Russia’s liberal opposition has been subjected to all kinds of pressure in the last few months, from leaked clandestine sex tapes to dubious court cases and physical violence. As parliamentary elections approach in September, the authorities appear to be throwing every dirty trick in the book at them, The Guardian reports;
With the political system carefully controlled and state television only ever covering the opposition in negative terms, there is little public support for rocking the boat. However, when the anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny was allowed to stand for Moscow mayor in 2013, he won 27% of the vote, showing there is appetite for new faces among a certain section of urban Russians.
Since then, the screws have tightened, and the Kremlin is determined not to allow any opposition parties to gain the 5% of the vote that would see them into the Duma and risk argument and controversy in the parliament. … Chechnya’s controversial leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, posted a photograph of [opposition leader Mikhail] Kasynanov on Instagram, with the politician’s head pictured in the sights of a sniper rifle. Kadyrov later claimed it was a joke, but given Nemtsov’s murder a year previously, nobody found it particularly amusing.
“The Kremlin is taking a careful line: it has shown a small amount of tolerance but has also used violence and threats to warn people they really could lose their freedom if they protest too much,” said political analyst Masha Lipman. “We don’t know how ugly it will get and whether these people in the regions are acting on their own or acting on orders,” she added. “But as the economic situation continues to be difficult we could see more and more violence.”
One of Russia’s richest men has warned that faster growth will remain elusive after more than a year of recession unless Moscow reforms its courts and law enforcement, in a sign of rising pressure for far-reaching changes in governance, The Financial Times reports:
Alexei Mordashov, Russia’s sixth-richest man — with a fortune worth $12.5bn, according to Forbes — also told the FT that a government push to implement such reforms was unlikely to succeed without greater involvement from civil society.
Violence against Russia’s web dissidents is raising fresh fears for internet freedoms, say analysts. Beatings and arson attacks on social media users represents a new frontier in the Kremlin’s intimidation campaign, RFE/RL reports.
But new technologies and communications are also becoming a tool for empowerment of civil society activists to drive Russian society towards democratic change, according to experts addressing a recent meeting of the Free Russia Foundation (left).
The National Endowment for Democracy’s Miriam Lanskoy wondered why Putin, who enjoys an 86-percent approval rating, is so insecure that he needs to continue clamping down on the opposition. Over the last few years, the Kremlin has undertaken a number of steps to expand its repressive apparatus, she told the forum:
Further amendments were made to legislation to expand the definition of “political activity,” and brand more NGOs as “foreign agents,” among other things. Since social media proved crucial to the 2011–2012 protests, the government has launched new initiatives to take control over this part of the Internet. ….And the biggest vulnerability of the regime is kleptocracy: quoting Levada Center polls, Lanskoy noted that 50 percent of Russians think the president is responsible for corruption and economic mismanagement of the country. She concluded that even if people’s frustration hasn’t yet found a political form, it likely will by 2018.
The first Boris Nemtsov Prize for courage has been awarded to Lev Shlosberg (right), a Russian journalist and politician based in Pskov, notes Vladimir V. Kara-Murza. Shlosberg and Nemtsov did not know each other personally; they never met; they were members of different political parties. Yet they often acted in a similar vein, he writes for World Affairs Journal:
Like Nemtsov, Shlosberg spoke out against “Herod’s Law” that banned US adoptions of Russian orphans in revenge for US sanctions on Kremlin-connected human rights abusers. Like Nemtsov, Shlosberg opposed Putin’s war in Ukraine. It was his newspaper, Pskovskaya Guberniya, that published information about the secret burials of Russian paratroopers illegally sent and killed in that war. Like Nemtsov, Shlosberg showed that even one opposition lawmaker can make his voice heard. In return, he was brutally beaten and stripped of his parliamentary seat. But he has not given up and continues his fight for a Russia where the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of citizens are respected.
Boris Yeltsin’s reelection in 1996, hailed as a triumph of democracy, now looks like a Pyrrhic victory. The means by which the process was manipulated set a precedent for the Putin era, argues Carnegie Moscow Center’s Andrei Kolesnikov:
Boris Yeltsin was used to guarantee the transfer of power to Putin, someone who seemed at the time like a rational, controllable bureaucrat, a man who wasn’t even a politician. As a result, we profaned political democracy. By attempting authoritarian modernization, we ended up with authoritarian regression.