Aleksandr Podrabinek: Cannibalism and competition. On Putin’s courtiers

23 September 2022

by Aleksandr Podrabinek

Source: Radio Svoboda

War always sees restrictions on civil rights. The current war against Ukraine is fine confirmation of this. Since the aggression began, civil rights in Russia have shrunk even more, while political repressions have acquired even greater scope. After the mobilization declared in Russia on 21 September and the war’s shift to the next level, the repressions’ inevitability intensified. The keenest Kremlin courtiers had made a timely request for this.

State Duma Deputy Andrei Lugovoi, whom the British courts have accused of a contract murder, is proposing life imprisonment and loss of citizenship for espionage and state treason. The present punishment of 20 years incarceration isn’t enough, in the former USSR KGB officer’s opinion. “We have given the double-dyed traitors who call themselves the liberal opposition enough liberty to multiply,” he writes on his Telegram channel.

The idea is neither new nor original. We had all this back in Soviet times, which is what Lugovoi and his partners come out of. The assortment of repressions suitable for Kremlin use is far from complete yet. For instance, they could legalize torture in investigation, seize and execute hostages, carry out medical experiments on prisoners, or drown political prisoners by the bargeful. Lugovoi isn’t creative, nor does he have to be. What’s important for him is to stand out for his bloodthirstiness so that the Big Boss notices and appreciates him.

Just this week, Ramzan Kadyrov, another fan of running in front of the train, proposed starting military mobilization locally without waiting for the Kremlin to declare martial law. He hopped to it at just the right time. After all, he has to demonstrate his own super-loyalty, too, especially when others have been so successful in similar initiatives. He could have proposed lowering the draft age to 11 and introducing remote trials or public execution of criminals, but so far he’s limited himself to a modest proposal to take the business of mobilization into his own hands.

It’s possible he simply had insider information and knew that the Kremlin was going to declare mobilization of the military reserve in the near future. His speech was well-calculated self-promotion. Partial mobilization was indeed announced on 21 September.

Both of them, though, are way behind Evgeny Prigozhin, who did not limit himself to words and swiftly got down to business. While Lugovoi was dreaming of filling the prison camp world with long-termers, and Kadyrov was thinking about the coming mobilization, Prigozhin went straight to the prison camp, enlisting prisoners in the war against Ukraine.

Two circumstances make all three similar. The first is frivolous, and by today’s standards even silly: the proposed initiatives are illegal. If life imprisonment might yet pass the State Duma, stripping of citizenship directly contradicts Article 6, Part 3, of the Russian Constitution. (At this point, you can laugh, I don’t mind!). Declaring mobilization is the prerogative of the central authority, not the regional one: in his dreams, Kadyrov might envision himself as Russian president or head of an independent state, but in this case, although he is running in front of the train, he’s obviously going in the wrong direction. And finally, Prigozhin’s initiative absolutely contradicts Russian legislation, inasmuch as this method of releasing prisoners from punishment is not provided for by any laws whatsoever. Here ends the silly part and we move on to the serious one.

The enterprising officials participating in this cannibalism competition are simply not taking into account their precursors’ experience. The leaders of the Great French Revolution who organized the Jacobin terror themselves became victims of the repressive machinery they created. The creators of the Cheka and the GULAG who extolled the Red Terror perished in the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. One after the other, the leaders of Stalin’s state security followed the same path out. Ernst Röhm, who created Adolph Hitler’s security set-up, was killed along with his fellow stormtroopers by his brother Nazis on the Night of the Long Knives. Cannibalism champions often become the prey of their masters sitting at the top of this bloody food chain. Their services are used for the time being, they’re thanked and rewarded, but at some unpredictable moment the tyrants start considering them dangerous and prefer to get rid of them. 

The Kremlin’s current masters aren’t overly impressed by menials’ loyalty, either. They easily turn against their former associates. Ministers, governors, bankers, and industrialists get significant sentences with and without cause. They think their loyalty should be repaid with guarantees of safety, but no, that doesn’t happen. They constantly try to convince themselves of this, but they don’t profit by those lessons and cling to hopes of earning themselves reliable immunity by winning prizes in cannibalism competitions.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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