“I’m head of a Finnish NGO,” he said, laughing. “The legal entity has emigrated, but the person has remained.”
Now, he’s working on identifying the chain of command in the Russian military responsible for the deaths of civilians in a Chechen village in February 2000.
“We want to show who is responsible for what,” he said. “If we manage to get at least several orders for arrest, we will be satisfied.”
Dmitrievsky pushed for the United States to take action against individuals rather than issuing ineffective broadsides, praising the Magnitsky list, an effort by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) to ban visas for Russian officials connected to the death in pretrial detention of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a whistleblowing lawyer.
“This is effective,” Dmitrievsky said. “They steal their money here but prefer to spend and keep it somewhere else in the free world.”
Emily Navruzova, the young and energetic editor of the Nizhny Novgorod edition of Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper, said that the authorities have intimidated journalists and that most people are afraid to say publicly what they think.
“When we got a new mayor, I tried to get some comment about him,” she said. “Only one person dared to say anything, and she was drunk. She called me back early in the morning and begged me not to quote her.”
The day was only beginning. Down the street they went to the Committee Against Torture (name names instead of issuing reports) and met the head of the Public Monitoring Commission of Prisons (we have no money to travel to prisons) and the leader of the Intersoyuz migrant rights group (help us be heard). The local television station recorded a long interview, and Posner talked to students at the Higher School of Economics.
“Is it good that we have a president like Mr. Putin?” asked Irina Tolkocheva, a 19-year-old management student.
“That’s for Russians to decide,” Posner replied.
“What can be done about corruption?” asked her friend, Julia Kovalyova, also a management student.
“It’s up to you and everyone in this room to get involved and say this is the kind of country we want,” he said.
“We’re going to tackle these issues with all of our energy,” he said later, as the van lurched onward and he reflected on what he had heard. “We’re going to sustain them and get results.”
The last stop was the Sakharov museum, through a dark and littered courtyard to the small apartment at 214 Gagarin Ave. where Andrei Sakharov, the hero of Soviet science turned dissident, lived in internal exile from 1980 to 1986, constantly watched by the KGB.
Posner began his career working for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and had organized international petitions on Sakharov’s behalf. Eventually they met in 1987, when Posner visited Moscow on an American Bar Association trip.
He never forgot the man or the moment. Sakharov gave him letters to take to family members in the United States. At the airport, the KGB opened his suitcase and dumped out the contents, spilling the letters on the floor.
“They took them all,” he said, his face looking stricken, still.
Soon it was time to get back into the van. At 9:20 p.m., the little group boarded the overnight train to Kazan. At 6:15 a.m. they would arrive and begin another day.