AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Last week a report surfaced of an unexpected incident occurring in Russia. A dozen members of the Russian National Guard, the Rosgvardiya, the paramilitary arm that reports directly to Vladimir Putin, received orders to go to Ukraine and refused. You can read more about Rosgvardiya, what it does, and some of the drama going on within it in this post: Top General in Putin’s Personal Army Is Arrested by FSB.
In early February, officers in the force’s Krasnodar region were sent to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to take part in what their commanders told them was a military exercise. Later, they received orders to go to Ukraine, which they deemed illegal.
“None of them had a foreign passport with them, nor any intention to leave Russia as their direct official duties are limited to Russian territory,” Pavel Chikov, chair of Agora International Human Rights Group, said in a statement published on his Telegram channel Thursday.
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Crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border without a document would have been illegal under Russian law. Doing that as part of an armed group would violate Ukrainian laws, Chikov clarified.
“None of the plaintiffs were informed about a business trip to Ukraine to participate in a special military operation or its tasks and conditions,” he added. “As a result, they did not give consent to it.”
The usual takes were about how this showed a deterioration in morale of the Russian military and security services. It does. But there is more to it than that. What struck me about this story was crystalized in this tweet storm by Kamil Galeev, a Galina Starovoitova Fellow at the Wilson Center.
(read it all in tweet form at this link)
Captain Farid Chitav and 11 his subordinates from Russian National Guard (??????????) refused to go to Ukraine. Their regiment from Krasnodar was ordered to Ukraine and they objected. They said that they don’t have a foreign passport and thus can’t cross Russian border legally
They said that crossing Russian border without a foreign passport (you need for travelling abroad) is illegal and constitutes a felony 322 ?? ??. Thus they can’t go. What happened to them? They were all fired. Now they are suing their commandment for firing them illegally
That’s very important case for understanding Russian state and well, almost any state in this world. When we are analysing its practices we often use imbecile, meaningless categories like “legal/illegal”. Let me introduce much better term – “procedural”
Practices of state, including the Putin’s state may not be legal. They absolutely can break Russian law on every level. But that does *not* mean they’re random or chaotic. Nope. They’re very procedural, much more than regular people can imagine
We often describe Kafka’s works as absurdist. But they’re not absurdist at all. Kafka was a highly competent and successful bureaucrat valued by his superiors. His narratives are logical. Except it’s not human logic, it’s procedural logic, logic of a machine
Consider Stalin’s purges. They’re often described as illegal. Yes, Stalin’s state security broke Soviet laws on every level, constantly. But that doesn’t mean their actions were chaotic or fully capricious. Nope. They followed procedural logic of bureaucracy
What was the procedure of Stalin’s purges? To convict someone, you need to get a confession, “The Queen of all evidences” as Vyshynsky told. After you did get it, you can do whatever with a convict. But you still must get it, there’s no way around that. He must confess himself
Of course that created a vast grey zone. State security usually couldn’t convict anyone without confession. So they would interpret it very, very broadly. If you say something (however innocent), they can qualify as a confession, you’re done. So just shut up or deny everything
A real case. In 1935 NKVD got an anonymous letter that a bunch of Kazan University students are gathering for political talks. One of them is mocking Stalin and Communism, others laugh. Ofc all of them were arrested and interrogated – what did happen exactly?
The guy who joked about Stalin denied everything. His several other friends denied, too. Nope, he’s a true Communist and would never mock Stalin, no way. Only two guys responded – yeah, he indeed mocked Stalin, we heard it. Guess what? These two went to jail, others were released
From a human perspective this doesn’t make sense. Obviously these two were more willing to cooperate with NKVD and betray their friends? And yet, only they were punished. From procedural perspective it makes total sense. You need to get *anything* that passes for confessions
“I didn’t mock Stalin” – doesn’t pass for confession
“I never heard him mocking Stalin, he’s praising him every day” doesn’t pass
“Yes, he mocked Stalin all the time, he’s a traitor” – it is a confession. You just confessed you listened to the treasonous talk. To GULAG you go
Again from a standpoint of human logic that’s crazy. You jailed these two for listening to treasonous talk but released the one who did this treasonous talk? Yeah, but he didn’t confess. Procedural requirements are not met. They did. Procedural requirements are met. Go to GULAG
NB: do NOT apply human logic to bureaucratic procedures. “That doesn’t make sense, that’s crazy”, no, it’s you who are crazy. It’s insane to believe you are dealing with humans. Nope. You are dealing with gears of bureaucratic mechanism, working according to a procedural logic
Let me give you another example. In 1937 the Great Purge and mass arrests started. One guy in St Petersburg belonged to hereditary nobility. He knew he’d be arrested. And they’ll be extorting confession. He can deny everything, but they can torture him to death. That’s suboptimal
He acted smarter. During the night he went to a store, broke a window. Got inside, filled his bag with valuable stuff and waited for police to come. They came, arrested him. He got 5 years of jail for robbing a store *as a regular criminal*. That’s how he survived the Great Purge
If he lived his regular life, he’d be arrested as a political criminal. That’s the end. They’d investigate him for more political crimes, adding more charges. But now he chose a different track. Regular criminal track was so much better than a track of a spy/counterrevolutionary
Again that doesn’t make sense from a human perspective. If he did a robbery, why can’t he also be a spy? But procedurally speaking, it makes total sense. Normal criminals are investigated by regular police. Politicals – by state security. These two different tracks don’t mix
So you either wait till state security comes to arrest you for a political crime. Then you are done. Or you can go commit a regular crime to be arrested by regular police. Then you get on a regular criminal track and will be safe in jail. NKVD won’t come for you, you’re saved
You must fully understand that you’re not dealing with humans but with a machine. It’s working procedurally, according to a certain algorithm which is ofc full of bugs. Which can be exploited. That’s what constitutes much of difference between the poor and the rich in any country
The poor stupidly believe they’re dealing with humans. Thus they “follow the rules” and get f***ed. Absurd as it may sound, they may even feel proud for following the law, following the common procedure without demanding any special privileges. Of course these idiots will suffer
The rich know they’re not dealing with humans but with a procedural mechanism. It can and must be hacked, you just need to find a bug. And they will actively look for it. A rich *will* demand a special treatment and make a case why he deserves it. And they often get it
Consider the Z-invasion. Who was sent there? Well, kids of imbecile broke ass bumpkins who are so brainless that they actually follow the law. Well, if the law says everyone should serve in the army, defend the country, who am I too object? Thus they feed their kids to Moloch
Rich kids don’t get to the trenches no matter what is written in the law. Why? Well because smart people don’t give a f*** about the law. For a smarter, successful person the law is not a moral imperative, but a stupid algorithm to be hacked. And they’ll figure out how to hack it
Let’s sum up. Legality/illegality is a bad tool for analysing human institutions. Too much moral pathos, too little substance. Much better concept is procedurality. Policies may not be legal, but they absolutely are procedural and thus have bugs which make them easy to hack
Rich smart people correctly understand this procedural nature of human institutions. Thus when dealing with them they have only one question – how to hack them? They are actively looking for bugs, find them and get what they want, in the forms of “privileges” or special treatment
Dumb and poor on the other hand do not understand this procedural nature of institutions. They’re so stupid that they see not only human qualities but even a sort of moral authority in a soulless machine. Of course they get f***ed. That’s how it should be.
While it is fun to laugh at the Russian petty aristocrat who got himself arrested for burglary so he could avoid the gulag, you really have to wonder how much different Russian government and society works from our own other than the cosmetics. But, on the other hand, if you’ve been to a motor vehicles department recently, you may not wonder.
For instance, in 2019, the nation was jolted by the “scandal” involving college admissions. Some celebrities and other privileged individuals were prosecuted for bribing college admissions officers and coaches to make room for their offspring. It wasn’t a case of giving a deserving kid a nudge forward. In one situation, a kid was given a full athletic scholarship for a sport in which they’d never participated. All the parents did was have the intelligence to realize that the rules could be, as Galeev says, hacked. I’d submit that if you examined the history of these people in detail, you’d find that this was not an anomaly; they got where they are–socially, professionally-by hacking the rules.
One source of perennial outrage by political partisans is the draft record of politicians who came of age during the Vietnam War era. How many tours did Mitt Romney serve in Vietnam? Ditto for Donald Trump? Romney’s family knew enough to take advantage of a religious exemption. Trump’s had a tame doctor. George Bush, Dan Quayle, and Dick Blumenthal found spaces in the Guard or Reserve. Bill Clinton joined Army ROTC and then fled to schooling in England. (To be clear, I don’t fault anyone who decided they did not want to be drafted and used the escape hatches available to them any more than I fault a person for using legitimate tax deductions to keep more of their money.) None of them had to make a political statement by going to Canada. But none of them had to go to war. The fact is that the only people drafted after World War II were those who let it happen to them. By the time Vietnam rolled around, the draft was so full of “hacks” that to get drafted meant you didn’t object to being drafted enough to take action to avoid it.
Closer to today, we look at one set of protesters, the January 6 defendants, who are being held in horrendous conditions and without bail for trivial offenses associated with a protest about the obvious and blatant vote fraud in the November 2020 election. On the other hand, we see the lack-witted gits of upper-middle-class and upper-class parents in Portland and Seattle get no punishment for throwing Molotov cocktails at government buildings and vehicles. This is strictly a factor of the government, the machine, deciding to make mincemeat of people who did not respect its legitimacy while giving a pass to another group with whom the people controlling the machine agreed. It is nearly analogous to the Russian who was charged as a burglar rather than an enemy of the state.
None of this should be news to anyone. Did you ever have a class with a college athlete, particularly one of the top members of the team? Did you ever think the academic standard was the same as that for you or lesser mortals? Remember back in high school how the star quarterback, the homecoming king/queen, the captain of the cheerleading squad were allowed to skate of things that would have resulted in anyone else being suspended? Why are most flag officers in the military the offspring of other flag officers? Back in the bad old days, the closer you got to the commanding general’s (or the CEO’s) suite, the more attractive the female employees. For that matter, do you think that Kamala Harris built her career on hard work and political talent? Haven’t you ever been told, “don’t fight city hall?” Have you ever witnessed “hot girl privilege” demolishing a bureaucracy?
I don’t know anything about the twelve interior security police who refused to go to Ukraine or their motives. But understand what they did. They didn’t refuse to go out of protest, which would have landed them long prison sentences in places with very, very unpleasant climates and living conditions. They refused out of loyalty to the system and fidelity to duty. They didn’t have passports, and so it was illegal and improper for someone in their position to comply with the order to deploy to Ukraine…and get their asses shot off. So now they are martyrs, suing the system to get their jobs back because they were fired for obeying the law.
This is not to say that our society is as corrupt as Russian society, mostly because we have a cultural aversion to accepting bribes that is not a part of a lot of other cultures. But it is easy to see how we are not a huge leap from being them.