Arrests are swift and widespread in Putin’s Russia

    August 29, 2018, Moscow Federal Security Service building.  (Sergei Ponomalev / New York Times)

August 29, 2018, Moscow Federal Security Service building. (Sergei Ponomalev / New York Times)

They came for Dmitry Colker, a sick physicist in the intensive care unit. They came when hockey star Ivan Fedotov was away from practice with the film crew. They came for Vladimir Mau, President of the State University, the week he was reelected to the Gazprom Board of Directors.

Message from these prominent detainees: In Russia of Vladimir Putin, almost everyone is being punished.

The recent surge in national arrests shows that the Kremlin is trying to further tighten the territory around Russian society. This seems to be a manifestation of Putin’s declaration that Russia needs to cleanse pro-Western “scums and traitors” in the early weeks of the war in Ukraine, creating unmistakable cold air.

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Leonid Gozman, 71, a commentator who continues to oppose President Putin and the war, admitted in a telephone interview from Moscow that he could also be arrested, saying, “Every day may be the last. I feel it. “

None of the recent crackdowns have been frank Kremlin critics. Many of the most noisy Putin opponents who chose to stay in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, such as politicians Ilya Yashin and Vladimir Kara Murza, were already in prison. However, each of the recent crackdown targets represents an outward-looking Russia that Putin is increasingly describing as an existential threat. And the way they were detained seemed to be designed to make waves.

Physicist Colker was admitted to a hospital in Novosibirsk, Siberia last week and was treated for late-stage cancer, making him unable to eat. The next day, an agent of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, arrived, accused him of treason and sent him to a prison in Moscow. Over the weekend, he died in custody.

“The FSB killed my father,” his son Maxim, 21, wrote on social media in all capitals along with images of three lines of telegrams sent by authorities to inform his family of his death. rice field. “They didn’t even let our family say goodbye.”

Maxim Colker, who follows in the footsteps of his father as a physicist in Novosibirsk, is known for hiring students to work in his laboratory, and to up-and-coming Russian scientists abroad. He said it helped to persuade him not to ask for a job.

Now, in a telephone interview, he said the family had to return Colker’s body from Moscow at his own expense.

It was unclear why the FSB targeted quantum optics expert Dmitry Kolker, 54. State media reported that he was imprisoned on suspicion of passing the secret abroad. However, Kremlin critics say cracking down on freedom of thought in academia is part of the FSB’s expansion campaign. Another Novosibirsk physicist, Anatoly Maslov, who was arrested last week on suspicion of treason, remains in custody.

The arrest coincided with the arrest of Mau, a leading Russian economist who is the Dean of the Department of National Economics and Administration at the Russian Presidential Academy, a vast state university, on suspicion of fraud.

The 62-year-old Mau did not publicly criticize the Kremlin. He joined more than 300 senior academics and signed an open letter in March calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “necessary decision” and was re-elected to the board of Russia’s energy giant Gazprom last week. rice field. But he also had a reputation as what Russian political scientists call “systematic liberals.”

His Kremlin ties aren’t enough to save Mau from fraud cases that have already captured the presidents of other major universities, as critics sniff out the remaining pockets of dissent in Russian academia. He said it seems to be designed.

“Government enemies and government stability are knowledgeable people,” said Gozman, who worked with Mau as a government adviser in the 1990s. “The truth is the enemy here.”

Ekaterina Shulman, a political scientist who taught at Mau’s academy until April, called the institution “the educational center of most civil bureaucracy in the country,” and his arrest was Russia’s highest since 2016. He said it was a level of criminal prosecution. Ideological purity is becoming an ever more important priority for Russian authorities, especially in education.

“In education, it’s important for people to be proactive and share the values ​​they have to instill in their students’ minds,” said Schulman, now a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. “Ambiguous loyalty may not be tolerated here.”

Putin said as much as himself. In a March speech he groped about a traitor in the midst of Russia, he described people who physically live in Russia but live in the west, “in their mind, their slave-like consciousness. I called.

He also argues that truly patriotic Russians must devote themselves to life and work in Russia. At an economic conference in St. Petersburg last month, he said, “A real, solid sense of success, dignity and self-esteem only happens when you connect your future and your child’s future to your homeland.” Said.

In that sense, the news that Fedotov, the goalkeeper of the Russian silver medal national hockey team at the Beijing Olympics in February, signed a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in May seems to have been seen as a challenge.

According to Russian media reports, one of the up-and-coming stars in hockey, Fedotov, 25, was set to leave for the United States this month.

Instead, on Friday, when he was leaving a practice session in St. Petersburg, he was stopped by a group of men, some in masks and camouflage, and in a van, a special report. According to the TV journalist who was filming, he was about him and saw the incident.

According to a Russian news agency, Fedotov’s criminal charges: avoidance of military service. Russian men under the age of 27 need to serve for a year, but sports stars can usually avoid drafting. On Monday, the RIA Novosti news agency reported that Fedotov was taken to an unnamed Russian Navy training base.

Elaborate detention was widely recognized as a punishment for his choice to play in the United States rather than staying in Russia. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they took him on a submarine and sent him to the sea,” RIA Novosti quoted a Soviet sports veteran. “After that, he doesn’t go anywhere.”

For Gozman, the remaining liberal commentator in Moscow, the common thread that went through his recent arrests was their seemingly unjustified cruelty. In Putin’s system, such actions are more likely to be rewarded than blamed by the state, he said.

“The system is built so that excessive atrocities by officials are rarely punished,” Gozman said. “But it can be overly soft, so every official is trying to be great tough.”

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