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The head of Russia's Federal Investigative Committee secretly writes poems about Putin's enemies, and possibly edits his own Wikipedia page

Meduza
21:56, 25 august 2017

Sergey Guneyev / Sputnik / Scanpix / LETA

Like many high-ranking government officials, Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee, has a verified account on the social media network Vkontakte, where photos from state ceremonies are shared, along with posts about various aspects of life as one of Russia’s top cops: meeting celebrities, attending important meetings, congratulating famous public figures on things, and celebrating different holidays. It’s all very official, but Meduza has learned that Alexander Bastrykin also has a surprisingly personal presence on social media, where Russia’s Investigative Committee chief composes poetry about love and about Alexey Navalny, posting as a Polish poet named Stanislav Strunevsky. Bastrykin also manages another unverified Vkontakte account in his own name, and he apparently closely edits his own Wikipedia page.

Bastrykin writes poems about Navalny and love

“A Polish poet, writer, and amatuer journalist and photographer, widely known in narrow circles.” That’s how Stanislav Strunevsky’s bio reads on the website Stikhi.ru (Poems.ru). Strunevsky is more than a pseudonym — he’s a whole literary hoax. According to his bio, he’s led a difficult life “full of ups and downs.” “From an early age, his parents, being Polish gentry from ancient noble families, nevertheless managed to instill in him a respect for hard agricultural labor, and little Stasik at the age of 12 helped his grandmother in the village with her 215-square-foot garden, also collecting hallucinogenic mushrooms in the nearby Polish forest.” Strunevsky discovered poetry at the age of 17, writing his first four-line poem “in a creative delirium.”

Strunevsky’s date of birth isn’t posted on Stikhi.ru, but one of his accounts on Vkontakte lists it as March 27, 1963.

To date, Stanislav Strunevsky’s Stikhi.ru account has published more than 50 poems. Almost half of them are dedicated to various public figures: actress Irina Kupchenko, filmmaker Oleg Tabakov, conductor Valery Gergiev, General Vladimir Shamanov, choreographer Yury Grigorovich, and many others. On September 5, 2016, Alexander Bastrykin’s official Vkontakte account described his meeting with French singer Mireille Mathieu. The post ends with the following rhymes:

Rhyming translation

With Mireille Mathieu in my ears,

I see the heavens unfold.

I find the way, despite my fears,

And my life I do behold.

In beauty I believe once more,

And in divine fate.

Hustle and bustle is a bore,

My sinful ways abate.

Direct translation

When Mireille Mathieu sings,

I see the heavens.

I find my way in the dark,

And life is clear to me.

I believe again in beauty,

And in divine fate.

I despise the hustle and bustle,

And run from sinful deeds.

Bastrykin didn’t identify the author of the poem, but these two stanzas appear identically in the opening lines of Stanislav Strunevsky’s long tribute to the French musician, supposedly composed in Paris in 2012. Strunevsky has dedicated another poem to Mireille Mathieu, as well: “We Met in the City of White Nights.” Bastrykin, an enormous Mathieu fan, awarded her an Investigative Committee medal in 2010 for “valor and courage.” Mathieu is also a member of the Investigative Committee's Public Council. In 2017, Bastrykin even released a book through the publishing house “Original-Maket” titled “Mireille Mathieu: The Singing Girl From Avignon.”

This is far from the only overlap between Bastrykin and the Great Poet Strunevsky: the two are fascinated by exactly the same celebrities. Strunevsky has published 21 poems dedicated to famous people, almost all of whom Bastrykin has mentioned in one way or another on his official Vkontakte page, where he wishes them happy birthday, describes his meetings with them, and expresses his condolences, when they die.

On February 6, 2017, Bastrykin wrote a post mourning the death of actor Georgiy Taratorkin. At the end of the post, he once again attached a four-verse poem first published on Strunevsky’s Stikhi.ru account.

On April 16, 2017, the Investigative Committee head attended a concert opening Moscow’s East Festival, where the orchestra, led by conductor Valery Gergiev, performed works by Glinka, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky.

Rhyming translation

When the Moscow East Festival unfurled,

With Valery Gergiev at the fore,

It was as if our evil, gloomy world

“Floated off” to another “shore.”

Glinka and Tchaikovsky sounded,

Stravinsky lifted us high,

The High Muse’s voice was unbounded,

And echoed, “Shine!” to the sky.

Direct translation

In his poem “Shine,” dedicated to Gergiev, Strunevsky writes:

The Moscow East Festival.

Valery Gergiev opened.

And it was as if our evil, gloomy world

“Floated off” to another “shore.”

Glinka and Tchaikovsky sounded,

Stravinsky lifted us high,

The High Muse’s voice rang out,

And a clear echo said, “Peace! Shine on!”

A note attached to Strunevsky’s poem “Death of a Battle Commander” credits his mother, identifying her as an anti-aircraft gunner veteran from a coastal unit in the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. According to the Investigative Committee’s website, Evgeniya Antonovna Antonova, Alexander Bastrykin’s mother, was an anti-aircraft gunner in the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. In the poem “I Would Like to be Born in 1920,” Strunevsky writes about his father: a former naval officer born in 1920, who fought in the Finnish War and Second World War. Ivan Ilyich Bastrykin, the Investigative Committee head’s father, has the exact same biography.

With these antics, writing as a “Polish poet widely known in narrow circles,” Bastrykin isn’t really acting out the literary hoax, so much as he’s merely using the name as a pseudonym. This is important to take into account, when examining Bastrykin-Strunevsky’s poetry on socio-political topics, where his greatest inspiration is without a doubt the opposition politician Alexey Navalny, whom the Investigative Committee has probed in several criminal cases. Dozens of poems are dedicated entirely to Navalny, and the author even deleted from Stikhi.ru a few poems uploaded on August 21 and August 22 (though Meduza retained screenshots). Some of Strunevsky’s work also appears on the website Rusizdat.ru, where it’s probably safe to assume that the poems are meant to be satirical. The following two stanzas demonstrate the quality and sophistication of this poetry:

Rhyming translation

To get the money from Hodor,

You’ve got years to go, thank you.

Like a pilot hears the engine’s roar,

But needs a takeoff cue.

To lands where freedoms appear.

So stark! And so very glaring!

Like a Greek goddess’ rear,

In see-through starry pants, staring.

Direct translation

To get money from Hodor [Khodorkovsky]

He’s got to make noise for another five years or so.

Like a pilot by the engine,

Waiting for the signal to take off

To destinations where there are symbols of freedom.

So stark! So clear!

Like the buns of Terpsichore

In see-through starry pants.

Bastrykin-Strunevsky ridicules Navalny’s political ambitions, hinting that he’s just in it for the money, and in other poems he implies that the opposition leader is working with the U.S. government. You can guess the content of many of these poems just by looking at the titles:

“What’s With Lyoshik’s Miserable Luck?” (Poem deleted)

“A Schoolboy’s Letter to Navalny in Rouen” (Poem deleted but saved in Yandex’s cache)

“Another Day in Jail for Navalny”

“Glorious! Our Glorious Navalny!”

“Our Remarkable Strength in Navalny!”

“So Where Does Our Navalny Vacation?”

“Now We Know: Lyoshik Was in Rouen!”

“Navalny Talks Big Once Again”

“Go Ahead and Steal Like Everyone Else”

Other poems are full of bile aimed at other predictable political targets, like the liberal radio station Echo of Moscow (“Our Echo of Moscow / As if howling from anguish / Like someone who’s forgotten his socks in the sauna”), Barack Obama (“Like color [revolution] sh*t in an ice hole / It doesn’t sink — it’s just filth!”), and Ukraine (“Behold Ukraine’s shameful men / They shoot at women and children!”).

On Stikhi.ru, Bastrykin-Strunevsky has also shared a handful of very deep and soulful poems about love:

Rhyming translation

And years later I’ll remember your digits

And text you one more time.

But even an iPhone with the latest widgets

Can’t capture my heart’s true chime.

Direct translation

And suddenly through years of love I’ll remember the phone number,

And again I’ll send an SMS into the ether…

But even the best iPhone in the world

Can’t convey all my arabesque love.

In other poems, the lyrical hero poses questions about life and death, good and evil, and the mysteries of the universe:

Rhyming translation

I cannot believe that forever I’ll live.

My death itself I do not fear.

I’m not asking you to lie or forgive,

I don’t hold immortality dear.

Direct translation

I can’t believe in immortality.

Death itself I do not fear,

I don’t accept deception or mercy,

And I don’t aspire to be immortal.

In the poems published on Stikhi.ru by Bastrykin-Strunevsky, there are 109 words derived from the word “love.” This is more than 2 percent of all the words that appear in Bastrykin-Strunevsky’s rhymes. Readers will also be unable to escape the author’s fascination with France and especially Paris. In 57 poems, Paris is mentioned 25 times (Bastrykin’s native city of Leningrad gets 36 mentions, St. Petersburg comes up 21 times, and Moscow appears 29 times). And there are other references to France and its culture: the fairytales of Charles Perrault, an old chateau, the hills of Avignon.

Meduza also discovered a poem by Bastrykin-Strunevsky cached by Yandex, titled “An Ode to the First Global Meeting of the Association of Graduates of the St. Petersburg State University in Our Nation’s Capital, Moscow,” modeled on Gavrila Derzhavin's ode to God. Beneath the text of the poem, the author is identified as Alexander Bastrykin. The ode was uploaded to Stanislav Strunevsky’s page at Stikhi.ru, and later deleted.

On Bastrykin’s Wikipedia page, in the section on his “popular science and literary works,” there is a listing of his book of poems, titled “I Would Like to Be Born in 1920,” which was published in Moscow in 2016. The Wikipedia entry lists the book’s supposed ISBN, but Russia’s Central Institute of Bibliography told Meduza that it has no book registered under the number reported on Wikipedia. The publishing house “Original-Maket” confirms that it did publish the collection of poems, but Meduza was unable to find any mention of the book in the media or at online bookstores.

“When will you arrest Kundeneyev?” Stanislav Strunevsky’s social media

As with their poetry, Stanislav Strunevsky and Alexander Bastrykin are constantly intersecting on social networks. On one of Strunevsky’s Vkontakte pages, his date of birth is displayed as August 27, 1953 — the same day Bastrykin was born. There are just two posts on this page, including one on August 9, when Strunevsky shared a link to Mireille Mathieu’s biography and commented “a beautiful singer!” A couple of weeks later, he wiped the page clean, writing, “I once created this page for my dog, but now she’s registered in her own name.”

Another (older) Stanislav Strunevsky page on Vkontakte is even less informative. All that’s posted is a welcome greeting and four identical photos depicting Warsaw’s Palace Square. The account is also registered in “Warszawa,” apparently showing that the author is committed to supporting the legends about this Polish poet. But the Vkontakte communities created by this Vkontakte account — “Stanislav Strunevsky Stikhi Ru,” “Russian Federal Investigative Committee,” “and “Archive of Domestic and Foreign Criminal Forensics” — again allude to Alexander Bastrykin. The same goes for Strunevsky’s listed interests, which include Bastrykin’s official Vkontakte page.

In almost all the Vkontakte communities created “for the exchange of ideas, thoughts, and the results of scientific and artistic creativity” and “useful and pleasant conversation,” there is just a single participant: Stanislav Strunevsky. At the time of this writing, the exception was “Investigative Committee Club Friends,” which has three subscribers. In the Vkontakte group “Leningrad Kuibyshev District Police Department,” where Bastrykin worked in his youth, Strunevsky wrote, “I used to work there!” A bit later, he posted a photo of Alexander Bastrykin in a hockey uniform. In comments from another account, Strunevsky posted a meme ridiculing Alexey Navalny.

Strunevsky also has an inactive Facebook account. The only images he’s uploaded are the same photos of Warsaw’s Palace Square. On August 24, however, Strunevsky posed a question (from a different Facebook account) addressed to the Russian Investigative Committee, asking, “When will you arrest Kundeneyev?” The question apparently concerns former Moscow District Attorney Sergey Kundeneyev. A few days before Strunevsky’s question on Facebook, the newspaper Kommersant reported that Kundeneyev is the focus of a corruption investigation. Kundeneyev resigned from his post, following the news, but police have yet to bring any formal charges.

Bastrykin manages a separate unverified Vkontakte account under his own name

Alexander Bastrykin apparently manages a personal account on Vkontakte that’s separate from his official verified account. Meduza reached out to the Investigative Committee to find out if Bastrykin’s unofficial account has any connection to him, but we received no response. For several reasons, however, it seems to be fairly obvious that this unverified account does indeed belong to the real Alexander Bastrykin.

First, Bastrykin’s unofficial Vkontakte page includes many candid and personal photos of the Investigative Committee head, including the picture of him in a hockey uniform that Strunevsky shared from one of his accounts. Bastrykin’s unofficial page also republished in its entirety Strunevsky’s poem “A Conversation With Oleg Pavlovich Tabakov.” Furthermore, many of the account’s friends are official Vkontakte pages managed by the press offices of difference regional branches of the Investigative Committee.

Generally speaking, fake social media pages pretending to be state officials don’t usually look like this: the pranksters responsible typically post content and comments that reflect poorly on the public figures in question.

It seems that Bastrykin edits his own Wikipedia page

Earlier this month, Meduza published an article about Bastrykin’s comical efforts to dispel plagiarism allegations that have haunted his book on fingerprinting for more than a decade. The first person to accuse Bastrykin of plagiarizing parts of the book was Vladimir Chisnikov, a top researcher in the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. The Taurida National V.I. Vernadsky University published Chisnikov’s devastating review in 2007. Citing several factual errors and inaccuracies, Chisnikov highlighted multiple paragraphs from Bastrykin’s book that are verbatim or near-verbatim recreations of passages from Jürgen Thorwald’s 1964 classic “Das Jahrhundert der Detektive” (Century of the Detective). In 2013, the volunteer community Dissernet dismantled Bastrykin’s book in detail, showing that he lifted large sections (sometimes even whole pages) from Thorwald and several other writers.

In the summer and fall of 2016, twelve years after Bastrykin’s book was published, academic journals suddenly ran reviews by eight major legal scholars. Without exception, the 11 reviews offered nothing but praise, celebrating Bastrykin’s language, his “scientific depth,” his “vast bibliography,” and his book’s illustrations.

It’s possible that Bastrykin asked Russia’s leading forensics specialists to publish reviews of his book, so he would have a way to respond to critics. Corroborating this theory are posts from February 2017 published on the Web portal Proza.ru by an account managed in Alexander Bastrykin’s name. The author wrote directly that he was “forced to turn to Russia’s leading forensics specialists for an objective assessment of my work.” Spokespeople for Russia’s Investigative Committee did not respond to Meduza’s questions about the Proza.ru account and whether Bastrykin or anyone tied to him has connections to the account, but we have reason to believe it’s real.

On Proza.ru, Bastrykin also wrote, “All my attempts to disprove this false claim through Wikipedia and the journal where Mr. Chisnikov published his review have been unsuccessful. Neither Wikipedia nor the journal’s editors will accept the falsity of Mr. Chisnikov’s statements.” Judging by the history of edits on Bastrykin’s Wikipedia page, it seems he may have even tried to “correct the record” on his own.

Among the editors who have worked on Bastrykin’s Wikipedia page, there are three users who share three common attributes: the Bastrykin page is the only Wikipedia page they’ve ever edited, the edits are almost exclusively flattering (except for minor technical clarifications and corrections), and they all use Polish pseudonyms: Tadeush Novakovsky, Wajcieh Jaruzelski, and Komarovsky.

On the evening of August 15, after Meduza published its report on the 11 glowing book reviews, Tadeush Novakovsky tried to add this information on Bastrykin’s Wikipedia page, with a reference to Meduza. “Novakovsky” apparently wasn’t deterred by the bad publicity associated with revelations that Bastrykin tried to save his reputation by flooding academic journals (including a journal whose editorial board he heads) with glowing reviews. This edit turned out to be the last for Novakovsky and his other pseudonyms. On August 16, he was blocked from Wikipedia with the following statement:

“Any future publicity activity by any account on Wikipedia pages related to Bastrykin will be blocked permanently, and further edits on that page will be locked.

“Your games with this article, and your attempts from this IP address to reintroduce content that has been deleted repeatedly, are over.

“And all your accounts — Pan Yaruzelsky, Novakovsky Komarovsky, and, I don’t know how to write this correctly, Sibbelius — are blocked permanently.”

Wikipedia CheckUser Dmitry Rodionov confirmed to Meduza that Tadeush Novakovsky, Wajcieh Jaruzelski, and Komarovsky, along with several accounts tied to anonymous IP addresses, all belong to a single editor. Rodionov added that there’s a high probability that these edits were part of a publicity campaign, though he also says it’s possible that it was simply one of Bastrykin’s very committed fans. “In any case, it violates Wikipedia’s rules on sourcing and neutrality,” he added.

That same day, on August 16, Bastrykin reposted on his personal Vkontakte page the entirety of Meduza’s report on his reputation rescue effort. Judging by the absence of any critical remarks, it seems that he liked the article.

Russian text by Alexander Borzenko, translation by Kevin Rothrock

Ivan Golunov, Samat Galimov, and Denis Dmitriyev contributed to this report