The Death of Maxim Borodin

This is pretty awful:

A Russian investigative journalist who wrote about the deaths of mercenaries in Syria has died in hospital after falling from his fifth-floor flat.

Maxim Borodin was found badly injured by neighbours in Yekaterinburg and taken to hospital, where he later died.

Being a journalist in Russia is not especially dangerous. Being a journalist in Russia and writing about things which concern powerful people is incredibly dangerous, bordering on suicidal.

Local officials said no suicide note was found but the incident was unlikely to be of a criminal nature.

Uh-huh. One minute he’s exposing the clandestine use of Russian mercenaries in Syria, the next he’s just fallen off a balcony. Could happen to anyone.

However, a friend revealed Borodin had said his flat had been surrounded by security men a day earlier.

Vyacheslav Bashkov described Borodin as a “principled, honest journalist” and said Borodin had contacted him at five o’clock in the morning on 11 April saying there was “someone with a weapon on his balcony and people in camouflage and masks on the staircase landing”.

Borodin had been looking for a lawyer, he explained, although he later called him back saying he was wrong and that the security men had been taking part in some sort of exercise.

Many a time have I come home to find people with weapons on my balcony and masked, camouflaged men in the stairwell conducting an exercise. Yeah, this is all perfectly normal.

In recent weeks, the journalist had written about Russian mercenaries known as the “Wagner Group” who were reportedly killed in Syria on 7 February in a confrontation with US forces.

Maxim Borodin was phenomenally brave in investigating this story but, like Anna Politkovskaya, you’ve got to wonder if it was worth it. I don’t know who is behind the Wagner Group but you can be sure they are nasty, brutal, and well-connected. Going anywhere near an outfit like this and raising awkward questions was bound to end badly, and sadly it has.

The story is a useful reminder that Russia is a violent, lawless place in many respects and not every high-profile murder is carried out on the orders of Putin. Putin must take a lot of the blame for presiding over the conditions which allow journalists to be murdered with impunity in Russia, but it’s worth noting he is a product of the same culture, not its architect. Murders don’t occur in Russia because Putin allegedly has people murdered; any murders ordered by Putin occur in a culture where murdering people is routine. There’s a difference, and I think this was missed during the Skripal affair when it was assumed Putin simply must have been behind it. Now he probably was, but there was also a fair chance he wasn’t, which those unfamiliar with Russia utterly failed to even consider. It has become an article of faith among western reporters that Putin is responsible for the murder of Politkovskaya, and they go so far to directly charge him with the murder of journalists. The sad truth is any number of people would have wanted Politkovskaya dead, and Putin might not even have been one of them. We’ll never know.

The other noteworthy point to this story is that Maxim Borodin was genuinely brave and attempting to uncover a story which is in the public interest. Contrast this with western journalists who are mainly propagandists for the ruling classes yet are forever congratulating one another on their bravery, despite facing nothing more perilous in their day-job than a burned lip from an over-hot latte. I wonder how well a journalist like Borodin would go down in a western media outfit? Not very well, would be my guess.

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26 thoughts on “The Death of Maxim Borodin

  1. Re. blaming it all as being ordered by Putin himself.

    Having lived In Foreign for all of my post-university life, it’s often frustrating talking to never-lived-abroad Brits who take some data point from Foreign, and project it back into the British system. This can be trite things like assuming that Swiss working life must be pretty relaxed because lots of people take 2 hour lunch breaks. People thus presume a 9-5 job with a PAID 2 hr lunch break, since they project the datapoint “2 hour lunch break” into the 9-5 UK experience. In reality, it’s an unpaid 2-hour lunch break, so a 9-5 is actually an 8-6….

    Anyway, back at the plot. Brits live in an environment where political murders are mercifully rare things now the IRA have bogged off. Extremely rare. In fact, outside of drug dealing “yoof” stabbings and shootings, any form of homicide is extremely rare. Thus, any potentially politically-convenient death is assumed to be fishy, and the likely the work of government – see: Dr. David Kelly conspiracies. If such a conspiracy were true, the hit would have to have been ordered from upon high, and it would necessarily have been someone at the head of government (or the civil service) ordering it.

    So, projecting all the “journo killed” stories from Russia into the UK experience leads people to believe automatically that Putin (or his immediate circle) must have ordered it.

    Whereas in Russia, murders of white-collar and business types happen all the time for various reasons ranging from petty to serious. Depending on how you count it, it appears that the murder rate in Russia is 2-3 times higher than that in the US – which is already considered by many to be a very murdery country.

    That’s not to say that Putin has never ordered hits on inconvenient journalists – it’s just that there are more people than Putin right down the scale likely to order a hit on a journalist.

  2. abacab,

    Spot on. You’d have thought a primary role of British journalists covering foreign events would be able to work this out, but apparently they think the whole world works as it does within the M25.

  3. I think this was missed during the Skripal affair when it was assumed Putin simply must have been behind it.

    Oh, come on. You know that it wasn’t just ‘Russian was murdered -> Putin must have done it’. It was ‘Russian was murdered with military nerve agent made only by governments -> Putin must have ordered, or at least tolerated, it’. Even the initial government statements hedged and rather than saying it must have been the Russian government, allowed Putin a chance to admit that they had lost control of some of the stock of the weapon; when Russia didn’t take the chance to admit that, but instead kept denying everything outright, what are we supposed to think?

    If Skripal had just been shot, then people wouldn’t have been talking about Putin specifically being to blame, they’ be talking in more general terms about Russians bringing their personal vendettas over here and murdering each other on our soil. Not that that would be a good thing, but it’s the weapon used which means itmust have been a government action.

    I wonder how well a journalist like Borodin would go down in a western media outfit?

    There are some who tell stories that the great & the good don’t want pursued; Andrew Norfolk, for example.

  4. llowed Putin a chance to admit that they had lost control of some of the stock of the weapon; when Russia didn’t take the chance to admit that, but instead kept denying everything outright, what are we supposed to think?

    Admitting they’d lost control of the stock is a big chemical wpns deal, and could set off a massive international shitstorm above and beyond one assassination.

    Whether Putin did or didn’t order the nerve agent hit (and I don’t know and I don’t really care – he probably did though), the denials aren’t for our consumption. If he did order it, it sends a message to his domestic dissidents. If he didn’t order it, the denials make it look like he probably did – same effect.

    The whole episode is for his domestic consumption, and he couldn’t care the slightest about what the West thinks on the assassination front. But, as I mentioned above, he probably would care if the West thought Russia had lost control of some seriously nasty nerve agents and started poking around places he’d rather we didn’t poke around.

  5. Russia is a violent, lawless place in many respects and not every high-profile murder is carried out on the orders of Putin.

    That’s certainly the impression I get from Russian colleagues – especially those from provincial large towns.

  6. they think the whole world works as it does within the M25

    The BBC’s former China correspondent, who thought she ought to be paid as much as its Washington correspondent, lived in London.

  7. That’s certainly the impression I get from Russian colleagues – especially those from provincial large towns.

    Especially provincial large towns. You’ll get 2 or 3 main mafia groups who own everything: shopping centres, nightclubs, bars, casinos (before they were outlawed) and anything else that makes money. One of those groups will be connected to the FSB, another to the local mayor. The third will be some independent gangsters, in the case of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk it was the Koreans who ran the fishing industry.

    My second novel, which is ongoing, looks into this. Russians are generally a pretty friendly bunch, even most of the gangsters, but you’d really, really not want to step on their business toes. It’s an odd contradiction, one I’m not sure you’d find elsewhere. The other aspect of Russian culture I’m attempting to describe is that where the young men make the most splendid, fiercely loyal friends but appalling husbands and fathers.

  8. The BBC’s former China correspondent, who thought she ought to be paid as much as its Washington correspondent, lived in London.

    Ah yes. And you have Middle East correspondents reporting on Syria from Dubai who might as well be in Swansea.

  9. My second novel, which is ongoing, looks into this. Russians are generally a pretty friendly bunch, even most of the gangsters, but you’d really, really not want to step on their business toes.

    What I find fascinating is that the USSR spent 70 years promoting their bizarre Marxian fantasy version of capitalism, so, once capitalism was allowed again in the 90s, a form of that fantasy version came into being.

    It’s no surprise once you make the connection, but it’s hilarious watching Lefties cite kleptocratic, Mafia-driven Russia as a failure of capitalism pur sang – no, it’s just the inevitable result of the enactment of the bizarre version of capitalism that the USSR breathlessly promoted in their propaganda.

  10. @Tim

    “not every high-profile murder is carried out on the orders of Putin”

    While the theoretical point may be valid, this is a particularly bad example to support it, given that “Wagner” is nominally controlled by “Putin’s chef” and is de facto one of the regime’s black ops units. Many of those wiped out by the American counterattack had previously been spotted in Donbas. This is not some petty corruption scandal, but a “national security” level as the thugs running Russia understand it.

  11. While the theoretical point may be valid, this is a particularly bad example to support it, given that “Wagner” is nominally controlled by “Putin’s chef” and is de facto one of the regime’s black ops units.

    On the contrary, it’s a particularly good example and your comment proves it: there are lots of people between Putin and any deceased who are more willing and able to use violence personally if they think their interests are at risk. Non-Russians make the mistake of thinking because Putin stands to benefit somehow and he is top of the tree, it must be his doing.

  12. @Tim,

    nope, there are not lots of people with the title of “Putin’s chef”, who incidentally is long since on American sanctions list, so does not have much to lose from this personally.

  13. nope, there are not lots of people with the title of “Putin’s chef”

    This may be true, but it is wholly unrelated to anything I’ve written.

    This is not some petty corruption scandal, but a “national security” level as the thugs running Russia understand it.

    Again, you don’t really understand the place. Borodin is more likely to have been killed because his reporting would make ordinary Russians question why their tax monies are being spent on mercenaries in Syria, thus potentially disrupting a lucrative money-spinner for Wagner’s owners and employees, than anything to do with “national security”.

  14. @Tim

    “wholly unrelated to anything I’ve written”

    Au contraire. You point out that remote branches of the tree rooted at Putin are as deadly as the root and can move on their own. This is true. But Wagner is not one of those remote branches, and until we learn that the murdered journo also exposed some local gang in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, there is not much reason to widen the circle of suspects in this particular case.

  15. You point out that remote branches of the tree rooted at Putin are as deadly as the root and can move on their own. This is true. But Wagner is not one of those remote branches

    Outfits like Wagner are absolutely stuffed to the gills with remote branches. You seem to think Russian organisations are run with the internal discipline of the Yakuza.

  16. @Tim

    “his reporting would make ordinary Russians question”

    This shows you might be the one who does not understand the place. Ordinary Russians do not have any mechanism to question anything at this level. Not by a long shot.

  17. This shows you might be the one who does not understand the place.

    Heh, okay.

    Ordinary Russians do not have any mechanism to question anything at this level.

    If you think ordinary Russians are not asking why they are involved in Syria, especially as regards how much it is costing, you don’t know many of them.

  18. @Tim

    “If you think ordinary Russians are not asking”

    Of course they are, the smarter of them anyways. In their kitchens. Just as their grandparents did, some even under Stalin, as seen in the numerous “donos” of that era.

    But the overwhelming number of them know it is not their place in the hierarchy to raise such questions, and they do have a natuaral sense of hierarchy: it is an evolutionary trait in Russia. “Kazhdy sverchok znai svoi shestok”. The journo was an exception which shows why it is an evolutionary trait.

    “you don’t know many of them”

    Unfortunately I do.

  19. Russia suffered under socialism for 70 odd years. That poison killed 60 million. Hardly surprising then that murder is still a way of life over there. It will take a long time for that to change.

    Moral: Piss on socialism and avoid it at all costs.

  20. Now this is a much better example:

    I saw that. Say what you like about Russians, their dark humour is splendid.

  21. @Tim,

    “their dark humour is splendid”

    I agree. When their comedian Zadornov joked that the MH-17 fell down because it was heavier than air, there hardly was anyone inside that concert hall who was not laughing. But I still suspect you cannot fully savour all the humorous nuance until it is your loved ones they blow up.

  22. I still suspect you cannot fully savour all the humorous nuance until it is your loved ones they blow up.

    Pretty much, yes. It arose from the times when their loved ones were being silenced, imprisoned, and killed. If you don’t get that, you won’t get the humour.

    And no, that “joke” by Zadarnov is not an example of it.

  23. Litvinenko, Skripal – operations on foreign soil using scarce and very deadly stuff – very likely cleared at Putin level. From the way the press is reporting the UK getting the rest of the West to fall in line over sanctions re Skripal, the Russians see the UK as a serious Power. Therefore not a mission undertaken lightly or by low levels.
    Murdering journalists though is a bit different. Reminds me of what I recall reading about Nazi officials ‘working towards the Fuehrer”. No orders were given or needed to be given. If the officials went too far they might be reprimanded, but not seriously. Under Stalin it was following the General line. I expect murdering journalists is something that underlings or gangs would do, knowing that the authorities wouldn’t care.

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