The Path to TyrannyPutin's Russia Is Becoming a Flawless Dictatorship
Vladimir Putin is rapidly transforming Russia into a repressive state reminiscent of the Soviet Union, and the Pussy Riot trial is the climax in his campaign against the opposition. However, following massive media attention, his crackdown on the punk band could backfire.
Putin's speech to the German parliament, the Bundestag, on Sept. 25, 2001, fueled expectations that the former KGB officer, who spoke German fluently, would modernize Russia and champion European values. Such illusions culminated in a now-famous comment by then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder who, in November 2004, described his Moscow friend as a "flawless democrat."
Putin has since disappointed his German friends, whose expectations were in any case too high. They had refused to believe that Russia still viewed itself as an independent power between Europe and Asia, that 500 years of authoritarian rule under the czars and the communists, could not be shed overnight, and the reservations against the West would not simply disappear because Russians like to drink Coca-Cola and carry designer bags by Yves Saint Laurent.
In only three months Putin, with the help of his absolute majority in the Duma, repealed the few reforms that his predecessor Dmitry Medvedev, with whom he had switched places, had managed to carry out.
Vladimir Pastukhov, a political scientist and attorney, points to what he views as the "return of political terror as an instrument of the government." Naturally, he adds, Putin is not another Stalin, and yet the president has created a new form of equality, not before the law but before his despotism. "Everyone understands that the law no longer protects people," he says. "All business owners know that their companies can be taken away from them at any second, as can freedom and perhaps even their lives."
Pastukhov left the country in 2008. At the time, he represented British investor William Browder in a conflict with senior officials at the Interior Ministry and the Russian tax authority, who had apparently appropriated a few of his client's companies. In the eyes of Putin's supporters, this made Pastukhov a champion of Western interest who was being paid by foreigners. He now teaches at the University of Oxford.
-The president is unfazed by the West's criticism of the treatment of Pussy Riot. With his policy of uncompromising toughness, Putin wants to demonstrate that Russia has once again acquired the status in the world that it had during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union battled for supremacy with the United States.
But Putin's approach could prove to be a mistake, one that threatens rather than reinforces his power. Many Russians -- especially in Moscow, where Putin no longer has the support of the majority -- are demanding a greater say in politics. Only one in three Russians now feels that the country is a democracy.
Der Spiegel says that Putin has since (2004) disappointed his German friends. That is probably true about most of his so called German friends, but his main supporter - and beneficiary - in Germany, former socialist chancellor Gerhard Schröder to this day has not retracted his statement about Putin as a "flawless democrat". On the contrary, last year Schröder restated his support of the dictator:
"I have not changed my characterisation of the Russian President, and I will not take my words back" ( Schröder, May 7, 2011)