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The “Potemkin Village” of Russian Justice

Nina Khrushcheva of the New School has an op/ed running today in Haaretz and the Miami Herald which links together the murders of Andrei Kozlov, Enver Ziganshin, and Anna Politkovskaya, and argues that Russia’s “dictatorship of law” is nothing more than an outrageous public relations farce. Ustinov-vi.jpg She writes:

I am not accusing Putin’s government of the contract killing of Politkovskaya. … But even if Vladimir Putin’s associates had nothing to do with Politkovskaya being gunned down in an elevator of her apartment building in the center of Moscow, his contempt for law created the climate in which the murder was carried out. Like the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in his Canterbury Cathedral many centuries ago, the crime was committed in the clear belief that it would please the king. The supposedly civilizing influence of being a Western partner – chairing a G8 summit in Saint Petersburg for example – seems to have been lost on Putin’s Kremlin cabal. Once again exposure to Western values has delivered another Potemkin village; Russia presents a facade of laws and democratic institutions, but behind that cardboard surface the same arbitrary brutes rule. The danger for the world is that Putin’s lawlessness is being exported. Across Russia’s near abroad, a form of criminalized diplomacy is taking root. Look at Putin’s attempt to rig Ukraine’s previous presidential election, and the on again off again criminal charges brought against the opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko. Look at the rogue breakaway regions in Moldova and Georgia that exist only because of the Kremlin’s backing. Look at how the Kremlin seeks to blackmail its neighbors by threatening their energy supplies.

In the case of Politkovskaya, the Council of Europe must immediately assign a special rapporteur to focus on the methodology used in the investigation. Russia is never going to be able to emerge from the stink of what appears to be a clear contract killing unless a special prosecutor is assigned. Khrushcheva is right: whoever pulled the trigger, the Kremlin’s new and improved system of impunity is to blame. Having people such as Vladimir Ustinov head justice in Russia demonstrates to the world where rule of law ranks in the priorities of the siloviki.