Staunton, March 15 – The most disturbing aspect of the Skripal murders is that Vladimir Putin having been caught and identified as a terrorist likely has concluded that he has nothing to lose and will behave even worse because “a bad reputation and the decline in his prestige in the West no longer frighten him,” Russian human rights activists say.
That will likely lead some in the West and Russia to argue against imposing any kind of punishment against him and his regime, but unless there is a tough response to Putin’s crimes, the West will betray itself and make it even easier for the Kremlin leader to present himself as a hero rather than a criminal to the Russian people.
And while neither Aleksandr Goldfarb or Sergey Grigoryants quote her, Nadezhda Mandelshtam’s observation that “happy is that country where the despicable is at least despised.” Sometimes, indeed often, one may not be in a position to do more than that but one must not, she argued, ever do less.
Putin now understands, human rights activist Goldfarb says, that “the threat to his regime comes from the Free World, a terminology of the time of the struggle against communism. But the free world for Putin is also a threat to the fact of his existence just as it was for the communist regime” (ehorussia.com/new/node/15920).
Like Soviet leaders in the past, he continues, “Putin conducts himself aggressively and seeks to interfere in its affairs and so on.” That everyone has recognized for some time; but now, he has committed a crime that leaders of the West have no choice but to recognize as such. They cannot dismiss it saying ties with Moscow are more important than one life.
But the West must recognize something else: sanctions alone work under only one condition: They will have an impact only if “Russia has a chance to transform itself into a more moderate state, toward a softening of the regime and so on by an evolutionary path.” But the situation has now gone beyond that.
“Now, in my view,” Goldfarb says, “things have gone so far that a bad reputation and the loss of prestige in the West are no longer frightening for the Kremlin. They took a decision and are ready to go further. And thus [sanctions] will hardly be able to defend the Russian opposition and Russian human rights activists.”
Consequently, he concludes: “before things get better they will get worse.”
Sergey Grigoryants, another longtime human rights activist agrees. Putin’s Russia “to a significant extent is already a police state … and it is difficult to expect that this path will not go practically to the end.” Thus, both men expect that after the elections, things will get worse in Russia and in Russia’s behavior abroad.