Garry Kasparov: The persecution of dissenters and opponents after the Olympics will only accelerate.
The news of the sudden release of Russia’s #1 political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave birth to multiple stories explaining the development. Some assumed that it was ordered by Putin to assure the presence of certain world leaders at the Sochi Olympics. Others, meanwhile, attributed religious-mystical character to the decision, viewing it as a sudden burst of compassion that came over Putin himself. Multiple appealers, who spent years trying to sway the Kremlin on the issue, rushed to attribute his release to their tireless efforts.
It so happens that people tend to see a cause and effect connection in places where it doesn’t exist. In cases where such a connection does exist it is often not noticed by outside observers. To determine whether such a connection is actually present, one must rely on two things: experience and common sense. Let’s say that, the day following mass prayer for rain, it actually rains. Some may attribute the phenomenon to the action that preceded it. Relying on experience and common sense, I, however, see only a coincidence. On the other hand, if the announcement of Khodorkovsky’s release is followed by information that the State Department will not expand the list of names under the Magnitsky Act, experience and common sense suggest a connection between these two events. Of course, there are those who will fail to see the connection, but their murky refutations of the claim are unconvincing. Expected publication in December of the expanded list under the Magnitsky Act was supposed to include such “star names” as Alexander Bastrykin. That expansion now seems to be delayed indefinitely.
One must fully understand that criminals understand only the language of force. And if there is anything that can curtail Putin’s unlimited power, it is one thing and one thing only: international pressure.
The unprecedented impunity enjoyed by Putin’s accessories in carrying out criminal orders is guaranteed within Russia. However, they can be made to suffer great discomfort when they cannot access their overseas riches. Of course, one also cannot dismiss the factor of Olympics: on the eve of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Nazis also relaxed some of their policies. One can assume that in this case there was a kind of package deal achieved, in which a whole range of mutual agreements were brokered, most of which will remain secret for the foreseeable future.
I am genuinely happy for Mikhail Borisovich [ed. Khodorkovsky] and his family. The release of an innocent man who spent ten long years behind bars is an important event for all those who tried to bring this moment closer. However, we must not forget that many political prisoners are still in jail, including Khodorkovsky’s partner Platon Lebedev and former YUKOS employee Aleksey Pichugin, who is serving a life sentence. At the end of December, the announcement of a long prison sentence is virtually guaranteed for Daniil Konstantinov. The prospects remain dismal for Sergey Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozhaev, as well as for other suspects in the Bolotnaya Square case.
It is without a doubt that the regime acted under pressure in releasing Khodorkovsky. His release is a personal and political defeat for Putin.
Furthermore, we should analyze the manner in which this information was released. Putin announced the decision to grant clemency to Khodorkovsky not during his press conference, but while he was on his way out. Knowing the habits of this criminal regime, where any concession is treated as a sign of weakness, one can assume with a high degree of certainty that the persecution of dissenters will only accelerate after the Olympics. However, the fact that Khodorkovsky is free will inevitably lead to political instability among Russia’s ruling elites. In the light of growing economic challenges, this might lead to most unpredictable consequences in the near future.