In less than 100 days since he returned to the Kremlin, Vladimir
Putin has further curbed Russian civil liberties and dissenters. But
this is risky. As political dialogue no longer becomes an option,
radicals on both sides are emboldened and the threshold for violence
Russian President Vladimir Putin is just reaching the 100-day
mark of his return to the Kremlin, and already he has shown what his
third term holds in store. Amid Russia's biggest antigovernment
protests in 20 years, Mr. Putin has lost no time in further curbing
civil liberties and purging the public sphere of dissenters.
Although often portrayed as enigmatic, Putin is not a
particularly complex figure. His belief in the supremacy of state
power is consistent to the point of redundancy. After 12 years at
the helm, Putin has conflated himself with the Russian state, so
that any attack on his rule is construed as an attack on the nation.
Putin sees himself in an endgame against domestic enemies and
their supposed foreign masters. As a KGB agent in communist East
Germany in 1989, he witnessed how the once-mighty Soviet empire
caved in to people power. Today, with one Arab despot toppling after
the next, Putin is pulling out all the stops to ensure nothing
similar happens in Russia.
It's a risky plan.
Since the beginning of June, four restrictive legislative
initiatives have been rushed through the rubber-stamp Duma - the
very assembly whose disputed elections in December sparked the
Moscow protest movement. Penalties for demonstrators and rally
organizers have been toughened; Internet sites can now be blocked if
they contain content deemed harmful to children (pro-government
hackers could easily insert such content into any site);
nongovernmental organizations receiving funding from abroad will be
branded as "foreign agents"; and libel is again a criminal offense.
Putin justified the changes as bringing Russian law up to
international standards. But in the absence of an independent
judiciary, the legislation is little more than a new cudgel in the
hands of an overzealous security apparatus.
While the chilling effect of the legislation has yet to sink in,
Putin's lieutenants are already using existing laws to go after the
regime's most vocal critics.
Ilya Ponomaryov, Gennady Gudkov, and his son Dmitry - the three
lone dissidents in the Duma who tried to thwart the legislative
assault - were advised by the ethics committee to give up their
seats for participating in protest rallies. …