Lev Ponomarev: Is Putin deciding to break links with civil society? (Echo of Moscow)

posted 9 Dec 2013, 11:48 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Dec 2013, 11:55 ]
6 December 2013

Lev Ponomarev

Source: Echo of Moscow

Many people have already commented on what Vladimir Putin said about the future amnesty: "I want to say that this amnesty can only apply to people, who have not committed serious crimes crimes involving violence against representatives of the authorities, meaning primarily, of course, representatives of law enforcement authorities." Putin made these remarks at a meeting with the federal human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, and the head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov. Putin had instructed the Human Rights Council back in September to prepare draft a bill for the Duma on the amnesty.

Putin’s words have already been widely interpreted to mean that either all of the Bolotnaya prisoners, or either a large proportion of them – those to whom in addition to the mythical riots have been attributed no less mythical violence against riot police and police officers on 6th May 2012 has been attributed - will not be covered by the amnesty.

I assume that Putin is aware no less than I am that no riots took place on 6th May and that the evidence in support of the charges against the Bolotnaya prisoners is either questionable or just downright vague.

But I cannot exclude the possibility those who surround Putin, especially those in the security and law enforcement agencies, have created such a distorted picture of events that he has come to believe that on 6th May at Bolotnaya a storming of the Kremlin had been planned, and that the defendants actually did beat the police. It may be that such a picture of the world is more comforting for him, since it is built on the notion of a conspiracy. But such comfort often plays a cruel joke. Take for example the real events from the dramatic year of 1991. Straight after the tragedy in Vilnius in January all the time there were huge protests taking place in Moscow. In response, Gorbachev brought troops into Moscow. He then had to quickly recall them. But the trust between him and the reformers was already irreversibly destroyed. After this Gorbachev found himself alone face to face with the future members of the State Committee for Emergency Situations.

Why did Gorbachev do this? Maybe his speech of the spring of 1991 gives an explanation, when, addressing workers in Moscow’s Frunzensky district, he said roughly the following: “The security services have told me that Democratic Russia has instructed the co-operators working under their control to make rope ladders to storm the walls of the Kremlin.” This was published in one of the leading newspapers, either Izvestiya or Pravda, I don’t remember. I read this and was simply struck dumb. We even began to prepare a lawsuit, but then we didn’t have time as the dramatic events began to unfold. Later in a conversation with former member of the politburo of the CPSU, Aleksandr Nikolaevich Yakovlev, I asked him: What was all that about? Because if it wasn’t true, then, all the more they should have brought criminal charges against Democratic Russia. He answered: “But I saw the report denouncing Democratic Russia signed by Kruchkov on Gorbachev’s table, where it was all written in black and white.”

If Gorbachev had not believed this outright nonsense, and of course there was more than one of these false reports, if he had fired the chair of the KGB who was disinforming him on purpose, cooperation between Gorbachev and civil society would have been possible, and the political situation would not have developed so dramatically.

Putin’s decision about the fate of the prisoners of 6th May will be a political decision, and at the same time fateful. And not just for the country, but for him personally.

We all understand that even if half of these completely innocent people end up behind bars, then everyone will know that they are victims of overt political reprisals. Society won’t accept a cunning compromise involving the release of some and the imprisonment of others. An outcome of that kind would be perceived as a manifestation of evil-minded vengefulness, like spitting in an outstretched hand. And with that all attempts at real dialogue between civil society and the authorities would become impossible.

Our country’s economy is weakening, interethnic relations in different regions, including the capital, are becoming more and more aggravated. The political crisis that erupted two years ago has not been overcome, including the crisis of legitimacy of the government. None of these challenges can be resolved separately by the authorities or by society. We need, if not joint action, then at least agreement. Under these conditions the final rupture between the Kremlin and civil society would be be very dangerous for the country as a whole.

Translated by Chloe Cranston