Putin Bets on Repression
By David Sentor, Senior Fellow Foreign Policy Research Institute
Reviewed by John Handley, American Diplomacy Vice President
Russian analyst David Setter has written two recent books on Russia: It Was a Long Time Ago and It never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past and Age of Delirium, which he is now turning into a documentary film about the fall of the Soviet Union. His theme in this article is that Vladimir Putin, four months into his third term as Russia’s president, has made clear his intention to use repression, such as that listed below, to silence his opponents.
- Putin has ensured the passage of legislation limiting the opposition by increasing from 2,000 to 300,000 rubles the fines for participating in unsanctioned rallies.
- Another new law imposes fines of up to a million rubles and four years in prison for officials of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving foreign grants and failing to register as foreign agents.
- The new law on slander, likely aimed at independent journalists and politicians, now makes that a criminal offense subject to fines of up to 5 million rubles.
Recent court cases reveal how Putin intends to use his new authority.
- On 31 July, Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger, was indicted for organizing the misappropriation of $500,000 from a state-owned timber firm. He had accused the head of the Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, a close Putin ally, of concealing the fact that Bastrykin owns property in the Czech Republic and has the right to live there.
- Also in July, Taisia Osipova received a prison term of eight years on drug charges. The drugs, according to witnesses, were planted. In all probability, this 28 year-old mother with a 5 year-old daughter was convicted because she refused to testify against her husband, Sergi Fomchenkov, an activist with the Other Russia opposition movement.
- On 14 September, the Duma for the first time in history expelled a politician for running a business while serving in the Duma. Gennady Gudkov had done what most Duma members doturned the business over to his wifebut, as one of three parliamentarians participating in an opposition rally, he was singled out for prosecution.
The Russian Orthodox Church provides Putin ideological support by encouraging Russians to avoid anti-government rallies.
- In the most infamous case, three members of the Pussy Riot punk rock band received three-year prison terms for a performance in Christ the Savior Cathedral during which they asked the Virgin Mary to remove Putin from office.
- One of Russia’s more influential priests, Vsevolod Chaplin, has asked for greater laws against anticlerical behavior and a law criminalizing blasphemy. That was not enough to satisfy Patriarch Kirill, who has described Putin’s years in power as a miracle of God.
- Maxim Yefimov, a blogger, fled to Estonia to avoid being sent to a psychiatric hospital for the crime of accusing the church of corruption, building churches with public funds, and assisting control of Russian society by the security services.
Rather than stem the wave of protests, such measures will more likely convince Russians that the government is not capable of reform and, in all probability, these measures will subject the opposition to more brutal measures. If the regime cannot be reformed peacefully, it can only be changed by revolution. The author reminds readers that revolutions in Russia have a very tragic history.