Andrei Piontkovsky: The Thaw from Below

andreipiontkovsky120808.jpgIn Washington DC this week I had the opportunity to meet with the political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, the survivor of a political trial, the author of some great books about Russia, and a current analyst for the Hudson Institute.  Among other notable facts, Piontkovsky predicted the current “thaw” between the United States and Russia (at least as expressed by the recent Hagel-Hart initiative), and is arguing that the strange, controversial photograph of Putin meeting Ronald Reagan is a fake. Below I am reposting the text of an article that Piontkovsky published last Dec. 10, 2008 titled “The Thaw from Below” about the outcome of his extremism trial (first published on, then translated by The Other Russia).  Though slightly dated, there are interesting insights into how political cases work that can bring some understanding to the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case and to the situation of freedom of expression under a repressive state.

The significance of the Basmanny court’s December 5, 2008 decision, or more precisely, the Russian Federal Center’s legal expertise which preordained it, goes far beyond the bounds of my case.

The FSB [Federal Security Service] and the prosecutors, armed with a new law on extremism, were trying to hold a show trial and create a precedent of criminal prosecution for criticism of the authorities.

The highly professional and academically reasoned report by Andrei Smirnov, Olga Kukushkina and Yulia Safonova, which found no signs of extremism in my harsh criticism of the country’s president, knocked this “avenging sword” from the hands of the repressive agencies. And for a long time, I hope.

The 34-page text of the report is our small Magna Carta; a charter ofliberties to Russian journalists; a first step to restoring freedom ofspeech in Russia, which was deceitfully stolen from the public by achekist lieutenant colonel who imagined himself the “father of thenation.”

A just-as-important first step to restoring an independent judiciarywas the juror revolt against the judge’s attempt to close theproceedings of the trial against the men accused of killing AnnaPolitkovskaya.

The truth which may ring out in an open process is too dangerous for the authorities.

The “national leader” gained notoriety for two statement he made theday after Anna’s murder. First, struggling to hide his suffocatinghatred for the deceased, he said that she “was an extremelyinsignificant journalist, and her death brought US much greater damagethan all her writings.” Afterwards, deliberately trying to send theinvestigation on a false path, he asserted: “WE know credibly that hermurder was organized by enemies of Russia abroad.”

The investigation, however, did not confirm this version, and on thecontrary, established that the killers were assisted by two teams ofRussian “siloviki” -one from the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] andone from the FSB. In an open process, it should become clear to whatpinnacles of power the tracks of Anna Politkovskaya’s killers lead.

Many observers, especially Western ones, ask the question: don’t thesetwo victories -in the trial against Politkovskaya’s killers and thetrial over Piontkovsky’s books- offer evidence or an indication of thecoming thaw in Russia?

Yes, they do, but not that thaw from above, which adherents of the”liberal successor” theory have been speaking about for almost a year.

This is a thaw from below, which was not triggered by Medvedev the”successor,” but by Kolesov the roofer, and by the scholars, Smirnov,Kukushkina, and Savelova. People who honestly did their duties.

The “successor” wasn’t allowed to pardon Svetlana Bakhmina, and hedidn’t dare do it himself. Even if he was publicly and respectfullyasked by his own spin doctors in the Public Chamber.

The extent of pathological sadism shown by the highest authorities toVasily Aleksanyan and Svetlana Bakhmina is such that is forces one toquestion the mental health of the people who head an atomic superpower.Offering to release the dying Aleksanyan, who has been tortured for twoyears now, for 50 million [rubles] – here’s an example of a “thaw” fromabove that our authorities are capable of.

Someone among the highest-ranked humanists likely had the thought that”the death of this insignificant lawyer in custody will do US moredamage.” As result, they decided that it was worth it, perhaps, to denythemselves the pleasure of continuing his torture.

2009 will become the year of the thaw from below. More and more peoplewill refuse the Nabokovian “Invitation to a Beheading,” will forswearthe game whose rules were given to the public by a chekist kleptocracy.And then the regime will face a dilemma: to move on to massiverepression, or to finally take their chances on a belated thaw fromabove.

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