Russia is spinning out of control, inching towards a truly failed state.
I don’t use those words lightly when describing the growing social and political tension that seems to be increasing by the day in Russia. This blog tends to steer clear of political discussions, which make for quaint chit-chat but are generally a waste of productive time (I say this from living more than 10 years in Washington, DC). However, at some point politics’ influence on business and greater society has such a pernicious effect that one can ignore it further only at one’s own peril.
I should clarify that by “failed state” I am not comparing it to truly failed states such as some in the Horn of Africa, perhaps Iraq, or even North Korea. Russia is still light years from that level of political nihilism. Yet it is also increasingly distant from the values that are prevalent in the international institutions within which it strives to play an increasing role, whether it be the European Parliament, EU or WTO.
The pure audacity, bureaucratic impunity and mind-numbing inhumanity that state actors (or those hiding under the cover of state actors) within Russia has reached a critical density that could easily spin out of control if not properly addressed. And I’m far from being the only one to notice the obvious: the last few weeks have seen a string of violence that is even startling to those inured to the Kafka-esque senselessness that makes Russia, well, Russia. In an opinion piece in the Moscow Times, Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the last independent politicians forced out of the Duma, questions the further viability of Russia as a country if nothing is changed. Khodorkovsky himself referred to this in his closing statement last week in his second trial–and this guy hasn’t even seen the light of day or had a free discussion on any related topic for over 6 years! If someone banned to the Russian hinterlands or a prison cell can pick up on this social tension bearing down on the country, you know it’s something tangible.
Hardly a day goes by without some new report on the impunity of government officials, police, or other bureaucrats that supersedes in terms of stupidity and cruelty anything that preceded it. How much worse could it get after Oleg Kashin’s beating? Videos of his beating are all over the internet. It’s pathetic. It makes the Rodney King video like like a playground fight.
This comes on the heels of similar beatings of Mikhail Beketov, Anatoliy Adamchuk and Konstantin Fetisov as well as the death of Sergei Magnitsky’s which occurred exactly one year ago and has received serious resonance among governments throughout the world.And in nearly all of these cases, the bumbling “investigators” follow the same, hackneyed cycle. First they claim complete mobilization of all resources to find the culprits; then they go through some machinations similar to a real investigation; then when the media storm dies down, they blame the victims for perpetrating or participating the crime that was executed against that person. This is exactly what happened with Beketov. The poor guy is crippled and can’t even speak and he was forced to attend the court hearings in a wheelchair in the slander charges against him by the mayor of Khimki. A symbolic verdict of 5,000 rubles was levied against Beketov but it was suspended since the statute of limitations had passed. So why put this poor man through the humiliation and torture of a trial over $150 which wasn’t even collectible because the statute of limitations had passed!?! The judge obviously had to please some politician who was determined to humiliate and destroy Beketov to the best of his abilities. And in a country with few social or political protections, those abilities in the hands of the political elite go pretty far.
The same scenario played out with the journalist Adamchuk earlier this month too outside of Moscow. The investigators, after their “diligent” investigatory work, concluded the journalist had paid someone $30 to give him a serious licking so he could then go complain to the authorities as a victim of his investigative reporting on environmental matters.
Not to be outdone by their colleagues across town, the investigators of the Magnitskiy matter have decided to play that same card as well. Today, on the eve of Sergei Magnitskiy’s death and the release of a documentary film on his demise in a Russian prison, the Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee announced that–drumroll please–Sergei Magnitsky was in fact one of the co-perpetrators of the massive fraud of 5.4 billion rubles. And that in fact he was the de facto accountant of the firm that defrauded the government and not in fact an attorney (You think he was able to keep that all from his wife all those years?), and on top of that, this was the same person who notified the authorities three weeks before the theft occurred of the pending plans to do so. And now he is accused of perpetrating the whole thing himself. If only more criminals would rat themselves out by tipping authorities of their impending crime, the world would be such a safer place.
Oh, of course the other two individuals who could someone verify this outrageous claim (i.e. the other co-conspirators) are dead. Both from unexplained accidents. Trifling coincidence, wouldn’t you say? So, anyone who could legitimately confirm or deny these claims is dead, murdered, or a combination of the two. Hollywood could never even think up a screenplay this elaborate.
And to make sure no one with even the slightest hint of a pulse does not miss the irony, the Interior Ministry also gave out awards to the prison officials responsible for Magnitsky’s incarceration on the one-year anniversary of his death. What’s an anniversary without a party, right? No charges have been levied against any one for Magnitsky’s murder, mind you. And one of these officials who was recently awarded, Oleg Silchenko, earlier this year filed a complaint against one of the lawyers from Hermitage Capital with the Bar Association in Moscow to have his law license revoked. That complaint was later revoked by the Interior Ministry itself when the bar had concluded the evidence he had submitted was falsified. Whoops!! Obviously promotions in the Ministry are not based on merit or competence–but audacity and gall. Query why they didn’t sue the Bar Association for slander and misrepresentation; they’re getting soft it seems.
And it’s probably not the end. There are Russian journalists who in essence are on a hit list because of their writings. Here’s one’s portrayal of that pleasant feeling.
HOW INDIFFERENT CAN A NATION BECOME TO IGNORE THESE ABSURDITIES? This is what I mean by failed state. The institutions are all there. The investigators investigate, the judges adjudicate, the politicians politicize, but the difference is it has all become a pathetic charade. This is a Potemkin village on steroids.