Preamble: Because the articles below are controversial in nature, exposing as they do a certain inadequacy in the treatment, by Russia, of a former volunteer of the Novorossiya Armed Forces, it seems fitting to provide a preamble that corrects at least some of the misperceptions about how a refugee asylum system is meant to work. The Russian Federal Migration Service does not avoid many of the hurdles and pitfalls faced by asylum claimants across the world. Thus, until reforms were implemented in 2012 to speed up the review of refugee claims, estimated processing time for a single claim in Canada was 1,038 days. Same as in Russia, in Canada the system is comprised of several adjudicative levels, such that appeals and judicial reviews (cassations in Russia) can be taken to different tribunal bodies and courts on specific disputed points.
Both in Canada and in Russia, a negative decision is almost never the end of the road for a refugee claimant. Applicants can seek relief from higher-level adjudicators in case a miscarriage of justice occurred upon initial consideration. Such appeals or cassations are often successful. Critically, applicants must come prepared with arguments, documents, oral evidence, and other relevant proof of persecution in their country of origin if they are to succeed. The initial decision can often be a pro forma, mechanic adjudication. As a result, complex and uncertain claims frequently require intervention from a superior decision-maker. We do not see anything fatal in what has happened to Vyacheslav Vysotskiy, because he will have an opportunity better to prepare and to present his case to a more knowledgeable and thorough adjudicator. It is, however, important that such cases be made public—both to assist the people who valiantly fought for the salvation of the Donbass and to help Russia and her Federal Migration Service avoid miscarriages of justice.
An interview with Vyacheslav Vysotsky on the subject of the scandalous case of a Latvian Militiaman who fought for the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), but is now under threat of deportation from Russia to Latvia, where he faces ten years in prison.
“I face ten years in prison for fighting in the Donbass.”
Vyacheslav Vysotsky, a Latvian citizen, went to fight for the LPR Militia in the midst of some of the heaviest battles—in the summer of 2014. While there, he tripped on a landmine, but miraculously survived. Wounded, he went to Russia for medical treatment and to seek temporary asylum. In the meantime, Latvian law enforcement agencies decided to prosecute him on charges of terrorism, and the Russian authorities have indicated that they may deport Vysotsky to his homeland. This conversation with Vysotsky took place immediately after he left the building of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) on Kirpichnaya Street in Moscow. He was denied temporary asylum in Russia and threatened with deportation for violating Russian immigration laws.
Q: Tell us, what is the basis of the Latvian authorities’ charges against you?
VV: While I was in the Donbass, Latvia adopted legislation according to which fighting for the militias of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) or the LPR, as well as humanitarian assistance to these republics, are considered terrorist activities.
Moreover, under this new law, individuals who help volunteers get to these territories from Latvia are deemed to be accomplices of terrorists. My case, of course, fits the provisions of this law, I face up to ten years in prison, and I cannot come back home. The Russian authorities have denied me temporary asylum. This part of it is also quite unfortunate.
Q: Has Latvia issued an international warrant for your arrest?
VV: Not yet, as far as I am aware.
Q: And how did the Russian FMS justify its refusal to grant you temporary asylum?
VV: The inspector wrote me an entire novel—her reasoning is that there is no evidence that a prison sentence awaits me in Latvia, that Latvia in general is a democratic republic, and that all my arguments are far-fetched. Meanwhile, the Latvian media, on the other hand, has started gloating: “Look, he was denied asylum in Russia, and here he will be imprisoned for ten years!”
Q: Why was it that you decided to go to war in the Donbass against the Ukrainian security forces in the first place?
VV: From the age of sixteen, I have been an active participant in the movement to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking population of Latvia. I was one of the originators of the idea of a referendum on making Russian a second official language. Besides, I was a member of the NBP [the National Bolshevik Party, led by Eduard Limonov –ed.], a party banned in Latvia. At the time when this war started, Ukrainian nationalists were being trained in Ādaži (a Latvian settlement). I thought to myself: “Rather than stay in a country that is helping the aggressor, and doing nothing, I have go to the Donbass to fight for the Russian people.”
Q: How long did you fight for?
VV: I came to the LPR at the end of July and was wounded at the end of September, but almost all of October I remained there, despite my poor condition. It’s simply that if they had been attacked, I still would have been able to fight. They were able to get me out of the Donbass only at the end of October.
Q: How serious were your injuries?
VV: I was only moderately wounded. Shrapnel pierced my lung, shattered the bones in my arm, and a few fragments pierced my legs. By and large, the proverbial iron rations got me good… It so happened that I walked through a minefield twice, and the second time—unsuccessfully. I didn’t quite figure out whether it was a tripwire or a landmine, like a MON-50 [an anti-personnel landmine –ed.]. I was lucky—my commander was killed.
Q: Tell us, how did it all happen?
VV: We were clearing out an area where, the day before, the Ukrainian Army held positions. They had just left from there. It was near Georgievka. We climbed up the hill, captured an enemy tank, wrote our unit’s name, Yakut, on the armour. Then we went further on, following the tank tracks, and started entering the forested area. We were thinking that, because the tank drove over them, all the traps had naturally been removed. But those wicked people whom we were fighting stretched a tripwire over the tank tracks. My commander’s call-sign was Post; his name was Vladimir Kuznetsov. He was killed, and I barely managed to get out myself…
Q: Did this incident leave you disabled?
VV: No, I was able to return to normal life. But it was still an uncomfortable experience. (laughs).
Q: Did you have any military training prior to your sojourn in the LPR? Did you serve in the Latvian army?
VV: No, I was a complete novice when I arrived. The months of July and August were the time of the harshest fighting; they threw everything you can possibly imagine at us. [In conditions like these,] the basic things are picked up quickly.
Q: Are there Latvian volunteers who went to fight for the Ukrainian side?
VV: Sure. They sometimes upload relevant photos onto social networks. This is nothing. What’s worse, there are Latvian instructors who come to train Ukrainian combatants. Moreover, I’ve heard that in Estonia, even before the Maidan, there was already a training camp of the Praviy Sektor [an organization officially banned in Russia –ed.].
Q: And, of couse, the Latvian instructors are not terrorists from the standpoint of the Latvian law, are they?
VV: No, of course they are not. This is considered to be assistance to a brotherly country, which is fighting against Russian imperialism, Russian nationalism, the “St. George-colorado aggression.” In that sense, Ukraine and Latvia are like two sisters. Georgia has also joined them. And so they, all together, fight against Russian aggression. This is just me describing the rhetoric of the Latvian media. For over twenty years I’ve been listening to tales about the hand of Moscow on Latvian TV. Curiously, when the social conditions in Latvia were more or less acceptable, all this would subside. But, since the social and domestic aspects of our life have sharply deteriorated, and all this happened in Ukraine, Latvians started to look for an enemy in the form of Russian imperialism.
Q: What was the reaction of the Russians who live in Latvia to your participation in the Militia?
VV: In Latvia, everything is much more radicalised than in Russia. Ninety percent of the Russian-speakers supported me.
Although there is a small group of so-called Russian Latvians who came out in opposition. But I’m sure that, if not for the law deeming members of the Militia terrorists, there would have been many more Russian-speaking volunteers from Latvia in the Donbass. I also want to add that, while I was fighting, I, in absentia, was removed from the list of former students of my school—in this way, they disowned me to make sure that young people would not follow my example. You see, I was quite well-known in my city, Ludza, even before the war.
Q: So, it is dangerous for you to appear in Latvia, and the Russian authorities have refused to grant you asylum. What is your plan going forward?
VV: I will appeal the decision of the district FMS on Kirpichnaya Street to the higher decision-making body of the Federal Migration Service (I do not know yet what you call it here). I will supplement my materials with documents to make the grounds for granting me temporary asylum ironclad. The situation is complicated by the fact that I was refused registration as a migrant. This is because I failed to start the registration process within the mandatory period of seven days. Now the FMS is telling me that they have to deport me and also to charge me a fine. I am prepared to pay the fine and to continue the legal fight for the right to live in Russia.
Another article on the same topic from the followers of Limonov, leader of the Other Russia Party.
A wounded militiaman can be deported to Latvia to face reprisals
A year ago, my friend, a citizen of Latvia, Vyacheslav Vysotsky (call-sign Sedoy) went to fight for Novorossiya. In his case, it was not an unexpected decision. For fifteen years, Vyacheslav has been in the ranks of the Russian resistance, practically since high-school. He was one of my most active assistants during the campaign to collect signatures for a referendum on the official status of the Russian language [in Latvia] in the years 2011-12. When Russophobia ran rampant in Ukraine, when it became clear that it went beyond its “velvet” form, like in the Baltic republics, Slavka [diminutive form of the name Vyacheslav –ed.] realised that his place was over there.
Through the InterBrigades movement, he, along with other volunteers from Latvia, ended up in the LPR’s Zarya Battalion. He took part in the fighting and was wounded. Here is how he describes it: “I understood that my lung had been punctured, because some kind of clots were being expectorated through a hole in my chest; my legs were hit, and, well, also my arm. I plugged the hole with a haemostatic sponge, then took off the rucksack and my automatic rifle, because otherwise I could not even carry the water flask (I had tried to pick it up). And then my body contorted—my lung collapsed, and it began to fill up with blood. I saw that Kot [another Militiaman –ed.]was already lying with his eyes open, while I could not even lift my automatic rifle, and I went to look for help. Grishka [another Militiaman –ed.] was across the field, wind was blowing in our direction, so that, while we were rolling on the ground and screaming, nobody could hear us. Then I made the track back across the field… And that’s how I made it out of there. Those who finally rescued us said that the field was mined, and, as it turned out, I walked across the minefield twice.”
Vysotsky was treated in Moscow; especially badly hit was his hand, but now it seems that he has recovered. Meanwhile, the Latvian Security Police initiated a criminal case against him and two other volunteers from Latvia. Participation in the Lugansk Militia was treated as equivalent to “terrorism.” The punishment is up to ten years in prison. In the event that these utterly absurd charges fall apart, the Latvian authorities have hedged their bets—they have adopted legislative amendments that deem any support to the Donbass Militia a crime. The penalty is the same—up to ten years. In other words, Vladimir Vysotsky’s return to Latvia would mean him immediately being sent to pretrial detention, to be followed by lengthy imprisonment.
In a recent report outlining its operations in 2014, the Security Police put five volunteers from Latvia on the wanted list; “Vjačeslavs Visockis” (as his name and surname are indicated in the Latvian documents) is among them.
It is understandable that, in this situation, Vyacheslav sought asylum in Russia. Once again he had to pass through a “minefield”, a minefield of bureaucratic callousness, if you will forgive my grandiloquence.
An excerpt from the response of the City of Moscow FMS directorate to the request of a citizen of Latvia, Vyacheslav Vysotsky, for temporary asylum: “No facts or conclusive arguments, and also no documents corroborating the likelihood of reprisals against the applicant in Latvia, were presented. The applicant’s fears of persecution by the Latvian authorities, in the event of his return to his homeland, are far-fetched.” The request for asylum has been denied. Vyacheslav is facing deportation to Latvia.
I am not a Stalinist, but when I read something like this, I want to scream right in the face of the clerk who prepared the reply: “Stalin is needed to deal with you, you, nettle seed!” Oh really, “fears are far-fetched?!” Perhaps in the head of the Russian official, Latvia, which he might have visited as a tourist, is a democratic paradise with clean streets and good beer. Yet, only a few days ago, two Russian National Bolsheviks [members of the Drugaya Rossiya Party, led by Eduard Limonov –ed.] were sent to a prison in Riga for an entirely peaceful action—they walked through a NATO military base with a Flag of St. George and distributed anti-American leaflets—and charged with nothing less than “espionage” and “terrorism.” These charges, by the way, could mean up to twenty years in prison. A democratic country, indeed—there is no other more democratic…
There is one more aspect to Vysotsky’s case. He was threatened with a lengthy sentence in Latvia, but there is an even worse possibility. Despite the fact that he is a citizen of Latvia, he could be deported to Ukraine. There is a precedent: a few months ago Latvia deported to the United States its citizen Denis Čalovski, who was accused of hacking, cybercrimes, by the Americans. Knowing Slavka’s uncompromising, “inflexible” nature… Well, the chances of him returning from Ukraine alive would be slim to none.
And another thing. I have nothing at all against the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Azeris, (and other migrants who come to Russia and stay). But is a Russian man from Latvia, who has proven, not only in word, but in deed, that he is a Russian patriot, that he is someone who is brave, intelligent, and accustomed to earning his living with physical labour—is a man like that not someone Russia needs?
If the Russian authorities deport Vysotsky to Latvia, it would be incredibly shameful. An indelible disgrace.
Post Scriptum: On the whole, this looks like bureaucratic cretinism, and public attention to this matter should help Vysotsky legalize his presence in Russia and prevent the recurrence of stories like the deportation of volunteer Tarasenkov to the Junta, who now will have to be exchanged as a prisoner of war in long and tedious bartering with the Ukrainian side. I wish Vysotsky the best of luck in his fight against our domestic bureaucrats.
Regarding “Limonov’s people”, I have repeatedly written that I am not a fan of Limonov’s works, but I salute his consistent position in the defence of the Donbass, where his men have been fighting and continue to fight, with arms in their hands, for Novorossiya, as well as to collect humanitarian aid for her. Therefore, I consider it my obligation to help those who have proven with their deeds that the struggle for the Donbass and for Novorossiya is not merely empty words for them.