The good news for Russian political activist Alexei Navalny is that even though he's been convicted of fraud in what supporters say is a bogus case, Vladimir Putin allowed him to remain free with a suspended sentence of 3.5 years. The bad news is that Putin jailed his brother Oleg, a postal worker not involved in politics, for the same amount of time. Reason? "The Kremlin’s new strategy appears to be to allow its critics to go (relatively) free so as not to make them political martyrs, while holding their family members hostage," observes a Wall Street Journal editorial. The idea being: If Alexei steps out of line, brother Oleg will pay the price in prison.
It's downright "medieval," declares the headline of a post at Quartz by Tim Fernholz. He notes that this "hostage-taking" strategy was common among rulers in the Middle Ages, and Leonid Bershidsky at Bloomberg also uses the word "medieval" to describe the move. Bershidsky rebuts the legal case against Oleg and writes that the decision might backfire on Putin. "So far, his enemies are much weaker, but continuing economic problems may mean someday—although likely not soon—Putin will meet his match, and the opposition, remembering all his dirty tricks, will take no pity on him." (Alexei Navalny was detained briefly yesterday while attending a protest for his brother, but he later tweeted that police had driven him back to his apartment, reports AP.)