Spectacular car crashes are making news in Russia these days. Most of them involve vehicles of people in positions of authority or privilege. Another recent incident has turned into a major scandal after police ordered drivers into harm's way on a busy Moscow highway. The Internet is helping raise questions about the judgment and integrity of officials behind a wave of Russian road accidents.
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The list of Russia law enforcement officials involved in traffic accidents continues to grow. On Wednesday, a Moscow police officer was accused of damaging three cars while driving without a license. The same day, a policeman in the town of Sergeyev Posad hit an 11-year-old boy in a pedestrian crossing. In February, an allegedly drunken police officer struck a woman while driving on a sidewalk in central Moscow. In the city of Voronezh, also in February, a policeman involved in a deadly hit and run accident was arrested after witnesses reported his license number. Last year, three off-duty police sergeants were fired for drunken driving on Red Square.
In yet another scandal, traffic police last week ordered several drivers to remain in their cars and to park across Moscow's Outer Ring Road in an attempt to stop an armed criminal. He rammed through the vehicles. Police initially refused to compensate the drivers for damages, saying the fugitive escaped. A hearing about the incident in Parliament on Thursday revealed that Moscow police have spikes normally used to puncture the tires of suspected criminals. The incident, now called the Human-Shield Affair, came to light only after one of the drivers, Stanislav Sutyagin, complained on YouTube. He says police parked their cars behind those of the dragooned civilians.
Sutyagin says he or his friend could have died if the criminal had hit them differently. He adds that the fugitive could have opened fire, exposing everyone to danger. He asks if perhaps their lives are worthless in Russia. Could it be, Sutyagin wonders, if authorities aren't spitting on the fact that there are real people driving in cars.
"Direct conflict with society"
Sociologist Stepan Lvov told VOA that Russian law enforcement officials are in direct conflict with society, adding that human life in Russia was devalued by the country's Soviet experience.
Lvov says that when Russians lived in the Soviet Union, people were cogs in a huge machine and could not defend their personal, economic, civic and other rights. Those rights, he says, was repressed and restrained, and today Russians can only count on themselves, because of the notion of man as a wolf has spread and afflicted the entire country.
Speaking at a parliamentary hearing on Thursday, Moscow's chief traffic cop, General Sergei Kazantsev, said his subordinates kept him in the dark about the Human Shield Affair.
Kazantsev says he was at work on the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth of March. He says he attended a government meeting on the ninth and returned to his office at two PM and only then did he learn that the Internet was ablaze with information about the incident.
People in positions of privilege have also been crashing cars. In November, the children of affluent Russians visiting Switzerland struck and seriously injured a retiree during a street race in a rented Lamborghini; the daughter of a senior official in Siberia raised an outcry when a surveillance camera showed her checking damage to her vehicle instead of attending to the two pedestrians she hit - one was killed, the other paralyzed; two women died in Moscow last month in a head-on collision with the chauffeur driven Mercedes carrying the vice president of the Lukoil energy company.
Numerous witnesses say the chauffeur was at fault. Photos and video of the accident posted on the Internet show Lukoil's large and heavy Mercedes well across the center line beside the small Citroen it collided with. Nonetheless, police blamed the dead driver.
Despite the Internet and public outrage, sociologist Lvov says no one is likely to face serious punishment, because police and elites in Russia enjoy official protection. He adds that ordinary Russians frustrated by the injustice vent their anger at anyone who aspires to a better life to the detriment of everyone except the elites.
Lvov says fellow citizens, whom Russians consider to be wealthy, hurt their own images, but they also inflict serious damage to Russia's budding middle class. Its members, he says, are not wealthy individuals, but those who want a bit of security in life.
General Kazantsev belatedly agreed to compensate drivers whose cars were damaged after police put them in harm's way. He also awarded certificates, but driver Sutyagin refused to accept his. He said had no choice but to follow police orders. On the Internet, Sutyagin says next time will pay a $10.00 fine for disobeying such orders, which is better than risking his life and property.