Friday, October 24, 2014


The Power Vertical

An Abduction, A Scandal, And A Tipping Point

Leonid Razvozzhayev at a protest rally in Moscow in September 2009.
Leonid Razvozzhayev at a protest rally in Moscow in September 2009.
Remember Aleksandr Bastrykin's "forest scandal"?
 
In light of the horrors Leonid Razvozzhayev says he endured, merely hauling a journalist out into the woods and threatening his life looks positively quaint.
 
Bastrykin has managed to survive -- and indeed thrive -- amid not just the forest incident, but also the revelations about his unreported properties and business dealings in Europe. And his sharp bureaucratic elbows have made him plenty of enemies inside the elite.
 
Will the mushrooming scandal around Razvozzhayev's abduction and alleged torture finally be the one that brings him down? I wouldn't count on it.
 
He enjoys President Vladimir Putin's favor and the Kremlin leader isn't one to throw his people under the bus.
 
Moreover, the case that led to Razvozzhayev's abduction -- allegations that he, Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, and Konstantin Lebedev conspired with Georgian officials to provoke mass unrest in Russia -- was clearly green-lighted at the highest level.

But more pertinent than how the scandal will affect Bastrykin is another question: Is this one of those tipping point cases that turns a critical mass of the public against the regime?
 
We'll see in the coming weeks. But even by the standards of today's Russia, what appears to have happened to Razvozzhayev is pretty shocking.
 
According to the account he gave to human rights activists who visited him in detention, he was abducted in Kyiv outside the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which was helping him apply for political asylum. He had been directed there by the UN High Commission for Refugees.
 
Razvozzhayev says he was bundled into a van, basically hogtied (he was handcuffed and his legs were chained to his hands), had a balaclava put over his head, and driven for five hours across the Russian border. His abductors then turned him over to men who held him in a basement and kept him for three days in chains.
 
He was told he and his family would be killed if he didn't sign a confession implicating himself, Udaltsov, and Lebedev. He wasn't allowed to use the toilet. And he believes he was drugged.
 
After he finally relented and wrote the confession, he was driven to Moscow and taken to the Investigative Committee.
 
The case against Razzovzhayev, Udaltsov, and Lebedev -- which was initiated by the latest installment of NTV's "documentary" film series "Anatomy of Protest" --  looked shaky at best from the start.

But the authorities appear intent on pursuing it regardless of the circumstances. Why they so relentlessly went after Razzovzhayev -- who, until now, was a bit player in the case -- also remains a mystery.
 
Was his "confession" necessary to build a case against Udaltsov, the obvious main target of this whole drama? Were they trying to expand the case and target opposition State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov, for whom Razvozzhayev works as an aide? Who knows?
 
But what is clear is that the scandal is changing Russia's national conversation in a way that could be devastating for the authorities.
 
“Clearly now everybody will be talking about torture. This is a poison pill for Putin,” Gleb Pavlovsky, editor of the Russ.ru website and a former Kremlin adviser, told "The Moscow Times."

And this comes at a time when the ruling elite's standing with the public is at its Putin-era nadir.
 
A report released October 24 by the Committee of Civic Initiatives, a think tank associated with former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, said Putin is supported by just 44 percent of the population.
 
But even that number -- an all-time low for the president -- paled in comparison to the way survey respondents characterized their government. Asked to compare their rulers to an animal, 88 percent named some sort of predator -- either a wolf, lion, or wild boar.
 
And Razvozzhayev's ordeal will only serve to harden those attitudes.
 
-- Brian Whitmore
 
NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune into the Power Vertical podcast on October 26 when I'll discuss the Razvozzhayev scandal and its implications with New York University's Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia's security services and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."

Tags: Leonid Razvozzhayev

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by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
October 25, 2012 21:03
Nice report and thanks for helping to sort this out. I’m sure, however, that there are many aspects of this story which have yet to be fully revealed (and likely, never will be).

Have to question your ‘tipping-point’ metaphor. Seems like you have suggested such watersheds in the past, yet has anything changed? While I’m aware of the dangers of comparison, I recall some of my liberal friends confidently announcing that the Bush presidency was sure to suffer after the revelations of no WMDs in Iraq, Abu Ghraib or charges of waterboarding. He happily served out his two terms and is now enjoying a comfortable retirement.

It’s amazing how most people can turn and look the other way when the injustice does not touch them personally. I would wager that the majority of Russians have never heard of R., and if he got roughed up by the police, well, he must have deserved it. And having been brought up with the notion that the world is a very dangerous place, most Russians support likely support the idea of a strong (predatory) leader.

I’ll be very surprised if this incident sparks larger protests/civic involvement.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
October 25, 2012 23:17
Putin is the new Stalin, and Bastrykin is the new Dzerzhinsky. The USSR anthem plays at the Olympics, a clan of KGB spies governs. Welcome back to the USSR!

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 26, 2012 02:05
"And he believes he was drugged".

Those must have been some good drugs.

Razzovzhayev says he was kidnapped on the 19th, as he came out of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; other sources have reported he was just popping out for lunch when he was snatched off the street like...oh, like by the CIA, or something. If we assume he was captured somewhere around noon, then was driven for 5 hours with a balaclava over his face and then chained in a basement for three days, it makes it somewhat awkward to explain why he would have logged into his vKontakte page at 6:50 PM on the day he was supposedly kidnapped.

http://vk.com/wall7006326_5810

Nice of his kidnappers to allow him an internet break, during which he appeared lucid, if not particularly imaginative: "If in the near future I should be detained, or something bad happens to me, do not believe the bad things they will say about me." Hardly "The Turn of the Screw", but you have to remember he wrote it in chains with a bag over his head, while he was high as a kite, and being constantly threatened with horrible things.

Oh, I suppose they could have tortured his login and password out of him, and then logged in as him and written a long, self-serving bunch of twaddle in his name. But I'll be damned if I can figure out why anyone would do that. I guess such motives are too deep for me.

Curious, too, is what might have motivated his wife, Yulia, to tell journalists that Leonid had spent Friday - the day of the dramatic kidnapping - "at home with the kids". Does he perhaps get kidnapped so often that she can't keep her dates straight? Messing up what already seems like an uncommonly weird story is the contention by the Ukrainian Police that Leonid Razvozzhayev left Ukraine on Friday, using his own passport.

http://www.dni.ru/polit/2012/10/24/242545.html#

You'd think that when they asked for it, somebody would have noticed he had a balaclava over his head and his hands chained to his feet. Unless he looked that way in his passport photo.

There's more here than meets the eye, and I daresay we will learn some of it in the days to come.

In Response

by: Amanda
November 06, 2012 05:05
I found you comment very interesting and decided to look into it further.

Granted your argument could be true, there is no real way of knowing seeing that I am halfway across the world, but I do want to bring some points to your attention.

First off, the website that you reference, claiming that Razvozzhayev posted to his website after he claimed to have been kidnapped. According to this article, another I read from this website, and the second link you gave, he claimed he was kidnapped while grabbing lunch. The timestamp on the post you are referencing is 6:50 AM, not pm. Therefore, it is very possible he posted that before heading to the NGO and before he got kidnapped.

Here is the link again if you want it: http://vk.com/wall7006326_5810

Now to your second link. I found that article extremely intriguing and it presented a lot of counter points, so thanks for posting it.

But one big flaw I saw, after further research, is that it is controlled by the Russian government. (See my link, its the first website listed on the 13th page) So obviously the article is biased and is going to try to break down an opposition's argument and story with some truths and some lies. I definitely think that is something to consider when citing it as absolute fact.

http://www.fas.org/irp/dni/osc/russian-media.pdf

I do find the points that the second article brings up very plausible (such as the messing up the dates, and the wife's story) but then again, if you are tortured and obviously don't have access to a watch, clock, or any time/day keeping device, you might loose track of what day it is. He could have had a watch on, but we don't know. Also, he fled Russia, therefore, his wife wouldn't have told journalists, policemen, or any other Russians his true wear-abouts if she knew it.

Again, this is all my speculation or my envisioning of a counter to your counter argument.

I definitely agree with your statement: "There's more here than meets the eye...".

Personally I really want to see the outcome, whether the state was right or the opposition.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
October 26, 2012 08:45
Torture, threats, blackmail is the daily work of the FSB, which is the successor of the KGB..
Hitler's Gestapo adopted the experience of torture and abuse in Russia,in the Stalinist NKVD
Everything comes from Ivan the Terrible, Malyuta Skuratov, Menshikov, Peter Romanov..
Maniacs -misanthropes have launched a Russian policeman lifestyle-"tortured people, raped people, kill people..."a good motto for the Olympics in Sochi, by the way...
In Putin's torture chambers butchers kills dissidents and dissents

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17:49

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, TASS)

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.

THREE ALLEGED MILITANTS KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26

SPY VS. SPY

08:29

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

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