Friday, March 22, 2019

Kremlin Actively Preparing for a Return to Totalitarianism, Ponomaryev and Ikhlov Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – All too often, Lev Ponomaryev and Yevgeny Ikhlov warn in a new commentary, observers focus on one or another Moscow action in isolation and do not connect the dots; but if one does, they say, it becomes obvious that the Kremlin is preparing on a “rushed” basis the foundations for a return to totalitarianism.

            Wherever one looks, the human rights activist and commentator say, the Putin regime is engaged in repression, persecution, faked judicial procedures and new laws that can be used much as Stalin did; and one must conclude that they are part of a broader plan rather than mere accidents (

            “Political repressions in contemporary Russia have occurred earlier, but they bore a targeted character,” the two say.  Now, “a new stage has arrived: legal norms, judicial and police practice are again being reoriented toward a policy of mass political persecutions” with laws like those against “fake” news and any criticism of the authority. 

            “In essence,” Ponomaryev and Ikhlov say, “the new laws are a return to the provisions of the infamous paragraph 191.1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code about ‘slander on the Soviet state and social system.’”  Moreover, the new law on “’criminal communities’” can be used not just against professional criminals but against business leaders as well.

            But as bad as the texts of these laws are, they continue, the fact that the authorities routinely ignore the laws in order to punish anyone they want, either to take revenge or to spread terror in the population. And everywhere one looks, this pattern is spreading, affecting ever more activities and ever more groups and individuals.

            And as popular anger increases, the regime is putting in place all the mechanisms it needs to “fabricate thousands of criminal cases.”  They catalogue case after case of persecution and conclude that “all this shows that the mechanism of mass political terror and repressive totalitarian practices has been created and is ready to be used.”

            Russia may not yet be at another 1937, although they suggest there are many cases with strong parallels to that horrible year; but its government now has all the tools to do the same things in the near future – and in the current environment, the existence of such tools and their increasing use acts to intimidate Russians in the latest “hybrid” fashion. 

            In a separate article ( appended to this one, Ponomaryev traces the ways in which a trial in St. Petersburg that has just begun represents the first trial of the Putin era that fully resembles those of 1937, a confirmation of the argument that he and Ikhlov advance.

            They are not alone in seeing a sea change in Russian realities in the direction of Stalinism at a time when many commentators are suggesting that the Putin regime is in trouble or may even collapse. Irina Pavlova, a US-based Russian historian, is one of them (

            She argues that what is occurring now is “the end of the Putin NEP. Just as in the NEP of the 1920s, the present-day New Economic Policy also has not led to a civilizational change of the Western type.”  And “just as in the 1920s, the regime has used NEP for its purposes not only economically but politically.”

            “Behind its façade,” Pavlova says, “all these years has occurred the foundation of a new edition of Stalinism” because Russia’s current leaders have no other idea for the future except one taken from the past and “modernized” slightly.

            Russia as so often in the past, the historian observes, is moving cyclically rather than escaping from its past. “The problem is that neither Russia nor the West want to soberly look at the past and draw lessons from it for their future survival.”  Ponomaryev and Ikhlov’s article, as well as Pavlova’s, may help to change that.

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