It’s already falling like a house of cards. Two more suspects in the Politikovskaya murder were taken off the list today. Prosecutors announced that Oleg Alimov, one of the former Moscow police officers, has been freed from custody. Alimov and his three colleagues were suspected of working with former FSB officer Pavel Riaguzov, police Major Sergei Khadzhikurbanov and three Chechen brothers in the murder. However, Kommersant is now reporting that “an integral part of the Prosecutor’s map of the crime fell apart with the suspects Riaguzov and Khadzhikurbanov. The General Prosecutor presented both with charges of abducting people, violating the privacy of homes, and abusing their position and using excessive official authority.” These charges are for crimes the two men committed with their were a spook and a cop in 2002. “I don’t understand on what basis they tried to tie my client to the Politkovskaya murder case,” Riaguzov’s lawyer told Kommersant. “The charges that they presented to Riaguzov have no connection whatsoever to the murder. A direct connection between both cases is found in the minds of the Prosecutors.” We can probably expect the release of more suspects in the coming days.
Russian officials acknowledge that releasing suspects in a normal practice. “An investigation is being conducted and if the charge doesn’t fit, the suspect is freed.” Some feel that there is pressure for the Politkovskaya investigation be quick, leading to mistakes, rush to judgment, and not fully scrutinizing sources and leads. I can buy that. I’ve seen Law and Order.
It all makes you wonder though if Chaika shot his load too early. Or the announcement is merely part of a campaign to let the world know that the Russians are looking. Another possibility is as Iuliya Latynina suggested, and perhaps she is right, that the “shit was beginning to ooze” and the public was going to find out anyway. If that’s the case, the Prosecutor’s Office might have figured they might as well get some propaganda value out of it. Unfortunately for them, the release of more suspects might squander whatever value is left.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
If Anna Politkovskaya’s murder was a tragedy, the investigation and events surrounding it are a farce. Nothing says this more than the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, 41, in a London sushi restaurant. Litvinenko is a former FSB agent turned critic of the Kremlin. Toxicology reports show that he has traces of thallium in his blood, a tasteless, odorless chemical that is the favorite of cloak and dagger assassinations because a lethal dose is around a dash of salt. According to reports, there is some confusion as to who Litvinenko met. The LA Times says he met with “a former KGB associate” who claimed to have secret information about Politkovskaya’s death. While Kommersant says he met with an Italian named Mario Scaramella. Litvinenko told the Moscow business daily the following:
“[Scaramella] sent me an e-mail from Italy late October asking to meet and wrote that he will be in London November 10 to 11,” Litvinenko said. “But suddenly, he called me November 1 and, as usual, we decided to meet on Piccadilly Circus. We met at around 3:00 p.m., and I invited him to dine in the restaurant.”
From Scaramella, Litvinenko received a four-page document printed in English. The Italian was nervous claiming the document mentions names of the people involved in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Litvinenko went on.
Indeed, the document spelled out names of some officers of Federal Security Service, said Litvinenko, former colonel of this Service, adding he asked for the time to study the information.
“I ordered the food, and he took just water and was hurrying me. From the text, I understood that the mentioned people could have really arranged the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. We parted nearly at once,” Litvinenko continued. “As soon as I got home, I put the papers and was down.”
As of yesterday, he has been moved to an intensive care unit. The reigning theory about Litvinenko’s poisoning is that the order came from the Kremlin.
The James Bond style assassination attempt on Litvinenko comes at the precise time the “official” search for Politkovskaya’s killer appears in a deadlock. As Kommersant reported a few weeks ago, Russian investigators believe that her killers are hiding somewhere in the Siberian town of Nizhnevartovsk, located in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area. Now the Guardian reports that local police are doing their best to obstruct the investigation and search for the police’s main suspect Aleksandr Prilepin. Prilepin is currently in hiding because he is connected to the 2001 disappearance and killing of a Chechen named Zelimkhan Murdalov. Politkovskaya’s articles were instrumental in the arrest and conviction of his associate, Sergei Lapin. Prilepin is now also wanted for Politkovskaya’s murder.
The fact that Prilepin is in an “undisclosed location” didn’t stop him from giving an interview to state newspaper Rossiisskaya gazeta. When asked his theory about Politkovskaya’s murder, he had this to say:
I have a theory. Who could have needed such a sensational victim? One that was guaranteed to draw attention from all the country’s media? Their articles would express theories, including “werewolves in shoulder-boards,” and there would definitely be talk about the tyranny of the federal forces in the North Caucasus. . .
I consider the primary theory to be political. It seems to me that the overriding purpose of killing Politkovskaya was to make as much noise as possible. And that is guaranteed with the death of a figure known in the West. It is all being done with an aim at preparations for the coming elections. A shadow is being cast on the government that Politkovskaya criticized. Just as the theory of our, police participation in her murder casts a shadow on the federal forces in Chechnya. I am sure that there are forces for which this is advantageous.
It seems that the theory that Politkovskaya’s killer is linked to the “dark forces” aboard seeking to manipulate the Russian body politic continues to be unfurled as needed. Forgetting the fact that this theory is simply ridiculous, in Russia’s current political climate there is no way it would work. Politkovskaya impact in Russia was minor at best and her killing, while proving to many in the West what they already think about Putin and Russia, won’t have any effect on Russian voters or the elections.
Still the theories continue to mount up. On 15 November, Izvestiia introduced its “Man in the Black Baseball Cap” theory. This theory focuses on the mysterious man caught on surveillance cameras and the possibility that this is the same man featured in the video that was the basis for Politkovskaya’s 20 March article, “Video of the Premier in Chechnya.” The video allegedly features Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov with the “Man in the black baseball cap”. According to Izvestiia on the scenes in the video showed the following:
In the picture the man is embracing a girl in a scarlet bra. There is another woman in the background. There is music, shrieking, and loud laughter. Then a thin young man in a greenish sweater and a black baseball cap appears on the screen. The man who looks like the premier of Chechnya approaches him and, smiling, says something. The man in the black baseball cap drops his pants and begins to masturbate. Male laughter and squealing noises are heard. The ladies run off. The man who looks like Kadyrov distractedly films the “session” on the mobile phone.
Politkovskaya writes that the man in the baseball cap was forced into “dropping his pants” (Politkovskaya omitted the details) against his will. However, it is hardly possible to claim for sure that the man was forced. No one makes any menacing gestures toward him or threatens him. It appears that he is doing everything of his own free will. He even seems to smile — that is how they entertain themselves.
Immediately after these videos appeared Ramzan Kadyrov declared that he was not the man shown. We showed the videos to experts, but they could not give a definite answer, whether it was the Chechen premier in them or not. The picture quality was too poor. But it is obvious that whoever was in the video, these pictures were not intended for a broad audience. The folks were enjoying themselves they way they wanted — keep it quiet. Completely unexpectedly the pictures become public property. The man in the baseball cap was held up as a laughing stock. For a proud and self-respecting Chechen (and there is no other kind of Chechen) to find himself in such a situation is like death. Only blood can settle the score.
If we compare the face of the presumed killer of Politkovskaya that was taken by the video camera in the entryway with the face of the man from the bathhouse, it turns out that they are similar. Of course, with correction for the fact that both video pictures are of poor quality. Both are wearing baseball caps with long, bent visors. Both are thin, and the outlines of their heads, their figures, and their posture coincide… By the way, why doesn’t this man take his cap off in the bathhouse? That kind of behavior is typical of people who are shy about scars or other skin damage.
According to this theory, then, Politkovskaya’s murder was nothing more than your typical Chechen shame killing. The “Man in the black baseball cap” was humiliated when Politkovskaya’s article was published. And as Izvestiia reasons, “There is Internet in Chechnya too. And in the republic the “hero” of the video, the man in the baseball cap, is most likely recognizable. It is one thing for guys to fool around in the bathhouse, but it is something entirely different if you are shown naked to the entire republic, the entire country.”
So this is where we stand. One poisoned formed FSB agent; investigators “scouring” Siberia for a suspect, who Rossiisskaya gazeta seems to have no problem finding; and a mysterious “man in a black baseball cap” who got caught diddling himself on video. Tragedy has indeed become farce.Post Views: 354
By Sean — 9 years ago
Updated: Trailer with subtitles.
For those who are still confused as to the correct narrative of the Georgian War last August, Pervyi kanal will be broadcasting a TV movie called “Olympus Inferno” on 29 March to set the record straight in high action packed, melodrama form.
The film revolves around Michael, a US entomologist (played by Israeli actor Henry David), and Zhenia, a female Russian journalist (starring Polina Filonenko) who stumble upon evidence that Georgia started the war while using nocturnal cameras to record the fluttering of rare night butterflies. Their discovery gives them a cause higher than rare lepidopterans. Natural science is quickly abandoned as the two haul ass to the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali to present their damning evidence to the world. But not so fast, like any good action-love drama the two must claw, scrape, and screw their way past evil Georgians, ducking a butt-load of explosions and rapid machine gun fire along the way.
The film is “something like the Bourne films” says a Pervyi kanal spokeswoman referring the Matt Damon spy flicks that portrays a young secret agent who exacts revenge on his former handlers, usually with girlfriend in tow. The film was apparently filmed in the Bourne style, or as director Igor Voloshin calls it “live action” (лайф экшен, laif аkshen). Does this mean that we can expect Michael to possess some neck snapping, kung fu ass kicking? Are bugs merely his mild mannered cover for a CIA agent who realizes the evil in his Georgian allies and decides to turn toward the Russian light? Hell, if you’re going to be inspired by Bourne there’s no reason to stop at shoulder cameras.
The film is already being called the next episode in the information war between Russia and Georgia. Voloshin denies the film’s political overtones. For him, it’s just a good action film. “Debates begin … ‘bad Russian or bad Georgians’, but it’s just a film. You should look at it as a film, as a work of art, which is what I made,” Voloshin told Reuters. “People love buying films like Apocalypse Now, masterpieces about war in Vietnam. Hollywood masterpieces and nobody remembers that the heroes of these films invaded Vietnam and burned it with napalm — for some reason that is forgotten.” Besides maybe Rambo II (which is debatable since the premise is about how the US government abandoned its POWs), I wonder what Vietnam movies he’s referring to. Vietnam has hardly inspired patriotic outpourings on the part of American auteurs. You’ll have to look at another Matt Damon film Saving Ryan’s Privates, er that’s the porno version, I mean, Saving Private Ryan for that. Nevertheless, even though the film is part of the infowar, it’s not like Voloshin is going out on a limb. “If you look at the facts of the conflict, about who started it, it was Georgia.” Well, I’ll give him that.
Judging from the trailer, I doubt it’s really a “work of art” and certainly can’t be compared to Apocalypse Now but more a way to keep the Russian public’s political passions alive via shaky cameras, big explosions, and sappy melodrama. I won’t be tuning in of course, but I am curious about viewers reactions, if any.Post Views: 1,076
By Sean — 6 years ago
The trial and conviction of Pussy Riot has sparked a number of historical analogies. Never wanting for hyperbole, the Washington Post, among others in the West and Russia, argued that the trial echoed “Stalinism” (an analogy nicely rebutted by Mark Adomanis). The Pussy Riot case has also been likened to the 1964 trial of the Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky, not to mention harking back to the trials of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel in 1965. But historical analogies did not end with the Soviet period. Another common refrain was that the accusations and trial of Pussy Riot reflected medieval Russia. This comparison wasn’t hard given that Artem Ranchenkov, one of the case investigators, cited Orthodox canonical rules of proper church dress from the 4th century Council of Laodicea and the 7th century Quinisext Council. Nor was it difficult to call the affair “medieval” since the trial proceedings were often more like an ecclesiastical than a civilian court. The coup de grace for which was when Yelena Pavlova, a lawyer representing nine of Pussy Riot’s “victims,” called feminism a “mortal sin.”
Another common historical analogy making the rounds were excerpts from Article 231 of the Imperial Russian Criminal Code of 1845, which stated that “improper loud cries, laughter, or any other noise or unseemly conduct that causes temptation, averts attention of worshipers from their duty to God” carried a fine of 50 kopeks to a ruble or detention from three to seven days. If the disturbance occurred during church service, the sentence was prison for a period of three weeks to three months. The irony here was that under the “well-ordered police state” of Nicholas I, Pussy Riot’s sentence would have been far lighter. Yet, others listed other possible laws applicable to Pussy Riot from the 1845 code. One blog post listed 24 satutes, Articles 182-205, concerning blasphemy, sacrilege, and other violations of faith. The sentences varied from corporal punishment, forced labor in factories and mines, jail time and exile to Siberia. The only problem is that blasphemy and sacrilege are not in the Russian Criminal Code of 2012. That is unless it’s disguised as “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
But the historical semblances didn’t stop with references to bygone eras or now defunct imperial codes. Some of the more interesting ones were those that placed Pussy Riot within a broader historical tradition of Russian minstrelsy, where hooliganism, art, and protest collided into a staple of Russian medieval culture.
Indeed, there were two references to Russian medieval minstrels, or skomorokhi, in the trial. When one of the prosecutors asked Stalnisalv Samutsevich, the father of Pussy Rioter Yekaterina, if he believed “it was acceptable to say ‘Holy shit’ in a church”, he compared his daughter’s act to that of the skomorokhi of the sixteenth century. Likewise, in her statement to the court, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said that Pussy Riot were in the tradition of the skomorokhi. “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools. We didn’t mean any harm.”
Skomorokhi were minstrel entertainers in Kievan and Muscovite Russia that performed for public and Tsar alike. They were wildly popular as they performed songs and folktales or acts of trained bears to the delight of onlookers. Despite their entertainment value, like Pussy Riot, they combined entertainment and mockery with unruliness. Unlike the balaclava-clad feminists, however, the lawlessness of the skomorokhi mostly involved theft and pillage. One famous story told of a band of minstrels distracting the peasants of Likovo with their performance, while their comrades were busy rounding up the villagers’ sheep. Other incidents told of skomorokhi ransacking barns, raiding animal pens, and making off with whatever they could grab. According to Russell Zguta, a historian of the minstrels, “The performing minstrels would frequently allude in song and proverb to the mischief their unseen comrades were engaged in, but no one was wiser until it was too late.”
Sometimes minstrel “hooliganism” was sanctioned, especially by Ivan IV, who was known to use them to mock and heap scorn upon his enemies. These acts were sometimes sacrilegious. One story told of Ivan having Archbishop Pimen of Novgorod placed on a white mare which paraded him around Moscow accompanied by a band of minstrels. In fact, Ivan Grozny was no mere observer. Sometimes he was a participant in the revelry. In the later part of his reign, he was known to put on a mask himself and dance and frolic with the skomorokhi.
As Ivan’s unleashing of the skomorokhi on the Archbishop suggests, the minstrels had few friends in the Orthodox Church. Church officials viewed the skomorokhi as disseminators of paganism, purveyors of “shameful performances” on street corners and marketplaces, and disruptors of church rituals. Weddings garnered many priests’ ire as the minstrels’ performance often overshadowed the religious sanctity of the nuptials. Sometimes confrontations between priests and skomorokhi descended in fisticuffs. In his biography, Ivan Neronov, a leader of the Orthodox Zealots of Piety, told of an incident in the mid-1640s where he attacked a group of minstrels, seized their instruments and smashed them. Angered, the skomorokhi severely beat clergyman in return. But the zealot was undaunted. As Zhuta reports:
Henceforth [Neronov] and some of his students patrolled the streets of the town during the major festival periods such as Koliada in order to discourage the skomorokhi from performing. But, says the author, students “received not a few wounds at the hands of the skomorokhi, those servants of the devil, and they bore these bodily wounds with joy as they returned to their homes, bloodied but alive.”
Avvakum too had confrontations with skomorokhi. When a band of minstrels with dancing bears arrived to his village of Lopatishch in 1648, he quickly set to drive them away. “I, a sinner, being zealous in the service of Christ,” he wrote, “drove them out and destroyed their masks and drums, one against many in the open field, and I took two great bears from them—one I killed but he later revived, the other I set free in the open field.”
Neronov’s patrols and Avvakum’s clash with the minstrels provide a whole new historical context for the recent call by Ivan Otrakovsky, head of Orthodox Christian movement Holy Rus, for Orthodox activists to form patrol squads to protect worshipers from the “enemies of faith.” “The time has come to remind all apostates and theomachists that it is our land and we forbid blasphemous, offensive actions and statements against the Orthodox religion and our people,” Otrakovsky wrote in his appeal to the faithful. A modern day Zealot of Piety, I’d say.
Though skomorokhi enjoyed the patronage of Tsars Ivan IV, Fedor I, and Mikhail Romanov, the latter’s son, Alexei, took stringent action against minstrelsy. Urged by his confessor and leader of the Zealots of Piety, Stefan Vonifatev, and pushed to reestablish public order in the wake mob violence in Moscow and revolts in Ustiug, Solvychegodsk, Yaroslavl, Tomsk, Novgorod and Pskov, Alexei issued “On the Righting of Morals and the Abolition of Superstition” in December 1648 against the skomorokhi. Aleksei was alarmed by the “drunkenness and devilish amusements” of the skomorokhi, which turned the people away the Orthodox faith and God and to the worship of the minstrels. The 1648 edict unleashed a wave of repression against minstrels, including the confiscation and destruction of their instruments, and penalties such as knouting and exile for performing skomorokhi entertainments, as well as prohibitions on a whole host of pagan rites, festivity, games, and practices. Even priests questioned confessors about their connection to the skomorokhi. They asked penitents: “Did you seek out the games of the skomorokhi? Did you seek out Satanic games, look upon these, or yourself take part in them?” If they answered yes, the penitent was required to recite, “I have sinned, I delighted in hearing the sound of gusli and the organon, of horns, and all manner of skomoroshestvo, of Satanic sayings, and for this I also paid them [that is, the minstrels].”
The skomorokhi hobbled along after 1648, but thanks to Alexei’s crackdown, they never regained their popularity, notoriety, or cultural significance. While the practices of the skomorokhi certainly continued in different forms, according to Zhuta, historical references to them died out after 1768.
But as the Pussy Riot affair shows, the memory of the skomorokhi lives on in Tolokonnikova’s “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools.” And perhaps thanks to her, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevitch’s “punk prayer” they will live again, in all their former anarchic glory.
All references come from:
Russell Zguta, Russian Minstrels: A History of the Skomorokhi, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.Post Views: 1,905