Columnist Oleg Kashin warns that Russians who are helping to unmask the Salisbury suspects have chosen the ‘wrong side’
In a new op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin argues that Russians face a moral dilemma when assisting in the exposure of Russian intelligence agents working abroad. Kashin posits two scenarios that test Russians’ relationship with their state: (1) an undercover cop embedded in a social group, and (2) a secret agent working against foreign operatives. The first situation is modeled explicitly on the controversial criminal case against the “New Greatness” extremist movement (where undercover police officers allegedly set up several young people for felony charges), and the latter is based on the unmasking of the two Salisbury attack suspects as GRU officers.
In the former case, Kashin says, outing the cop’s true identity is unambiguously the right choice for Russian civilians, as it could keep innocents out of jail. The same isn’t true, when it comes to helping foreigners, Kashin argues.
“There are no moral grounds for siding with foreigners in the Russian state’s confrontations with other states. No state in the world is interested in protecting Russians, and Russian citizens act against their own interests by siding with another state and its intelligence agencies,” Kashin writes, implicitly criticizing journalist Sergey Kanev, who recently fled Russia, after publishing an investigative report claiming that Salisbury suspect Anatoly Chepiga received a medal for his part in bringing deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to Russia in February 2014. Kanev also supplied evidence that likely ties “Alexander Petrov,” the other Salisbury suspect, to Russia’s military intelligence.
Kashin warns that anti-Putin sentiment sometimes drives Russians to root for the Kremlin's adversaries, for example, even when it’s Ukraine’s notorious “Azov” battalion. In addition to being morally questionable, Kashin says it’s likely impractical, arguing that Moscow’s defeat abroad does not benefit ordinary Russians at home. Exposing weakness in the Russian armed forces, moreover, could prompt a new wave of militarism, defense allocations, and social-spending austerity measures. Kashin cites Russia’s struggles in the 2008 Georgian War as a catalyst for “the Russian militarism of our era.”
It so happens that Oleg Kashin has written about citizen-state relations in Russia before. As Conflict Intelligence Team researcher Kirill Mikhailov pointed out on Twitter, Kashin wrote an article in August 2015 that argues roughly the opposite of what he said in his new Republic piece. “Let the Russian Federation be ashamed of the Russian Federation,” Kashin said more than two years ago. “It’s not us, and it has nothing to do with us. It’s not our state, and it’s hostile to any Russian person anywhere. Treat it like ISIS.”