The Institute of Modern Russia continues its series of articles dedicated to Russian political prisoners with a portrait of Sergei Udaltsov, a leader of the Left Front movement, one of the leaders of the 2011–12 protest movement, and a defendant in the Bolotnaya case.

 

 

Name: Sergei Stanislavovich Udaltsov
Date of Birth: February 16, 1977

Udaltsov is accused of organizing mass riots during the May 6, 2012, Bolotnaya Square protests, and being involved in the organization of mass riots in other Russian cities. He is currently under house arrest and faces 10 years of imprisonment.

Sergei Udaltsov, a leader of the Left Front movement and one of the leaders of the 2011–12 protest movement, was placed under investigation by the Russian government in October 2012. Like Leonid Razvozzhayev, another Left Front activist (whose case IMR covered in the last article of this series), Udaltsov was accused, under Article 212 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, of organizing mass riots during the May 6, 2012, Bolotnaya Square protests, and of attempting to organize mass riots in other parts of Russia.

It is worth mentioning again here that the opening of criminal cases against Left Front activists was triggered by the broadcast by NTV of a documentary entitled Anatomy of a Protest—2 in October 2012. This documentary used video footage recorded using a hidden camera in which Udaltsov (along with Razvozzhayev and Konstantin Lebedev, another Left Front activist) allegedly discussed the funding of the Left Front with Givi Targamadze, chairman of the Security Committee of the Georgian Parliament, and Mikhail Iashvili, the Georgian consul in Moldova. According to the creators of the documentary, this conversation constituted preparations for mass riots in Russia.

However, as became known later from the testimony of Alexey Malkov, an NTV journalist and one of the creators of the documentary, multiple hours of both video footage and audio recordings were gathered for the film, and the audio tracks were then layered onto the video footage. The original footage was given to the Russian Investigative Committee for examination, but for reasons that were never explained, the footage was somehow later destroyed.

Still, the Investigative Committee confirmed that the footage was genuine, and on October 26, 2012, Udaltsov—who had been prevented from leaving Moscow as a pretrial restriction—was charged with organizing mass riots in Bolotnaya Square.

Initially, the cases of Udaltsov, Razvozzhayev, and Lebedev were combined together as the Anatomy of a Protest—2 case, but in January 2013, the Investigative Committee merged this case with the Bolotnaya case. According to investigators, the organizers of the mass riots were the missing link in the Bolotanya case—and the Left Front activists had to be that missing link.

Udaltsov (like Razvozzhayev) did not admit guilt, claiming that the charges were absurd and politically motivated. Lebedev decided to cooperate with the investigation and signed a confessionary statement. On April 25, 2013, the Moscow City Court found him guilty after a brief trial and sentenced him to two and a half years in the general penal colony (a much lighter sentence than might have been expected, considering the gravity of the charges and the fact that the prosecutor had asked for a term of five years). Thanks to his cooperation with the investigation, Lebedev was released on parole a year later, on April 24, 2014. Commenting on the actions of his former Left Front colleague, Udaltsov stated harshly that “Lebedev’s behavior shows banal cowardice and a lack of principle, leading to grave consequences [and] betrayal.”

As many observers have noted, the primary goal of Anatomy of a Protest—2 was to discredit one person—Udaltsov, who, along with Alexey Navalny, became one of the faces of the 2011–12 protest movement. The charismatic and straightforward leader of the Left Front was becoming more and more popular with the opposition, especially among those people with leftist views.

According to many political analysts, the new leftist forces could become a bridge between protestors in the capital and those in the Russian regions. Therefore, the Kremlin decided to neutralize the Left Front and to discredit its leader.

Udaltsov went into politics in the late 1990s. He organized the Red Youth Vanguard (AKM) movement that eventually became the youth wing of Viktor Ampilov’s Labor Russia movement. Later still, AKM joined Russia’s Communist Party. In 2005, Udaltsov participated in the creation of the Left Front, a radical leftist organization that advocated socialist development in Russia. Udaltsov became one of its leaders.

However, the Left Front’s radicalism was largely rhetorical. On one hand, the movement organized protests on a regular basis. The so-called “Days of Anger” protests, which railed against the country’s deteriorating social and economic situation, were especially popular. On the other hand, the Left Front did not shy away from the possibility of cooperation with the pro-Kremlin Seliger youth movement. And in 2011, Udaltsov, on behalf of the Left Front, signed an agreement with the Communist Party, known for its close connections to the Kremlin, and endorsed its candidates in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

The question, then, is why the Left Front and its leader became targets of the Kremlin’s attack on the opposition. According to Ilya Ponomaryov, a State Duma deputy and a member of the Just Russia Party, the authorities were threatened by two characteristics of the Left Front: its large regional network and its ability to speak in plain language to average Russians. As Ponomaryov explained, “Liberals . . . are beneficial [to the authorities], because liberals cause a stir in Moscow . . . which only highlights the gap with [the rest of] Russia. . . . The names of opposition members [Kasyanov, Nemtsov, Navalny, etc.] are constantly voiced, but they are not popular in Russia’s regions. People ask Navalny about housing, traffic, apartment issues, and he responds with talk about corruption. And the Left Front speaks about apartment issues first, and about politics later. And this made it dangerous”.

In interviews, Udaltsov predicted that in the next 10 years, a new, powerful leftist movement would emerge on which he would base his new leftist party. According to many political analysts, the new leftist forces could become a bridge between protestors in the capital and those in the Russian regions. Therefore, the Kremlin decided to neutralize the Left Front and to discredit its leader. At the same time, it needed to make sure that Udaltsov wouldn’t become a martyr, a figure who traditionally evokes sympathy from Russians.

 

 

On February 9, 2013, the Basmanny district court of Moscow granted a motion to place Udaltsov under house arrest. Udaltsov has been banned from leaving his apartment (and even from stepping out onto his own balcony) without permission from law enforcement; from using Internet, mail, and mobile services; and from communicating with anyone except for family members, lawyers, investigators, and officials of the Federal Service for Execution of Punishment.

On December 26, 2013, preliminary hearings on Udaltsov’s case started in Moscow behind closed doors. The trial began on February 25, 2014—right after the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The initial court date was February 18, but, according to many observers of the Bolotnaya trial, it was changed to a later date so that this high-profile political case would not draw international attention during the Olympics.

Udaltsov’s trial, which is still ongoing, differs little from other trials of Bolotnaya defendants: it’s formalistic, and the court procedures are plagued by multiple legal violations, some of them bordering on the absurd. The following situation is a telling example. On April 1, Udaltsov was home from court on sick leave due to an active gastroduodenal ulcer. However, he was still summoned to court because, according to the judge, Alexander Zamashnyuk, he didn’t have a doctor’s note. During the court session, Udaltsov complained about feeling unwell, and the judge called for an ambulance. As witnesses noted later, the doctors came into the courtroom literally three minutes after the call, which gave the impression that the whole interaction was a “rehearsed show.” After examining Udaltsov right in the courtroom, the doctors concluded that he was fit to continue participating in the hearing. Meanwhile, Udaltsov’s lawyer, Violetta Volkova, reached out to the dean of the hospital that issued the doctor’s note to her client, and the dean confirmed that the note was properly issued. However, Judge Zamashnyuk waived this information and continued the session. After a while, Udaltsov complained about feeling worse. In response, the judge first reprimanded him and then, since Udaltsov still insisted that he was not fit to continue the hearing, removed him from the court until the trial was over, thus denying him the right to defend himself. However, a week later, Zamashnyuk changed his mind and admitted Udaltsov back into the hearings.

Another feature of the Udaltsov trial is its lack of witnesses who can confirm that the leader of the Left Front was the organizer of the mass riots in Bolotnaya Square. Many of the officers of the Special Police Force (OMON) who were called to the court testified that they had no complaints against either Udaltsov or Razvozzhayev. Even Lebedev, who was called to court by the prosecution as a “surprise” witness, suddenly claimed that the investigation had misinterpreted his initial testimony, in which he allegedly confirmed that Udaltsov and Razvozzhayev’s activities were directed toward organizing mass riots. Lebedev also asked the court to consider only his present testimony.

However, despite the prosecutors’ lack of adequate proof and the absurdity of the trial process, few people doubt that the verdict in the Udaltsov case will be guilty. Before the trial began, Udaltsov said in an interview with Novaya Gazeta that the only way to help the Bolotnaya defendants is to raise awareness. “Leaders of the opposition must make all possible efforts to ensure that the fate of the Bolotnaya prisoners is at the center of public attention,” he said. “Only a public response and large protests can make the authorities ease the repressions and finish the trial with soft sentences or with acquittals, which would be the right thing to do. If this trial goes ahead quietly, we will all end up in colonies serving long terms—there is no doubt about it.”

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