In this case, the Moscow commentator says, Putin and his system “are being moved not by humanism nor by any affection for good sense.” They are simply addressing an administrative and public relations problem that they did not expect Paragraph 282 would produce.
On the one hand, while the Kremlin devised this law to go after Russian nationalists, many in regional law enforcement bodies quickly recognized that they could use its provisions to make themselves look good because nothing is easier than finding a text in the Internet, getting a tame expert to call it extremist, and showing themselves to be fighting for the right.
That led to a dramatic multiplication of cases, and that in turn became the basis for promotions and other preferments for Russian investigators, prosecutors and the judicial system as a whole, even though it did little to help the Kremlin achieve what it had originally hoped for, the suppression of genuinely dangerous independent Russian nationalism.
And on the other, Paragraph 282 created a public relations nightmare for Putin and his regime. Some of the cases officials brought were so absurd that Russians began laughing at the entire process even as they feared that such arrangements could be deployed against them, and people abroad saw what Russian officials were doing in this case as a definer of the regime.
Both these reactions generated “an unnecessary nervousness” in Moscow, Davydov says; and nervousness is not something the regime likes unless it can dose it out exactly as it wants. With Paragraph 282, it had lost the ability to do that. Putin thus had to act, knowing that he would end a bureaucratic disaster without limiting his power and getting credit for liberalization.
This is clearly the cause behind what Putin has done, the commentator continues. “It is of course necessary to keep the opportunity to send a critic of the powers to jail for his words.” But this “instrument of political terror” must remain that and not become “a means for the easy receipt of prizes and benefits.”
“Let us not forget that 282 is not the only paragraph in the criminal code which calls for the punishment of thought crimes.” There are others, and Putin has said nothing about them. And that means, Davydov argues, that “the state obviously doesn’t intend to stop punishing and frightening us; it only is trying to introduce order in this area.”
But “all the same,” he concludes, this small step is not unimportant and will benefit some if far fewer than many are suggesting today. “Under present-day Russian realities, that too is no small thing.”