From a politician in Russia to a massage therapist in Miami

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Today, we are talking to Victor Kamenshchikov, a former deputy of the municipal assembly of the city of Vladivostok, former member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). Victor is a Russian citizen, currently living in Miami, Florida. Two years ago, he received political asylum in the US.

РУССКИЙ

Living in the USA, Victor Kamenshchikov discovers a new world for himself even though adapting to a foreign country is not an easy process.

A former Russian deputy told Slavic Sacramento that he was forced to leave his homeland – Primorsky Krai. It was not easy for him to stay neutral about the corruption schemes of the local government, as well as he could not support Russian invasion in Ukraine. Sometimes it’s much more challenging to sacrifice one’s honor than comfort, he says.

The ex-deputy says that the Communist Party in the Far East of Russia is a systemic party, and the entire Russian non-systemic opposition uses it as a political cover. Kamenshchikov says that political rallies and meetings against Putin’s policy and the Russian government take place frequently under the flags of the CPRF.

Viktor Kamenshchikov said  that there is segregation in the CPRF between “us” and “not us”. “Us” are stalinists, old party members, and “not us” are fresh party members who try to bring some benefits to the party by renewing it and bringing liberal views. Fun fact, the same approach is applicable to another political party – the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). 

Kamenshchikov believes that the invasion of Ukraine was initiated mainly by the top of the Communist Party, representing its voters in the State Duma of the Russian Federation. Therefore, tolerance for liberalism is impossible under the roof of this political structure.

Former politician is sure that in this country everyone understands perfectly well that in Russia, apart from the dominant party “United Russia”, there is little choice only between two other parties: Communist party and Liberal democratic party. Last one is very similar to Nazi, if you see their slogans.

For Viktor Kamenshchikov, the war in Ukraine (in Russia, it is still called SMO – special military operation) became a serious shock, like for many other Russians. During the first six months, many of them actively and openly opposed it. Some Russians still try to advocate for the cessation of hostilities occasionally despite this activity is getting really dangerous for them and even for their families. Slowly but surely, the government is suppressing this resistance. 

Having realized the uselessness of his opposition efforts, the former deputy decided to resign from his post and leave Russia.

As per Kamenshchikov, today’s Russian society perceives quite passively what is happening in their country, as if they are trying to pretend that nothing is happening and remain invisible to the government. But the top half of the society is different – no one can stay neutral for a long time especially if you are a politician, a journalist, or an actor. Then you have to go to the end – either to be pro war or against it. However, if you are against the war, you won’t be able to stay afloat for long.

The former deputy from Vladivostok left Russia via Istanbul (Turkey) and went to Mexico, where he spent 5 days, then he flew to the border city of Tijuana, from there he walked to the San Ysidro checkpoint. He had a little over 4 thousand dollars in his pocket.

Former Russian politician Kamenshchikov crossed the US border alone; his family has not joined him yet.

After applying for a political asylum, Victor was detained at the detention center for almost 6 months. Then, for another six months, in the immigration court he was proving his right to receive political asylum. And immediately after his immigration status was finally approved, the ex-deputy went to Miami, where he lives today and peacefully works as a massage therapist.

The former deputy still has relatives in Russia. Fortunately, they do not consider him a traitor to the motherland. However, his relatives and friends are worried about Victor as he is currently in a foreign country. At the same time, they are glad that he is safe, unlike numerous oppositionists. One of them is Victor’s close friend, he got 20 years in prison for speaking out against the current regime in Russia.

Kamenshchikov refutes rumors about the possible collapse of the Russian Federation.

“There are no signs for disintegration in the grassroots, as was the case with the USSR,” he says.

People in Russia don’t talk much about the possible disintegration, but there is definitely some tension in the air. There was a precedent in the history of the Russian Far East: back in 1920, there was a de jure independent democratic state—the Far Eastern Republic. Of course, it was a puppet in someone else’s hands and existed for only two years, but the very fact that it existed is worth considering. History tends to repeat itself.

Victor shared another popular rumor, according to which China will try to take over the Russian Far East. He said that Chinese entrepreneurs feel rather carefree in the Primorsky Krai in particular, and in the rest of Russia up to the Urals, in general. Kamenshchikov seriously thinks that China’s expansion may soon become a big problem for Russia.

However, Kamenshchikov continues, even if Russia had collapsed, China would not have been able to infringe on the Russian Far East, as other big players of the region – Japan and Korea –  would not have allowed each other to interfere so as not to upset the shaky geopolitical balance.

It may seem to some observers that Putin has some kind of love for Vladivostok, as he gives lots of attention to the city, the former deputy says. Since 2008, this city has been a substantial opposition “capital” of Russia. And the idea of regionalization and separatism, according to political experts, scares Putin who is not happy because of people opposing him on the other end of the country. Therefore, Putin’s special attention to Vladivostok is not about Putin’s love for this city.

Kamenshchikov told about Igor Sergeyevich Pushkarev, the former mayor of Vladivostok, who is currently in prison. His first term was 12 years, then he got more. Pushkarev was a respectful businessman, and he was a rather influential politician in the region. He is the only person who managed to become a mayor of Vladivostok twice. As his power and popularity grew, more abstractions appeared on his way. Even more, persecution against him began which resulted in the imprisonment of Pushkarev.

Talking about his own political career in Russia, Victor claims that he had never taken bribes. According to him, bribes are offered to ones who like Putin. Apparently, Kamenshchikov was not either his nor Russian government fan.

Despite the political confrontation and numerous contradictions in his native region, Victor and his team have achieved a lot during his parliamentary activity. They managed to block projects on construction of an apartment building for officials in Vladivostok. By their mere presence, members of the Communist Party often “did not allow members of the United Russia party to do outright nonsense, Kamenshchikov says.

Also, back then, he did not hesitate to cover many issues in the press, his comments often were a stopping factor for many members of the United Russia political party.

The Russian presidential elections will take place very soon in March, and Victor plans to participate in rallies in the United States to show his protest against Putin’s regime.

However, former politician Victor Kamenshchikov says that he does not want to perform any political activities entirely because, in his opinion, it is pretty challenging to achieve mutual understanding and common background with the majority of today’s Russians.

Виталий Атаев Трошин, SlavicSac.com
California Local News Fellowship