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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.

Twists and Turns

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The investigation into Anna Politkovskaya’s murder took another dramatic turn today as Novaya gazeta reported that the chief investigator in the case, Piotr Gabiryan, was replaced for a “more senior official.”  According to the Moscow Times, Dmitri Muratov, Novaya’s editor, said on Ekho Moskvy that Gabiryan’s removal was the “result of interference by the siloviki.  “The siloviki are achieving what they set out to achieve,” Muratov said. “They wanted to ruin the case, and now they will remove Gabriyan and finish that process.”

Muratov’s statements initiated a deluge of admonishments, speculation, and confusion.  RFE/RL reports that the Prosecutor General’s office has since denied Muratov’s claims, counteracting them with a statement that in fact more investigators were added to the team because of the “large amount of work involved.”  Case supervisor, Sergei Ivanov, who was also rumored to have been removed from the case, told Kommersant that there was no political or hidden meaning in the reshuffle.  “Department officials have the right to take cases away from any one of its investigators.”  When asked why the Prosecutors didn’t have faith in Garibyan, he responded, “Look, you are a journalist, a creative person.  You would probably be upset if your editor entrusted your college to edit your written notes.  It’s different if he does it himself.  Similar relations exist among investigators, and therefore to place one experienced important general under the command of another in our system is considered completely improper.”

Sergei Sokolov, Novaya’s senior editor, accepted the claim that the team investigating Politkovskaya’s murder had been “strengthened” but added that, “The newspaper considers the current arrangement of figures not very suitable, and we will continue to work with [chief investigator] Pyotr Garibyan. But no one has been dismissed.”  He also indicated that more arrests have been made.  “New arrests have been made, and a lot of interrogations are to be carried out; new information is emerging. From the investigative perspective, the case has turned out to be much more complex and difficult than it was thought to be initially,” Sokolov told RFE/RL.

But confusion hasn’t prevented some from sounding the case’s death knell.  The Times London said that the case “appeared to be close to collapse” and that the shuffle cast “a shadow over the inquiry.”  The Washington Post said that the investigation “appears to be in disarray.”  The views appear to be based on Muratov’s statements on Ekho Moskvy.  Ever to pounce on any misstep, Western news outlets introduced a new Russian word to its readers: the ever ominous siloviki.

But the real ire about the case is aimed directly at what is now viewed as a premature announcement by General Prosecutor Iurii Chaika.  Since his press conference announcing that 11 suspects had been arrested, two have been released, and the initial chief suspect, former FSB agent Pavel Riaguzov, has been charged with unrelated crimes.  On Tuesday, a military court remanded him to police custody though it ruled his initial arrest was illegal due to violations of the Code of Criminal Procedure.  To many, including Politkovskaya’s son, Ilya, Chaika’s announcement was premature and perhaps soiled the investigation from the beginning.  “The fact that the prosecutor general has made the 10 arrests public torpedoes further investigations into this murder,” he told Der Spiegel. “Accomplices and anyone else behind the murder have now been warned.”

It now appears that the Prosecutor’s Office is trying to save some face. The Office has opened an investigation into who leaked information about the investigation, including the names of the eleven suspects to the Moscow tabloid Tvoi den’.

Who knows what will happen next. But I have this strange feeling that when all is said in done, those three Chechen brothers will somehow be all that’s left.