Indeed, it would take the unlikely appearance of similar videos from a host of other Russian penal colonies to prove widespread abuse. The case of 17 sadists in a single Yaroslavl colony does not reflect well on the system, but it is a manageable setback. The authorities can pass it off as a one-time failure, a chance excess.

Criminal charges have been brought against the offenders, they have been suspended from their jobs and one or more may even be arrested – although their exact status remains unclear. But the Yaroslavl scandal has shed light on a tiny patch of a huge dark area of Russian society, and what remains beyond the edges of that spotlight will now become the focus of the usual attempts at obfuscation.

Selective justice is, if not the very foundation of Russian law enforcement, then at least the key principle by which the authorities can apply the law exclusively for their own benefit while remaining immune to it themselves. For Yevgeny Makarov, the man being tortured in the Yaroslavl video, the punishment of his assailants will still be a victory for justice – very good news given current conditions in Russia.

However, his lucky victory calls to mind someone who has won the lottery: it might be a windfall for him, but it does nothing to help anyone else. The video from Yaroslavl Penal Colony 1 has only changed the lives of those lucky or unlucky enough to be captured on screen. For the rest of Russia, life continues as before.

Oleg Kashin is an opposition-leaning Russian journalist, formerly of Kommersant, who writes a weekly column at, where a Russian-language version of this op-ed was first published. The views and opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.