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An interview with Mikhail Savva: ‘It’s true, I am not an accidental victim. I am their enemy.’

posted 27 Nov 2016, 09:48 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 27 Nov 2016, 09:49 ]
27 November 2016

Early in November, Rights in Russia spoke with Mikhail Savva, the civil society and human rights activist from Krasnodar who now lives in Ukraine, where he has received refugee status. Today Mikhail sees his future in Ukraine, supporting democratization processes in Ukraine, at least until it is possible for him to return to Russia. 

Mikhail’s career, as it developed in the 1990s and 2000s has been multi-faceted in a way that careers in Russia before 1991 and after 2010 are much less likely to be, spanning academia, government service, human rights protection and civil society activism. Most of this career has unfolded in Krasnodar, a city with a humid, subtropical climate and a population of about 800,000 on the Kuban river, roughly 150 miles from the Black Sea. The city is the administrative capital of the Krasnodar region, a traditional area of Cossack settlement which, in the post-Soviet era, has been known for its political conservatism, in the 1990s forming the ‘buckle’ of the so-called ‘Red Belt’ of pro-communist regions. 


Mikhail was born in 1964, at the end of the Khrushchev period, in Krasnodar city into a family of high school teachers. Both his parents taught Russian language and literature. In his earliest years he lived in a Cossack village, Troitskaya, just over 100 kilometers outside Krasnodar, where his parents then taught. At the age of 10, his family moved 3,700 kilometers to teach in the small Siberian mining town of Talnah, about 20 kilometers from Norilsk in Krasnoyarsk region. 

For the small boy, as Mikhail describes it, this new location held a lot of interest, not least because people who lived there came from all over the USSR: from European Russia, from the Baltics, from Ukraine, from Siberia. Perhaps it was from these childhood impressions that his later interest in ethnography germinated. Each year, Mikhail would travel back from Krasnoyarsk to spend the summer holidays in Krasnodar. 


This phase of his life in Siberia ended in 1982, when he graduated from high school. That year he moved back to Krasnodar permanently to attend Kuban State University, where he studied history, living in his parent’s apartment while they continued to work near Norilsk. It was a change in life that, he says, enabled him to gain a feeling of real independence at an early age. 

At university Mikhail specialized in ethnography, which has since remained the focus of his academic interests, as well as of much of his work in government and in the 'Third Sector'. In Soviet times, Mikhail says, ethnography was already well developed as a subject. Moreover, insights into ethnic groups and inter-ethnic relations were much in demand in the last decade of the Soviet Union, as conflicts began to emerge into the open – not least in multi-ethnic regions such as Krasnodar so close to many of the USSR’s ‘hot spots’. 

Mikhail did his two-year army service in a unit stationed on the border with China, between his first and second years at university (1983-85). He remembers it as a hard time, but also one that ‘toughened him up’. He remarks that in his unit there was no hazing (‘dedovshchina’). After returning from the army he continued his studies in an atmosphere that was already changing. Mikhail Gorbachev was General Secretary and the new spirit of freedom under perestroika was soon to be felt in Krasnodar. 

It was this spirit of freedom, Mikhail recalls, that pervaded his later years at the university. Students, and Mikhail among them, began to push the boundaries of the possible. Mikhail recalls an incident when a group of students decided to take part in the annual official demonstration to mark the 1917 revolution on 7 November by carrying placards with Lenin’s slogan ‘All Power to the Soviets’. This initiative was not approved by the local authorities, despite the fact it was a slogan Gorbachev had himself put forward for perestroika. Perhaps for this reason, the local authorities decided not to ban the students, but insisted they dress up in the clothes of the time, turning their section of the demonstration into a historical fancy dress – thus taking the contemporary sting out of the slogans. 

In 1988 in the penultimate year of his studies, again inspired by the new political permissiveness, a number of students with whom he was involved organized a theatrical presentation of a ‘trial of the General Secretary’ at the House of Culture belonging to the Krasnodar Cotton Factory. Mikhail wrote an article entitled 'The Trial' based on the event for the university newspaper, Po zavetam Lenina [Following Lenin’s Guidance]. The article caught the mood of the time and was reprinted by newspapers in several Soviet cities – as far away as Tallinn, Riga and even Magadan. The article was read out on Radio Svoboda. All this was too much for local communist party bosses who decided he should be excluded from the university. But this didn’t happen, perhaps partly because Mikhail was an excellent student (he had won a ‘Lenin grant’ to study because he had top marks on graduation from high school), and furthermore he had support from faculty and other students. 

In this situation, Mikhail took the original and bold step of writing a personal letter to the General Secretary, enclosing a copy of the article he had written, and asking Gorbachev whether it was possible at that time to publish a piece of this nature in the USSR, and whether the General Secretary had felt personally insulted by the article. Mikhail did not receive a direct reply from Gorbachev, but before long a representative of the Central Committee arrived at the university to hold a series of meetings. The message the official conveyed was that, yes, it was now possible to write such things. Harassment of Mikhail ceased. It was a critical moment in his intellectual development, confirming him in his interest in politics and in his liberal beliefs. ‘Since then I have never changed my political views based on the principles of liberalism and absolute respect for human rights and civil liberties,’ he says. The turn of events also highlighted Mikhail’s interest in not merely observing or researching the phenomena of life, but also in taking part in civil society and politics. The upshot was, however, that while he remained a student, party organizations in Krasnodar now singled him out as a target for criticism. They began to call him an ‘enemy’. 

To Moscow 

Mikhail’s letter to Gorbachev also showed his interest in the wider world beyond the confines of Krasnodar. And after graduation in 1989, Mikhail took up postgraduate studies at Moscow State University, where, in the department of sociology, he continued his study of ethnography, although this time not from a historical, but from a sociological, perspective. He recalls it was an exciting time to be in Moscow, but, as always in such periods, time passed quickly. When the whirlwind of change found the country facing the 1991 coup attempt, Mikhail was spending the summer back home in Krasnodar. Unable to leave for Moscow, he must have shared the sense of frustration, followed by celebration and excitement, of so many at that time. But he also points to a more somber feeling: ‘the great uncertainty as to what the future would bring.’ It was an atmosphere less conducive to studying. As he says, ‘it was a time to work and not just to study’. 

Back to Krasnodar 

Soon after the coup he was offered, and accepted, the position of head of a department of the Krasnodar Region Council of People’s Deputies on ‘national [meaning minority, or inter-ethnic] affairs and international relations’. His academic background perfectly fitted the issues with which this post was concerned: inter-ethnic relations, migration, refugees. The groups facing particular problems in Krasnodar region included the 12,000 Meskhetian Turks who had come to Krasnodar region from Uzbekistan (they were originally from Georgia) after pogroms against them in 1990; the Shapsug minority in the Black Sea region; and other migrants and refugees who included Chechens, Uzbeks, Armenians, Azeris, Georgians, Abkhazians and Kurds. In those years there was no Federal Migration Service in Russia, and many of those arriving had no passports, no residence permits, and no home. As a result the new arrivals faced huge administrative problems. There was much work for Mikhail to do. Nonetheless, having made the choice for ‘action’, Mikhail determined to continue his graduate work by correspondence. 

In 1993, the year that Mikhail concluded his graduate studies by correspondence at Moscow State University (receiving a ‘Candidate’s Degree’ [PhD]), he also changed jobs. He now left the region's elected assembly and took up a position with the regional government, with a portfolio very much the same, as head of the ‘Department for National Affairs, Regional Policy, and Migration’. The governor of Krasnodar region at that time (appointed by Yeltsin) was Nikolai Egorov. 

Return to Moscow - to the federal government 

However, one year later, in 1994, Nikolai Egorov was appointed Minister for the Nationalities and Regional Policy of the Russian Federation (and subsequently representative of the President in Chechnya). As so often happens in Russian politics, a politician moving up the ladder will take some of his colleagues with him. So it was in 1994 that Mikhail left Krasnodar to assume the post in the federal government in Moscow as a head of department within Egorov's Ministry. 

The start of the conflict with Chechnya towards the end of that that year was a watershed in Mikhail’s career as a public official. He opposed the war. ‘A country has the right to combat separatism,’ he says, ‘but not in the way it was done in Chechnya.’ He brands Russian actions in Chechnya in the 1994-95 war as ‘talentless’ and ‘inhuman’. He also saw the war as a cataclysm shaking the foundations of the Russian state. ‘No one knew how the war would end,’ he says, ‘There was a huge degree of uncertainty. It was like 1991 all over again.’ 

Unable to support the government's policy of waging war in Chechnya, Mikhail resigned. This was far from typical behaviour for a Russian government official – not least because it involved giving up the substantial income and the perks (such as a car) that went with the job. This was all the more the case because Mikhail's boss, Nikolai Egorov, as a leading member of the 'party of war' was going from strength to strength up the bureaucratic ladder. Egorov was to become head of the Presidential Administration the next year (1995), a post he held until the 1996 presidential elections. 

Return to Krasnodar – to regional government 

Mikhail’s first thought was to return to academic life, and that year he began research for the degree of Doctor of Political Sciences at the Russian Academy of Public Administration (in the department for national and federal relations') in Moscow (he obtained this highest degree in the Russian education system in 2000 at the young age of 30). However, he was not obliged to remain in the capital to pursue his academic interests, and 1995 found him back in Krasnodar. In the Krasnodr region there was now a new governor, appointed to replace Egorov, Evgeny Kharitonov. Under Kharitonov, Mikhail's experience and abilities were in demand, and he soon took up a new and prestigious position as deputy head of the regional administration (and representative of the regional government to the region’s Legislative Assembly at the same time). But here the turning of the wheels of politics in Moscow again disrupted Mikhail's desire to have a practical impact on issues that concerned him through working in government at the regional level. In 1996 Egorov, then head of the presidential administration, fell from favour as peace was concluded in Chechnya and Yeltsin was reelected. When Yeltsin appointed Anatoly Chubais to take Egorov's position as head of the presidential administration, the president sent Egorov back to Krasnodar to resume the governorship. This meant Mikhail once again resigned his position. He comments: ‘Egorov didn’t want to work with me, and I didn’t want to work with Egorov.’ 

Civil society: a first acquaintance 

Consequently, in the summer of 1996 Mikhail returned to academia. He became at first associate professor (and then professor) of political science at Kuban State University, Krasnodar, a position he was to hold until 2001. However, Mikhail was no longer completely satisfied with the academic life. In 1997 the first elections were held for governor in Krasnodar and a communist, Nikolai Kondratenko, won, taking over the position from Egorov. This election victory by a communist was no surprise, Mikhail says, because a large percentage of the regional population opposed economic and social change. Krasnodar, Mikhail points out, was part of the Red Belt that voted communist in the 1990s. This was less, in Mikhail's view, because of an ideological commitment to communism than because of the region’s ‘traditional conservatism’. To illustrate this, he says that during the Civil War the region’s conservative Cossacks supported the Whites for longer than in most areas. ‘When democracy will finally be established,’ Mikhail says, ‘the Kuban will be a stronghold for democracy.’ 

At the same time as Kondratenko was elected governor, however, a non-communist, Valery Samoilenko, was elected mayor of Krasnodar city. This development provided a new opening for Mikhail. While he continued to teach at the University, in August 1997 Mikhail became deputy head, then head, of the department for public and interregional relations at Krasnodar City Hall. 

This was the first time Mikhail had worked closely with NGOs, and he describes these four years as a great learning experience, a time when his eyes were opened to the new realm of civil society that was now rapidly developing in Krasnodar. Without doubt, the sense of change derived from the contrast with the Soviet period, when any forms of independent association were banned. One achievement Mikhail recalls in particular was the erection of a monument – the first in Russia – to all victims of the Civil War, Red and White. ‘It was our idea to put it up,’ he says. ‘The communists were against it. In the event, it was the first such monument in Russia.’ However, at the city elections in 2000 a communist, Nikolai Priz, was elected mayor, and Mikhail left the city administration. He resigned once again, the official bureaucratic formula used for his resignation, he says with a laugh, was ‘Owing to disagreement with acts of government bodies.’ 

Southern Regional Resource Centre 

One of the NGOs with which Mikhail had come into contact while working in the city administration was the Southern Regional Resource Centre (SRRC), set up in 1996 primarily for the purpose of distributing funding for NGOs made available by USAID in the south of Russia (including the regions of Krasnodar and Stavropol and the Republics of Adygea, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and North Ossetia-Alania). In 2001 Mikhail, inspired by his new interest in civil society, took up the position of deputy head and board member of the SRRC (at the same time, Mikhail continued his association with Kuban State University, from 2001 – 2013 working as head of the department of public relations and social communication). 

Mikhail says that these were particularly exciting years for the development of civil society. It was also a time when positive attitudes towards the United States, and towards grantmaking activities by USAID and other US funders, government and private, prevailed. Mikhail ascribes the fact that these positive attitudes were also widespread in regional government largely to the awareness of the huge social issues facing the country, and assistance was therefore genuinely welcome. Even then, however, Mikhail says that some voices could be heard, especially among officials in the security services, that USAID and other US donors were ‘undermining the country.’ Nonetheless, for the time being, Mikhail personally had more freedom and greater opportunities than he had ever had. He travelled regularly, not only around Russia, but also to the US and to Europe to take part in various conferences, courses and events. 

As a board member of the SRRC Mikhail now became an active participant in civil society in the south of Russia. He relates that he found himself drawn, in particular, to human rights work. In 2005 he became deputy chair of the Krasnodar region governor’s ‘public council for the promotion of civil society and human rights’. In 2006 he became a member of the consultative public council of the Krasnodar police department (he was chair of the council from 2008 until 2011). In the years 2008-12, when Dmitry Medvedev was president, Mikhail also an enthusiastic participant in a number of anti-corruption forums in Krasnodar (many of them held under the aegis of the Governor’s human rights council of which he was deputy chair). In 2010, he became a member of the Public Oversight Commission for Krasnodar region, a body responsible for monitoring observance of human rights standards in places of detention and other closed institutions. Together with his fellow members he inspected police stations and police cells and prisons. He recalls that among those he visited in detention were the environmental activists Evgeny Vitishko and Suren Ghazaryan. In 2010, Mikhail organized a series of discussions involving members of the Presidential Human Rights Council over the case of Anastasia Denisova, a rights activist then being prosecuted by the FSB. Mikhail tells the story that one prison colony he visited had a system of automated entry relying on fingerprints. When it was time for Mikhail to leave, however, the system wouldn't work, and the prison director joked: ‘You won’t get out!’ It was a joke that Mikhail would long remember. 

2012  - a watershed year

In the years before 2012 Mikhail became aware that civil society organizations were exercising a growing influence on government. At the same time, he knew that government officials in Krasnodar city and region were frequently unhappy about the work of civil society activists. Nonetheless, until 2012 there was relatively little these officials could do little to push back against civil society. In 2012 all this changed. President Putin’s decision, announced in September that year, to serve a third term in office met widespread protests, not seen since the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then, following Putin’s return to office, a swathe of new repressive laws were adopted, and law enforcement became correspondingly severe. Civil society organizations and activists became a special target for the authorities, in particular those with foreign funding. A significant turning point was the banning of USAID in Russia, and the closure of its programmes, in September 2012. In this situation the SRRC, an organization whose essential purpose was to distribute US government funds, was vulnerable. It seemed likely the authorities could well be looking for a potential victim for a show prosecution. 

Mikhail had already spoken out (on 24 August 2012) against the campaign of harassment of NGOs with foreign funds in an article in the newspaper New Reality. He ended the article with the words: 'Time will tell how severe the impact of the new law will be. Possibly, it is targeted at a specific group of organizations that monitor elections. We'll see what happens and draw conclusions. As the saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.’ 

On 14 March 2013, FSB officials searched the offices of SRRC, and several partner organizations, seizing computers and documentation. Subsequent searches resulted in the seizure of more documents and computers. On 11 April Mikhail received an invitation from the chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, to make a presentation in Moscow on 15 April about the harassment of NGOs in Krasnodar region. On 12 April Mikhail was detained by police and remanded in custody. 

Arrest, detention and interrogation 

‘When someone is arrested and they know they are innocent, there are two alternatives,’ Mikhail says. ‘One is when you don’t understand what is happening. Then it is very hard. The second is when you know why it is happening. And the reason is that you are a political opponent. That is much easier.’ Mikhail recalls that when an FSB officer in Krasnodar told him, ‘You are an enemy,’ it made things much clearer, and to a certain extent easier, for him. 

Mikhail gives three probable reasons why he was prosecuted. First, he says the FSB wanted to destroy the SRRC, and they thought a spy scandal was the best way to achieve that. He says they saw the North Caucasus as a high risk area, and therefore the SRRC as a special danger. A second reason, he notes, was that the FSB wanted to close down civil society in the region as a possible breeding-ground for opposition to the authorities. The third reason, he argues, was that in the prevalent atmosphere by engineering a ‘successful’, and high-profile, prosecution, FSB officers could earn medals. As one FSB officer cynically told him: ‘I haven’t got an award yet.’ While on the one hand, criminal prosecutions could only be brought at the local level with the agreement of the FSB in Moscow, local operatives knew that cases they launched were always ‘at their own risk’. So they had to make sure they were successful once started. 

Mikhail says that as soon as the investigation started it was clear the FSB had no evidence against him. There was no ‘presumption of innocence’. They had decided for themselves he was ‘guilty’, and they were looking for more or less plausible charges that could put him behind bars. One approach was to assume that, because Mikhail had worked for the US-funded SRRC, he must be a spy. He was informally accused by the investigators of subversive activity as an NGO activist because he had met with US embassy staff. One FSB officer told him that the actual purpose of the prosecution was to demonstrate he had coordinated the activity of a hostile network of NGOs partners in the North Caucasus on the instructions of foreign intelligence agencies. It was also suggested he slander an employee of the Krasnodar region administration by saying that the person was a resident of a foreign intelligence service. The interrogators also argued that in working with migrants and refugees he had come into contact with spies, because refugees were themselves often spies. Mikhail soon understood that the FSB seemed to consider human rights work in itself as a crime. Furthermore, during interrogations Mikhail was repeatedly told his publications had presented a negative image of the Russian authorities. They considered a blog he had written for the online publication Yugopolis was against the national interest. During a formal interrogation on 30 April 2013 he was asked questions about his overseas travels and personal contacts. Mikhail also says the FSB put pressure on students and staff of Kuban State University to testify that he had received bribes, but no one was prepared to give false testimony against him. 

During the interrogations, Mikhail was regularly threatened with long terms of prison on trumped up charges, and being sent to prison camps in Mordovia, infamous for the practice of torture. Mikhail was also subjected to an unofficial, ‘secret’ interrogation by the head of the Krasnodar FSB investigation department and other senior FSB officers. These interrogations began on 13 June 2013 when, Mikhail considers, it became apparent that it would not be possible to charge him with treason. But Mikhail didn’t give in. In this he may have been helped by the relatively good conditions in which he was kept at the FSB’s No. 5 pre-trial detention facility. He says there were 13 small cells, each for two people. All the time he was videoed, and even his meetings with his lawyer were videoed. Any companion in the cells could not be trusted since they were a potential informer. But despite this, the worst was when he was moved to a cell on his own, where there was no TV. The sensory deprivation, living in a space of 9 square meters with bare walls, was very hard to bear. Getting word out became vital for him, and he wrote texts that he succeeded in having published in the outside world. [1] 

However, despite all the FSB’s efforts, they found no evidence of espionage. In the upshot, Mikhail was charged and tried for alleged fraud in relation to a grant provided by the Krasnodar region government to the SRRC in 2012 and, in charges added only in May 2013, alleged fraud in receiving a salary as a professor at Kuban State University. Mikhail points out that usually the FSB does not deal with cases that involve sums of money below $10,000, a fact which shows the political motivation of the case. 

From his experience of prosecution and detention Mikhail drew a number of lessons about how to remain alive in such difficult circumstances, and how to continue to fight. He says grimly: ‘Never collaborate with investigators. Never give in to pressure, never make a deal, never make false confessions. If you are in prison, you need to be ready to die. Otherwise you won’t win.’ 


Many individuals and organizations, Russian and international, spoke out in Mikhail’s defence. The Presidential Human Rights Council concluded the prosecution was political in nature. Legal expert and member of the Presidential Human Rights Council Mara Polyakova declared the charges were implausible and unlawful. Memorial Human Rights Centre classified Mikhail as a political prisoner. Human Rights Ombudsman Vladmir Lukin actively expressed his support for Mikhail. Abroad, Human Rights Watch, the US State Department and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum all called for an end to his prosecution. Deputy chair of the Bundestag of Germany (CDU/CSU) and coordinator of German-Russian cooperation in the German Foreign Ministry, Andreas Schockenhoff, visited Krasnodar but was not allowed to meet Mikhail in detention. The German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina addressed President Putin with an open letter on his case. 


Mikhail was held on remand for almost 8 months (until 4 December 2013) in the FSB’s pre-trial detention centre No. 5.). Mikhail says that the blatant falsifications in his case prompted Judge B. Makhov of the Pervomaisky district court, who conducted the case from October to November 2013, to excuse himself on grounds of illness. After December the trial was heard by Judge V. Popova. 

On 5 November 2013, the first day of the trial, Mikhail made a statement in court (published by Novaya gazeta and elsewhere) setting out what he saw as the real motives of his prosecution: ‘The first motive, in my opinion, is to discredit the non-profit organizations of the region, including the SRRC as one of the most important of them. The second motive is to punish me for human rights activities. And the third, and most significant, is that it is convenient, while I am in FSB detention, to put pressure on me to rig another criminal case, this time for “treason,” basing it on my contacts with foreign journalists, US Embassy employees, and foreign experts.’ 

That evening, and the next morning, Mikhail was taken to an office of the FSB investigation department where the head of department and other officers asked him to withdraw the statement. Mikhail refused. 

It was not until later that month, following an appeal by Human Rights Ombudsman Vladmir Lukin, that Krasnodar regional court transferred Mikhail from the pre-trial detention centre to house arrest. However, the terms of house arrest were unusually severe. Only his wife and my lawyers were permitted to contact him. He was not allowed to communicate with his daughter or grandson, despite the fact they are registered residents at the same address. He was not allowed to use the Internet or leave the apartment (his movements were monitored by a leg bracelet). He says that he used the four months under house arrest to record every detail he could remember of the secret interrogations by the FSB, as well as their own admissions about FSB methods. 

On 2 April 2014, at the end of a trial which Mikhail and many observers believed added further injustices to his prosecution (for example, the presiding judge refused to allow witnesses for the defence to be called), he was sentenced by the Pervomaiskiy district court in Krasnodar to a three-year suspended sentence with two years of probation and a 70,000 rouble fine. 

Mikhail believes he avoided being sent to prison because of the pressure exerted by civil society activists and foreign organizations and governments. 


On 30 September 2014 Krasnodar regional court dismissed Mikhail’s appeals against his conviction. This, Mikhail says, convinced him that: ‘In today's Russia I would not be able to protect my rights, and there is no possibility to stop further repressive actions of the authorities against me.’ Indeed, Mikhail says that the FSB take the view that ‘No one gets away from us’. 

Despite his experiences, Mikhail had lost none of his determination to continue his human rights work and civil society activism. In his view, it may well have been because of this that about a year after his original conviction, on 15 May 2014, Krasnodar FSB opened a new criminal investigation (against the head of an NGO in Krasnodar city) in which Mikhail was cited as a witness. An interrogation on 25 December 2014 gave Mikhail to understand that he would shortly be declared a ‘suspect’ in the case and charged. Given the suspended sentence he was serving at the time, this would have meant he would be held in detention for the length of the investigation, and that subsequently his probationary period would very probably be changed to a real term in prison. 

At that point Mikhail decided to leave Russia for Ukraine. He left Russia on 19 February 2015 and applied for refugee status with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In a statement he issued at the time, he said: 'The authorities in our country are at war with its people. [...] Political prisoners in Russia are people who have been taken hostage by the regime in the course of this war.' [2] In February 2015 Mikhail was included in a federal ‘wanted’ list by the Russian authorities. 

Mikhail has now thrown his energies into being a participant in civil society in his newly adopted country, Ukraine. He says he hugely admires the freedoms in Ukraine, which he contrasts with the repressive situation in Russia. But Mikhail continues to watch with interest what is happening in his homeland (not least by following developments on the Internet and engaging with Russian colleagues by that means). Together with Ukrainian colleagues, Mikhail has set up a centre for civil society expertise called the Owl Expert Group ['Еkspertna grupa "Sova"’ – Sova, meaning owl, no doubt echoing Mikhail’s family name ‘Savva’]. 

He says there are two potential scenarios for what will happen in Russia: ‘One is something very like what happened in the 1990s, a rapid collapse of the system and a change of power. But this is unlikely. The second, more likely, scenario would see economic stagnation for the next twenty years or so, resulting in a gradual growth of public discontent. Eventually, this would be very likely to lead to the collapse of the country.’ 

And what of himself? 

Mikhail says that his army service taught him, among other things, how to behave as a prisoner of war. A prisoner of war must do three things, if possible: stay alive; escape; and cause harm to the enemy. Mikhail says that now his purpose is to fight the regime in Russia – but using peaceful means. He does not wish to hide this. 

‘It’s true, I am not an accidental victim,’ he says, ‘I am their enemy.’ 

[1] A number of such text were translated and published by Rights in Russia. See: Mikhail Savva, Civilized norms of the Middle Ages, 16 April 2013; Mikhail Savva, 'Reflections on human rights from an FSB pre-trial detention centre,' 4 June 2013; Mikhail Savva, On the might of the “fifth column” in Russia, 26 December 2014; Mikhail Savva, 'You have one less hostage, Gentlemen!' 19 February 2015

For other articles from the press about Mikhail Savva translated by Rights in Russia, see: Polina Nikolskaya, Funding from the FSB: Why domestic financing can be more dangerous for NGOs than foreign funding [], 10 May 2013; Criminal Prosecution of Mikhail Savva is Politically Motivated, His Wife Believes [Caucasian Knot], 15 April 2013; Andrei Ivanov, 'Anyone can become a spy [Svobodnaya pressa],' 17 April 2013; Elena Savva, 'My eye-witness account of court hearing on 5 June [Savva Support Group],' 5 June 2013; Leonid Nikitinsky, 'The Case of Mikhail Savva [Novaya gazeta],' 9 January 2014; Mikhail Savva: FSB officers in Krasnodar questioned NGO director for 9 hours [Zhivaya Kuban], 9 April 2013; Yabloko Press Release, Prominent human rights defender Mikhail Savva arrested by FSB [Yabloko], 12 April 2013; Yulia Galyamina, Test of Integrity: Detained Professor Savva reconciled ethnic communities; criticised Tkachev and Cossacks [Natsionalnyi aktsent], 20 April 2013; Anna Perova, Investigation into charges against Mikhail Savva completed [Kommersant], 24 September 2013; Vadim Karastelev, Conditions of detention of Professor Mikhail Savva are cause for serious concern [Live Journal], 1 October 2013. 

[2] See: 'Person of the Week: Mikhail Savva,' Rights in Russia, 23 February 2015