Russian President Vladimir Putin’s high popularity rating masks the actual “fragility” of his hold on power, said Paula Dobriansky, who served as U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs from 2001 to 2009. She is currently a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, VOA reports.
“We know that economically, that Russia is facing a lot of economic strains. Capital flight is very substantial over the last several years,” she told a meeting of the US Senate Human Rights Caucus. “The ruble has halved [in value]. There’s been no modernization economically, and we know that oil prices have dropped, of which Russia’s economy is predominantly dependent on.”
The latest move against Russian NGOs is the law on so-called “undesirable foreign organizations,” which shows that the regime intends to continue ratcheting up pressure on independent civil society until nothing is left, notes Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy. It seems likely that a similar process is planned for the political opposition, he writes for World Affairs:
In both cases, we can expect Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic and Putin’s close ally, to represent the most extreme, lawless, and violent component of the campaign of repression. Kadyrov has been involved in the murder of many prominent Russian democrats, including the great journalist Anna Politkovskaya (above) and the human rights defender Natalia Estemirova (right). Nemtsov’s murder, for which there is considerable evidence also pointing to Kadyrov’s complicity, represented a wholly new level of intimidation against the opposition: the assassination, directly in front of the Kremlin, of a former high-ranking government minister who was at the time one of Russia’s most prominent opposition figures. The alleged murderer, Zaur Dadayev, was an officer in a battalion controlled by Kadyrov, who praised Dadayev as “a true patriot of Russia.”
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Berschinski told the Senate Caucus that 2015 was “one of the darkest years in recent Russian history, and 2016 is off to no better a start,’’ VOA adds.
“The climate of impunity in the country has only deepened. The organizers of the Nemtsov murder remain at large and unprosecuted,” Berschinski said. “And as we just heard, other activists are also in the crosshairs – literally, in some cases, but only thus far digitally. And yet not one word of condemnation has come forward from the Russian government. Those who have been targeted know, and we know, what ultimately has been put in the crosshairs – the Russia that Boris Nemtsov devoted his life to support: a Russia strong enough to respect the rights of its own citizens and to uphold the norms of international behavior.”