Leonid Volkov: Three hours of shock and 45 hours of organizational work

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Leonid Volkov: Three hours of shock and 45 hours of organizational work

Coordinator of the network of headquarters of Alexei Navalny – on repressions, preparations for the elections and attempts by Russian propaganda to remove responsibility for the poisoning of the oppositionist from Vladimir Putin

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is recovering in Germany after being poisoned with a substance similar to the Novichok combat poison. European countries agree on how to punish the Russian authorities for this attempt – the West has no doubts about their involvement in it.

Meanwhile, Navalny’s associates support the life of those projects and organizations that were founded by the opposition: the Anti-Corruption Foundation and a network of regional headquarters are engaged in future political campaigns and are trying to survive under pressure from officials, security officials and judges..

Leonid Volkov, coordinator of the regional headquarters of Alexei Navalny, spoke about why Navalny and his entourage are sure of Vladimir Putin’s responsibility for the poisoning of a politician, about political work and persecution of activists in an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America..

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Leonid Volkov: Three hours of shock and 45 hours of organizational work

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Danila Galperovich: We see that the chorus of current denials and counter-threats from Moscow about all the events around Alexei Navalny contrasts very sharply with the complete silence of his activities all the time before the poisoning. What do you associate this contrast with? What do you think made them change their behavior to the opposite?

Leonid Volkov: You very correctly noticed, because of this contrast, they get a completely funny picture – “an unknown blogger with 2 percent”, which is now absolutely the main news from morning to night. And, in fact, the main theme is to prove that whatever happens to him, Putin is absolutely not to blame for this. What happened – the Kremlin does not know, expresses a hundred conflicting versions, but all these versions intersect at one point – this is not Putin, “just don’t throw me into the bush.” And this contrast, in fact, came about due to the fact that, indeed, the Kremlin media systematically for many years hushed up the activities of Alexei Navalny, did not recognize his political subjectivity and tried in every possible way to hinder his political activities. At the same time, the picture of the world that they painted for many years has diverged from reality. And the reality is that Alexei Navalny is the main opposition politician in the country and the leader of the opposition. And no matter how the Kremlin propagandists paint a different picture of the world, the objective reality is perfectly clear to both Merkel and Macron. Both Merkel and Macron, naturally, are guided by objective reality in their actions, in their political reaction. The contrast between reality and a fictional picture of the world has now put the Kremlin in such a situation. It’s like the DPRK TV broadcasts that the DPRK national team won the World Cup 7-0 in the final match. They can arrange an award ceremony for the DPRK football team, they can present cups, they can film a story for television about how they win. Well, and then it turns out due to force majeure circumstances or something else, I don’t know that the DPRK is running the Internet, and citizens read that the Germans actually became the world champion, or well, I don’t know who, I’m not a football fan … And this contrast – nothing can be done with it. Due to these dramatic, tragic circumstances, reality met with the picture of the world that the Kremlin was painting. They are now trying to somehow save her, adjust, do something with her, but, of course, the soil is leaving from under their feet..

D.G .: Did they try to contact you somehow in connection with what happened? Did they ask you to curb your ardor, negotiate, or go out to Julia, for example? Obviously, yes, Navalny and Navalny’s team have become a factor that cannot be avoided for them. They didn’t try to negotiate?

L.V .: For them, we have always been a factor from which it is impossible to get away, no matter how much they wanted it to be wrong. And to agree – no, not

tried, it never happened. If it were, we would tell. That is why it is impossible..

D.G .: Alexey himself expressed the opinion about Putin’s direct involvement in the poisoning, and Kira Yarmysh told me this literally on the first day when we talked to her, and you spoke. Do you admit the idea that the Russian state machine has become so much a network of corporations that some active player, well, like Prigozhin, who already has a trail of poisoning behind him, could pull it all off himself, and now the Kremlin has no other choice than everyone else to deny it. Because it is expensive to hand over Prigozhin, firstly, but at the same time it will be a recognition of various gangs that have gone out of control, chemical weapons out of control, and so on..

L.V .: No, I don’t. This is clearly not the case. You can, of course, build all sorts of complex structures that will try to deny the obvious, but they will still all be a denial of the obvious. The objective reality here is so simple and obvious that any principle of common sense, “Occam’s razor”, and so on, will lead us to the correct conclusion. The very fact of the poisoning, the fact of the use of this particular chemical weapon, the fact of the entire initial cover operation, the fact of further reaction at the state level and the entire current state operation of counter-propaganda cover-up absolutely unambiguously indicate the customer of this attempt better than a smoking pistol in his hands..

D.G .: Who is the customer?

L.V .: Putin Vladimir Vladimirovich.

D.G .: Imagine that the Russian authorities, having snapped at the pressure on them, will begin to investigate something with the initiation of a criminal case..

L.V .: I can’t imagine it.

D.G .: Nevertheless – what kind of action would you expect from them in this case? Can you trust their conclusions after such actions?

L.V .: Precisely because there are no conclusions that they could come to, and that would suit both the internal audience and the world community, there will never be any investigation. Therefore, it seems to me completely unproductive to waste time discussing what it could be..

D.G .: Then what do you think was the main motive for Putin to do this??

L.V .: I do not want to speculate on this topic. This question does not seem to me essential. We see a number of factors, but this is all absolutely fortune-telling on the coffee grounds. Let’s leave that to the tea-guessing experts – the political scientists, and so on. I don’t understand why this question is important. We see a whole set of factors: the attack on the FBK has been going on for many years, a year ago it entered an active stage, a political decision was made to destroy our political organization. The implementation was entrusted to Bastrykin, Bastrykin failed, he did not succeed, despite the unprecedented organization incomparable even with the YUKOS case: less effort was spent on the YUKOS case, and YUKOS was destroyed. Great efforts were spent on the FBK, but it was not possible to destroy the FBK, the network of headquarters and our political organization. So they decided to take the next step, it was pretty clear that they could move on to some next steps. Why now? Why using this method? Why should we psychoanalyze madmen? This is an absolutely thankless task. These people, as Mrs. Merkel said many years ago, are not in touch with reality. Therefore, attempts to rationalize their decisions are in the sphere of psychiatry, as it were, and not political science..

D.G .: What were these two days for you until the moment when Alexei was not released to Germany? After you found out that he was in intensive care and unconscious, what did you do?

L.V .: Three hours of shock and 45 hours of work, organizational work – an airplane, resolving visa and logistics issues, resolving issues with a hospital, finding and choosing a hospital … That is, it was just after the first shock had passed and it became clear that we needed to get together and solve problems. In this sense, it was probably much easier for me than for many others. Because there were people who were shocked, and at the same time they had nothing to occupy themselves with. I had something to do with myself, and I did it.

D.G .: The question about the actions of the West, about its reaction. It is obvious that there is the use of military chemical weapons, and there will be sanctions. What do you think the West should do in general for you to say: “Yes, this is effective, this is what will work” – despite the fact that when we corresponded, you said that you did not want to talk about sanctions at all?

L.V .: Yes, I’m not interested. We know perfectly well that abroad will not help us. We know perfectly well that when big changes come in Russia, their cause and driver will be the Russian people who will wake up, or which we will wake up, or a combination of factors – that is, healthy, correct, important, long-term changes will take place thanks to the actions of the opposition and the Russian people. … This is interesting for us, it is interesting to do it. Let the European, Western politicians deal with the sanctions. These are their questions. This is important to them. Obviously, they need to tell their voters how they are going to react to certain injustices, to certain problems and troubles. Well, so let them do it.

D.G .: I think that any international responsibility for the use of chemical weapons is still important to you, this is still a fact..

L.V .: Well, okay, this fact should find an appropriate assessment within the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and lead to the corresponding international legal consequences that I, from the point of view of the tasks that are of interest to me – that is, for Putin to leave as soon as possible, so that the opportunity to build a wonderful Russia of the future – absolutely irrelevant.

D.G .: What is the fate of Navalny’s headquarters in the regions now?

L.V .: They work.

D.G .: Tell.

L.V .: The headquarters are working, solving problems in accordance with the goals that we have set for them, and preparing, first of all, for the elections to the State Duma.

D.G .: Will there be any work in the field of street actions?

L.V .: The headquarters were never given the task of “working in the field of street actions.” They should be engaged in investigations, support for local activists, support for candidates in elections, elections in general, local political campaigns. If protests arise within the framework of these campaigns, a street appears – as in Bashkiria on Kushtau, as in Khabarovsk, as in Arkhangelsk in Shies, as in Yekaterinburg in a square, of course, we support this and in every possible way, we participate. But the special task is to organize street actions … Firstly, this phrase is rather meaningless, because there is no organization of street actions. People go out on the street because they feel some kind of injustice, or they don’t go out. Street actions cannot be organized. This happens only in the head of sick people like Patrushev and Bortnikov, who believe in “color revolutions”. Secondly, no, such a task was not posed, and is not posed.

D.G .: What is the current level of repression against your organization? Something has changed due to the fact that Navalny is not in the country, due to what happened at all?

L.V .: Everything is going pretty familiar. Perhaps the main innovation in the sphere of repression is that the repressive apparatus has switched to the regime of preparation for the elections to the State Duma. Namely, at all headquarters they look at potentially strong candidates, at those our coordinators whom they consider to be potentially strong candidates for the State Duma, and initiate criminal cases against them that will prevent them from running. These are Sergei Bespalov in Irkutsk, Andrei Borovikov in Arkhangelsk – they became defendants in criminal cases, which, on the one hand, were instituted under rather frivolous articles, on the other hand, they would allow a person, without imprisoning, to impose a criminal record and deprive him of the opportunity to run. And I think there will be even more such cases. This is the main trend now.

D.G .: And what happens to the accounts? How does being blocked affect the way you work??

L.V .: We are working. We have not had accounts for over a year, but we are working.

D.G .: How much can the fact that its leader is absent from the country affect the activities of an organization??

L.V .: We have worked before in a situation where Alexei was temporarily absent. At one time he spent a year under house arrest, was arrested many times for long periods. We know how to work in a situation where he is not present in the office every day. Actually, with our daily work, it seems to me that we show it perfectly..

D.G .: Now it is constantly being discussed whether Navalny will or will not be allowed into Russia. What do you yourself think about it?

L.V .: There is no legal mechanism that would prevent a Russian citizen from entering Russia, I am not interested in talking about this.

D.G .: If we talk about tactics and strategy in the next elections, in particular, to the State Duma – what is the main thing in what you are going to do?

L.V .: I can talk about this for about forty minutes, probably, this is a huge set of questions. We need to do so as to inflict maximum political damage on United Russia, so that in single-mandate constituencies, first of all, the maximum number of independent deputies, and, if possible, also our deputies were elected. That is, the super task is our deputies, a broader task is the victory of the deputies of not “United Russia” in the districts. But this task breaks down into hundreds of sub-tasks: from correctly identifying candidates for voting to collecting signatures for our candidates, from organizing observation, completely unprecedented in scale, to an Internet campaign to attract voters. This is a huge political campaign. We are now in the planning stage, preparation and launch.

D.G .: There are a large number of people who, in the light of what happened, saw that Navalny is an organic, trustworthy, normal living person who can be trusted. This can be seen from the reviews on social networks about all his interviews after the poisoning. At the same time, people who saw this side of him are not always political activists. How likely is it that due to the human drama that has now taken place, your number of supporters will increase? In general, what does this case change in public attitudes towards Navalny?

L.V .: It seems to me that it changes a lot. Check out the same views from Dudy. It is clear that as a human drama, as a history, all this obviously did not leave anyone indifferent. And polls show a great increase in Alexei’s recognition. Of course, this is getting a lot of attention. In this sense, undoubtedly, Putin stepped on a rake that hit him on the forehead. It has already been, and will be more than once.

  • Danila Galperovich

    Reporter for the Russian Voice of America Service in Moscow. Collaborates with Voice of America since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and host of programs for the BBC Russian Service and Radio Liberty. Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.

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