Staunton, July 17 – The way in which the cases of two journalists arrested in the North Caucasus are playing out suggests that “the Golunov factor” is indeed echoing beyond the ring road but that its echoes may be prompting the powers that be to change their tactics and thus put journalists at even greater risk, according to commentator Sergey Zharkov.
The success Russian civil society had in securing the release of Moscow reporter Ivan Golunov and prompting the Kremlin to fire two senior generals as a result has generated hopes that this marks a fundamental change in Russian life, one activists elsewhere are counting on caucasustimes.com/ru/faktor-galunova-na-severnom-kavkaze/).
But two cases, one in Kabardino-Balkaria and a second in Daghestan, suggest that what happened with Golunov is only an imperfect precedent and that the siloviki are now adjusting their tactics in ways that will make any such success by civil society more difficult in the future, at least outside of Moscow.
The first of these cases, the arrest on drug charges of journalist Martin Kochesoko in Kabardino-Balkaria on practically the same day Golunov was detained, strongly suggested that the precedent would hold (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/06/russian-authorities-apply-same-tactics.html).
Kochesoko’s arrest draw strong and immediate protests from Circassian society and even former political leaders, and in a remarkably short time, he was released from jail although he remains under house arrest. But there was an important difference between Golunov and Kochesoko: the latter was not only a journalist but also a prominent Circassian activist.
Consequently, Zharkov argues, those who came to his defense were doing so for somewhat different reasons than those who came out in support of Golunov. But clearly the siloviki were surprised that so many people were willing to denounce their actions as fake and to demand Kochesoko’s release.
The situation regarding Abdulmamin Gadzhiyev in Daghestan is “much more complicated,” the commentator says, most importantly because the Makhachkala journalist was charged with financing extremism and participating in terrorist activity, far more serious crimes than the possession of drugs.
At the very least, by bringing such charges against Gadzhiyev, the siloviki discouraged those who might be thinking about supporting the journalist from doing so. And except for his colleagues, few have been willing as yet to speak out. (For background on his case. see (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/06/militant-underground-in-north-caucasus.html.)
What these two cases suggest, Zharkov indicates, is that there has been a tectonic shift in Russian society in recent weeks but that it has been matched by a shift in the tactics of the siloviki, a shift that means they are likely to bring more serious charges against journalists they want to silence rather than backing off and allowing the journalists to do their jobs.
If that proves to be the case, then two developments are now likely. On the one hand, journalists at least in many places in the Russian Federation may in fact be more at risk of serious jail time than they were. And on the other, the alienation many Russians feel toward the powers that be may continue to intensify.