Russia After Boston: A Free Pass on Human Rights?


Amy Knight in the NYRB blog:

The close cooperation between Moscow and Washington on the Boston bombing investigation raises new questions about the issue of human rights in Russia. Revelations that the alleged bombers were two brothers of Chechen origin, and that Russian authorities had warned their American counterparts in 2011 about one of them, the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, has put pressure on the FBI for not adequately following up on the Russian requests. Will the US government now turn a blind eye to Russia’s increasingly brutal crackdown on its own democratic opposition because of overriding concerns about national security, just as it did after 9/11? Will the Kremlin wager that it can get away with its hard-line approach now that, as a result of the Boston attacks, the Obama Administration needs its help in counter-terrorism efforts?

A test case could be the trial of Russian anti-corruption blogger and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. The trial, which began in a district court in the city of Kirov last week has aroused world-wide attention for its blatant political motivations. Long a target of the Kremlin, Navalny has already received two fifteen-day prison sentences in the last eighteen months for involvement in street protests. Now he faces up to ten years in prison on charges of embezzling 16 million rubles (over $500,000) from a state-owned timber company. As with other such prosecutions, it seems a foregone conclusion that Navalny will be found guilty, despite the bogus nature of the charges. It also seems clear that the verdict will be dictated by the Kremlin.

And yet, the Navalny trial—which has adjourned until April 24 so that the defense can study the thirty volumes of case materials submitted by the prosecution—marks a special challenge for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In recent months, the Kremlin has confronted growing economic problems, some of them directly connected to its crackdown on the opposition.