Staunton, February 2 – Torture psychological and sometimes physical has become “the modus operandi” of the Putin regime, “the undeclared but implicit instrument” it uses to control the elites, Vladimir Pastukhov says. It may not be as enthusiastically used as under Stalin. But “without torture just as without corruption, the system cannot any longer function normally.”
The St. Antony College Russian historian’s disturbing conclusions arise from his analysis of the Nikita Belykh case, whose “chief intrigue” is “the absence in it of any intrigue.” It is simply “a routine gubernatorial trial” to be followed by others. But it is instructive as “a little model of the soulless legal system which is destroying human fates” (republic.ru/posts/89277).
“Russian life is a torture,” Pastukhov continues; “in the literal and not just figure meaning of this word. Fear before force unlimited by anything … has become an inalienable attribute of daily life. The government doesn’t defend people from force but provokes its application everywhere.” As a result, “no one is secure at home, on the street or at work.”
“But there is also prison, ‘the black square’ of Russian legality. The fear of arrest and the horror as a result of arbitrariness behind bars is rapidly returning to the subconsciousness of Russian elites. It is precisely the prison and not the court which is the main driver of the Russian legal system.”
According to Pastukhov, “prison has become a torture conveyor which transforms healthy people into invalids and unhealthy ones into corpses.” Moreover, it affects not just the elites: their trials are only “the tip of the iceberg of judicial arbitrariness. Inspite of the widespread opinion, there are very few people who refuse to accept their guilt.”
“The overwhelming majority” of those charged “prefer” to accept the charges regardless of “whether the consider themselves guilty or not, and as a result, “more than tow thirds of all criminal cases in Russia” are not really examined but rushed through in a few hours without any discussion of the charges or evidence at all.
That leads to a system like the one Vyshinsky oversaw for Stalin; but in some ways, “it is even worse than ‘the troikas’ of Stalinist time at least become there now are not three judges. Everything is decided by one judicial bureaucrat.”
“At first glance,” the St. Antony’s College scholar says, there doesn’t appear to be much in common between the just completed case against Belykh and “the latest trial which is beginning of ‘the band of four’ from the Investigative Committee of Russia. But in reality, they are connected by a common logic of judicial arbitrariness.”
Ironically, he continues, “some of the investigators who today are sitting in the Moscow detention cells had direct and immediate relations to the case of Sergey Magnitsky” who died in prison when he was not provided with necessary medical help. Now those who did not help him are in a position where no one will help them.
This overthrow of those who overthrew others “is a bad sign,” Pastukhov argues, because “it shows that Russia for the second time in a century has become tied to the wheel of state terror, from which position it is not easy to escape.”
“Terror grows out of arbitrariness but this is something more than arbitrariness,” he suggests. “The essence of terror is that in general and on the whole it is directed against everyone, that it has no logic, and that there is no way to defend oneself against it.” The choice of victims is arbitrary, and so no one can ensure that he or she won’t end among them.
“Over the last several years,” Pastukhov argues, “the political system of Russia and in particular its siloviki segment has undergone significant changes.” It is no longer the case that the repressive apparatus of the state is under the control of others and acts only at their direction. This system can’t even be directed or reined in with money.
Instead, “this is a war of all against all, and no one knows whose bones will be ground on the millstones next.” Consequently, “in place of the red wheel has come a gray one.” And that in turn means that the siloviki are about to discover that they are not beyond the reach of this terrorist state either.
Pastukhov concludes he essay by referring to a scene in Andrey Konchalovky’s film “The Odyssey.” In it, Odysseus after many misadventures asks Poseidon to kill him, but the god responds that ‘My goals is not to kill you: I want you to understand that a man without god is nothing.’” That is the position where all but one Russian now are.