NEWSLINK: The Putin Crackdown: First he went after the punk rockers. Then the activists.

Kremlin and St. Basil's file photo

(“The Putin Crackdown: First he went after the punk rockers. Then the activists.” – Wall Street Journal Editorial – November 1, 2012 –

A Wall Street Journal editorial calls for Congresss to pass the Magnitsky Act:

Congress should get over its gridlock and pass the Magnitsky Act that bars Russian human-rights offenders from traveling to or banking in the U.S. Better still: Boot this non-democrat out of the G-8 group of democracies.

The editorial observes that Russian President Vladimir Putin timed the 2008 Russo-Georgian War to coincide with a U.S. presidential election.  Now, during the 2012 U.S. election season, Putin been launching what the Wall Street Journal calls a political crackdown, including targeting multiple key opposition figures:

The Russian strongman has ruled since 2000, but his current domestic power play stands out for its ferocity. Last Friday Russian prosecutors charged a protest leader, Sergei Udaltsov, with plotting riots. If convicted by a puppet tribunal, Mr. Udaltsov could serve 10 years, long enough to keep him out of the way until well into a possible fourth Putin presidential term.

A week earlier Russian agents abducted Leonid Razvozzhayev in Ukraine and brought him back for trial alongside Mr. Udaltsov in Moscow. Mr. Razvozzhayev went to Ukraine to seek political asylum but he said he was grabbed off the street, tortured and forced to sign a confession.

All of this is part of a putsch that has been going on since shortly after Mr. Putin maneuvered himself back into the Presidency this year after a five-year rest stop as Prime Minister. It includes the arrest of Alexei Navalny, an anticorruption activist of little visible wealth who faces a long jail sentence on dubious embezzlement charges. There’s also the two-year jail term for a couple members of a feminist rock band, Pussy Riot, for staging an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral. No challenge to his dominance is too small for Mr. Putin to punish.

The Wall Street Journal accuses the Duma of being a “rubber-stamp” when creating steep fines and prison terms for protests that are not authorized, to intimidate new professionals from getting involved.  It also criticizes newly enacted Russian laws that “neuter” nonprofits and treat alleged libel as a felony, as well as efforts to cut off ties to international democracy-supporting entities such as USAID.

The editorial observes that Putin does not hesitate to stir anti-Americanism when it suits him.

From an economic standpoint, the Wall Street Journal notes how a process of grabbing economic power that began by seizing YUKOS and imprisoning Mikhail Khodorkovsky is now culminating with the TNK-BP sale to Rosneft, placing reserves larger than Exxon Mobil’s in the hands of a Putin crony:

The Kremlin has also moved to consolidate economic control. Mr. Putin brokered last week’s sale of TNK-BP to state-run Rosneft. A marginal player in the 1990s, Rosneft took over the prime assets of the country’s then largest oil producer, Yukos, after founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky fell politically afoul of the Kremlin. With TNK, a company run by a Putin crony will have larger reserves than Exxon Mobil.

The editorial accuses Putin of effectively wiping out, as a practical matter, any opposition to his rule:

Mr. Putin is trying to ensure that no political alternative to him can emerge. The opposition can’t even fairly contest a local mayoral election. This is dangerous for Russia because it means the frustration with corruption and lack of political freedom will boil beneath the surface and could eventually explode. But the former KGB colonel will make sure anyone who protests pays a price in the meantime.

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