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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism

Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

Letter: Highlanders Whacked Politkovskaya

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I haven’t given an update on the investigation of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder in a while. The problem is that there have been few new developments. Given the Russian authorities track record in solving journalists’ deaths, we shouldn’t hold our breath. Nor should we be so quick to substitute dramatic fantasy for truth. For example, Kommersant is reporting that the head of the Movement for Human Rights Lev Ponomarev received a letter implying that “Movladi Baisarov’s Highlander special division, FSB agents and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov were involved in her killing.”

Ponomarev told Kommersant that the letter was received at the electronic address of his organization, and he forwarded it to Novaya gazeta and other media outlets. The letter is allegedly written by former members of the Highlander division – Timur from the village of Kirov, Aslambek from the Lenin state farm, Imran Kurkaev, Adam “the Dentist” and Roman Karnukaev from Samashek. They say that Kadyrov suspected Baisarov’s brother, who was assassinated, of being involved in the killing of his father, president of Chechnya Akhmat Kadyrov. Therefore, Ramzan Kadyrov distanced himself from Baisarov, although some of his fighters defected to Kadyrov. They committed Politkovskaya’s murder, the letter says, after being shown her apartment building by an FSB officer named Dranets. After they returned to Chechnya, they were killed as well, and their bodies burned. After that, Basiarov, who knew about the operation, was killed.

And the Apollo moon landing was shot on a CBS back lot. As if Politkovskaya’s apartment was a secret! It’s not like she lived in the Batcave. I don’t think even soap operas have more dramatic plotlines. Unsurprisingly, there are some quick to slurp up the letter’s veracity. As for the people who actually knew and worked with Politkovskaya, they were far from hoodwinked. Kommersant adds,

Journalists at Novaya gazeta did not consider the letter news. “Other members of the staff and I received similar letters several times,” said the newspaper’s military reviewer Vyacheslav Izmailov. “Their authors have accused Baisarov, Kadyrov and even Boris Berezovsky. I am familiar with the text of the letter received by Lev Ponomarev. In my opinion that information has nothing to do with the truth.” The text of the letter can be found at the Chechen separatist website The press service of the president of Chechnya called the letter “nonsense” and refused to comment further.

Now I don’t doubt Kadyrov’s involvement but I would actually like to see some evidence first. Because if he is behind her murder, some pretty indefatigable proof will be required to nab that gangster.

All that said, I’m looking forward to reading Politkovskaya’s posthumous A Russian Diary A Journalist’s Final Account of a Country Moving Backward when it is published late May.