Kashin Explains His ‘Letter to Leaders’ on ‘Fontanka Office’

October 6, 2015
Oleg Kashin (L) and Dmitry Medvedev (R)

As we reported in recent weeks, prominent Russian blogger Oleg Kashin has revealed the identities of the men who brutally assaulted him in 2010 for his critical writing, leaving him hospitalized for months. For years, he investigated the possible perpetrators of the attack, theorizing it could be either related to officials angered at his coverage of environmental protests about a forest to be cut down in the town of Khimki; the leaders of Nashi, a youth movement founded by the Kremlin that incorporated many nationalists and even violent neo-Nazis which Kashin had criticized; or Pskov Region then-acting governor Andrei Turchak, who was insulted by Kashin’s frank revelation that Turchak was a crony of President Vladimir Putin which explained his position of power.

On October 6, the Guardian published an English translation of Russian blogger Oleg Kashin’s “Letter to Russian Federation Leaders,” a title that Kashin himself explained was a conscious reference to the famous “Letter to the Soviet Leaders” written by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1973. From his exile in Vermont, Solzhenitsyn had written a scathing critique of Soviet Marxist-Leninist ideology and heedless industrialization, proposing instead a nationalist small-town pastoralism that was itself criticized in the US.

Yesterday, Kashin gave an interview to Nikolai Nyelyubin and Olga Markina of the St. Petersburg web site Fontanka.ru’s radio show, Fontanka Ofis [Fontanka’s Office] on the reasons for his letter, which was prompted by the revelation of the identities of his 2010 assailants as in the end related to Governor Turchak, who was elected in 2014 after years of serving as Putin’s interim appointee. The confessions of one of the suspects jailed, Danila Vesyolov, implicates Turchak as the mastermind of Kashin’s assault, using employees of the security department of a factory owned by Turchak’s father, Anatoly Turchak. Kashin ended up going abroad for some years, but this year after an operation, he returned with his wife and child to Russia. The Interpreter has provided a full translation; the comments in brackets are explanations provided by The Interpreter.

Fontanka Office: Oleg, the first question: What is the correct title of your text?

Kashin: “Letter to Leaders of the Russian Federation.”

Fontanka Office: What was the reason for you doing this letter?

Kashin: The explanation is all very simple. On Friday [October 2], on TV Rain, I showed a rather strong video, as it seemed to me, of the confessions of Danila Vesyolov in my case. Vesyolov rather unperturbedly recounts how in fact it was Pskov Region Governor Andrei Turchak who explained to him which parts of my body have to be broken so that I no longer wrote lampoons. This video seems very important to me, sensational and so on, but it did not make public opinion catch fire at all. I also understand why. Because for more than a month, I have been battling publicly on this topic. An audience will get fed up with any topic, even the hottest, after a month. That’s normal, that’s natural. And I’m not interested in that. Because I understand perfectly well that public interest in my case is my only instrument now which will prevent the perpetrators of the crime from escaping justice. Therefore, I used a trick I had long had up my sleeve. After having written this text, I was able to get to the level of summing things up a bit. Since really, my case seems very important to me. Not as my personal issue, but as an illustrative story about their morals in general. In the Kremlin, in law-enforcement agencies and so on.

Fontanka Office
: How would you answer the question for those who did not read this text? I think that many of our users did not read it. Although it is not hard to go on Oleg’s site and read it. What is the letter about, if you could do an excerpt?

Kashin: What is the letter about? It’s about the fact that after a month of my activism in my own case, I am ready to state that the highest officials… I have said repeatedly that Turchak’s fate will be resolved not by investigative bodies and not in a courtroom. Putin must decide the fate of Turchak. And he intends to resolve it one way or another, since this is his nomenklatura. But after a month it can be stated that Putin took Turchak’s side, Putin is saving Turchak from possible problems with the investigation.

First, I state this, and second I try to analyze why Putin has made exactly this choice. This seems important to me not only from the perspective of my personal history which should concern only me, but literally from the perspective of Russia’s history. The title “Letter to Leaders” – that also has to be explained. That is a conscious allusion to the famous letter of Alexander Solzhenitsyn written years ago. I really do believe that today, in 2015, it is really Solzhenitsyn’s methodology of communicating with the government that deserves both understanding and repetitions. Since there simply is no other methodology. All the efforts to play by the rules which the Kremlin makes, whether they are elections, rallies in the permitted places or anything else – these are all attempts in the larger analysis doomed to failure. Therefore we have to take out of our pockets that weapon that we do have. Russia is a logo-centric country. As they say, a word has stopped the sun, a word has destroyed cities. It is this word that we must use in the same way. I think it is the most appropriate instrument today.

Fontanka Office
: There is already a reaction to this letter today. They have read Kashin’s “Open Letter to the Leaders of the Russian Federation” in the Kremlin. “Yes, it was published in the media,” presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said at a briefing on October 5. Peskov replied to a question about the possible reaction to Kashin’s statement: “Based on what has been read, I don’t particularly count on an answer. For now I can’t say anything on this.” Your reaction to this reaction, Oleg?

: This is an entirely understandable reaction. If there is nothing to object about, then Putin agrees with what is written there. Furthermore, I imagine how he and Medvedev or Peskov read it and winked to each other: well, what do you know, this dude gets it totally. Good for him. Peskov’s reaction in fact confirms my conclusions. They’re rather sad, but there is nothing sensational in them. Everyone understands how all this works anyway.

Fontanka Office
: As I understand it, the situation is now such that everything has reached a dead end. What further can be done? This letter is a radical position which did case a public sensation in a certain sense. But what next, Oleg?

Kashin: Next we have a set of ordinary procedural things in my case. Perhaps you have heard how Vesyolov’s wife — he’s the one who directly beat me… [The reference is to her statement that she has a copy of an audio recording of Turchak giving the order to beat Kashin].

Fontanka Office: Yes.

Kashin: She is asking for a face-to-face meeting between her husband and Turchak. We have to try to get that face-to-face meeting of course, we have to try to get the interrogation of Turchak and do some other procedural moves. It would be good even to get Turchak to take a lie-detector test, although understandably, that is more an image story than a procedural story. But at least I wouldn’t reject that. That is, through attorneys, through interaction with the investigators, we have a rather long-term plan of work. Parallel to this, I will remind you that we have a suit in the European Court of Human Rights on the inaction of the investigative agencies. Furthermore, when we filed the suit, we had a hypothesis of inaction. Now we have proof of inaction. There is a whole set of confirming papers of the actions of Investigator Soskov witnessing to the fact that he was consciously rescuing Gorbunov and Turchak. Gorbunov is the manager of the Leninets Factory and Turchak’s accomplice, according to the perpetrators. And I will recall that they have been charged and Gorbunov is the direct organizer of the attack on me. So in that sense, we will go on working. But this is painstaking work, and so to say, not sensational. I don’t count on this getting into the front pages of the newspapers. It’s another matter that the earth will burn under these people’s feet even without newspapers. And in fact I’m glad that the reputation of Andrei Turchak in the last month has somewhat changed. At least, he is already getting a kind of moral punishment. That’s a good thing.

Fontanka Office: In 2010, Anatoly Turchak advised his son Andrei not to get involved, and not to get entangled in public…

Kashin: Stop. That’s a very interesting point. Dad didn’t just advise his son not to get entangled. Dad advised him not to file a suit in court. Here’s a quote: “Prove by deed that he is [the] better [man].” That is very eloquent, because Turchak, in the larger scheme, if Vesyolov’s testimony is to be believed, Turchak really did prove himself by deed. Furthermore, the very construction…How old was he then? 35. A 35-year-old adult man, who was offended by somebody on the Internet, calls his dad – a friend of Putin’s – and says, “Dad, what should I do?” That’s an indicator of their morals and the mixture of gangsterish and childish logic in their actions. That’s why Turchak’s dad’s commentary is so charming, I think. The man really complained to his dad about his offenses on the Internet. Dad told him then – act – and the man began to act. That’s the story.

Fontanka Office: Oleg, I think this rather casual and entirely assured attitude of the powers that be to your case tells us that they understand perfectly well that generally, any of your disclosures are not going to cost them potentially anything in terms of risks. Except for some discussion in some narrow circle of people.

Kashin: Yes of course, except public opinion. Yes. Narrow circle or not, hundreds of thousands of people have read my letter.

Fontanka Office
: What are hundreds of thousands? We have 140 million in our country.

Kashin: That’s an issue, of course.

Fontanka Office: It is an issue. After all, this enables them to go on not reacting at all to anything you do. And at a certain moment, when a person becomes exhausted, various unpleasant things happen. And as I understand it, people wrote you in the comments in this vein: “Oleg, be careful.” It’s a question of safety. How do you now approach this, do you have any apprehensions? Because sooner or later, everyone’s patience ends. And as we know, it ends differently for different people. Do you catch my drift?

Kashin: Of course there are apprehensions. And the very fact that Gorbunov is released so demonstratively and brazenly I believe unquestionably is a directly articulated threat personally to me, to my security, to everything. Even so, there is a funny aspect to this; at the onset of all this story, when Gorbunov was released, I spoke a bit to my source in the Kremlin and I said, “Here’s the damn thing, I’m afraid they might kill me.” Not in the Kremlin. I can even say who it is. It’s [Aleksei] Venediktov [editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy]. And Venediktov said this to me: “Don’t worry, they won’t kill you, nothing will happen to you, because [Rostec CEO Sergei] Chemezov has taken responsibility for Gorbunov. And if something happens to you, Chemezov will have some unpleasantness.” And there’s the Byzantine logic, the logic of the corridors — it chills me to the bone. Because it’s like, okay, they’ll kill me, but what will Chemezov get for that? He will be sentenced or Putin will shake his finger at him? Or in the most extreme case, Chemezov will be fired. That’s the reassurance if, God forbid, something happens to me. Therefore, I’m not prepared to accept that unlawful logic which dominates there. I understand perfectly well that yes, they are all ruled by this logic.

Fontanka Office: This media manager you have mentioned [Venediktov], who is he, anyway, in this situation? I don’t really understand why you are talking to him?

: This media manager I have mentioned is an interesting person in the sense that he clearly, many years ago, and not just once, proved this in deed. Like before the Bolotnaya Square [demonstrations]. He clearly took upon himself the mission of serving as a middle man between the Kremlin and, roughly speaking, the Moscow creative class. And it even reached the point of being humorous, when it was people from Ekho, which was a fairly conservative radio station, who were made the organizers of some draft laws or something like that regarding the Internet. They have a web site, so that means they are the chiefs on the Internet. This is comical. But at least, a fact remains a fact. Therefore, Venediktov is a middle man between Putin and all of us. That is a fact. And that is a feature of the current Russian apparatchik tradition.

Fontanka Office
: So that means this middleman suits you? I am trying to understand the attitude toward the caliber of what he said.

Kashin: In fact I believe what Venediktov is saying. He has conveyed this from over there [the Kremlin]. Here’s a man who has been in the market for many years, and I don’t doubt his abilities as a conveyor belt.

Fontanka Office
: Understood. Oleg, what do you predict? You’re building plans for a future turn of events? Can you tell us what you are expecting, and over what time period? Or do we run up against the fact that they will totally ignore you? Because as you explained earlier, besides the hundreds of thousands of people who read your letter, there’s nothing else at all. What will come next?

Kashin: It’s a fairly simple answer. I also articulated it in the letter. I am convinced that a quiet resignation awaits Turchak in let’s say 3 to 4 months after I fall silent. After that, the association disappears whereby if Turchak is removed, that means it’s for Kashin’s case. There will be silence because I think in 3 or 4 months he will be dismissed. That is my political forecast. I can’t count on anything more regarding Turchak. I see that already, I realize that; moreover I realize this regarding my own fate. A) there is a threat against my security now and it will go on further; b) this began for me not in the Kashin [assault] case but rather with the Bolotnaya [demonstration]. The ability for me to work in Russian media grows less each time. The fact that this last month I began a broadcast on TV Rain will sooner or later remain my last refuge. Because it will be more difficult in other places. I sense that.

Fontanka Office: Besides Putin, you addressed your letter to Prime Minister Medvedev. Is there any reaction from him? Because when a person is asked something or he is pointed to in some way, it’s logical that he reacts. Now Peskov reacted in the name of Putin, one way or another. We haven’t seen [Medvedev’s press secretary Natalya] Timakova. Is that not coincidental? Will we see a reaction, what do you think?

Kashin: I think it is an accident. Why did Peskov react? Because he was asked. Why did Timakova not react? Because apparently she wasn’t asked. It’s an interesting thing, I’m not exactly complaining about my colleagues, but it would be a simple matter to have someone call somebody — a journalist could call an official — but you have to spend a long time talking him into it. The journalist. Because we’ve lost certain habits. I don’t mean to scold my colleagues. For example, if you work in Izvestiya, and [owner] Aram Ashotovich [Gabrelyanov] said that the topic isn’t important. Okay. That means it isn’t important.

Fontanka Office: Don’t you think that in principle, the topic of Kashin and Turchak is receding in today’s reality, it is gradually melting away, inevitably, with each passing day? Taking into account that the planes have flown to Syria. Russia has much more global problems and challenges. Everybody gets everything, even the journalist Kashin gets everything. I’m trying to formulate a certain abstract vision of the situation by some majority of people. Well, how much can you take? Terrorists are advancing on every side here, and he keeps going on about [his case]. Everybody already got who did it. That’s enough, already.

Kashin: That was exactly my starting point. I am aware myself that it’s impossible to hold the public’s attention for long. So my letter to the leaders was a half-way point. Yes, it’s like that without a doubt. But my activism on my case is not necessarily calculated to end up in the headlines. My activism will end when the case is investigated not only de facto but de jure. This is not some fantastically unattainable dream, but what can be achieved by some legal paths in that very complicated legal field which there is in Russia. Here in fact I don’t see a problem. I promise not to bore your respected audience, mine or anyone’s beyond measure. I realize that I can easily turn into a spammer or that mother-in-law who runs to her neighbors and cries: my son-in-law stole a carload of firewood. I don’t want to turn into that mother-in-law. But the problem does exist.

Fontanka Office: You have called Turchak’s press service so many times, and you never get a single answer from them, ever?

Kashin: Yes [that’s true]. No, the role of Fontanka in my case, in its reaching its current stage is inestimable in the good sense. If there hadn’t been Fontanka’s publication last summer, the first publication about Gorbunov, there’d be nothing at all. And now we wouldn’t be discussing either Turchak, or me or my letter or anything at all. I’d be quietly writing about that same Syria. So thanks to Fontanka, I definitely have no complaints about Fontanka.

Fontanka Office: My colleague asked why Andrei Anatolyevich [Turchak] himself has not said anything coherent? He has not commented on this in any way until now?

Kashin: Regarding Turchak’s responses, from the perspective of calculating some messaging, he regularly gives some interesting replies. When Gorbunov was released, he made a statement about horse-radish planting. And since the word “plant” [literally “sit” in Russian, the same word used for “jail”] was said, I interpreted that to mean “the hell with you” [as the word “horse radish” is a euphemism for “f**k you” in Russia], and not about the planting. At some stage he did a photo session in the waters of the Barents Sea in Murmansk Region where the film Leviathan was shot. About the merging of the government, criminal world and the church.

Fontanka Office: That’s symbolic.

Kashin: Yes. Of course. Thus, he regularly puts out these symbolic responses, and these responses appear rather cynical. Yes? And what kind of direct answer should be given by Turchak? It should be given, as a minimum, I think, regarding the face-to-face meeting [with Vesyolov], the interrogation [of Turchak], but he can’t make an official statement because an outright lie from the mouth of an official is not welcome. Usually they try to keep silent or answer with some kind of hints. And he can’t say “It wasn’t me,” of course. Because he knows there is proof to the contrary.