Interview with Nikolai Koblyakov, entrepreneur and human rights activist from the Paris-based human rights NGO “Russie-Liberté” (“Free Russia”); for detailed answers to each question and a number of other questions, watch the video in English.
What is your take on the affair “Stankoimport” and “Stankofrance”?
The investigation is currently ongoing and it is not right to make detailed comments until I learn also in detail the charges against me.
Please explain how charges against you were fabricated?
I have not received any formal charges from the Russian authorities. I even renewed my Russian passport, which means that both the Consulate and the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Paris have full information about where I live in France. Everything I say on the topic can be used against me. (Mr. Koblyakov’s defense attorney confirmed this was true – editor’s note.)
“Stankoimport” and “Stankofrance” are part of the State corporation “Rostehnology” right?
This corporation, like many others, is controlled by Sergei Chemezov – Putin’s oligarch, an entrepreneur close to the Kremlin (Rostehnology and Chemezov have been blacklisted as subjects to sanctions by the United States and the EU – editor’s note). This is the system in Russia – all is controlled by “their people” – “Rotehnology” by Chemezov; the Russian State Railways (RZD), by another personal friend of Putin, Vladimir Yakunin, while Kovalchuk controls Russia’s largest TV – Channel One (formerly – ORT – editor’s note ).
Tell us more about you and Free Russia?
The organization aims to support and promote democracy in Russia. For this purpose, we are organizing rallies in support of public figures, opposition activists, entrepreneurs, and everyone who does not want to put up with President Putin’s regime. He is a dictator in the sense of the 21st century. This way, under dictatorship, Russia cannot advance in the modern world and will have a promising future only if it is eliminated.
When and how did you decide to move to France?
The problems started when I tried to do business with elderly care in Russia. I was offered to share this business with the above-mentioned people and when I refused, they began explaining in a firmer tone that it could have unpleasant consequences.
What threats have you received from people from the government?
When I refused to sell my business, the classic scenario was applied – suddenly, the revenue services, the fire and food safety watchdogs etc. started numerous inspections. For example, we do business in partnership with RZD, managed by a close friend of Putin. And then they began to threaten me with closure of my business and with prosecution. You know that in Russia there are no de jure political prisoners, because all cases in recent years – against Mr Khodorkovsky, against Mr. Navalny, against me and many others, have economic justification as they fabricate proof of “shady deals”.
Who invited you to Bulgaria? How long have you been in contact with them? Was this a formal occasion, a conference, what was it?
I was invited by partners who have previously visited my care center for the elderly in Riga, Latvia. Bulgaria has good conditions for the construction of such nursing homes. Currently, you have around 5,000 beds in your national system, but in the coming years they will double and will be at least 10,000. This is actually what brought me to Bulgaria.
You also said that Bulgaria has received only the so-called “red” international bulletin from the Russian office of Interpol for your arrest?
Yes, I was told this informally by Border Police. I’m sure it is an operation of the Russian services and the FSB to track who travels where and from where it would be the easiest to extradite them. In France and Latvia, which currently have a very strained relationship with Russian authorities, the prosecution did not even try to look for me through Interpol or through the Russian Consulate. Moreover, they are in the Schengen zone, and when crossing the border one does not even have to show an ID card or a passport.
You said that the trial at the Sofia City Court on your possible extradition to the Russian Federation would be a test for Bulgaria’s independence. Did Bulgarian justice pass this test?
That’s right. I think Bulgaria, in this sense, acts as an independent state. The Court ruled that I could be released on “subscription”. We’ll see whether this will happen during subsequent hearings as well.
Please share your “pleasant” impressions from your stay in Bulgarian jail
The treated me very well in the jail. The security guards were very polite; they did not allow any roughness. They even communicated perfectly normally, in a friendly manner, with me, although they were fans of Putin and asked me why I was against him. I quietly explained to them what I have seen from his repressive machine. They sometimes agreed, but they also said: “Yes, but there is no one else. There is no one to save us from the influence of America and NATO in Eastern Europe.” Needless to explain that if I was in Russian prison, no one would pussyfoot around me and they would use force to crush me.
Tell us more about Putin’s regime, what are your assessments?
Governments that do not allow dual citizenship are disturbing, because what is citizenship? Citizenship is a very, very close relationship between someone and the State they currently live in. State is not the same as homeland!
You have said that you were giving up Russian citizenship?
If Putin receives permission and calls a draft, he can send me to Ukraine to fight against my brothers, Ukrainians. I do not want to have legal obligations to him; this is crystal clear. I have started the procedure for revocation of my Russian citizenship.
Tell us in detail about your opposition and human rights activities, in particular in defense of the girls from “Pussy Riot”, which probably angered Putin
As for “Pussy Riot”, I do not know them personally, but as an entrepreneur who supports Russie-Liberté and participates in the activities of this organization, I helped in the organization of rallies in their support. Similarly, we organized protests in support of other opposition activists and for Mr Khodorkovsky’s and Mr Navalny’s freedom.
What do you think about Putin’s prospects in connection with the war in Ukraine?
With the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the direct occupation, and the almost undisguised invasion and support for terrorists in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, Putin made Russians fight against brotherly people. We, Russians and Bulgarians, are brotherly peoples. My great-grandfather, his family was Petryakov, he died on Shipka, so I plan to visit this place; it’s my long-time dream. With Ukrainians we are from the same family – just imagine that over 20 million Russians have Ukrainian origins or relatives in Ukraine. This is a fratricidal war. I think that Europe is one the brink of war.
Whether this conflict and subsequent sanctions against Russia could lead to the end of the Putin era?
To compare Putin with Russia is a serious mistake. I can even say that this is a consequence of the main current TV and other propaganda that Russia equals Putin, as it was under Lenin: “Lenin is the Party and the Party is the State.” I think the 85% support for Putin is real. He can stay in power for a few more years, and then promote to it his own next successor. And besides, he managed to silence Russian opposition – Mr Khodorkovsky is abroad, and Mr. Navalny is under house arrest. That is precisely why the Russian secret services such as FSB began active work against the opposition in Europe. When, on July 6, we organized the protest against President Putin near the Arc de Triomphe (Arc of Triumph) in Paris, there were nearly as many Russian secret agents as they were demonstrators; this was so funny… (Shows pictures on his laptop – editor’s note)
The interview was done with the support of the Bulgarian Protest Network which worked actively for the release the Russian opposition activist from Bulgarian jail.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian