Vladimir Putin’s friend list grows shorter. There’s Hugo Chavez, there’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there’s Bashar Hafez al-Assad, and, of course, there’s Barack Hussein Obama.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s definitely not there, though.
In September 2008, a group of Russian performance artists staged an event in a Moscow supermarket (warning: Russian language link with strong photographic content). They tried to speak out against Russia’s barbarically hostile attitudes towards blacks, Jews, and gays by mock-hanging several bodies from the rafters of the market in the manner of the KKK.
Cut to November 2012. Merkel arrives in Moscow for a meeting with the Russian dictator. She has noisily proclaimed well in advance that she plans to confront Putin on his human rights record, including the now infamous prosecution of three members of the Pussy Riot art collective for an event they staged in a Moscow Orthodox cathedral. She’s as good as her word. The German press even publishes an op-ed by Pavel Khodorkovsky, scion of the jailed Putin opponent, castigating Putin for seeking to take Russia back to the days of Stalin.
Putin’s response was truly jaw-dropping, one for the ages. Putin told Merkel, before rolling microphones, that Pussy Riot deserved imprisonment because they were antisemitic, and for proof he points to the fact that one member of the trio participated in hanging a Jew in effigy at the Moscow supermarket in 2008. Putin figures he can get away with this unmitigated lie, one of the biggest whoppers ever told by a head of state in world history, because (a) Merkel may not be familiar with the relatively obscure 2008 incident and (b) even if she is, she’ll be terrified of seeming to side against the Jews because of Germany’s Nazi past. He’s right.
Leave aside the fact that the three Pussy Riot members were arrested for being anti-Orthodox, not antisemitic. Forget about the fact that Putin did nothing in 2008 about the alleged antisemitic act, and has in fact never done anything to punish anyone for being antisemitic. He’s never even given a speech in defense of the Jews, who routinely see egregious acts of racism on the streets of Putin’s Russia. He aggressively supports the Orthodox church, giving it vast influence in the corridors of the Kremlin. Ignore the fact that two of the three Pussy Riot convicts had nothing whatsoever to do with the supermarket event.
Just focus on the fact that Putin feels so secure that he can precisely reverse the facts about what happened in the supermarket and tell his egregious lie to one of the most preeminent world leaders, while speaking before a crowd of journalists. What does that tell you about what is happening in Putin’s neo-Soviet state these days?
Putin has just implemented a draconian new law giving the Kremlin the power to block websites it doesn’t like, and already more than 200 such sites have disappeared from the Russian Internet, including the Russian Wikipedia which had contained merciless personal criticism of Putin. Simultaneously, a terrifying second new law came into force that lets Putin jail any political opponent on treason charges, at will. It’s predicted that Putin will soon take dramatic steps to wipe out Internet anonymity so that prosecutions against Internet offenders can roll forward.
Putin’s efforts at propaganda are truly Soviet in nature; the Daily News, for instance, recently ran a shocking story about how the liberal Huffington Post and CNBC outlets have essentially handed their pages over to Putin’s propaganda wizards without the slightest clue to their readers that it has happened.
Thankfully, Germany doesn’t stand alone. France recently poked Putin in the eye by granting formal recognition to the Syrian rebels, condemned by Putin as Russia continues to support the dictatorial regime they oppose.