Staunton, July 26 – Putin’s visit with Russian human rights leadder Lyudmila Alekseyeva on her 90th birthday last week and her generous reception of the Kremlin leader with whom she has regularly crossed swords triggered a sharp debate among many in Russia, with some critical of her for her politesse and others defending her actions as a means of getting things done.
But Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova says such discussions miss the point. What happened, she argues, was a carefully planned Kremlin psychological operation directed at the West intended to show the “idyllic” accord “between the Russian dictator and someone who has to defend his victims” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=597730E780744).
Such an image disarms many of Putin’s critics in the West and makes it more difficult for them to build support for even tougher measures against the Kremlin leader’s increasing repression at home and aggression abroad, the US-based Kirillova says; and so no one must be misled as to what occurred and why.
Kirillova says that she is not interested in explaining why Alekseyeva acted as she did because “observing from the side, it is extremely difficult or even impossible to understand what percentage of [her] actions is to be explained by age, what by good intentions, and what by ‘fondness’ for the authorities.” That is for Alekseyeva and others to say.
But, she continues, she is convinced that her actions, however much structured by the way in which Putin planned “have inflicted enormous harm and have far-reaching consequences not only for the Russian opposition but also for Ukraine and other countries in one way or another suffering from Russian aggression.”
The Kremlin leader recognized what was at stake and made use of this possibility not because he was addressing “’the Putin majority’” in whose eyes his actions “if not treason then an act of unforgivable weakness.” Indeed, Russia’s “hurrah patriots” denounced his meeting as kowtowing to a Western agent.
“Of course,” Kirillova points out, Putin wasn’t going to lose their support by meeting with Alekseyeva. “One must not forget that a large part of his electorate are obedient conformists who will approve any act of ‘the leader.’” And those who might be put off can be persuaded by the argument that “’the eternal chekist’” is simply playing a double game that he will win.
But the more important thing is that Putin’s meeting with Alekseyeva was designed to send a message to the West, one that will help him not only domestically but internationally as well. There are three reasons for that conclusion, Kirillova suggests.
First of all, Putin very much wants to undercut the image of human rights activists in Russia in the eyes of Western leaders and by suggesting that he has good relations with Alekseyeva and can even negotiate with her about problems will do just that. Consequently, he will use the meeting to suggest that things aren’t as bad in his Russia as many think.
Second, Alekseyeva undercut her own activities by making a dismissive comment about her own personal actions and saying how much she viewed “the recognition of the president as an undeserved gift of fate.” That too will harm the human rights cause in Russia and reduce the support for that cause in the West.
“Now, it will always be possible to say that even veterans of the human rights movement recognize that their activity is unnecessary and marginal, even more in comparison to the powerful Putin who is ready to solve any problem himself.” And thus some in Russia and the West will ask whether a human rights movement in Russia is really necessary.
And third, the person Alekseyeva asked Putin to intervene on behalf of, Igor Imestyev, a former senator, raider and even murderer, is extremely suspicious given all those she might have called on the Kremlin leader to help. There can hardly be any doubt that Imestyev was chosen in advance and in coordination between the Kremlin and Alekseyeva’s people.
“Thus,” Kirillova argues, “all who try to get the attention of Western officials on the issue of Russian political prisoners … are going to find it quite difficult to explain why ‘Alekseyeva herself’ did not ask about them, including the illegally arrested Ukrainians.” And that will only make their fate and those of others far harder.
It is of course true that those who “speak the truth about what is taking place in Russia and about the crimes of the Kremlin inside and outside the country will continue to do so, despite the confluence of compromises of particular individuals,” the Russian journalist continues. But unfortunately, it is “not the case that many in the West want to hear them.”
Given Russian influence in Europe and the US, “many politicians will be glad of any opportunity ‘not to know’ abut the real situation in Russia,” Kirillova concludes, and thus unfortunately “Alekseyeva has given them such an opportunity.” The old KGB officer’s psychological operation in her case may thus pay him but not her big dividends.