Staunton, Oct. 14 – Vladimir Putin’s remark this week that “far from all” opposition figures are in prison has attracted more attention, but his statement that those who are classified by the state as foreign agents are guilty of a crime is more indicative of how he thinks and what he is planning, Sergey Shelin says.
“Up to now,” the Rosbalt commentator says, “foreign agents formally were not considered criminals and were registered on an official list not for the violation of Russian law but for completely legally receiving money from foreign sources.” Now, Putin has made it clear that he considers that a crime in itself (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/10/14/1926232.html).
This criminalization of the concept of foreign agent strongly suggests, Shelin continues, that the Kremlin leader plans, as Vladimir Pastukhov and others have argued, to shift from targeted repression to a more massive form, one that will include as its targets far more Russians than has been the cases in the past.
Putin shared his thinking on the criminal dangers those he has defined as foreign agents present to the political system he seeks to impose on the country in remarks at an energy forum and in an interview with a CNBC reporter (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66916 and kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66920).
According to the Kremlin leader, “everything must develop in a stable and peaceful fashion.” And there must not be any chance for a revolution that could interfere with this process. “We need stable and peaceful circumstances and the stable development of the economy and social sphere.”
But not everyone agrees with this, Putin continued, although at present “far from all of these are in jail.” They are hostile to the position of the government and “every other of them has a foreign passport or residence permit,” a paranoid suggestion for which he offered no evidence at all.
If such individuals don’t violate Russian law “and thus give reason to be declared a foreign agent,” Putin said, “that won’t happen,” a statement that might seem to offer the possibility that many will not but that contains within itself the notion that the basis for being declared a foreign agent is a criminal act.
“On paper, everything remains as before,” Shelin concludes. “But Putin has reminded everyone about the actual state of affairs: those who ‘give an occasion’ [for being declared a foreign agent] are enemies.” And this means they are not just recipients of money from abroad but criminals under Russian law.