Wednesday, March 4, 2015

To be a Putin critic is to play "Russian roulette" with your life

In the film Gorky Park, the police inspector (played by William Hurt) tells the forensic scientist who he wants to “reconstruct” the mutilated faces of murder victims found in the park that too many people in Russia fall into a “chasm.” What “chasm” is he talking about? The one between what is said and what is done. Naturally the KGB is knee-deep in it, as would be its successor, the FSB. It should come as no surprise that the string of murders of opposition figures in Russia in recent years have gone “unsolved,” given that the focal point of that opposition, Vladimir Putin, is a former KGB and FSB operative himself and certainly knows how to cover his bloody tracks. Those tracks are all too obvious to the West, but apparently not so to Russia’s “free” media and the majority of the people, who seem more than willing to believe the Kremlin’s deceptions, out of a sense of Russia’s self-imposed isolation caused by its anti-West and anti-democratic ways. 

The latest murder, that of former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who was planning a public demonstration against the all-too-obvious Russian meddling in support of separatists in the Ukraine, follows that of  the 2003 killings of  politician Sergey Yushenkov and journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin, the 2004 assassination of magazine editor Paul Klebnikov, the 2006 murders of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former spy Alexander Litvinenko, and the mysterious death of  Putin critic Boris Berezovsky, who like Litvinenko died while in exile in the UK.

All of these deaths had the fingerprints of Putin and his allies, and naturally none were actually solved. “Officially,” the Kremlin accused the usual Russian scapegoats. In Nemtsov’s case according to the UK The Guardian

In the 72 hours since Boris Nemtsov was murdered, the Kremlin has floated numerous explanations for his death. Vladimir Putin has called his killing a “provocation”. It’s a strange word. What Putin means is that whoever murdered Nemtsov did so to discredit the state. Since the state is the primary victim here, the state can’t be responsible, this logic runs…Others have blamed Islamist extremists. Or Ukrainian fascists. Putin’s ally Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s thuggish president, has accused “western spy agencies”, an old favourite. The muck-raking website, which has close links to the FSB, Putin’s former spy agency, has pointed the finger at Nemtsov’s colourful love life. At the time of his murder, he was walking past the Kremlin with a Ukrainian model, it noted.

Russia is clearly a country run amok with lies, deception and a population that is too self-involved to know the difference. Putin claims that he will “personally” oversee the investigation into Nemtsov’s death. Who is he kidding? Apparently most of Russia. It is more likely than not that the assassination was the work of either Putin’s own thugs in or out of government, or a nationalist fanatic. But can anyone doubt that the “usual suspects”—anyone out to make Putin and his government look “bad”—will be blamed? Will anyone be arrested and charged after all is said and done? Highly unlikely, especially if it means arresting the true perpetrators. Despite the fact that as an “enemy” of the current regime Nemtsov was under 24-hour surveillance by Russian ‘intelligence,” for some inexplicable reason there was a “breakdown” in the equipment at just the “right” time. Surveillance cameras on the bridge that he was crossing when he was killed was  not “operational” at that particular moment—and even more suspiciously, the killer and his getaway vehicle were perfectly positioned to be obscured from vision by a long-range camera. 

The Guardian dryly noted that some in the “alternative” Russian press believe that true responsibility for the killing lay at the lap of the “Four Bullets”—meaning the four state-run television networks, which typically parrot unquestioningly the Kremlin line with no objectivity or credibility in evidence whatever. I have criticized here before Kremlin propaganda organ RT (Russia Today) News on U.S. cable, and once more its “reporting” on the killing betrays extreme ignorance of the American public, seemingly taking for granted its belief in the “gullibility” of Americans to accept whole hog its “narrative” of what is going on in Russia, and what is “wrong” with the U.S. and the West; what the RT programmers don’t seem to realize is that having a steady stream of fringe fanatics and foreign commentators with extreme anti-American biases on its program only alienates Americans against its “message.”

And while in this country any taint of political violence usually means a media free-far-for-all and political suicide for whoever is accused of it, in Russia it is merely commonplace and usually “justified,” given both the power of state control, the ambivalence of the Russian public (“it is what it is”), and the irresponsibility of the Russian media. This is a “civilized” country?

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