For having disclosed documents proving the recruitment of soldiers in Russian prisons, he received death threats and claims to have been the target of an “assassination attempt” on September 12, in Biarritz. Russian opponent Vladimir Osechkin, founder of the NGO Gulagu.net, which has been documenting cases of torture in Russian penal colonies since 2011, has been a refugee in France for six years. His organization also helps candidates for exile to flee Russia. Since the announcement by Vladimir Putin, this September 21, of a “partial mobilization”, he is awash in requests for help to leave the country as quickly as possible. Maintenance.
What reactions are you getting from Russia after the “partial mobilization” announced this Wednesday by Vladimir Putin?
Since Putin’s declaration, many people have contacted us by SMS or email. They want to leave Russia immediately.
They understood well that with the last laws of repression voted on September 20 [punissant le “départ non autorisé du lieu de service militaire et la désertion”, la “reddition volontaire” et la “non-exécution d’ordres militaires”, NDLR]they risk going to prison for 10 or 15 years if they say “no” to the war.
Recently, the case of Pavel Filatiev, this paratrooper who deserted the Russian army and recounted the horrors of war on the VKontakte social network, has been widely publicized. You helped him flee Russia to take refuge in France. How do you proceed to help these candidates for exile?
We have a security protocol to evacuate people who need our help. You will understand that part of this system must remain secret, but here is what I can tell you: the first thing we do, with my colleagues, is to verify the information on the person who contacts us. We know very well that certain agents of the FSB (Russian intelligence) call on us, hidden behind an opponent or dissident mask, to enter Europe. It is therefore imperative that we verify the history of this person, as soon as possible. If she really is in danger, there is no time to waste. For us, it’s a great stress, we have no room for error.
The second step is to organize the escape. For this, our followers from Gulagu.net (our Youtube channel has over 420,000 subscribers), some of whom have worked with me for over ten years, help us. They give us funds to buy plane tickets, lodge people in hotels, but also take the necessary steps to transfer them from one country to another and ‘clean up’ the traces left in their path, to that they have the best chance of staying alive. Finally, we contact the media to disseminate this information as much as possible.
Your organization Gulagu.net has been documenting cases of torture in Russian prisons since its foundation; since the start of the war, you have also been investigating the recruitment of soldiers in the penal colonies. Com many cases of mobilized prisoners have you identified?
According to our information, Putin and his oligarch Yevgeny Prigogine have mobilized more than 2,000 prisoners of war, and they plan to send more than 20,000 to the front lines by the end of October. Of course, it’s illegal. And Prigogine warned that any deserter would be immediately executed, without trial. This totalitarian regime must be stopped!
“A great change is brewing within”
You have collected hundreds of documents sent, according to you, by employees of the penitentiary system. Their profile can question, they are both whistleblowers while remaining in the system?
This is a very important question, because Putin’s propaganda suggests that the regime is very monolithic. It’s not true. There are many people who work in this system, who are patriots but have understood that Putin and his entourage are corrupt, criminals. It’s the biggest mafia in the world! And some want to change things, they need our help and that of the media. A great change is brewing inside.
Do you think that what is happening in Ukraine, where the Russian army is encountering great difficulties, and in Russia, where there seems to be resistance to partial mobilization, can lead to Putin’s downfall soon?
Yes I think so. For the past 20 years, Putin has not been worried, he had the confidence of Europe, worked with the presidents of France, Germany, the United States, and consolidated his system.
Now he makes a lot of mistakes. It triggered a great catastrophe for Ukraine, but also for Russia. At least 20,000 Russian soldiers were killed in this war. It’s a disaster. Not to mention that Russia is suffering the biggest sanctions in its history. Now Putin is losing control. This war against Ukraine, the mobilization announced this Wednesday… All of this shows that the Putin system is dying.
Your case was recently publicized when you claimed to have been the subject of an assassination attempt at your home, on the Basque coast, where you are a refugee. Why did you decide to make this case public?
The police first explained to me that it was not necessary to talk about it immediately, on September 12th. For a week, I said nothing. Then I participated in a “live” on social networks with my friend Yulia Latynina, an opposition Russian journalist. At the end of this conversation, she asked me some questions and I told her this story. I have not published a press release on our channel or on our site. But the next day, I was contacted by journalists.
What exactly happened?
The story goes back to September 9, when a friend of mine, investigative journalist Christo Grozev (Bellingcat), was tipped off by a Russian intelligence source that a criminal working with the FSB was about to arrive in Biarritz to kill ‘an important person’ this weekend.
After delivering this information to the police, I left town to get to safety for the weekend with my family. We made the mistake of coming back on Monday the 12th. That’s when, in the evening, while we were serving the meal to our children, I saw a small red dot [viseur infrarouge] running up the wall in my direction. I immediately understood. We lay on the floor with my family, I closed the curtains, and I called the police.
The Bayonne prosecutor’s office confirmed to AFP, on September 20, the opening of an investigation for “death threats” but claims, for the time being, to have “no objective element” attesting to an attempt to assassination. What do you think ?
This Wednesday, my lawyer was in contact with the prosecutor. They check all the information and now time has to be given to the investigators and the prosecutor. I respect French justice, this system protects me and my family, and I have no reason to criticize them. I especially want to say thank you to them.