Vladimir Osechkin is the founder of the human rights project "Gulag No", founded in July 2011. He publishes information about concrete facts of torture and corruption in Russia, exposes corruption of totalitarian regimes as the creator of the "New Dissidents" fund, which unites those who left Russia and the post-Soviet space in general. Vladimir Osechkin for Front News Ukraine commented on the impact of economic pressure on Russian society.
- What specific projects do you have in the works right now? Share what bothers you the most in your work right now. Who is helping you right now?
VO: Probably the biggest investigation that we continue to do is a big independent investigation into the Pyotr Conveyor in Russia, in Russian prisons. And, in fact, for us, it's the unraveling of what's going on in Russia and the unraveling of this magic of Putin with which he controls over 100 million people. And it lies on the surface, in fact.
Putin's totalitarian regime keeps most of the population under fear of prison. But prison, for example, the same prison in Norway, in Sweden, in France, is not something that can frighten a person. Prison is just a place that restricts.
In Russia, however, the word prison means and is understood to mean torture, inhuman treatment, constant humiliation, threats, rape and even murder, and moreover, staged. Subsequently, it is like supposedly dying of heart failure, like suicide, and so on. So it's not only that you're tortured and killed, but no one will even know about it. You'll just be buried, no one will be held responsible. This network of torture conveyor belt allowed Putin to suppress the will of Russians and subdue them completely to his will.
And then, of course, beyond what we do within the Gulag. no. And, as a matter of fact, beginning in September of October of 2002, we have been seeking a reaction from Europe and from the UN to our publications. We sent them videos, archives brought to us by the whole world, bloggers, the insider Sergey Savelyev from Russia. And we pushed for some decisive measures against the Russian Federation, either to put the issue of Russian prisons in order or to expel Russia from the Council of Europe, which, in fact, is what happened today.
As part of this, we will insist that an international investigation be opened, not only into the war crimes of the Putin regime. But we will also insist that a tribunal investigate the circumstances of the torture conveyor belt in Russia. Because a huge number of Russian soldiers captured in Ukraine are now telling us that we were threatened with prison if we refused to fight.
Well, by prison, of course, we mean what happens in Russian prisons, in reality. And that's what we were investigating until recently, until February 2022.
Well, and of course, when those horrible, nightmarish, terrible events happened, related to the war, to the invasion of the independent state of Ukraine by the Russian army. We, of course, could not remain indifferent and indifferent. We urgently made a YouTube channel, a Telegram channel. In order for us to talk live about what we become aware of, what we learn about the information. And, of course, it's a small volunteer project, but it brings together a certain number of students and volunteers, too.
And we do everything we can from ourselves to expose war crimes that are committed in Ukraine, to explain it to international journalists. With whom we have contacts.
Well, besides this, the other day we decided to hold a humanitarian action and offer the French authorities to change the destination of the arrested villas of Putin's oligarchs and at least temporarily settle Ukrainian refugees there. So that the oligarchs and the Putin family will be held responsible for what they have done. It is clear that they cannot return the lives of murdered Ukrainians, and they cannot return the houses that they bombed. But at least this way to deprive them of their luxurious lifestyle and place people in their luxurious villas. The families of the people who fled Ukraine from the bombing, from the missiles. This is what has now been published in the media in many.
Here, of course, we did our best. And unfortunately the only thing that happened was a misunderstanding with the local police when on Monday morning the guys were detained at the Shamalovs' villa. But by evening the misunderstanding had already dissipated. The prosecutor's office, understanding the motivation of the activists, decided not to bring any cases against our colleagues from the Liberty Liberty Liberty Fund. They were released.
And now as part of this conditional detention case, our lawyers and our colleagues who were detained, Sergei Savelyev and Pierre Affner, have received documentary confirmation that this is indeed Kirill Shamalov's villa. And Kirill Shamalov is on sanctions lists in the United Kingdom, in the United States, and in Europe.
I think it is a matter of technology when our lawyers will have these villas of Putin and Shamalov seized and confiscated on this coast. So in parallel, in general, this is an investigation into torture and corruption in Russia, and our humanitarian mission to help end the war in Ukraine.
And also here, in Europe, the search for those properties that Putin's mafia acquired, bought. So that, in general, all this was taken away from them, confiscated and handed over to those who suffered from the actions of their regime.
And in parallel, that's how it happened. I certainly did not suspect that it could cause such a global interest wide. We decided at the beginning of March to start publishing the information that the FSB insider sends us, as we think from the FSB. And, in general, it also caused a very big response. A huge number of journalists were calling from all over the world every day about these publications. I didn't even expect anyone to be interested in this at all.
- Your Facebook is definitely such an interesting source of data to verify and investigate further.
VO: I published the first one on the fourth of March. I'll tell you honestly, if this source used to send us some small and accurate information every two weeks that my brain digested, and I had enough of my mind to understand this text, what it was about. But it was in our subject matter, conventionally related to torture, to prisons and so on. That is, it was useful to me that we had one of our sources write, "Here is this information. We have a lot of different sources.
But when I got this giant, just huge letter on March fourth, I just realized that I can't make half the sense of it. I can't even figure out how important or not important it is. I just made a decision - since I have experts on Ukraine in my friends, there are political analysts, there are journalists and bloggers. I thought I'd launch. Go to bed, roughly speaking, and wake up and read there 15, 10 15 comments from my friends.
Someone will write that this is a fake. Someone will write that this is important information, someone will emphasize what information is important. I just thought it would be such a get-together, communication. And when I opened my eyes in the morning the next day and looked, I saw there were 1000 reposts, 1000 likes. And another day later, I got a call from Igor Sushko from America. He is a Ukrainian, an American of Ukrainian descent who was born and lived in Ukraine until he was six years old, then he left for the West with his parents. And he called the press service and said, "I'm your subscriber. I saw this information, I translated it, I posted it on my Twitter feed, and I got 28 million views, 110,000 retweets in one day. And in short, look how many famous politicians are reposting and discussing what you posted. And I translated it into English."
And I'll be honest, I didn't even expect this information, it would interest people so much. But, in general, it is obvious that there is very little information from Russia. And taking into account Putin's propaganda and constant lies, this is an alternative source of information that allows to take another look at what's going on and what's happening in Moscow. But it's obvious that, in general, people here are interested in this topic. And I guess I was right to publish it, because it's important.
- And what sentiments prevail among human rights defenders from your circle of dissidents, those people who have left Russia? What sentiments prevail among human rights defenders and among the population in the Russian Federation itself?
VO: As for sentiments, I would like to note an important fact here first of all. Russian propaganda over the last month has made an unbelievable effort to convince the international community that supposedly most people in Russia support Putin and this war. We have 345 or 6,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 90,000 subscribers on Telegram. And we did two polls at the very beginning a week after the war started. I can tell you that more than 80% of the people, and this is an absolutely different audience, it includes prisoners, former prisoners, lawyers, journalists, relatives of prisoners, people of completely different professions and different ages, and grandmothers, grandfathers, young prisoners, and some the opposite, teenagers, children, well, absolutely different. We have an audience of different ages and genders, including members of the Federal Penitentiary Service, the Federal Security Service, judges, and prosecutors. Some people comment anonymously and vote. So this is really a cross-section of the people as they are. So, more than 80% of the people are against the war, they don't approve of Putin's policy and believe that this regime is leading Russia to disaster.
And here in this case, in the assessment of the analysts and our audience, they coincide. It's just that one can express it competently, while the others can express it in the course of voting. That is, people have no illusions. And when they try to present fake, controlled by them reports, opinion polls, that ostensibly 70-80% of people approve of the war, it is nonsense. And one must not believe it in any case. It must be understood.
The other issue, and I'm already thinking about it. For the second or third week in a row, there is a phenomenon. It would seem that most people are against the war, but there is a war going on, and there is a very big difference in the vote. Those people who vote anonymously and quietly, just by taking part in these people's vote, the majority are against the war. But in the comments under these polls there are a huge number of aggressive people who insult us because we are for Ukraine and are against the war, insult Ukrainians, insult everyone who is against the war, stir up discord, swear at us and so on.
So there is a minority that is for the war, but this minority is incredibly aggressive, and it is oriented towards the power bloc of Russia. They support each other and are components of this totalitarian regime.
And therein lies the clue to what is happening in Russia. Why until now, even though a large part of the people are against the war and don't see any motivation for it and understand that this is a terrible war crime, why don't 1 000 000 people come out? Because they're afraid, they're all deported. They all know practically nothing about each other, they are not united. Because for the last 15-20 years the KGB, the FSB, Putin have been doing everything they can to get everyone against each other.
The same thing, for example, you ask me about the human rights movement? I will answer now, but I am inside the human rights movement, I am a dissident inside the human rights movement, because most of the human rights defenders in Russia are omitted, embedded in various Putin's councils and commissions and chambers.
One way or another, even though Putin has been doing outright evil for the last 15 years with the military, with seizures, with torture, with dictatorship. But most of the human rights defenders have built themselves in, got some posts in some kind of global human rights council under the dictator Putin, which is nonsense in itself. A person who has been in power for 20 years, and he has a Human Rights Council. And these age-old human rights politburos believe that it is normal for them once a year to sit down with him at a round table in the Kremlin in the Golden Palace and say, with the wave of a baton, in three minutes what Putin wants you to hear.
Speaking of the human rights community, for the last 15 years it's been subjected to special operations by the security services. Some of the people like me, whom they weren't able to recruit, they pushed out of the country. Some of the people they couldn't recruit and who didn't have time to leave were arrested. People like the Siberian coordinators of the right-wing movement, Dmitry Kamynin and Vladimir Taranenko. They are kept for two years in Kemerovo pre-trial detention center, they are tortured, beaten, stripped naked, stuffed into rubber cells naked for twenty-four or two hours, to urinate on their feet in the mud. They are forced to give up their keys and passwords to the YouTube channel Sibir Legal in order to remove their information.
And there are those who have embedded themselves in these councils or have emigrated. And they only utter general phrases, so that journalists are satisfied with some general phrases. But in essence, they are puppets. And there are those who have gone into internal exile and simply reduced their activity in public, realizing that this is a very dangerous regime, they can't leave, but they can't speak out against it because that would lead them to where the Siberian right has led them - to the SIZO, to the press hut, and so on.
But not everyone is ready, like me, to make a decision in half an hour - to take the children in handcuffs and just fly away from the country, just to keep their independence. Not everyone is ready to do that. So as far as the human rights community is concerned, it's largely overlooked. And of course, they are willing to write some general phrases "peace, peace, no war" in order to maintain some semblance of propriety. But we cannot rely on them seriously in this situation. Therefore, with regard to civil activists and human rights defenders, of course, some kind of minimal civil actions will be held, which formally will not be dangerous for the authorities, but will create an illusion of sorts.
The main majority of those who sit in their kitchens and tell each other quietly: "Putin is a bastard. Why did he do this?" So they will remain there in their kitchens for as long as there is something to eat. And as long as they do not come after themselves. So in this case I don't see 1,000,000 people beginning to take to the streets. Because everyone is frightened of the threat of prison, the threat of torture, the threat of worsening relations.
Because here in Russia, no matter how you look at it, if you've been in jail, you're a wit, you're a danger, they won't do business with you, they'll fire you from your job. In an era that everyone understands- there's rampant unemployment, moneylessness, and, in fact, poverty ahead. I mean, this story, as much as I don't like it, when somebody on the Internet says, there's going to beat the refrigerator, beat the TV, or beat the mop. But now these three things, they are very much, in fact, symbolized in Russia by television. It's the propaganda that poisons the brain and the refrigerator. It's about the fact that people think with their stomach in the first place.
That is, people, worried about their ass, even realizing that there are lies on TV, will look toward the refrigerator. And as long as they mostly have something to eat, these people won't go out. But also don't forget, for 15 years straight propaganda has been writing and saying nasty things on TV about those who take to the streets: "Liberasts" and other nasty names, all kinds of traitors, traitors.
This is despite the fact that most of the people against the war are anonymous. On the other hand, they see other things on TV, which 80-90% approve. And the 10% who do not approve - those are traitors and bastards, now we will smack them in the face. And being in the understanding that I'm about to get punched in the face for this, a large part of the cowardly remain in faith, in propaganda, in the part that they are supposedly a minority.
And people, fearing the mop, don't watch TV, are cut off from normal information. There used to be a stick and a carrot. And now Putin has TV and mops.
It's scary, it's scary that this is really happening, the fascization of the population. I talked to psychologists, to psychiatrists. I won't mention the exact name of the experiments now. But there are experiments in which a person understands in his soul that white is white. And when everyone around him says black, he also says black. Or like there used to be experiments about porridge. Everyone is given sweet porridge, one is given salty porridge, and he eats it and it is salty. But when they say to him, "Like sweet. And he doesn't say salty. And since everyone has already said it's sweet, he confirms it, too.
It works now and here. I'm 40 years old, a liberal at heart, a democrat and so on. But I realise that compared to the Europeans, and having visited the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and listening to the Europeans' reasoning, I understand that I'm a mammoth. I understand that I'm a sovok, although I'm a human rights defender and I'm fighting this regime.
And most people don't even understand that they are "sovoks and mammoths. And this is the sociology and psychology that Putin understands. The FSB understands that if you intimidate everyone, take them to their apartments, and tell them that the majority supports Putin, then everyone will eat this salty porridge like it's sweet.
And the same thing is happening now with the war. People, each one of them individually, will say, "I'm against the war. Of course I'm for peace. Of course Ukraine is a brotherly nation."
But when they take him to Channel 2 or Channel 1,and when Kiselev asks him: "Do you support the Russian army?" He will say, "Yes, I support it." Because he sees that the entire studio supports him, otherwise he will be crushed and beaten and called a traitor, and God forbid, he will be sent to Siberia.
But excuse me, I'm telling you straight out: it's working now. And why so drastically in a matter of weeks Putin carried out a special operation, the name of which we will know one day, to shut down the information space of the free Internet, the free mass media. Within weeks the Russians were cut off from access to the media. Why? Because they're afraid that people will start to unite against the war. And the task is to dissect, to divide. They are assisted in this by a huge number of Russian special services, the army and the criminals, which they also control as special services.
Just so you understand, this does not exist in any country in the world. This is what Putin has built over the last 20 years. Not even Hitler did that. Hitler didn't have controlled thugs who could beat and kill anyone on the loose. But Putin, besides the FSB, the FSO, the police, the Investigative Committee, the bailiff service, they also have criminal leaders who watch over every city, over every district, over every prison, over every region. And on top of that there's also the Kadyrov mafia. If they want to destroy you completely in Russia, they'll do it.
- How do you assess the effect of the four sanctions packages?
VO: Based on all the analysis that I have, and I have a lot of information, gas continues to be pumped through pipelines through Ukraine to Europe at a price that has increased three to four times. And there is a huge amount of interest from oligarchs and very influential businessmen both in Europe and in Russia.
Somebody is getting three or four times more money for this very same gas right now than he was getting before. So, no matter how we avoid these terrible questions and terrible answers, this war has a very serious and influential group of owners of this world, who make their money on oil and gas. No one writes anywhere about this today.
But thousands of Ukrainians have already died. And it's scary, it's a tragedy. I cry for Ukraine. Thousands of Russians died, these idiots, who were just chased there, who, like obedient sheep, participate in all this.
Millions of people have left for Europe. It's a humanitarian disaster. No writer could have imagined this. No writers in the twenty-first century wrote about it. And gas continues to leak through the pipes. And someone is making tens of millions of dollars and euros every day on this gas. And it continues here and now.
So whatever PR effect is being created there: So many sanctions, what a horror!
Let's look at the facts. Gas and oil continue to be sold, money continues to go to Moscow. The main sources of income continue to exist, only now in a much larger money equivalent.
What the gas resellers in Europe are reselling is, once again, the wealth of those who are connected to Putin by contracts, whom they have allowed into these contracts. Those elites, those oligarchs profit from it. And Russia gets more money for gas, for oil. And their middlemen, with whom they cooperate. Their counterparts in Europe also get rich from this very war. This is the first cynical thing, but this is a fact. It's very unpleasant to realize.
It's like me going to the gas station today to fill up my car with diesel. Diesel one comma nine. And at some gas stations it's two euros for one liter. And before it was one and three. So it's the same oil. But someone is making money on it now, some companies are making enormous fabulous money on it.
So, please, get to the root of the matter. You can say, "No to the war!" for as long as you like. But there are those who are making money on this war right now. And this must be understood. There should be an international investigation, who makes money on this right now? And it will be clear, among other things, where the real beneficiaries of this war are. This is the first point. An unpleasant moment for reasoning, because this is not just to criticize Putin, but to cross the road to those who are now making gigantic money on this.
As for the sanctions of Putin's inner circle, Putin and his inner circle have stolen over $200,000,000,000 from Russia over the past 20 years. Some of it is in Russia in the form of assets, some of it is in Europe, offshore, in currency, in real estate. Much of it is legalized covertly, camouflaged through dozens of legal entities. And, of course, they're emotionally uncomfortable with the fact that human rights activists came to them and told them - this is your villa. We found it.
Only these are grains of sand in this sea of sand that they, roughly speaking, stole. We can't find most of it, and nobody practically can find it. So they did it through dozens of consulting agencies, lawyers, the most expensive, the most professional, how they know how to legalize. It's not just a mafia, it's the biggest, biggest mafia in the history of mankind. Never has the mafia had a huge state in its hands for 20 consecutive years. With such untold wealth and resources. So no matter what sanctions are imposed, no matter how many dozens of villas and yachts are seized from them. It will be 10- 15% of what they have. And even if they confiscate even half of their $250,000,000 and euros, even if they find it, they will still be the richest group of people in the whole world. And even if the ruble collapses and all their assets become 10 times cheaper, they will still be incredibly rich.
But there is a positive side to all this. The siloviki of the middle level of the hierarchy are very fond of luxury, they will soon be deprived of it, and here they could become the basis of a coup and the collapse of the Putin regime as soon as this year.
Front News Ukraine