You can take the communism out of Russia and China—but evidently you can’t take out the communists!
After four years of Dmitry Medvedev keeping the czar’s throne warm, Vladimir Putin is once again Russia’s president. There were no public celebrations to accompany Mr. Putin’s inauguration on May 7. Quite the opposite. Moscow’s streets had been cleared by a huge security presence; the city turned into a ghost town. This scene came the day after massive protests showed that the Russian middle class rejects Mr. Putin’s bid to become their president for life. With no independent legislature or judiciary at our disposal, Mr. Putin’s impeachment will have to take place in the streets.
Meanwhile, this modern czar is using the full power of the state to stamp out Russia’s growing democracy movement. Two young movement leaders, Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, were arrested on May 6 and are still in jail on 15-day sentences. They’ve been charged with “violently resisting arrest,” even though several videos of the arrest show Mr. Navalny with his hands in the air shouting, “Don’t resist! Don’t resist!”
Naturally, the court has forbidden the admission of any video evidence in the case. It is possible that a criminal case will be added against them for “inciting mass violence”—Kremlin code for a political trial.
A similar case in St. Petersburg has even grimmer overtones of KGB repression. Activists of the Other Russia coalition were recently charged with “extremist activity” based on the testimony of agents and informants all in the employ of the Interior Ministry. Their crime is officially described as organizing “public events focused on inciting hatred toward high leaders of state authority”—just the sort of phrase that sends chills down the spine of anyone born behind the Iron Curtain.
We’ve covered China plenty, so this is Russia’s turn. The writer, Garry Kasparov, is a leading human rights figure in Russia—and a former world chess champion (probably the best player since Bobby Fischer’s insanity overtook his brilliance). He doesn’t like the look of the endgame.
The American reaction to the protests and the Putin regime’s vicious response to them was not long in coming. On May 8, with security forces still clearing the streets and raiding cafes, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an interview with CNN that made the Obama administration’s position frightfully clear. In a phrase that quickly became infamous here, Mrs. Clinton said she hoped “Russia will be able to continue democratizing” during Mr. Putin’s new term.
The 12 years of Putin rule have marked a steady slide away from democracy in every way, so what message was this outrageous statement intended to convey? Are Russians still supposed to act grateful that we no longer live under Brezhnev or Stalin? Or is this the Obama administration’s way of telling Mr. Putin to carry on, that matters of human rights and democracy are safely off the table as long as NATO can use Russian territory for Afghanistan supply lines?
The myth that Russia and the U.S. have a mutually useful strategic partnership has been promoted by the Americans for years, but the fiction is becoming harder to maintain. Mr. Putin abruptly canceled his trip to the G-8 summit at Camp David and will instead make the first foreign excursion of his new term to the unalloyed dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus.
Let me say what Kasparov will not (doubtless out of civility): the Obama administration is a… no, I can’t say it either. I would instead observe that what Putin did was a kick in the ‘nads—but we are ‘nad-less.
And not just Hillary. Let me offer Andrew Breitbart’s $100,000 for any, ahem, hard evidence that anyone in this administration has a pair.
PS: I didn’t know that Putin had bailed on the G-8 summit to go to Belarus instead. Has the media covered the story and its implications?