“Putin’s on Our Side!”

Yes! I’m threatening you! I’m threatening you with physical violence!

Transcript of an interrogation

Brateevo OMVD precinct.

On March 6, the Russia newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an audio recording and transcript of the violent police interrogation of an anti-war protester, demanding that the case be immediately investigated and commented on by the Minister of Internal Affairs. The transcript appears below in English.

Most of Russia’s remaining independent news outlets were shuttered between February 28 and March 6—among an avalanche of other losses, including the blocking of Facebook and Twitter throughout the country. A single word stands behind this mass information blackout: “war,” a term now forbidden in reference to the increasingly horrific “special military operation” in Ukraine. The first major shutdown, of TV Rain, which had already been declared a “foreign agent” in 2021, came as no surprise. After their website was blocked on March 1, Rain’s staff decided that if they could not call a war a war, they could not do their job. In subsequent days most of them fled the country. The more shocking closure was of Ekho Moskvy, or Echo of Moscow, an independent radio station that was suddenly taken off the air on March 2. Until its board of directors moved to liquidate the station, Ekho had been on the air since 1990, making it the oldest independent radio station in post-Soviet Russia. This was a stunning move, considering its editor-in-chief Alexander Venediktov’s well-known and often controversial history of compromise and cooperation with the authorities.

Novaya Gazeta is Russia’s largest remaining independent news outlet. It is helmed by Dmitry Muratov, who won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. But the newspaper may be gone in a matter of hours. Muratov has negotiated to keep Novaya running by promising censors to never print the word “war,” and to delete from its website all the frontline reporting it had printed thus far. This decision was made on March 3 in accordance with a poll that Novaya had opened up to its supporters. On March 4, the State Duma passed the Law on “Fakes,” an Orwellian decree outlawing the dissemination of all information about the war that isn’t based on official propaganda. Violators will face up to fifteen years in prison. That day, Novaya released the following statement:

“Intentionally false” information means information on prisoners of war, casualties, and the shelling of civilians in Ukraine. We have been asked to acknowledge that none of this ever happened . . .

[However,] the fact is that we are among a handful of remaining newsrooms in the country capable of conducting and publishing actual in-depth reporting. There is nobody else left here to do this. So we will stay to the end.

We will not be detained or sent to the camps. We will not flee to Europe or Georgia. We will remain in Russia, this is our country . . .

Unfortunately, as soon as Putin signs these laws on wartime censorship [he now has], we will have to stop publishing all reporting from the front.

We are extremely ashamed to agree to this while our friends, relatives, and acquaintances are living through absolute hell in Ukraine. On both sides of the conflict. But it would be even more shameful to stop publishing altogether. Wartime censorship does not extend to the war that is happening within our country.

On March 5 and 6, Novaya Gazeta lived up to this promise, publishing detailed accounts of the weekend’s anti-war demonstrations and the ensuing police brutality. Their coverage has culminated with the following transcript of the police interrogation of 26-year-old protester Aleksandra Kaluzhskikh. “They beat me on the legs,” Kaluzhskikh told the Sota channel, “and on the back of the head. They poured water on me. Ripped off my mask, pulled my phone out of my hands and threw it against the wall, twice. At the end, they picked it up and wiped off their fingerprints. They grabbed and pulled me around by my hair. Called me names. There were two young women in the room with us and they just watched this torture happen.” Kaluzhskikh was subsequently released from custody.

Novaya’s publication of this interrogation came with a call from Dmitry Muratov to have Kaluzhskikh’s case investigated and commented on by the Minister of Defense. The following is not only a document, but a direct and explicit challenge to the Russian government.

—Mark Krotov and Bela Shayevich

On, March 6, protesters demonstrated in sixty-five cities across Russia against what the Roskomandzor (the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications) and Ministry of Defense forbid to call by its name under the threat of criminal prosecution of journalists and the shuttering of media outlets. According to the independent human rights-monitoring organization OVD-Info (a project decreed a foreign agent by the Ministry of Justice), over 4,600 people were arrested at the demonstrations against that which shall not be named. (The Ministry of Internal Affairs has quoted the number at 3,300). According to the Apologia Project, more than thirty  people reported having been beaten by police in custody for protesting the unnamable thing.

Aleksandra Kaluzhskikh, 26, was taken to the police precinct Brateevo OMVD (the head of this precinct is sublieutenant Aleksander Batsenkov). With Kaluzhskaya’s consent, OVD-Info has published a transcript of the entirety of the recording of the young woman’s interrogation, in which she describes beatings and insults. Novaya Gazeta is also publishing the audio recording and the full transcript. We ask readers unsure of their psychological and emotional stability to abstain from listening and reading.

Novaya Gazeta Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Muratov, a member of the Public Council on Internal Affairs, demands that the Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Kolokoltsev immediately conduct an investigation of this report and provide a procedural assessment of the actions of his subordinates.

—The editors of Novaya Gazeta

Men’s voices: Come in [inaudible].

Male Officer [henceforth MO]: Last name?

Aleksandra Kaluzhskikh [henceforth AK]: Kaluzhskikh, Aleksandra Alexandrovna.

Female Officer [henceforth FO]: Legal residence?

AK: Uhh, how do I say it, well, see, the 51st [an article of the Russian Constitution protecting against self-incrimination].

FO: [laughter] Fine. Phone number? That’s so we can call you and summon you to your court date. This time let’s not be stupid. 

AK: Umm, no, I want my summons to be sent by mail.

FO: Where to?

AK: Umm, where I’m registered.

FO: Okaaay, your place of study?

AK: The 51st.

(Sound of Aleksandra being struck.)

MO: You’ll have a little bruise now. Come on, get up, time to talk, right? Uh-huh. Yeah. 

(The sound of another strike.)

AK: [uncensored swearing expressing extreme bewilderment at the sound of the force of the strike] [inaudible], to be honest.

MO: So, are we going to keep it moving?

(Aleksandra exhales.)

MO: Or is it going to be the 51st? 

AK: Is it normal to ask a young woman these kinds of questions?

FO: It’s normal.

Everyone: [inaudible]

MO: Look at your goddamn tits, like goddamn udders hanging out! Take a look at yourself, goddamn it. Fucking monkey! 

FO: Place of study . . .

MO: I’ll continue!

FO: Your place of work or study? Do you work?

MO: Answer some simple questions and walk. Now your phone . . . Give us the number and then they’ll call you . . . with the summors. The deputy judge will call you. Let’s continue in the same spirit . . .

(Aleksandra exhales.)

MO: Yes or no?

AK: But I already answered. 

MO: You know what? What are you after here? Well we’ll get to it . . . We’re already here . . . Shit, everyone’s already been here, and laid here. What’s your goal? I’m telling you, I’m just, shit, I’m gonna add everything up exponentially. We don’t give a fuck. We’re gonna . . . 

AK: Are you threatening me?

MO: Yes! I’m threatening you! I’m threatening you with physical violence!

AK: This is uncomfortable . . .

FO: How old are you?

AK: Uhh, 26.

FO: What’s your height, approximately?

AK: I don’t know . . .

MO: Get up!

FO: Your place of work?

MO: About a meter seventy-eight.

FO: Do you work?

MO: Are you officially employed?

AK: I refuse to answer.

FO: Where did you find out about the protest?! 

Unknown male voice: First time, fuck, of course . . .

AK: Oh, god . . .

FO: Where did you find out about the protest?

AK: I don’t know . . . 

FO: What?

AK: The 51st . . . Listen, you know what’s uncomfortable? I don’t have a bra on . . . Just don’t look at me, please.

Men’s voice: Not like there’s anything there to look at, shit.

AK: Oh, well thanks.

(The sound of a strike.)

AK: OK, you hit me . . . 

(The sound of another strike.)

AK: You hit me on the head, on my face with a bottle of water.

MO: And?

AK: Oh, shit. (Aleksandra exhales). 

MO: I think she’s getting off on us beating her up.

Male Officer #2 [henceforth MO2]: Would you look at her . . .

MO: Yeah, this dipshit. Fucking loser. What, you think we’re gonna get in trouble for this? Putin told us to kill all of these dumbfucks. That’s it! Putin’s on our side! You’re the enemies of the Russian people, OK, fucking enemies of the state. I’m gonna fucking kill you, OK, and that’s it. Finished. And then they’ll give us a prize for it, too.

FO: What eye color?

MO: Light brown.

FO: Place of work?

AK: I refuse to answer in accordance with Article 51 of the Constitution.

MO: This isn’t an interrogation. We’re just filling out the forms here.

AK: But I already told you everything.

MO: Fine. [Suggestively] Hey, Lyosh.

MO2: Yeah?

AK: Ow, my hair, it hurts!

MO: [singing] It huuurts, it huuurts. 

(Unclear sounds.)

MO: She hasn’t washed for a week! They’re all like that! Look at all of them!

AK: But we’ve been here for more than three [inaudible]!

MO: More than three [inaudible], fuck, goddammit. We’ve been working for over twenty-four hours, fucking, goddammit. There are some . . . You need to have some self-respect.

FO: Where did you find out about the protest?! 

AK: Ugh, I refuse to answer, the 51st.

FO: What the fuck is the point, I don’t get it.

Second woman’s voice: I don’t get it, either.

FO: You’re all fucked in the head! All of you are fucked up.

AK: A man is beating me in front of you and I’m the one who’s fucked up?

FO: Yeah! Yeah!

AK: Got it.

MO: Alright, we need to put the ruler down right here [inaudible].

MO2: That’s right, the fingers [inaudible].

FO: You fucking live in this country, fucking it up, shit.

AK: You’re talking about electrocuting me right now?

MO2: Uh-huh, that’s right, we’ll need to hit 220 volts.

MO: Stand up, a girl’s gonna take your picture now, go . . .

AK: No, I refuse to be photographed. 

MO: No, it’ll have to be done.

AK: No, it won’t have to be done.

MO: Come on, come on, stand up, get up. 

AK: Just don’t hit me.

MO: Go, stand over there.

AK: I’m not going to go stand over there, I refuse to be photographed. I’ll sign a refusal to be photographed. 

FO: Go into that . . .

MO: That’s it, you don’t have a phone anymore. [inaudible]

(The sound of an object hitting a hard surface.)

MO: It got a little air there. Just like a soccer ball! You won’t need that anymore! It’s broken now. You decided not to . . . 

AK: Are you going to write up a seizure warrant?

MO: Why would I need a seizure warrant?

AK: You just broke my screen . . . 

MO: It just happened that way, it was an accident.

AK: It fell by accident?

MO: [inaudible] came in and it slipped. I have three of my own witnesses [inaudible].

AK: Oh you didn’t even shatter it, thanks.

MO: Up!

(Sounds. People are walking somewhere down hallways. The sounds of a woman’s wailing and the echoes of the space.) 

MO: Yakovleva!

AK: Oh . . . [sighs]

Yakovleva [henceforth Y]: Is something missing? Is it illegible?

Male Officer #3 [henceforth MO3]: This is a copy, right?

Y: Yeah, it’s a copy.

MO3: Do you have the original?

Y: What?

MO3: Do you have the original?

Y: So you’re saying that this is a copy, is that the problem?

MO3: No, see, I need the original document, OK, which proves your identity, so that we know that you’re you. A copy isn’t a document. Not that I care either way.

(Men’s voices.)

Y: I’ll read through it, what do you want from me? I won’t be able to sign it. Can I familiarize myself with this? There’s just a lot of people who’ll lie in your face, and to be honest, I don’t trust them.

(AK’s loud crying over the entirety of the following audio. A television is on loud in the background: news about natural gas in Europe and Ukraine.)

MO3: . . . sign these forms, please . . . , 

Y: Meet me halfway, let me first read what you wrote about me.

MO3: . . . write your information down here . . . 

Y: No, I don’t work anywhere officially, I’m not in school anywhere officially.

MO3: Just enter your information.

(AK is sobbing.)

MO3: You don’t work . . . 

Y: I dropped out of RGGU [Russian State University for the Humanities] last year, if that tells you anything.

MO3: So at the moment you’ve only completed high school. 

Y: Yes.

Y: 8901 . . . am I going to get a summons over text? I refuse to get a summons by text message.

MO3: This is your statement. What you did during the protest. Your phone number . . . 

(AK cries out.)

Y: Fine.

MO3: We’re gonna write down your phone number.

Y: OK, 901 . . . 

MO3: Take that. You’ll bring this with you. Remember, right?

Y: Yes. That I know, thank you. And that’s it, I can write whatever I want?

MO3: [inaudible]

Y: I’ll be very good, unlike that person on the first floor. Do I have to introduce myself again or no?

MO3: . . . how you participated in this protest . . . 

Y: Can I write down what happened, too?

MO3: [inaudible]

—Translated from the Russian by Mark Krotov and Bela Shayevich

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