Russia has come to the forefront of the news in recent weeks with the arrest and conviction of members of the punk band Pussy Riot. They were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after protesting inside a Moscow cathedral. The media storm and worldwide condemnation this provoked was astonishing, especially for such a little known group. Also arrested at the protests was former World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov.
Since his retirement from professional chess, Kasparov has been at the centre of the protests. He leads the United Civil Front movement, and was thought to be a contender for President in the last election. He was arrested at a protest whilst talking to journalist, and taken for questioning. He has since been released.
Kasparov said that:
“I think it’s a very important day, a historical day, because for the first time in our courts, the evidence of a policeman was not accepted just because he wears a uniform”.
However, when in the context of the Pussy Riot public relations fiasco, is this really what happened? Looking at the facts it seems more likely that the Kremlin doesn’t want another round of international condemnation, and as such decided to release Kasparov. Furthermore it might well be the case that sending him to prison might have deeper consequences than the Pussy Riot case. Kasparov’s worldwide fame and respect for his career in chess, coupled with his prominent position in protest politics might provoke real action. While the UN will be wanting to stay clear of the situation for as long as possible, Kasparov’s followers might step up their protests, thus prolonging the government’s irritation.
Kasparov has been accused of biting the finger of one of the policemen who arrested him. It is still possible that this could lead to a criminal investigation.
It should be kept in mind that, although thousands march the streets in protest, Russia is in no way another ‘Arab Spring’ revolution-in-waiting (beyond the obvious that it isn’t in the Middle East). Yes, there was a revolution in 1917, but it is extremely unlikely now. President Putin is currently trying to cement himself in power again, and will continue his pattern of bringing in regulations that hark back to Soviet era politics. It is clear that the use of force is not something that he will balk from.
The increasing tension between Russia and the West may create more obstacles in issues like Iran’s nuclear program, where Russia (and in this case China) already disagree with the other three permanent members of the UN Security Council (UK, US, and France). As always, keep an eye on the news.