By Renfrey Clarke
MOSCOW — When police in the city of Krasnodar in southern Russia searched a rucksack belonging to 19-year-old Gennady Nepshikuyev last November, they found a bomb. It was not a particularly sophisticated bomb, just a container filled with cheap chemicals and metal bolts with an improvised detonator and a timer fashioned from an alarm clock. But it was quite capable of killing people.
Nepshikuyev and five other young people with him near the Krasnodar railway station were arrested. All the detainees declared they were "anarchist by conviction".
From this beginning has sprung one of the uglier cases of political persecution in Russia in recent years.
According to police, Nepshikuyev told them he was taking his bomb to the building that houses the Krasnodar district administration. The building's chief occupant, district governor Nikolai Kondratenko, is among Russia's most notorious racists.
Addressing students last year, the English-language Moscow Times related recently, Kondratenko "blamed Jews for most of Russia's ills, from poverty to crime. Human rights groups said he used derogatory terms for Jews 61 times in the speech."
Referred to popularly as "Batka ('Papa') Kondrat", the governor keeps a tight hold on his region through a mastery of pork-barrel politics and appeals to Russian nationalism. Ethnic friction is a significant political factor in Krasnodar district, which borders on the volatile north Caucasus. But instead of working for concord, Kondratenko has played to the fears and prejudices of the local Russian population.
In the resulting environment, ultra-right organisations such as the openly fascist Russian National Unity have thrived. Local Cossacks, descendants of a tsarist-era warrior caste, play out their own version of the cult of order, mounting anti-crime patrols in traditional dress. The attitude of the local law enforcement authorities to the ultra-nationalists is at least benign and, according to some accounts, positively enthusiastic.
Almost the only group in the district that campaigns openly against fascism is a small anarchist current. It raises the slogan "Nationalism onto the garbage heap!". The reply from the fascists has been threats of physical violence, and from the local organisation of the Federal Security Service (FSB — the former KGB), persistent harassment.
If the Krasnodar police and FSB did not know about Nepshikuyev's bomb from the start, they seized on their discovery with a passion. The people arrested were interrogated, and Nepshikuyev, if not actually a provocateur, soon broke under questioning and began naming "co-conspirators".
Four of the detainees were released, but 21-year-old Maria Randina was held and, along with Nepshikuyev, charged with illegally possessing and transporting explosives. The police who had made the arrests, according to the Moscow newspaper Segodnya, were rewarded by the governor with money bonuses.
Radical activists arrested
Later, during February, the FSB raided at least eight anti-fascist and radical environmentalist households in Krasnodar and Moscow. In the Moscow raids, computers, diaries and letters were seized, along with documents and address lists of the eco-anarchist movement.
Residents were subjected to gruelling interrogations. Twenty-four-year-old Larisa Shchiptsova, who had met Nepshikuyev and Randina at an environmental camp the previous summer, was arrested, charged under the same provisions of the criminal code and transported from Moscow to Krasnodar.
Defenders of Randina and Shchiptsova have been struck by the way the FSB investigators have concentrated on exploring the internal life of the Russian anarchist movement, evidently trying to construct a credible picture of a broad assassination plot. The bomb found in Nepshikuyev's rucksack has become almost irrelevant.
"The investigators didn't ask Larisa about the explosives", Shchiptsova's lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, told a media conference in Moscow on March 15. "They were interested in her politics."
Vlad Tupikin, a well-known Moscow environmentalist whose apartment was raided, noted that he had been questioned persistently about Shchiptsova's attitude to Kondratenko.
Details of the investigators' findings are scanty, but it seems unlikely that the authorities have any real evidence against Randina and Shchiptsova apart from Nepshikuyev's statements. Nevertheless, there has been no move to grant any of the prisoners bail. They remain in a Krasnodar remand prison, fed once a day on watery gruel with cabbage and potatoes.
The effects have been particularly serious for Shchiptsova, who is four months pregnant. A recent medical examination showed that the development of her foetus was retarded.
For the present, the prisoners are being held mainly on the explosives charges, although Shchiptsova has also been charged with illegal possession of drugs. The authorities, it seems, still feel they lack the evidence needed to make charges of terrorism or criminal conspiracy hold up in court.
Nevertheless, the Krasnodar press in a series of articles during February and March trumpeted the news: only vigilant policing had saved Batka Kondrat from falling victim to the forces of anarchy.
Kondratenko, meanwhile, has his own views on where the supposed threat to his life stems from. The governor has been reported as maintaining that when the anarchists plotted to bomb his office, they were in the pay of "certain Zionist circles".
It could be many months before the case is brought to trial. Until then, Randina and Shchiptsova provide a reminder to anti-fascists and radical greens: anyone who dares to be active could be arbitrarily jailed.
On March 30, supporters of Randina and Shchiptsova staged pickets in Moscow and other cities. In Moscow, about 50 people rallied in front of the building of the upper house of parliament, of which Kondratenko is a member.