3 July 2023
By Ilya Shablinsky
I am still trying to make sense of what happened last week.
The FSB reported the termination of the criminal investigation into the mutiny. The very reasoning behind this decision, and its legal basis, is a good illustration of the kind of state in which Russians live. The law really does not mean anything in this country anymore. According to the FSB, in the course of the criminal investigation it was established that the participants had stopped committing mutinous actions. The reference is, then, to Article 31 of the Russian Criminal Code. According to Article 31 (Paragraph 2) ‘a person shall not be held criminally responsible for a crime if they have voluntarily and irrevocably refused to bring the crime to completion.’
That much is clear. However, if such a person had time to do something before ‘bringing the crime to completion’, such as, for example, managing to kill someone? Then, according to Paragraph 3 of the same article, ‘a person who has voluntarily refused to complete the crime shall be subject to criminal liability in the event that the deed they have actually committed constitutes another crime.’
Wagner’s experienced front line fighters managed to do a number of things. They shot down five or six helicopters and an electronic reconnaissance aircraft. Up to 10 pilots were killed in the process. Combat vehicles were destroyed, and urban infrastructure was damaged, but nobody mentions these things anymore … But in fact, so many things were done that would be enough to constitute a crime.
I think the Russian leadership at the critical moment, on the afternoon of 24 June, could be defined as being in a state close to shock. Yes, this shock did not prevent some individuals from taking decisions, but it is obvious that by the end of that day several thousand professional killers from Wagner had managed to do a great deal, and probably would have been able to do what their leader had promised. Though not without serious losses. Remember the admission by the dictator of Belarus, Lukashenka, who in sometimes, especially when he can highlight his personal role, becomes overly eloquent: ‘By evening they had built a line of defences near Moscow. They gathered everything they could. Putin told me that even the cadets were armed, just like during the war. The police were kept in reserve. They assembled 10,000 military men in and around the Kremlin. I was afraid that if the Wagner fighters confronted them at that point, 200 kilometres from Moscow, there would be bloodshed, and then that would be it …’
That really was the situation. The FSB may have been unhappy when they received the order to drop all criminal investigations. But, in general, they also understand what is going on. It is obvious that now it is no longer in their interests from the point of view of propaganda to continue to stir up public debate about these ‘rebels’ and ‘traitors,’ and others involved in the mutiny, that Putin had talked about in the heat of the moment. The fact is that the so-called PMC has never actually been a private organisation and was created by Putin to carry out military operations when the role of the Russian state needed to be hidden. And the coordinator (or ‘overseer’ if you remember criminal jargon) was well chosen – a reputable businessman, well-proven in criminal circles, as well as in the manufacture of food for the First Person, someone unquestionably loyal to Putin.
And then, a mishap. It turns out that this man, of unquestionable loyalty, was already weary of both the war and the commander-in-chief himself… Many believe that the main reason for the revolt was the prospect of Prigozhin losing control over money flows immediately after the Wagner fighters signed contracts with the Defence Ministry. However, it seems the main factor for him was not money, but accumulated resentment and ambition.
Although, to all appearances, he did not really intend to overthrow Putin and stage a coup in the full sense of the word. But he definitely wanted to firmly dictate his own terms. We know about some of them – regarding Minister Shoigu… As to others we can only guess. But can Putin allow all these details to be made public?
The mutiny was put down, the rebels didn’t have the courage to storm the first defensive line protecting the capital. I don’t know how many of them had reached that point.
But now the rebels are no longer the focus of attention. As the Ukrainian offensive continues, the situation at the fronts is far more important than a quick settling of scores.
But these scores, of course, will be settled. No specific criminal cases will be needed to resolve such an important issue. Prigozhin, the leader of the mutiny, seems to have been sent to Belarus but it is unlikely he will live a life of peace on a personal pension there. Putin has probably already decided what needs to be done.
The Wagner rank-and-file soldiers may very well have to spill blood on the Ukrainian fronts in other units. Putin cannot afford to ignore several thousand experienced soldiers. In recent months they have wiped Soledar and Bakhmut off the face of the earth, and by and large successfully. Is it possible to refuse the services of such men, even if they have shot a little at their own? Under conditions of an acute shortage of manpower – of course not. What does the Criminal Code have to do with it?
As for those who are considered leaders of the rebellion, that is a separate matter. I think right now FSB investigators are looking into the roles played by specific generals (Surovikin and others) and their relations with the head of Wagner. What is especially important and unfortunate for Putin here is that on the day of the start of the mutiny, and a little earlier, Prigozhin said a great many things. For example, he said that there was no threat to Russia from Ukraine or from NATO in February 2022, that all the talk about ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’ of Ukraine were just propaganda. And the like. As a soldier he was, of course, carrying out the commander-in-chief’s orders, but what if the ‘happy grandfather’ is a complete s**t?
I think the FSB investigators have now been tasked with urgently identifying sympathizers of the Wagner ringleader, which may not be such an easy job, assuming that many FSB officers think the same way.
Putin proceeded to thank everyone who helped him ‘defend Moscow.’ The mutiny did him some political damage. But in order not to make this worse, he talked more about the unity of the army and the Commander-in-Chief and did not mention the person who instigated the mutiny by name.
The war, meanwhile, goes on as usual. Information from the fronts is quite scarce, and always hard to verify. Perhaps most important today are the reports coming in of attempts by Ukrainian soldiers to entrench themselves on the left bank of the Dnipro River near the destroyed Antonov Bridge in Kherson region. If they manage to establish a bridgehead there, a significant Russian grouping will find itself in a difficult position.
Fighting also continues near Bakhmut where units of the Ukrainian army are slowly pushing Russian units back. But nowhere have the main Russian defence lines been broken yet.
Inside Russia, trials continue and prisons are gradually filling up. The Second Western District Military Court sentenced Ruslan Ushakov, author of the True Crime channel on Telegram, to eight years’ imprisonment. The charges are the usual ones: spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army (Article 207.3, Part 2 (e) of the Russian Criminal Code), rehabilitation of Nazism (Article 354.1, Part 4, of the Russian Criminal Code), justification of terrorism (Article 205.2, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code) and inciting hatred or enmity (Article 282, Part 2 (a), of the Russian Criminal Code). Ruslan, according to the investigators, wrote the same things that many other bloggers did – about those killed in Bucha and those killed during the shelling of Ukrainian cities. During the trial he spoke about how he had been tortured with electric shocks – the torturers attached electric currents to his fingers. The judge was not interested.
In Yaroslavl, the Second Western District Military Court sentenced Valeriya Zotova, a 19-year-old resident of Yaroslavl, to six years’ imprisonment for the arson of a collection point gathering aid for those mobilised. As it turned out during the trial, Zotova did not set the facility on fire. There was no arson at all. The investigators alleged the arson had been planned. A video was published on which the conclusions of the investigation appear to be based. In the video, Valeriya, stammering, says she passed on ‘coordinates and photos of buildings’ (of where collection points for mobilized soldiers are located). To whom? The Ukrainian army. For 7,000 roubles. According to the investigation, the Ukrainian army very much needed to set these collection points on fire. During the video ‘confession’ Valeriya repeatedly asks the person on the other side of the camera what exactly she should say.
Well, and one ‘happy incident’. Yoshkar-Ola city court fined the blogger Andrei Filippov 1.8 million roubles in the case of ‘fake news’ about the Russian army. The case against Filippov was initiated because of a video entitled, ‘The War between Russia and Ukraine: A Ukrainian’s Point of View.’ Indeed, the case ended in a fine, but Filippov had spent a year in custody.
And one other trial. Khamovnichesky district court extended the pre-trial detention of theatre director Zhenya Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk. It is worth paying special attention to the court’s decision.
It should be noted that the case is unique even by the standards of Stalinist justice. The authors of the play, which ran for two years and was even shown within the Federal Penitentiary Service (!), are being tried for the manner in which the play deals with the issue, currently much discussed, of young women being seduced by Islamic radicals via the internet. The play, however, was not to the liking of a group of fanatical citizens who prepared an evaluation by ‘experts’, which they called ‘destructological’ given that it used a ‘new science’ – destructology. And this evaluation appealed to the investigator. Why is another matter.
And at the last court hearing, at the request of the lawyer Sergei Badamshin, the response of the Russian Federal Centre for Forensic Expertise (part of the Ministry of Justice) was made public. This response noted that evaluations based on ‘destructology’ cannot be used in court or considered as evidence because of their ‘lack of scientific validity.’
In fact, this is what professionals should have said. And after that there was nothing left of the arguments put forward by the investigators. Literally nothing.
And so? Well, apparently the judge didn’t notice this and nonetheless prolonged the authors’ detention. And what was she guided by in this, you may ask? Answer: by her legal knowledge. Which means? The judge thinks it’s politically wiser to keep the women in prison. Just in case.
Law enforcement officers and judges – even if they act of their own free will and not the will of their superiors – can act in savage and despicable ways. These are characteristics and vices not of an institution, but of human nature. That is why it is especially important that law enforcement officials must be made to feel they cannot get away with meanness and savagery. Even if their bosses do not care.
In France, in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, a police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old boy. He was driving a car without a licence, and several times he failed to stop at the request of a police officer. The last time he failed to pull over, the police officer managed to put a gun to his head and demanded he get out of the car. The teenager put his foot on the gas. The police officer fired.
Now we must add that the teenager was of Arab origin.
The riots are now in their fifth day. The biggest pogroms and arson since 2006. Everything about this is terrible: the police officer who pulled the trigger so easily, and has already been arrested; and the looted stores and burned cars.
This is the fifth day of unrest in France – more than 486 people have been detained overnight.
Nonetheless, I’ll note that we see people who can stand up for themselves when the state becomes brazen and brutal. No, of course there is absolutely no excuse for arson and pogroms. I am completely against this. But I am talking about something else. Has the racial or ethnic aspect of the riots been noticed? I note that these people knew how to stand up for themselves in dealing with the state one hundred and two hundred years ago.
Translated by Rights in Russia