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Oryol: when the ‘new nobility’ turned terrorist

The sleepy city of Oryol has erupted in terrorism. Investigations revealed how frustration at the state of Russia led security officers — the new nobility as their former boss calls them — to join the Oryol Partisans. Is this a one off or part of a wider movement?
Elena Godlevskaya
13 September 2010

In Oryol this summer was hot in the direct sense of the word – the thermometer climbed steadily to 48°C over a period of two months – and the metaphorical: the man in the street was finding it difficult to keep up with the flow of information about criminal charges being brought against representatives of the local elite. A former member of the Regional Legislative Assembly was sentenced to 5.5 years in a minimum-security penal colony for the embezzlement on a particularly large scale of federal subsidies; a well-known businessman was sentenced to six years in prison for organizing a criminal group which operated a prostitution racket involving girls, many of them underage, at hotels, bathhouses and saunas in the regional centre; a part of the Rechitsa river in the Dmitrovsky region illegally transferred to a businessman by the local authorities was returned; the first deputy governor of the Oryol Region was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for abusing his official position and squandering over 11 million rubles… Cases were opened involving bribes at universities, among the police, on pre-meditated bankruptcy… For some this was a triumph of justice. But for others, it seems, it was a signal to action.

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Oryol is located in European Russia, to the south-west of Moscow

On 16 July there was an explosion at about 3.50am at the office of the Prosecutor of the Zheleznodorozhny district not far from the centre of Oryol. A home-made bomb without casing comprising 50gr of TNT equivalent had been placed between the window frame and the external grill of the building. One of the offices in the building was damaged by the fire. Three days later a fire was started at a police station in the same district during the night.  The station is on the first floor of a residential building and the fire was quickly put out, thanks to the watchfulness of the residents. Two bottles containing flammable liquid were thrown through the window, but the fire only damaged the window-sill and a chair. The Oryol office of the Federal Security Service [Russian initials FSB, ed] was put on its mettle because leaflets were found at the scene of the crime containing the appeal: “Do as we do, do better than us!” signed by WP/NS, “White Power. National Socialists”.

People were alarmed: they began calling each other and asking for details. They immediately remembered another incident of two weeks before, when an elderly Oryol woman, who was in fact declared mentally unsound, hit the official in charge of the Zavodsky district of Oryol over the head with a spanner wrapped in newspaper – because the municipal services had not been able to stop a pipe in her apartment leaking for over a month. “This is what they’ve driven the people to – things will get even worse!” people said, for the most part gloating. However, neither the explosion or fire caused much alarm at the police or the Prosecutor’s office – they were thought to be the work of teenage hooligans.

Numerous searches were carried out among the ultra-right movement. Firecrackers and waterproof matches were confiscated. Local analysts chuckled, in the belief that this was the work of a small group of two or three young men, who were simply goofing around and not fully aware of what they were doing. They waited with interest to see whether the police would find the hooligans or not. But when the leaflets were found, it became clear that the incidents were politically motivated. Oryol human rights advocate Dmitry Krayukhin was the first to notice this: “The authorities and the local media controlled by them were searching for extremists among independent journalists and people who had openly expressed their disagreement with one or other decision of the regional or city leadership.  While they were doing this, real extremists appeared in the city.” And by analogy with the partisans of the Primorye Territory, he called them Oryol partisans. People thought he was crazy. Oryol is a quiet provincial town. Life here is poor but slow-moving. What partisans?!

But at the end of July, a text with the title “The Proclamation of the Oryol Partisans” did actually appear on the internet. It was in the form of a commentary on a news item published by the information and discussion portal Newsland (http://www.newsland.ru/) about President Dmitry Medvedev extending the powers of the FSB. The “Chekists” are now entitled to issue official warnings to citizens about “unacceptable” actions which could create the conditions for crimes.  If there were no grounds for the prosecution of these citizens, the interrogation and preliminary investigation of these crimes would come under the jurisdiction of the organs of the FSB.

In response, the author with the nickname Revolveros announced: “We, the command of the united groups of the black earth sector of occupied Russia – NS/WP Centre - appeal to every Russian person who feels the bitterness of oppression. To every Russian with protest in his heart, but without as yet the courage and will to move on to actions directed towards suppressing the machine of tyranny and genocide. We have raised the banner of open uprising in our city, which has never been especially known for corruption, injustice or interethnic tension. Oryol has always been a quiet, comfortable city, which warmed the cockles of one’s heart.  This warmth and simplicity awoke a whole range of emotions and the city is in some way inexplicably close and dear. We all grew here and enjoyed a carefree childhood. But now that we have grown up, we see a completely different picture. A picture that numbs the consciousness and shocks us. Our city, just like our country, has found itself on the verge of complete moral disintegration.

 “Prostitution and drug addiction, that no one makes any attempt to stop, has become the norm. Alcohol problems get worse and worse every year… Young people are becoming infirm and feeble…

“Friends and citizens, aren’t you tired of living in a city, in a country, where your life is not safe?  Aren’t you tired of living when you know that tomorrow your son might be charged with a murder which he did not commit, simply because a fat cop can’t be bothered looking for the real killers?

“We don’t want our people, our city and our country to sink into the mire of degradation and moral decline. And so we have risen to this unequal battle. A battle that may not bring us speedy victory.  But we simply cannot do anything else…”

Battle was given on 5 August, the day celebrating Oryol’s liberation from Nazi occupation. A home-made bomb exploded at the café Indira, owned by Dagestani Ali Gasanov.  It was filled with nails and contained 200gr of TNT equivalent. Fortunately, it was just as unsuccessful as the explosion and the arson – only five people were injured, and their injuries were not life-threatening. Three Dagestanis, two Russians.

This time, the law-enforcement agencies reacted quickly. On the night of 8 August, Viktor Lukonin, a major of the Federal Protective Service [Russian initials FSO, ed] and lecturer at the physical education department of the FSO Academy, was arrested. According to the investigation, he was the head of the group responsible for the fires and explosions, calling itself the “Oryol Partisans”. A mini-laboratory manufacturing flammable liquids and homemade explosives, several shotguns, bottles with flammable mixtures ready for use, and nationalist literature were found in a garage that Lukonin was renting. From all appearances, the group was planning several more explosions.

 

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Viktor Lukonin was one of four Federal Protective Service officers arrested in connection with the Oryol explosions

Now the “partisans” are being charged with extremism, arson and explosions at administrative buildings in the Oryol Region, and also murder and attempted murder. 11 people have already been arrested. The youngest is 18 and the oldest, Viktor Lukonin, is 31. They are a diverse bunch but, as the investigators say, they have the same ideology, regardless of age and social status. They include a law student, a labourer, an employee of a private security firm, but most importantly, four officers of the FSO.  Four so far. According to the Oryol investigators, the list is incomplete, and the search for new suspects may go far beyond the boundaries of the Oryol Region and even the borders of Russia.

The presence of the military elite among the “partisans” caused a real shock. Many people refuse to believe on principle that this could happen, and those who do believe it call it a complete collapse of public administration. The fact is that the FSO (the former 9th Directorate of the KGB of the USSR) are responsible for the personal security of the country’s leadership – from Medvedev and Putin to State Duma deputies.  They also provide special communications for public bodies, and security for the country’s information sphere. The Russian president Dmitry Medvedev himself oversees FSO activities. It is obviously not easy to get into the organisation: the selection process – psychological, physical, moral – is extremely strict. Grandchildren of repressed persons or sons of dissidents are unlikely to be accepted. The salaries of FSO officers are beyond the wildest dreams of most Oryol residents. But suddenly they are partisans. Why? What for?

Supporters of the authorities recently put their best foot forward and distributed information that was to their own advantage, so to speak. The “Oryol Partisans” were said to be drug addicts, alcoholics and to come from broken homes.  They were apparently recruited for money by a major who had gone “ballistic” after reading too many local opposition newspapers. In effect independent journalists were to blame for the appearance in Oryol of extremists. It was even asserted that “some political forces in the region are ultimately interested in causing at least one major upheaval – a change in the Region government. Isn’t this where the money came from which was used to pay off the ‘lumpen- partisans’?”

However, the investigators overturned the idea that the group’s activities were commercially motivated, and the arrest of four FSO officers completely upset the authorities’ applecart. The law-enforcement agencies are ignoring the obviously political nature of the “call to action” and the actions of the “partisans” too.  They are stressing the nationalist angle. The regional government and the city are carrying on as though nothing has happened.

Some strange coincidences cannot be ignored: the explosion at the Prosecutor’s office of Zheleznodorozhny district was on 16 July – the day when the State Duma was supposed to pass, and indeed did pass, amendments to the law “On the Federal Security Service” and the Administrative Offences Code, expanding the powers of the FSB.  The fire at the police station happened on 19 July, the day that these amendments were approved by the Federation Council. Again, if one believes the “Oryol Partisans’ Call to Action”, they were not acting alone.

 

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The "Oryol Partisans" attacked several police stations and local businesses


How many of these divisions are there? Where are they based? Who is in charge of them? What was on the agenda of the arrested members of the group who were graduates of the FSO Academy, and had been sent to various military units in the Moscow and Yaroslavl Regions? What was Viktor Lukonin’s problem?  He is an FSO officer earning three times above the average for Oryol.  Are the “Oryol Partisans” one link in a conspiracy against the omnipotence of the FSB, or provocation by the FSB in the battle for power? The investigation states that all the arrested men “are willingly helping with enquiries”.  Why are they doing this if it means a prison sentence, possibly even life? These are questions to which so far there are no answers.

Not long ago there were reports from the Moscow region of the strange death of an FSO colonel: “Investigators in the Voskresensky region of the Moscow Region are trying to solve the riddle and establish the circumstances of death of a high-ranking officer of the Federal Protective Service (FSO)… Life News reported that 52-year-old special services officer Viktor Tolkunov had received several bullet wounds and died in intensive care at the hospital. Tolkunov was only able to tell the police that he ‘accidentally shot himself with a prize pistol.’ However, officers were unable to find bullet cases or the weapon itself in the dead man’s home.  Nor were there any bloodstains.  The injured man didn’t want to name his killer, as he feared some kind of consequences”

Analysis shows that the incident in itself is insignificant. But if it’s linked to the “Oryol Partisans”, then it no longer seems irrelevant to ask whether this could have been a way of getting rid of someone who knew much more than the arrested lieutenants and major. What was it that the colonel didn’t reveal? 

People are afraid to comment openly on the appearance of “partisans” in Oryol. But the internet has many and varied opinions. “… I don’t believe a single word in the press, just as I don’t believe a single high-profile case that is solved by the Russian special services, I don’t believe evidence or searches, and I don’t believe in Russian justice… The irony is also that just two years ago he was almost beaten up by skinheads in Moscow for wearing red shoe-laces and an Arafat scarf, which are known to be part of the dress-code of anti-fascists. And now’s he accused of Nazism. It’s complete nonsense!” writes dzuev: http://dzuev.livejournal.com/

Those who know the members of the group personally and accept the actions of Lukonin’s group as a fact can probably be divided into two camps: one group considers terrorism an unacceptable form of battle, and nationalism a refuge for scoundrels, while the other is ready to accept both of these things – if only they could change the situation in Russia.

Here are some comments on reports about the “Oryol Partisans” heard on Radio Svoboda: www.svobodanews.ru. Balk (Moscow): “We shouldn’t forget history. Some people tried out this game in 1933, and by 1945 tens of millions of people had ended up the creek without a paddle in Dachau and Auschwitz. Plus the ‘moustachioed one’ buried about the same number of his friends and enemies. Is human blood just like water to you? Aren’t you sick of living like cannibals? It’s a shame corporal punishment was abolished.  All these ‘defenders’ of the Russian people should be given 50 lashes of the whip on the central square of Oryol, and then the whole gang should go and clean all the toilets in the city. That would put an end to all these Robin Hood partisans!”

Elena (St. Petersburg): “What fascism? Russia has huge problems. There’s widespread unemployment, bribes and people from the Caucasus. The situation’s been blown out of proportion. Someone dared to criticize the authorities, and was immediately called an enemy of the people. Someone’s only just been arrested, but sentence has already been handed down.  The same articles can be found on all the blogs, obviously written to order. But think about your children, and the country they will grow up in: if you don't grease the wheels, the cart won't go.”

On the website of the club for graduates the FSO Academy and similar higher education institutions (http://www.myfreedom.ru), officers try to fathom the phenomenon of Lukonin the partisan:

Aleksandr441:“We’re only human))) It’s not surprising) He just tried to take the initiative into his own hands and use his own fist to punish people, so to speak…”

an_: “If we hide our heads in the sand and pretend that nothing is happening, these things still won’t go away, they’ll only increase. They infiltrate their own spies into the Foreign Intelligence Service, at the FSO they blow up the prosecutor’s office and the cops, the FSB has its own problems (members of staff turn to crime), and officials steal like there’s no tomorrow. There’s been a war going on for 20 years in the Caucasus. Evidently, ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark’.”

Fonarev: “We all swear an oath to the Homeland… The Homeland puts its hopes in us, because it has no one else to rely on. No one else takes the oath – they just shoot their mouths off,  so they aren’t under any obligation… The times we live in now mean that everyone has to think all the time, because at every step of the way you have to make a choice. So these guys made their choice, despite the oath. But life goes on, and there are a lot of other people around us who are like this.  They may not be up to much, but they’re OUR guys. If you see them, find out what they want, and tell them what to do to stop the country from falling apart…”

It is unlikely that there will be any official answer to the main question that the “Oryol Partisans” put to society: why has the Russian military elite gathered under the banner of a “people’s war” (which any partisan movement is considered to be)? Things were easier with the so-called “Primorye Partisans”: people aggrieved with the police declared war. It’s a clumsy explanation, but at least it’s an explanation. Here it’s not a question of personal affront. Again, they are educated people who were prepared to serve their country on completely different principles. The Oryol Region is almost entirely Russian, so there are no serious ethnic conflicts or confrontations here. The only problems are the ubiquitous poverty, the fact that young people leave for neighbouring regions because there’s no work, that the population is getting older, and that the city of Oryol is perhaps the only city in Russia where the population decreases every year… 

Irina M., a young teacher of Russian language and literature, who earns less than the school cleaner, is not a “partisan”, and so far not a member of the opposition either. But she barely conceals her irritation: “I was on holiday in the Moscow Region during that time, so didn’t hear anything about the ‘Oryol Partisans’. But television showed nothing but Putin, Medvedev. Medvedev, Putin. And again Putin, Medvedev. And Shakespeare came to mind: ‘A plague on both your houses!’”

“What did you expect?” said a retired police colonel who asked to remain anonymous. “Half the Region is unemployed, as there is no work anywhere, everyone in the rural areas is drunk all the time, and the factories are closed. The hatred and resentment towards everything and everyone had to break out in some way sooner or later. In a normal democratic society there are certain procedures for letting off steam – free elections, freedom of speech, independent courts. We don’t have any of these things. But we do have a lot of angry people. They don’t even look for the people who are guilty – what is the guilt of a district policeman whose police station they tried to set fire to, when he earns a ridiculous salary of 5,000 rubles and is humiliated by those very authorities himself?  What had the victims of the explosion at the Indira café done? Nothing. But hatred finds a way out. Now it is mainly directed at the police, and outsiders. It hasn’t yet found its way to the main culprit of the misfortunes – the authorities, who haven’t passed a single law to make the lives of ordinary people easier or better in the last ten years. But if they don’t change their attitude to their own citizens, this hatred will inevitably come knocking at their door soon. In many cities at once – you’ll see.”

They say that it’s hardest of all to live in a time of changes, which never actually happen. And it is not difficult to agree with former FSO Academy graduate an_: “People are sick of corruption and the blatant excesses of the authorities. So we have the Primorye partisans and the FSO majors, and evidently it’s not just majors and not only in the FSO”.

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