Site Archive‎ > ‎Russian Media‎ > ‎Svobodnaya pressa‎ > ‎

Anyone can become a spy

17 April 2013 

Andrei Ivanov

Source: Svobodnaya Pressa

The well-known academic Mikhail Savva has been arrested in Krasnodar

It looks like they have found a new victim of the law on foreign agents in Krasnodar. It was revealed in Kuban to be the academic, public figure and Grant Programs Director of the Southern Regional Resource Centre (SRRC), Mikhail Valentinovich Savva. On 12 April officers of the regional FSB office searched the house of Mikhail Savva and arrested him. A criminal case has been initiated under an article on fraud. The court has ordered that Mikhail Savva be held in pre-trial detention for a period of two months.

According to the investigators, Michael Savva, "acting from mercenary motives, developed a scheme to steal money belonging to the Russian Federation amounting to 366,000 roubles." According to investigators, Savva applied to Krasnodar Krai Administration for a grant in order to conduct research into "Migrants' capacity for socialization in Krasnodar Krai," then simply appropriated the funds he received, along with his co-conspirators.

Most interesting of all is the fact that the study was completed, a fact that no one is disputing. But allegedly the study was conducted using not the money given for the purpose, but some other money.

According to many observers, the real reason for the arrest of Mikhail Savva stems from the fact that SRRC has received grants from overseas foundations. The academic's wife told the media that, whilst searching the house, FSB officers had taken an interest in her husband's foreign contacts and had even seized an old postcard that had been given to Savva by a Chinese post-graduate student in 1987.

On the day that Savva was detained his friends held a series of single person pickets in front of the FSB building. They were arrested and released shortly afterwards without charge. A large rally in support of the academic is currently being planned in Krasnodar.

In addition to his work at the SRRC, Mikhail Savva lectured at Kuban State University. He is a Doctor of Political Science and Professor. He was a long-term member of the Public Council under the Governor of Krasnodar Krai promoting the growth of civil society and human rights institutions, and he joined the Public Council of the regional Ministry of Internal Affairs. He is well known in the region as someone not afraid to speak openly about shortcomings in the work of officials. However, he has never been an opposition activist. The accusation and arrest shocked many of Savva's acquaintances.

"I can vouch for his integrity so far as his dealings with money were concerned. His work to support NGOs was done in a correct manner and without politicization. The Investigative Committee and FSB have evidently been told to clamp down on all those who somehow try to object to these searches and seizures at the offices of NGOs. In doing this they are striking at completely loyal citizens, turning them into committed critics of the authorities and of the situation in the country. At the same time those who hate Russia are rubbing their hands with delight - and not only that. When and who are we going to call to account for such acts of idiocy against our country?” Valery Tishkov, Director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote on his Facebook page. The post was shared by dozens of people on their own pages – mainly, by staff and students of Kuban State University and researchers at academic institutions.

– What strikes Mikhail Valentinovich as odd is the fact that the FSB was interested in a fairly small matter to do with one of his sociological studies, – the wife of the arrested Professor, Elena Savva, told SP. – He believes, and I agree with him, that this case is simply a pretext for further inspections and new charges to be concocted, and that these new charges are likely to be even more absurd and awful.

I have followed many high profile cases and that’s why I have no faith in our legal system. And I know that people with far greater means to defend themselves than my husband can still suffer. Mikhail Valentinovich is just an ordinary intellectual, a professor in a regional university. My only hope now, albeit a weak one, rests with the general public. The experience of recent years shows that the authorities have no intention of engaging in a dialogue with society. My husband's fate testifies to that. He has always advocated dialogue between the authorities and society, and now he is in prison – even though he never once took part in the protests.

SP: – What do you think the charge is actually related to?

– Showing great restraint and staying well within the letter of the law, Mikhail Valentinovich constantly obliged the regional authorities to take action on one issue or another. The most successful campaign he led took place two years ago. The lights were constantly being switched off in the summer. People from the energy company said this is routine when the temperature is above 30 degrees. My husband then rightly wrote that the summer in Kuban has always been hot – even in the time of the Tsar – and that this did not make for an emergency. He showed Krasnodar residents which form to use to complain to the city administration. In the end, a new electricity cable was promptly installed and now we have no lighting problems. That was the only mass action led by Mikhail Valentinovich. His other activities may have had a lower profile but they always had a high impact.

He commanded authority from a wide variety of people, from radical liberals to communists. And I think that our government considers it very important to discredit him. To show that the man who led anti-corruption meetings in Kuban turned out to be a thief himself.

All the more so, as the Government has identified who it will be casting as the enemy within, and that is NGOs with foreign funding. During the mass protests of 2011-12, these organisations had some breathing space and were not associated with those events. As soon as the protests died down, the authorities began to look for enemies.

I am not inclined to read anything into the fact that the start of the campaign to identify foreign agents coincided with the arrest of Mikhail Valentinovich. Only a very naïve person would see it that way.

– In my opinion, there are no grounds for Savva to be detained, – says the Director of the Southern Regional Resource Centre, Tatyana Lyskina. – The inspections here started on 14 March. The FSB seized some documents and computers at the time. They talked then about the possible embezzlement of public funds but didn’t name any names. It was even heard on the grapevine that the regional administration was being inspected.

As for this grant, we delivered the work within the deadline and without any kind of criticism from the donor, i.e. the regional administration. We then underwent a routine inspection by the Public Prosecutor. No complaints were ever made against us. Then the FSB became interested in us but did not find any irregularities. So Savva's detention came as a surprise to us.

SP: – Could the incident be linked to the fact that your organisation receives foreign funding?

– We were registered in 1996, and have been receiving money from overseas ever since then. We have been reporting to all the Russian supervisory bodies on a regular basis. If anyone at all asked what money we were using, we were always ready to give an answer. In fact, we have always said which organisations support us. We have always acted legally.

Our programmes have never had a political nature. We have only ever been involved in developing NGOs and promoting civic activism, in terms of the ability to protect one's rights.

We didn’t register as a foreign agent because the law characterises it as a political activity. That’s never been what we are about. But there’s a campaign underway now to discredit NGOs. It’s tricky to identify foreign agents so they have decided to latch on to us. Of course, I’m just speculating.

SP: – What has your Centre contributed to society through the many years of its existence?

– We were the first in southern Russia to suggest a project-based approach to managing an NGO’s activities. We have effectively been functioning as managers for those organisations. Through us they learned to plan their activities and produce results. We have worked with a wide variety of NGOs: veteran, environmental and youth organizations. We have been free of any particular bias.

SP: – Were you asked any questions about politics at the time of the searches?

– No, they didn't ask any questions like that. They only asked about the grants.

The first people who were able to speak to the detained Mikhail Savva were members of the Public Council for the Krasnodar region penitentiary system. Tatyana Rudakova, a member of the Council, views the whole situation as absurd: 

– We managed to chat to Mikhail Valentinovich before court. He said that he was locked up in the FSB's headquarters at first, before being taken to a detention centre. We were searching for him all over the city.

SP: – Why do you think he was arrested?

– We believe that the regional authorities wished to demonstrate that they were enforcing the law on foreign agents. Look, they say, we’ve started reeling them in – even the big guns. I don't see any other rationale behind it. Yes, Savva's Centre had foreign funding. But there is a special list of overseas foundations that are permitted to operate in Russia. NGOs prefer not to ask for Russian grants so as to avoid the possibility of being accused of misusing public funds. Problems at Savva's Centre began just after they won a Russian grant. It turns out that they didn’t have the right to receive state funding as they had 4 roubles’ worth of outstanding taxes. They later settled this debt, but Savva was accused of fraud. They say he knew about the debt but still accepted the grant. The donor, that is the regional administration, has no complaints.

The Deputy Chairman of the Public Council under the Governor of Kuban, Valentina Makarova, also does not share the view of the investigators:

– I’ve known Mikhail Valentinovich since 1999. I would describe him just as I would many in his circle. As a very decent, honest man and highly qualified professional. You can ask his advice on anything, and he’s always ready to help. He’s a very open person.

SP: – Why is it, do you think, that the FSB is interested in him, and even put him in prison?

– It seems to me to be to be connected with the NGO inspections. The programmes at the centre where Mikhail Savva works weren’t political. They were social and were aimed at informing citizens but they had absolutely nothing to do with politics. Which is why I now find myself in a state of shock. No one knows the reasons for his arrest.

It is being said that he may have had a row with somebody. But he just isn't a confrontational person. And he always taught everyone that you should fall in line with the reforms. He said that you should support the government, that very good laws were being passed and that they should be put into effect. That you should encourage officials to abide by them. He never said anything against the government. So it’s difficult for me to understand what happened.

Could the research really be the reason for all this? They are claiming that it was carried out. But I was there when the findings were announced. The results were important ones. I still believe that they’ll get to the bottom of it. An honest man shouldn’t be in prison ...