OMG! Are we Actually Winning?
This blog experienced a watershed moment after Russia’s invasion of Georgia, when we suddenly became conventional wisdom after having been accused of extremism for several years. Actually, the real turning point had been marked a bit earlier, when as the Russian stock market began to sputter we were cited by the prestigious mainstream publication the New York Review of Books.
It’s tempting to think that now as the year draws to a close we may be experiencing a second watershed moment, in which our policies actually begin to score tactical victories in battle against the Kremlin. Our first great victory came when we drove the story of Oleg Kozlovsky into the mainstream press, winning not only major news stories in the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune but also a precious op-ed column for Kozlovsky in the Post, which then blossomed into a major human rights award and blogging on the Huffington Post blog. In the wake of this coverage, Kozlovsky’s illegal internment in the Russian army was reversed.
And now, we’ve seen a stunning series of further sharp raps on the Kremlin’s boney knuckles.
- A bill that had been moving through the Russian Duma to shut down critical websites as “extremist” was pulled back.
- After seeking to hide the Politkovskaya murder trial from the public, the court was forced to reverse itself after a defiant juror exposed the dishonest justification it had made for its order.
- Khodorkovsky associate Vasily Alexanyan was released from prison after mass outcry over his barbaric persecution. An online petition calling for similar justice for another Khodorkovsky minion, Svetlana Bakhmina, drew nearly 100,000 signatures of support.
- Kremlin critic Andrei Piotkovsky was acquitted on all charges of extremism after flouting the Kremlin’s power by returning to Russia to confront the charges.
- In a recent editorial, we linked to a number of reports showing voices being raised against the Putin regime in the Russian media, focussing on a moment of opportunity caused by the regime’s helpless response to the economic crisis. Even President-Elect Barack Obama got in on the wave, issuing a stern rebuke of Russia’s aggressio in Georiga and brutally undercutting the Kremlin’s attempt to point the finger of blame at Georgia in the Western press based on OSCE leaks.
Yikes! Are we actually winning?
No, we’re not. Our editorial also reported on another bold attack on the Kremlin, by the leading Russian human rights organization Memorial — which was organizing a boycott of a sham NGO conference the Kremlin was orchestrating to create the illusion of civil society. But it also noted that no sooner had Memorial launched this effort than its offices were raided by a gang of the Kremlin’s masked thugs and shut down indefinitely. Nobody rushed to the aid of Memorial in its hour of need. And though the Internet bill has been temporarily defeated, for all we know it was pulled back because the Kremlin decided it was not brutal enough. A bill to remove the right to trial by jury for those accused of seeking to “overthrow” the Putin regime continues to sail merrily through the legislative process.
But the events are still significant. They don’t mean we are winning, but they do mean we could be winning if a concerted effort was made both within and without Russia to defy the clan of KGB spies now roosting in the Kremlin. They have been betrayed as weak and utterly clueless when faced with economic setbacks, and the opportunity is clearly there for a courageous movement to unseat them.
They mean that what we are doing is not in vain.