Please recall from prior exposition, that our intrepid hero Alexei Navalny has launched a media attack against a federal official of the Russian Federation, namely Chief Prosecutor Yury Chaika. Whose name in Russian (“chaika“) means “seagull”. Hence, I chose to “stage” this story as a literary allusion, combining elements of Chekhov’s play “Chaika”, along with Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Although I realized yesterday, that I could have also melded in elements of Wagner’s “Parsifal”. With Konstantin Treplev aka Alexei Navalny in the role of the Holy Fool Parsifal, who brings down a Royal Bird with his bow and arrow. Except that Navalny is neither Holy nor a Fool, which is where that analogy breaks down.
Anyhow… In a nutshell, Navalny charges that Chaika has used his high station in life to provide “krysha” to assorted but connected criminal gangs. The Russian word “krysha” (крыша) literally means “roof”, as in the roof of a house, but in this expanded use, it means much the same as the American gangster term “protection”. According to Navalny, Chaika is connected to these criminal gangs by blood (Chaika’s sons Artem and Igor); and also by his official life, one of the main cast of characters being the alleged gang moll Olga Lopatina, ex-wife of Chaika’s second-in-command, Gennady Lopatin.
Got all that? Good. Then let’s go on.
Director’s Notes, Or “Who Was That Little Man Behind the Curtain?”
This piece written by Sergei Smirnov in Moscow, gives some biographical background on Yury Chaika. Chaika was born in 1951 in a small town called Nikolaevsk-on-Amur, in the Siberian Far East, neighboring with China. Chaika’s grandfather had been a Cossack officer who died (fighting on the wrong side) in the Russian Civil War. His son, Yury Chaika’s father, was sent with a Komsomols corps to the Far East to build the town of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Later, Chaika Sr. rose in local politics, to become Secretary of the Nikolaevsk city branch of the Communist Party. Yury’s mom worked as a schoolteacher her whole life. Hence, Yury came from a busy and successful Communist family, living and working in this remote region of the country.
Young Yury could not immediately decide what he wanted to do with his life; he spent two years in a ship-building technicum (his town being a river port), but then quit. For a year he worked as an electrician in a ship-building factory. Then quit that, and joined the army. In 1972, at the age of 21 he finally left Komsomolsk and moved to the city of Sverdlovsk, where he was admitted to law school.
Under the Soviet system of free higher education, students, upon graduating, might be required to “serve” for a few years in a location, not necessarily of their own choice. Chaika was sent to do his public service in the Irkutsk region, and ended up in the small town of Tayshet, where he worked in the capacity of local Prosecutor. Chaika’s most notable experience there was putting down a prisoner mutiny in 1979. Five convicts were killed in the course of the prison riot.
Rising slowly in the ranks, by 1984 Chaika had become Head of the Investigative branch of the East Siberian Transport Authority, but then put that on hold to become more involved in Party business, in the Irkutsk branch of the CPSU. In 1986 he returned to the Prosecutor office, with a promotion to First Deputy Prosecutor for the Irkutsk oblast. But Chaika continued to switch back and forth between Prosecutor and Party posts right up until 1990.
In the early 1990’s Chaika continued to switch back and forth between the East-Siberian Transport Office and serving as criminal Prosecutor for Irkutsk Oblast. In those years of the “wild 90’s” after the collapse of the Soviet economy, the main task for law enforcement authorities was fighting against organized crime.
Is Chaika A Dirty Cop?
However, as can be expected in such a lawless society, during the Yeltsin years where corruption was built into the system from top to bottom, there were many allegations of collaboration between law enforcement and organized crime. Chaika’s record was mostly spotless, except for some whispered allegations about his friendship with a couple of bandits, the Brothers Kozdoevy. Later, these allegations resurfaced many years later in connection with Yury Chaika’s son, Artem. For example, Navalny charges that Artem and the Brothers Kozdoevy set up several businesses together.
At the same time, Yury Chaika himself is noted for being the first Prosecutor in Russia to employ the statute “banditism” in prosecuting criminals. Up until then, law enforcement agencies did not want to admit the existence of Organized Crime in the Russian Federation.
Criminal activity during the Yeltsin period was different, both quantitatively and qualitatively, from that of the Soviet period. In the Soviet period, criminal gangs were mostly just wandering outlaws and known cutthroats, in and out of jail. During the Yeltsin period, criminals took all the best jobs and merged seamlessly into the new capitalist elite.
The real issue here is whether or not Chaika is “dirty”. And please be aware that the bar for “dirty”, especially for any official coming to prominence during the Yeltsin years, is set very high. Let’s stipulate that the Corrupto-meter is calibrated, speaking in American terms, somewhere in the range between Eliot Ness and Tony Soprano.
There are those who claim to have discovered against Yury Chaika “kompromat“, another Russian word which means exactly what it sounds like. For example, there was a criminal gang working directly inside the Irkutsk Prosecutors Office. This gang was led by a man named Nikolai Nebudchikov. He and Chaika at one point had worked together on a case involving a serially-killing sex-maniac. Later Nebudchikov started his own “private detective agency”, doubling as a quasi-political movement, which was actually a criminal gang. This gang called themselves the “Siberian Liberation Movement”. They engaged in gang wars against Gruzian organized crime elements, and like typical mobsters also staged hits and were responsible for several mob-related killings. The gang included several former employees of the Prosecutor Office. Chaika closed the case against them, and ill-wishers speculated that he (Chaika) and Nebudchikov enjoyed a close personal friendship.
In addition, Yury Skuratov, who headed Russia’s General Prosecutor Office from 1995 to 1999, claimed in an interview to the New York Times (2007) that he had in his possession “kompromat” against his subordinate, Yury Chaika, and was convinced that the man was dirty. Others have also alleged that Chaika took bribes, for example a Longines gold watch, and the like. Or that he allegedly skimmed off a million dollars from money that was supposed to go into the construction of a Law Faculty in Irkutsk. But all of this is mostly a whisper campaign, and mostly conducted by the usual propaganda outlets of the “Opposition” and their foreign mouthpieces. So I honestly don’t know how much weight to give to any of this. Much of this whisper campaign about Chaika’s past life in Irkutsk seems to come from Skuratov himself. Chaika worked as Skuratov’s Deputy, was not particularly loyal to him, and eventually took his job, when Skuratov was forced out, on the orders of Boris Yeltsin himself.
So, is this all about cut-throat office politics? Is Yury Chaika actually a white and fluffy lamb? Or is he a dirty rotten apple? And if dirty, was he just a little bit dirty, or a lot dirty? I myself do not know the answer to these questions.
Chaika Survives and Thrives in the Putin Years
Yury Chaika was supposedly on the verge of being fired from his job, based on various scandals, when in August of 1999 his bacon was saved by Putin’s appointment to Prime Minister. Putin asked Chaika to head up the Justice Ministry of the newly formed government. From this point on, his career stabilized, and in 2006 he was appointed General Prosecutor, taking the post previously occupied by Vladimir Ustinov. In his new role, Chaika assisted Putin’s reorganization of the Federal government and formed the “Investigative Committee” under himself. The Head of the Investigative Committee was appointed Alexander Bastrykin. Bastrykin and Chaika are said to be rivals and have been known to feud with each other, even in public. Office Politics, once again, and so the Great Soap Opera continues…
Act III: Ophelia Belts Out “Hey Nonny Hey Nonny o”
Bad Boy Bandit Leader Artem Chaika joins our cast, also doubling as Laertes. Laertes and Hamlet just go at it against each other, with dueling sabres. Office politics in its purest form!
Hamlet is in poor physical shape. He himself admits to his mom that he needed to join WeightWatchers: “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
thaw and resolve itself into a dew!”
Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, just like Konstantin’s mom Arkadina, is unsympathetic and castrating. She comments on her son cattily, that: “He’s fat, and scant of breath.”
Laertes, who is leaner and has 6-pack abs, and also has a nicer mom, even though she’s dead, handily wins the duel and kills Hamlet with his poisoned foil.
So, in the actual Chekhov play:
Act III involves a shocking attempted suicide. Rejected by his true love Nina, the clinically depressed Konstantin attempted to shoot himself in the head – but missed. Learning nothing from this experience, Konstantin continues to carry a torch for Nina, while being subtly rejected by both Mother and would-be girlfriend.
Rubbing it in unconscionably, Nina continues to ignore Konstantin and flirt with the Svengali-like Trigorin. Thus putting herself in the same class of “unrequited flame” as Griboedov’s Sofia Pavlovna.
[to be continued]