Friday, January 22, 2016

Putin Confronted with Choice between Two Kinds of Repression, Ponomaryev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 22 – Facing the near certainty of more popular unrest, Vladimir Putin now faces a choice between two models of repression, the completely lawless kind advocated by Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov and the nominally legal kind the FSB and other Moscow siloviki organs in Moscow generally prefer, according to human rights activist Lev Ponomaryev.

            In a commentary this week for “Moskovsky komsomolets,” Ponomaryev says that in fact, the two sides of this argument have entered into “a competition” for Putin’s attention and approval; and the selection of either or a combination of some of both will be disastrous for Russians (

            The Kadyrov side of the argument has attracted more attention not only because of his flamboyance but also because of mounting evidence that the Putin regime has used some of Kadyrov’s lawless methods in the past against its opponents. But the activities of the “legal” side of this dispute are equally a matter of concern, the rights activist says.

            The Moscow siloviki have introduced three measures in the Duma designed to legitimate the actions they may take against the opposition. The first of these, the so-called “’law of sadists’” which would give prison guards greater scope to mistreat inmates, has passed only on first reading, and there is hope that it won’t be approved in the end.

            The second measure which has passed gives FSB officers expanded authority to use force against demonstrators without fear of punishment.  “Ahead is the struggle for changing this law,” Ponomaryev says.  And the third is a draft law which would expand the ability of the police to use force against the population and particularly against women.

            “One of the odious” aspects of the draft is that it restricts the use of force by the police only against women who appear to be pregnant; but another more dangerous one is that the legislation makes no distinction as far as the ability of the police to use force between peaceful demonstrations and armed rebellion.

            “Rights activists are demanding public discussion and expert analysis of this law by the Presidential human rights ombudsman and the Presidential Human Rights Council,” he says.  Because such laws are so dangerous, the choice Putin makes between Kadyrov and the FSB thus will result in “terror against the peaceful population.”

            “Is there a way out of this situation?” Ponomaryev asks rhetorically.  “Usually people say now because Putin and his entourage have adopted a course on life-long rule – and they see the tightening of the screws as the only way to preserve their power.”  If they succeed in intimidating the population by either or both methods, the result will be disastrous.

            Over time, he continues, Russia “will step by step be transformed into something like North Korea, a nuclear outcast.” Alternatively, there will be a mass rising to overthrow the government but the chances that such an action would be peaceful are “very small. Both variants thus look catastrophic.”

            Such outcomes could be avoided if the government changed its economic policy, shifting resources from the military to social needs. But that has been obvious for a long time and there has been no movement in that direction rather in the reverse.  And there needs to be a new cast of leaders who “are not corrupt and have the political will to carry out these measures.”

            Given the authoritarian nature of Russia today, only Putin can make such a decision, Ponomaryev says.  The problem is that “all talk that the president is good and the boyars are bad is suitable only for television propaganda.”  At the same time, however, Putin was elected more or less honestly and has the support of a large majority.

            “Therefore, demanding his retirement which seems completely just can’t be fulfilled … and is premature.”  But there are demands that can be made and steps that can be taken. The Russian government can and should be reconstituted, and the opposition must prepare diligently and in a cooperative manner for the 2016 Duma elections to push for that.

            Some may think these reflections “naïve” given Putin’s 85 percent support in the polls, but the thing is, Ponomaryev says, is that this “does not remove responsibility from the 15 percent who don’t agree.  That is not a small number, especially if one considers that the 85 percent are not a monolith but on the contrary an inert mass.”

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