Staunton, November 8 – The Kremlin is not trying to convince anyone of its version of events about the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny, Vladimir Pastukhov says. Instead, as it has done so often with success, it is trying to keep the whole affair at the level of words against words so that it cannot become a legal case either in Russia or abroad.
As long as it can fight this battle at the level of words and avoid a court case, the Putin regime is able to insist that its words are as “weighty” as those of anyone else and not find itself in a situation where its words are evidence for which it can be held responsible, the London-based Russian analyst says (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/navalnyj-v-krolichej-nore/).
The more absurd and unbelievable its words become “the better,” he continues, because that keeps the debate at a level where no one is required to take responsibility. And if someone is able to bring a case abroad, Russia will bring its own in Russian courts that will reject everything that other courts find.
In this game, Pastukhov continues, “raising the stakes doesn’t change the rules.” Instead, it simply means that Russian courts have to be reduced the level of mouthpieces for the Putin regime, something it generally has been able to do but is always aware that there is a risk that the courts might begin to take themselves seriously and bring down the whole house of cards.
It would be easier for the Putin regime if there were no courts in Russia at all, but “despite the fact that for more than a decade in Russia there has existed a neo-totalitarian authoritarian regime, the Kremlin can’t completely do away with the external attributes of democracy.”
They are required so that Moscow “can speak with the West as equals.” But the Kremlin has reduced the role of courts by expanding that of the investigative authorities. They can pursue all kinds of leads but defendants cannot make the demands for discovery and the sharing of evidence that they can if they are in an actual court, even a Russian one.
Navalny would quickly exploit that possibility, and so the entire effort of the Kremlin is to prevent the opening of a court case until it can totally control it and simply have its courts render a verdict without the usual niceties of judicial procedure. To do that, it wages a war of words while insisting it is conducting a full-scale investigation.
The Kremlin regime cannot allow for the opening of a court case because a court case creates or brings to light documents and those documents take on a life of their own in the hands of skillful defendants and their lawyers and even among judges who have not forgotten all their legal educations.
Prominent Moscow lawyer Genri Reznik has coined a very precise term for what the Putin regime is engaged in in this regard. He calls such moves “procedural hooliganism,” something that looks like a legal process but in fact is the work of those who have no respect for law or indeed anything but power.
Such an approach, Pastukhov points out, is both generally and in the case of Navalny “openly unconstitutional.” Indeed, “in a normal situation, the Constitutional Court would long ago have had to stop it.” That is why the Putin regime has gelded it, so that the court is focused not on correcting such things but on its own survival.
The recent push to ensure that justices on the court do not issue separate decisions reflecting their varied opinions is part of this too, Pastukhov concludes, because one judge or another might say something that would bring the war of words to an end and transform Kremlin claims into evidence for which it could be judged and found guilty.