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Preventative Measures


FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov is ready and waiting.

FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov is ready and waiting.

A few days ago, fellow Power Verticalist Brian Whitmore gave the rundown on a bill the government has submitted to the Duma that would give the Federal Security Service (FSB) the authority to take “preventative measures” against individuals and organizations whose activities they think might lead to the commission of a crime, particularly the promotion of “extremism.”


Today, former assistant to Boris Yeltsin and INDEM foundation head Georgy Satarov has an interesting analysis of what the government’s thinking might be in calling for such an, excuse the pun, extreme measure. Satarov’s analysis is particularly interesting because he has gotten a hold of the “explanatory note” that the government submitted together with the bill, in which it lays out its “reasoning.”(If you read Russian, it is worth going through the whole piece, because I’ll only hit a couple of highlights here. Also, you can read the text of the government's letter and the text of the bill itself on the Duma's website by following the links on this page.)


First, Satarov mentions that the bill is directed against “the actions of people that facilitate the appearance of reasons or the creation of circumstances for the commission of a crime.” Under the bill, Satarov speculates, the FSB could theoretically take “preventative measures” against the Duma for passing a law that creates opportunities for corruption. Or it could go after the president for signing such a law or the government for enforcing it…. By such logic, the FSB could act preemptively against minorities for creating the conditions under which some neo-Nazi skinheads might want to beat them up. Jews could be harassed for inciting anti-Semitism by being Jewish. Police officers could be arrested for provoking violent anarchists.


Even more interestingly, Satarov notes that the explanatory note for the law claims that “the activity of radical organizations is leading to the growth of social tension and a strengthening of negative processes in society, especially among youths.” Satarov adds that the theme of youths runs through the document “like a red thread,” perhaps giving a hint about the real purpose of the bill. His dissection of this bit of the FSB’s logic is worth quoting at length:

They are trying to persuade us that “the activization of the activity of radical organizations” is the cause of social instability and the strengthening of negative tendencies in society. Next they’ll be telling us that the wind is caused by the movement of tree branches. But the scariest thing is that they might really think this way themselves. When I was a presidential assistant, I systematically read the analyses of various agencies, and the most talentless and useless ones came from the FSB. It doesn’t seem to occur to them (and they definitely don’t want it to ever occur to us!) that social tension is rooted in the constantly increasing gap between rich and poor, in bureaucratic unaccountability from which there is no protection, and many other miracles produced by the practices of the authorities, of whom the author of the document is a member. We might also mention their efforts to inculcate xenophobia, chauvinism, and great-power arrogance. They are the ones who encourage the demonstrations of fascists and forbid the protests of democrats.


The government’s explanatory note also argues that the law is needed because “certain mass-media organs, both print and electronic, are openly facilitating the formation of negative processes in the spiritual sphere, reinforcing the cult of individualism and violence and doubt about the ability of the state to defend its citizens, de facto drawing youths into extremist activity.” That is, we can expect this conveniently vague measure to be used against mass media as the country approaches the next national elections (Duma deputies! Pass this law and save your seats!). As I noted in my last post here, this bill will work very nicely with another government initiative to bring blogs and other Internet publications under the umbrella of the mass-media law.


Next, Satarov takes note of the government’s admission in the explanatory document that “despite the organizational and legal measure that have been implemented in recent years…the number of crimes against lives and health committed on the basis of extremist-nationalistic convictions is not decreasing.”


Satarov then enumerates the “organizational and legal measures” the government has taken in recent years: cancelling gubernatorial elections; abolishing elections in general as an institution of honest political competition; the introduction of restrictive laws on the activity of public organizations; the expansion of the definition of extremism to include anything that the government doesn’t like; the restriction of the institution of jury trials; the unprecedented growth of corruption; and the unconvincing imitation of a war against corruption. And now, this new bill – or, to quote Monty Python, now for something completely different.


Satarov ends his analysis by noting that the FSB is one of the government agencies that is directly subordinate to the president. He therefore notes that it is more than passing strange that this bill to amend the law on the FSB came from the government and bears the prime minister’s signature. Hmmm.


-- Robert Coalson

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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