Putin's Authoritarian Steamroll in Russia

All Vladimir Putin wanted for Christmas was power eternal. And all he needed were 142 elves -- who bear a striking resemblance to dutiful federation council senators -- to bring that gift closer to reality. 

Last Monday, the entire upper house of parliament voted to extend the Russian presidential term from four years to six years, a move recommended by President Dmitry Medvedev in his annual November address. But really, you didn't think the "reform" was meant for Medvedev, did you? Or that anything occurring behind the walls of the Kremlin is intended to extend the reign of this Putin-anointed technocrat? 

Putin not only has crafted the prime minister's post into a more powerful position, but he wants to return to the presidency -- and have fewer vocal enemies, too. Carefully laying out the groundwork for the extended Putin regime of the future, pro-Kremlin Duma members have handily advanced a bill that could categorize dissent as treason -- disrupting the "constitutional order" of the country, for one. And a bill has already been passed eliminating jury trials for treason suspects. 

A few whacks of the baton, into the police car, into the court, disappear. Or just disappear. So seems the way of the future for Russia's opposition. Coincidentally, it's also the way of the past. 

Earlier this month, the Russian opposition coalesced into a movement taking the name of the successful anti-communist trade movement years ago in Poland: Solidarity. The movement takes shape as economic troubles in Russia set the stage for growing discontent with the current government, a prospect for grander protests that clearly has the Putin crew concerned. In addition to the now-expected jamming of opposition Web sites, Moscow sent riot police to the Pacific coast of the country to beat Vladivostok residents who were protesting the Russian version of a domestic auto-industry bailout: hike tariffs on imported used cars so that the price of a trusty Toyota skyrockets as much as 50 percent, thereby "encouraging" Russians to support their Volga and Lada dealers. 

And as suicides among the economically depressed increase, Russia responds not with counselors but by reportedly moving Internal Forces troops to cities hit hardest by layoffs, and thus more likely to demonstrate. Though Gennady Gudkov, the deputy chair of the State Duma Security Committee, told newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, "It could happen that no amount of Internal Forces will be enough."