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Faux-Benevolent Putin to Pardon Former Opponent Khodorkovsky, After 10 Years


12.19.13 Marina Galperina

It was the fanciest PR-move busted by Putin at his annual four-hour press conference a few hours ago, a day after the Pussy Riot bombshell. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s former political opponent and business competitor, will be pardoned, Putin announced.

Widely acknowledged as Russia’s biggest political prisoner, billionaire oil tycoon Khodorkovsky was arrested for various alleged financial crimes at the height of his power, while funding communist and liberal anti-Putin groups. In 2003, he was apprehended by special security forces. The assets of his company Yukos were seized by Kremlin. He was sent to one of the most severe prisons in Siberia, reserved for most violent of criminals and the biggest thorns in Putin’s side.

“He has already been in detention more than 10 years,” Putin told the press. “This is a serious punishment and he is referring to humanitarian circumstances as his mother is ill. I think given the circumstances we can take the decision and very soon the decree to pardon him will be signed.”

When Putin said “серьезное,” he didn’t mean serious as in severe or excessive. It was the substantial enough kind of serious, as in That’ll do, wink wink. You be good now. Putin claims that Khodorkovsky has only just called for a release, “finally” submitting an appeal. Khodorkovsky’s main lawyer denies any such letter being sent recently, reminding of the mass quantity of appeals filed by his client and noted supporters over several years. Khodorkovsky’s son has heard the news, but refuses to comment yet — he is still trying to get in touch with his father.

Putin isn’t simply trying to sanitize his image by dismissing a decade of Khodorkovsky’s show trials and injustices, campaigns and protests.

Khodorkovsky has already served 3708 days in jail. He was expected to serve 248 more. Once Putin signs the pardon, Khodorkovsky will be released immediately. How soon is “very soon?” When Putin’s whim strikes him.

Perhaps he’ll time it to the release of the Greenpeace Arctic 30, as per the freshly passed new amnesty laws. Putin did not condemn the bizarre arrest of the activists, he said that it is a “lesson for anyone who wants to do the same.”

As for infamously imprisoned feminist punk protest band whom Putin can pardon once he signs the Duma-passed amnesty law, Putin said: “I feel sorry for Pussy Riot not for the fact that they were jailed, but for disgraceful behavior that has degraded the image of women.”

Pussy Riot’s image? It’s visual and political culture-jamming, a cheerful, colorful, 40-second protest dance inside a church, the same church the very conservative Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Kirill conducts his national television broadcasts. This had the anti-Putin activist artists sentenced to two years in Siberian jails, via circus-like proceedings as old out-of-towner babushkas — victims of Pussy Riot’s supposed “religious hatred” — cried about being damaged when they heard someone on state-run television spin tales of Pussy Riot pissing naked on the altar.

UPDATE: Pussy Riot’s Maria “Masha” Alekhina told a friend that she will be released tomorrow.

Isn’t it great that Pussy Riot, the Greenpeace Arctic 30, Khodorkovsky and thousands of Russian prisoners affected by the new amnesty laws could soon be pardoned? Yes, but many never should have been in jail in the first place.

What is Putin doing? He is showing off. Putin is proving that he’s had this power to free his prisoners all along, that Putin would decide when.

Overall, there seemed to be little effort made to conceal that the press conference was a being a shit-show with Putin talking in circles about Ukraine and the EU, praising both Snowden and the NSA — all of it being very inconsequential inside Russia’s clusterfuck of cleptogarchy — all the while sprinkling a sugary coat of faux-benevolence on the masses.

But it’s the 20th Anniversary of Russia’s Constitution, 15th anniversary of Putin’s reign and there’re those Putin’s big 50 billion dollar Winter Olympics coming up. This is a good look, right?