The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
In (Post-Soviet) Russia, First They Kill You, Then They Try You

Russian news headlines frequently walk the fine line between plausibility and The Onion. This week is no different: Russia is trying a dead man for fraud.

Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor who exposed a $230 million tax fraud by Russian police and officials and was then thrown into prison, tortured, and killed nearly a year later, will now finally get his long-awaited trial. The move is seen as a pushback by the Russian government against the Magnitsky Act, which black-listed the Russian officials involved in the scandal. As the FT reports many observers believe this is little more than an attempt to further blacken his name:

“First, there is the statute of limitations, secondly, [Magnitsky] had nothing to do with the company in question, and thirdly, he’s dead,” said Mr Browder, who said the trial showed that there was “absolute desperation in the government of Russia to try to blacken Magnitsky’s name after the Magnitsky law was passed in the United States”.

This sounds right; with the defendant not only absent but killed before trial, justice will not be served. Instead, the world is likely to watch a show-trial aimed directly at consolidating Russian public opinion behind the Kremlin.

Russia’s urban middle class understands what’s going on here, and neither Putin’s antics nor the Magnitsky show-trial will do much to sway their opinion. But Putin isn’t going after them: He’s going after Russia’s silent majority, the poorer, traditionally-minded masses. He has long been attempting to secure their loyalty by providing them with federal funds and playing nice with the Russian Orthodox Church. And in order to quell any murmuring of dissent within this group, Putin will now drag Magnitsky’s body, and the democracy advocates who supported him, through the mud.

[Image courtesy of Dmitry Rozhkov]

Published on February 19, 2013 12:15 pm