Saturday, February 24, 2007

The United Russia Shakedown

La Russophobe's original translator has uncovered evidence in the Russian blogosphere of an attempt by United Russia to extort political campaign contributions under threat of force. Here's a copy of a document posted by the Russian blogger:

(click the image to enlarge it)

Here's our translation of the letter and the blogger's short post about it:


------------ Text of Letter -----------------

Letterhead: All-Russian Political Party “United Russia” (Yedinaya Rossiya), Kemerov Regional Branch

Date Stamped: November 13, 2007

Addressed to: A.K. Loginov, Executive Director, OAO “Sibirskaya Ugol’naya Energeticheskaya Kompaniya” (Siberian Coal Energy Company)

I am taking your refusal to provide financial support to the regional branch of the “United Russia” party for the upcoming parliamentary elections as a refusal to support President V.V. Putin and his policy direction.

I consider it my obligation to relay this to the Presidential Administration and the Governor of the Kemerov Oblast.

Signed: G.T. Dudyaev

Secretary of the Regional Political Council

Kemerov Regional Branch

United Russia Party

------------ End of letter -----------------

Blogger’s comment:

I don’t know whether V.V. Putin would be pleased to have his name used as part of a racketeering/”ironing” enterprise. Perhaps he would not be pleased - judging from his comments about “impostors” (prokhodimtsi). This is, however, an unavoidable consequence of his cult of personality - this is the identity the impostors will use for their fraudulent ends. And it is for this purpose that a cult is established.

Dear President Putin! II

An Open Letter to President Putin

by Vladimir Sinelnikov*

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

February 7, 2008

Dear Mr. President,

I would imagine that most of the letters sent to you contain one or another request. But I have a different purpose: I would like to direct your attention to a recent event which reflects as in a drop of water a phenomenon that is without a doubt causing much concern in Russian society. I hope that what I set forth in the letter below will cause your assistants to bring it to your attention.

About two years ago, during the day, I was returning from a film shoot in my minivan, and as we crossed the square where not long ago there stood a monument to Dzerzhinskiy [TN: Feliks Dzerzhinskiy, the founder of the KGB; his statue stood in front of the headquarters of the KGB, now the FSB, on Lubyanka Square] my vehicle was hit broadside by a car speeding through a red light, impacting right in the spot were I was sitting in the passenger seat. I could not get out of my vehicle, because I was covered in cuts from broken glass and was in a state of shock. But my driver, who was not as badly injured, was able to get out and headed for a traffic island in the middle of the square. The driver responsible for the collision approached the traffic police posted there and told them: “Listen up: I’m an FSB officer on assignment to the Russian Presidential Administration. When you write up your report, start with that.” Then right there, at the scene of the accident, he got on his mobile phone and called two people, who arrived in 4-5 minutes and claimed they were “bystanders” to the accident. After giving their eyewitness accounts they identified themselves for the report as FSB officers (thereby explaining how they were able to get to the traffic island so quickly from their place of work).

Beginning the next day the leadership of the traffic police special cases unit became the target of unprecedented pressure from federal and Moscow city law enforcement agencies, which demanded that the FSB officer Subbotkin, who was driving the car that rammed into mine - and who loudly proclaimed at the scene of the accident that he worked for you, Mr. President - be exonerated from all responsibility for the accident. But that’s not all. Without any request whatsoever from the police, Subbotkin brought to the traffic police investigations office a videotape which, it turns out, the FSB makes 24 hours a day of the square where the accident took place. Unfortunately for him, he did not anticipate that analysis of the tape by independent experts would only further prove his responsibility for the accident. But a fact remains a fact, and the tape was entered into the case file.

Despite all the pressure that was placed on him, the traffic police investigator refused to declare that my own driver, and not Subbotkin, was responsible for the accident. The most the investigator would agree to do was write was that he could not determine who was at fault. And for that he was immediately sent into retirement. I appealed in a letter to the chief of the FSB Personal Security Directorate, General Kupryashkin, setting before him a single question: whether it was true what Subbotkin said at the scene of the accident, that he was an FSB officer. And also whether the two “bystanders” who supposedly saw the accident were FSB officers as well. (Again, they themselves gave their names and places of employment in the course of the investigation at the scene of the accident.) In a letter signed by one of Kupryashkin’s assistants, it was confirmed that they were all FSB employees. I am attaching this letter because one point is worthy of your attention: in this letter, the agency does not give an assessment of the conduct of any of its officers - neither Subbotkin, nor the false witnesses. Furthermore, while confirming their affiliation with the FSB, the respondent nonetheless did not give the officers’ last names, and confirmed their involvement in the affair only as anonymous figures. But instead he assured me that they (“they” who? the witnesses?) had “not threatened” me, although I never said a single word about this, and never even saw the witnesses.

After this I wrote a letter to the chief of your administration, Mr. Sobyanin, in which I asked him to confirm or disconfirm that Subbotkin is an FSB officer on assignment to the Presidential Administration. I received an official reply, delivered to me by state courier, signed receipt required, which said that Subbotkin is in fact an employee of your administration.

Then I turned to the courts, and here, Mr President, several additional circumstances came to light that are worthy of your attention. The judge demanded that I state Subbotkin’s place of residence - i.e., provide his certificate of domicile - even though in the accident report he wrote his address in his own hand, and it was accurate enough that a telegram sent there to determine the damage he inflicted on my car reached him. It turns out, Mr. President, that Mr. Subbotkin’s place of residence is not at the address given by him, but another: Bolshaya Lubyanka, Bldg 1/3. I know that you once worked at this address, as does Mr. Patrushev [the current head of the FSB], and that this is the location of the KGB’s prison, but I cannot imagine where in this vicinity Subbotkin might be residing. I can’t help but ask: for what purpose would we have a regulation, written or unwritten, that gives intelligence officers the right to register as their domicile their place of work? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to change such a law, if it exists, or extend it to all organizations, including my television company?

I do not know why - I do not want to imagine why - but the court lost my case file on two separate occasions, and was not even able to tell me the date on which the court supposedly returned my documents to me. So twice I had to start all over again, pull together all the necessary documents, and again pay the court fees. And then, just after my story appeared on the website of the Russian organization “For Human Rights” (Za Prava Cheloveka), the judge who twice lost my case file suddenly disappeared, and the whole process had to begin again from a blank piece of paper. In this way, Mr. President, my story proceeded for two years. And then, just when the my case was finally going to court, who should appear but Mr Subbotkin (I should note that he never once appeared in court these two years, but suddenly he turned up, as soon the court found him responsible in absentia and ordered him to pay for damages to my vehicle). And here occurs the main turn of events that is worthy of your attention. Subbotkin filed a retaliatory suit, alleging that my driver was responsible for the accident.

But that’s not the main thing. Subbotkin also demanded that I be held responsible for tarnishing his image and honor as an FSB officer, referring to the fact that the above story, word for word, appeared on the website of the “For Human Rights” organization. He does not deny that he presented himself at the accident site as an FSB officer; does not deny that he personally delivered to the traffic police a videotape produced by the intelligence services; and he does not deny that he called his FSB colleagues to serve as false witnesses. But he accuses me of taking the liberty of drawing to public attention the fact that he is a member of the intelligence services. [TN: Emphasis in the original.]

Yes, I knowingly passed this information to the respected organization’s website. And I will say further: this story became the subject of an hour-long program on the radio station “Svoboda” (Freedom), in which I was joined by the recently-elected Russian Duma deputy and retired FSB General Kandaurov. On the program, Kandaurov gave his unambiguous assessment of Subbotkin’s conduct. At the end of the program I asked him to answer a question for me. “I thought,” I told him and the program’s listeners, “that this story would end approximately as follows: I would be invited to FSB headquarters, where they would admit their involvement in what happened, and tell me that Subbotkin would not be able to discuss the matter with me because he was fulfilling his duties in a garrison somewhere near Chita [TN: city in eastern Siberia]. Or will they instead just send the tax inspector to visit my television company?” I asked. Kandaurov smiled and answered, “After the website affair, and now this hour-long program on ‘Svoboda’, they will first apologize... And then they will send the tax inspector.”

Kandaurov was halfway wrong, but also turned out to be halfway right. No one has apologized, and Subbotkin is not in Chita, but continues to work in Moscow, in your administration, Mr. President. Moreover, regarding the tax inspector, I was apparently provident in my thinking. In his retaliatory suit Subbotkin demands of the court that I present a legal document specifying the date my driver began working for me as driver at the television company, what kind of personal relationship he has with me, in what capacity he had the right to drive, etc., etc.

In court Subbotkin begged for the mercy of the court, requesting he be allowed to pay the court fees in installments (the same court fees that I had to pay twice), because he was living in poverty. Nonetheless, he had two lawyers accompanying him to court. It would be interesting to know who paid the not insignificant sum for their fees - Subbotkin, or the agency that shares in his injury at having their honor and dignity tarnished?

Dear Mr. President, I will get to the point. The story of my automobile accident is an everyday occurrence in our lives; it is a matter for the courts, experts, etc. But what worries me, and not only me, is something different: this story has been dragging on for two years; official letters from the FSB and the Presidential Administration convince me that these authoritative organizations know very well who works for them and why I asked for their answers. Now, as Subbotkin is filing his retaliatory suit regarding the offending of his dignity as an FSB officer, it has become clear that there is no talk of his being sent to Chita. Subbotkin understood what his senior managers indicated to him by their two years of utter silence: you’ve done everything just right, Subbotkin. With regard to this I have some thoughts and questions: who is Subbotkin related to, or whose daughter did he marry? Not one of your daughters, of course - yours are too young. I don’t know if Patrushev has any daughters, but the circle of influential people is not so narrow and tight. But perhaps it is even worse than that? Perhaps all members of the intelligence services now allow themselves to think that the day has arrived when they can behave like this. The untouchability of the head of the government, guaranteed by the Constitution, the untouchability of his narrow circle, and now the bureaucratic riff-raff with their government-issued personal weapons – they are all a threat to society as a whole. Not yet 20 years have passed since we became convinced of this. And look where that led the previous regime as well.

My friends and colleagues urged me not to send this letter to you. Yes, yes, Mr. President, alas, everyone is thinking about this nowadays, fear is in the air. But I have behind me films about Chernobyl, Sakharov, and the interrelationships between the people and the authorities, and I have those ten days in the life of Yuri Lyubimov, which the Politburo of the USSR allowed him to spend in his Motherland to reproduce his performance of “Boris Godunov” at the Taganka Theater.

On your decree, Mr. President, I was awarded the Order of Valor for the film “The Bell of Chernobyl” [1987], which was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for being shown in every country of the world having television. This was the last “unreleasable film” (полочная картина) of the Soviet era, having been released to viewers in the new era. Military men, with whom I am nowadays working on upcoming films, tell me that this is the only medal that cannot be earned while serving “on the parquet” [in the rear]. I am proud of this medal and remember it now, as I grow depressed while shooting a series on international terrorism in places that would make one envy Chernobyl. That’s why I’m writing you this letter regardless.

I have nothing to share with Subbotkin. But the manner in which they relate to him in his place of work is a very important sign, of the most profound sort. Especially now, on the eve of the presidential elections. This is my first letter to you and, probably, it will be my last. Letters to presidents - they’re not my genre. But I want to tell you one thing, having now taken up my pen: it seems like there is a plan being worked out today to cause society to completely condemn the 1990’s. But from those years we got not only the oligarchs who robbed Russia blind, but also those who created the democratic basis for our life today, and, to get right to the point, those who make up the political elite in today’s society. The intelligentsia that was formed in the 1990’s is a part of our society not compensated by anything or anyone. “Without me the people are incomplete”, said the great Russian poet. Without the intelligentsia the people are also incomplete. The year after Sakharov’s death in Padul, Italy, there was a reading of his writings. The head of the Russian delegation, Anatoly Sobchak [TN: former mayor of Saint Petersburg, and Putin’s first boss after leaving the KGB], invited me to join the delegation and bring my recently completed film “Sakharov – the Man and the Era”. The delegation was small, but included Yuri Karyakin, Gleb Yakunin and Yelena Bonner. Now I think to myself, how sad it is that these people are not around you today. But instead we have Subbotkin at the scene of a traffic accident, proclaiming to the police that he is Your Man. And in court they make it clear that no one is allowed to make encroachments on the honor of an officer of the intelligence services and a member of the Presidential Administration.

Mr. President, my story is not about a personal offense, but about my fear for the society in which I live, along with you, and your children, and mine.


Vladimir Sinelnikov

General Director and Artistic Manager

Television Studio “Kloto”


*Here is a brief biographical statement on the author, from a 2005 interview published in the Russian-American newspaper Novoye Russkoye Slovo:

Vladimir Lvovich Sinelnikov founded one of the first independent television stations in Russia, “Channel 31”, and is currently the owner and artistic director of the television studio “Kloto”. He has written screenplays for approximately one hundred documentaries, and has been awarded numerous prizes at national and international film festivals. Among the films and television serials based on his screenplays: the four-part series “The Bell of Chernobyl” [1987]; “The Academic Sakharov - A Man for all Time”; “Mirages and Hopes” [1996]; “Memories of the Present”; and “The Final Myth” [1999]. His current project, a series on international terrorism, is being partly financed by the Ukrainian businessman and patron of the arts Vadim Shulman.)

For readers of Russian, the full text of Sinelnikov’s correspondence with the FSB related to his traffic accident with Subbotkin can be found on the website of the organization “For Human Rights”, at:

Humped and Dumped

Prologue: It seems that Nashi has now served its purpose to the Kremlin and is going the way of all things, before it becomes too confident and hence threatening to the insecure but nonetheless malignant little troll who struts upon the Kremlin's parapets. We predicted some time ago, in a translation of Nashi's bizarre call for middle managers that Nashi would not make good on its promise to help all its young "volunteer management trainees" get jobs in "major Russian corporations." In this regard, the following piece establishes that Nashi has now shown itself to be nothing more than a classic Russian pyramid scheme, just like the infamous MMM. (Remember them?). The authors of the following piece devastatingly refute any positive interpretation of why Nashi was disbanded - for example as some kind of a move away from the Putinjugend model, maybe because of Medvedev being named as his successor. This is nothing but: (a) a tactical move, to save the Kremlin a pile of money that Putin and Co. can then sock away in their Swiss bank accounts; (b) a strategic move, for making the group less obviously tied to the Kremlin, so it can become even more violent and cruel; and (c) a cynical loss of interest by the crass manipulators who used to run the organization, who never had any long-term vision for Russia at all, only for themselves.

Humped and Dumped

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

January 29, 2008

The youth movement NASHI ["us slavic Russians"] is ending its existence as a centralized, federation-wide project. The leader of the organization, Nikita Borovik, announced to the newspaper “Kommersant” that the regional leaders of Nashi decided at a recent conference to preserve only five of their previous 50 regional offices - in Vladimir, Ivanov, Tulskiy, Voronezh, and Yaroslav. Activists from other regions will still be allowed to participate in special Nashi projects (“Our Army”, “Volunteer Youth Brigade”, Orthodox Corps”, Lessons in Friendship”, etc.). Sources in the Kremlin told the newspaper that there were no longer any plans use Nashi activists actively for political purposes, and Nashi-generated crowds would not be needed in the coming elections. Still, there would be no “formal closing” of Nashi, according to the Presidential Administration: the authorities would not leave the young people “unsupervised”. A portion of the group’s financing would also remain - like the 10 million rubles allotted for the group’s traditional summer camp at Lake Seliger. So what has long been predicted has finally come to pass: the big, bad old men used the starry-eyed little Nashisti for their own PR purposes, and now... “Thanks for the memories, goodbye.” Experts are certain that Borovikov’s announcement is only the “first cut”, and eventually the remaining five offices will also be closed, and financing for the group will be completely cut off.


Sergey Udaltsov, Communist Youth Avant-garde (AKM):

For me personally, the news came as no surprise. I have long expected it. From the moment the Nashi movement was created, as with many others like it, it was obvious to me and a lot of other people that the movement was contrived, temporary and in essence something of a commercial project, especially for the movement’s leaders, who I suspect have already received their due dividends. Most significantly, from the very beginning this group had no discernible ideology; just support for the president and his policies - essentially apologia for the authorities and forceful suppression of all their opponents; no ideology or anything resembling it here, just storm troopers.

Hence, everything that is happening here is to be expected, with plenty of precedent: recall the movement “Walking Together” (Iduschiye Vmeste), which also lasted a few years and then passed away, and which almost no one remembers today. Following its demise, “Walking Together” was essentially reincarnated as “Nashi”, but I think this time we are seeing something other than re-branding: there will be no successor organization. What happened was that Nashi had accumulated such an aggressive image that the authorities themselves came to see that the continued existence of such a movement carried with it more minuses that plusses, especially considering how negatively it was viewed from abroad. I think this is the reason they are now closing it down. Although, of course, the sacred pedestal never remains vacant for long: new people will appear, young and ambitious, wishing to build their careers and businesses upon it. There will be successors of some sort, but I think they will be of a different sort than we see today.

Besides the negative image there is other reason the movement was closed: the people who headed Nashi had already gotten everything they wanted from it. Mr. Yakemenko has essentially joined the government, and a string of Nashi functionaries have landed in the Duma (parliament) - after which they just lost interest. Hence, on the one hand Nashi was no longer needed by the Kremlin, and on the other was no longer needed by its own leadership: everything they wanted, they had already gotten out of it, and as far as they were concerned, I think, the rank and file could just go to hell.


Ilya Barabanov, journalist/correspondent, The New Times

In the end they will not completely close “Nashi”. Why? Because it is much easier, having cut off their financing, to simply keep them alive as a small and, at first glance, hardly visible group of assets, ones that can be called upon when the need arises to advance certain interests. Nashi as a large bureaucratic machine required too much financial investment. And the absence of any connection to a political party made their activities look to everyone like the work of the Presidential Administration.

This image was advanced as well by regular meetings between the movement’s leaders and first Vladimir Putin then Vladislav Surkov. Considering the absurdity of most of Nashi’s activities, its very existence, far from helping, actually hurt the image of the authorities. The group “Young Russia” (Rossiya Molodaya) presents a more beneficial structure for the Administration. Their actions are not viewed as being those of Surkov, so they can permit themselves to be throwbacks/barbarians (“otmorozheniye”).

Having chopped up Nashi into a series of smaller subgroups, the movement’s handlers in the Administration can still use these assets in the future for more pointed and radical actions, since in the eyes of the mass media and public opinion the Kremlin bureaucrats will not be responsible for them. More simply put: small, impersonalized structures, which no one associates with Surkov, Putin or his successor, are much more useful than one huge money-sucking monster committing outrages in front of the Estonian embassy.

So the Nashi movement will continue, in the form of a series of small groups, and one can anticipate their radicalization. The destruction of Nashi is simply the destruction of a corrupt bureaucratic machine. Put in economic terms, the Kremlin bureaucrats are optimizing their assets. And it will hardly affect their colleagues from “Young Russia” at all. The Kremlin ideologues will always need for one purpose or another a group of thugs (“otmoroziki”), ready at any moment to pick up crowbars and baseball bats. It’s a little more complicated with the “Young Guards” (Molodaya Gvardiya). After the December elections, their reason for existence will have disappeared. I think they can expect a slow death, beginning immediately after the presidential elections. The authorities will stop funding them - and as soon as they stop giving them money, the kids will skedaddle.

The Moscow Times, however, reports that Nashi may not be fully on board with the Kremlin's plans. Has Putin created a Frankenstein even he can't control?

Pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi said Friday that it was seeking to double its membership this year and dismissed reports of its imminent demise. Nashi leader Nikita Borovikov said at a news conference that while the group was undergoing a reorganization, it was not drifting into irrelevance. "No one can stop us," Borovikov said.

Kommersant and Vedomosti, citing Nashi members and sources in the presidential administration, reported recently that Nashi was becoming obsolete after United Russia swept to a landslide victory in the Dec. 2 State Duma elections. Borovikov said the reports were part of a campaign to discredit the group by "small movements" and "individual politicians who have disappeared from the political skyline." He did not specify which groups or politicians were behind the purported campaign.

Part of Nashi's reorganization includes transferring power to regional centers to implement various projects, including Mishki, or Bear Cubs, a patriotic children's group under the Nashi auspices, Borovikov said. Nashi intends to organize rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg with 100,000 activists, as well as send 1,000 activists to Grozny to support reconstruction projects in the Chechen capital, Borovikov said. Nashi members are also working on the presidential campaign of Dmitry Medvedev in the March 2 election. Medvedev, expected to win in a landslide, has the backing of President Vladimir Putin, to whom Nashi has pledged fealty.

Latynina on Kasyanov

The Major’s Syndrome

Yulia Latynina

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

January 24, 2008

Now they want to exclude Mikhail Kasyanov from the presidential elections. But whatever for? So what if Kasyanov runs and gets 2% of the vote? Whom would this bother? On the contrary, it would help legitimize the election.

Remarkably, and almost simultaneously (January 21), something very similar happened: Russia issued an Interpol warrant for the arrest of Mikhail Gutseriev, accused by the Tverskiy court of fraud and money laundering.

This cannot be called an especially wise move. The problem is that the temperamental Gutseriev, unlike others who were in the process of having their businesses taken over by the authorities, did not restrain himself, but instead wrote a letter in which he accused the Kremlin of stealing his company. After which all of his company’s stock was frozen and a federal arrest warrant was issued for Gutseriev himself.

After that Gutseriev’s son was killed. The young man was involved in an auto accident in his personal car, but refused hospitalization (an ambulance crew that arrived immediately after the accident gave him a shot). He returned home, called his relatives to assure them that it was nothing serious, then went to bed - and died.

So the young man died of acute pride - he did not want to bother his father, who already had his own heap of problems without having to worry about an auto accident, a trip to the hospital, etc. Mikhail Gutseriev will always have to ask himself whether his son would have died if he, Gutseriev, had not been in the process of having his business confiscated.

But more to the point: immediately after the accident rumors started swirling around Moscow. That the accident was staged; that the ambulance arrived suspiciously quickly after the accident; that the paramedics injected Gutseriev’s son with poison. And all this was done to trick Gutseriev into coming back to Russia to bury his son. Paradoxically, the rumors were being circulated by both the enemies of FSB chief Igor Sechin - locked in mortal combat with him for the graces of the monarch - and, apparently, his followers, who were trying to highlight the omnipotence of their patron.

Gutseriev is now, as far as is known, still in London.

In this situation, issuing an Interpol warrant for Gutseriev’s arrest would seem, to put it mildly, unwise. More exactly, it was stupid.

Any legal procedure brought against Gutseriev while he is in London will end with his triumphantly receiving political asylum. Furthermore, I doubt that the British public, following the Litvinenko Affair and the Papua New Guinea-like story of what happened with the British Council, will be so skeptical as yours truly is toward the theory that Gutseriev’s son was killed by the Russian intelligence services, who were trying to take over his father’s business.

In that case, you ask, why in the world would they issue a warrant for his arrest - if up to that point he had been sitting quietly in London, not requesting asylum, and apparently even hoping to negotiate for a peaceful resolution to his case? And then, after issuing an arrest warrant through Interpol, you get not only an international scandal and refusal to extradite, but also an enraged guy from the Caucasus, with three billion dollars and a dead son?

The answer is simple: just don’t analyze the actions of the authorities from the perspective of what benefits the Kremlin (Putin, Sechin, etc.). The Kremlin is so little in control of the situation that the actions of the authorities should be analyzed only from the perspective of what benefits the Major [TN: the middle-ranking officer].

What were they thinking, going after Kasyanov? Did they want to give another card to those who are going to doubt the legitimacy of the elections? Certainly not. But here’s poor Mr. Churov, Chairman of the Central Elections Commission. And if he doesn’t expel Kasyanov from the elections, then tomorrow some little cockroach wanting to take his job will come running to the Kremlin with a story about how Churov didn’t exclude Kasyanov because Churov is a secret supporter of the “Orange Plague”. What should Churov be thinking about? The strategic interests of the Kremlin, or his own job security?

What were they thinking, issuing an arrest warrant for Gutseriev? That this time a London court, hearing from Putin, Sechin & Associates, would embarrass them worse than they ever dreamed of? Certainly not. But here’s some Major, charged with going after Gutseriev. And if he doesn’t issue an arrest warrant, then tomorrow some little Captain, wishing to take his place, will come running with a story about how the Major didn’t issue an Interpol arrest warrant for Gutseriev because he’s taking money from him and plotting against Sechin. What should the Major be thinking about? The strategic interests of those who want to steal Gutseriev’s company, or keeping himself out of jail?

Oh, just imagine how much that little Major must hate those s.o.b’s who get to steal whole companies, while he, the Major, has to wince and worry as he slips 10 measly rubles into his pocket.

Liability for Chechnya

European Court Says Russia Must Pay 42,000 Euros for the

Murder of a Chechen by Policeman Federal Soldiers

November 15, 2007

The European Court of Human Rights on November 16 handed down a decision in a suit related to the murder in Grozniy of Aslanbek Kukayev, a policeman of the Staropromyslov Regional Branch of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

As reported by Interfax, the court found in favor of the suit brought by Khamzat Kukayev, the father of the policeman who was killed in November 2000 in Grozniy, and obliged the Russian Federation to pay him 7,000 euros as compensation for material damages and 35,000 euros for moral damages. In addition, Russia is required to pay over 7,000 euros for court costs.

In the opinion of the court, with regard to the petitioner Russia permitted the violation of Articles 2, 3 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Specifically, violation of the “Article 2 (right to life) of the European convention on human rights concerning the disappearance and death of Aslanbek Kukayev; a violation of the same Article concerning the authorities’ failure to carry out an adequate and effective investigation into the disappearance and death of Aslanbek Kukayev.”

The Strasburg court also found that with respect to Kukayev’s father, who suffered mental anguish as a result of the disappearance of his son and the lack of a competent investigation, Russia had allowed a violation of Article 3 - according to which “No one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The court also established a violation of Article 13 of the Convention, which guarantees the right to an effective remedy in defense of a person’s rights, as well as Article 38, which establishes a procedure for examining cases brought to the European Court. The Russian government failed to present documents that the court had requested.

As reported by the online publication “Kavkazskiy Uzel” (Caucus Knot), Dmitriy Grushkin, a lawyer with the “Memorial” organization who is representing the father of the murdered man in the Strasburg court. Kukayev disappeared in Grozniy in the year 2000. On November 26, Kukayev, a member of the patrol service of the Aslanbek Kukayev (No. 221 on the list of those who have disappeared mysteriously), together with his fellow serviceman Roslanbek Damayev (No. 134 on the same list), left for work for the last time in his life, bound for the Central Market of Grozniy. On that day, Russian Federal forces were conducting a “special operation” in the market.

According to multiple witnesses who were interviewed by members of the human rights organization “Memorial”, at 11:00 a.m. on 26 November, 2000 the central market of Grozniy was unexpectedly cordoned off by soldiers and armored vehicles. Traffic was halted for several blocks around the market, and pedestrian movement was limited. Heavy machinery, including tanks and bulldozers, moved toward the rows of stands located on Mir Street.

The market was plundered. One of the traders, a woman, tried to protect her goods. A fight broke out, involving several other women as well. The soldiers were forced to retreat to a market exit, firing over the heads of the people -- as described by “Memorial” in the first book in the series “People Live Here. Chechnya: Chronicle of Violence”, covering the period from July to December 2000 and published by the company “Zvenya” in 2003.

Grozniy resident Khava Magomadova: “At 11:00 a.m. the market was surrounded by soldiers, some of them in masks. Under the guise of checking passports, they chased the traders from their working places and right in front of everyone began taking merchandise from the tables. After opening the merchants’ lockers, they began to load up their Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and other vehicles with boxes and crates of alcohol and food products. I had goods worth 22,000 rubles disappear.”

Zarema Abubakorova, a resident of the Grozniy region: “I was working at the market on November 26, when the Russians started roughing people up outrageously. They stole merchandise, food, boxes of vodka, cigarettes and equipment. When two police officers from the Zavodskyy Region tried to intervene, they took away their identification and led them away somewhere. Things stolen from my locker included raincoats, jackets, suits, and shoes, worth 50,000 rubles. Only a few of my colleagues managed to hide and preserve their goods.”

While some soldiers plundered the market, others kidnapped young people: at least 20 people were detained. A few of them managed to ransom their way to safety, but the fate of most of them is still unknown. Two women also disappeared from the market, also perhaps taken by the soldiers.

A student at Chechnya State University, who requested anonymity: “I went to the central market to buy some clothes. Suddenly a panic broke out, people started running around in confusion. It turned out that the Russians had surrounded the market and were conducting a document check. Although I presented my passport and student identification, they took me to a vehicle with several dozen other young men who were being detained. On the road I managed to negotiate with one of the soldiers, who let me go in exchanged for money. Several other people from my group also managed to buy their release. I don’t know what happened to the others. I only know that their relatives are looking for them. If I hadn’t had some money with me at the time, I’m sure mine would be looking for me now.”

The policemen Aslanbek Kukayev and Roslanbek Damayev were in camouflage uniforms and had with them their identifications as members of the police force. At about 12:00 noon they were detained by soldiers of the federal forces. Presenting their credentials, Kukayev and Damayev “demanded the soldiers explain what was going on. But then, in front of a multitude of witnesses, they themselves were placed in a truck with some other Chechen policemen who had also been arrested.

According to witnesses, the vehicle stopped at the Grozniy Teachers College, where Kukayev and Damayev were taken off by a group of six soldiers. The truck then continued on, and after a little while shots were heard. By evening of the same day, all of the Chechen policemen who had been detained had returned home. Except for Aslanbek Kukayev and his fellow officer.

Khamzat Kukayev immediately began looking for his son Aslanbek. He appealed to the Grozniy city prosecutor, as a result of which a criminal case was opened. He also turned to the FSB and Commandant of the city.

After 4 months, on 22 April 2001, soldiers of a mobile unit of the Federal Forces discovered two corpses at the entrance to a basement in the Teachers College building during a search of the area. Expert analysis determined that the bodies were those of the missing policemen: Aslanbek Kukayev and Ruslanbek Damayev.

Both of them had been shot in the head. On 12 May the criminal case on the disappearance of Kukayev and subsequent discovery of his body was passed to the military prosecutor’s office. After a few days the military prosecutor returned the case to the civil court, on the basis that no military servicemen were involved in the crime.

On 28 May 2001, the civil prosecutor’s office officially closed the case “on the basis that no individual could be found subject to being identified as a suspect.”

Having exhausted all possible means of investigating and punishing those responsible in Russia, Khamzat Kukayev appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. In the view of the petitioner, with respect to the death of his son there were violations of Article 2, para 1 (right to life), Article 3 (right to not be subject to torture or inhuman treatment) and Article 13 (the right to effective remedy in defense of one’s rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the list compiled by “Memorial” of people who have disappeared in Chechnya, Aslanbek Khamzatovich Kukayev, date of birth 1976, is listed as a member of the Chechen OMON. According to eyewitnesses, he was detained and taken away in the direction of the “Khankala” military base. Criminal case number 12332 was opened in the Grozniy city prosecutor’s office on 13 December 2000, in accordance with Article 126, chapter 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (kidnapping of a person), and was investigated by agencies of the prosecutor’s office of the Chechen Repulic. In the middle of 2001 the case was closed in accordance with Article 195, chapter 3 of the Criminal Code (“inability to find an individual subject to being identified as a suspect”). The bodies of Kukayev and Damayev were discovered on 22 April in the ruins of the Grozniy Teachers College.

The Nashi Election Broadsheets

Assuming it’s True…

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

November 30, 2007

“This guy tells me they’re printing this pamphlet in the print shop next door…”

TRANSLATION: On December 2nd we elected President Putin to be the National Leader of Russia. The President and his party won a devastating victory. They won in exactly the same way that over the past 5 years they have destroyed the terrorists in Chechnya, paid back all of Russia's debts, regained our country's respect, taken back the huge petroleum reserves of Sakhalin-2, and captured the 2014 Olympics for Sochi.

TRANSLATION: The USA had a different plan. It wanted the traitors and thieves to win - the American citizen Kasparov, the fascist Limonov, and Nemtsov, who sold off the country. They don’t agree that Putin won. The traitors still want to seize power and take Russia back to the oligarchic and chaotic 1990’s, and once again give the bandits and embezzlers the ability to rob our country and sell off our oil and gas for a pittance. From December3 until the official announcement of the election results, they will try to seize the city squares and buildings, incite disorder, and steal our victory. // You can watch all this on television. // Or you can stand up, with the President’s Team, and defend the independence of our country, be worthy of the Veterans who will come out on the streets with us. // In these historic times it is your to decide how you will live. COME OUT AND DEFEND THE COUNTRY! EARN THE RIGHT TO BE ON THE PRESIDENT’S TEAM! // [contact information and identification of the leaflet as a Nashi publication]…”)

Aleksandr Golts:

Assuming it is true that what appeared on LiveJournal (TN: the pamphlet above) is not a fake, this can mean only one thing: that an anti-constitutional overthrow of the government is being planned in Russia. And those who were planning it were looking for comrades or accomplices (as you prefer). What to do in this situation, everyone must decide for themselves.

Viktor Shenderovich:

Setting aside the artistic merits of the publication, let’s take a sniff at dry remains. A few observations, taken from the pamphlet:

1. Still three days before the elections, and they already know the results.

2. They know that these results will the result of falsifications, and are gathering their forces to physically suppress those who will try to prove this.

3. They need the falsified results as a basis for fraud and further speculation on theme of “Putin - the National Leader”. All of this, it goes without saying, is a crime, from beginning to end.

P.S. – A personal linguistic note regarding the phrase “a victory with devastating result” (победы с сокрушительным результатом): “Сокрушительный = уничтожающий [destructive], разрушительный [ruinous]” – Dictionary of the Russian Language, Ed. S. Ozhegov

And this is such an exceptional event that one cannot but agree with “Nashi”: The results of Putin’s victory will be, indeed, devastating.

That is, ruinous.

And destructive.

Boris Nemtsov:

If anyone had any doubt that a lowly and fraudulent dictatorship has been installed in Russia, they should take a look at this. There’s just one thing Putin doesn’t understand: you can’t build a strong country on such a rotten foundation, on such cynicism and barbarism. In reality, he has already lost the elections. His reputation is little different from that of [Belarusian President] Lukashenko’s. And in the eyes of thinking Russians he already looks weak and hysterical. No matter how hard the Pavlovian, half-drunk Leontievites and phony Nashisti provocateurs may try, they won’t be able to change this diagnosis. Sooner or later, not only Moscow and St. Petersburg, but the whole country is going to learn it. Now what kind of National Leader is that?

* * *

(TN: Shortly after YeZh posted the article above, the leaflet in question was posted on another online journal with confirmation from Kristina Potupchik, press secretary for the of the Nashi organization, that it was in fact produced by Nashi. Potupchik characterized the leaflets as “donated materials” in support of a demonstration planned for December 3 in Moscow, at which 10,000 people were expected to attend.)

The New Cold War

For Internal Use Only

Aleksandr Golts

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

December 7, 2007

The main question being asked these days by foreign diplomats in Moscow is: What is the meaning of the recent hostile military rhetoric of the Kremlin? Is it a sort of temporary insanity, brought on by the uncertain future of the system of power in Russia, or is it a long term bet on confrontation?

At first glance, everything suggests that Moscow is setting itself up for a long-term conflict with the U.S. In the days leading up to the elections, the President repeatedly emphasized that the military might of Russia was needed to keep anyone from sticking their “snotty nose” into Russia’s internal affairs. And a few days after the electoral victory of United Russia, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued a fierce commentary accusing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the OSCE of being “non-objective” in declaring that the elections in Russia did not correspond with international norms demanded of democratic countries. This was followed by a series of mini-scandals in connection with meetings Vladimir Putin held with international leaders. The Kremlin’s press service claimed, for example, that the Italian Prime Minister congratulated the president on his success in the elections. However, Roman Prodi’s secretary announced that there had been no such congratulations. In turn the Kremlin press service repudiated the President Bush’s pronouncement of deep concerns regarding the conduct of the elections. The sharp pronouncements of the majority of European leaders, among them Angela Merckel, left no doubt about their intention to meddle in the internal affairs of Russia.

The situation called for slamming the door on these snotty little foreign noses. And voila - the Commander of the 37th Air Force Major General Pavel Androsov is telling journalists about the accomplishments of recent training missions (to emphasize their importance the president insists on calling them “military patrols” - боевое дежурство) of strategic bombers. In the course of these long flights over neutral waters of the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans, the planes conducted 270 so-called “tactical launches” of cruise missiles (in which the crew carried out all the procedures for a launch, without the missile actually leaving the plane). In every one of these 70 flights, the Russian bombers were intercepted and escorted by NATO fighters. Although the Russian military scrupulously avoids discussing who the potential adversaries are, the Russian planes went to the brink of attacking only bases located in the U.S. and other NATO countries. It is worth noting that there have been no known flights near the territory of China.

The next day the Russian Minister of Defense met with the president to propose sending ships from the Northern and Black Sea fleets into the Mediterranean Sea, in order to “reestablish a naval presence in the world’s oceans”.

These events would seem to be clear evidence that Russia is preparing for a serious confrontation with the West. A confrontation which - to the extent Russia is slipping toward authoritarianism - would also seem to have some ideological basis.

But it turns out to be evident only on first glance. Russia is completely lacking in the resources needed for another Cold War: the Russian military budget is currently only one-twentieth the size of the American. Russian military expenditures amount to only 2.7% of GDP (analysts have estimated that the USSR spent 40-80% of GDP on the Cold War).

Answering a question on the status of a new squadron of strategic bombers, which last year then-Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov promised to deliver to the Air Force, General Androsov could only say that “the military order is being fulfilled in accordance with the timeline.” At the same time, it is well-known that the only Tu-160 bomber that has been produced to date is in no condition to leave the factory in which it was built in Kazan. Furthermore, without fighter escort, strategic bombers are sitting ducks for enemy fighters. And Russian military industry has not been able to produce so much as a single fighter aircraft.

It is the same story with the Russian Navy, which is supposedly reestablishing the Russian presence on the world’s seas. Last summer, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy, at the time the commander of the Northern Fleet, announced that a group of ten vessels was being sent to the Atlantic. Now it turns out that there were only four. After every such expedition the heavy cruiser “Admiral Kuznetsov” has to spend six months undergoing repairs. A second ship, the cruiser “Moscow”, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, was built over 30 years ago. With ships in this condition, any talk of a permanent presence in the world’s seas is just that - talk. The surface navy is big enough only to occasionally show the flag. For good measure three years ago, during the last exercise in the Atlantic, a Navy Su-33 crashed due to the pilot’s lack of experience.

There is going to be no Cold War starting up until the West sees a genuine threat to its security. And there is no such threat. Moreover, while official propaganda keeps telling the Russian citizens that their military is busily preparing to repulse an attack from adversaries, the military is quietly taking measures to preserve its partnerships with these exact same supposed adversaries. At this moment in Germany, the joint Russian-American military training exercise “Torgau-2007” is underway, the purpose of which is to create a unified brigade for peace-keeping missions. During this time, the head of the Russian chiefs of staff in Washington, D.C. signed a Russian-U.S. memorandum of military cooperation. The details of this memorandum were not made public. And I don’t think it was because the agreement contained military secrets of any sort. Rather, it is simply strange to be developing one’s military cooperation with the same people you are calling the “blood enemy”. At the same time, of course, one has to wink desperately away at this “enemy”, hinting to him that he is an “enemy” for internal purposes only.

The Kremlin Crushes Russia's Internet

Russia Starts the Second Cold War . . . on the Internet



Translated from the Russian by S.S.

While Vladimir Putin is building a “Golden Bunker” through his stand-ins [TN: a $50 million residence known as "Villa Konstantin" which is rumored being built for him in Switzerland], the Kremlin administration has come up with a new way of interfering in citizens’ private lives and isolating the country from the rest of the world. In the best traditions of the Cold War, the Special Services will have the exclusive means to deprive all those living in the Russian Federation of the right to read and write.

In a couple of months’ time, the horrors of censorship depicted by George Orwell in 1984 will seem like childish pranks compared to the powers granted to the FSB and other security organs in their instructions. Their work will be greatly simplified, and all “dissidents” will turn themselves into “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky [TN: First leader of the Cheka, later the KGB] themselves.

According to the Guardian, Russian internet users, will be completely locked off from foreign traffic, which can be used to access the majority of free information, as currently happens in China. Those whose work requires access to foreign sites (ministries, departments and state companies) will have to be approved by the Special Services.

In practice, this will be achieved by the introduction of Cyrillic domain names, which will automatically cut the whole of Russia off from the World Wide Web and the Internet’s other services.

“The “Russian Internet” project will look at the question of how they can best communicate within their own country. The internationalization of domain names will give them the chance to do what is being attempted in China, where three top-level domain names, written in Chinese characters, are used: .net, .com and .cn”, Wolfgang Kleinwachter, member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance, explains the technical details.

The key question here is whether Russia’s own root servers will use Russian international domain names when deciding where to direct their enquiries on the Internet—that is will they be autonomous from the already existing root servers of the net, which are mainly based in the USA (5 in the USA, 2 in Northern Europe).

In Kleinwachter’s opinion, the worst case scenario would be everyone having to register domain names using the Cyrillic top-level domain .rf. “Then Russian would have its own root name server, and it is much easier to control a top-level domain than a hundred thousand subdomains”, says the expert.

The Chinese Model

The FSB is taking a tried and tested route; it’s not reinventing the wheel. Russians will end up as isolated as the Chinese.

Furthermore, the Chinese authorities are at the stage of perfecting Internet censorship.

“Now the Chinese side has a choice: to preserve for itself the domain .cn in ASCII code, or to isolate it, “ explains Kleinwachter, “If they isolate it, then they will be able to build their own individual bridge which will link the Chinese Internet with the ASCII internet. The Russians, like the Chinese, have considered this variant. I’m under the impression that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more inclined to accept this variant than the Chinese Ministry of Economic Development and Trade”.

Specialists aren’t excluding one other variant. Every citizen could be given a fixed IP address, which they would have to use wherever they gained access to the Internet.

The Electronic Curtain

“According to the estimates on the Russian side, 90% of the information exchange will take place within Russia and only 10% will go outside, “ says Kleinwachter. In these circumstances it is this 10% who will feel the difference from the previous situation most of all.

According to Kleinwachter, it has been suggested that people will require a password sanctioned by state authorities to access the global Internet. In this way, the Kremlin will be able to control each citizen’s contact with the outside world.

The authorities however assert that this will make tracing “cyber-criminals” easier.

Anyone wishing to read the European press, including the Ukrainian, will now become a dangerous criminal; in the same way as everyone going to a demonstration instantly turns into an “extremist”.

“Legal” hackers

Western IT specialists point out that this innovation makes all Russian hackers absolutely untraceable. “This would result in a wall being built being cyber-criminals and their victims” believes Jose Nazario of the company Arbor, who defends the state and corporations from attacks from hackers originating from Russian territory.

“Tracing Russian hackers will become very complicated. Security experts are now only just beginning to understand their methods, and this decision would slow our work down considerably. Aside from this, it is a sign of the increasing strain in the relations between Putin’s Russian and the West”, emphasizes Nazario.

NOTE: This article has nearly 100 comments attached, for those who read Russian.

The Kremlin Versus Oborona: A Postcard from the Battlefront

The Court of Dyatlov vs. Charles Darwin


On August 14 in the 370th precinct of the Tverskiy Region in Moscow, a trial will be held to consider the case of Vladimir Akimenkov, an activist in the groups Oborona and OGF. The court will convene at 10:00 at Bolshoi Cherkasskiy Lane, bldg 7/8, room 1B. Akimenkov is accused of insubordination to police who were dispersing a protest sanctioned by the authorities on June 22.

The June 22 picket near the Presidential Administration was, as noted, sanctioned by the authorities, though this did not prevent the militia from dispersing it and detaining several participants. Among those detained was one member of Oborona, Vladimir Akimenkov, who had to spend 17 hours at the police station.

In July the activist was fined by a judge in the Dyatlov regional court for “disturbing the peace by participating in a public demonstration”, inasmuch as the sign Akimenkov was holding, in the opinion of the court, “did not correspond to the purpose of the picket, was aimed at undermining the authority of the Head of State, and was anti-government in its character.” On the sign was written the words, “Time for the Dinosaurs to go Extinct”. This is the first decision by a Russian court that not only officially acknowledges the President of Russia is a prehistoric fossil, but also calls Darwin’s theory of evolution “anti-government”.

This turned out not to be enough for the court, however, and a month later the Dyatlov court decided to punish once again this defender of Darwinism - this time for “disobeying the police” during the dispersal of the same picket. According to article 19.3 of the criminal code, Vladimir Akimenkov could face 15 days imprisonment.


[TN: The animated double-picture that accompanies this article (shown above) has Gandhi saying, “Putin, are you a dinosaur?” And Putin answering, “No, Ia Krevedko!” (Йа Креведко) – which I think means essentially, “No, I’m a monster.” Doing some quick online research, I gathered that Krevedko is the name of a “Ktulkhu” (Ктулху) - type monster, which is a person with a squid-type mouth... But I could be wrong. Reader comments are most welcome on this issue. A second post updated the above, it is translated below).

The Court is Frightened by Oborona Activists


At approximately 9:00 a.m., about one hour before the court convened in the case of Oborona activist Vladimir Akimenkov, activists from Oborona and other organizations began to gather around the court, along with some journalists. All approaches to the court were blocked by police cordons, and as the number of those gathering grew so did the number of police. The Oborona activists had planned simply to attend the trial and watch the somewhat remarkable spectacle of the Dyatlov court, which had declared war on the theory of evolution. They did not plan to raid the court, of course, nor do anything else untoward.

But the Dyatlov court lost its nerve, and at 9:40 a.m. announced that the trial had been canceled. The reason given was the non-appearance of one of the police officer witnesses against the accused. Having allowed into the building only Akimenkov himself and one of the journalists, the court announced that the case would be heard on 22 August, again at 10:00 a.m. The court also noted that photography would not be permitted in the court and only five people would be allowed inside.

On 22 August the statue of limitations will expire in the case of Akimenkov.

On the Trail of Politkovskaya's Killers

“Exposure of the Target”, or Something About Cultural Codes

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

by Yulia Latynina

September 24, 2007

The unraveling of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya began when the investigation noted something: one month before Politkovskaya was murdered, a certain Lieutenant Colonel in the FSB, Pavel Ryaguzov, without leaving Chechnya, looked up the address of Politkovskaya in an FSB database and immediately called a certain Shamil Buraev.

According to the testimony of Ryaguzov, this Buraev asked Ryaguzov to find the address, and the latter, good soul that he was, was unwittingly made use of. I will note, however, that the facts neither refute nor support this version of events. The facts are simply that Pavel Ryaguzov looked up Anna Politkovskaya’s address in an FSB database and after that called Shamil Buraev. Two explanations are possible.

It is possible that the “organizer” (one of them) Buraev requested the “executor”, Ryaguzov, to determine the address. Or it might have been that the “organizer” (one of them) Ryaguzov found the address and provided it to the “executor” (one of them), Buraev.

Buraev is an ex-head of the Achka-Martanovskiy region, a “federal man” to his bone marrow, brought to the region in a deployment of federal forces in 1995, and in 1996 directed the region from he great city of Moscow. He was federal to the point that it was hard to tell in this duo where the chekist began and Chechen ended, but it was clear why it was easy for him to turn to Ryaguzov, or Ryaguzov to turn to Buraev.

But this story about acquiring the address stuck in my head, and I thought for a long time what it reminded me of. And then I remembered.

A few years ago, in a home I had just recently rented, the phone rang. It was a former KGB guy. (He was delirious, accusing all his personal enemies of being in a conspiracy against democracy, so it’s not important what he has after.) The KGB guy, having called, decided to try and impress me. “I acquired your address from a database - well, you understand, I have these connections,” he said. “But the address where you were registered was not where you were living. They gave me a telephone number, and when I called that number I got another number, and from that number I got this number.” What an idiot, I thought: All you had to do was call Novaya Gazeta and say you were with the New York Times.

It soon became clear that I was not alone in my contempt for people who “acquire” addresses the way they did back in the good old 1970s. One of my oligarch acquaintances, choking back laughter, told the story of how he bought a copy of his own dossier from the security services. In the dossier there were several volumes of transcripts from telephone calls. But the oligarch could not figure it out: who were these people - Vasya, Masha; buy some potatoes, change the diapers. What in the world? Potatoes? Only after digging into it deeper did the oligarch realize that the ops officers had over a period of several months diligently tapped the phone line of… his old apartment, which he had once rented, but had not been living there, of course, for about ten years.

And then I heard the story of another friend. He ordered the profile of a competitor from some “special services officers” (spetsovs) from the intelligence services, and the officers, trying to impress him, delivered my friend’s own dossier as well. I should note that my friend had three years before divorced his wife and immediately remarried. Coming to a phrase about how he had “lately been showing up everywhere with a mysterious blonde woman, whom no one knows” (in reference to a woman with whom he had been married for three years, and who worked at a major bank), my friend stopped reading and kicked out the “spetsovs”.

And then a little while later I was talking with one these “spetsovs” myself. “You look up the address in a database, find the telephone number, registration number, and voila - in ten minutes you’ve exposed the target,” he told me proudly. I remember my amusement: How could this grown, intelligent, cultivated man say that “in ten minutes the target is exposed”? What if the telephone number is for his father? And what if the man is driving his wife’s car, and she his? Who will you be following?

Why am I going into all this? Because there is a big difference between the cultural codes of a person raised in the system of the Soviet KGB - a person who is accustomed to thinking that there is always a residence permit and a single telephone number, and who was trained in specific methods of “exposing the target” - and the world view of normal people, be they entrepreneurs or bandits. People who understand that “exposing” a well-known journalist is pretty basic. One need not “access a database”, “expose the target”, etc.

Let us recall what we know about the Politkovskaya case.

First the murderers found the address in an FSB database. Then it turned out that the addresss was an old one, and then they sent an “outside surveillant” (naruzhka), who followed her from her work to her home. And do you know who did this, according to the scenario published in the mass media? Who paid the “naruzhka”? The Chechen killers, who were so poor that they could not destroy the car in which they arrived to kill Politkovskaya – and now the car is in the hands of the investigation.

And that’s just the beginning! According to the prosecutor Chaika, “There were two groups of surveillants; when one was following the journalist, the second directed them, and vice-versa.”

This is too much to imagine. If the first group - the”gunslingers”, were hired police surveillants, then to what agency did the second group belong? What kind of killers, too penurious to get rid of a car, would lay out money for two groups of “naruzhki”? And why would they want to supervise the work of the first group of naruzhki - to write a report to their management? What kind of killers would risk exposing their activities to such a large number of government officials?

Would it be hard for a group of private Chechen killers to find Politkovskaya’s address? Piece of cake. Just write a letter to the editor: “I, Mohammed such-and-such, want to tell you about my friend who was tortured in Khankala.” Set up a meeting in a café and follow Anna from the café home. The entire operation would be done in one day by two brothers, who would not pay anyone or expose anyone.

But the organizers did things a different way. An FSB database, two groups of “naruzhki”… Cultural codes, I tell you.

Imitation as the Russian National Idea

Imitation as National Idea

by Aleksandr Prodrabinek

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

September 26, 2007

What is the deal with this mishmash of politicians and government ideologists stubbornly searching for a national idea for Russia? The choices include a purely Russian path, a clerical government, a consumer culture, a lawful government, a market economy under a harsh authority, a harsh authority with a state-run economy, and God knows what else. Meanwhile, the national idea has actually been existing all along, and moreover triumphing in the minds and affairs of Russians. This idea is the imitation of whatever is in style or one especially likes at the moment.

The Kyivan kings in the tenth to eleventh centuries forcibly implanted Christianity throughout what was then called Rus, dealing harshly with the pagans. Although, what could be more inimical to Christianity than coercing faith through the use of force? Peter I imitated the western Enlightenment in the Russian Empire, at the same time eliminating anyone who expressed their disapproval. Nikolai II imitated a constitutional monarchy, but, openly despising liberal ideas, did not give much leeway to Russian parliamentarianism, and thereby brought the country to a revolutionary boil. Under the Communists, the Russian taste for imitation lost its quality, but they more than made up for it in quantity, making it the primary characteristic of all social and government institutions - as it always is in a totalitarian system.

After the collapse of Communism and a brief period of more or less freedom to find one’s own way, the itch to imitate once again made itself felt. We had to become a great power, and so we now strive to create the attributes of a great country: a powerful army, effective governmental control, a thriving economy, and expansive foreign policy. Even if all of this is only for appearance, we still need to look the part, even if we cannot actually be it. Our ancient strategic bombers proudly plow through the skies along foreign borders, hoping to create the impression of Russian military might. Government control is built in the form of “verticals of power” in the naive hope of achieving effectiveness through strict orders and harsh subservience. Economic success is shortsightedly based on the export of raw materials and subordination of business to government. Assertiveness in foreign affairs is achieved by stubbornly opposing any proposals from our western partners, while dangerously flirting with despotic regimes.

The sickness of imitation is contagious and transient. One after another the institutions of society and government become imitative and inauthentic. The courts cease to adjudicate, issuing sentences and verdicts based on orders from on high or specified sums paid to the judge. Law enforcement officials occupy themselves not so much with fighting crime as enriching themselves through misuse of their official position, taking bribes, and providing cover for organized crime groups. Parliament has ceased to be a place for discussion and instead obediently rubber-stamps laws proposed by the executive branch and president. Plurality is allowed only to those parties that suit the executive. At elections, voters are given the opportunity to choose only from among those who have shown their loyalty to the current political course.

Outwardly, we have everything - courts, police, parliament, political parties and regular elections - but it’s all phony. Imitation is our national idea. This and “Potemkin villages”, built for the visit of Catherine II to Crimea; and the Tsar Bell, which has never been rung; and the Tsar Cannon, which has been fired all of once. This and “open” trials of “enemies of the people” in 1937; and the news nowadays on the central television stations. An imitation of news.

Imitation attracts not only the authorities, but also the opposition. It’s not even worth mentioning the parties that were created from the outset only to imitate an opposition, that’s beside the point. But how can Yabloko and SPS even participate in parliamentary elections, when their leaders, both privately and publicly, say the current election system and Law on Political Parties has turned elections into a farce? Participating in the farce, they too merely imitate democratic elections.

Two leaders of the youth wing of Yabloko, protesting against unjust elections, recently imitated self-immolation, dressed in fire-proof clothing and with friends standing by with fire extinguishers and ambulances. It’s possible that it never occurred to them that this looked like a parody of the Czech Jan Pallach, the Lithuanian Romas Kalanta or the Crimean Tartar Musa Mamut, who immolated themselves for real and died in the course of their personal struggle with the Communist regime.

And how many times have they imitated “to the death” hunger strikes, halted at the first sign of exhaustion or loss of health! How many human rights workers only imitate human rights work by participating in expert and public panels for ministries and presidential commissions? Imitation - this is our national idea, uniting both the authorities and the opposition.

True, to be sure, not all the opposition. There are some who are uncompromising. But the majority consider them marginal, “outside the system” idealists, and twirl their fingers around their temples when talking about them. Thus have we always related to those who have not shared the great Russian national idea. At the same time, these people have not needed their own special national idea. They live or sacrifice their lives for the sake of a common human ideal of freedom.

No matter who you ask, “When was life better, under socialism or now?” - everyone starts by talking about prices, salaries, full or empty shelves, pensions. And maybe one in ten will recall something about freedom. That’s because in the common conception “better” means more full, not more free.

And so we’ll continue to live in the world of imitation, amid the false and phony, full of hopes and disappointments, until the idea of freedom becomes our national idea.

Aleksandr Prodrabinek was a Soviet dissident in the 1970s & 1980s, during which time he served two terms in Siberia for his human rights work. Since 1987 he has edited of number of human rights-oriented journals, and is currently a correspondent for Novaya Gazeta.