It’s becoming an interesting parlor game, almost a spectator sport, trying to guess whether Russia is run by people who are merely stupid, clinically insane or mouth-frothingly evil. Here, take a whirl at it yourself.
Something strange to chew on: Moscow Times columnist Alexander Golts reports that Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has announced that “it is essential to work on the question of raising insurance compensation for passengers killed or maimed to international levels — to at least $75,000.”
Actually, the figure Ivanov quotes is considerably more generous than many international standards. For instance, in the state of New York the minimum level of automobile insurance coverage for an accident with no fatality is just $25,000 and just $50,000 for one with a fatality. That’s a common standard in the U.S.
But even if America required $75,000 in coverage, since when does Russia need to match an international standard? According to the “purchasing power parity” formulation, a Russian doesn’t need to earn as much as a Westerner because things are cheaper in Russia. Some people argue that Russia’s nominal GDP should be doubled before it is compared to that of Western countries. If that’s so, why doesn’t Russia need, say, only $37,500 in actual insurance coverage in order to match the level of the West?
Could it be that Ivanov knows “purchasing power parity” is an utter fraud? Is he, perhaps, aware that Moscow was recently annointed the most expensive city in the world? Or is he remembering the fact that when Boris Yeltsin needed heart surgery, he brought in foreign doctors? Maybe, he was reading the recent report indicating that Russia has three of the top seven most polluted cities in the world, meaning that a glass of water from a Russian faucet is perhaps not quite the same as one from an French one (especially since an average Russian lifespan is much shorter than that of a Frenchman).
All that’s quite possible. Then again, it’s also quite possible that Ivanov is simply stupid, babbling gibberish without the slightest knowledge of the facts.
On the other hand, it seems equally possible that he’s insane. That seems to be Golts’s hypothesis. Golts notices that although Ivanov, wearing his “deputy prime minister” hat, screams about increasing compensation for the victims of traffic accidents, when the topic of injuries to Russian soliders comes up, and he’s wearing his “defense minister” hat, suddenly he turns into Jack the Ripper. Golts writes:
Captain Vyacheslav Nikiforov, an officer of the Railway Troops convicted for the murder of Vyacheslav Penteleyev, a conscript under his command, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. But the soldier’s family received a mere 200,000 rubles ($7,450) from the Defense Ministry. Some grim math reveals that this values the lives of air passengers at 10 times those of soldiers, for whom Ivanov’s ministry is responsible. In total, the family of a conscript killed while serving in the armed forces receives a one-off payment of about $5,000 and then an extra $1,000 in insurance payouts for each family member. Andrei Rudenko, a soldier who had been rented out by his commander to a local businessman in Chita, was brought to Moscow. Rudchenko had been found lying on the side of the road after being hit by a car in an accident that resulted in the loss of one an eye and a leg. Ivanov has yet to make any public comment about the case or what kind of compensation the victim would receive. Paying out $75,000 in each of these cases would bury the armed forces. If every officer who failed to prevent crimes as dangerous as drunk driving were cashiered, then at least 1,000 officers would have to be dismissed every year.
Ivanov ends up exhibiting the symptoms of professional schizophrenia when itcomes to the question of putting a value on life. He ends up with a higher number whenspeaking as deputy prime minister than he does when speaking as defense minister. But this is based more on tradition than a split personality. Ivanov and President Vladimir Putin treat the state’s unique right to dispose of the lives of citizens as holy, much the same as their predecessors — tsars, party general secretaries, military commanders and generals — have done over the past 300 years or so. It is this and not financial considerations that engender the lack of sympathy on the part of the army. For Ivanov, it is as if military service should not be considered a profession, but something more like a tax on the country’s population. The armed forces should remain, as the Soviet expression went, the “school of life.” Here people learn that those at the very top decide everything and that the greatest virtue is unconditional submission. A person’s life belongs entirely and unconditionally to the state. Private Pantaleyev was disposed of in an irrational way from the state’s point of view, so the offending party was punished. But there is no sense that the state is responsible as well.
Yet, who can rule out the possiblity that Ivanov is evil? It’s certainly another way to explain Golts’s findings. Maybe he wants the killings in the army to continue without compensation to families. After all, that’s raw expression of the the power of the state, bound to strike terror into the hearts of Russians that will make them more docile and easier to control, especially where military matters are concerned. Josef Stalin tried to govern the country that way for decades.
What do you think? Is Ivanov just stupid? Or is he insane? Evil? Or is this just an ordinary case of “being Russian”?