Category Archives: putley

Torture in Russian Prisons under Medvedev

Torture in a Volgograd prison, 2009

by Jeremy Putley

How Chechen prisoners are treated under President Dmitry Medvedev

It is a principle universally recognized, in countries governed by the rule of law, that imprisonment following conviction is all the penalty the law allows. Torture of prisoners is not any part of the punishment demanded by society. But in the Russian Federation, under the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, that principle apparently does not apply, considering the evidence of numerous cases of which one of the most shocking is that of an imprisoned Chechen, Zubair Zubairaev.

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Putley on the Gatayev Atrocity

The Devils of Lithuania

by Jeremy Putley

Original to La Russophobe

Heroes and heroines are found in lots of unlikely places. I have only recently heard about the remarkable story of Kadijat and Malik Gatayev, Chechens living in Lithuania.

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Putley on Markelov

Murder in the Time of Putin

by Jeremy Putley

Original to La Russophobe

Eduardr and Larisa Baburov pay last respects to their daughter Anastasia Baburova, who was shot dead with human-rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, in Moscow, Friday, Jan. 23, 2009.

Eduard and Larisa Baburov pay last respects to their daughter Anastasia Baburova, who was shot dead with human-rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, in Moscow, Friday, Jan. 23, 2009.

Murder is the most distinguishing aspect of Vladimir Putin’s time in high office. Murders carried out by agents of the government, by government-sponsored members of the siloviki, above all by the Russian military in Chechnya, and by Putin’s protégé Ramzan Kadyrov as Chechnya’s ruler, will surely come to be recognised by historians of the era as the feature which most distinguishes the leadership of Vladimir Putin from his predecessors. Murder has not been so common an occurrence in Russia since the days of Joseph Stalin. Murders certainly became more frequent during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin than they had been, but beginning with the assassination of Galina Starovoitova by agents of the Russian security services in 1998, when Putin was head of the KGB, the frequency of murder has been on the increase, while endemic corruption continues unchecked.

Putin’s rule began in blood. The 1999 apartment building bomb explosions in Moscow and other cities killed more than 300. These murders, carried out to provide a spurious justification for prime minister Putin’s war in Chechnya, are believed with good reason by historians to have been the work of agents of the Russian FSB – particularly because they were never properly investigated.

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Putley Writes the FT

One of the most useful services the blogosphere can provide is publishing letters written to major newspapers that then never see the light of day. This process offers fascinating insights into all the information the mainstream press conceals from our eyes. Case in point, from David McDuff’s A Day at a Time:

On October 2, the Financial Times published an editorial entitled Putin’s power play with democracy, on the subject of Vladimir Putin’s recent announcement that he may become Russia’s prime minister. Among other things, it contained these paragraphs:

President Putin commands the support of a good 70 per cent of Russians and he could probably lift the numbers of United Russia to the two-thirds majority in the Duma needed to change the constitution and redistribute power. Under that scenario, United Russia, hitherto an ideas-free Putin vehicle, would transmute into a ruling party with long-term tenure – not so much a Communist-style one-party set-up as like an Institutional Revolutionary party, which ruled Mexico for most of the last century.

If Mr Putin intends to run things – and clearly, he does – then it is arguably better that he rules through institutions than from behind the scenes as, say, head of an arm of the state such as Gazprom. Yet even for someone so clearly in control, it is not easy to rejig the sources of real power. This transition is not over yet.

Jeremy Putley has sent me the text of a letter, so far unpublished by the FT, which has recently acquired a new editor:

3 October 2007

The Editor
Financial Times


Putin’s power play with democracy, editorial, today

Parliamentary democracy is generally found to be preferable to the alternative democratic model of government based on an elected, all-powerful president. There are very few instances of good presidential working models, and the Russian system is not one of them. It might, therefore, appear to be a step in the right direction if power were to transfer, in the person of Mr Putin, from the office of president to that of prime minister.

But this is to ignore the merits of the individual concerned, and it was a significant omission from your editorial today that you have made no comment on the prospective candidate’s suitability for office. Mr Putin’s record disqualifies him.

In the years since 2000 Mr Putin has presided over a state whose salient aspects have included the conduct of a war in Chechnya characterised by massive civilian deaths, savage destruction, and wide-scale crimes against humanity; the imposition, in Chechnya, of a fake political settlement while repressions continued unabated; the abuse of the judicial system to lock up persons who are perceived as opponents, following dubious judicial proceedings which are frequently in camera; widespread torture of suspects, documented with impeccable credibility by the late Anna Politkovskaya; the creation of a domestic terrorist threat as a consequence of repressive policies; ineffectual leadership at times of crisis; and, not least, the suppression of democratic freedoms.

The secrecy in which the Chechnya war was conducted was deliberate Kremlin policy, intended to hide the lawless anarchy created in Chechnya, the war crimes committed by the Russian military, and the mass murder of the civilian population. It would be a pity, I suggest, if that policy were to be rewarded. Crimes should not go unnoticed and unremarked; all the more so if “a good 70 per cent of Russians” support the incumbent president.

Jeremy Putley

Putley on Lugovoi

A Little Accusation is a Dangerous Thing

by Jeremy Putley

Original to La Russophobe

It can be a dangerous thing to say that a man is guilty of a murder before he has been tried and found guilty of that crime by a jury in a court of law – as Mr Wopsle found to his cost, in Dickens’s Great Expectations. If you have read that novel you will remember that Mr Wopsle was holding forth in the Three Jolly Bargemen about the guilt of the accused in a recent murder case. Listening to Mr Wopsle’s words was the great London lawyer, Mr Jaggers. In an overwhelming demolition of the unfortunate Wopsle, Jaggers pronounces one of the supreme principles of English jurisprudence. “The law of England supposes every man to be innocent until he is proved – proved – to be guilty.”

That is probably why no British newspapers have pointed out that the first, obvious conclusion to be drawn from President Putin’s refusal to extradite former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi to the United Kingdom to face trial on a charge of murder is that it amounts to a tacit admission of guilt. Newspapers do not publish what they deem to be defamatory statements even if they are true.

But if the accused will never face a court of law to answer to the charges, what then? Must there be perpetual silence on the question of guilt? That would be to compound the wrong that has been done. It would not be right to the victims. It would not be right to Russia, nor to the people in London poisoned by polonium-210.

Andrei Lugovoi was employed (with others) to assassinate a Russian dissident, naturalized as a British citizen and living peaceably in London. President Putin is well aware of that. He also knows that a finding of guilty against the accused in a British court of law will involve a simultaneous finding in the court of world opinion that the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was ordered by the Russian leadership. This much is only too clear.

Possibly, during court proceedings in the UK, if Lugovoi could ever be brought to trial, his testimony would provide confirmation of one theory of why the murder was committed and at whose instigation, in relation to which a number of facts are already in the public domain. It is now known, from BBC TV, that an 8-page “due diligence” dossier prepared by Alexander Litvinenko was about Victor Ivanov, currently chairman of Aeroflot. It follows, from the hypothesis advanced in a BBC Radio Four programme by Yuri Shvets, that Victor Ivanov is the Mr X described as the “powerful, dangerous and vindictive” individual, “closely associated with President Putin”, who may have ordered the murder of Litvinenko. According to the BBC radio programme, when Litvinenko gave the dossier to Lugovoi, in early October 2006, and Lugovoi delivered it (or reported its contents) soon afterwards to Mr X (Ivanov), the decision to assassinate its author was made, in revenge for the termination of a contract worth “dozens of millions of dollars”. Perhaps Mr Lugovoi’s evidence would shed light on the truth of this collection of allegations.

It would also be interesting if Titon International, the firm which allegedly employed Litvinenko to carry out the due diligence on Victor Ivanov, would publicly disclose the identity of the British company which commissioned the due diligence report, and subsequently pulled out of the deal.

But this is only one view of why Litvinenko was murdered. There were previous murder victims connected with the 1999 apartment building explosions, about which Litvinenko wrote in his (recently re-issued) 2002 book co-authored with Yuri Felshtinsky, “Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within”. These include two State Duma deputies: the prominent liberal politician, Sergei Yushenkov, murdered by shooting in April 2003, and Yuri Shchekochikhin, a veteran investigative journalist, poisoned in July 2003, possibly with thallium. The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, who was hated by the Russian hierarchy as a “traitor” to the organisation formerly known as the KGB, now the FSB, confirms the truth of what he wrote. The testimony of Andrei Lugovoi, supposing he could be persuaded to give it truthfully, would disclose that the FSB under its present head, General Nikolai Patrushev, is a corrupt, totally compromised, criminal organisation, so far beyond a possibility of being cleansed and reformed that it must be considered fit only to be disbanded.

There are only two commonly-held views of the 1999 apartment building explosions which killed more than 300 sleeping Russian citizens, and served as Putin’s pretext for starting the second war in Chechnya: that they were carried out by the Rusian FSB at the behest of the Russian power structures; and that of the Russian authorities, that they were the work of unidentified others for no known motive. The refusal of President Putin to allow Lugovoi to come to the UK to be tried for murder stands as implicit confirmation of the FSB’s guilt, in that it shows the government of the Russian Federation believes that his testimony would incriminate the guilty. And they are nervous.

When Tony Blair had a “frank discussion” with Vladimir Putin about the British government’s demand for Lugovoi’s extradition, earlier this month, Blair may, at last, have begun to understand the truth of the unsavoury character of his enigmatic interlocutor. (To Putin, by contrast, Blair’s lack of understanding of the truth seemed merely obtuse – hence, perhaps, Putin’s comment that British insistence on extradition is “stupid”.) A lawyer himself, Blair may now, as he leaves office, finally and too late have learned, from the refusal to surrender a criminal to justice, one reality of today’s Russia: that it is run by people who are not averse to the commission of crimes when they seem expedient, or convenient, or financially rewarding to members of the siloviki.

Putley on Beslan

First there was Ivan the Terrible, then there was Ivan/Peter the Great, and now, original to La Russophobe, according to the brilliant Russia commentator Jeremy Putley we have Putin the Banal. LR is delighted to welcome Mr. Putley to the blog for what she hopes will be a protracted writing engagement, and will feature a second column (on the Lugovoi imbroglio) in tomorrow’s edition.

Putin the Banal

by Jeremy Putley

Original to La Russophobe

Evil comes in many forms. Only rarely is it in the persona of an insanely criminal monster such as those who disfigured the twentieth century. More often the perpetrators of great wrongs are comparatively insignificant men. One such is the incumbent President of Russia.

When President George W Bush greets the Russian President on Sunday, at his family home at Kennebunkport, Maine, on Sunday, they will shake hands, and perhaps embrace. The Russian President, aptly named Akaky Akakievich Putin by the late Anna Politkovskaya, is a man of insignificant personality. In consequence, it seems, it is difficult for the US leadership to understand or recognize the extent of the crimes for which he is personally responsible.

The criminal character of the Russian hierarchy, by the way, has been in evidence for many years, going back to the brutal conduct of the second Chechnya war at its commencement, and the multiple war crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the Russian armed forces against a civilian population. Russia is now again a country with political prisoners, a country where those who have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights have been murdered by the armed forces or by the FSB, and in which the rule of law is effectively in abeyance. Torture of prisoners in the custody of the authorities is endemic in the Russian Federation under President Putin – a fact of which he must be well aware. “Disappearances” in Chechnya have been condemned by Human Rights Watch as a crime against humanity. Journalists are murdered and there is suspicion that agents of the government are involved. Dissidents living abroad are murdered. Russia is a misruled country.

Putin’s upbringing and experience in the KGB, an institution which often operated supra-legally in accordance with orders from the political leadership, instilled in a notoriously vindictive man an amoral belief system: operational necessity justifies all methods – the end justifies any means. That is the present misfortune of Russia under Vladimir Putin, as his second term draws to an end and he prepares to nominate his successor.

When the history of Vladimir Putin’s presidency comes to be written the final judgements on him as a man and as a national leader will require a proper assessment of his character. The question which is sometimes asked is whether the evil things that Putin has done are the result of impotence, weakness or incompetence – an inability to act properly due to incomprehension, or structural weakness in the way Russian government functions – or criminality. Joseph Stalin, it is accepted by historians, was criminal by nature. There is evidence that Putin as President has displayed, from time to time, both incompetence and criminality. It is really a question of which is the preponderant feature of his makeup. To the victims, of course, it makes no difference – the consequences, just as under Stalin, have been the same.

When President Bush looked at President Putin and saw what he wanted to see, that was a worthless assessment, based as it was on nothing more than first impressions, or maybe just wishful thinking. More revealing was what happened at Beslan. That was a true test of character, and it revealed much about the character of the Russian President. In September 2004 at Beslan, in southern Russia, 330 people were killed including 317 hostages, of whom 186 were children. When the storming of the school buildings began, in an effort to bring the hostage-taking to an end, the use of flamethrowers and tanks in the assault, carried out while the hostages were still present in the gymnasium, resulted in the collapse of the roof onto the hostages below, killing 160 of them.

The most important question about this disastrous assault on the school is, who ordered it? There is no information on this. Putin himself kept a very low profile during the three days of the siege, but there can be no serious doubt that he was in close touch with the situation, and would have been consulted on the decision to carry out the storming of the building. Without his authority the decision could not have been made. But if it was his decision, or with his authority, the blame for the disastrous outcome of the storming of the school while it was still full of hostages falls squarely on Vladimir Putin.

It is useless to point out that the honourable thing to have done, in the face of such a catastrophic failure, was for Putin to resign. This is a western concept, and Russian leaders have not, historically, taken such ideas into account – it is apparently not a practical or sensible attitude to take. Similarly a western national leader would have gone to Beslan immediately the school siege began, and would have done all things possible to save the hostages. There would have been negotiations. But Putin’s way is never to negotiate.

Why did the Russian President allow the assault on the school to begin? There must have been a calculation, and a conclusion that hostage deaths were acceptable. The storm was necessary because the alternatives involved a loss of face – from entering into negotiations with the hostage-takers, or acceding to their demands, or showing weakness in some other way. The decision resulted in death and disaster. Was the decision criminal, or was this incompetence? As evidence it must be recalled that after the siege Putin declared on television, “We exhibited weakness, and the weak are beaten.” The hostages who died were sacrificed because the President feared to appear weak. Negotiations were possible, but were never tried. Whether the President was demonstrating a dreadful incompetence by refusing to negotiate for the hostages’ lives, or ordered the assault on the school knowing that hostage deaths would be certain to result, either way this was criminally culpable.

But in the end, the question of whether President Putin is knowingly responsible for his crimes, or thinks he is doing a good job but – in Rumsfeldian language – “stuff happens”, is not really important. To his victims it does not make any difference. World opinion, and the US President, remain largely indifferent to the question. There will be no real accounting any time soon, because when all is said and done the Putin presidency has been an interlude of considerable banality.

Putley on Chechnya and Russophiles

Reader Jeremy Putley, one of the most valuable and insightful contributors to Russia blogs around, writes:

Dear LR,

No doubt you have seen the recent CSM piece on Strade’s Chechnya list about paranoid Russian leaders hypocritically bewailing Russophobia.

For what it’s worth, my interpretation of the recent multiple cases of murder of opposition figures in Putin’s Russia is that it’s an extension of the policy of mass murder in Chechnya, where the Russian “leadership” discovered that the way to win the war and impose a fake political settlement was to assassinate or otherwise intimidate (by the extensive use of state terrorism) all those who stood in opposition. Although this barbarism provoked terrorist attacks against “soft” Russian civilian targets for a period of several years, it has now, apparently, won a tactical victory, since there remain very few effective forces still fighting the imposed regime in Chechnya. A policy of murder of all oppositionist figures can win out in an amoral world where criminals are immune from punishment. This is what we see being repeated in Russia now – and not restricted to Russian territory, since murders have been carried out in Qatar and in London. Putin’s gang has discovered there is no downside risk in this strategy, since no penalties arise to chasten the criminals and indeed they are continuing to loot the state with impunity. And the Bush administration has abandoned the moral high ground.

Very truly yours,

Jeremy Putley

It’s worth a lot, Jeremy! Here’s the text Jeremy is referring to, taken from CBS News. Click through to read the comments.

Putin Combats “Russiaphobia”

Soviet-Style Propaganda Publications Launched To Clear Up “Misunderstandings”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides at the Kremlin say they feel surrounded, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

LR: Dear Mr. Putin — If you’d like to discuss the matter, my address is posted on this blog. I’ll be happy to hear from you! As a beginning, I suggest you stop killing people. Us Westerners are funny about that kind of thing, we tend to overreact to political murder. But when in Rome . . .

Russian corporations are being foiled abroad; the Russian state is being unfairly blamed for volatility in global energy markets; and suggestions that the state is eliminating its critics are just preposterous. Why all the bad press? Because of “Russophobia” — an unreasoning Western hostility toward Russia — according to the Kremlin. “I see a campaign here,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in a TV interview last week. “The stronger we are becoming, the greater, perhaps, is the number of those willing… to prevent us from getting stronger.”

Amid all the allegations that the Kremlin — in a reprise of KGB tactics — is behind the mysterious deaths of two investigative journalists and a former KGB agent turned critic in recent months, President Putin is turning to a page out of the old Soviet playbook. His aides are reviving elements of the Soviet Union’s once-massive propaganda machine as well as considering fresh approaches. Novosti, the USSR’s “information agency,” has been renamed RIA-Novosti and is being bolstered by a flood of Putin-era petrocash. It has started an English-language satellite news network called Russia Today and a monthly feature magazine named Russia Profile, both of which carry offerings on the good job Putin is doing in the world and next to nothing on things like the conflict in Chechnya or the murder of government critics. The organization also brings Moscow’s spin to U.S. readers with paid supplements in The Washington Post and other papers.

“Many forgotten forms of work are being restored,” says Pyotr Romanov, a Novosti veteran. “We feel there is a lot of misunderstanding about Russia out there, and that the Russian point of view urgently needs to be expressed in the world media.” But recently, that’s become a tougher sell.

Investigative journalists who died

Ivan Safronov, a reporter for the Kommersant daily who was investigating planned Russian weapons sales to Syria and Iran, fell to his death from a window in his Moscow apartment building last Friday. His paper said he was being pressured by the government to stop his investigations and that he had been questioned multiple times by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the agency that replaced the KGB.

His death followed the mob-style killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya last October in Moscow, who had written extensively about government torture and murder in Chechnya, and the murder by poisoning of former KGB and FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London the next month. Litvinenko had accused Putin of mob ties and of ordering Politkovskaya’s murder.

Wednesday, the US Embassy in Moscow confirmed that two Soviet-born American women had been hospitalized for thallium poisoning in Moscow, though both were recovering. How they were poisoned is under investigation.

Many Russians decry cold war cliches

Yet many Russian analysts say they wince when they read stories animated by what they consider cold war cliches, especially in British and U.S. newspapers. “Once again it’s all black and white, and the image of Russia is that of a potential enemy,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, an independent foreign policy journal. He says that some Western media outlets “rushed to judgment” on the murder of Litvinenko by suggesting Mr. Putin may have ordered the former Russian spy’s assassination. An organization of intelligence service veterans, “For Spirit, Honor and Dignity,” told the Russian media that it’s thinking about suing the London Telegraph over its Litvinenko coverage. “It was absolutely open slander, we have never seen such staged malevolence,” said a man who answered the group’s Moscow phone this week, but refused to give his name.

And the Russian establishment say they aren’t just being unfairly attacked over politics. When Arcelor, a large European steelmaker, rebuffed a takeover bid by the Russian firm Severstal last year, Moscow officials were quick to point to anti-Russian bias. “The unprecedented propaganda campaign that has been launched… shows that people don’t want to let us into global markets,” said State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov. And after a January energy blockade of Russia’s neighbor Belarus led to shortages in Europe, the Kremlin blamed the messenger. “The Western mass media are always suffering from an old disease called Russophobia. Only this time it’s energy,” Andrei Reus, deputy minister of industry, told a recent oil and gas conference in Houston.

In addition to the Soviet-style approach, Moscow is also considering Western image boosters. Kommersant reported in January that Russia paid $15 million to the U.S.-based Ketchum Inc. — which has done PR for the U.S. Army and government agencies — to handle publicity for last July’s Group of Eight meeting in St. Petersburg. “This kind of action is badly needed, not to deceive, but to explain [and] make Russia look more accessible,” says Mikhail Maslov, director of the Moscow-based Maslov PR Agency. Some say a Russia flush with oil money and an assertive leader frightens Westerners into a cold war posture. “Can you explain how it is that life is better in Russia today, but Western coverage… is much more negative than it was six years ago?” asks Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst. “It’s because Russia is rising off its knees.”

The heavily state-controlled media has, in turn, adopted a more stridently anti-Western tone. “One reason Putin is so popular… is that he is seen as standing up to Western pressure and strengthening Russia’s defenses. Our media merely reflects those feelings,” says Mr. Romanov.

LR: Gee, what a good way to stop “russophobia.” Attack the West and prove the russophobes are right! No wonder Russia is such a brilliant success as a nation!

Putley on Bakhmina

David McDuff’s blog One Step at a Time contains a letter from reader Jeremy Putley to the Financial Times regarding the Kremlin’s assault on Yukos attorney Svetlana Bakhmina. Bakhima’s story is that of one of Neo-Soviet Russia’s first victims, and it is a cause that deserves ongoing attention. Jailing the lawyer of a person the state doens’t like is a signal hallmark of crude authoritarian dictatorship and demonstrates that nobody is safe from the Kremlin’s petulant, wrath, just as in Soviet times.

Putley writes as follows (shame on the FT for failing to publish it!):


In your second editorial today you are right to say that investors presented with the opportunity to buy into Russia’s oil riches, in the planned stock market flotation of Rosneft, must consider the moral dimension. It is not only the question of whether they will be buying “stolen goods”. There is also the matter of the abuse of legal process to persecute former Yukos employees, and not just Mikhail Khodorkovsky.It has not been widely reported that last week the Yukos lawyer, Svetlana Bakhmina, was sentenced by a Moscow court to seven years imprisonment in a labour camp. She had denied any wrongdoing. Now 36, she has been detained since 7 December 2004, and has not been allowed to see her two children, aged 3 and 7 in that time. Bail was refused for apparently no justifiable reason.The Russian opposition politician, Boris Nemtsov, is reported as saying that Ms Bakhmina does not deserve the sentence, which he calls an act of repression, considering it part of a campaign by the Kremlin aimed at intimidating business employees in order to prevent them from expressing independent views on society in Russia.This appalling case of abuse of legal process in a European capital should arguably carry rather more weight withinvestors even than the other matters that arise in considering potential investment in Russia, such as the unexplained exclusion from Russia of the investor Mr William Browder.

Jeremy Putley

McDuff continues the Bakhmina saga as follows:

Svetlana Bakhmina, the YUKOS lawyer sentenced to six and a half years of imprisonment in a labour camp, has appealed to a Moscow court to have her sentence deferred for nine years, until her youngest child reaches the age of 14, reports. Public figures and human rights activists in Russia have condemned the sentence given to Ms. Bakhmina, saying that she does not deserve it. Ms. Bakhmina herself has denied any wrongdoing. The Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has called it an act of repression, considering it part of a campaign by the Kremlin aimed at intimidating business employees in order to prevent them from expressing independent views on society in Russia.

It is truly mind-boggling the Kremlin could be so weak and cowardly that destroying Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s company, himself and his family would not be enough; just like the mafia, the Kremlin cowards need to go after everyone associated with him, even the mothers of young children. More terrifying, the Kremlin couldn’t care less about the public image this presents or how many nations and peoples it alienates in doing so. In other words, this act is an unmistakable echo of the way the USSR treated people like Solzhenitsyn, clear proof that Russians have learned nothing from the decades of despair they suffered under Soviet rule.

NB: No page exists in Wikipedia for Ms. Bakhmina. La Russophobe suggests to readers that somebody take the initiative to create one (anyone can do it, everyone can edit/help).