A string of hardline proposals from Russia’s chief investigator

The Bell

Russia is never short of outrageous proposals from officials looking to grab the headlines. But last week was impressive even by those standards, with Russia’s Chief Investigator Alexander Bastrykin rafting off a string of ultra-hardline initiatives he wants the country to adopt. In the space of just three days he hurled abuse at parliamentarians, called for the return of the death penalty, urged for a ban on niqabs on the pretense of combating terrorism, and complained that migrants should not be hired lest they take over Russia with their ideology and religious sites.

  • Alexander Bastrykin, who studied law alongside Vladimir Putin in Leningrad in the 1970s heads Russia’s Investigative Committee, the agency responsible for not only investigating Russia’s most notorious crimes but also bringing cases against the opposition and regime critics. Despite his status as Russia’s chief investigator, Bastrykin himself has been frequently embroiled in scandal. For example, in 2012 his security guards dragged journalist Sergei Sokolov into the woods where Bastrykin personally issued a “grave threat” to his life. Bastrykin allegedly drove one investigator to hospitalization with his criticism and another was reportedly pushed to suicide.
  • Bastrykin was one of the main guests at last week’s three-day Saint Petersburg International Legal Forum (though judging by the program, it wasn’t very international), where he succeeded in whipping up a new scandal almost every time he opened his mouth.
  • On the first day, Bastrykin spoke at length about alleged crimes being carried out in Russia by migrants. He blasted Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, for failing to pass laws to halt what he said was an influx of foreigners to the country. “I’d really like to know when our State Fools will introduce good laws,” Bastrykin said, with a pun on the similarity between the words for parliament (“Duma”) and fool (“Dura”) in Russian. In response, Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said that since deputies were elected by the Russian people, Bastrykin had “insulted the public.” 
  • On the same day the top investigator, notorious for xenophobic remarks, described holders of newly-issued Russian passports from Central Asia as “so-called Russians” and said as many as possible should be sent to the war in Ukraine. Addressing Russian businesses, he urged them to pay higher salaries in order to attract indigenous Russians and not to hire migrants. “They create buildings of their culture, places of worship,” he said. “They physically occupy our territory, not just with their ideology but with specific buildings.”
  • On day two, Bastrykin called for an end to Russia’s moratorium on the death penalty, in place since the mid 1990s. He claimed that in Soviet times criminals were executed for killing two or three people, while those suspected of carrying out the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack — in which more than 140 were killed — will get life imprisonment. He lambasted that prisoners can expect “three meals a day, two-hour walks and medical examinations, including a dentist” — something which requires a “colossal budget.” In order to reinstate the death penalty, some experts say a constitutional amendment may be required, or at the very least a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court. But Bastrykin insisted that the moratorium could be canceled by a simple presidential decree. Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia’s Constitutional Court, dismissed this, saying the moratorium was “unshakeable.”
  • Undeterred, on day three Bastrykin again came out firing, harking back to recent terrorist attacks to urge for an “immediate” ban on wearing the niqab. He said the clothes could be used to conceal “some kind of terrorist sleeper cell.” On this front he was criticized by Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the predominantly Muslim region of Chechnya, who told Bastrykin “not to confuse religion with the extravagant ideas of rabid fanatics and Shaitans.”
  • For an encore, Bastrykin also shared his thoughts on gender issues and how he sees a women’s role in the world. “A man is always right,” he said and spoke of his support for “Domostroy,” a 16th-century code that, among other things, offers advice on how men can “correctly” beat their wife.

Why the world should care

It’s hard to see Bastrykin as an official who is particularly close to Putin. However, several of his previous proposals which seemed appalling at the time have ended up becoming part of Russian legislation. For example, in 2015 Bastrykin suggested abandoning the rule of law in the Russian constitution. Such amendments were adopted in the 2020 changes that enabled Putin to extend his term as president. And in 2018, before the widespread blocking of Western social media outlets following the invasion of Ukraine, he suggested banning Instagram inside Russia.


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