With a new constitution behind him, Putin is preparing to clear house and rid himself of all dissent in media, politics and academia. For Khodorkovsky, this is a test of a more mature authoritarian regime. Yakovenko sees the crackdown as a consequence of economic hard times, which will force the regime to make very unpopular choices.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – In Russia, where the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic (6,500 cases on average in the last few days and 150-200 deaths per day), arrests and repression continue.
The well-publicised arrest of journalist Ivan Safronov has been followed by an impressive crackdown in the last few days.
On Thursday, the Governor of the Khabarovsk Krai (territory), Sergey Furgal (picture 1), was arrested in Russia’s Far East, on serious charges of murder and kidnapping for the purpose of murder, allegations Furgal rejects.
Furgal is one of the few governors who are not members of Putin's United Russia party. Instead, he belongs to the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), which is led by liberal-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a traditional ally of President Putin. Furgal’s populism earned him acclaim in recent years as an anti-system politician.
Two members of the Khabarovsk Duma (parliament), both LDPR members, Dmitry Kozlov and Sergey Kuznetsov, were arrested along with Furgal.
In Moscow, the publisher and journalist Piotr Verzilov (picture 2), a supporter of the feminist rock group Pussy Riot, was arrested on Wednesday after his flat and office were raided.
In Samara, southern Russia, a well-known Bashkir politician, Ayrat Dilmukhametov, went on trial last Monday, for allegedly threatening the country’s territorial integrity and for terrorism.
Aleksandr Peĵiĉ was arrested on Wednesday in St Petersburg on terrorism charges for some posts on his Facebook page.
On Monday, a court in Pskov fined journalist Svetlana Prokopieva 500,000 rubles (US$ 6,950) for supporting terrorism, on the basis of her opinion about recent terrorist attacks.
On Thursday, journalist Arkadiy Babchenko, a well-known Putin opponent, currently in Ukraine, was included in a list of people wanted for terrorism and extremism.
The crackdown seems to be a direct consequence of Russia’s recent constitutional referendum (1 July).
Given what is happening, some observers are starting to refer to it as Putin’s terror, echoing Lenin’s "red terror" after the 1918 constituent assembly, and Stalin’s terror of the 1930s against his political opponents.
For Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled anti-Putin businessman, the authorities are "testing the new rules of the game under a more mature authoritarian regime".
In addition to the cases mentioned, reports from Russia indicate that the police are carrying out more searches and arrests for political reasons and trumped-up allegations.
For example, at 6 am police broke into the flat of Moscow municipal councillor Yulia Galyamina (picture 3), one of the organisers of a protest against constitutional changes scheduled for 15 July.
Khodorkovsky sees the emerging "system of intimidation" as a prelude to a future totalitarian "terror" that is coming to Russia.
After Safronov's arrest, the Russian Union of Journalists sent a letter to the director of the FSB (ex-KGB) asking if his detention was linked to his journalistic activity. The association also wants information about other repressive acts against journalists in the country.
Russian universities are also anxious. Major staff cuts are expected in the departments of social sciences and humanities at Moscow’s most prestigious institution of higher learning, the Higher School of Economics (HSE).
According to a university spokesman, 20-30 faculty members are expected to go as part of the “reorganisation of academic activities;” however, some observers believe that the redundancies are politically motivated. The HSE is one of the most open and pluralistic institutions, with scholars from various backgrounds and with different worldviews.
Speaking on Radio Svoboda about the situation in Russia, the well-known journalist and sociologist Igor Yakovenko said that the repression is due to the difficult economic situation, which will force the regime to make very unpopular choices.
In Yakovenko’s view, "the real grassroots protest will begin as soon as Putin runs out of money."