LIVE UPDATES: Cossack paramilitaries have attacked Alexey Navalny and members of his Anti-Corruption Fund at Anapa Airport, hospitalising one member.
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:
– Who is Hacking the Russian Opposition and State Media Officials — and How?
– Does it Matter if the Russian Opposition Stays United?
– Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Has Invented A Version Of History To Meet His Needs
– Getting The News From Chechnya â The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed
The incident took place at the Anapa airport in Krasnodar Territory, where Navalny and his colleagues had traveled for a hiking trip which was a “team-building” retreat for his organization, the Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK).
The video and complaints from some of the local Cossacks to the media prompted Meduza, an independent Russian news site in Riga, which originally reported the incident as a Cossacks’ attack on Navalny and his group, to later report the Cossacks’ claim that Navalny’s people started the fight.
Meduza cited a Cossack who gave his name as Dmitry Slaboda — the same person who uploaded the video of the incident — who had told Govorit Moskva, a Moscow radio station, and Reuters that the original plan was only to pour milk on Navalny, but the clash occurred because one of Navalny’s staff people elbowed “an elderly Cossack.”
Translation: Anya @Litvinenko_aa1 got married, and brought her husband on the FBK trip. It’s his birthday today. Here he celebrated it in the company of new friends,
But looking at the same video, and having been on the scene himself, Navalny refuted the impression that the incident was provoked by one of his people merely elbowing an accidental innocent bystander, “an elderly Cossack” — this few seconds of video at 0:34, screen-capped in tweets, is only a tiny slice of the story. In fact, he indicated that the “elbowed Cossack” was the stage manager of the incident.
We would concur that the video shows that Navalny’s person elbowed an older man – but as a frame-by-frame examination of the video shows, Cossacks began pushing Navalny and his people first, and that man is not a bystander. He is the Cossack’s ataman — their leader — who was clearly part of the action originating with the camouflaged men who both hurled the milk and blocked Navalny’s group from passing.
The video clearly shows how a group of people in ordinary clothes with backpacks first threw milk at Navalny and his colleagues. This references a Russian folk notion intended to imply that Navalny is “toxic” and “milk is needed as an antidote.” One of the assailants whistles for back-up. (Slaboda claimed that milk was used to be a “milder” punishment than zelyonka, the green disinfectant often used by assailants in such incidents which is hard to wash off.)
Navalny and team approach the airport entrance. A heavy-set man with a brush-cut wearing a black shirt and carrying a phone or walkie-talkie in his left hand is walking alongside the Cossacks throwing the milk. He looks like a plainclothes security man.
A uniformed man — one of the Cossacks — standing on the curb by the entrance to the airport with other Cossacks in camouflage then stops them and tells Navalny and company to go away. Behind them is standing an older man in a yellow shirt. At 0:10, he comes up to the center of the camouflaged group of men and briskly claps his hands as the camouflaged men tell Navalny to get out. Clearly he is with them, possibly even giving them orders.
He then steps forward and confronts Navalny and his group directly at 0:24.
Then young men in backpacks jostle Navalny and his friends, and several of them begin pushing and herding them together.
At 0:28 on the video, first we see a young Cossack man grab the backpack of Navalny’s associate and shove him towards the others.
He is the one who is called on all the pro-government forums “the old Cossack, the striking of whom started the fight.” Look carefully, and you will see how the “old Cossack” before getting it himself hits Stas Volkov from FB who is just walking with a ball.
Navalny cites a tweet in which he has a clip of the video, slowed down:
Translation: This “grandfather, who was hit” is Nesterenko, the ataman of the local “Cossack community”. He is also owner of the market. Here, he beats Stas from the FBK.
Then at 0:34 we see how a young man in a red shirt behind Navalny comes up and elbows the older man in a yellow shirt — Nesterenko — after he has hit Stas, and as he is approaching Navalny and his group from behind. Indeed, we see that this isn’t an accidental elbowing, but a hit against a man deliberately who was seen as attacking Navalny’s colleague.
That man — Nesterenko — is the very same man who stood with the camouflaged Cossacks.
After that, another man — who turns out to be the same man in the black shirt seen earlier, further indicating he could be a security man — comes and grabs Navalny’s associate in the red shirt, then throws a punch at another man with Navalny in a blue shirt; yet another Cossack then punches him again. Navalny meanwhile is shouting, “Back off, back off!” and “WTF kind of people you are, can’t you see there’s a child here.”
Other Cossacks then set on Navalny and his colleagues, beating them hard and pushing them together. A woman begins to shout for the police to come. Within a few minutes, a few police do come and separate the crowd.
The problem with the claim that “Navalny started it” is not only that it was the Cossacks who threw the milk; already their uniformed people were surrounding and pushing Navalny and his people even before Navalny’s associate elbowed the Cossack — who was not just a mere bystander but at the center of the people confronting Navalny to start with, and even striking one of Navalny’s colleagues first.
And after “the elderly Cossack” was elbowed, the man in the black shirt didn’t just attack the man in the red shirt, as he might have been expected to do if he were just acting in self-defense, but instead moved in and punched another one of Navalny’s associates, Artyom Torchinsky, a volunteer and TV Rain host, the man in the blue shirt with the backpack.
That Cossack fractured Torchinsky’s temple. Six others were injured by the Cossacks who assaulted them, including Navalny himself.
Translation: Artyom Torchinsky was simply kicked while he lay on his back with his backpack.
RBC, a news site which has recently come under intense pressure from the Kremlin and seen its top three editors dismissed, reported that police were investigating the attack and also reported the Cossack’s official side of the story.
Ivan Petrov, head of the Anapa District Cossack Society, denied that the assailants of Navalny were from the recognized organized Cossack movement. He said that the “gentleman” (Navalny) came to the airport “where he was met by people in camouflage uniform.”
“The people who attacked Navalny and his entourage are not Cossacks. The police are hunting for them now. The Cossacks are those who are standing in the video in black uniform, volunteers, who separated those fighting.”
To further rebut the arguments in favor of the Cossacks implied by Meduza, Navalny pointed out that he and his group were under surveillance during four days of their stay, and that he believes there was possible collusion between the police and groups that the authorities have tacitly supported in the past to make attacks on the anti-Putin opposition by staging a provocation and hoping to incite a fight.
This evening Navalny published a blog post in which he said that in fact when his group arrived at the Krasnodar airport, they were involved in an incident there with Cossacks as well, but had decided at the time not to publicize it to avoid trouble.
Navalny said after they landed, a group of Cossacks approached them with bottles of both milk and moonshine and offered them some, and aggressively talked to them and tried to prevent them from moving. But Navalny’s group managed to evade them and proceed on their trip. The next day they were stopped and questioned by local police regarding their connections to ISIS.
Navalny also noted at both the Krasnodar and Anapa airports the sudden sparsity of regular uniformed police, and the presence of Cossack irregulars in camouflage and traditional caps — Cossacks who as we have learned are disowned by the local formal Cossack organization.
Translation: You saw how many police are ordinarily in any airport? And here even in May, at the airport in Anapa. Two policemen for the whole airport.
Translation: And all four days of our stay in Krasnodar Territory, there was open external surveillance of us by the police. They coordinated the time of the attack.
Navalny’s point is that Russian authorities, mindful of the past terrorist attack on the Domodedovo Airport in 2011 and other world airports such as in Brussels in March 2016, would normally have had increased security at any airport, especially in Krasnodar, an area that is close to volatile southern republics of Chechnya and Dagestan. During the May 9th holidays, the government would also have more police presence to prevent incidents and in fact claimed to have intercepted several terrorist attacks in Russia planned for that day. (To be sure, the holidays are now already over.)
So for just two ordinary uniformed police to be there seemed odd to him, given that the rest were Cossacks in camouflage — that the official Cossack community in fact has denied were their people.
Further, Navalny discounts the claim that his associate who elbowed “the elderly Cossack” is responsible for the attack escalating, because that man turns out to be the ataman or leader of the local Cossack community whom he believes orchestrated the attack — as can be seen by his standing at the center of the Cossacks who originally confronted Navalny.
Translation: That “grandfather who was struck” is the ataman of the local Cossack community, Nesterenko. He’s the owner of the marketplace. Here he is beating Stas from the FBK.
Navalny digs up more on Nesterenko, who turns out to be presiding over a reign of terror in the area something like the Tsapok Gang; he is known for making death threats, destroying public property, setting up his own guards, intimidating police, etc.
Translation: We demanded the video from the Anapa airport administration the surveillance camera. All of them abruptly “went to lunch.” They didn’t even accept our written statements.
Yugopolis.ru, a Krasnodar news site, covered the attack on Navalny and his colleagues, citing both the Cossacks’ claim that Navalny’s people started it, but also running more background on the Cossacks involved.
They confirm that the man elbowed is not merely “a pensioner” but the ataman or leader of a Cossack group who is the co-owner of the Anapa marketplace. (“Ownership of a marketplace” will be understand by many Russians to mean organized crime.) Yugopolis was unable to get a comment from the Cossack group. In another hint at organized crime involvement, Yugopolis notes that an assassination attempt was made on Nesterenko in 2013 which was said to be organized by a local legislator, Sergei Zirnov; Nesterenko is now in litigation against Zirnov.
Yugopolis points out that earlier on May 13, Navalny and his colleagues were detained at a checkpoint in Krasnodar Territory during the “Anaconda” security operation against ISIS supporters being conducted by local authorities. They reviewed their passports and then released them. That’s how police and their paramilitary associates knew they were in the area.
In an editorial on the incident, Sabina Babayeva of Yugopolis writes that Anapa has been known since the Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov’s day as one of the nastiest of the seaside towns in Russia in terms of the level of corruption and violence — and the role of the Cossacks in guarding it. She recalls the beating of Pussy Riot’s members at the Sochi Olympics by Cossacks from this region and also an attack on liberal Moscow gallery owner Marat Gelman when he held an exhibit of icons in Krasnodar which was beset by Cossack protesters and a Russian Orthodox priest who spat on Gelman.
She notes that Cossacks in the area have been known to advocate whipping women who smoke in public.
“A few years ago it become clear how Krasnodar is different than, forgive me, New York,” she commented sarcastically, to explain the conservative society, rife with crime and ruled by the paramilitary Cossacks, into which walked Navalny and his friends from the opposition Moscow.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Mariya Alekhina, the Pussy Riot activist, also published an excerpt from a hand-written letter from Pavlensky in which he said: “As I write these lines, my knee is broken, my rib is cracked and there are internal bruises. Every breath is painful.” This appeared to be the source for the lawyer’s report. Alekhina said it was common for the convoy guards to beat prisoners.
In Soviet and subsequently Russian practice, prisoners are often taken on long journeys known as etap (staged convoy) and shunted from one facility to another as part of breaking their will. Pavlensky has been in prison for six months and has not yet stood trial.
Pavlensky’s wife, Oksana Sahlygina (Kseniya Oksman), wrote on her Facebook page that convoy guards from the Moscow City Court had beaten Pavlensky.
Another activist, Anastasia Zotova, who has herself served time as a political prisoner, read Pavlensky’s letter and said it appears he was not placed in the prison infirmary and may not have received sufficient medical treatment, as he did not indicate it.
A Moscow City Court press secretary Ulyan Solopov commented on the transport of prisoners (translation by The Interpreter):
“The transportation is done by a special convoy regiment. the means of transport, and what means they use during this — all of this is their responsibility.”
In Russian law-enforcement, the term “special means” is used to describe tear gas, police clubs, and other equipment to restrain demonstrators or prisoners.
Kommersant reports that Chechen security forces have now cordoned off the village of Kenkhi, where masked men burnt the home of a man who made a public complaint about the Chechen authorities last week.
Ramazan Dzhalaldinov had posted a video appeal in which he accused the Chechen government of misappropriating funds earmarked for restoring his war-torn village.
After a visit from Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov’s brother, Islam, accompanied by the security forces. Dzhalaldinov was forced to go into hiding in neighbouring Dagestan. On Friday, masked men turfed his wife and children out of his Kenkhi home and torched it.
Yesterday Kommersant‘s Grigoriy Tumanov reported that he had been told by Kenkhi residents that the security forces had taken up positions at the entrance to the village since Saturday.
One villager told him:
“They’re letting people leave, but to come back, one has to wade home through men with automatic rifles and armoured vehicles.”
Two Kenkhi residents were detained after a group of villagers attempted to hold a demonstration after the arson attack on Dzhalaldinov’s house.
In addition, Tumanov was told, villagers are now being summoned to the Sharoy district police station, one after another, where they are interrogated as to the whereabouts of Dzhalaldinov.
Last night Kadyrov’s press secretary, Alvi Karimov, told Interfax that the reports of security presence around Kenkhi were media fabrications ; “disinformation and an outright lie.”
Karimov denied that the authorities were questioning villagers about Dzhalaldinov and later claimed that, despite the evidence seen in Dzhalaldinov’s video, that Kenkhi had never been the scene of any military action during the Chechen wars, and that there was therefore no work to be done on repairs bar the replacement of windows and fences. He also accused Dzhalaldinov of harbouring sympathies for militant insurgents.
According to the Kommersant report, the men who attacked Dzhalaldinov’s family told them to pass on the message to him that his fellow villagers would be in more trouble if he failed to publicly apologise for his remarks.
While Dzhalaldinov had been steadfast in recent days, repeating his criticisms, today he told Tumanov that he was prepared to make no further statements on the matter on the condition that the persecution of his fellow villagers ceases.
“My conditions are simple: stop persecuting Kenkhi residents and I will never make any more public statements. I have already said this to Dagestani officials,” said Mr Dzhalaldinov to Kommersant.
According to him, at least ten residents have already left the village (according to the 2015 census, almost 1,500 people live in Kenkhi; the majority of them are Avars, like Mr Dzhalaldinov), fearing persecution.
The fact is that, after Ramazan Dzhalaldinov’s home was burned, a group of villagers attempted to organise a small gathering, but in the end one man was placed under administrative arrest for five days, with criminal charges, including for illegal possession of weapons, brought against several others, according to Mr Dzhalaldinov.
Dzhalaldinov told Tumanov that he was now waiting to discuss how best to proceed with the Dagestani authorities.
He does not intend to return to Chechnya, something which the Committee for the Prevention of Torture also told Tumanov would not be advisable.
Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, told Kommersant that there will be a public investigation into the situation in Kenkhi.
According to Fedotov, a series of visits to Dagestan will begin in June, with the Council also intending to travel to Chechnya.
— Pierre Vaux
Cossack paramilitaries attacked members of the Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK) led by Alexey Navalny this morning at Anapa airport, on Russia’s Black Sea coast.
Translation: Navalny and the FBK were attacked at Anapa airport. Artyom Torchinsky was beaten, he’s lying on the ground, beat his temple.
Translation: Doctors have been called for Artyom Torchinsky.
Translation: We’re still standing outside the airport building. Artyom has been taken away by the doctors in a wheelchair.
Navalny and the FBK have been coming under increasing pressure in recent weeks, with further legal threats from the government and a bizarre incident on Friday in which he and his group were stopped by traffic police and questioned about ISIS before being released without charge.
The Russian government has taken steps in the last year to further integrate Cossack paramilitaries into official duties, installing them to guard district courthouses in Moscow and fill the ranks of the Druzhinniki volunteer police force.