Putin's Authoritarian Steamroll in Russia
In response to the growing economic crisis -- last Wednesday marked the seventh devaluation of the ruble this month, and stocks have lost about 70 percent of value since May -- Mikhail Gorbachev has formed a coalition to propose alternatives to the Kremlin's heavy-handed economic management. "The anti-crisis measures are being adopted without a democratic process and the subsidies given out often vanish into thin air or end up in someone's pocket," said a statement from Gorbachev and others.
There's no doubt that dark times of upheaval lay ahead for Russia -- never mind their missile-happy generosity that should prove to be a foreign-policy disaster for us -- and the crackdown on economic discontent will put many ordinary Russians who might normally steer clear of politics in the cross-hairs of violent government crackdowns. There's also fresh fear that the opposition names who have managed to avoid a fate like that of Alexander Litvinenko or Anna Politkovskaya face new danger. I'd always believed that opposition leader Garry Kasparov's legacy as a chess champion kept him relatively out of harm's way, save for the occasional Kremlin youth goon taking a swing at him with a chess board. But now I fear that it might soon be checkmate, because unlike Nikita Belykh, the onetime opposition leader, did this month, Kasparov won't be turning tail and accepting a regional governorship from the Kremlin anytime soon.
But will the economic crisis causing turmoil around the rest of the globe be a catalyst to bring about positive change in Russia -- something, like, er, regime change as the disgruntled masses no longer see power-hungry Kremlin as a nationalist messiah? If so, the word will have a hard time getting out: The attacks on Russia's journalists continue, and are so brazen that Ingush online journalist Magomed Yevloyev -- whose site was ordered closed for "extremist" articles -- was shot in the head on Aug. 31 while in the custody of the interior ministry.
The riot police beating up the peaceful protesters in Vladivostok also beat and arrested several journalists, ordering that they turn over any video or memory cards from their cameras. But thanks to cell-phone cameras and online technology, word spread of the crackdown unlike it could during the Soviet era. And that could be the edge that the common Russian needs to fight back against this next authoritarian steamroll.