Chess Players & Pussy Riot

I stood in a doorway and took questions from journalists. Suddenly, I was dragged away by a group of police–in fact carried away with one policeman on each arm and leg. The men refused to tell me why I was being arrested and shoved me into a police van. When I got up to again ask why I had been detained, things turned violent. I was restrained, choked and struck several times by a group of officers before being driven to the police station with dozens of other protesters. After several hours I was released, but not before they told me I was being criminally investigated for assaulting a police officer who claimed I had bitten him.

It would be easy to laugh at such a bizarre charge when there are already so many videos and photos of the police assaulting me. But in a country where you can be imprisoned for two years for singing a song, laughter does not come easily. My bruises will heal long before the members of Pussy Riot are free to see their young children again. In the past, Mr. Putin’s critics and enemies have been jailed on a wide variety of spurious criminal charges, from fraud to terrorism.

But now the masks are off. Unlikely as it may be, the three members of Pussy Riot have become our first true political prisoners.

Such a brazen step should raise alarms, but the leaders of the Free World are clearly capable of sleeping through any wake-up call. If this was all business as usual for the Putin justice system, the same was true for the international reaction. A spokesman for the Obama administration called the sentence “disproportionate,” as if the length of the prison term were the only problem with open repression of political speech. The Russian Constitution is freely available online, but this was a medieval show trial with no connection to the criminal code.

Mr. Putin is not worried about what the Western press says, or about celebrities tweeting their support for Pussy Riot. These are not the constituencies that concern him. Friday, the Russian paper Vedomosti reported that former Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann could be put in charge of managing the hundreds of billions of dollars in the Russian sovereign wealth fund. As long as bankers and other Western elites eagerly line up to do Mr. Putin’s bidding, the situation in Russia will only get worse.

If officials at the U.S. State Department are as “seriously concerned” about free speech in Russia as they say, I suggest they drop their opposition to the Magnitsky Act pending in the Senate. That legislation would bring financial and travel sanctions against the functionaries who enact the Kremlin’s agenda of repression. Mouthing concern only reinforces the fact that no action will be taken.

Mr. Putin could not care less about winning public-relations battles in the Western press, or about fighting them at all. He and his cronies care only about money and power. Today’s events make it clear that they will fight for those things until Russia’s jails are full.

(via)

Back in February we mused over whether Pussy Riot might signal Putin’s downfall.

We were wrong, of course.

But hopefully only in the short term.

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4 Replies to “Chess Players & Pussy Riot”

  1. Majority of people agreed with the sentence. Protesters are irrelevant, even if they have Western support. Putin knows this, West knows this. Berlin Wall didn’t fall because Reagan told Gorbachev to tear it down. Putin will leave when he feels like it.

    1. Majority of people agreed with the sentence.”

      that’s inexpressably sad. probably true, though. i was hoping for a sino-russin versian of the ‘arab spring’…

        1. no, the sort of ‘spring’ that alters for the better a scared government that jails a band (for 2 years) for performing an ad hoc protest concert.

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