Vladimir Putin, the dictator of Russia, is turning the clock back in his country. The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt has no doubts about the reality in Putin's Russia:
He has had his compliant parliament redefine “treason” so vaguely that pretty much anyone who speaks to a foreigner or foreign organization will be nervous. “I’m liable just by job description,” Lokshina said. “I literally don’t have to do anything.”
Putin required any organization that takes foreign funds, which means most human rights groups, to declare itself a “foreign agent,” which to Russian ears sounds synonymous with “spy.” He expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development. Both the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (IRI), which help political parties learn to function in democracies, have had to pull staff out after two decades in Moscow, IRI just last week.
Putin also set out to make examples of those who defy him. An independent-minded legislator was drummed out of the Duma. An opposition leader, Sergei Udaltsov, was charged with plotting mass disorder, and his associate was kidnapped from neighboring Ukraine and tossed into jail. The ludicrous persecution of the Pussy Riot musicians has been well documented, but 17 other protesters are being prosecuted, with one already sentenced to 4 ½ years. A daring opposition blogger, Alexei Navalny, and his brother are threatened with prison on byzantine, far-fetched allegations of bribery and fraud.
The phoniness of the case is the point: No one is beyond Putin’s reach, and no one will be protected by judges, the law — or innocence. Just as in his first term he broke one of the richest industrialists, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, to tame every other oligarch, so the prosecution of Russia’s best-known and most daring leaders cows everyone else, down to health-ministry bureaucrats in Siberia (and their brothers).
Putin is seeking to instill this fear because of his own. Large protests a year ago stunned him. “He’s frightened,” said Lokshina. “He wants to go back to 2007, when he was certain of stability and his popularity.”
Lokshina says that she doesn’t believe he will succeed. “It is a different society, and he cannot turn back the clock.”
Read the entire column here
Let's hope that Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of the Russia office of Human Rights Watch, is right. In the end, Putin will be chased out of his office, but before that happens, he and his KGB cronies are capable of causing a lot of damage and suffering in a country, so rich in natural resources, but still suffering from the legacy of decades of communist rule.