“Something very dark is going on in Russia right now.”

Pussy_Riot_at_Lobnoye_Mesto_on_Red_Square_in_Moscow_-_Denis_BochkarevInterview with author/journalist Marc Bennetts.

By Alexander H. Maurice.

Marc Bennetts is a British journalist based in Moscow since 1997. In Kicking the Kremlin, he takes readers inside the diverse anti-Putin movement. Bennetts has reported from Russia, Iran, and North Korea for The New York Times, CNN, The Times of London, The Guardian, and more. From late 2011 through early 2013, he worked for RIA Novosti (the now-dissolved Russian state-run news agency) as their first English-language correspondent.

The Global Intelligence: With political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky finally freed from jail and applying now to settle in Switzerland, does this signal a new direction for the Kremlin? Or is it merely part of the package of momentary international appeasement around the Sochi winter games?

Marc Bennetts: The freeing of Khodorkovsky and other political prisoners was clearly a PR stunt ahead of the Sochi Olympics. Putin didn’t want his pet project spoiled by awkward questions/protests about Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot, etc. It doesn’t, however, signal any kind of shift in tactics by Putin: he will continue to jail or otherwise “neutralize” anyone he feels is a threat to his power. The release of Khodorkovsky was an indication that Putin believes he has nothing to fear from the former oligarch whose appeal to ordinary Russians is extremely limited.

TGI: What do you make of claims by many, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, that the Kremlin was complicit in the recent police violence in Kiev?

MB: It’s possible. Putin advised then-President Leonid Kuchma to crack down on the Orange Revolution protests in 2004. Kuchma refused. Perhaps Yanukovych was more willing to listen. I don’t think we will find out the whole truth about the massacre in Kiev for a very long time, however, if ever.

TGI: And what about the freeing of the final two members of Pussy Riot? Does that signal any shift in the Kremlin’s position in response to protest or is it simply another of Putin’s famous about-faces that you’ve noted before?

MB: As with Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot is no threat to Putin. By freeing them early, he not only avoided awkward scenes at the Sochi Olympics, but he also …

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