Staunton, February 1 – Each day seems to bring a fresh outrage from Ramzan Kadyrov, Vladimir Putin and their ilk, an outrage many dutifully denounce without connecting the dots and seeing the ways in which this drip-by-drip set of actions is making Russians and indeed many outside observers increasingly insensitive to what is going on and thus what lies ahead.
Among the rich harvest of horrors over the last few days are the following:
· Ramzan Kadyrov has posted on Instagram a photo showing Mikhail Kasyanov, the leader of the opposion PARNAS party, in the crosshairs of a rifle site, an action Kasyanov’s colleagues denounced but that Putin’s press secretary did not have anything to say (rbc.ru/politics/01/02/2016/56ae9b889a7947f044618a2f).
· The pro-Putin All-Russian Popular Front has made a series of cartoons showing Vladimir Putin killing those he has identified as corrupt (echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1704530-echo/).
· German Klimenko, Putin’s new advisor on the Internet, says that if he were allowed to, he would “shoot” those who use the Internet in ways that the Kremlin doesn’t like. Challenged on his words, he said he was being “completely serious” (nr2.com.ua/News/politics_and_society/Rossiyskie-chinovniki-predlagayut-porot-inakomyslyashchih-115646.html).
· Igor Kholmanskikh, Putin’s plenipotentiary for the Urals, says that it is necessary to get rid of the fifth column in ways like those described in the 1930s by Ilf and Petrov. He isn’t calling for executions of the extra-systemic opposition -- at least not yet.
· And KPRF activists in Yekaterinburg are accusing the Yeltsin Center there of violating the law on “the rehabilitation of Nazism” by providing information about the victims of Stalin’s repressions.
This list could easily be extended, and as Novy Region-2 journalist Kseniya Kirillova points out in summarizing this list, it is not clear that “the worse the economic crisis in Russia becomes, the ‘better and happier’ will be the lives of its citizens. Apparently,” she suggests, “there isn’t a lot of time to wait until the promised shootings.”
Beyond doubt, Kirillov is right to call attention to this trend, something many are reluctant to do. But three immediate points need to be made. First, Kadyrov must not be dismissed as some kind of new Zhirinovsky, whose words simply allow people to get things out of their systems. He is changing the system and promoting the Chechenization of Russia.
Second, every time such statements are made and are not immediately and actively denounced by Russians and by the West, it gets easier for Kadyrov and Putin to say and do even worse things. It would have been hard to imagine the gunsight picture appearing even on Kadyrov’s site a year ago; now, it is likely to become background noise.
And third – and this is the most important point – Putin bears responsibility for all of this. If Russia is heading in the wrong direction, it is not because it is facing opposition from the Kremlin. Rather, Putin is encouraging such things, desensitizing Russians to them, and could stop them if he wanted to.
He must be held accountable, as difficult and even dangerous as that task may be.