ISSN 2330-717X

Since Navalny’s Poisoning, Russian Political Landscape Has Changed Beyond Recognition – OpEd

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Many Russian commentators have insisted that repression in Russia has increased so much over the past year that the country is now unrecognizable. But Olesya Pavlenko, a statistical analyst at Novaya gazeta, performs a valuable service by rooting such claims in the numbers.

If anything, her findings based in most cases on official figures are certainly more convincing and even more damning of what Vladimir Putin and his regime have done since they sought to poison and then in fact incarcerated Aleksey Navalny and moved to destroy his political movement (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/11/05/reestrom-po-bashke).

“Pressure on opposition politicians before elections isn’t something new for Russia,” Pavlenko says; “but if earlier the powers used administrative rules for this, in this year, they began to actively make use of criminal charges” and to bring them not just against specific individuals but against members of entire groups.  

Citing the calculations of Golos, she says that approximately nine million Rusisans have now suffered the loss of part of their political rights, either because they have dual citizenship or residence permits in other countries. Most suffer administratively rather than criminally although the number of criminal cases has risen.

The Putin regime has also stepped up its attacks on defense lawyers, blocking their access to their clients; and it has stood behind covid restrictions in order to block citizens from visiting prisoners or even attending trials, limiting the support the people can offer to those the regime is attacking.

Over the last year, the regime has adopted new laws which give it greater powers to block protests ostensibly on the basis of epidemiological conditions. As a result, Pavlenko says, “conducting almost any public actions has become impossible.” And those who do try have been subjected to judicial persecution.

“In addition to mass detentions at protests,” she continues, “the siloviki have begun to more often interfere with the ability of those detailed to get legal help.” They use a set of rules written to prevent seizure of prisons and camps for that, far beyond the original purposes of these restrictions.

Some Russian protesters have begun to encounter pressure at their places of work or study, with a few even being fired or expelled and a chill spreading through many workplaces and universities as a result. And those who use the Internet to try to organize protests have been increasiangly subject to repression as well.

The authorities have so far used the law about undesirable organizations only sparingly, but what they have done suggests that more groups will fall victim to it in the future. Over the course of 2021, the powers declared 18 organizations undesirable and took steps to close them down.

“Since 2019,” Pavlenko says, “repressions have ever more deeply penetrated into daily life” with ever more people charged with being foreign agents, visit by the police to the residences of protesters more frequent, and the loss of jobs and careers as a result of opposition activity.

And in addition to the imposition of growing fines, “the siloviki have begun to demand that protesters compensate the authorities for the costs” the former incur while “guarding” the latter. This practice began to appear in Moscow and now has spread to the regions, the Novaya gazeta journalist says.

And last but not least, the Putin regime has restored the notorious practice of Stalin’s times when “relatives of opposition politicians are becoming victims of political pressure.” In that case and in the others, Pavlenko provides both names and statistical evidence for her conclusions.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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