In Moscow City Court, the suspected leader of a far-right terror group with links to the Kremlin stands accused of five murders. I was on their hit list. на русском языке
In Moscow City Court, Ilya Goryachev, the suspected leader of the far-right terror group BORN (Militant Organisation of Russian Nationalists), is standing trial. He is accused of five murders and setting up a criminal organisation.
This is already the fifth trial on crimes committed by BORN. In February of this year, four former members of BORN stood trial for murder. Two of them received life sentences. In 2011, Nikita Tikhonov and Evgeniya Khasis were sentenced to life imprisonment and 18 years respectively for the 2009 shootings of Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, and Anastisya Baburova, a trainee reporter at Novaya Gazeta. BORN was also responsible for the deaths of Eduard Chuvashov, a Moscow district judge, and Ilya Dzhaparidze, an anti-fascist activist, and others.
As documents from this new case reveal, my name could have been on this list too.
Goryachev, 33, is the leader of the now-defunct Russkiy obraz (Russian Image), a legally-registered right-wing organisation.
According to the investigation, Russkiy obraz and BORN operated in tandem, 'drawing on the experience of Sinn Fein and the IRA.' Goryachev developed this concept together with his old friend Nikita Tikhonov. Evgeniya Khasis, Tikhonov's girlfriend, assisted.
While BORN carried out killings, Russkiy obraz attempted to transform itself into a political party, subtly manoeuvring its way through the Russian political system, which lies largely under the control of the Presidential Administration. The prosecution contends that Goryachev passed information about potential targets to members of BORN, helped them find firearms, and insisted that certain people had to be killed.
Russkiy obraz presented itself to the administration of then president Dmitry Medvedev as a structure which held sway over Russia's Neo-Nazis, who were, at the end of the 2000s, something of a mass phenomenon.
In their efforts to take the top spot among the Russian far right, Russkiy obraz co-operated with the Russian wing of Blood and Honour/Combat 18, a UK-based Neo-Nazi organisation which dates back to the 1980s. Murders committed by BORN were meant to popularise far-right ideas and sow panic among the Neo-Nazi's opponents.
The most puzzling thing about Goryachev's case, though, is why was it sent to court in the first place? The investigator in charge, Igor Krasnov, is a well-known operator in Russia's Investigative Committee, and was involved in previous BORN cases. Most recently, Krasnov located the group suspected of murdering opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February.
But Krasnov is no longer involved in investigations: he has been transferred to Investigative Committee's management. And given the four other trials of BORN crimes, there was no pressing need for Goryachev to take the stand.
There are, however, several documents in the case files elating to co-operation between the Neo-Nazis, the Presidential Administration (PA) and the Interior Ministry, which do not directly concern the crimes currently in question.
Now, though, these documents are in the open. Why?
The most interesting material in Goryachev's file is his Skype and email exchanges. Studying this material, you begin to understand what happened inside this man's head – a man who, during 2007-2010, wanted to take part in the political process and become the leader of the Russian right.
Regardless of the rumours and hearsay, this much is clear: the Presidential Administration co-operated with Russkiy obraz, not BORN. Medvedev's minions, of course, did not approve right-wing murders. What they wanted was an organisation, dependent on the authorities, which could control the Russian far right. In particular, the PA wanted Goryachev to gain control over the 'Russian march' (an annual procession of nationalists held in Moscow), sidelining the more opposition-minded Movement Against Illegal Immigration.
Both the PA and the Russian Interior Ministry's Centre for Combating Extremism (better known as 'Center E') commissioned Goryachev to monitor the activities of leftist activists and anti-fascists. Indeed, Goryachev was in constant contact with the 'political technologists' working for the PA.
For instance, in 2008, Gary Kasparov and Eduard Limonov, leaders of the radical wing of Russia's opposition, proposed to co-operate with Russkiy obraz. Goryachev immediately wrote to his contacts at the Presidential Administration, suggesting various ways to use this situation to their advantage.
But what was Goryachev's motivation for working with the authorities? In his correspondence, Goryachev notes on several occasions that 'people in the presidential administration understand that we're Nazis, but that we're ready to co-operate.' Goryachev refers to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov as an example of co-operation: after all, it seems the Kremlin is ready to put up with other activities in exchange for complete loyalty.
This correspondence also details Goryachev's discussions with political technologists on financing Russkiy obraz via presidential grants. These grants are distributed by the Civic Chamber, an oversight institution chaired by leading members of business and media.
The trajectory of other members of Russkiy obraz is stranger still: they are now working in projects close to Anti-Maidan, the new pro-Kremlin movement headed by Senator Dmitry Sablin. In 2014, these people received 10.5m roubles (approx. £120,000) 'to monitor the influence of Maidan on radical organisations'. They received this money via Civic Chamber grants.
A fatal interest
Goryachev's case caught my eye for another reason, though: my name figures frequently in his correspondence.
While I have been involved in anarchist initiatives in Russia since the end of the 1990s, I became interested in anti-fascism quite by chance. In 2000 or 2001 – I don't remember now – I was the target of a Nazi attack. At the time, I was a part of a young leftist group.
I became interested in anti-fascism quite by chance
In the end, what was most memorable about this attack was neither the deep scars I received from the sharpened metal object which struck me, nor the fact that I nearly lost an eye after someone shoved a bottle in my face.
No, what surprised me was their level of organisation: having received information from their scouts, they jumped out from behind a corner near the State Darwin Museum, attacking us before disappearing down the back streets. Moreover, our attackers were not dressed as you might imagine them – with swastikas and Doc Martins. They were unremarkable young men in sports clothes.
After this attack (and its level of organisation), I became interested in their movement, and wanted to resist it. Back then, you could count the number of Moscow's anti-fascists on two hands. But it grew, and soon there were dozens. Then hundreds.
In the second half of the 2000s, after the murders and mass brawls in the metro, the Interior Ministry and FSB began to notice the conflict between Nazis and anti-fascists. As so often happens in Russia, this 'trend' went viral in Russia's big cities. In recent years, though, this conflict has cooled.
My interest in anti-fascism during the 2000s had a profound effect on me: it forced me to train physically, to familiarise myself with ways of defending myself. But all this began after I started my own monitoring of the Russian right.
In the 2000s, print media was already on the back foot, and social networks were only just coming out. And so I spent a lot of time on Nazi forums and message boards, trying to figure out how their movement was organised.
I came across Ilya Goryachev in 2001 or 2002. For Russian Nazis at the time, the main forum for discussion was the message board of Kolovrat, a right-wing punk band. One of its moderators, 'Arkan' (the name of Serbian civil war commander Željko Ražnatović), it turned out, was Goryachev. I don't remember how I made the connection, but it wasn't hard.
Goryachev had only just set up Russkiy obraz. Indeed, the anarchist organisation I was involved in setting up, Autonomous Action, was only just starting out too.
Although our paths have never crossed, Goryachev and I followed each other's activities closely throughout the 2000s.
We are the same age, more or less. We were students at different universities, but we are both historians. We were even registered on the same postgraduate course at the Russian Academy of Sciences. On one floor, Goryachev was studying Serbian history, while on another I was studying Afro-American ethnic identities. Neither of us finished our PhDs.
We have never met, but Goryachev and I followed each other's activities throughout the 2000s.
Afterwards, Goryachev worked in journalism for a time, and I'm still a journalist today. Goryachev produced the Russkiy obraz magazine, and I did the same for Autonomous Action.
We studied each other's efforts with interest.
'A hereditary dissident'
Both fascists and anti-fascists collected information about one another scrupulously. Internet chatter, information from former girlfriends, chance acquaintances, Nazis who had recanted their beliefs, friendly football fans, we even tried to infiltrate spies into their groups – this is how we compiled dossiers on our opponents. And Nazis and anti-fascists uploaded this information (and photographs) to the internet.
People from the Interior Ministry and FSB investigating crimes committed by the Nazis were interested in the information we collected. Some of the information we gathered made its way to them. I also passed this information onto the police, although I did it through third parties: whenever I was taken off by the police for 'friendly chats' (and interrogations), I always maintained that 'I never knew anything about this.'
The Nazis also worked with the authorities. Mostly with 'Center E', it seems. Indeed, Goryachev's case has revealed how the Nazis had another, more effective way of collecting information.
Although it remains unclear, it seems that our opponents would visit police stations and, using the names of friendly Duma deputies or perhaps the patronage of Center E, buy photographs and passport details of anti-fascists detained by the police officers after demonstrations.
They continued to do this after the BORN case came to light. People from the by-then defunct Russkiy obraz helped identify members of Pussy Riot using information from the police station where they were sent after one of their performances.
Goryachev's computer contained a database of around 100 Moscow anti-fascists. It was sent to the Presidential Administration, Center E, Blood and Honour, and the killers from BORN, with minor changes.
As it turns out, judging from Goryachev's correspondence, he was interested in me and Stanislav Markelov more than everyone else. Goryachev's intrigue was only spurred further by the fact that my parents knew the family of the physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov – this information isn't secret, you can find it online.
With this information at his disposal, Goryachev named me a 'hereditary dissident' and came to believe that I 'organised communications between street activists and human rights defenders, friendly journalists and politicians.'
It's clear, at least from these emails, that Goryachev suffers from paranoia. He believes that the 'anti-Russian left-liberal lobby', which has apparently penetrated mass media, the FSB, as well as the legislative and executive powers, truly exists.
According to these exchanges, Goryachev believes that I work closely with politicians frequently pilloried in the state press, such as Oleg Shein, Ilya Ponomarev and Geidar Dzhemal. My acquaintance with these people is limited to a few comments for the media. Sure, I once made an official request for information through Shein, but many people on the left did this while he was in the Duma. What's funnier, though, is that Goryachev believes I was in charge of distributing some kind of foreign financing to Russian anarchists and anti-fascists.
Regardless how absurd this might seem, these 'monitoring reports' made their way to Center E, who attempted to conduct 'a heart-to-heart' with me three times in 2010. It's quite possible that this could have ended in prison for me, but I was working for Novaya Gazeta at the time.
A scandal broke out as a result, and Center E realised that they couldn't pin anything concrete on me: at least, at the time of writing, I am free.
Name, address and number
Russian Nazis have had my address, surname and patronymic since the beginning of the 2000s. Before I became interested in anti-fascism, I sent an advert offering to swap punk music to a DIY journal. My address was included.
The Nazis have had my address, surname and patronymic since the beginning of the 2000s
My 'official' address is in Troitsk, a small town south of Moscow, and is quite far from the centre: it would be a hassle to go down there and keep watch over the entrance to my apartment block.
That said, the killers of Ilya Dzhaparidze, an anti-fascist, travelled 100km to Maryino (where Dzhaparidze lived) and back every Saturday for months before they murdered him.
Goryachev's database contains details of another anti-fascist registered in Troitsk. It classifies him as one of the leaders of the anti-fascist movement. Once someone shot at his window, nearly killing his brother. This story does not feature in the accusations made against BORN.
In the end, I was 'saved' by chance: the Nazis photographed another anti-fascist, confident that it was me. For a long time, this photograph sat on the internet next to my name and information. I've always been reluctant to put photographs on the net, avoiding photos and video cameras.
The Nazis got hold of my photograph in 2013 – only after the BORN case blew up. At the time, I was working for RBK daily. I was sent to cover a congress of the Young Guard, the youth-wing of United Russia, in Lipetsk.
I was amused when I arrived: many of the people working in the camp's press office and security detail were Nazis, including former members of Russkiy obraz.
In the end, this was where they finally photographed me, and the picture went online. They photographed me while I was interviewing Vladimir Churov, the head of the Central Election Commission. Of course, they uploaded the photograph without Churov.