Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Power Vertical

Speaking Truth To Power

In the 1990s, Sergei Pashin was one of the most passionate advocates for true judicial reform in Russia. As a Moscow judge, he routinely threw out confessions obtained by torture, meticulously reviewed cases for signs of prosecutorial falsification, and was an unyielding supporter of jury trials.

So it should come as no surprise that he didn't last long on the bench in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Pashin is still an attorney and fortunately he still speaks out on issues near and dear to his heart.

Pashin recently signed an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev opposing recent moves by the authorities to restrict jury trials and to redefine treason and espionage.

And in an interview published in  the daily "Novye izvestia" on December 16, Pashin let it rip regarding the state of the criminal justice system in Russia.

One of the arguments the authorities made in their bid to end jury trials for crimes such as terrorism, hostage taking, rebellion, and treason, was that juries in the Caucasus tend to let criminals off the hook due to family and clan ties.

Here is Pashin's take on that:

"I toured these regions extensively more than once -- Daghestan, Ingushetia, and so on. Considering what I saw there, I cannot say that juries are idle there. Juries considered 140 cases in Daghestan alone in the last two years and convicted suspects in one of every two cases. Juries are needed to keep the Federal Security Service alert. If the secret service cannot even produce arguments that will convince a jury, then there is nothing more for me to say. And all too frequently, the secret services cannot come up with actual proof."

It's so nice to see propaganda disputed with facts. Here's Pashin's explanation for why jury trials are an absolute necessity in Russia:

"Juries know that incriminating evidence against a suspect is frequently obtained through torture, plants, and fabrications. Give law enforcement agencies any more leeway, and they'll get out of hand in no time at all."

And what about changes to the Criminal Code to broaden the definition of treason and espionage? The government submitted a bill to the State Duma on December 12 widening treason to include endangering Russia's "constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial integrity." Likewise, the definition of espionage will be expanded to include revealing state secrets to foreign NGOs. Here's what Pashin's has to say about that:
"This article on espionage as it is formulated in the phrased in a manner that permits an extremely broad interpretation. As a matter of fact, even things that were never considered espionage in the Soviet Union may soon be under the terms of this new legislation. The term "espionage" will be no longer restricted to actions that jeopardize external security of the state. Anything that jeopardizes domestic security will be treated as espionage too, and that means practically any action."

 I wrote a profile of Pashin back in 2000 when he was still a judge. After interviewing him and watching him in action in the courtroom, I came away thinking he was one of the finest Russian public servants I had ever met. But unfortunately, few people with real power listened to him then -- and sadly, even fewer do now.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: sergei,pashin,judicial,reform,Russia

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18:16 December 09, 2014


...and the Russian Orthodox Church is not happy about it.

17:03 December 09, 2014


10:00 December 09, 2014


What to make of French President Francois Hollande's meeting with Vladimir Putin this weekend? The Moscow Times takes a look in a story today:

The weekend meeting between the French and Russian presidents has given France a chance to become "the new Germany" for Russia, which lost its last Western ally after a falling-out with official Berlin, analysts say.

French mediation "is aimed at preventing Russia-EU relations from going to the dogs," said Tatiana Kastueva-Jean of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris.

Germany has traditionally been Russia's staunchest defender in Europe. But with Berlin taking a harder line in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, and particularly the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, Paris os trying to fill the void:

Though France has backed EU sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, it has taken a notably moderate stance toward Moscow.

Hollande was one of the few Western leaders who did not give Putin a hard time at a G20 meeting in Australia's Brisbane last month.

Nor have French authorities pressured French businesses to cut connections to Russia like Germany did, said Sergei Fyodorov of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Hollande's "ostpolitik" is reminiscent of that of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy: 

There is a recent precedent for Hollande's attempts to play peacemaker with Russia: In 2008, his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy brokered the end to the "five-day war" between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Right. And we all know how well that turned out. Just ask the Georgians.

Read the whole piece here.

09:47 December 09, 2014


Anna Netrebko's decision to donate 1 million rubles to a theater in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, and her posing with a Novorossia rebel flag, has sparked a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #BoycottAnnaNetrebko.

Here are some choice tweets:

09:31 December 09, 2014


Simon Shuster has a new piece up at Time suggesting he did, based on a draft copy of the speech prepared by the Kremlin leader's speechwriters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently cut out a blistering critique of Ukrainian authorities in a speech to human-rights advocates last week, as he seeks to carve out a peace deal with his country’s neighbor. 

In a draft prepared by Putin’s speechwriters and obtained by TIME, the President was set to accuse Ukrainian authorities of the “mass destruction of their own citizens” during their ongoing conflict with Moscow-backed separatist rebels. But at the last moment, Putin appears to have dropped that line.

Read the whole piece here.


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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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