Illegal expropriation is becoming institutional policy. The Duma rubberstamps Putin decrees. In the criminal courts they have brought back an old Soviet law allowing the state to confiscate the property of the convicted. Not to be outdone, tax authorities can now seize money and property from corporations or individuals without a court decision.
The Kremlin is not concerned about international opinion because there isn't one. There has been no move to cancel the G7 meeting scheduled for Moscow in 2006. At Russia's current rate of transformation the meeting will be a travesty. Ms. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger doesn't doubt that a desire to stay on good economic terms with Russia is what keeps the "leaders of the Free World" silent on the mounting human rights violations.
For a tragic example of this hypocrisy compare the reaction to Abu Ghraib to what happened in the Russian town of Blagoveschensk in December. The entire town (pop. 30,000) in the Muslim region of Bashkortorstan was virtually locked down for three days as Russian security forces marauded. Over 1,000 were arrested and at least 100 assaulted.
Meanwhile in Moscow, 19 members of Putin's parliament signed a letter to the attorney general that condemned "evil acts by Jews against Russian patriots" and said that all the anti-Semitic activities in Russia, such as blowing up synagogues and desecrating cemeteries, were organized by Jews to provoke local officials.
The Duma recently passed a law that punishes foreigners who "show disrespect to the state of Russia." Without a pause, the director of the federal agency in charge of the media stated that it's time to filter Internet content. Criticism of Mr. Putin and his regime simply will not be tolerated. Censorship and repression are threatening to surpass oil and gas as Russia's biggest exports.
I don't understand how all of this happening without so much as a squeak of protest beyond Russia's borders. Inside Russia however it is a different story.
Students and pensioners have recently taken to the wintry streets to protest. In a healthy democracy politicians would step in to lead an angry crowd. Not in Russia, where there's no political advantage to being against any Kremlin policy, no matter how many voters are against it. The only vote that matters is Mr. Putin's.
With the democratic opposition systematically pushed into the margins, real change will come from the people, not from the top. We are starting from scratch. In places like Russia liberty is more than a filler for speeches. Democracy is more than something that interrupts your life every four years. People born in free countries think that we are exaggerating the loss of freedoms when in reality things are even worse. You see Mr. Putin sitting at the table with the G7 leaders and assume he can't really be all that bad.
This is not a plea for help, but a warning about what we're going to have to deal with soon. The patience of the Russian people is wearing thin. With whom will the West side in this coming battle, the Russian people or the KGB?
I think this a question that will demand answers sooner rather than later.