The head of Limonov's defense team is Sergei Beliak, a famous attorney who once defended Vladimir Zhirinovsky against Boris Nemtsov following the famous orange-juice-throwing incident.
Beliak, who looks like a young bohemian himself, appears in court wearing a black leather sport coat over a black turtlneck, with a modest goatee growing on his chin.
Beliak is joined by one Moscow aide, three local Saratov attorneys and Duma deputy Cherepkov, but he handles nearly all of the load himself. He is sharp, imposing and nuanced in his treatment of the prosecution's witnesses.
It wasn't until the following afternoon, last Thursday, when a tall former NBP member from the Volgograd branch took the stand, that Beliak showed his fangs.
This witness was unlike any of the others. He was unusually confident and articulate, speaking without the shy defiance or the ums and ahs of his predecessors. I wrote in my notes that it appeared he'd been prepared. His testimony was the first that really damaged Limonov and the other defendants. He said everything that the prosecution wanted to hear: that when he came to Moscow for an NBP congress, he'd been told of plans to buy weapons, rendezvous in Altai with several other National-Bolsheviks, and invade Kazakhstan.
When it was Beliak's turn, he asked, "What is your employment again?"
Witness: "I work for the social department of the Volgograd administration."
Beliak: [mocking tone] "You work for the social department of the Volgograd administration. I see, I see. The Volgograd Administration. [pause] And how did you pay to come here?"
Witness: "The police helped pay for my trip here."
Beliak: [mocking tone] "The police helped pay for you to come here. I see, the police. So, you work for the Volgograd administration and the police paid for you to come here and give testimony."
Beliak caught him lying about how many times he'd run afoul of the police in previous years. It got so brutal that the prosecutor twice objected, and the judge upheld his objections to Beliak's questioning. The witness started to break. He admitted he'd never heard Limonov trying to obtain weapons or ordering the invasion. He admitted that he didn't know who wrote "Drugaya Rossiya" and that he hadn't even read it.
After the trial, I spoke to a National-Bolshevik who remembered the witness. He described him as a big talker and bullshitter, and laughed when I asked if he thought that he was a police plant. "You can probably say that."
The witness and another sketchy character power-walked out of the courtroom and down Ulitsa Sovietskaya, then around the corner. I followed them to see where they were going. In a state of agitation and confusion, they circled in the middle of Ulitsa Pushkinskaya, making first as if to take a taxi, then a bus, then as if to get into a white Lada devyatka. Then they nervously walked back to the corner of Ulitsa Sovietskaya and peered around the corner to see if they were being followed. Then they power walked the other way down Ulitsa Sovietskaya.
Limonov looks surprisingly healthy for a 59-year-old asthmatic imprisoned for over 18 months. He spends each session of his trial writing detailed notes of every word said, concentrating hard, and delivering questions when appropriate. His long, mostly gray hair reminds you of an older Che Guevera, while the goatee is Kalinin by way of Colonel Sanders. He looks like what he is: a defiant radical who hasn't been broken.
But things are worse than they appear. While in Lefortovo, Limonov was given enough space and comfort to complete seven manuscripts, two of which have already been published. In Saratov, he has to share a holding cell with three men: an accused murderer, robber and burglar. Beliak claims that Limonov gets on fine with his cellmates, that they've "read all of his novels, even the first one," a reference to the infamous descriptions of homosexual sex in It's Me, Eddie.
Some reports in the French press have not made Limonov's cellmates out to be as respectful. Whatever the case, Limonov has stopped writing. He also has not been able to send letters to friends (I haven't received a letter since June), and has received few himself.