Standing Up to Putin

And more importantly, how long before our so-called "leaders" in the West begin to speak out on behalf of real Russian heroes like Dobrokhotov and Kozlovsky, who remain largely unknown and unrecognized in the West? How long before they realize that the current generation of opposition leaders in Russia are largely a spent force, and that the West must begin to nurture a new generation before it is simply wiped out in the next wave of Stalinesque purges? If other young Russians don't see any recognition for the few valiant leaders who now dare to stick their necks out, why should others come forward?

A window is open now in Russia. The economy has made the regime vulnerable, and it has not yet completed its transition to a formalized "presidency for life" vested in Vladimir Putin. Concerted pressure by the West could carve out a protected sphere of civil society in Russia within which leaders like Kozlovsky and Dobrokhotov could grow and develop a formidable pro-democracy movement that could rewrite Russia's future.

Barack Obama ought to stand at the forefront of such efforts. He's recently issued some very encouragingly tough rhetoric on Russian aggression in Georgia, but he's been woefully silent on the neo-Sovietization of civil society within Russia. His expressed ideals ought to compel him to speak out as Ronald Reagan did, demanding that Vladimir Putin tear down the new iron curtain before Russia turns into an irreparable nightmare. But he hasn't come close to doing that yet.

There is some reason for hope. In October, Human Rights First gave Oleg Kozlovsky its annual Human Rights Award, and Sigourney Weaver handed it to him in a glitzy New York ceremony. He's had an op-ed column in the Washington Post in which he accused the Kremlin of promoting "gulag stability," and since the wave of Western recognition for his efforts, he has experienced much less harassment from the Kremlin.

But this is not the same as recognition from the formal corridors of power in Washington and other Western capitals, and the Kremlin clearly has not yet seen the light. When Kasparov's followers sought to peacefully march through the streets of Moscow and St. Petersurg over the weekend in support of Solidarity, they were crushed by Putin's goons and nearly 100 were arrested. If Obama really means it when he talks about change we can believe in, one of the best places to prove it would be neo-Soviet Russia. He might start with a phone call to a young man named Roman Dobrokhotov.