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Life in Putinland

Driving while Russian.

Mar 29, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 27 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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The GIBDD knew that an armed and dangerous criminal they were trying to apprehend was heading in their direction. Their strategy was to allow the criminal’s vehicle to crash into the barricade of autos they had just assembled thanks to the compliance of a group of unsuspecting citizens. The police, however, ignored the possibility “that someone in these vehicles might be injured or shot by these criminals,” Sutyagin stated. “Our lives are worth nothing to our Russian state—and the people in power absolutely to the nth degree could not care less that there were live people in these automobiles,” said Sutyagin. “This is a complete bespredel”—a lack of law, order, and decency.

The stunt failed. The silver Audi driven by the accused criminal crashed through the parked cars and kept going. The GIBDD then had the audacity not only to not apologize to those whose lives they had endangered, but also to tell those drivers whose vehicles were damaged that they would not be compensated for the repair costs because the police were unable to apprehend the driver of the Audi. (They later reversed course and apologized after the publicity offensive created political embarrassment.) 

Sutyagin said he would never stop again if a similar situation came up. “If you do not stop [when the police wave you over], the fine is only 300 roubles [about $10]. The damage to my automobile is many times more, and nothing can get your life back. Everyone else out there has to decide for themselves what they would do.”

In the same week that this latter scandal was all over the news, the State Department released its worldwide human rights report, giving low marks to Russia for rampant corruption, rigged elections, and the regular killings of journalists who criticize the government. Taking a page from the Soviet era, a Russian foreign ministry spokesman pretended that none of these documented incidents had occurred and accused Washington of using the human rights issue as a foil to advance “quite concrete, material foreign policy interests.”

All of this was spoken high-handedly, as befits a member of Russia’s golden governmental elite. Just another one of the “special” people—like Anatoly Barkov—for whom the laws and norms that apply to ordinary people might as well not exist. The rest of Russia’s populace, as we have seen, have no rights and are only fit to be human shields—or if they get in the way of one of these “special” automobiles—human victims.

Reuben F. Johnson is an aerospace expert based in Kiev.

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