Not only the yawning gap between what the Kremlin says and what anyone’s eyes can see but also the revelations about that gap and about the workings of the Kremlin which appear and then often disappear without a trace are creating a world in which everything seems equally possible and impossible and thus believable or incredible.
The latest example of this, the Moscow analyst says, came last week when a witness in the Moscow trial of the Militant Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN) told the court that the activities of this band were supervised and directed by officials in Putin’s Presidential Administration.
“In any civilized country, this would have been sensation number one and would have led to talk about the immediate retirement of senior officials or distrust in the president.” But in Russia, “this news passed almost unnoticed.” The opposition media reported it, but the controlled media carefully avoided anything which might “compromise the chief of state.”
Yevgenia Khasis, the BORN activist who made this declaration, has already been convicted of the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova and sentenced to 18 years behind bars. Two months ago, she was brought from the Mordvinian camps to give evidence against his former BORN comrades.
According to Khasis, the man in the Presidential Administration supervising BORN was Leonid Simulin, who provided some funding to the group but who refused to provide the amount that its activists wanted unless they carried out the murder of an FSB officer the Kremlin apparently wanted out of the way.
If they did, the Kremlin official was prepared to give the BORN people 5,000 euros. “Not all that much money for the work of a killer, but one can imagine how much money would pass into the hands of intermediaries on the path from those giving the orders and those carrying them out,” Podrabinek observes.
What is especially concerning, the Moscow analyst continues, is Khasis’ assertion that Simulin was close to Vladislav Surkov and constantly told those from BORN with whom he was working that he had “consulted the leadership” and “the leadership did not recommend” this or that action. That takes the criminal world inside Putin’s closest circles.
Links between the powers that be and the criminal world will appear “unbelievable only to those who believe that the authorities are really trying to defend the law.” There aren’t very many of them in Russia now, Podrabinek says, with the majority now convinced that “bureaucrats are corrupt” and that they are all thieves.”
“But few believe or want to believe that the highest leadership of the country is involved with ideological maniacs and murderers.” Now they may have to, just as they may have to recognize that Putin and company were involved in the 1999 apartment bombings that reignited the Chechen war or other crimes that the Kremlin has been only too ready to exploit.
Of course, such links between those in power and the criminal world “are not an exclusive aspect of the Russian authoritarian regime.” All too many other countries provide evidence of this dangerous trend. But those other authoritarian regimes also provide another lesson which Russians need to learn:
The person who orders such crimes is always the one at the top. “Executors can be sacrificed but those who do the ordering are untouchable as far as the law is concerned.” And typically they are protected from exposure by the fear of those below them. But Yegeniya Khasis showed she wasn’t afraid. Now, Putin and company should be.