Staunton, October 29 – Just as the Kremlin views any opposition to Russia abroad as a manifestation of “Russophobia,” so too it now views any expression of differences with Moscow in Russia’s regions as an expression of separatism and appears likely to bring ever more charges against those in the regions who are unhappy with the central government, experts say.
Moscow clearly hopes to intimidate regional leaders and activists into silence, but charging those who express a difference of opinion with separatism may have exactly the opposite effect, leading those possibly subject to such charges to reflect on what it means to be part of a Russia run in this way and thus to think more seriously about separatism.
To date, it has brought such charges against only two people – Rafis Kashapov of the Tatar Social Center who said Crimean should be returned to Ukraine and now Vladimir Zavarkin, a Karelian deputy, who said that if Moscow doesn’t listen to the regions, perhaps they should have referenda on whether to separate from Russia.
But Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of the SOVA Center, predicts the number of such cases will rise dramatically in the coming months. After all, he points out, the law on this point is a new one and prosecutors have not had time to employ such charges against opposition figures (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2015/10/26/614406-nedovolstvo-separatizmu
windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/09/support-ukraine-and-youll-go-to-jail.html – but the Zavarkin case is still open, the subject of the Vedomosti article in which Verkhovsky is quoted.
The Moscow newspaper’s Anastasiya Kornya shows just how absurd and overreaching it is. She notes that Zavarkin did not specifically call for a referendum on secession but said that one might be necessary “if the Russian Federation does not hear us,” a distinction that prosecutors have ignored.
The deputy’s lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, points out that Zavarkin’s comment was not a specific proposal but a figure of speech and that prosecutors have taken in out of context. He says that the defense will “insists on psychological and linguistic analysis” in advance of any trial.
That was supposed to begin on Monday of this week, Kornya reports, but the case had to be continued because none of the prosecution witnesses showed up. The judges wanted to allow their previous statements to be admitted as evidence, but Dinze objected and now the case has been continued.