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Monday, March 12, 2007

Pasko on Khodorkovsky's Cellmate

Robert Amsterdam, who has pulled off the greatest coup in and service to the Russia blogosphere to date by signing up Russian hero journalist Grigori Pasko (pictured) as a columnist and arranging to translate his work, offers the following fascinating account from Pasko featuring "an exclusive, first-ever interview with one of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's cellmates, which illustrates like few other sources the day-to-day life inside the contemporary Russian gulag, courtesy of the great human rights hero Grigory Pasko. It is a testament to Pasko's strength of will to track down this informant and delve into these issues, as he himself languished unjustly for many years in a Russian prison." One cannot possibly praise highly enough the quality of Amsterdam's blog, especially in offering many original translations and various other forms of original content. If his professionalism is any indication of that of his client, Khodorkhovsky's jailing must be recorded as one of the great tragedies of Russian history, equal to the jailing of Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn. Russia will pay in blood for generations because of these outrages.

Khodorkovsky with a “Brood Hen”

By Grigory Pasko, journalist

Obligatory foreword

The thought suddenly occurred to me: why aren’t there any interviews anywhere with those who at various times and in various places shared a cell with Khodorkovsky? I know from personal experience: tell me who you did time with, and I’ll tell you HOW you did your time. In short, I found a whole bunch of people who had been together with MBK in the Krasnokamensk “zone” and in the Chita “isolator”. Not everyone agreed to be interviewed on tape. Andrey V., the former foreman of the sewing shop at correctional colony IK-10, did agree. Our talk was long and detailed. Right at the start of our conversation, he told me “I already know all about you…”

An hour after we had said our goodbyes, Andrey V. phoned me and said: “There’s a person. He sat a month with Khodorkovsky in the same cell. I don’t need to tell you he wasn’t ‘just’ sitting there…”

I understand what he means: they wouldn’t put just anybody in the same cell as THIS jailbird. No, they would place a “brood hen” – a specially trained prisoner-informant. The “brood hen’s” job is to listen and to hear everything his cellmate lives and breathes, and then to report all of this to those who put him in the cell to sit there – just like a farmer puts a real brood hen on eggs to sit on them until they hatch.

At first I wanted to call this article “An interview with a brood hen”. But then I decided that it would be more logical to write it in the form of a monologue. And so, I give you the man who sat in the same cell with Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the Chita isolator from early January through early February 2007.

My name is Anton Morozov. I’m 24 years old. I was born and raised in Chita. I finished high school, but couldn’t get into college anywhere – I’d gotten my first jail term. For fraud. I was a steward. (Author’s commentary: In the camps, a person who becomes a steward or gets appointed to some other position by the administration becomes “knitted” or “red” [a “trusty” in English]; that is, obligated to cooperate with the administration of the “place of deprivation of liberty” of his own volition.)

… In the isolator, a person from our operative unit said to me: “Sit a while with a person…” Oh, and there were also two colonels from Krasnoyarsk and one from Moscow… “You sit, keep an eye on the person, see what’s what. Don’t try to pull anything out of him. Just report what he says himself to us. But be careful – he’s already an experienced person.”

They put me in a security cell. (Author’s commentary: a security cell is one where the security regimen established by the Internal Regulations is strictly and rigorously observed, which happens rarely.) Reveille at 6 AM, inspection… Naturally, I’d heard about Khodorkovsky before this. The cell was in the old building on the third floor. They’d done the building up specially; there’s a special burrow (corridor) there. It’s all very hush-hush: the cell doesn’t even have a number on it. The duty officers are all with the rank of captain or higher. The system is that they live a month, and then get replaced. They’re not locals; they’re from Krasnoyarsk. They don’t tell the innkeeper (prison warden) anything.

They put me there in January, early in the month, and on February 2 they released me. That whole time Khodorkovsky and I sat there together, the two of us. The cell has a television, and it’s all neat and clean. Six shkons (beds), two-level. Bedside tables.. Nothing European or anything, just the typical stuff. There’s a video camera in the cell. From what I was told, the images are somehow sent to Moscow… One window. Double pane, bars, another double pane, and more bars.

The administration keeps things under very serious observation. They even measure the temperature in the cell. Sauna once a week, right there on the same floor.

There’s two guys sitting with Platon (Lebedev). I was told they were supposed to put one more person in with us, in order to divert suspicion from me. They told me: “The lawyers are going to poke holes in (examine) you, so don’t stick your neck out, don’t set yourself up, just sit tight.”

He’s using the formal form of address with me. At first I was using the informal, but then I switched to the formal too. We washed the floors ourselves, taking turns. We ate gruel, but he’s got the means, so he buys everything in the prison shop. Doesn’t smoke.

At the very beginning, we didn’t talk for three-four days. He loaded (offered) books on me.. . He reads Pikul, Chase, newspapers in English, “Times” for example… He gets publications from there.. He’s got four children, a son who’s finishing up his studies in America A daughter, another two sons…

A lawyer comes to see him, not one but many. They sit there 4-5 hours at a time, discussing.
I ask how come they stay so long. He says that they’re working on problems, both with the investigation and with the firm. He told me how he’d started with a cooperative, rose up by selling computers, occupied a post in the Komsomol, earned extra money working as a janitor, a carpenter, he used to repair windows on high-rises in Moscow… He told me about pyramid schemes, how some people rise up (get rich).

Maybe in a week or so he started to make contact with me. Asked about life in the camps, what things are like there. I’d already been in IK-3 before. He told about the attempt against him happened. He was friends, or rather, he was just associating with this one person; they had a trusting relationship. Yes, yes, with Kuchma. Mikhail Borisovich said: “I’m sleeping, and I woke up because I’d sensed the glint of a knife. A shoemaker’s knife. Kuchma had wanted to get me in the eye, but glanced off the bridge of my nose instead.” Now he (Khodorkovsky) has a scar on his nose. He lucked out, in other words. Well, and they’ve told me the situation is the same as in the whole camp system. There are men of status (polozhentsy), overseers (smotryashchiye). Apparently, Kuchma had a conflict with the blatnye (full-time professional criminals) and he agreed to do this, with Khodorkovsky, so they’d get him out of the “zone”. That’s possible. But I also heard from one of the officers that Khodorkovsky had set this whole thing up, and that one hundred thousand dollars had even been transferred to Kuchma’s account. Do I personally believe this? No, I don’t. Oh yeah, and then there was this dirty rumour that Khodorkovsky was supposedly making passes at Kuchma. There couldn’t have been any intimate relations there, of course.

…We’re different people, naturally. There wasn’t really anything else we could talk about. Just about life in general… In short, those who had put me in the cell with Khodorkovsky didn’t get anything from me. I was released. Before trial: my trial’s still coming up. My lawyer took care of things. They wanted information out of me. I explained that Khodorkovsky won’t give it, he’s not a stupid person. They told me to watch how he behaved, what he’s like when he comes back from the lawyers, what he writes and to whom. Keep an eye on him, maybe he’s ready to commit suicide, to set us up. They never did get anything serious out of me. He controls the situation well by himself; education and life experience help.

He talked about politics… that a tax – I don’t remember which one – well, anyway, he’d been fighting for taxes. If they’re going to be a lot bigger, then they won’t be able to work. When they, the businessmen, got together – I don’t remember the names – someone proposed a new tax, but he got up and said: “I know who will benefit from this, into whose pocket this tax will fall. He argued about it; in short, they didn’t adopt the tax. And because of this he got in someone’s way. Someone decided that he was going to nominate himself for the post of president.

We also talked a bit about the case. As I understood it, they’d filed new charges against him for stealing 15 billion dollars. Mikhail Borisovich told me that all of this money had gone exactly where it was supposed to go, not into his personal pocket. And all the reports were laid out on the company’s website. He said that if he’d agreed with the charges against him, he’d have gotten a suspended sentence. “But I”, he says, “can’t lie.” That’s the kind of person he is. He understands that they’re going to add on a new sentence.

Photo of Anton Morozov by Grigory Pasko

What’s the daily routine like? The usual. We got up at 6 in the morning. Khodorkovsky doesn’t eat breakfast, just some juice, fruits, biscuits. He eats everything at lunch. He doesn’t complain about the food. We’d start the cleanup, wash the floors, taking turns. I could have done it myself, but I didn't offer, so I could be at least a little bit equal with him. We watched TV. Mostly the news for him. Inspection at 8 AM sharp. Stripped to the waist. The inspection is conducted by all the top brass, the superintendent colonel who, as Khodorkovsky told me, travels everywhere with him. Between 9 and 10, they drive him to the procuracy. Here, in Chita, such a big deal, six escort vehicles, three of them from the road police.

They don’t feed him lunch at the procuracy. He mutinied about that. I didn’t even ask him about that. He looks normal. He exercises, lies down to sleep, gets a good night’s rest… Well, he does take some tablets to calm him down now and then. Always taking notes… I snuck a peek at what he was writing: need to reply to such and such a letter, write a complaint – he scribbles everything down, keeps notes. He writes letters. He gets a lot of letters. Definitely at least 60 a week. From all over the world. His friends have scattered all over, they all write to him.

Ice him? They might. He’s got loads of information about everybody, I don’t remember their names. My head was spinning just from being with such a person.

Why did I decide to give an interview? I sympathize with Khodorkovsky. My opinion: everything that’s going on around him is the scheming of our politicians. My opinion: he’s good, simply as a person… Never lies.

Well, I also came to you because… Well, you know how I accidentally ran into Andrey, and he offered… Not for the money, just… I mean, I can’t even tell you anything like that anyway, really. I don’t even remember the names.. . If they lock me up again, they’ll come to me again and say that I’ve got to sit with Khodorkovsky. They didn’t promise me anything. I just went along for the ride to take a look, to have a chat… Two people in a cell is better than forty, after all.

Yes, maybe the trial will be here. This is lawlessness. He’s writing complaints about it. But it’s hard to fight with our system.

Obligatory afterword

As Morozov himself has said, he is not a novice in the prison system. No doubt he understands that he’s not going to get praised for telling how he had been instructed at being a “brood hen”. But they probably won’t do anything nasty, either: the connection between the nastiness and this interview will be too obvious.

The proposal to meet with me was made to him, as I understand it, by a respected person in the criminal world. And as Anton says himself, he didn’t tell me anything “like that” anyway. But he did say the main thing: Khodorkovsky’s operative tracking group (and I found out about the existence of such a group from various sources) places “brood hens” in his cell, and is watching him constantly. No doubt they look through not only all of his mail, but all the case documents, too. What kind of real defense can you talk about in such conditions?

[Translator’s note: The term “operative tracking group” may sound somewhat confusing. Under Russian law operativny refers to something akin to ordinary criminal police work – investigating crimes, conducting surveillance to find fugitive criminals, etc. There is nothing in the law, however, about 24-hour video observation, opening mail, prohibiting visitations, planting informants, etc. without the sanction of a court, as is being done with Khodorkovsky. Ordinarily, a prison will have an “operative group” in-house, to manage the team of informants, among other things. It is unprecedented that a special “operative tracking group” has been created just to keep watch on a single prisoner and never let him out of its sight.]

And one more thing. Naturally, I phoned one of Khodorkovsky’s lawyers and asked if the name Morozov was familiar to him. Yes, I was told, there had been someone by that name sitting with Mikhail Borisovich in the isolator in January.

I also found a person who knows Morozov. Businessman Yuri Mairy said that Morozov had once stolen items from his apartment– a television, a large sum of money… “He is a drug addict”, said Yuri. “He always needs money. He’ll do anything to get his next fix...”

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