Archive for November 2009
The vague borderline between Russian police and criminals keeps fading. Three drunk policemen in uniform from 2nd Operative Police Regiment (2nd OPM) beat to death a customer at McDonald’s in southeastern Moscow, Gazeta.ru reports (in Russian).
Moscow police chief Gen. Vladimir Kolokoltsev immediately ordered to fire the three (their names are Anver Ibragimov, Alexey Chernikov, Viktor Kuznetsov) and suspend their boss, head of 2nd OPM. The swift reaction is understandable: Kolokoltsev’s predecessor, Gen. Vladimir Pronin was fired just half a year ago after head of Tsaritsyno district police Denis Yevsyukov (also drunk or possibly drugged) killed two and injuried seven in a supermarket. But the frightening frequency of similar incidents in different regions of Russia tells that such measures won’t change anything. Russian police need to be completely reformed, otherwise it will be getting out of control more and more.
This problem has been worsening since Putin came to power because he is believed to be (and is) a representative of siloviki, who granted them unlimited powers in exchange for loyalty. But, like Lord Acton said, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The 2nd OPM is essentially a riot police unit that is often used to disrupt and disperse opposition/democratic rallies along with OMON. For instance, they were arresting and beating peaceful protesters including myself at Triumfalnaya Square on October 31. Since nobody was killed then, we should consider ourselves lucky.
Russian National Exhibition, a grand event organized by Russian government to attract US investment, opens in Chicago tomorrow. Russian bureaucrats and businesspeople will try to convince their American counterparts that it is safe and profitable to put money in Russia’s economy. This difficult task appears even less achievable after today’s tragic death in Moscow custody of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage Capital Investment. He was arrested a year ago on tax evasion charges and, according to the defence, the investigators tried to coerce him into giving false testimony against his boss William Browder. Heritage claims that corrupt police officials have used its stamps and documents to steal huge amounts from the national budget as tax compensation. But it was Magnitsky who those same officials later charged with tax evasion. He complained multiple times about his health and was refused health care, his attorneys say. His death is another sad warning to those who risk to invest in Putin’s Russia.
The organizers of the Exhibition will not ignore the humanitarian aspect too. They even have a whole 2.5-hour long session on “Formation of Civil Society.” Five regional ombudsmen (from Samara, Yekaterinburg, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria), an editor of an online paper and an unkown (to me) expert will be explaining how Russia develops its civil society. The apparent lack of any NGOs’ representatives speaks for itself: the government has no activists to show to their Western partners without loss of image.
I came to Washington DC for a few days. Lots of meeting is planned with NGOs, think tanks and officials. I’ll try to share some impressions here and, briefly, on my Twitter.
Two leading human rights organizations, Moscow Helsinki Group and For Human Rights Movement, are going be evicted from their offices by Moscow authorities, Prima News agency reports. Moscow government has decided not to prolong rent of their premises, which they occupy since 1996 and 1997 respectively. The government has already applied to the court for eviction of the NGOs.
Moscow Helsinki Group is the oldest existing human rights organization in Russia, which was founded in late 1970s. Its head Lyudmila Alexeeva, one of the most prominent human rights activists, was just recently awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize. For Human Rights Movement (Za Prava Cheloveka) is another old and respected human rights NGO headed by Lev Ponomaryov. He says that the reason behind the eviction is either political or economical. Both organizations are outspoken critics of the Kremlin and participate in democratic protests.
PS: As another democratic movement’s activist Vsevolod Chernozub reports on his Twitter, another NGO that defends soldiers’ rights, Mother’s Right is also going to be evicted. I don’t know any more details yet.
Michael McFaul, Barack Obama’s advisor on Russia and Eurasia, has commented today on my post about a “reset” in US-Russia human rights issues. The note was based on Kommersant’s report that “the USA are not going to teach Russia democracy any more and cause irritation in Moscow; they are going to focus on practical work with NGOs instead.”
McFaul comments (it’s in my Facebook, so not everyone can see):
Kommersant grossly misquoted me. See Interfax transcript if you want to see what I really said. And anyone who knows anything about my thinking would be suspicious of such an assessment of my views. My next book , out in a few weeks, is called “Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can.”
Another protest rally was dispersed Saturday night by Moscow police. The action was a part of the so called Strategy 31–a campaign in support of freedom of assembly guaranteed by paragraph 31 of the Russian Constitution. This basic right to hold peaceful demonstrations is routinely violated by the authorities: major opposition rallies are banned, often without any legal grounds, their participants get arrested and beaten by the police. The situation is particularly bad in Moscow where all government institutions are located and authorities are especially rigid (although legislation is the same in all regions).
As a part of this Strategy 31, several human rights and political activists (as different as prominent Soviet dissident and human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeeva and radical left-wing opposition leader Eduard Limonov, for example) decided to hold a demonstration at Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow downtown on October 31. The action was, as usually, banned; the authorities explained that some kind of a “military-patriotic celebration” was planned for the same time at the same place. In order not to provoke arrests, organizers called participants not to bring any flags or banners or chant slogans. “How long will the police stay there?” they asked, and suggested that people should wait until the police leave the square.
The government had different plans, however. In order to find a pretext to arrest participants of the action, members of Rossiya Molodaya (Young Russia), a Kremlin-aligned youth group (a part of the so-called Putinyouth), were used as provocateurs. They began lighting flares, chanting slogans and throwing leaflets (mocking the opposition) in the middle of the crowd. The police were ready: they arrested the Putinyouth and many regular participants around as well as Limonov. The provocateurs were soon released without any charge while Limonov himself may face up to 15 days imprisonment for “disobeying police orders.”
This provocation was also a signal to start a crackdown on the protesters, most of whom were standing steadily and silently according to the general plan. About 70 people were arrested. Police officers simply pointed at certain activists and they were immediately dragged into police vans. Many others were arrested for just being too close to the scene. Although no resistance was offered, policemen and soldiers beat people while dragging them. According to Russian bloggers, the police even went so far as to try to arrest an American diplomat, Vice-Consul Robert Bond who was observing the rally. Photos of Mr Bond surrounded by the police and showing them his ID card have been posted in many blogs.
I was arrested while trying to tweet what I saw. Apparently, one of the officers recognized me. Along with some 20 more people in the bus I was taken to a police station where we were charged with… lighting flares, chanting slogans and throwing leaflets–the ones that Putinyouth were throwing. As the police officers were filling in the papers with these fake charges, we looked at the walls of the police station’s lecture hall. Portraits of proud police officers as well as of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev hung there next to Yagoda, Ezhov and Beriya, the three heads of Stalin’s NKVD and Gulag.
As democracy and civil rights in Russia are diminishing with every year, the country is becoming more and more a police state. The voice of dissent is silenced by cynical and cruel country’s leadership. At the same time, Western public opinion and governments generally turn a blind eye to this trend in hope to buy Kremlin’s favour.
PS: Two days before the event, police SWAT had a drill in Moscow-nearby city of Balashikha. They were trained, according to the script, to disperse “a group of senior citizens who demanded social support and blocked a federal highway.” In order to do this, the whole arsenal was used by the police: water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas. The “pensioners” were blocked, many arrested. Bloggers called it ironically a “Russian welfare service.”