Staunton, Dec. 1 – Initially, the Putin regime labeled as “foreign agents” a limited number of its opponents in hopes of shaming them and limiting their influence. Now, it has radically expanded the number of people who may be given that status and imposed specific and tight restrictions on them, a move that raises the possibility that even worse may be ahead.
As of today, a draconian new law, “On control of the activity of persons under foreign influence,” goes into effect, systematizing and expanding restrictions under which those so classified must try to live and work inside the current borders of the Russian Federation (iarex.ru/news/87819.html).
According to the new law, any resident of the Russian Federation who receives support from abroad or who is under foreign influence and is involved in political activity, the collection of information about security matters or the dissemination of materials to others can be classified as “a foreign agent.”
A few groups are excluded – government institutions, religious groups, political parties, employers, and members of international organizations who are only visiting Russia – but these exceptions only prove the rule that almost anyone in Russia now may be considered a foreign agent.
Those so classified have long been required to identify themselves as such, but now they can be subject to administrative or even criminal penalties for not doing that or for carrying out any information campaigns, receiving state financing for their activities, using significant government property, participating as experts in certain fields, and becoming state employees.
This approach recalls the way in which the Nazis and other authoritarian governments dealt with their opponents, first identifying them as such and then imposing severe restrictions on their activities only in the end to impose more draconian punishments including in the case of Jews and others in Nazi Germany death.
There is no indication that the Putin regime intends anything similar, but the fact that it is moving in a similar direction undoubtedly is sparking fears about what it intends to do next, something that will lead some to end the ties the government opposes, others to emigrate and still others to become more radical in their opposition to the Kremlin.