Repression Two years of war

Special academic operation.
How the FSB has been persecuting scientists who signed a letter against the war with Ukraine for two years in a row

T-invari­ant opens a series of pub­li­ca­tions relat­ed to the sec­ond anniver­sary of the war with Ukraine. Our pub­li­ca­tion began at the same time, in 2022, with the pub­li­ca­tion on the web­site of an anti-war let­ter from sci­en­tists. It was trans­lat­ed into many lan­guages and became very impor­tant evi­dence that Russia is not silent in response to the mon­strous and trag­ic deci­sions of the Kremlin lead­er­ship. A year lat­er, in February 2023, a group of sci­en­tists and sci­ence jour­nal­ists launched based on a media web­site that con­nects Russian and inter­na­tion­al sci­ence in war conditions.

In the first inves­ti­ga­tion, we tell how the FSB of the Russian Federation launched the largest “case of sci­en­tists” in mod­ern Russia, per­se­cut­ing the sig­na­to­ries of an anti-war let­ter through­out the country. 

Open let­ter from sci­en­tists against Russia’s full-scale inva­sion of Ukraine became the largest pub­lic demon­stra­tion by a sin­gle pro­fes­sion­al group. It’s been 2 years since almost 9 thou­sand lead­ing Russian-speak­ing sci­en­tists from around the world pub­licly con­demned Russia’s mil­i­tary aggression. 

The FSB of the Russian Federation nat­u­ral­ly appre­ci­at­ed the scale of the state­ment. Security ser­vice offi­cers en masse sum­moned the sig­na­to­ries of the appeal direct­ly for inter­views, and also act­ed through the lead­er­ship of uni­ver­si­ties and insti­tutes. Many sci­en­tists have been threat­ened with crim­i­nal charges or opened as a means of intim­i­da­tion. The over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of sci­en­tists did not remove their sig­na­tures despite pres­sure and threats, how­ev­er, even after 2 years, peo­ple refuse to speak open­ly about their expe­ri­ence of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the FSB, even if they left Russia imme­di­ate­ly after the inci­dent, includ­ing on con­di­tions of com­plete anonymity.

The edi­tors of T-invari­ant decid­ed to talk about the largest “case of sci­en­tists” in mod­ern Russia, since the threat from the FSB to employ­ees of uni­ver­si­ties and insti­tutes is rapid­ly increas­ing every day. Scientists and oppo­nents of the war who could not or did not want to leave Russia are under con­stant pres­sure from the intel­li­gence ser­vices and need sup­port no less than their col­leagues who are flee­ing the coun­try. This is just one of many exam­ples of why, as Alexei Navalny said, it is impos­si­ble to “equal­ize Russia and Putin.” 

Evidence of a grow­ing threat - an increase in the num­ber trea­son case in rela­tion to sci­en­tists, return prac­tices of puni­tive psy­chi­a­try, includ­ing in rela­tion to a cor­re­spond­ing mem­ber of the RAS Sergei Abramov (accused of trans­fer­ring mon­ey to an extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion) and oth­er exam­ples of pres­sure that we record­ed in the project “Chronicles of the per­se­cu­tion of sci­en­tists”.

We have ver­i­fied all our inter­locu­tors, but we are forced to omit any details that could give out the heroes and harm them­selves, their rel­a­tives or col­leagues. The fear that the publication’s inter­locu­tors talk about, in response to requests to share details, must def­i­nite­ly wait for its researcher into the social atmos­phere and the role of the intel­li­gence ser­vices in Putin’s Russia.

The largest case iden­ti­fied by T-invari­ant con­cerns a research insti­tute in one of the regions of Russia, in which an anti-war let­ter was signed by sev­er­al dozen employees.

“Shocked by what happened, they signed with a large team”

“The let­ter was signed by more than 20 employ­ees of our insti­tute. FSB offi­cers came to every­one for a con­ver­sa­tion. Then there were admin­is­tra­tive courts. This all dragged on for sev­er­al months, but in the end no one was even issued a fine and the case was for­mal­ly closed for every­one due to the statute of lim­i­ta­tions,” said a T-invari­ant inter­locu­tor who received a tem­po­rary posi­tion at one of the Western universities. 

“My hus­band and I were dragged to the FSB and to court for a long time, but, in the end,They bare­ly closed it due to the expi­ra­tion of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions, while strict­ly warn­ing them not to sign any­thing else any­where,” said anoth­er employ­ee of this research institute. 

In total, T-invari­ant spoke with 5 employ­ees of this insti­tute, most of whom left the insti­tute and the Russian Federation, they also not­ed the courage and firm­ness of the direc­tor of the insti­tute in defend­ing them before the FSB. 

Young researchers went out to pick­et near the mon­u­ment to Valentin Koptyug in Akademgorodok on the evening of February 25, 2022.

“The director showed me a stack of printouts of my Facebook posts”

“I learned about the FSB’s inter­est in me imme­di­ate­ly after sign­ing the let­ter, the head of our insti­tute called me and hon­est­ly told me every­thing. After that there was a long pause,” a biol­o­gist and well-known pop­u­lar­iz­er of sci­ence from anoth­er region told T-invariant. 

In his lab­o­ra­to­ry, “the major­i­ty are like-mind­ed,” but in the insti­tute as a whole, “total silence reigned,” employ­ees from dif­fer­ent lab­o­ra­to­ries do not trust each oth­er. The sig­na­to­ry of the let­ter had a reduced num­ber of admin­is­tra­tive and rep­re­sen­ta­tive func­tions and tasks, and the num­ber of pub­lic appear­ances was reduced. 

“After a long time, the direc­tor called me again and showed me a stack of print­outs of my Facebook posts. I don’t know who brought them to him, from the office or from col­leagues. There were also my posts that I wrote, and then, after the adop­tion of var­i­ous laws, I lost them. I said it was a provo­ca­tion. I think this was anoth­er sig­nal,” the sci­en­tist said. 

They came for their wives

The anti-war let­ter was signed by a vari­ety of sci­en­tists. Including 28 aca­d­e­mi­cians and 55 cor­re­spond­ing mem­bers of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Taking into account the extreme­ly pas­sive pub­lic role of the Academy (we wrote about this, for exam­ple, here) - not so lit­tle. However, the RAS has a total of 1905 mem­bers (820 aca­d­e­mi­cians and 1085 cor­re­spond­ing mem­bers). That is, the let­ter was signed by 4.4% of the RAS staff. 

The edi­tors of T-invari­ant are aware of at least two cas­es when secu­ri­ty forces decid­ed to put pres­sure on aca­d­e­mi­cians not direct­ly, but through their wives. 

Both aca­d­e­m­ic fam­i­lies are social­ly and polit­i­cal­ly active, both spous­es have repeat­ed­ly attend­ed ral­lies in Moscow, and both have signed an anti-war let­ter. In each case, the male sci­en­tist occu­pies a high­er aca­d­e­m­ic and lead­er­ship posi­tion than the wife. 

Immediately after sign­ing the let­ter, a police offi­cer came to the apart­ments of the high-rank­ing sig­na­to­ries, but the con­ver­sa­tion was only with his wife. Then the woman was called for a pre­ven­tive con­ver­sa­tion at the police sta­tion. In each case, the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not specif­i­cal­ly men­tion the sci­en­tists’ let­ter, but list­ed oth­er col­lec­tive let­ters that con­tained the sig­na­tures of women sci­en­tists, as well as their reac­tions on social net­works under posts with oppo­si­tion­al con­tent. They were informed about the unde­sir­abil­i­ty of par­tic­i­pat­ing in unco­or­di­nat­ed street actions. T-invariant’s inter­locu­tors con­clude that a vis­it from an Interior Ministry employ­ee to a high-rank­ing sci­en­tist-sign­er would be an over­re­ac­tion, and the “sig­nal” was sent through his wife. One of the fam­i­lies left Russia. 

Instead of the FSB - auditors

Also, the edi­tors of T-invari­ant are aware of sev­er­al episodes when, after sign­ing an anti-war let­ter, major sci­en­tists began to have prob­lems with grant funding. 

“For many years, I and the team under my lead­er­ship have suc­cess­ful­ly received grants from the Russian Science Foundation. The audit first came to us in the spring of 2022. Coincidence? I don’t think so,” says a major aca­d­e­m­ic leader. 

Most of T-invariant’s inter­locu­tors believe that the degree of pres­sure from the FSB is direct­ly relat­ed to the strength of char­ac­ter and admin­is­tra­tive weight of the head of the institute. 

“There was admin­is­tra­tive pres­sure in some oth­er insti­tu­tions in our city. I also know that the FSB put pres­sure on my direc­tor because of me, but he sent them. There were no con­se­quences for me or him. That is, I think the stan­dard option is this: the FSB puts pres­sure on the direc­tor, and he puts pres­sure on the employ­ees. Some peo­ple end up quit­ting and mov­ing away. My direc­tor, for­tu­nate­ly, is not like that,” explains one of the scientists. 

AmongThere are not many heads of aca­d­e­m­ic uni­ver­si­ties who open­ly expressed anti-war views, but there are also many who saved their employ­ees from mobi­liza­tion and evad­ed pres­sure from the secu­ri­ty forces. Thus, in one aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tute in October 2022, the direc­tor orga­nized an urgent busi­ness trip for male employ­ees of mil­i­tary age to anoth­er coun­try. And anoth­er insti­tute, where a hus­band and wife, both doc­tors of sci­ence (of mil­i­tary age), worked as lead­ing researchers, received a denun­ci­a­tion against the hus­band, who pub­licly expressed an anti-war posi­tion. The fam­i­ly left Russia in the first months of the war, but the admin­is­tra­tion want­ed to main­tain their affil­i­a­tion with the insti­tute. “The direc­tor called me,” says the wife, “and asked my hus­band to write a let­ter of res­ig­na­tion due to mov­ing to anoth­er coun­try. The direc­tor bit­ter­ly admit­ted: “If the FSB had not come to me and threat­ened the insti­tute, I would nev­er have done this.” At the same time, he asked me not to quit and to work calm­ly, since I had not received such a demand from the FSB. So, despite the fact that I have been liv­ing in anoth­er coun­try for two years, I have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to main­tain con­tact with col­leagues, work for a small part of the salary and some­times come to the institute.”

Lev Landau went on a solo pick­et against the war. Monument to the sci­en­tist near MIPT, Dolgoprudny. Action of Physics and Technology stu­dents. April 19, 2022. Telegram chan­nel “Phystech against war”

In gen­er­al, sta­tis­tics show that among the direc­tors of aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions there are much more peo­ple with an anti-war posi­tion than among the rec­tors of uni­ver­si­ties. Among the thou­sands of sci­en­tists who signed the anti-war let­ter, there are sev­er­al direc­tors of research insti­tutes and not a sin­gle Russian rec­tor. The admin­is­tra­tion in high­er edu­ca­tion is more loy­al to war and pow­er than the research sector.

“In the spring of 2022, we thought that the war would end quick­ly, and there­fore we held on to the teach­ers and staff who had left, and to our Western col­leagues, we want­ed to main­tain all ties,” says a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the admin­is­tra­tion of a large cap­i­tal uni­ver­si­ty - but now it is clear that iron walls are being built on both sides for a long time; com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Western sci­ence is extreme­ly cost­ly in terms of time, effort, and mon­ey; It is impos­si­ble to retain remote work­ers for a long time. And we began to expand to uni­ver­si­ties in the coun­tries of the East and Asia.” 

This idea was clear­lysound at the meet­ing with stu­dents of the rec­tor of IKBFU. I. Kant Alexandra Fedorova: “As it was before, it will nev­er be again. Some direc­tions are closed to us. On the oth­er hand, new part­ners mean new oppor­tu­ni­ties. We are active­ly open­ing our rep­re­sen­ta­tive offices. Take a clos­er look, for exam­ple, at Uzbekistan. The coun­try has a very high lev­el of uni­ver­si­ties. Our new rep­re­sen­ta­tive office will soon open in India.”

The real­iza­tion that “it won’t be the same as before” led to inten­sive get­ting rid of teach­ers who are out of step with the new course. 

“My reality has become a crossover of the worlds of Orwell and Remarque”

A sci­en­tist from St. Petersburg shared his case (we present his let­ter in full)

The main place of work was a sci­en­tif­ic insti­tu­tion, but I worked at the uni­ver­si­ty as an exter­nal part-time assis­tant pro­fes­sor. I almost imme­di­ate­ly signed the “Scientists Against War” peti­tion. At the end of February, while con­duct­ing sev­er­al lab­o­ra­to­ry works, I tried to com­mu­ni­cate with stu­dents - to find out their atti­tude to what was hap­pen­ing. I shared my thoughts with approx­i­mate­ly the fol­low­ing con­tent: “I strong­ly dis­agree with every­thing that is hap­pen­ing and I real­ly hope that their gen­er­a­tion (stu­dents) will be much more thought­ful about the world, pol­i­tics, lit­er­a­ture and art.” In addi­tion, he said that I feel “how my real­i­ty has become a crossover of the worlds of Orwell and Remarque.” 

About a month lat­er, the head of the depart­ment called me for a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion and asked me “not to have any more con­ver­sa­tions with stu­dents.” And in May, when the head of the depart­ment need­ed to dis­trib­ute the work­load for the next year, the aca­d­e­m­ic depart­ment did not approve my work­load, cit­ing the fact that “an oral order was received from the rec­tor - not to give this workload.”

As it turned out a lit­tle lat­er, there were stu­dents who record­ed part of the con­ver­sa­tion on video, and this became known to the “free­lance secu­ri­ty offi­cer at the uni­ver­si­ty.” Exactlyhis con­ver­sa­tion with the rec­tor influ­enced the cur­rent circumstances.

I beg you - anony­mous­ly, please.

I, of course, tried to explain a lot of things to the stu­dents: about the half-swasti­ka, and about real goals, and about fas­cism as such, and it was nice that some of the stu­dents under­stood what they were talk­ing about speech, but, as it turned out, there were also fight­ers for the puri­ty of the ranks.

How sci­en­tists were fired at St. Petersburg State University

Several researchers from St. Petersburg (SPbSU) told T-invari­ant their sto­ries of fin­ish­ing work at the uni­ver­si­ty lit­er­al­ly as a car­bon copy. According to our infor­ma­tion, the city FSB depart­ment rec­om­mend­ed that the uni­ver­si­ty man­age­ment not renew con­tracts with all “unre­li­able” employ­ees. The mass dis­missal of employ­ees began afterappoint­mentin September 2023 of the for­mer head of the cen­ter’s polit­i­cal depart­ment ” E” FSB in St. Petersburg Oleg Shaidulin to the post of Deputy Vice-Rector for Security of St. Petersburg State University. 

math­e­mati­cian, St. Petersburg State University:

After sign­ing the let­ter, they made it clear at the depart­ment that the expir­ing two-year con­tract would not be rene­go­ti­at­ed due to a “sig­nal from above.” At the same time, due to the large num­ber of sci­en­tists who left after the start of the war, there was no per­son who could be made the lead­ing execu­tor of the RSF grant, and the imme­di­ate man­age­ment offered to take this role under a con­tract agree­ment, but their deci­sion was also cut down. 

lin­guist, St. Petersburg State University:

At the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences of St. Petersburg State University, con­tracts were sim­ply not renewed with all the sig­na­to­ries of the let­ter. No one real­ly hid why this was so. But I’m lucky, I work at anoth­er won­der­ful uni­ver­si­ty in the city, I don’t want to draw atten­tion to it. 

physi­cist, St. Petersburg State University:

I was giv­en one rea­son: “unwant­ed activ­i­ty on social networks.” 

Andrey Seryakov, physi­cist, St. Petersburg State University

The only per­son who open­ly spoke about the end of his work at St. Petersburg State University was physi­cist Andrei Seryakov. A par­tic­i­pant in inter­na­tion­al col­lab­o­ra­tions at CERN and Dubna, a pop­u­lar­iz­er of sci­ence, and a per­ma­nent orga­niz­er of edu­ca­tion­al events in St. Petersburg, told T-invari­ant that he was fired from St. Petersburg State University for polit­i­cal reasons. 

According to his infor­ma­tion, the FSB demand­ed the dis­missal from the uni­ver­si­ty of sci­en­tists found par­tic­i­pat­ing in the “smart vot­ing” of Alexei Navalny’s FBK. Andrei has a strong anti-war posi­tion, and he also signed a let­ter from sci­en­tists against the war. 

Only in his lab­o­ra­to­ry at St. Petersburg State University, “out of a dozen non-teach­ing researchers, four were “fired,” the sci­en­tist said. It was main­ly researchers who were fired or not renewed because they tend to have rel­a­tive­ly short con­tracts and are much eas­i­er to ter­mi­nate than fac­ul­ty. Some were offered to find a com­pro­mise solu­tion if the per­son could prove his loy­al­ty and express approval of the “SVO”.

The forced depar­ture of Andrei Seryakov from St. Petersburg State University has now become the last known episode of the dis­missal of a sci­en­tist by the edi­tors of T-invari­ant, which is most like­ly backed by the FSB of the Russian Federation. The edi­tors con­tin­ue to mon­i­tor the per­se­cu­tion of the sig­na­to­ries of the anti-war let­ter. If you want to tell us your case or share oth­er data, write to us at[email protected]and also write to us at chat bot in telegram 👉🏿@invariant2023_bot

We guar­an­tee you com­plete anonymity. 

Text: Eugene Nasyrov, Olga Orlova

,   23.02.2024

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