When Putin's Thugs Came for Me

Garry Kasparov:

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.

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6 Responses:

  1. pavel_lishin says:

    My fiance has suggested that we move to Russia - back to Russia, in my case - as a stepping-stone in moving to somewhere else in Europe, and so I can see my family.

    I think that option is becoming less and less attractive.

  2. MrMickS says:

    Many western politicians will look on this development not with anger but with envy. They have to resort to less public methods of suppressing opposition.

    The reality is that Europe cannot oppose Russia without making some tough choices, most notably the loss of power should Russia turn off the gas. As such anything short of armed suppression of peaceful protests with mass death is going to be excused.

    • Even if Russia weren't sitting on Europe's power supply, there's basically fuck-all to be done anyway. External influence is something that happens to countries with no nukes, no navy and no ICBMs. Remember: the Tiananmen Square massacre happened when China was still essentially a 3rd-world basket case. The west can deliver as many petitions to Putin's door as it likes: he'll be delighted at the endless supply of free toilet paper.

      • Anonymous Coward says:

        Yup. Russia know that neither trade sanctions nor military intervention are sensible options for anyone to take against them. So nobody can credibly threaten them with any consequences worth worrying about.

        So their attitude on any foreign complaints can be summed up by this video:

  3. David Konerding says:

    When I was in college (right after the fall of the Soviet Union), I took a Russian Politics class. It was fascinating. A few days in the teacher asked us, "So do you think that Russia is different now, that it's free?" Everybody in the class said "Yes, they are now a western democracy, or at least on their way".

    The teacher said: "No. Nothing has changed, except a few externally visible aspects which are irrelevant. The government is still a bully, pushing people around with the same old interrogation/fear tactics."

    It seems like things still haven't changed much.

  4. Steen says:

    Man, I was so into Putin when he was the bare-chested bear fighting president, but now that he's the throw punk rockers and intellectuals into jail president he has totally jumped the shark.