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Viktor Kogan-Yasny: Russia and Ukraine - Some Brief Observations

posted 4 Jun 2018, 12:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Jun 2018, 12:59 ]

5 January 2018 

By Viktor Kogan-Yasny 

Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and a political adviser to the Yabloko party

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the new Kremlin political elite spontaneously adopted as its new ideology the notion of “domination,” a notion that in practice meant militarism and imperialism. These ideas were convenient and advantageous for the elite. They were simple and easy to understand, especially against the backdrop of the collapsing monolith of the Soviet state. Adoption of these ideas required absolutely no kind of personal perestroika or creativity (a point made brilliantly in an article by Vasil Bykov immediately after the signing of the Belavezha Accords).

Back in 1992, lacking anything to do, Moscow demagogues discussed the issue of war between Russia and Ukraine, mocked the new ways of doing things adopted by the Ukrainian authorities, and proposed Crimea as “the main problem facing the world.” At the same time (this was in 1992!) Russia destroyed democracy in Tajikistan and threw that country into the abyss of the worst, indescribably bloody war, enabling the establishment there of a dictatorship of the most primitive kind; supported Niyazov in Turkmenistan; and carried out political interventions in Pridnestrovie and South Ossetia on the same model now being used to intervene in the Donbass.

As is well known, in 1993 Russia first annulled its own constitution, and then proceeded to shoot up its parliament. Even today there is no information about more than one hundred people killed by snipers in Moscow at that time. The legitimacy of the Russian state declined, and the quality of state institutions, never very high, fell even further, giving rise to public indifference. Against this background, the terrible war in Chechnya was fought, a war that made a mockery of the value of human life and of common sense. The Russian Federation, which began as an anti-Communist and pro-Western “political project,” had become, by the end of the 1990s, a country “with its own special path,” snarling at the West, and run for the benefit of its political elite, the military-industrial complex and those who had gotten rich by divvying up the spoils of Soviet property and money.

Putin’s accession to power saw a complete end to any kind of media freedom in the Russian Federation. This came abouthappened extremely quickly and hadthere was a definite logic behind it: even given the fact that most Russian citizens had muddled ideas, were unenlightened and misinformed, in conditions of media freedom Putin simply could not have become president with anything like the result he achieved in 2000. This moment also marked the effective end to free and fair elections in Russia: falsification of elections became the general norm throughout the country. At the same time, as is well known, Putin unleashed the terrible, cynical and long-drawn-out Second Chechen War which resulted, resulting in the creation of a regime based on his own personal power. Alas, this occurred with direct support from key actors in the West…

The act of terrorism at the Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow was a turning point. It showed the top leadership of the country was ready not only to sacrifice the lives of hostages, but even to actually kill them for the sake of demonstrating the power of “the State” and the immutability of decisions taken, and commands given, by the leadership. Soon afterwards, this was to be repeated at Beslan.

To be wholly honest, although it is unpleasant for me to say this, I don’t believe that Putin, in political terms, can be fully categorized as part of the “world evil.” He is not an ethnic nationalist and he acts decisively in putting an end to manifestations of ethnic nationalism, something which presents an enormous danger to Russia. Nor is he inclined (for the present, at least), to murder particular individuals. He is an opportunist, as are very many people of his generation and education. If he sees an obstacle ahead of him, he is ready to stop. And it should be said that Putin is also ready to stop if people, to all appearances weak but not afraid to tell him they disagree with him to his face, put forward a position he personally finds convincing.

The most important task, both practical and intellectual, is to stop the militaristic and imperial trend in Russian politics, and thereby prevent what potentially could be innumerable deaths because of “new forces in new circumstances.” However, I fear this task cannot be successfully accomplished because of the very small number of analysts and advisers ready and equipped with the appropriate knowledge and experience, and because of the almost total absence in the realm of practical politics and officialdom of those ready to listen to them.

My very sad observation is that the demagogic and bureaucratic mindset, that is very easily consumed by hatred, can cause vast damage to people. This is distinct from the mindset of ordinary people who, in general, want peace, don’t want to kill or be killed, and desire access to education and essential health care. On the other hand, these ordinary people, when necessary, are ready to suffer and die where honour is at stake, as seen in the way numerous rank-and-file soldiers of the Ukrainian army have honestly and courageously stood up for the freedom of their country, and with whom I feel a real sense of solidarity.


In the political conditions of the USSR, which I saw in my lifetime, the regime of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, in comparison with that of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, was more severe and repressive: many more people were sentenced to death, “dissidents” were punished more severely…At the same time, even then Ukraine was attractive because of its comparatively greater civic dynamism and the “threshold of the permitted” in Ukraine was somewhat lower than in Russia. For example, there was a little more available to read, and the authorities were not so actively opposed to those who wished to visit churches or see a priest. At the same time, the centralised system was configured in such a way that education and research, with rare exceptions, were concentrated in Moscow and in the RSFSR, while the wonderful Ukrainian national culture was neglected and became something of a backwater, failing to fulfil its potential.

All of us who dreamed in the 1980s of democratising life in the USSR are in debt to the people of Ukraine for the fact that it happened. Without the dynamism of Ukraine, the possibilities that arose under Gorbachev, including in terms of elections, would never have been realized.

Since then, the habit has developed in Russia of looking at Ukraine as a kind of model, in the vanguard of transformations and achievements – as well as possible mistakes. We can never escape from this habit, although among young people there is already a feeling that Russians and Ukrainians are simply two different peoples living in different worlds, peoples who do not want to have anything to do with one another.

…Ukraine gave Russia a multicultural wealth and the equivalent of a cultural bridge. It was similar with Belarus and the Baltic countries, but in relation to the Ukraine the scale was more significant.


Over the 22 years of peace, from 1992 to 2013, influential circles in Russia, and a part of the general population, tended to view independent Ukraine with disdain and as an object of expansion, on the basis of imperial thinking and a focus on particular features of Ukrainian public life such as the high level of corruption at all levels of society. At the same time, another and important part of Russian public opinion had more sympathy with independent Ukraine and the European vector of its policies. Many strove, as much as they could, to help Ukraine (and thereby Russia).

Among Russian political elites and oligarchs, as I have written on a previous occasion, plans to harm Ukraine were being put forward all the time. This was for straightforward imperialist motives, as well as, importantly, in order not to give Ukraine the chance to have a positive influence on Russia.

Russia’s interest in maintaining relations with the West, and in the stability of the Ukrainian bureaucracy, prevented her from taking any major steps against Ukraine. This was expressed first in the relations with Kuchma, and then, for example, in the “good relations” between Putin and Yulia Timoshenko, and later still in the “Yanukovich factor.” Indeed, Yushchenko was also quite good at “maintaining the balance,” and conflicts in the short period when he was directing diplomacy were, in general, of a purely ritual nature.

After Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012 he began to hint at a desire to recreate so far as possible – via a Customs Union – something similar to the USSR. This was to be assisted by the myth of the (in Putin’s sense) pro-Russian and pro-Putin Ukraine which, in its turn, was supported for a long time by the myth of the “pro-Russian” Yanukovich. But, as so often happens, it turned out that things were not so simple and in fact were very different. The European Union began to oppose, insofar as it could, these neo-imperial ideas, and Yanukovich wanted to be closer to the EU than to the Kremlin. The USA at that time interfered relatively little, but, of course, supported the approach developed by Brussels.

As it turned out, the model that was developed, the “Eastern Partnership,” excluded extremes. The Eastern Partnership model served to calm that section of the Russian political elite and general public that has tended to panic over NATO. It satisfied them since it excluded any marked military or political measures and was based on the idea of “civilized development.” Alas, this did not last long! The Kremlin suddenly changed its mind, rather late but aggressively…Because what “works” for the Kremlin is not the phobia about NATO, but a view of the existential enemy – the West…


If we look a little more closely at 2013, we should add that the EU bureaucracy, with a characteristic lack of definition in its political views, of political will and of psychological nous, made at least two serious mistakes. First, the EU did not move rapidly to sign the Association Agreement with Ukraine, but set a mix of very different conditions, including a fixation on the Timoshenko imprisonment. And this was against the background, obvious as it would seem, that the roots of the political problems lay not in Kiev, but in Moscow. Second, the EU had nothing to say to Putin about Ukraine, and nothing to say to Russian public opinion. European officials monotonously repeated the mantra about the sovereignty of Ukraine, and either simply ignored Putin and his “view on things” or did not pay him sufficient attention. Insofar as negotiations were concerned, the EU took the view that Putin did not have full control of the situation, which he undoubtedly did, all the more so at that time. Putin-2013, when he was ignored, or when he thought he was being ignored, gave a predictably brutal “symmetrical response”: he began to ignore the EU and to act in the way he wanted…

The card he played was to forbid Yanukovich to sign the European Association Agreement. Yanukovich was frightened and put on a “short leash.” Alas, even then the EU they did not fully understand who they were in fact dealing with…

At that moment, in a way no one expected, the Ukrainian people entered the stage and Euromaidan took place. However, the political leaders of the Ukrainian opposition turned out to be of a highly provincial mindset and were unable to put together a responsible political agenda that suited the times. (I should point out that, more recently, concerning these events, the Russian propaganda machine has begun flirting with these leaders to counterbalance the European intentions of Yanukovich.)


After the bloody showdown in February 2014, these Ukrainian leaders had nowhere else to go and they declared that the terrible and strange tragedy that had happened, and for which they shared responsibility, marked a revolution in human dignity…

Those who died under the snipers’ bullets (snipers who remain to this day unidentified) have indeed set an example of human dignity for all eternity. Their families and friends have exemplified human dignity…But no revolution took place because there was no change in the organisation of society (and none could have taken place). No new, vital dream appeared that could have been implemented during the lifetimes of those who were killed…

In those days the political victors in Kiev were confronted by a great deal of scepticism among politicians and experts who set them serious questions, while at the same time de facto recognising their authority.

If Putin and those close to him had simply been neo-imperialist politicians, striving for political domination, they would have perceived the situation at that time as a political “gift of fate” to themselves and would either have simply waited, or would have put pressure on the new regime with significant chances of “success.” But at that moment they already had another, new task: to make a demonstrative response to the West and Russian liberals of various tendencies…

Some argue that Putin and his closest associates fear “the street,” especially after what happened in Moscow in 2011. According to this view, this explains their fear of Ukraine. While this is possible, I think the problem is much deeper. Putin and his associates had decided that the time had come to make a public and demonstrative anti-Gorbachev counter-coup, rejecting any kind of collaborative relationship with the country’s pro-Western citizens (for all the lack of definition of this category) and the Western political community as such with its pan-European political civilisation that annoys them.

Russia’s next step was the refusal to recognize the departure of Yanukovich from the post of president, which had in fact been his resignation, and to make very big demands of the new authorities in Kiev, demands that were completely impossible to carry out.

Based on this continued recognition of Yanukovich as president, and on the pretext of the provisions of the Treaty on the Black Sea fleet that allow very large military units to be moved to Crimea on grounds of Russian security concerns, the occupation of Crimea went ahead. This was followed by the declaration of independence of Crimea, allegedly “justified” in terms of international law by the precedent of Kosovo, and by its subsequent immediate annexation. Until a political resolution to the Crimea issue is found, Russia will continue to be accused of an act of direct aggression. (And many people will add, an act of aggression that, from the point of view of international law, has not been seen in Europe since the Second World War). The fact that mass bloodshed was avoided successfully in Crimea is in many ways thanks to the decisionmakers in Ukraine. They acted on the basis of humanity and common sense to prevent the powder keg exploding, although it was close to this. If such an explosion had happened, it is hard to say what the situation in the world would be like today…

Nonetheless, thereafter things began to develop rapidly and extremely tragically, leading to a very great number of victims, and an irreparable moral crisis …


As a result of the adventuristic decisions and excesses in the first months of 2014, a new stage in Ukrainian, Russian and, in general, world history began, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, and poisoning the hearts and minds of millions. There was a spontaneous demand for the heroism of boys summoned to military conscription commissions, because one’s own land must be defended, even if it has been attacked by one’s own brother... There were quite unexpected instances of civic courage, openly or anonymously, where an individual, at their own risk, sought to secure truth and peace, albeit at a local level. And at the same time some of those considered to be respected public figures, speakers, intellectuals, bearers of goodness and enlightenment, began to spread hatred in various forms and “formats”… People who came together in herds to do evil, sought to justify evil, lies, and cruelty in terms of their own conceptions of “the public good.” It is extremely difficult to write about this. These events are fresh, terrible, not always understood, and are on-going. And anything said at a wrong moment, anything that is misunderstood, can result in the opposite of what is desired. For that reason, I shall stop my chronicle for the time being. I shall leave a large gap, and turn to my concluding thoughts.


How many people in Russia support Putin’s expansionism? It is impossible to answer this question because of the nature of the regime. I would point out that, although there are many incidental factors to be considered here, no referendum in Russia about Crimea was held …And it would be interesting to see the result after a campaign not only “for” but also “against,” in conditions of a free and fair vote, to find out the spread of voting in the regions…After all, a concert on Red Square and a nationwide referendum are not one and the same thing… But of course, this is all just fantasy on my part. If it were possible to actually imagine such a free and fair vote in the Russian Federation, that would mean freedom of expression, independent influential media, free elections: things that would mean the political course adopted by Putin would in principle be impossible.


The general question concerning the political regime in Russia, a regime built on neo-Bolshevik patrimonial relations, and the specific political line adopted by this regime (a question that concerns the whole inheritance of Bolshevik patrimonial relations throughout the former USSR) is this: how to defeat the dragon and at the same time not turn into a dragon? How to transform these societies and their institutions in such a way that militarism and vendetta (whether personal or “socio-historical” in nature) give way to efforts to achieve peaceful development, to a future society of responsible, creatively striving people, a society in which freedom and justice are the most important social values, values which people are ready to defend with great strength of character…and not merely seek to display? Let’s dream that is still possible.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

Masha Karp: “The Truth! The Truth!”

posted 8 Apr 2018, 09:15 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 Apr 2018, 09:20 ]

8 April 2018

On 25th March fire ravaged the “Winter Cherry,” a shopping and entertainment centre in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. It was the beginning of school holidays and the leisure complex was full of children, who became the main victims of the fire. Masha Karp reflects on the ability of state propaganda to stifle the truth. 

“Prav-du! Prav-du!” (The Truth! The Truth!) – this was the word the citizens of Kemerovo chanted at the start of the 7-hour long rally that took place early in the morning on 27th March at one of the city’s largest squares near the offices of the regional government. At first, however, the protesters were not allowed into the square – it was closed off by barriers. But as the crowd increased – there were 2000-4000 people by the most modest estimates – the square was opened, and the city’s Mayor Ilya Seredyuk and the deputy governor Sergei Tsivilev came out to speak to those gathered there. The truth was, indeed, necessary: how could it have happened that the alarm system in the leisure complex did not work, that fire-fighters arrived on the scene only 40 minutes after the start of the blaze and even then did not really try to rescue people from the four-storey building, that all the fire-exits in the buildings were blocked and, most perplexingly, that two out of three cinemas on the top floor packed with children had their doors locked. Those inside the smoke-filled cinemas had about 10 minutes to phone their families to explain that they could not get out and to say their final good-byes and words of love. Then they suffocated. 

The truth that was most urgently demanded by those in the city square was the death toll. The figure that the authorities presented originally was 64 dead, 9 of them children. The people of Kemerovo feared that there must have been many more: two classes from a nearby village school had come in buses to watch cartoons - these alone would have meant at least 40 children, but there were many, many others. Later the official figure remained 64, only the number of children grew – they now said there were 41 of them. The figure that the victims’ relatives came up with was closer to 350. 

The clash between the authorities and those on the square became immediately apparent. People demanded that the governor Aman Tuleev, who had been their governor for over 20 years, should talk to them, but he refused to come for fear, he explained, that his cortege would block the road. He did, however, go to talk with President Putin who, after a day and a half’s hesitation, flew into Kemerovo. Tuleev explained to the President that the disaster had been hi-jacked by the “opposition” – “There are just 200 troublemakers at the rally, they are not even relatives of the dead!” The same line was originally taken by the deputy governor Tsivilev. This video link shows him asking a man in a blue jacket, who had been addressing the rally: “Are you trying to promote yourself using this tragedy?” – “No”, -- the 31-year- old man, who called himself Igor Vostrikov, replied: “My whole family – my wife, my younger sister, my children aged seven, five and two – all died in the fire”. This made even the official attempt to embrace him. But Vostrikov carried on his speech: “This is your iron heel! I know that if I make a bit of a move, if I utter a bit of a squeak, my job is gone. And that is why everybody is silent! You suppress everybody!” 

Later, Igor Vostrikov explained his outspokenness: “I have nothing to lose now." And indeed, on that day he wrote on the Russian social network “V Kontakte”: 

"I no longer have any family. The ruling regime of my country is to blame. Every official just dreams of stealing as much as Putin does. Every civil servant treats people like scum (in the same way his bosses treat him and everybody below him). 

“They will find a scapegoat – and close off the story, and all the bad things - negligence, total corruption, encouraging people to drink, the people’s degradation -- will stay.” 

Readers’ and viewers’ hearts went out to Vostrikov, especially when he talked to the media about his children. People admired his courage and fortitude. And then everything changed. 

The next day after the rally Igor Vostrikov appeared on the First Channel (the main official channel) of Russian television accompanied by two well-known doctors (one of them was Zurab Kekelidze, “the main Russian psychiatrist”, head of Serbsky Centre, who, according to independent sources, tried to justify the repressive psychiatry of Soviet times, the other was Elena Malysheva, presenter of TV programmes on healthcare). They were asked by the First Channel presenter “to keep an eye on Igor.” Vostrikov, who was then invited to speak, mentioned that there had been provocateurs at the rally, who stoked the public anger and tried to instigate the protest, and assured the audience that he and his friends were not planning any “regime change.” He expressed his gratitude to Tsivilev, who was a newcomer to the regional government and capable of sorting things out, but, to the dismay of Elena Malysheva, he added that he was disgusted with the work of the Investigative Committee – and here the live broadcast from Kemerovo abruptly ended. This was on 28th March. 

On 29th, Igor Vostrikov gave a press conference at which he charged the “Maidanshchiks” (the word means “protesters” and comes from “Maidan” – the square in Kiev where the revolutions of 2004 and 2013 started) that they had diverted everybody’s attention from the most important thing -- the work of the emergency services. “It is they who should have been taken to task, not the local government!” he said. “What does the local government have to do with it?” 

On 29th and over the following couple of days Vostrikov published several video messages (he explained that he had opened an Instagram account just for that). He reported that he had now seen previously unavailable CCTV footage and stated that he was now sure the doors of the cinemas had not been originally locked! It was just that some individual had locked them as he had thought it would be safer for women and children inside to wait for their rescuers… Igor also announced that the number of the dead was exactly as the official figure said it was – 64… 

Naturally, this transformation caused an immediate reaction on social networks: people suspected that Vostrikov had been threatened, drugged or bought… That he was an FSB agent from the start. Others were saying: leave him alone, he is grieving, he is under sedatives. Whatever the reason, it was obvious that he was no longer fighting the authorities: “he loved Big Brother”. And the search for truth, of which Vostrikov so nearly became a symbol, stalled. A week later the official death toll still remained at 64, notwithstanding the number of missing or those, who still remained in the hospital. 

Information about the hundreds of bodies was deleted from on-line outlets, resolutely dismissed by the media and explained by the conscious falsifying of facts by a certain “prankster,” Evgeny Volnov, who, conveniently, “turned out” to be Ukrainian! 

It was reported that he had been calling Kemerovo’s morgues and telling them to prepare places for over 300 bodies. A criminal case against Volnov (his real name is Nikita Kuvikov) was launched while the Russian media started publishing stories about Ukrainian interference, Ukrainian joy at seeing the suffering of Russians, and even about underhand American plotting. 

“The first casualty of war is truth”. This phrase, coined during the First World War, comes to mind when one thinks about the constant war that the Russian regime wages against its own people. Truth is a casualty every day, but inevitably so at time of tragedy - from Chernobyl to Beslan and now Kemerovo. An incredible amount of effort on the part of official propaganda is put into making people think what the government wants them to think, or at least instilling in them a certainty that the real truth will never be learnt. 

Russian propaganda tries to influence the West in the same way. That is why it issues statements about the inability of the British government to protect Russian citizens like Litvinenko and Skripal, that is why for more than four years it has been telling lies about the situation in Ukraine. It is only recently that, thanks to Russia’s brazen aggression, this now seems to be better understood, at least in the UK. 

The extent to which Russians themselves believe it is questionable. On the one hand, cynicism is rife. On the other, propagandists can certainly boast of some success. But in any case, as far as protests against this propaganda are concerned – things do not look too good. The state has a huge arsenal of tools at its disposal, starting with putting pressure on individuals, like Igor Vostrikov, and ending with all the usual repressive methods - beatings, detentions, imprisonment, torture, assassinations. And yet, truth will out – if only many years later. The Soviet Union was a much more closed country than today’s Russia, and yet the 1961 shooting of workers in Novocherkassk who protested against harsh economic conditions has remained in people’s memory despite the fact it was followed by 30 years of silence. The rally of those who lost their children in the Kemerovo fire will not be completely forgotten. 

PS By the time this article was published the authorities had decided it might be wiser to remove the 73-year-old Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleev from office. His resignation had been discussed previously, but the fire – and the protest - seem to have triggered it.

Rose Glickman: Arseny Roginsky - A Farewell

posted 21 Jan 2018, 04:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Jan 2018, 05:42 ]

9 January 2018

By Rose Glickman

Source: BASEES - reprinted by kind permission

One dreary Leningrad day in the winter of 1976, I went home to my room in the dormitory on Shevchenko and found a strange young man sitting on my bed. Brave soul, I thought. Or foolhardy? 

In those years Russians were not keen to advertise their friendship with foreigners. But Senya Roginsky didn’t give a hoot. In the many years of our deep friendship I watched him violate all the rules of basic survival in the USSR. Memorial, the jewel in Senya’s crown, was preceded by years of “samizdat.” Using a library card he got for allegedly researching Plekhanov, he was combing the archives for the evidence of Soviet chicanery, especially the kind that sent his father into the Camps and into prison where he died. That very library card was the “violation” which the Soviet government used to send Senya as well to the Gulag for 4 years. 

Senya held a regular Friday night “salon.” If I close my eyes I can see myself getting off the metro at Park Pobeda, and walking through the park to his apartment on Ulitsa Gagarina where the most interesting people in Leningrad gathered — all, of course, dissidents. Some of them, like Senya, subsequently became leading activists in the post-Soviet civil/human rights movement, connected in various ways to Memorial. 

How lucky I was to have Senya as my guide through the intricacies of Soviet life as well as a faithful and generous friend. How lucky Russia is to have had such an avatar of courage, intelligence and integrity: a guiding light through Soviet and post-Soviet times. Russia is poorer for his death, as are all the friends he leaves behind. Слава тебе, Сеня!

Viktor Kogan-Yasny: On the Yeltsin-Putin Regime, Liberal Democracy, and Personalized Power

posted 28 Dec 2017, 06:37 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Dec 2017, 06:50 ]

28 December 2017

By Viktor Kogan-Yasny

Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and is a political adviser to the Yabloko party

I am once again convinced just how dangerous, both in terms of the present time and historically, the Yeltsin-Putin regime has been - a regime of provincial Russian bureaucrats imbued with imperial thinking, who believe in force, cynicism and money, and who are in love with themselves. The regime is dangerous because of what it actually does; but it is much more dangerous because of the “lesson” it gives to other countries, both neighbouring Russia and further afield – and by the historical mark that it leaves behind itself the world over.

To ignore the essential nature of this regime and live in a principally different way is exceptionally difficult. The regime’s essence easily transforms us: we become cynical, superficial, lying; we love abstractions, as we did under the Soviet regime, and our own self-interest, as if we were negative heroes in Dickens’ polemical novels; we are almost unable to distinguish the essence from the form...

Who do I mean by ‘we’? All of us, since we don’t set ourselves the task of following a fundamentally different moral direction.


Liberal democracy, as a form of social Christianity, is based on the principle of the rejection of retribution as a motive for decision-making. It is also based on the rejection of the very possibility of putting in danger, let alone intentionally sacrificing, some specific people for the sake of others.

Such a principled approach cannot be adopted as the highest social value on the basis of a numerical majority - a majority which is always subject to passions and animal instincts. A huge responsibility for not allowing terrible events to take place lies with political leaders. If they allow themselves to follow animal instincts “out of sympathy,” compete with each other in this, and fail to work to make themselves better, then we are doomed to live through very difficult times.


We see a certain person is succeeding in achieving all he wants in terms of strengthening his hold on power, and in the geopolitical arena. And those who have been saying that very, very soon he will have to call a halt to his ambitions, now find themselves humiliated.

It is true, indeed, that being in power for an unlimited time, having unrestricted authority in terms of domestic politics, and adequate military force in foreign affairs, have created conditions where it would be possible to annex even the moon, and then to wait for the rest of the world to give its consent.

But the ultimate cost of such a state of affairs is absolutely beyond the capacity of a great number people to bear. The failure of this line in politics is inevitable, and the wreckage, alas, will subsequently crush very many people and very many things, in a spontaneous development of events.

Simon Cosgrove: Arseny Roginsky - The Quiet Revolutionary

posted 21 Dec 2017, 10:42 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Dec 2017, 05:11 ]

It is wonderful to read the moving 
tributes to Arseny Roginsky by his Russian friends and colleagues. It is perhaps not out of place to add a few words of tribute in English. 

Arseny Borisovich was an extraordinarily intelligent, charming, charismatic, modest, and at the same time an intensely serious, courageous and committed man. The events of his life’s story – his work as a historian, his imprisonment as a dissident, the development of Memorial, his role in the human rights movement – all illustrate his wide intellectual horizons, deep human sympathies, his strong pragmatism, his rich gifts as a leader, writer and speaker, and his resilient values. [Read more]

Viktor Kogan-Yasny: On Political Leadership and War

posted 18 Dec 2017, 07:29 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Dec 2017, 06:51 ]

27 November 2017 

By Viktor Kogan-Yasny

Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and is a political adviser to the Yabloko party

All parochial political figures of a limited world-view, who find themselves occupying important positions of state because of circumstances (and their ambitions), conduct public affairs in a manner that invariably leads to one and the same outcome.


If they act on the basis of the priority of force – there will be victims, victims in ever greater numbers…

If they believe that territory is more important than people – there will, as a result, be neither people nor territory…

The political class exists in order to defend the real interests of a very large number of people, not their phantom, or pseudo, interests. The main priority must be peace, civil and international. War is the very last resort, and is certainly not a continuation of ordinary politics “by other means.” 

We have completely forgotten our history: just wars (of which there have been very few) have never been conducted for the sake of territory. For the sake of territory... there have been feudal wars, and wars led by madmen…

The conduct of an opponent and competitor in no ways justifies one’s own sins…

Politicians who refuse to make concessions or reach compromises in the sphere of international relations are worth nothing. Citing the struggle with the Nazi regime in Germany as an example is absolutely misplaced on every count.

What was at issue in that instance was not territory, or the structure of military blocks, but the actual physical existence of individuals, ethnic groups, peoples. Precisely for this reason, the compromises with Hitler have been recognized as mistaken. 

This is precisely why the attack on the USSR by Hitler led to very broad public support for the war. This attack resulted in the Great Patriotic War because, as rapidly became clear, it threatened some people with total destruction, and others with complete enslavement - and not at all because Hitler occupied some particular territory,  or any other reason.

John Crowfoot on "The Dmitriev Affair - What Next?", a public event to be held on 19 December 2017, 19:30-21:00, at Pushkin House

posted 7 Dec 2017, 11:41 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Dec 2017, 11:55 ]

7 December 2017

Pushkin House and Rights in Russia invite you to an evening discussion about Yury Dmitriev, the Gulag researcher who is currently on trial

Photo of Yury Dmitriev (c) Simeon Maisterman

The prosecution of Gulag researcher YURY DMITRIEV has not gone according to plan.

All involved, including the defence team, expected the 60-year-old historian to be found guilty in early September of making pornographic images and receive anything up to a 15-year sentence -

Instead, there has been an unprecedented groundswell of public protest in Russia, and concern abroad, over Dmitriev's persecution on evidently trumped-up charges. At the Petrozavodsk City Court Judge Marina Nosova and the prosecutor (now replaced) have been constantly wrong-footed during the closed hearings by Dmitriev's excellent defence counsel.


On Tuesday, 19 December, the Pushkin Club and Rights in Russia are hosting an evening of discussion about this most unlikely cause célèbre.

There are three speakers - John Crowfoot, translator and manager of the Dmitriev Affair website; Bill Bowring, barrister, Professor of Law (Birkbeck College), an expert on Russia's post-Soviet legal and judicial systems; and Dr. Andrea Gullotta of Glasgow University, a historian and specialist on the Solovki Special Purpose Camp, who met and talked to Yury Dmitriev during his research trips to Karelia and the White Sea.

We invite you to celebrate and support "a most admirable man" (Natalya Solzhenitsyn), about whom more than 70 writers, film-makers, actors and priests have now spoken in glowing terms ( ).


We very much hope to see you on the Tuesday evening (do remember there will be seats for only 70).

If you cannot come, look out for a film of the event on YouTube soon afterwards, and be sure to add your name to the petition

in defence of YURY DMITRIEV, who has spent twelve months in custody, after a quarter century combing the forests and archives of Karelia, seeking any surviving trace of Stalin's numerous victims ...

Viktor Kogan-Yasny: Notes of a Pessimist

posted 26 Nov 2017, 23:51 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Nov 2017, 23:53 ]

27 November 2017

Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and is a political adviser to the Yabloko party

The Russian Federation and the countries of the former Soviet Union will see no real progress, as opposed to an imitation of progress, until the appearance of a “political elite.” By “political elite,” I mean a social stratum of well-educated people with a sense of moral responsibility, ready and willing to take positions in government, who at the same time absolutely and categorically refuse to treat government as their personal or collective fiefdom, as nothing more than an opportunity for rent-seeking, for “sharing the spoils.”

Serious efforts, that are not merely imitative but genuinely creative and transformative, aimed at protecting citizens from arbitrary government are undertaken in conditions similar, if you will forgive me, to involuntary membership in a monastery or a criminal gang. Endless obligations are imposed on the individuals concerned, while no tangible rights whatsoever are received. Their actions are given almost no publicity, although they face threats and corruption, and are met with public indifference (and very often “friendly fire”), and can have no hope of a significant outcome beyond the realm of “small deeds.” This is the nature of the contemporary world, sceptical and cynical. It makes a mockery of what is serious, while failing to see the humorous side of daily idiotic bureaucratic entanglements that bedevil our lives…

A pattern or “matrix” has been created that establishes the ways an individual may defend their interests, and this means almost exclusively either by “going to war” or by fraud. If we don’t rid ourselves of this matrix, that’s how it will be: war – fraud - war …

And one other thing:

Putin, and subsequently Navalny, issued highly unethical commentaries on the 100th anniversary of the October Putsch. They stressed the historical scale of the event which, they said, changed the fate of the world, and so on. Navalny also added that, in his opinion, one hundred years ago the Bolsheviks were, in their own way, truly serious people and rulers, while in the Kremlin nowadays there are merely swindlers…

How should one respond to that?...As to the fate of the world, the Holocaust and Hitler’s Nazism as a whole probably changed matters rather more even than Bolshevism, but no one (in the public arena at least) would think of talking about those horrific events in such a “dialectic,” “technocratic” and morally detached manner…

So far as petty swindlers in the Kremlin are concerned, I personally would not agree, but the point at issue is something else. What is it that bothers Navalny, a public figure who has decided to compete with Putin? He opines that “back then” there were mass shootings, totalitarian ideology, and that this was all “real” and “fundamental” in nature. Nowadays, he says, there is none of this. And this absence reveals “inconsistency” on the part of a regime that pretends to toughness and authoritarianism?

Is it disappointment he feels? Or does he take the view that, along with all the shootings, the Bolshevik system gave birth to something positive? Very possibly.

But this kind of thinking, outside moral frameworks and without comparative historical analysis, rejecting cause and effect and based on pseudo-dialectics, raking everything together “in a single heap,” poisons the consciousness of our country that in any case is not so conspicuously developed.

So our rational faculties will remain dormant …And if that is the case, we shall continue in the future to face the consequences. 

John Crowfoot: Accusations of child sex abuse - and the political subtext in the Dmitriev case

posted 23 Oct 2017, 07:29 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Oct 2017, 07:41 ]

23 October 2017

By John Crowfoot

Photo of Yury Dmitriev

As the Dmitriev trial got under way, journalist Maria Eismont concluded an article about the case ("Dmitriev should be a State-Prize nominee", Russian Reader website, 6 June 2017) with the following words:

"There is another important thing about the Dmitriev case: the charge his persecutors chose for him. He was not charged with ‘extremism’ or ‘separatism,’ which have been commonplace in politically motivated cases, but with child pornography and depraved actions towards a minor. The charges not only guarantee a long sentence and promise the accused problems in prison but also challenge the public to support him. ‘What if something really did happen?’ Dmitriev’s friends and relatives acknowledge that while those who doubt Dmitriev or are willing to countenance the charges are in a clear minority, such people do exist, and some of them are ‘decent’ people.

"The number of ‘paedophilia’ cases, based on controversial, contradictory, clearly flimsy evidence and flagrantly unprofessional forensic examinations, has been growing for several years. Recently, I attended a similar event in Naro-Fominsk, seventy kilometres southwest of Moscow. It was also a memorial evening for a living person who had been incarcerated on charges of depravity against a child, actions the man could not have committed, according to witnesses who were nearby when the crime was alleged to have occurred. Dozens of people had come to remember what a good nurse Yevgeny (Zhenya) had been. Then they corrected themselves: not had been, but is and will continue to be. Then they cried.

"'Paedophilia' cases have long been custom-ordered to rid oneself of rivals and used to pad police conviction statistics, but now they have been put to use in political cases."

Charges of paedophilia or, rather, the threat of such accusations, were very occasionally used against dissidents in the Soviet period, but a search through the Chronicle of Current Events or the USSR News Brief turned up only one case. (Many if not most such threats, naturally, may never have come to light.) Recently, an attempt was made to pressurise rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov by claiming he had child pornography on his confiscated computer (see Under Attack, 2016, fn 105).

The prosecutions covered by Eismont over the past five years follow a different pattern. Typically, they are disputes between separated couples which, at some point, lead to doubtful accusations of child sex abuse. Common features of several cases described by Eismont are that the child was drilled by one side to repeat allegations of sexual abuse that under examination proved false and were subsequently denied by the child itself. More disturbing is that no matter what the evidence the accused was nevertheless found guilty and sentenced to the minimum 8-years' imprisonment for such an offence.

In the Dmitriev case neither the prosecution nor, naturally, his daughter Natasha have presented any evidence of ‘depraved actions’ on the part of her adoptive father. The concern remains that the overwhelming tendency of Russian courts to convict (in 99% of judge-only cases), and the precedent of seemingly automatic guilty verdicts whenever the sexual abuse of minors is alleged, may yet lead to Dmitriev's conviction sometime before mid-January next year.

On the other hand, the evidence and arguments presented in Petrozavodsk City Court by expert witnesses for the defence over the past five months may yet create useful precedents concerning the validity of evidence cited in such cases. In this respect also there is everything still to play for in the prosecution of Yury Dmitriev for child pornography and sexual abuse of a minor.

Sources: Articles by Maria Eismont
"The case of Vladimir Makarov, 'paedophile'",
Radio Echo Moskvy [R], 28 November 2011
"The Production of Paedophilia",
Snob magazine [R], 14 December 2015
"Male nurse Yevgeny Yefimenko found guilty of paedophilia",
Bizbi: News from Naro-Fominsk [R], 28 September 2017

Viktor Kogan-Yasny: A Personal view on Ukraine, Nato, the trajectory of Russia and contemporary liberalism

posted 23 Oct 2017, 04:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Oct 2017, 04:10 ]

23 October 2017

Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and is a political adviser to the Yabloko party

Ukraine and Nato

Nato establishes a framework. It represents a rejection of the idea and the ideology of revenge, of “counter-imperialism,” nationalism, of the humiliation of the citizens of neighbouring countries. That is why the official decision of Ukraine to join Nato, and not to take revenge on some other party and fight to the victorious end, provides an opportunity for the development of the country and its neighbours, for the advancement of peace and the rule of law, for “learning civilisation” (about which N. A. Struve wrote). Perhaps in ten years’ time in Ukraine there will be more competent citizens and military specialists and fewer streets named after nationalists.

The question remains whether this opportunity will be seized, or whether the post-Soviet environment will gain the upper hand and once again bring about events that will “astonish the world.”

We shall have to wait to see what happens, but we must not lose hope, even if new difficulties arise...

Nato and the roots of Orthodox culture

If we are talking about Orthodox culture and its relationship to politics and public life, then it must be said, despite the plethora of official statements about contrasting positions and civilizational conflicts, that it transpires that all those countries which traditionally form part of the realm of Orthodox Christianity except Russia and Belarus (not counting, of course, countries in the Middle East) are joining Nato, and European countries are joining the EU. Finland is not formally joining Nato, following a very old approach, but few even comment on this. It is the same with Cyprus. Serbia institutionally keeps its distance as a result of the historical conflict of 1999, when the actions of Nato were ill thought-out and ethically highly dubious. But this does not hinder Serbia from joining the EU or collaborating with Nato, since we are now in another epoch and a new set of problems has appeared. As for the situation of Japan, nothing needs to be said.

No country that has cultural roots in Orthodoxy – except Russia and Belarus – bases its ideology and daily practice on confrontation with Nato and the EU. And this confrontation will either come to nothing, or it will result once again in the cultural collapse of Russia, similar to what occurred under the Bolsheviks, based on a rejection of its own roots…

These are no doubt schematic points and observations. In reality, everything is much more complicated…The logic of history can be destroyed by stupidity, envy, provocative actions or simple boorishness, and these can arise as if out of nowhere. But nonetheless it is probably worth paying attention to the logic of history, to have a sense of it and seek to understand it …

A Troubling Observation

Liberals in the widest sense of the word - people who think about politics and were educated in the traditions of the second half of the last century - frequently lose sight of the fact that their ideas, seemingly unquestionable from the point of view of rational public conduct, run up against the egocentrism of a very large social group. This social group consists of people who simply do not consider themselves obliged to respect either themselves or anybody else. A very great number of people adopt the simple and egocentric view, “Leave me (and us) alone”, on the basis of simplistic slogans. To this end they are perfectly ready to sacrifice social development, personal success and material well-being, let alone things such as education and freedom of movement. These people see no fundamental purpose in the rule of law or honesty in personal behaviour, in moral solidarity with others, in mutual assistance, and so on. Maintaining the habitual and straightforward order of things for oneself and one’s immediate environment assumes, for them, priority over every other purpose.

This is why a majority of people in relatively poor Wales, a region that receives huge agricultural subsidies from the EU, voted against membership of the EU. This is why the “beneficiaries” of liberal movements against authoritarian and military-police regimes are in many cases not those who are committed to peace and freedom, but new dictators or people with a criminal background. And this, incidentally, is also why American “rednecks” (in particular, but not only them) voted for Trump.

But the social milieu that bears with it the liberal agenda of the past does not have the potential to react and renew itself. It resembles a club to which various people want to gain entrance because there is a fire outside, but in response the bouncers calmly stop them and push them back with the words: “You can’t come in, you’re not dressed appropriately.”
And looking at the question from a different angle, it is in the character of today’s neo-Bolsheviks, as it was in that of their historical predecessors, to seize the historical opportunity if it falls into their hands and adapt it to their own needs in such a way that all those who “wished for the best” are utterly shocked and disappointed (and there are all kinds of examples, including the behaviour of the leading figures of Ukraine on many issues).

Crimea, Russia, Ukraine

Europe’s post-war borders as they arose in 1945-46 must be inviolable. You can bewail as much as you want that such an approach, while on the one hand giving relative freedom to separatists, who insist on the independence of parts of states from the larger whole or even on the break-up of ethnically and historically complex states, on the other hand enables the peremptory blocking of perfectly justifiable attempts to unify closely-related populations, territories populated by the same ethnic group, or the transfer of territories from one jurisdiction to another. But there is no other means to preserve peace in Europe for the long-term future. Once a review of borders gets under way, the risk of a domino effect arises, with the consequent overwhelming victory of the instincts of the person-in-the-street over legal consciousness.

(The reunification of Germany is a special topic. Firstly, because what was at issue was the reunification of two historical parts of one and the same country. Secondly, because the decision to unify was in the hands of external forces and overseen by them. But even then, let’s recall, there were significant disagreements about the issue.)

This is why Northern Cyprus, Pridnestrovie, Kosovo, Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia (and also to some extent, Donetsk and Lugansk) are one thing, while Crimea is essentially a matter of a different kind. If there had not been formal annexation, the problem would not have arisen, nor the need for a solution. It is quite wrong to create such ambiguous situations, where furthermore it is impossible to maintain the consequent state of indeterminacy over a long period of time. The creation of “frozen conflicts” is an unpleasant and very unsatisfactory, but quite common world practice. Such developments can only be brought about without extremely serious consequences, in a “calm” manner, when disrespect for the rule of law and established legal traditions has reached such a pitch that they result in a radical lowering of legal standards. This is exactly what happened in the case of Crimea.

This is not a question of historical justice, of the protection of one group of people from another, of ethnic and cultural proximity, or of what people want. While all these matters are important, they must be resolved by means.

Law and international relations are incompatible with illogical thinking and with the emotions characteristic of household conflicts. It is precisely from confused logic and hysterical self-assertion that crises and wars begin. Wherever the “view of the ordinary person” gets the upper hand over rationality and transparency in decision-making, where the notion that “if they’re allowed to, why can’t we?” rules, then disaster is to be expected. It remains only to observe what is happening, as one might watch a powder keg inside which processes are taking place that are already beyond anyone’s control.

And this concerns in equal measure both the issue of Crimea and other, very different situations. It concerns the political mindset of the Russian Federation, and of other countries as well.

In general, it is a major mistake not to be able to see the far-reaching consequences of one’s own actions, no matter what the issue.

Mistakes can be of varying importance, but a real comparative assessment of potential outcomes is not always immediately possible, and the potential outcomes not immediately understood.

If the annexation of Crimea creates an enormous problem for the legitimate development of Russia, the failure to investigate the deaths of people creates an enormous legal problem, and a moral problem that exceeds all limits, both for Russian and for Ukrainian statehood, as well as for all major and minor Europe-wide institutions.

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