News / Europe

Putin's Amnesties: Political Thaw or PR Stunt?

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a meeting on social and economic development in Moscow's Kremlin, Dec. 23, 2013.
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a meeting on social and economic development in Moscow's Kremlin, Dec. 23, 2013.
James Brooke
On Friday, it was President Vladimir Putin’s archnemesis, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. On Monday, it was two women from the Pussy Riot protest group. Later this week, it could be the turn of Greenpeace activists to fly to freedom.

Snow covers much of Russia in December, but some people are asking: are we seeing a political thaw in Putin’s Russia?

Olympic charm offensive

Carnegie Moscow analyst Masha Lipman said no. She tied the release of Russian political prisoners to the Winter Olympics, which Russia will host in six weeks.

“In the months leading to the Sochi Olympics, Russia was facing a stream of negative publicity,” said Lipman. “And it seems this was becoming a matter of concern for the Kremlin, especially as leaders of very important countries - such as the United States, and France, and now, Britain - said they were not coming.”

The jailing of the Greenpeace activists and of the Pussy Riot performers provoked protests across Europe and the United States. The 26 foreign Greenpeace activists came from 18 different countries, a multinational mix that guaranteed world press attention. They are now out on bail, but  hoping that an amnesty will free them from charges stemming from their protest two months ago near Russia’s sole offshore oil rig in the Arctic.

Despite the releases, foreign sales of Olympics tickets are soft, and major foreign leaders are not lining up to attend the February 7 opening ceremonies.

“The releases of Khodorkovsky and the Pussy Riot women were meant, at least in part, as elements of a charm offensive. It is not working so easily and so promptly,” said Lipman.
  • A combination photo shows Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) and Maria Alyokhina (R) speaking to the media after they were released from prison, Dec. 23, 2013. 
  • Nadezhda Tolokonnikova gestures as she leaves prison in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Dec. 23, 2013. 
  • Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova speaks to the media after she was released from prison in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Dec. 23, 2013. 
  • Maria Alekhina speaks to the media at the Committee Against Torture after being released from prison in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, Dec. 23, 2013. 
  • Maria Alyokhina, member of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, and her lawyer, Pyotr Zaikin, arrive at the offices of rights group Committee Against Torture after her release from a penal colony in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, Dec. 23, 2013. 
  • Varvara Tolokonnikova, grandmother of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, shows family photos of Nadezhda at her apartment, as she waited for her granddaughter's release from prison, Dec. 21, 2013. 

Khodorkovsky fallout

For Russian politics, the big fish was Khodorkovsky.

For the last decade, he has been seen as a political rival to Vladimir Putin. Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky had started to build a political base and to promote democracy, just when Putin was starting to take Russia down its current authoritarian path.

“He grew just so big, so influential, an actor with such influence, that he became a rival to the state itself,” said Lipman.

Now in exile in Germany, Khodorkovsky said he does not want to return to politics.

Politics of economics?

Indeed, Tony Brenton, a former British ambassador to Russia, said Khodorkovsky’s release had less to do with politics, and more to do with economics.

From Britain, he said “Liberals in the admin have been saying to Putin, ‘Look, economic growth has fallen quite dramatically. One reason why that has happened is because Western investors, outside investors, are put off by lots of things in our system. The symbol of what is wrong with the system, the symbol of the pliable judicial system and the predatory state, is Khodorkovsky,’” said Brenton.

Inside Russia, Khodorkovsky’s release has been hailed by economic modernizers, such as former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, a close friend of Putin.

Brenton does not believe that Khodorkovsky’s release means that President Putin plans to move Russia to a more competitive political system. He predicts that controls on dissent will remain in place.

“They can put on a rather good façade of running a democracy, but I don’t believe there is really any intention that it be any more than a façade,” said Brenton who served as ambassador here until 2008.

Indeed, many analysts believe that by releasing his archrival, Putin is sending out a signal that he feels secure in power.

Carnegie’s Lipman said of Russia’s leader: “As a monarch, he demonstrated he has the right to punish - and to pardon.”

Khodorkovsky, the Pussy Riot protesters, and the Greenpeace activists are expected to keep criticizing Russia’s authoritarian system. But, President Putin evidently feels confident to sail on by, without changing course.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John
December 28, 2013 7:20 AM
Greenpeace is, in effect, an arm of the Russian state. Greenpeace has destroyed the coal and nuclear industries in Europe, and left the EU dependent on Russian gas. Remember Schroeder, instrumental in achieving this, rewarded with a nice cushy sinecure in Gazprom. The other releases are merely a means to cover up the necessary release of the activists vital to the economic well-being of Russia.


by: William from: UK
December 24, 2013 8:07 AM
Yes, Putin is the better man to run Russia, the rest of the world aka USA and the UK have big problems with their own economies and would very much enjoy strippi g Russia of its assets. All this news on pussy riot .... The press must think the public (especially the UK) is really dumb. The UK is heading towards disaster with its own economy, it will be interesting to see how it will cope when the EU will apply a transaction tax. The UK applies its own tax on transactions happening in the city of London. This tax adds nearly 30% to the UK GDP. They receive this tax as they are supposed to act as police men in the city of London and banks transaction. The UK have allowed many transactions through that could be questionable just so they do not have a drop in GDP. So all this about pussy riot is only a smoke screen.


by: duncan from: londom
December 24, 2013 7:08 AM
Gosh the UK and US go on and on about pussy riot. Putin has a very big country to run and he is trying to look after all his people not just the rich. Putin is doing a very good job. How would the USA feel were he to keep badgering them on their human rights and the way they do things. Both the US and UK are using Russia as a distraction. If they had their way they would strip Russia of all its oil and other assets then go out of their was so as we never read about Russia in the press again. Pussy Riot are puppets and it is the USA pulling the strings. Pussy riot are a disgrace.


by: Eric from: USA
December 23, 2013 5:51 PM
Putin wants to put on a pretty face!!DO NOT TRUST!!


by: Anarcissie from: NYC, U$$A
December 23, 2013 4:09 PM
Putin can afford to be generous. He defeated the US in the Iran games, the Syria games, and apparently in the Ukraine games. The pardons or amnesties are neither a thaw nor a publicity stunt; they are a celebration.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid