Igor Yakovenko: ‘Scorched earth’ tactics

16 July 2021

By Igor Yakovenko

Source: Ezhednevnyi zhurnal 

The internet publication Proekt has been labelled an undesirable organisation. The Institute of Law and Public Policy has been labelled a foreign agent. The CEC (Central Election Committee) has cancelled open streaming of ‘elections.’ The Kremlin is employing a scorched earth tactic of destroying everything alive in Russia.

With the September event looming which some, either through apathy, a lack of insight or jokingly call elections, the Kremlin has begun to employ scorched earth tactics.

‘Scorched earth’ is a military tactic wherein retreating forces either fully or widely engage in the destruction of all vital resources that could fall into enemy hands. Kutuzov used this tactic against Napoleon, for example, as did both the Soviet and Nazi armies during WWII, as well as the Americans in Vietnam, who burned the jungles that the Viet Cong used for partisan warfare. ‘Scorched earth’ tactics are now forbidden under Article 54 of the 1st Protocol of the 1977 Geneva Convention.

The Kremlin and Putin are now the retreating side, in spite of his omnipotence. In terms of foreign policy, they have lost everything – they have lost Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, (if by Belarus we mean its people and not Lukashenka) they have lost Europe and practically the rest of the world, apart from some undeclared territories. In Russia, Putin and the Kremlin have lost the youth and a significant portion of educated people in major cities. That means that they have lost the future. They cannot win the special operation that they call ‘elections’ even in conditions of completely erasing the political field of competition on which a scorched earth policy has long been employed, and which has left nothing alive. You could put a chair up against United Russia in September, and the chair would win.

The Kremlin has therefore moved towards a final and ultimate destruction of everything alive in a field close to the political arena – the media field, and has begun to liquidate the last element which in some way linked the three-day September special operation to the idea of elections, namely the possibility of citizens to observe the voting process.

So, what happened?

The internet publication Proekt has been labelled undesirable. The prosecutor affirms that its activity presents a threat to the foundation of the constitution and security of the country. This is the first mass media which has been labelled an undesirable organisation. And this means the complete destruction of the Proekt publication. Before this, mass media such as Radio Svoboda, Meduza, VTimes and others have been named foreign agents, which means that they were left to live, even if that life was made a difficult one with a mass of restrictions and degrading conditions. But the designation of being an ‘undesirable organisation’ is a death sentence. After such a declaration, the funds and property of the organisation are frozen and blocked, its branches are closed and spreading any information about them is forbidden, including in mass media. Any participation in the activities of an undesirable organisation, including supporting one, means a criminal case and time in jail.

Proekt is a very important part of Russia’s media landscape. This mass media outlet became known thanks to its resonant journalistic investigations on the Kremlin Elder, Ilie, (this research demonstrates the atmosphere in the Russian power structure similar to the Rasputin events on the eve of the death of the Romanov Empire), on the links of Rosneft with the expensive perfume Amaffi, on the income of Ramzan Kadyrov and Adam Delimkhanov, and the special project ‘Iron Masks’ dedicated to Vladimir Putin and his circle. Their recent research on the Ministry of Internal Affairs figure Vladimir Kolokoltsev had a significant resonance in Russia. Vitality Borodin, the chief of the Federal Project for Safety and Fighting Corruption wrote a denunciation against Proekt. In his denunciation, he wrote that it is ‘controlled and financed by the American Congress’ and has received grants from foreign organisations, including from some who have been declared ‘undesirable organisations’ in Russia.

On the same day, the Ministry of Justice hung the label of foreign agent on the Institute for Law and Public Policy, which gives legal advice to citizens facing legal action, including at the ECtHR. Its board of trustees includes lawyers Genri Reznik and Konstantin Dobrynin, as well as former judge of the Constitutional Court Tamara Morshchakova. Neither the lawyers Reznik and Dobrynin, nor Tamara Georgievna Morshchakova, are members of the opposition – they are not involved in politics, since they don’t seek power. Just as Proekt editor Roman Badanin and his team are not politicians and are not seeking power. Some, being good lawyers, try to defend the rule of law in Russia. Others, being good journalists, try to inform Russian citizens about important trials and events. It is for this that the authorities are suppressing them. The situation changed in mid-2021. Now, what we see is a steamroller. It is not just the opposition that is being crushed, but all living things.

In search of vents through which life could, by chance, infiltrate Russia, Putin’s servants suddenly unearthed a system of open video broadcasts from polling stations, which had been implemented for the 2012 presidential elections on Vladimir Putin’s initiative. And wouldn’t you know it, at its meeting on 14 July, the CEC abolished these same open video broadcasts.

All these years, it was precisely the direct observation of voting that gave any citizen the opportunity to witness violations, catch the violator red-handed, and post the video recording of the violation on the Internet. It was precisely open video broadcasts that limited the scale of falsifications to some degree, since there weren’t many election commission members who were ready to see themselves on screen at the time the crime was committed. Now this ‘rampant democracy’ has come to an end. Now only members of election commissions and political parties have access to video broadcasts. That is to say, now the authorities have all possible means at their disposal for unlimited falsifications, and citizens are deprived of the opportunity to witness and expose these falsifications.

In this context, one of our few possible strategies in connection with the special operation to be run on 17-19 September 2021 is to strive to ensure that these ‘elections’ are not recognized. We must not allow people who would be guaranteed to lose their seats in fair and free elections to be called State Duma deputies, to represent Russia in all kinds of international organizations. We don’t have the strength yet to prevent them from entering the building on Okhotny Ryad, to prevent them from adopting cannibalistic laws. But we do have a small chance of stripping them of recognition and legitimacy.

Recently, the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs suggested that the European Union prepare for non-recognition of the parliamentary elections in Russia if they are held in violation of democratic norms and international law. It is far from certain that the European Union will be ready for such a step. But there is still time, and politicians in Europe are having to reckon with public opinion, which is increasingly beginning to see the light on issues related to Putin and his regime.

Translated by Cameron Evans and Tyler Langendorfer

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