13 October 2020
Karina Tsurkan in conversation with Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group human rights award, former member of the Public Monitoring Commission in Moscow
On 13 October Moscow City Court will continue the trial for espionage of Karina Tsurkan, a former top manager of Inter RAO. She is accused of passing on information to Moldovan special services concerning the organisation of electricity supplies to the DNR and LPR, as well as Russian gas supplies to Moldova and Crimea.
Last week Memorial Human Rights Centre declared Karina Tsurkan a political prisoner and a victim of a politically motivated prosecution. I met Karina Tsurkan this winter, in the early days of February, when she was unexpectedly released. On 16 January 2020 the First Court of Appeal released her from the remand centre on the expiry of the maximum term of 18 months for pre-trial detention. By that time, it was already clear to Karina and her defence counsel that she would not be at liberty for long. And that is what happened: the Second Court of Cassation very quickly considered a cassation submission from the Prosecutor General’s Office, which opposed releasing her from pre-trial detention. Turkan was at liberty for just 23 days. On 7 February, after the appeal, she was taken into custody again. Now that the “case of the Moldovan spy” is being heard in Moscow City Court in camera, it is time to allow her to speak and to publish that previously unpublished conversation I had with her.
Your story is, of course, fascinating. You have been accused of spying for Moldova, although there is no evidence of this accusation in the case, except for a falsified questionnaire on your recruitment filled in by children’s handwriting. How do you feel about these accusations?
Yes, indeed, there is not even an indication in the case of what I handed over, to whom exactly, by what means, let alone evidence. Everything is based on the testimony of a secret FSB official who claims to have received a copy of a questionnaire with my name on it from some unnamed foreign informants, and some printouts which he calls the reports of Moldovan special services to NATO. This turns out to be an interesting situation: you cannot be held liable for perjury or at least question these unnamed informants, because they are … unnamed. The epic quotation comes to mind: “It’s a monument, who’s going to put him in prison?!” But these denunciations, on the other hand, which are essentially anonymous and could perfectly illustrate the concept of ‘inadmissible evidence’ in Russian law, are enough for my son to be deprived of his mother and my mother to make up packages for me in prison.
According to your lawyer, Ivan Pavlov (Laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize – MHG), the accusation against you contains no actions that you have allegedly committed. How will you defend yourself against in court against allegations that don’t exist?
This form is a truly unique artefact. Unique in its clumsy execution and the audacity of the executant. It is a form that’s been filled out by hand in painstakingly rendered handwriting, in places overlaying another text, with corrections. It contains extremely scant public information about me: name, address, education, place of work. Only my name is error free. The thing is, the form is stated as having been drawn up in 2004, and while my name remains unchanged since then, everything else is either from future information or simply untrue. For example, there is a photo of me from 2008 from my biometric passport. My place of work applies to 2006, as that organisation didn’t yet exist in 2004. All other data applies to the period 2006-2015, but not 2004. What enviable sagacity of the Moldovan Secret Services to be able to predict my future for a decade in 2004, right down to my hairstyle. The defence provided confirmation of the inaccuracy of the information and indications of obvious falsification. How else can you defend yourself against this fake, executed with the same level of expertise as a children’s colouring book? I simply don’t know.
Falsified and “empty” cases of this sort are, as a rule, explained by the fact that the person involved has some sort of competitor, an enemy that writes a denunciation, formulating non-existent accusations, coming up with some kind of story. In your case, who benefits from your arrest and prosecution?
That’s exactly how it is. There is someone with an interest, there are those who carry out the orders, and the circle of those involved is well known. The story of human hatred is as old as the world. It is sad and uninteresting. But I have no negative emotions towards them, I simply won’t multiply evil.
What was most challenging about detention in prison for you?
Being separated from my mum and son. The pain is constant. The thought that, maybe, right at this moment, they need me, and knowing that I am absolutely powerless to help them. Everything else is trivial, not worth mentioning.
What gives you hope for a positive outcome from this story?
A positive outcome, in the first place, would be to get through this interesting stage in my journey with dignity, particularly as my son is watching me. The rest is all God’s will.
What does your son think about your detention? Does he know that you are in prison?
Andrei was 14 at the time of my arrest, he’s now 16. He’s already had two birthdays without me. I’m afraid that he’ll spend a third birthday without me. The first one, I howled with pain. Of course, Andrei, like many close and not-so-close ones, knows everything that has happened, and why. Parcels, Lefortovo, waiting in the corridors of a courtroom became a part of his life during this fragile adolescent age. I’m insanely proud of my son, his stoicism, insight, and perceptive assessment of what’s going on. He has grown up a lot, he has had to. But I wouldn’t wish this kind of maturity on anyone; when the earth is pulled out from under you, and the world suddenly becomes a dangerous place.
Doesn’t it seem to you like this whole thing is a dream? That it’s not happening to you?
Not really, I’m very consciously living through what is happening to me. But the surprise, what is actually amazement, doesn’t pass. I always saw myself as a classic ‘good student’ always with her nose in a book, by circumstance temporarily having wormed my way into energy and business, but with the fervent hope that I would return to my books and endless study. And suddenly – prison, about which I’d only read in books, and agents, spies, secret services and the like – the omnipotent, omnipresent, esoteric and intuitive secret services forces of Moldova. As Dovlatov wrote: ‘life has become a novel.’