Russia’s Murderous Adhocracy

At the time of writing, Alexei Navalny is still fighting for his life, after apparently being poisoned as he left Tomsk. For many, this must have been a “Kremlin hit,” but the uncomfortable truth is that under Vladimir Putin, political murder is no longer a monopoly of the state.

It is certainly not impossible that the Kremlin was to blame. Given the authorities’ unease at scenes of people power at work in Belarus, worries over the protests in Khabarovsk and concern about a general tide of surly resentment at a national government that seems out of touch with the provinces, it could be that Navalny’s “smart vote” campaign and his work in the regions took him across that lethally invisible, unpredictably mobile line that defines the barely acceptable forms of opposition.

However, Navalny’s own claim — that he was alive because he was more of a problem for the regime dead — probably still holds true. Besides which, the state seems to have been caught off guard. 

First the doctors were admitting some kind of poisoning, then it was just a blood sugar imbalance. First the police were saying it was nothing, then they were admitting the presence of unexpected chemical traces. First Navalny could not fly because it would be unsafe for others, then that it wasn’t safe for him. First the news said he wasn’t poisoned, then propagandist-in-chief Dmitry Kiselev was claiming he was poisoned by the Americans or the British.

To be sure, incompetence and incoherence are not exactly unheard of when it comes to the Kremlin and its security forces. Omsk’s (truly beautiful) Assumption Cathedral has a fine spire, but nowhere near as tall as Salisbury’s; even so, maybe someday we’ll hear a couple of security officers tell of their day-trip there…

However, this confusion is reminiscent of the immediate aftermath of the murder of Boris Nemtsov by what turned out to be Chechen gunmen in 2015. Rival stories abounded, and an investigation hurriedly turned into a cover-up, once Ramzan Kadyrov’s fingerprints began to become apparent.

Then, Putin disappeared from view for a fortnight, unable or unwilling to make a choice between acceding to his security forces’ demands finally to do something about the reckless and ruthless Chechen, and the fear of precipitating a new Chechen war. Eventually, Kadyrov essentially got away with it with little more than a slap on the wrist.

The same happened when Rosneft boss Igor Sechin organised the metaphorical “assassination” of Minister for Economic Development Alexei Ulyukaev in 2017, framing him on corruption charges and seeing him condemned to eight years in a strict-regime labor colony. Putin was visibly uncomfortable with the case, especially when Sechin refused repeatedly to be cross-examined by the defence, but ultimately let the matter drop.

Adhocrats unbound

This is one of the lethal side-effects of “adhocracy.” Putin’s system is a substantially de-institutionalised one, in which the president’s favor is the main asset everyone wants to earn, and formal roles and responsibilities matter less than how one can be of use today. The boss largely doesn’t micromanage, but rather sets broad objectives and hints at what kinds of things he would like to see.

This generates flexibility and initiative, but at the cost of duplication and control. Ambitious and cynical figures work to what they believe Putin wants, or else find ways to justify their own interests as being in line with those of the state.

In Navalny’s case, there is no lack of potential enemies. Someone he was investigating for one of his forensically presented and devastating video exposes of official corruption, who assumed that the Kremlin would ultimately forgive direct action? A political figure who feared Navalny’s electoral tactics or who assumed that the Kremlin would like to see him taken out of the equation? One of the big beasts of the system, who doesn’t have to care too much what a frankly diminished president thinks, or who believes he can count on the boss’s indulgence?

So far, at least, we don’t know, although in the modern age almost everything comes out eventually. However, it does point to one of the dangerous and alarming aspects of the Putin system, especially as the president himself seems less willing or able to play the role of the Great Decider and rein in his more murderous adhocrats. 

A state that kills is a terrible thing, but its red lines can generally be observed and it can ultimately be held to account.

But a state that permits a whole range of actors and interests to kill with impunity is an even more uncomfortable thing, as the red lines may be invisible, intersecting and mobile, and the challenge of accountability is even greater. 

(c) The Moscow Times

9 comments

  • “First the news said he wasn’t poisoned, then propagandist-in-chief Dmitry Kiselev was claiming he was poisoned by the Americans or the British.”

    Of course the British and US would be involved. It makes sense for Navalny to travel to the West to be cured of the attempt on his life, and give the US or British an even better opportunity to finish him off.

    Liked by 4 people

  • Let’s wait and see what the doctors in Berlin have to say.

    Navalny’s roller coaster trip reminds me of O J. Simpson’s hospital scene in ‘The naked gun’. It’s a comedy.

    Liked by 4 people

  • Even if it was true what the article claims and the sewer rat isn’t directly involved in some of those murder cases, it still puts blame on his narrow shoulders for every one of these crimes and the perhaps hundreds or thousands of others too which no one knows about. The rat’s behavior is called aiding and abetting and it is punishable by law in every civilized nation. This is at least what the rat is guilty of. But, I’m willing to bet my left nut that he is directly guilty of those crimes.
    Anyone asked himself why Navalny was poisoned now, at this point in time?
    I gather that many leaders in the world are overburdened at the moment and thus now would be the best time to finally getting rid of Navalny. Perhaps, it is hoped to be much less audible within the great noise of the other current major events, the COVID pandemic, and especially the Belarus crisis.

    Liked by 3 people

  • Lots of contentious points here :
    ‘It is certainly not impossible that the Kremlin was to blame.’
    It is impossible that the kremlin was not to blame would be closer to the mark.
    ‘propagandist-in-chief Dmitry Kiselev was claiming he was poisoned by the Americans or the British.’
    What this piece of dog excrement says is no longer funny. It is pure, concentrated evil.
    ‘Then, Putin disappeared from view for a fortnight, unable or unwilling to make a choice between acceding to his security forces’ demands finally to do something about the reckless and ruthless Chechen, and the fear of precipitating a new Chechen war. Eventually, Kadyrov essentially got away with it with little more than a slap on the wrist.’
    Utter bullshit. It was a hit ordered by putler and expedited by Khadirov. The hit men’s families will have been compensated and at some point they will walk free.
    Re Navalny : the MT comes up with : ‘So far, at least, we don’t know, although in the modern age almost everything comes out eventually.’
    Every fucking one else knows who ordered the poisoning, you dumb kremkrapper bilge rats.

    Liked by 4 people

  • Breaking News: The International Bilge Rat Association (IBRA) has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Scradgel. According to the President of the IBRA, “We are tired of being smeared by associating our good name with the Putin regime. We may have a dirty job, but it is necessary to the proper function of the bilges on ships, while based on the news reports we have received at IBRA HQ, Putin is utterly useless and serves no positive purpose. These smears must end!”

    Like

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