Thursday, October 1, 2015

Putin and the Bitkovs: Justice Denied as a Kremlin Tactic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 1 – Vladimir Putin counts on many things to achieve his criminal ends: the short memories of his various audiences, his ability to shift the narrative seemingly at will, and his willingness to use all the instruments of the Russian state to obfuscate and confuse those who might otherwise protest against his injustice.

            No one case better illustrates these things than the Kremlin’s persecution of Russian businessman Igor Bitkov and his family, first by stripping him of his company through the now Putin standard operating procedure of corporate raiding and more recently by involving Gautemalan courts in keeping Bitkov and his family behind bars.

            The outline of the case are relatively simple if horrific – for background, see and – but the devil is in details intentionally designed to be hard to follow and thus easily dismissed.

            Indeed, the temptation to lump the case in with other action of Putin’s kleptocracy is so great that many in Russia and many Russian observers in the West are undoubtedly inclined to think it is nothing special and pass over it in silence as something regrettable but part and parcel of the Putin era.

            While the Bitkov case is emblematic of much of what is wrong with the Putin system, one based not on law but on “understandings” and focused entirely on the enrichment of the top elite regardless of what happens to the rest of Russia or who has to be crushed in the process, it is the details which should become the basis of anger and demands for change.

            Fortunately, the Bitkovs have their own Boswell in the courageous Russian journalist Grigory Pasko who has reported on the crimes visited against them over the last decade. Now, he has summed it up in a 6100-word study of what is a case and a case study of official malfeasance Putin style ( and

            The article tells the story of an honest and extremely successful businessman who has his businesses taken from him by corrupt banks and greedy officials, of defense attorneys who don’t defend and rights officials who do not care about rights, and in general of a Russian government that invokes law when it suits its purposes but ignores it the rest of the time.

            The ins and outs of this case are appalling, and this case of justice denied as a state strategy recalls at least in part Charles Dickens’ classic novel of chancery court law, Bleak House, a brilliant description of the seemingly endless possibilities for delay and obfuscation of the British legal system in the middle of the 19th century.

            But for all the problems it revealed, Dicken’s telling of the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce case pales in comparison with what the Bitkovs have been going through in at least three ways. First, in the London of the 1850s, those involved were at least nominally committed to justice, while those in the Moscow of 2015 are interested only in profit at any price to others.

            Second, no one in the Jarndyce dispute thought that Britain should hound any of those involved by deploying all the powers of the state not only within its own borders but abroad. But many of those behind the persecution of the Bitkovs have done just that, driving them abroad and then seeking to use foreign governments to impose Moscow’s will.

            And third, Dickens’ novel sparked a reform movement in England, one that led to significant improvements in the British legal system.  So far, the Bitkov case as it has been related by Pasko has not had the same result. That is an indictment not only of the Putin regime but of all those who could choose to have leverage over it but haven’t chosen to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment