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As Obama Stands Silent, Putin Crushes Freedom Online

Moscow zeroes in on another lonely voice of opposition.

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May 13, 2011 - 12:00 am
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The motto Vladimir Putin lives by is simple: If you can’t beat them, jail them. If you can’t jail them, kill them. And make no mistake: these days Putin is able to live by that motto in large part because of the craven cowardice of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The definitive case in point is that of attorney activist Alexei Navalny.

Just like businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky before him, Navalny has boldly stepped forward to challenge financial corruption in Putin’s Russia. The country ranks a genuinely shocking #154 out of 178 world nations when surveyed for corruption, meaning that Russia is the 24th most corrupt country on the planet. A new report by former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov documents that this corruption reaches to the highest levels of the Kremlin, including Putin himself.

By choosing Putin, the proud KGB spy, Russians were supposed to be gaining strict law and order in exchange for civil rights and liberties. What’s actually happened is that they’ve got the worst of all possible worlds.

The stronger Navalny has become — in just the past three months, his website has garnered 6.5 million rubles in donations from thousands of people all across Russia — the more pressure he has felt from the Kremlin. Just as with Khodorkovsky, a presidential election approaches; Russians begin to think Navalny would be a good candidate; confidence in the Kremin wavers (last month, approval dropped below a majority). The pressure has reached a crescendo.

In response, the Kremlin’s assault on Navalny has been sudden, relentless, and brutal. First came a massive DDOS cyber attack on Navalny’s website, knocking it off the Internet. Then came KGB pressure on Yandex, the Russian PayPal, to reveal the names and addresses of Navalny’s Internet donors. Then, a wave of harassing phone calls to those donors from Nashi, Putin’s youth cult. Now, to round things out, the Kremlin has announced a criminal investigation, which could put Navalny in prison for five years — maybe even in a Siberian cell right next to Khodorkovsky.

That’s if Navalny is lucky. But maybe he won’t be.

Maybe the Kremlin will decide it can’t afford a long, drawn-out trial and is only using the threat of prosecution to see if it will silence Navalny. If that doesn’t work, maybe the Kremlin won’t risk allowing Navalny to generate the kind of publicity that Khodorkovsky has been able to manage (he gives interviews and releases opinion pieces from his jail cell). Maybe, instead, the Kremlin will decide to implement the “Politkovskaya solution” and simply have Navalny killed.

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