This blog is dormant. Long live this blog!

April 9, 2011

UPDATE, February 2014. I visited Moscow last week for the first time in nearly six years, after – apparently – the decision to deny me entry (see below) was reversed. It was good to be back, and I hope I’ll be able to visit again. I won’t be writing on this blog, for now, though … that was too long a break in the rhythm. The rest of this post, written in April 2011, explains why there was a long gap. [end of update]

This blog was always “occasional”, as it says in the heading – and now it’s going dormant. The reason is that I can not visit Russia … and, try as I do to follow its life from a distance, that gets harder as time passes.

I was denied entry to Russia three years ago by the security services, and a few weeks ago, despite having a gold-plated invitation from the “right” sort of people, had a visa application rejected because I am “forbidden to enter Russia” (the embassy’s words). I’m continuing to try to get this decision reversed, but that might take a while.

In June 2008, I arrived at Domodedovo airport with a multi-entry visa and was sent straight back to London by the migration service (which answers to the security service, the FSB). The Russian consul in London told me I had been denied entry under a catch-all clause of the law governing who comes and goes that refers to “national security”, “the defence capability of the state”, etc. My guess is that my problem stems from meeting the “wrong” people (who were themselves under surveillance), rather than writing the “wrong” things, although I don’t know. (Pretty much all there is to say about this was said at the time by the Campaign for the Protection of Journalists, who wrote a letter to the president here

Since then, I have continued, in my work as a researcher and journalist, to follow the Russian economy (and you can see the sort of thing I write on or the web site of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies). But keeping in touch with Russian events in a broader sense is tough. And I’m not sure I can add anything valuable for you, dear reader. If you want to know what’s going on, try some of the links on the right hand side. If you’re wondering how I am, try my other sites. This one will stay live – there’s a fair bit of stuff accumulated on it – but from now on I’ll add to it only rarely, or when my luck changes. Thanks for visiting, anyway!


Campaigners sound alarm over imprisoned miner

March 23, 2011

[Translation of an article published on on 15 March.]

In a Yakutia prison camp, the imprisoned trade union leader Valentin Urusov was beaten up, to make him cancel a meeting with journalists.

Valentin Urusov, the convicted trade union activist serving a six-year sentence in no. 3 prison camp at Verkhniy Bestyakh, has been put under pressure because of a planned meeting with journalists from NTV television company.

Maksim Mestnikov, the head of the Sotsprof trade union in Yakutia, told the Institute of Collective Action (IKD) information agency that the NTV journalists were preparing a programme about trade union activists who faced harassment due to their campaigning activity. The meeting with Urusov had been planned as part of the project.

In the spring and summer of 2008, Urusov, having set up a trade union at the Aikhalo-Udachninsky ore enrichment combine, which is part of the [diamond mining] giant Alrosa, organised a series of protests. In September of that year he was arrested, allegedly for possession of drugs, and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. A broad campaign began in support of Urusov, and demonstrations expressing support for him were held across Russia and in other countries.

The director of corrective prison camp no. 3, Yevgeny Koada, had previously agreed that trade union representatives would meet with Valentin once every three months during his sentence, in the first place to check up on the state of his health, Mestnikov said. “The prison authorities always came to an agreement with us. The last time we saw him was in December last year.”

Mestnikov explained that a request had been made for Urusov to meet the NTV journalists in a letter to Aleksandr Reimer, head of the Federal Service for Corrective Punishments of Russia (FSIN). By way of an answer, a letter arrived, signed by Valentin Urusov, in which he refused the request for a meeting.

In Mestnikov’s view, the letter was signed under compulsion. “The prison authorities in Yakutia make widespread use of trusties and narks. The trusties were given the task of beating up Urusov so that he would sign the letter refusing the request to meet the TV journalists”, Mestnikov stated.

The next meeting between Urusov and his trade union colleagues was due to take place on Monday 21 March, and Mestnikov said that the it might be postponed on one pretext or another, so that the visitors would not see the physical evidence of the pressure put on Urusov. [Up to today, 23 March, no further report has been published by IKD. As soon as one appears, it will be posted here. Translator.]

It is easy to guess why the prison authorities might be concerned about Urusov meeting journalists. Either the management of the prison camp, or the FSIN, may be worried that the truth about prisoners’ conditions will get too much public attention. It is also entirely possible that the pressure to prevent a meeting between Urusov and journalists has come from his former employers at Alrosa. It is worth recalling that Valentin Urusov has several times said that “the company” is keeping an eye on him, even during imprisonment, and that “it is by no means certain that they will allow him to be freed alive”.

The renewed interest in Urusov’s case from journalists has coincided with a new bout of campaigning in his defence. In February 2011 in Moscow demonstrations were held demanding his release, to coincide with the submission of a supervisory review by his lawyers.

Note. International supporters of Valentin Urusov are asked to follow the example of the National Union of Mineworkers in the UK, and many others, who have written to President Dmitry Medvedev at the Kremlin, demanding that the case be reviewed and Valentin Urusov be released.

Please copy and paste this information wherever you can!

Widespread public support for Russia’s “Robin Hoods”

November 25, 2010

The story of a group of young men who took to the forest and declared war on corrupt police in the Russian Far East is told here Some are dead, some are on trial … and repeated public opinion surveys have shown that the vast majority of Russians sympathise with them. I’m not always a fan of BBC reporting of Russia, but this piece tells the story pretty much as it has appeared in numerous Russian media.

How they deal with protest: baseball bats

November 8, 2010

People who speak out against the road project at Khimki, north-west of Moscow, which has attracted massive public opposition, stand a good chance of being savagely beaten by thugs with baseball bats.

On Thursday (4 November) Konstantin Fetisov, an activist involved in the campaign, was admitted to hospital in a “serious condition” after being set upon by thugs outside his home. See a press release by Bankwatch, an NGO that monitors project lending and other stuff in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, here—1&x=2265108&d=r

On Saturday it was the turn of the Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin, who was left by his attackers with two broken legs, a damaged skull and multiple fractures of his jaw. He is now in hospital in an induced coma, as reported by RFE-RL here:

The attack has incensed Russian public opinion and the president Dmitry Medvedev has called for an urgent investigation. The police will have to improve on their poor record of tracking down journalists’ assailants to convince sceptics, though.

No-one knows exactly why Kashin was attacked, of course. His courageous reporting of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi, or of political opposition movements, could be the reason … as could his coverage of the Khimki affair. See his blog here (Russian only)

Mikhail Beketov, the editor of Khimki’s local newspaper, Khimskaya Pravda, was the victim of a similar attack almost exactly two years ago.

There are links to the Khimki campaigners’ web site in the next post down.

Campaign to defend Khimki activists continues

October 30, 2010

This week Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov, two activists from Khimki near Moscow who have been involved in a campaign against a motorway construction project that will wreck local forest land, were released from police detention.

 That’s a short term victory, say their supporters. But a campaign in their defence continues, since they still face trial on charges of “disorderly conduct”, arising from their role in organising a day of mass civil disobedience on 28 July against the road project – which has incurred widespread local opposition.

 As their supporters point out on their website – which has plenty of English-language pages – there have been previous cases where victims of Russian police “justice” have been freed at one stage of legal proceedings but then hit with lengthy jail sentences. That’s exactly what happened to Valentin Urusov, the jailed miner whose campaign I have written about before, here

The Khimki motorway, a toll road to link Moscow and St Petersburg, is a real piece of corporate vandalism. There are perfectly good proposals to reroute it in such a way as the impact on the forest and the local community would be reduced, and the local council does not listen.

The Khimki local authority will not be winning any prizes for defending civil rights any time soon. There’s an amazingly high rate of physical attacks on people who criticise it, such as the local newspaper editor Sergei Protazanov (killed in 2009), the journalist Mikhail Beketov (severely beaten in 2008) and the campaigner Albert Pchelintsev (severely beaten in 2009).

There’s a well-coordinated international campaign to support Gaskarov and Solopov. Get involved.

Imposing austerity on Ukraine might not be so easy

October 18, 2010

The International Union of Food Workers reports today that workers at the Belkozin plant in Priluki, in northern Ukraine, have won a 54% wage increase, after a strike in May and a protracted negotiation. There’s a full report here:

This is interesting, because right now the Ukrainian government and IMF are tiptoe-ing around the issue of how to implement an austerity package linked to the IMF’s gigantic programme of loans, put in place after the 2008 financial crisis – which hit Ukraine harder than almost any other European or former Soviet country.

I highlighted the rumblings in the official union federation, in response to the austerity programme, in a recent article in Emerging Markets newspaper:

… and discussed the government’s nervousness on such issues as pension fund reform in a feature article here:

The Ukrainian workers’ movement, like that in Russia, has largely been quiescent since the mid-1990s. The burden of decades of dictatorship, the difficulties of throwing off the old union structures, the effects of industry being trashed … all have taken their toll.

But there’s no reason to think the movement will be quiescent for ever.

Socialism in the 21st Century and the Russian Revolution

October 17, 2010

This article, published in the International Socialism journal here, together with some additional notes here, responds to a negative review of my book The Russian Revolution in Retreat.

It would be nice to see you in Edinburgh …

September 26, 2010

I am looking forward to visiting Edinburgh on Sunday 31 October, to talk about Change in Putin’s Russia at the Independent Radical Book Fair. My slot is at 3.45 pm at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Dalmeny Street – details here … and it’s part of a pretty interesting weekend – the whole schedule is here

If you’re in, or anywhere near, Edinburgh, it would be nice to see you there!

“The Urgent Need To Struggle”? Don’t miss it!

September 13, 2010

 If you’re in or near London, don’t miss the exhibition, The Urgent Need To Struggle, by the radical Russian arts collective, Chto Delat (What is to be Done) at the ICA, at Carlton House Terrace, right near Buckingham Palace. It’s on until 24 October, and features films depicting protest movements such as that mounted in opposition to the construction of a giant tower in St Petersburg by Gazprom, Russia’s largest company. There are photos and copies of Chto Delat’s multi-lingual newspaper.

It’s free, but it’s not open every day. Check it out here:

On Friday 10 September the collective did a “learning play” in the manner of Bertolt Brecht. It was rough and ready, but thought-provoking … and definitely not following fashion.

Chto Delat makes you optimistic about Russia. These are people who take radical and revolutionary ideas seriously, who think about their art in a social context … and can equally do irony, self-irony and plain slapstick. Whether or not they always hit your buttons in terms of their artistic production, they will make you think.

If you’re nowhere near London – or St Petersburg, where they are based – don’t worry, they are on the web here:

And there’s a blog, which I’ve previously described as the best source of information on anti-fascist and other movements in Russia:

Disappearance of another Ukrainian journalist adds pathos to Gongadze anniversary

August 28, 2010

Journalists across Europe will on Thursday 16 September mark the tenth anniversary of the death of  Ukrainian internet journalist Gyorgy Gongadze – a classic example of the impunity of powerful people who instigate violence against journalists.

 (* Details of London event at the end.)

 The importance of the campaign to bring those who ordered Gongadze’s killing to justice was grimly underlined in recent weeks by the disappearance, and feared murder, of investigative reporter Vasily Klimentyev in Kharkov on 11 August.

The instigators of Gongadze’s murder were at the very top of the Ukrainian political pyramid. Former president Leonid Kuchma, current parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and some of their cronies discussed harming him – shortly before he was kidnapped, beaten, strangled and beheaded by a gang of policemen.

The gang leader, Aleksei Pukach, is now awaiting trial, and three of his accomplices are serving prison sentences – but the instigators of the crime have never been brought to justice.

The conversations in Kuchma’s office about harming Gongadze are known to the world, because Mykola Melnychenko, a former presidential bodyguard, released tape recordings of them two months after the murder.

But the chain of command that led from Kuchma’s office to those who killed Gongadze, founder of the Ukrainska Pravda web site, has – so far – been covered up.

Former home affairs minister Yuri Kravchenko – who was apparently assigned during those conversations to have someone sort Gongadze out – died in mysterious circumstances (shot himself in the head twice, allegedly). Two other key internal affairs ministry officials who were probably involved both fell into a mysterious coma and then died.

The Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office effectively sabotaged the investigation of how Gongadze’s killing was ordered and organised. It at first denied Gongadze was missing, then mishandled evidence, and for years failed either to follow basic policing procedures or to resist political pressure to cover up for the instigators.

After the “Orange revolution” of 2004, many Ukrainians hoped the case would be solved – but it wasn’t, and “Orange” president Viktor Yushchenko pinned medals on prosecutors who obstructed the investigation.  

The disappearance nearly three weeks ago of Vasily Klimentyev, 67, editor of Novy Stil (New Style), a muckraking local paper in Kharkov, is a sober reminder of the dangers facing journalists who try to expose corruption in high places.

Klimentyev disappeared on 11 August, while preparing to publish an article about Stanislav Denisiuk, a senior tax official whose wrongdoing he had previously scrutinised. Four days later Klimentyev’s mobile phone and door keys were found and a murder case opened.

The investigation was last week transferred to the internal affairs ministry’s national detective unit, after internal affairs minister Anatoly Mogilev said that “current and former representatives of the law enforcement services” were under suspicion.

In the ten years since Gongadze’s murder, Ukrainian media have grown to operate relatively freely – particularly on the internet, where Ukrainska Pravda, the site he founded, is leader among many high-quality news sites. Even TV has a greater variety of reporting than in Russia.

But physical threats to journalists, especially those who write about state corruption, are all too common. This weekend Valery Ivanovsky, editor of the Zhitomir-based newspaper Silske Zhittya newspaper, was teargassed and stabbed.

* A delegation from the National Union of Journalists of the UK and Irelandwill go to the Ukrainian embassy at 60 Holland Park, London W11 3SJ (nearest tube Holland Park) at 11.0 am on Thursday 16 September. In previous years the delegation has been received by the ambassador. The NUJ has actively participated in the international campaign to bring the instigators of Gongadze’s murder to justice, and in supporting trade union initiatives among Ukrainian journalists, over the last ten years. For more details contact NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, at the NUJ offices.

* The International Federation of Journalists, the Gongadze Foundation, the Institute of Mass Information and the NUJ have produced four reports on the Gongadze case, which can be downloaded here:

* A conference is being held in Kyiv on 16 September on the issue of impunity for attacks on journalists, involving Article 19, the IFJ and other press freedom organisations.