Some insights into the Pussy Riot prosecution

[Our Central European correspondent has some insights into the Pussy Riot prosecution that might be of interest to MTP readers.  This is more of a realpolitik analysis and should not be taken as being against Pussy Riot.]

First and foremost, it is important for Western readers to know that Putin is going after the band for purposes of local consumption.  As much as we might see the world with a geocentric bias toward the West neither Putin nor the Russian people see it that way.  This is a political trial of Russians by Russians and for Russians.  If anything, the backlash from the West will be seen as an affront to Russian sovereignty.  It’s chess, not checkers.

That being said, it is not clear how much the whole thing isn’t actually playing into Putin’s hands.  The recent pre-election demonstrations revealed some interesting alliances (those would be the elections that Putin won despite significant opposition, remember).

Those demonstrations may have demonstrated that Putin has lost the liberal metropolitan elite (not that he ever really had them) and that his key strategic political aim is to strengthen his support with other social groups.

One might say cynically that when the old Soviet Union disintegrated, the Communist Party apparatus was just replaced by the Orthodox Church.  (That would be the church where Pussy Riot staged their 40 second punk protest.)  Since the Church is a large and growing political constituency, Putin likely knows that anything he can do to put him onside with the Church is going to strengthen his hand.

Equally, anything which shows that he is standing up to intimidation from the West  is also going to play to another domestic constituency of Russian nationalists (another growing political constituency) – so the idea that the terrible publicity in the West is a problem for him is not necessarily the case.

Something of a dog whistle in the subcontext of the Pussy Riot prosecution is the message to Putin’s supporters (including the government) that he is not afraid to bring down the State prosecutorial apparatus for even a minor affront.

That message was also confirmed in the recent prosecution of oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky (formerly Russia’s richest man through the Yukos oil company), who was actually prosecuted in Khamovnichesky courthouse, the same Moscow courthouse where Pussy Riot was tried.

On the other hand, both of these trials may have transformed both Pussy Riot and Khodorkovsky from rather sophomoric figures in the larger Russian society into symbols of resistance in  no small part due to eloquent statements made at trial by the defendants.   (I use “trial” guardedly.)

Pawns no more, Pussy Riot may return to the board as larger symbols of freedom at least to Russia’s liberal metropolitan elite.  Whether they do so after a stretch in the gulag, time will tell.  Putin may pardon them (although I doubt it), and the band has said they will decline a pardon.  Westerners probably don’t quite understand how gutsy it is to accept a stretch in any Russian jail when a pardon was offered.  Rather heroic, actually.