Putin Says Police ‘Repressive Measures’ Have Popular Support

March 16, 2016
President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Gorov, first deputy interior minister, at an expanded board meeting of the Interior Ministry on March 15, 2016

LIVE UPDATES: Andrei Shalayev, editor-in-chief of the “Immortal Barracks” project to commemorate victims of the GULAG, was forcibly taken off the train from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod by police

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
– Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Investigation by Novaya Gazeta
– How Stalin Returned to Russian Contemporary Life – Meduza


Russian Human Rights Lawyer Kalyapin Assaulted by Masked Men in Grozny

Igor Kalyapin, a human rights lawyer and head of the Committee to Prevent Torture in Grozny, was attacked outside his hotel today, March 16, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing his colleague Dmitry Utyukin.

Kalyapin said that when he attempted to enter his room at the Grozny-City Hotel, he was met by the hotel administrator and police who expelled him from the hotel. Once outside, unidentified masked men attacked him, beating him and drenching him with zelyonka, an indelible green disinfectant, and flour, in a typical gesture of shaming in the region.

The attack on Kalyapin follows a severe assault on 8 journalists and rights activists who were traveling near the Chechen border March 9 to follow up on stories of human rights victims. Masked assailants beat them with sticks, putting several in the hospital, including the driver, with broken bones and cuts, then torched their minibus. Then later that evening, another group of masked intruders trashed the KPP’s office and stole equipment.

Ingush police opened up an investigation, and later Chechen police nominally joined although earlier officials had blamed the human rights activists themselves for staging it.

The step-up in attacks on civil society appears to be related to the impending expiration April 5 of the term of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who is likely to be kept in place by the Kremlin.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Orthodox Extremist Arrested for Rampage at Manezh Sculpture Exhibit Deemed ‘Sacrilegious’
A Russian Orthodox believer who allegedly took part in the destruction of an exhibit of the works of artist Vadim Sidur on August 2015 at the Manezh has been detained, Novaya Gazeta reports, citing TASS.
Ludmila Yesipenko is charged with “deliberate damage to cultural valuables” under the criminal code which is punishable by imprisonment up to three years.
Her lawyer maintains that Yesipenko is not an activist in a radical Orthodox group called Bozhya Volya [God’s Will] and was outraged without prompting when she saw the artworks. 
Last August, Dmitry Enteo, the head of Bozhya Volya who is notorious for physically attacking gay pride demonstrators, democratic opposition activists and other liberals, set his sights on an exhibit by the sculptor Sidur which he deemed to be “sacrilegious” and “pornographic” although it had cleared existing state control even to be in the Manezh in the first place.

Using the “theory of applied theology,” as Novaya Gazeta’s Yan Shenkman has dubbed it, Enteo and his supporters stormed the exhibit and overturned and broke some of the works. Moscow liberals wondered if Enteo would ever be punished for such an outrage, and figured he wouldn’t, given the many times that he and his supporters have attacked opposition or human rights activities, including a session on gay rights held at the Sakharov Center.

To their surprise, his follower was arrested, and state experts began to examine the material to see if it “offended the feelings of religious believers,” another statute in the Russian criminal code. As Shenkman pointed out, the expert analysis was flawed, as one work, called “Mutations” was criticized for being pornographic, yet it wasn’t even in the exhibit that supposedly offended the Russian Orthodox extremists.

Curiously, the Russian “expertise” also cites US law, which isn’t relevant in Russia, notably the Miller v State of California decision of 1973 defining obscenity as works “utterly without socially redeeming value” which lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”. But some aspects of Miller have been overturned by the 2002 Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition case in which the court held that sexually explicit material appearing to depict minors may be constitutionally-protected expression.

Russian jurists have suffered before from failing to understand the difference between their magisterial civil law system and the US adversarial common law system where dynamic court decisions can reinterpret law based on precedent.

The case is being watched closely to see if the Putin regime will establish any limits on the unofficial movements they tacitly encourage to savage the liberal opposition — until they don’t, when it seems they might come for the Kremlin next.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Editor of ‘Immortal Barracks’ Removed from Train, Cell Phone Wiped
Andrei Shalayev, editor-in-chief of the “Immortal Barracks” project to commemorate victims of the GULAG, was forcibly taken off the train from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod by police, Kasparov.ru reports, citing his VKontakte page.

Immortal Barracks is modeled after Immortal Regiment, a project begun by an independent TV station in Tomsk to remember World War II veterans which was later coopted by the Kremlin as part of its patriotic propaganda around the May 9 Victory Day celebrations.

“Immortal Barracks” took the concept a step further by recalling those who died in Stalin’s mass labor camp system who have no formal state holiday, although groups such as Memorial Society have kept the names of victims alive.

According to OVDInfo, the police monitoring group, Shalayev was stopped at the Kovrov train stop in the Vladimir Region, searched. His cell phone was seized when he tried to photograph police, and he was kicked off the train at 4:00 am. Shalayev tried to file a protest at the precinct but the door was slammed in his face. Later his phone was found in the train toilet, wiped of data.

He said the files from his page, where hundreds of haunting Soviet police photos of those executed are posted, are safe, however and the group is still functioning on VK and also has a mirror on Facebook.

It is not known what prompted the search; not long after its founding, Immortal Barracks was blocked on VKontakte, but later restored.

But a possible motivation may have been an unsigned post made yesterday, March 15 on Immortal Barracks’ Facebook page, critical of President Vladimir Putin.

Putin made a statement yesterday saying that there was “popular support” for repressive police measures (translation by The Interpreter):

“Even when officers of the Interior Ministry apply, let’s be blunt, repressive state measures to those who violate the law, people see that this is done in the interests of the whole society, this elicits support on the part of the people.”

Putin added that when police behave badly —  by which he meant being rude and disrespectful to ordinary people, not beating opposition  — “this is perceived as treachery by ordinary people because law-enforcers are given special powers by the state and are abusing them in these instances.” 

Immortal Barracks commented on the news story as follows:

“We propose remembering these words. The word “repression” is officially pronounced on behalf of the government. It is precisely with popular consent that the Red Terror was organized, and it was precisely silence that gave the henchmen the right to execution millions of sentences without a trial or investigation. Will we repeat this?”

The State Duma intends to pass a law enabling police to shoot at demonstrators, including women.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick