Even more than his easily exposed bald-faced lies, Vladimir Putin relies for the success he often enjoys at home and abroad on the increasingly short memories people have given the flood of events and on the attitude of those who insist that people should not dwell on the past, even the recent past but instead focus on the future.
That pattern has two consequences. On the one hand, it means that the Kremlin leader can always be counted on to follow one crime with another confident that some will forget the former and others will argue that they need to look past the earlier one in order to deal with the current violation.
And on the other, it means that it is all the more important that people of good will continue to focus on crimes that are in danger of being forgotten or accepted as givens about which nothing can be done and demand that others do the same lest Putin view each of his actions as precedent for more.
Those conclusions hold whether one is talking about the Kremlin leader’s illegal action in seizing and annexing Crimea or about smaller crimes at least in terms of the number of people directly affected, and they also mean that attention should remain focused not only on the victims of Putin’s crimes but also on those who are often heroically trying to expose them.
Among Putin’s all-too-often forgotten victims are the Bitkov family and among those who have done much to keep the memory of their case alive so that the Kremlin leader will not gain yet another undeserved win over his opponents is journalist Grigory Pasko (For background, see Putin Rebuilding the Iron Curtain in His Typical ‘Hybrid’ Fashion).
Yesterday, Ekho Moskvy posted both a report by Pasko on his latest travails because of his efforts to provide adequate coverage of the Russian government’s crimes against Bitkov and his family and a remarkable new essay by Bitkov himself about the Putinist state’s criminal nature.
Pasko has been subject to official harassment ever since he began to investigate how firms fronting for the Russian government illegally seized the property of Russian entrepreneur, but now the authorities are turning up the heat, demanding that he fly to Kaliningrad at his own expense to respond to charges about the case.
The journalist writes that he did not appear but in many ways welcomed this latest police intervention because it dispelled all doubts that the way he was treated in the past was all about the Bitkovs and about efforts by Moscow to build a case against the Russian businessman and his family who are now being detained in Guatemala as a result of Russia’s machinations.
In his response to the investigator, Pasko says he pointed out that the Russian constitution guarantees “freedom of thought and word to each … and even a journalist,” that Russian law protects a journalist from having to reveal his sources, and that both preclude requiring anyone to testify against himself – all rights the Russian authorities are now violating.
In his essay, Bitkov says that Putin has three faces, two of which are well-known because they are promoted by the Kremlin’s propaganda network and a third which that network wants to hide but which is in fact the defining nature of the regime.
“For the majority of Russians and some of his supporters abroad, Putin is seen as a leader of the nation, a firm and convinced defender of some sacred values, the Russian world, the national interests and sovereignty of Russia and other important things.” As a result, Russians are ready to support him,” albeit it is not clear “to what extent.” That is his first face.
The second face is the one that is seen by “a majority of residents of the developed countries of Europe and America and also by sufficiently educated and informed residents of other countries.” That is the face of an unattractive authoritarian ruler of a major nuclear power” who has adopted “an ever more aggressive approach” in the post-Soviet space and beyond.
These two faces have been promoted to hide the third and most real face of Vladimir Putin, “the secret system of the regime which in fact rules the country” in an utterly corrupt way. He removed Yeltsin officials who were often corrupt but were ashamed of it and replaced them with others who were proud to be corrupt and stole even more as a result.
That led first to the corruption of the government apparatus and then to the corruption of the economy with “raiding” and other forms of illegal action used to destroy independent entrepreneurialism in order to ensure that any money generated would flow into the hands of Putin and Putin’s people.
That changed the factors behind any business success: “If in the Yeltsin period, besides administrative resources and closeness to the power structures, the most important factor involved personal business skills, then under Putin in place of the entrepreneurial spirit came active devotion to the regime which was expressed in generous contributions and participation in party and state quasi-structures of the regime.”
Those entrepreneurs who refused to go along fled abroad or went out of business altogether; they have been replaced by “lackeys of the regime,” Bitkov says. But because so many have gone abroad, the Putin regime is now trying to get them back for trial as it is doing in his case.
Many warned earlier on that this was Putin’s real face, that of a corrupt leader; but they were typically ignored. Now he has realized that system in Russia, something he was able to do because of high oil prices that allowed him to buy off much of the population. But those prices are a thing of the past, Bitkov says, and soon Putin will be as well.