ONE of Russia’s most controversial writers was yesterday sentenced to four years in a labour camp following claims he plotted to raise an army and invade neighbouring Kazakhstan.
A court in Saratov found Eduard Limonov, 60, guilty of illegally purchasing weapons and ammunition.
The court dropped more serious charges including attempted terrorism, forming an illegal armed group, and trying to overthrow the government, citing insufficient evidence.
Russian authorities accused Limonov and others from his extremist National Bolshevik Party (NBP) of planning to launch a series of terrorist attacks with the aim of carving out a "second Russia" in Kazakhstan.
Agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) seized Limonov in spring 2001 in a remote village in southern Russia near the Kazakh border.
An FSB team had earlier arrested several NBP activists who tried to buy four machine-guns, cartridges and 900g of plastic explosives. The activists said they were acting on Limonov’s orders.
FSB agents claimed the charismatic author planned to lead armed groups into Kazakhstan from the Altai mountains, provoking a rebellion among the large ethnic-Russian population of the former Soviet republic. Limonov denied all charges.
A slim figure with a goatee beard, he gazed impassively from a metal cage as the guilty verdict was delivered yesterday in Saratov regional court, 500 miles south-east of Moscow.
During his trial he claimed the prosecution was politically motivated, saying: "This case is aimed at immersing our society in fear...and returning the country to a one-party system where only the party of power has a right to exist."
But Limonov never hid his passion for guns and revolution.
In the mid-1990s he volunteered to fight on the side of the Serbs in former Yugoslavia and was filmed firing a machine gun at besieged Sarajevo.
In Diary of a Loser, he wrote: "I dream about a wild uprising … if I make a million I’ll spend it on weapons and stage an uprising in some country."
However, the FSB was unable to prove its contention that Limonov colluded with a French criminal called Bob Denar to carry out terrorist acts in northern Kazakhstan.
The accusation was based on an article published in the NBP’s newspaper, Limonka (slang for "hand grenade" and a play on the author’s name) calling for a "second Russia" to rise up and champion the cause of marginalised Russians living on the territory of other states.
Limonov denies writing the inflammatory article. During closing comments in his defence in February he compared himself to the 19th century radical, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, who was arrested in 1862 "in connection with an anti-governmental proclamation that he did not actually sign".
During the Soviet era, Limonov spent almost 20 years in self-imposed exile in the United States and France writing poetry and erotic fiction. He returned to Russia in the early 1990s and formed the ultra-nationalist NBP.