The Sultan of Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pardon of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his declaration of an amnesty that has freed Greenpeace activists and members of the punk rock/protest group Pussy Riot are welcome gestures. But that is all they are: gestures, aimed mainly at ensuring the success of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.

NEW YORK – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pardon of the former owner of Yukos Oil Company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and his declaration of an amnesty that has freed Greenpeace activists and two members of the punk rock/protest group Pussy Riot are welcome gestures. But that is all they are: gestures.

Putin was most likely motivated, above all, by a desire to ensure the success of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. It is also likely that Putin sought to show the world a kinder, gentler face in an effort to consolidate victory in his tug of war with the European Union over Ukraine.

But, although freeing a few people who were unjustly imprisoned for long periods is significant, it should not obscure the Russian government’s ongoing major human-rights violations at home and abroad. And here, little seems likely to change. Khodorkovsky’s pardon does not look like the start of a Putin thaw.

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