, analyze, ask questions, formulate positions or remember the past. It offers no stimulus for that: Putin’s Russia has no need of people who think for themselves. It has reduced competition to a minimum in all areas, including the political field. And it is not always the smartest that succeed in this system

It is a sad and potentially dangerous situation when the political playing field lies decimated and debates and discussions have been replaced with sometimes violent pressure from the authorities. That has also compromised the quality of the opposition itself and made it a truly heroic feat to even take part in the opposition movement in Russia. There are no democratic institutions and the activists are fighting for survival. Under such conditions, opposition figures have no chance to become public figures and the public has no way of knowing who is who.

People have short memories, and that makes life easier for Putin and his inner circle, who are constantly confusing their facts. First they claim there are no Russian soldiers in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and then they admit to their presence. First they promise not to raise taxes and fees, and then they impose new tariffs on long-haul truckers. Forgetfulness is a handy human tendency, and the Kremlin’s television propaganda exploits it to the fullest. 

This explains why leaders have no personal reputations and remain unaccountable before the public. Perhaps the social apathy and the public’s lack of interest in politics is a defense mechanism, people’s way of responding to the flood of lies and aggression from the authorities. Nobody can figure out where the truth lies, and so it is best not to even go looking for it

All politics in Russia are situational and as volatile as oil prices. Even loyal politicians and officials do not always manage to fall into line exactly as they should. For example, it is amusing to see how famed film director and die-hard Putin fan Nikita Mikhalkov gets outraged over the way his own patriotic show on state-controlled television is subjected to censorship. 

The authorities and the ruling elite are out for their own survival. That end justifies all means, including the tactic of keeping military tensions high at all times. As a result, Russia is increasingly moving away from humanistic values and toward a confrontational relationship with the world. But perhaps that is not putting it strongly enough: maybe Russia is moving toward total apathy. However, war is becoming the context for all other issues in life. 

Russian journalists often ask me why I fight for a fair and impartial investigation into my father’s murder. For me, the very wording of that question is sickening because it shows that medieval values now reign supreme in Russia: nobody understands that it is not just I who needs such an investigation, but all Russians if this country is to ever move forward

We must wage a long and grueling fight for human rights. If we simply give up that struggle and accept the fact that, in Russia, someone can just go and kill a prominent public figure, a statesman and leader of the opposition with absolute impunity, then we must also come to terms with the fact that the same thing could one day happen to any of us. 

Today’s opposition members are now at greater risk than ever before. I see the condescending attitude shown toward the small handful of people who continue to struggle for democracy in Russia. I have grown accustomed to the eternal question: “What do they offer?” But just imagine if one day even that small group would no longer exist. Who, then, would conduct anti-corruption investigations, participate in even nominal elections, initiate investigations into wrongdoings by Duma deputies or provide support for political prisoners? No one, that’s who

My father long experienced that condescending attitude from others who behaved as if they were looking down on him from on high. And now he has been murdered – for his views, for daring to express his position, for his unwillingness to be indifferent or apathetic. And suddenly, his absence is sorely felt. 

Putin’s Russia has not brought a revival of spiritual values, as state-controlled TV tries to convince us. It has caused Russia’s moral decay. And as long as Russians approach every problem through the filter of whether it will affect them personally, this country can move in only one direction – backward.

Zhanna Nemtsova is a Deutsche Welle reporter and the founder of Boris Nemtsov Foundation For Freedom.