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The Real Russia. Today. Where Russia’s laws fail on torture

Source: Meduza

Thursday, January 27, 2022

  • How Russia’s Criminal Code fails when it comes to police and prison torture
  • Opinions on the Ukraine crisis: Andrey Kolesnikov, Fyodor Lukyanov, Leonid Bershidsky, Tatiana Stanovaya, and Angela Stent
  • Opinions on Russia and Kazakhstan: Vladislav Inozemtsev and Temur Umarov

⚖️ A gaping hole in the criminal code: Torture is endemic in Russia today. Here’s what can be done about it. (11-min read)

There is no article on torture in the Russian Criminal Code. However, torture itself, unfortunately, remains a widespread practice: reports of brutal violence in prisons and police stations appear with frightening regularity. We believe that the use of torture is absolutely unacceptable, and we strive to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of this issue. The following text explains why the Russian Criminal Code needs to be changed — and how introducing a separate article on torture could influence the situation in the country.

Opinions and analysis on the Ukraine crisis ⚔️

A major war with Ukraine won’t give Putin another political ‘consensus’

In an essay for the Carnegie Moscow Center, Andrey Kolesnikov argues that Russians learned to live with life under economic sanctions following the annexation of Crimea, accepting the “new normal,” but the Kremlin can’t expect another broad “consensus” to inflate its popular support in the event of a major war with Ukraine. Though the Russian government has saved large financial reserves (resisting a large social spending campaign even during the pandemic, as if decision-makers knew they’d need the money later), escalated Western sanctions could still undermine the state’s capacity to meet the public’s paternalistic expectations, leading to protests not from liberal society but from the larger groups that depend on the government. The disruption to everyday life would shatter the Putin model’s image as successful and stable, complicating the state’s mobilization for the 2024 presidential election.

Russian pressure has exposed NATO’s paradox

In an op-ed for the state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov says Russia’s pressure on the West, despite leading to no concessions, has at least revealed that NATO’s post-Cold War enlargement made the alliance weaker rather than stronger, as smaller, more vulnerable states that offer little military power vie for an equal share of NATO’s collective security. With so many members, there’s no longer a single threat that worries each partner equally, while the organization is simultaneously big enough now that the United States can usually find at least some members willing to join its latest military operation. As a result, NATO paradoxically shifted to justifying itself as an instrument of stability and democratic transformation just as it started fighting actual wars.

Biden has baited Putin with the same trap Moscow used against Saakashvili in 2008, but let’s hope the Kremlin doesn’t fall for it

In an op-ed for Bloomberg, columnist Leonid Bershidsky says the Biden administration has managed to catch Vladimir Putin in a trap like the one the Kremlin used against “hotheaded” Mikheil Saakashvili in 2008 (when Russia baited the Georgian leader into a disastrous first move by gradually building up troops near the border). (Bershidsky says the ongoing mobilization near Ukraine’s borders is not “dramatically changed” and potentially constitutes a rational response to Ukrainian military advances.) Exploiting America’s superior media firepower, Washington’s “wolf-crying campaign” has put Putin in the “hot seat,” leading the Kremlin to respond with a “burst of angry U.S.-trolling” that included a series of nonstarter demands on revising European security.

The Russian president now appears to be “waiting out the invasion hysteria,” though Moscow could also recognize or even annex Ukraine’s breakaway regions to escape its current predicament. “In a practical sense,” says Bershidsky, this would actually “remove a problem for Ukraine rather than create one,” because it would finally bury the Minsk agreements and erase Kyiv’s “broken promises made under those deals.” Ukraine’s own president apparently hopes that Putin “won’t be manipulated into an angry, careless move,” which is perhaps why the government in Kyiv has rejected American alarmism about an imminent invasion.

This is the worst-ever Russia, but buying time could be the only way forward

In an essay for Foreign Policy, Russian political expert Tatiana Stanovaya says there are three factors “currently missing from Western discourse” when it comes to the ongoing Ukraine crisis: (1) no guarantee, legally binding or otherwise, will stop the Putin regime’s “raiding strategy” of offensive foreign policy, (2) a large-scale military operation will not provoke protests against the Kremlin inside Russia, and (3) Putin and his advisers believe that Ukraine “must be returned to Moscow’s geopolitical supervision at any price.”

Stanovaya says the Kremlin is still drunk on its military success in Syria. A longer-term development in Putin’s foreign policy, meanwhile, is that he’s ceased to see any legitimacy in the global status quo, international institutions, or modern diplomacy itself. Russia now crosses others’ red lines whenever it feels it is in Russian interests. And identifying these interests is increasingly the exclusive work of Russia’s security agencies. The rise of the “siloviki” has empowered a hardline ideology that’s different from what drives professional diplomats, Stanovaya explains.

Domestically, conservatives (including the siloviki) dominate state policymaking as Russia’s technocrats scramble to “adapt the economy and financial system to any geopolitical shocks.” Outside Putin’s inner circle, the country’s business elites’ “best strategy in the event of escalation is total invisibility and silence.”

Stanovaya says today’s Russia is the “worst-ever Russia,” but she also says the West could “continue dialogue” to slow down the Kremlin’s “hawkish intentions” in Ukraine, ideally “giving society more time to wake up.” Europe’s only hope for a less belligerent Russia, she says, is a changed Russia.

The Putin Doctrine seeks a pro-Russian buffer zone in Europe and a lot more

In an essay for Foreign Affairs, political expert Angela Stent lays out what she describes as “The Putin Doctrine.” The Russian president’s “overarching aim,” she explains, involves (1) reversing the consequences of the Soviet collapse, (2) splitting the transatlantic alliance, and (3) renegotiating the geographic settlement that ended the Cold War.

Stent argues that rolling back NATO’s military deployments, halting European expansion, and committing buffer states to permanent neutrality “would ensure that pro-Russian governments are in power in countries bordering Russia — including, foremost, Ukraine.” Moscow’s ultimate goal is to “reassert its influence” over half of Europe, says Stent.

Though Stent’s Putin Doctrine advocates “spheres of privileged interests” for great powers (ostensibly to support the international status quo and to respect established leaders), Russia also reserves the right to “act as a revisionist power when it considers its interests or when it wants to advance its interests.” In fact (negating the Kremlin’s supposed devotion to sovereignty and even to spheres of interest), “Moscow’s revisionist interference also isn’t limited to what it considers its privileged domain.” Stent describes the multipolar future Russia seeks in the following nightmarish terms: “a disordered Hobbesian world with few rules of the game.”

Stent links the security doctrine to the president directly, writing that it will determine Russia’s foreign policy for “as long as the Putin regime is in power.”

Opinions and analysis on Russia and Kazakhstan ☮️

Elite consensus and a lack of grassroots activism keeps Russia off Kazakhstan’s path

In an essay for Republic, political expert Vladislav Inozemtsev says the unrest that recently swept Kazakhstan won’t likely visit Russia because the Putin system offers better social benefits to the masses and enjoys a stronger elite consensus, particularly when it comes to property rights during transitions of power. When Putin first became president, says Inozemtsev, he allowed the Yeltsin-era wealthy to keep their assets, so long as they swore loyalty to him. Now, after more than 20 years, it’s impossible to separate the wealth created because of proximity to Putin and the wealth created thanks to his non-interference. Putin legitimized Russia’s 1990s wealth and opened the door to new beneficiaries, reducing the odds of large redistributions under the next president.

In Kazakhstan, the absence of Western sanctions and legitimate property drives elites to cash out their assets by selling them to foreign investors, which facilitates economic development, says Inozemtsev, arguing that Kazakhstan has a good chance of following the path to liberal democracy traveled by Asian countries like South Korea and Singapore. While socioeconomic indicators reflect the nation’s potential, the concentration of Kazakhstan’s property in a single family mobilizes the majority against a minority, making reform more likely than a “reset” of authoritarianism under a new leader, Inozemtsev says.

Russia’s intervention in Kazakhstan wasn’t the expansionist act some analysts imagined

In an essay for the Carnegie Moscow Center, Temur Umarov says Russia’s recent CSTO military intervention in Kazakhstan did not damage the nation’s sovereignty as expected by analysts who portrayed Moscow’s involvement as a risky venture for which the Kremlin would demand repayment. In fact, says Umarov, Moscow’s main motive was to prevent a failed state on its borders, not to bolster its influence in Central Asia. Given the extent of the Kazakhstani economy’s reliance on foreign enterprises, moreover, it’s not even in Russia’s interests to try to limit the country’s “multivector” foreign policy. (Force Kazakhstan to ditch its Western partners and there’s no guarantee that Chinese interests wouldn’t fill the void.) The peacekeeping mission was mostly symbolic and essentially benign, but Russia nevertheless demonstrated that it remains the regional power best suited to provide military assistance in Central Asia

Yours, Meduza

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