The Apotheosis of Political Repression
May 2, 2023
  • Nikolai Petrov

    Independent scholar
Nikolai Petrov writes about the ratcheting up of political repression, the various groups that have been targeted by the government’s repressive machine and the different logic behind the government’s intimidation of them.
Lilia Chanysheva, an associate of Alexei Navalny in Bashkiria is facing a sentence of 12 years on charges of "extremist activities." Source: Twitter
In recent weeks, repressions have simultaneously hit in several directions. The most visible were, of course, the monstrous sentences given to civic activists.

Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced on April 17 to 25 years in a strict-regime penal colony for spreading “fake news” about the army, collaborating with an undesirable organization and treason. A new criminal case for terrorism has been launched against Alexei Navalny, in which he could face a life sentence. For Lilia Chanysheva, who had headed Navalny’s headquarters in Bashkiria, the prosecutor asked for 12 years on charges of establishing an extremist group.

Elite repressions have received less attention, though they are also political, as they have political goals.

Targeting managers

Repressions against officials are acts of intimidation that target not specific people, but rather groups within the elite. The managers chosen as targets are sentenced to massive terms that are incommensurate with the wrongdoing they are accused of.

Among the victims of the repressive campaign are both federal and regional managers. We can start with the detention of former Deputy Minister of Culture Olga Yarilova in an embezzlement case, as well as ongoing cases against military contractors and suppliers. Last week, Colonel Alexander Denisov, head of the Technical Support Department of the Southern Military District, was arrested, while the trial (already the second) of former head of the Taganrog Beriyev Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex (TANTK) Yuri Grudinin began a week earlier.

In particular, the case of Anastasia Alekseeva, a former assistant to former Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and later Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, deserves to be told in more detail. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined RUB 75 million at the end of April.

Alekseeva left the government in 2018 and was arrested in February 2020.

According to the prosecution, she took bribes in the form of trips abroad. In 2016, as the Prosecutor General’s Office contends, Alekseeva was gifted trips to Thailand and the Dominican Republic worth more than RUB 2 million each from the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Promomed Rus Maxim Yakushkin. In exchange, she allegedly helped to ease the registration of operations with Reduxin drugs.
In 2017, with Alekseeva’s support, Medpolymerprom managed to monopolize the market for disposable polymer medical devices.

The persecution of Alekseeva is attributable to specific reasons, such as the digging up of compromising material on high-ranking “technocrats.” No less important was the general signal that, with established practices for multi-tiered control softening and new opportunities for corruption opening, the authorities must keep officials in check.

An important feature of such repressions is that they are officially charged with what goes into the daily (corrupt) work of almost any official. The idea is not to stop such activities, but to show that everyone is vulnerable and at any moment can wind up behind bars. Thus, the highest power gains submission and readiness to fulfill any wish coming from “above.”
Malik Gaisin, the CEO and main shareholder of the Ural Plant of Electric Connectors. Gaisin's controlling stake was taken over by the state. Source: VK
Targeting regional officials

With regard to regional elites, deserving of particular attention is the case against the influential North Ossetian clan headed by the republic’s former prime minister, as well as widespread arrests in Rostov Region as part of cases against three “organized criminal groups” – said to be in the courts, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the traffic police (we wrote about them in our April 17 Bulletin – now they are headed to court).

In 2021, the Kremlin installed replaced the local head of North Ossetia with the decisive but not very successful Admiral Sergei Menyailo, who, following the annexation of Crimea, was appointed governor of Sevastopol and later the envoy to the Siberian Federal District. Menyailo has Ossetian roots and back in 2010 had been considered as a candidate to head the republic. When he was appointed in 2021, a large-scale purge began in the region. Three former ministers and former Prime Minister Sergei Takoev were detained on charges of group-organized embezzlement “on an especially large scale.”

All of them, following the previous change of power in North Ossetia in 2015, had gone into business but retained political ambitions. Along with them, several business leaders were also arrested, all charged with “providing for the conclusion of a state contract to acquire plant property at an inflated price in the amount of RUB 180 million.”

Last week, the trial in the “North Ossetian case” began, and there is every reason to believe that severe sentences await the defendants.

Targeting business

In the sphere of business, there is the case of the well-known Urals businessman Malik Gaisin. He is the CEO and main shareholder of the Ural Plant of Electric Connectors Iset in Kamensk-Uralsky. Its products are used in aviation, space and rocket technology, as well as railway transport, machine tool building and medicine.

The case has unfolded rapidly: in mid-March, a criminal case was brought against Gaisin for an abuse of power that led to the disruption of state defense procurement. Later, another charge for embezzlement was added.

At the end of March, Gaisin’s controlling stake in the Iset plant was taken over by the state. The reason was that Gaisin had managed the enterprise while holding office (from 1996 to 2000, he was a member of the State Duma Committee on Budget, Taxes, Banks and Finance), which is prohibited by law, and allegedly used his position to acquire the controlling stake.

Gaisin is under house arrest. Last week, the Sverdlovsk Regional Court upheld Gaisin’s temporary removal from the management of the Iset plant.

The Gaisin case is a warning to all owners of enterprises fulfilling state orders: violating state demands is punishable by seizure of property. Such are the rules of the mobilization economy into which Russia is increasingly drawn.

A similar episode took place in 2022, when the Prosecutor General’s Office had a strategic enterprise located in Perm Region, the Solikamsk Magnesium Plant, taken out of private hands and put under state control. The plant, owned by four major private shareholders, is the only producer of rare earth elements and processor of rare earth in the country. The court agreed with the opinion of the Prosecutor General’s Office that the privatization of the strategic enterprise in 1992-96 was carried out in violation of the law, without the permission of the Russian government. Revisions of the 1990s privatizations have been relatively rare, but the practice may become more common with further court-ordered seizures.

Stealing an attractive private business by suing the owner is certainly nothing new. Suffice it to recall Bashneft or VSMPO-AVISMA, the world’s largest titanium producer. However, previously such cases dragged on for years and were essentially forced transactions. Sometimes they ended in an “amicable agreement” in which the owner “voluntarily” waived his rights to the property, while today undoing privatizations, especially if carried out in the interests of the military-industrial complex, can be carried out in a matter of weeks.

The only thing needed is a court that is ready to decide cases without delay in favor of the prosecutor’s office, even if the charges are brought against regionally influential politicians and businessmen. This, in fact, is the lesson of the above-mentioned Rostov case where representatives of the judicial branch were targeted.


Despite the similarity of the stories and the monstrous punishments, which until recently would have seemed surreal, the logic of the repressions differs depending on the group targeted.

Sentences to civic activists, up to life imprisonment, are meant to intimidate the disloyal.

Cases related to providing for the war – whether it be army suppliers or private business that is poorly fulfilling defense orders – are a signal that “everything is for the front.” Defense orders are a reliable way to get rich, but only for those “who are supposed to.”

Businesses are taken away as a warning to other businesspeople, and it is done as a blitzkrieg. To ensure this lightning speed, the “Rostov case” has seen judges targeted. Judges are an important component in the repressive system, and the highest power is demonstrating to them, firstly, that nobody is immune and, secondly, that not only “politicals” but also businesspeople may be imprisoned swiftly.

With regard to the regional elites, repression has long become an element of “political technology” to strengthen and simplify the Kremlin’s control over the region.

In addition, repression is inevitably expanding and spreading, with influential clans in the elite also using it in their own interests – there is a creeping privatization of the repressive resource. A striking example is the completion this week of a criminal investigation into the extortion of money from Rostec head Sergei Chemezov for blocking negative information about him in Telegram channels.
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