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Gazeta Wyborzca Interview with Robert Amsterdam

The following is a translation of an interview by the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborzca with Robert Amsterdam:

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Markelov a victim of Putin’s regime

The lawlessness built in Russia by Vladimir Putin is to be blamed for Stanislav Markelov’s death. A system where you can’t count on police and prosecutors to conduct an honest inquiry and track down the killers.

Interview with Robert Amsterdam

Tomasz Bielecki: Did you know Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer killed last week in the centre of Moscow together with Anastasia Baburova, the journalist from “Novaya Gazeta”?

Robert Amsterdam: Novaya Gazeta’s journalist Anna Politkovskayaintroduced him to me as one of the bravest lawyers in Russia. He showedme the internal instructions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, whichhe managed to acquire. They permitted building filtration camps for”dangerous individuals” all over Russia, similar to those created inChechnya after the war. These kinds of camps were built during the timeof the pogrom in Blagoveshchenk in Bashkiria (where the policeillegally arrested and beat up hundreds of innocent citizens inDecember 2004). The latter was made public thanks to Politkovskaya andMarkelov. Today they’re both dead.

Who could be responsible for Markelov’s murder?

I don’t know. He was working on many dangerous cases, connected withcrimes both in Chechnya and outside the Caucasus. What I know is thatthe lawlessness built in Russia by Vladimir Putin is to be blamed forStanislav Markelov’s death. We’re talking about a system, when youcan’t count on both police and prosecutors to conduct an honest inquiryand track down the killers. Russian police is capable only offabricating evidence.

Every time a human rights spokesman is killed, we have to guesswhich investigator is sabotaging the inquiry, and which is simplycompletely incompetent and lazy. None of the uncomfortable activistsand lawyers are safe in today’s Russia.

Is the lawlessness helping Putin?

He’s using the lawlessness the same way Hugo Chavez does inVenezuela. They both get support from helpless citizens, who feel moreinsecure every day. Watching murders and thefts, they fear acatastrophe. To prevent it they accept the offer of an authoritarianLeviathan: they give up their freedom for the promise of survival.

In Russia people believe that without Putin’s regime chaos willincrease and that is why they support the system. If they ever feltsafer, they would start pondering the truth about their leader.

Many people were expecting that Medvedev’s presidency will bring a thaw in Russian policy. We witness new murders instead.

I wouldn’t give up on Medvedev just yet. Russia isn’t a monolith andPutin certainly doesn’t control all the strings. Different groups existwithin Russian elite and although it’s impossible to see it on theoutside, Kremlin’s clans keep fighting each other.

I’m not sure how is it going to turn out, but you can’t forget thatMedvedev has a different upbringing and life history than Putin, who isrooted in the Soviet special services.

The truth is that there are many politicians on Kremlin, who would like to see Russia turn West. That lets us keep our hope.

Do Kremlin’s liberals have a chance to win?

Markelov’s death may be read as a signal of two things. Firstlythere are many dark and deadly groups in Russia, who either kill oraccept the murder of their political opponents. Secondly, and this issomewhat hopeful, those groups don’t feel entirely safe, they areafraid of changes, they lack guarantees of complete immunity. If theybelieved that every single judge and every prosecutor will absolvethem, why would they kill an uncomfortable lawyer?

Is Obama a new chance, or rather a threat for Kremlin?

Barack Obama is Kremlin’s worst nightmare. For years Russianauthorities were scaring citizens with Americans. This was one of thesources of their popularity.

Obama, who is widely viewed as a friendly democrat, absolutely can’tbe used as a threat. I believe that the fall of oil prices and the lackof hawks in the White House could result in a serious crisis of Putin’spropaganda. Lets hope that new situation will help the democrats.

When will Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom you have represented for years, leave his camp for freedom?

That depends entirely on the political configuration on Kremlin, not on courts. That’s why I prefer not to speculate.

Interviewed by Tomasz Bielecki

Robert Amsterdam is a Canadian lawyer and human rights activist. Herepresents Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former owner of YUKOS. In 2005Khodorkovsky was sentenced to eight years of prison for tax evasion.The true reason for this severe sentence is the fact that he was apolitical competitor to Vladimir Putin.