Askold Krushelnycky: Torture and terror are tools of Putin’s ‘greatness’
By Askold Krushelnycky
In recent days, three events have demonstrated graphically, as if any more evidence was needed, that Russia is fast regressing to an oppressive, Orwellian USSR.2 of the sort that leather-clad tricyclist and dictator Vladimir Putin openly yearns for.
KGB-trained Putin has lamented the disintegration of the Soviet Union and tried to rehabilitate the reputation of one of history’s bloodiest tyrants, Josef Stalin.
But tens of thousands of Russians that don’t share Putin’s dark vision for the future of their country have been protesting against their government.
Demonstrations of the sort that in 2014 morphed into Ukraine’s EuroMaidan Revolution, kicking out the country’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, are the stuff of Putin’s nightmares.
The Kremlin labeled the demonstrations in Moscow and St Petersburg, which started last month, “riots” although the only violence came from the police who beat many protesters and arrested more than 1,400 of them.
Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, who received (yet another) 30-day jail term for organizing such protests, was taken from his prison cell to hospital with a mysterious illness. He, his relatives and doctor suspect he was poisoned by the Kremlin.
Most of the detained protesters were released, but scores still face trial and eight years in prison.
Another piece of evidence about where Russia is heading is provided by Oleksandr Steshenko, a boxer from the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, who was picked up by Russian FSB intelligence agents when he visited Crimea in April 2018. He was accused of trying to increase tension on the peninsula by burning down the home of a Crimean Tatar who had become notorious as one of the few Tatar notables to collaborate with the Russian occupation authorities.
Steshenko confessed on TV to the non-existent arson attack, named two co-conspirators and was jailed for two years in a Crimean prison. He was freed and returned to Ukraine unexpectedly last week.
Steshenko immediately explained his confession was FSB “fantasies” made after his captors tortured him and that he had never heard of the men he was forced to implicate.
He said the FSB had incarcerated him in a basement where he slept on a mattress on the floor and where he was bound with handcuffs which had a 24-kilogram weight attached to them. He described how for three months he was daily stripped and beaten with fists and cables until he could no longer bear the torments and made a false confession on video.
The Kremlin wanted to use the confession as part of an attempt to discredit the two people regarded by most Tatars, Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov, as their true leaders and who now live in Ukrainian government-held territory.
And a third part of the picture came from the nuclear accident that happened in Russia’s northern Arkhangelsk region on August 8 during testing of a missile that Western experts believe may be powered by a small nuclear engine that is beyond Moscow’s technical capabilities to construct safely.
Something went badly wrong and there was a blast off the coast of the White Sea near the Russian military’s Nenoksa Missile Test Site. Radiation monitors at the city of Severodvinsk, some 40 kilometers distant, registered steep spikes in radiation levels which were reported on a public website.
That internet information was swiftly taken down as Moscow went into instinctive cover-up mode. At first, the Kremlin pretended nothing had happened and remained silent and not alerting those closest to the danger. Then, as undeniable details trickled out, Moscow spewed out lies and distortions to obscure the true extent of what had happened.
That is the same traditional Soviet pattern of lies and callous disregard for human life that was the Kremlin’s playbook following the world’s worst civilian nuclear accident in 1986 at Chornobyl in Ukraine.
Last weekend the authorities eventually reluctantly admitted at least seven people had died amidst reports that some of the first responders, including doctors, had fallen sick.
Nearly a week after the explosion, inhabitants close to the catastrophe were still in the dark about possible nuclear pollution swirling around the area or whether they would be evacuated.
The missile being tested was likely the one Putin so gleefully boasted about last year in his annual television marathon where he unveiled Russia’s new weapons of mass destruction in a video animation depicting the missile flying around the world to strike its target in the United States.
NATO has named the new cruise missile Skyfall. The Russian intention is that Skyfall’s small nuclear engine would give it a huge range and enable it to fly in an unpredictable non-linear manner to evade anti-missile rockets.
The Americans poured huge resources into trying to build such a weapon decades ago and concluded it wasn’t feasible. The Russians may now be coming to the same conclusion.
To be honest I’m not sad that this explosion has happened. It has shown the world that Putin’s plan for making Russia an important player on the world stage has nothing to do with transforming its declining Third World oil and gas-dependent economy and everything to do with terrorizing the rest of the planet, especially the democracies.
Another silver lining to this radiation cloud is that the failed test is at least a huge setback, perhaps a fatal one, for the missile’s development program which must already have sucked up massive Russian resources.
And the five scientists among the dead were working on perfecting a new way to inflict mass death on the inhabitants of Western democracies – so their removal from the gene pool is no great loss to humanity.
Hopefully, the nuclear accident, the suppression by the violence of its own citizens and the Kremlin’s unashamed use of torture may stir those European Union member countries muttering about discontinuing sanctions against Moscow as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and occupation of some of its territory.
Some apparently don’t believe that Russia’s flouting of international laws and civilized behavior are sufficient grounds for supporting Ukraine – the country where people are shedding their blood for the ideals that the European Union and the West proclaim to hold sacred.
But they should consider whether they want to sacrifice Ukraine as their neighbor and instead have a Soviet-style imperialist regime at their borders that is determined to resurrect a world order based on brute force and the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Or is it better to show a little spine and help build a strong Ukraine, which has already proven its commitment to values it shares with the West, as an ally steadfastly guarding democracy’s eastern flank in Europe?