La Russophobe has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Take action now to save Darfur

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Utter Failure of Putin's "Law & Order" Regime

The one thing Russians were supposed to guarantee themselves when they elected Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy, to office was law and order, safe streets, just like they had in Soviet Times. The Kansas City Star reports that Putin has utterly failed to deliver on this promise, even as he has launched the nation into a second cold war with the West that it cannot win, in classic neo-Soviet fashion diverting the nation's resources to a fruitless, self-destructive arms race. As the article makes clear, just like his Soviet predecessors Putin can't admit that there are criminals in high-ranking positions of power because it would discredit his own regime to do so. When asked whether it was possible that any member of the KGB could have planted the bombs which exploded in Moscow apartment buildings just before Russia's second attack on Chechnya, Putin laughably claimed the giant agency did not contain even one such person. The problem begins with the fact that the fish is rotting from its head. Russia's police are infamously corrupt and incompetent, and the president is a proud KGB spy with a secret resume, hardly a model of transparency and respect for the rule of law.

SMOLENSK, Russia - The era of brutal score-settling is far from over in Russia, especially here in this hard-bitten western city where the nexus of business and politics usually yields volatile results. Eduard Kachanovsky, a freshman city councilman who rankled city officials and their moneyed business allies with investigations into shady real estate deals and missing cash, recently learned that lesson. He had been warned by city officials for months to stop digging. Each time, he ignored them.

On the morning of Oct. 17, Kachanovsky was walking through his apartment building lobby on his way to work when two men dressed as laborers blocked his way. Before Kachanovsky could move, one of the men threw a container of sulfuric acid at his head. The attack burned much of his face and blinded him for several days. "Unfortunately, I never paid much attention to the threats I was getting," said Kachanovsky, who now lives in hiding. "Now I understand it's a pity that I didn't pay more attention to them."

With disturbing frequency, Russia's intersection of politics and business is spawning the kind of coldblooded payback that characterized 1990s Russia under Boris Yeltsin. So far, the magnitude of the violence doesn't match the gangland frenzy that made Russia's first post-Soviet years internationally notorious. Still, a recent wave of attacks and contract killings reinforces doubts among Russians that their country has edged closer to an era of stability and rule of law.

In many cases, today's targets are reformers hunted because they tried to fix the system and thought the country had matured enough to allow change to happen. Andrei Kozlov, first deputy chairman of Russia's Central Bank, had shut dozens of banks with connections to organized crime and investigated money launderers. The 41-year-old banker was gunned down as he left a soccer stadium in Moscow Sept. 13. He died a day later in the hospital.

One of Russia's leading investigative journalists, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot to at death in her Moscow apartment building Oct. 7. Politkovskaya, 48, was one of the Kremlin's harshest critics and wrote extensively about human rights abuses and atrocities committed by Russian soldiers fighting separatists in the rebellious southern republic of Chechnya.

Friends of another Kremlin critic, Alexander Litvinenko, claim that the former Russian spy's death Thursday in London amounted to a different kind of score-settling. Litvinenko was poisoned by a rare radioactive substance, polonium 210, an act Litvinenko's family and friends believe was engineered by Russian authorities and ordered by President Vladimir Putin. Putin called the accusations groundless and said his government would cooperate with British investigators probing Litvinenko's death.

In Russia, seven people have been slain in apparent contract killings in the last 10 weeks. The victims include a mayoral candidate in the Russian far east city of Dalnegorsk, a Moscow regional tax official, two Moscow bank executives and a Russian oil executive. The violence hearkens back to post-Soviet Russia's wobbly first steps, when disputes were ironed out not with lawsuits but with bludgeons and bullets.

The country's transition from communism to capitalism became a tailspin into lawless chaos; more often than not, politicians and businessmen relied not on savvy but on their leather-jacketed goons and firepower to come out on top. Turf war assassinations and armed takeovers of businesses became commonplace, the by-product of a mad scramble for billions of dollars in property and assets freed up by the Soviet collapse.

With Putin as president, all of that was supposed to end. He called his approach to governance "dictatorship of law." In recent weeks, it's becoming increasingly clear that Russia's Wild West days are far from just a bad memory. "The measures taken by Putin so far are superficial and shallow," says Yevgeny Volk, an analyst with the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation. "They don't address the area that is most profitable for state officials - corruption."

In Smolensk, a small provincial capital dominated by vodka distilleries and a diamond cutting plant, corruption threads through much of civic life, including businesses, municipal government and law enforcement. Elected in January 2005, Kachanovsky quickly began poring through city records in hopes of ferreting out City Hall wrongdoing. One of his principal findings, he says, involved the 2004 transfer of roughly $338,000 from city coffers to Tasis-Agra, a company co-founded by the daughter of Smolensk Mayor Vladislav Khaletsky. A city document drafted by Khaletsky that authorizes the transfer makes no mention of what the money is for. Kachanovsky, the City Council's deputy chairman, also dug into Khaletsky's 2005 authorization of the sale of five parcels of municipal property officially appraised at $300,000 to an undisclosed individual for $1,900.

Khaletsky declined a request for an interview. Kachanovsky turned over his findings to a city prosecutor, Leonid Zhuchkov, who agreed there was a basis for the allegations and pursued the cases. When Zhuchkov tried to convince his bosses that the cases had merit, he and two of his investigators were fired. "It's not about our jobs," says Zhuchkov. "It's about two concepts clashing: the criminals in positions of authority, and the men of principle who try to resist them. The fact that there are criminals in power discredits the government in the eyes of citizens. It leads to a lack of confidence."

Kachanovsky says he had been warned on numerous occasions by city officials to stop investigating. The last warning came in September, a day before his 33rd birthday, when a city aide grimly warned Kachanovsky to drop the probes. "He said if I don't stop, I'll face the same fate that Christ faced," said Kachanovsky, who believes the remark was a reference to the belief by some that Christ was 33 when he died. On the morning he was attacked, Kachanovsky gave no thought to the two men dressed in overalls in the lobby, since several apartment buildings were under construction nearby. "They stepped in my way and splashed this acid in my face," Kachanovsky said. "They said something to me, but at that moment I could not quite hear. After that they ran away."

Kachanovsky darted back upstairs, raced past his horrified wife, Svetlana, and quickly doused his head and chest with water. "What my wife saw was really awful - clothes burned, my face burned," Kachanovsky said. "It was a great stress for her, and she's pregnant." He has regained his eyesight, but he still bears deep crimson scars across most of his face. He would like to return to his work on the City Council, though he's not sure when. As for the hunt for his attackers, he doubts much will come of it. "There has been no progress, and I don't think there will be any progress," Kachanovsky said. "I gave them a list of suspects as I see it, but I don't think the people who ordered this and carried it out will be found."

No comments: