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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

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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