One of the reasons Vladimir Putin and his regime are able to get away with so many of their crimes is that many in both Russia and the West tend to treat each one as unique rather than see the linkages that exist among them, be it subversion of other countries or even violence against opponents.
That makes a typology US-based Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova offers today on who in Russia or abroad is most at risk of being killed by the agents of the Kremlin, a typology that she admits is incomplete but one that nonetheless does provide the basis for a better understanding of Putin’s operational code.
The first category of people at high risk of being attacked by Putin’s agents are “turncoats,” people who have worked in the special services, the state bureaucracy, its propaganda arms, and thus someone assumed to have information that could be dangerous to the Kremlin, the Russian analyst says.
If this desertion has attracted a great deal of attention, she continues, “the murderers will try in every possible way to show that their revenge can reach ‘the traitor’ even years later.”
A second category of targets are journalists, bloggers or activists who have sharply criticized Russian foreign policy and “Vladimir Putin personally.” The level of risk within this group depends both on where an individual is located and just how categorical these commentaries are.
Those who live in Russia are thus most at risk; those in Ukraine somewhat less; and those in Western countries, while still real targets, are less likely to be attacked except in extreme cases.
These attacks, Kirillova says, may be delivered both by Russian siloviki in office and also by those who have been mobilized as adjuncts to them. In some cases, the latter is a greater threat. “The risk of beating is somewhat higher than that of murder, but that isn’t a reason for not taking the threat seriously.”
A third category, the analyst says, includes those who work to expose “links of Russian or foreign politicians with the Russian mafia, compile evidence of the international crimes of Russia, expose offshore accounts” of Russian oligarchs and all such similar activities.
“Even if you do not exert significant influence on public opinion, aren’t popular and aren’t too sharp in your formulations,” Kirillova suggests, “you also are in the zone of heightened risk which is directly proportional to the influence your work has on the objects of your investigations.”
The existence of such threats, of course, “doesn’t mean that you should stop your efforts. More than that, their continuation may be at times the only morally correct choice. However such a choice must be conscious and if you live in a civilized country it is possible to inform the authorities about your situation.”
And a fourth category of people at heightened risk, Kirillova argues, are those who focus on corruption at lower levels of the Russian system. On the one hand, those who do may in some cases help the Kremlin stage one of its unmaskings of corruption to win popular support. But on the other, regional and local officials may be able to orchestrate their own revenge.
Indeed, such researchers may find themselves caught in struggles among Kremlin insiders and that may increase their risk of attack even more. Only one conclusion is possible, she says: “to be an opposition figure or simply an honest journalist in Russia is dangerous, and at times this danger may reach out to people even beyond the borders of the country.”
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