In a separate post, I discuss what I believe to be a climate of terror and oppression in Russia today for Russia’s opposition, who deserve to be called Russia’s new dissidents. Increasingly, life for certain segments of the Russian population entails enduring daily demoralizing degradations Westerners would find shocking, frightening and unbearable. This new form of oppression is in addition to official repression instituted by legislative means, such as the recent laws limiting protest, free speech, and annihilating freedom of assembly. This oppression is also in addition to the unofficial suppression by means of pervasive media control, censorship and propaganda. This oppression is part of an overall state-sponsored campaign to silence Putin’s critics and hound them out of Russia.
The attack on May 17th occurred as Navalny was returning from a camping retreat in southern Russia with family and friends from FBK. As they were about to enter the airport terminal in Anapa on their way back to Moscow, carrying all their camping gear and luggage on their backs in large backpacks, they were surrounded by about 40 men, some in camouflage and black sheepskin “Cossack” hats, others in plain clothes. The group was attacked with containers of milk, as well as taunts about being traitors to Russia. The perpetrators blocked the group’s entrance into the airport and herded them into a circle, around which the men swarmed as if they were encircling prey. Several young men in the group were beaten and kicked, by several “Cossack” attackers at once. An outraged Navalny yelled at them to stop and be mindful that women and children were present. Women screamed. It was a scene of chaos, menace and violence.
Below is an analysis of the above video taken during the May 17th grueling ordeal. This is the best way for Westerners to get a feel for what opposition figures like Navalny and their families actually go through in Russia. The video is sarcastically titled “Escorting Navalny out of Anapa [Airport] with Milk.” With everything happening so quickly, it’s nearly impossible to understand the stress and terror dissidents like Navalny are subjected to without stopping to do a frame-by-frame analysis of the scene and the progression of violence, physical as well as psychological. As the video begins, you can see Navalny’s group of a dozen or so people, workers and volunteers from the Anti-Corruption Foundation and their spouses and families, walking toward the Anapa Airport terminal carrying luggage and large backpacks. They are returning from a 4-day camping trip, a team-building retreat, as Navalny called it, to get away from Moscow and regroup for a few days in the country.
As the video begins, you can see Navalny’s group of a dozen or so people, workers and volunteers from the Anti-Corruption Foundation and their spouses and families, walking toward the Anapa Airport terminal carrying luggage and large backpacks. They are returning from a 4-day camping trip, a team-building retreat, as Navalny called it, to get away from Moscow and regroup for a few days in the country.
The group is seen walking in a column with their heads down, and eyes looking down toward the ground. Clearly they see trouble is around them, and their body language expresses their instinctive reactions to the tense and stressful atmosphere. There are in fact dozens of men outside the airport staring at them, following alongside them, and taunting them. The men are dressed both in paramilitary camouflage as well as ordinary clothing, some wearing the characteristic sheepskin hat of the paramilitary Cossacks. You might remember that it was a group of Cossacks who whipped Pussy Riot members in Sochi during the Olympics in 2014.
Navalny and members of his Anti-Corruption Fund are young but not naive. They have been victims of many previous “provocations” that took place at political rallies or campaigns. From these previous attacks, they understood full well that this was going to be another menacing act. But they were on vacation, with their families, so, once again, they are caught off-guard, unprepared for the coming assault. What should they expect in this different circumstance? Would something get thrown at them? Or would it be worse? They were with family and loved ones, even young children were present. So that added to the feeling of menace and fear, undoubtedly. Whatever was going to happen, they understood right away that they were going to be targets of some sadistic form of humiliation, some deliberate act, planned in advance, coordinated with police and/or security forces, with cameras at the ready to capture each humiliating frame. Since this was a public place, outside an airport, the planning was probably greater than elsewhere, since Russia like most nations has recently increased security and police presence at airports due to the threat of terrorism. (Ironic, isn’t it?)
1. In this first frame of the video, you can see on the left Navalny’s group walking toward the airport, carrying their camping gear and full backpacks. Most of their heads are turned down in a defensive posture, looking away from their attackers, but also clearly sensing the trouble to come. Navalny’s hand is at his mouth in a gesture of concern as he realizes that some 40 men are waiting for them. The attackers are scattered but some are walking along, following the group. Notice the man in black in the center looking to his left at the group. The attackers start commenting on the group of victims, who continue to look down and not engage the taunters. They just want to keep walking and get out of there.
Notice among those in Navalny’s group walking protectively and defensively with heads down and not engaging is the tall young man with the green bag and red shirt. He, like all the others, is also walking defensively, trying to avoid a confrontation. His head is lowered, eyes are averted. This is important because he will later be blamed by the attackers for starting the subsequent physical assault.
2. In stark contrast to the defensive stance of Navalny’s group are the offensive postures of the men surrounding the group. The man in the black Cossack hat and camo in the foreground stares piercingly and directly at the group as they walk by. He is also physically leaning in leftwards in the direction of the group, a very offensive and menacing body gesture. Notice that he is hiding his hands and an object behind his back.
Navalny’s group procession with their heads instinctively down is eerily reminiscent of captive prisoners of war in a humiliating parade before their captors. They even look like they’re about to be spat on.
3. Instead of spit, there are liters of milk. Here you can see the “Cossack” in the hat who stood leaning over the group menacingly a moment ago, now taking aim with his hidden object, and is about to throw the object in his hands with full force at the group. You can also see that several other men in the same black Cossack hats have now attacked Navalny simultaneously with jugs of liquid. The perpetrators later said to Meduza media, they were simply intending to throw some milk. Milk sounds so harmless, but certainly several large containers of milk thrown directly at a person in a coordinated assault are far from harmless. The substance could have been something more dangerous, certainly. But having anything thrown at your body is jarring, painful and frightening. And if you’ve been attacked before, are surrounded by many angry men hurling insults as well as hurling objects forcefully at you, this is anything but harmless. It almost knocks a large man like Navalny to the ground. This is a vicious and cruel coordinated, premeditated assault.
4. Here you can see even after the first attack, the perpetrators arms are still raised and are about to throw more objects. On the left you can see one of the attackers with his arm raised high with a bottle in the air. The attack is not over, there is more to come. It’s unclear what else will happen. Meanwhile the attacker in the foreground we saw in screenshots 1. and 2. above has moved to the left, and the other menacing character dressed in black with one hand behind his back and another holding something black is monitoring the scene. He has been following the group since the first frame. After the first attack, we see the others in Navalny’s group look up for the first time and witness the milk assault on Navalny by several men.
5. Now you can see a great deal of liquid in the air, as another attack takes place. The members of Navalny’s group react with defensive, instinctive movements. One man on the left raises his arm, as if to signal for help. A woman on the right raises her arms from her sides to protect herself as she but continues to look downward. She picks up her pace to move quickly, to escape the attack, still looking down, avoiding confrontation. Another man is seen to the right turning around to assess the situation. Again, the man in black hasn’t changed his stance. He’s still got his right arm conspicuously behind his back. He could easily be carrying a weapon tucked into the back of his waistband, and perhaps that’s why his hand has not moved from that spot.
6. Within 3 seconds, the scene is more chaotic. You can see a circle has formed around the Navalny group victims, surrounded by men in uniforms. Several cameras are visible recording their captured prey, it seems. Some members of Navalny’s group have turned around and noticed they’re surrounded on all sides by a lot of men. Around 40, we later learn. Another looks to be carrying someone else’s backpack. Now we can see more clearly the groups of men across the street, watching and waiting for their victims. They look pleased, several stand with their arms crossed, legs apart, in a very satisfied manner and in a powerful stance. Their leader, the older man in the short-sleeved yellow shirt can be seen on the sidewalk as well. The verbal taunts continue.
7. This appears to be the real “welcome party.” Navalny and group are surrounded by several rows of paramilitary men. It’s as if he and his group are on someone else’s turf, and can’t get through without having to pay a price. Notice the menacing, bullying stance of several of the uniformed men staring down the approaching group: arms crossed, legs apart. Just waiting boldly for their prey. The group tries to move more quickly, as evidenced by the long stride of the man in blue. Again the group is moving in a way that shows it wants to avoid confrontation.
8. Navalny and his group have stopped, confronted and blocked from the airport entrance by the men waiting for them on the sidewalk. The men’s taunts continue. The gray-haired Nesterenko, a local ataman, surrounded by his men, has his hands on his hips in a macho confrontational stance. He’s leaning on one leg, as if very comfortable on his home turf and with an entourage. He is now laughing and mocking Navalny. Navalny’s wife and child are seen to the left, staying away from Navalny. The group is still surrounded. At least one man on the sidewalk has his arms raised and a clenched first. He looks angry. Navalny’s group must be terrified by now, realizing they’re in a kettle.
9. Despite the taunts, you can see Navalny and his group continuing to avoid confrontation. They look down and away and try to keep walking ahead. You can see several of their group with heads almost lurching forward ahead of their bodies.
10. Navalny walks closer to Nesterenko and his men, hoping to walk past. But Nesterenko and the attackers don’t move, continues to block passage for Navalny’s group. Nesterenko continues to clap slowly and mockingly.
11. Within seconds, everyone is closer together, as the kettle of attackers surrounding Navalny and his group is herded together. The attackers actually swarm around the group. Navalny looks worried as he glances toward his wife who is standing to the right with their child, whose hand she is holding tightly. The man in the blue shirt looks to be worried too as he glances back to see one of the “Cossacks ” so close to the group.
12. Navalny group is surrounded, their path is blocked, and they can go no further. The scene appears more chaotic. Members of the group are seen facing all different directions. One member in the green shirt and bottle looks to be confronted directly by “Cossack” men, on the right of the frame.
13. Nesterenko, laughing, approaches the group. Navalny’s young son is seen just behind him, on the left. Imagine how Navalny must feel, having his son observe the mockery from his attackers. Blocked from entering the airport by the men, Navalny talks to them. Nesterenko is seen laughing, gloating to see Navalny and his group upset, anxious and frightened. He’s actually enjoying inflicting his terror. Navalny’s young son seems to touching Nesterenko’s hand, perhaps trying to get his attention to leave them alone.
14. Now you can see Navalny in the center of his surrounded, defenseless group, many women and children, with his arms up and speaking to someone. They are still being herded by their attackers who continue to walk around them. The group needs safe passage, but are still being blocked. The ataman Nesterenko walks around the group, and is off to the left now.
15. At least 5 men in Cossack hats are seen holding Navalny and others in a tight, herded group, similar to a military kettle. Julia Navalny looks back with worried furrowed brows to see her husband speaking to the attackers. The situation is not resolving. They are still not allowed to pass through to the airport entrance, just beyond rows of men.
16. Navalny’s group is in a smaller, tighter circle, having been herded like prey.
17. Nesterenko off to the left appears to have struck or pushed one of the members of Navalny’s group carrying a ball. Navalny is upset, as the “Cossacks” still surround his group, including directly blocking his wife on the right. Chaos ensues as the group tries to get past but are blocked by the attackers. Navalny says incredulously, “WTF are you doing? Don’t you see there’s a child here?”
18. The man with the ball who was pushed by Nesterenko turns away from him and walks in the opposite direction, perhaps to escape further aggression. But Navalny’s group is surrounded by men, several rows deep, unable to leave, and the atmosphere becomes more frightening and chaotic. The man in the blue shirt, Artem Torchinsky, spreads his arms out to protect Navalny and others from the “Cossacks” blocking their passage and by now clearly terrorizing the group.
19. The man in the red shirt tries to get through the blockade of men swarming around them and shoves his elbow into Nesterenko, the leader of the group who has been taunting and terrorizing them.
20. Nesterenko backs away from the young man in the red shirt’s elbow. This could not have been a major physical blow because Nesterenko didn’t fall or even lose his balance. He leaned away and continued on. But in this mafia-style jungle world, the young man’s elbow was seen as an insult to their leader. The young man was not going to get away with it without punishment. And it was collective punishment, of course, because several men were subsequently beaten and everyone was terrorized.
21. After the young man in the red shirt elbowed his way through the blockade of paramilitary thugs, who were deliberately terrorizing the group, a “Cossack” grabs the arm of the man in the red shirt.
22. Someone in Navalny’s group is holding Navalny’s young son as the melee begins. You can see the child to the right of the frame looking up to his father. In the foreground, you can see the man in black (previously with his hand behind his back) grab the man in the red shirt. He postures to grab one arm and hit with the other. The other “Cossack” grabbing the arm looks over to the man in black, as if to say, here’s your man, I got him so do your stuff.
23. The man in black who grabbed the man in the red shirt is trying to knock him down. His fists are clenched. You can see at the right side of the frame the arm of the other attacker (in camo) on the back of the man’s neck, grabbing him from behind. Women on the left are screaming. “What are you doing?! POLICE!!” The woman in the foreground raises her hands in a pleading gesture. Another man in Navalny’s group stretches out his arm to try to stop the attack.
24. The woman on the left is very upset, her face and mouth contorted as if saying “OH!” This is the wife of the man in the red shirt who has now been grabbed from behind and knocked down by at least two men. Others in Navalny’s group try to stop the assault.
25. Navalny is seen pleading with two uniformed policemen who are on the scene, but are doing nothing to stop the assault. Meanwhile, the man in blue, Torchinsky, tries to get the attackers off the man in the red shirt. In the next several frames you will see that he is himself attacked by several men at once, shouting “Beat him, beat him.” He will be beaten severely and will end up in the hospital.
26. Torchinsky who was trying to pull attackers off the man with the red shirt has himself become a prime target. Here you can see the first moment when he raises his arms to shield himself from the man in black whose head is visible in this frame. Only one hand of the other attacker is visible on the right. Meanwhile, Navalny is desperately trying to get help from the police, seen on the right in uniform, who are standing by and letting his group be attacked and blocked from safe passage.
27./28. The Cossacks now go after Torchinsky. He is trying to defend himself from the assault. His arms are raised and bent in a defensive posture. He is not trying to hit anyone or attack back. But the man in black who went after the young man in the red shirt is seen extending his arm toward Torchinsky.
29. A member of Navalny’s group is holding on to Torchinsky and his backpack to protect him from the coming onslaught. Notice that the policemen and another official-looking uniformed man on the right are watching the events.
30.-32. Several men in camouflage and Cossack hats gang up on Torchinsky striking him in the face, head, knocking off his glasses and hat. More attackers come in response to repeated shouts of “Beat him!” Another member of the group is pushed as the attackers lunge for Torchinsky.
33. Torchinsky is holding his head, which has just received several blows from the attackers. He’s in pain and tries to protect himself from more blows. He holds his head as he is pushed in a backward fall to the ground. He’s surrounded by at least 8 attackers, some of whom are visibly smiling in the back left of the frame, pleased with their torment. The man trying to help Torchinsky earlier has his arms up in a defensive posture. The woman in red also has her arm raised trying to protect her colleague.
34. Torchinsky is not visible because he has been knocked onto the ground by his attackers. Several “Cossacks” can be seen looking down to where he has been pushed.
33. Torchinsky is on the ground, his blue shirt is all that is visible in this frame. The woman in red looks around aghast. You can see attackers in camo and hats with their arms up as if balancing themselves. This is presumably when they are kicking their victim with their feet. Torchinsky is later sent to the hospital for these injuries.
34. Now the attackers are grabbing another member of the group. There are 4 “Cossacks,” 2 are holding the young man in the white t-shirt. Notice that a policeman in uniform (and cap) is looking on just to their right. The police official does not stop the men who have grabbed the young man’s arm and backpack.
35. The new target in sunglasses is seen being accosted and grabbed by several men in camouflage. An attacker in white grabs the young man’s neck and is pushing him forcefully forward. You can see the muscles in the young man’s arms tighten as he tries to resist. Another attacker is grabbing his backpack from behind. A policeman looks on and does nothing. In the background you can see someone bending over Torchinsky who is still on the ground suffering from injuries. He was kicked while he was down, someone yells. The woman in red has a horrified expression on her face as she looks down at her injured colleague Torchinsky.
36. In the next few frames you can see several assaults and victims in various stages. In the background left Torchinsky is lying on the ground. The woman in red and a man with a blue backpack are at his side, leaning down towards the ground. In the foreground, the young man with sunglasses is being held by several men in camo. And to the right, some other attack is going on. You can see another member of Navalny’s group in a white shirt bent over and reaching out as if to maintain his balance, while several “Cossacks” are attacking and pulling him down from behind. One of the attackers is again smiling, sadistically. This is just above the uniformed policeman’s hat in the frame.
37. In this frame, you can see more clearly the ganging up of several attackers on one victim. In the foreground, 3 men have their hands on the young man with the sunglasses. And toward the right, 2 men, one still smiling, are attacking another man, who is struggling to keep his balance.
38. These next few frames show how complicit officials in Russia are in such violent attacks. A policeman in uniform watches as an innocent man is ganged up on by 3 “Cossacks.”
39. While others are being attacked in the background, in the foreground several “Cossacks” in hats are smashing in a young man’s face with their hands. He is immobilized by a man holding his arms. Again, a policeman or some security official stands right there, simply watching this nasty violent attack against unarmed and outnumbered men and women.
40. Several assaults can be seen continuing in this frame.
41. Torchinsky is visible now on the left. He is on the ground severely injured. Meanwhile the man in white shirt and gray shorts is being held in a wrestling position from the back such that his arms are immobilized. He is also being pulled backwards off balance.
42. Here is the man in gray being pulled down by his attacker, from behind. Police watch. A “Cossack” guard calmly stands with his hands in his pockets.
43. Attack continues. Police watch silently.
44. The man in the gray shorts is finally knocked to the ground. Torchinsky’s knee is visible off to the left. Many onlookers, including cameramen, lurking about.
45. Two of Navalny’s group are on the ground, injured. Police seem to be talking about the man in the gray shorts, as he is gesturing toward him lying on the ground.
46. In this frame you can see several men beginning their second assault on the tall man in the red shirt.
47. Notice that the men often grab their victims from behind, using multiple attackers on one individual. This ensures an unfair and unequal fight, where the victim is overpowered and outnumbered.
48. Navalny and Leonid Volkov notice that the young man in the red shift is falling to the ground. His wife is screaming.
49. The woman in red is trying to stop the attack on her husband, the man in red shift, who is attacked by several men to the right of the frame.
50. Navalny is being grabbed by the man in camo and hat. He’s trying to keep his balance. Another man with the green backpack is also now being pulled down. The man in red shirt is still being attacked in the back, where his wife is seen in red.
51. Navalny and others have worried expressions. He is repelling an attacker. Man in green backpack is still being assaulted.
52. More than a minute and a half into the assault, after several people have been beaten, a policeman finally makes an effort to stop the assaults. He spreads his arms out.
53. Another attack is going on at the right of the frame.
54. Navalny and several of his group attend to Torchinsky, lying on the ground, his blue shirt visible. In the foreground, one young man grabs the arm of another to prevent him from being attacked further.
55. Torchinsky on the ground. He’s holding his right eye which was punched by attackers. In the foreground, you can see several security officials. The one on the left has a badge from the Russian Interior Ministry. He was seen earlier standing and looking on, doing nothing to stop Navalny’s group from being herded and attacked.
56. Most of the horror has subsided. The height of the terror-assault lasted a little over 2 minutes. Navalny and a dozen or so members of his group are visible here. They look stunned and exhausted. They are still trying to get their bearings. Volkov on the right looks angry and concerned. Below him someone is sitting on the ground with his head slumped. The woman on the right holding red camping pads also looks troubled. The man in the foreground is holding his face in a pained expression. A man in the back with a camera continues to record the assault “event.”
After the group finally made it out of there and back to Moscow, Navalny posted some photos as well as an account of what happened. He was able to provide more context as well as more background on the perpetrators. He also described a previous similar encounter on the front end of their trip which turns out to have been a prelude to the full-fledged attack seen here.
Navalny and his group were undeniably terrorized. Seeing the assault frame by frame captures the gravity of the attack. It allows us to view the visible pain and torment that Navalny and Russians like him have to endure all too often in Putin’s Russia. We can also see the faces of the perpetrators, some smiling, others in proud arrogant stances, as they carry out their acts of despicable cruelty and humiliation. We see clearly not only a climate of terror and menace but one approved by state actors. That these terror-assaults are increasing in frequency and gravity only highlights the extreme degradation of morality and humanity inside Putin’s Russia. No, he is not sending masses of people to the GULAG or executing them on the spot. He couldn’t do that without an iron curtain. But the atmosphere his Kremlin has created and continues to encourage is terrorizing its citizens. The psychological effects on such prolonged stress and trauma on innocent people are bound to have terrible consequences for Russian society for some time to come.
What we can do in the Western media is take the time to highlight and discuss these horrible abuses at length. I’m convinced that most people here simply have no clue about the appalling circumstances of everyday life for Russia’s dissidents, so vividly exposed in the screenshots above. I purposefully use that word “dissidents” because it is a powerful term with a history of struggle and victory. Words such as “protesters” and “activists” don’t convey their role or experience. These people are fighting and risking their healthy and sanity for things we take for granted. We can criticize our government, mock our president, protest against injustice, and we can go back home, have dinner with our families, and not fear that the next time we go on vacation or step outside, we will be terrorized by government-sponsored vigilantes calling us traitors, hurling insults and objects, trying to scare us into silence.
Putin’s reign of terror against Russia’s new dissidents can’t stop if the world doesn’t even stop to pay attention to it and call it what it is.