KGB vs. KGB: Putin's crackdown extends to old comrades
Arrests and intimidation of political opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin have been on the upswing recently, extending even to a former KGB comrade of the Russian leader.
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"We already see a Plan A in action, that involves harassing and putting psychological pressure on various opposition leaders, in the hopes that this will tamp down the protest movement," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "It's a way of showing that nobody can consider themselves safe if they participate in public rallies...Skip to next paragraph
"But much more serious are the signs that a Plan B is being prepared, which would begin with a large-scale political trial of the people involved in the May 6 rally," he adds. "The creation of a 200-strong investigating team is unprecedented; no criminal act has ever brought together this many resources. This is not being done for nothing, there is some purpose here, and that's what people are worried about. They fear that Putin is preparing to shift to a much more authoritarian state, and this is a dress rehearsal for what may be coming. It does remind a bit of the 1930s."
Struggling to hold back
Russian human rights activists say they are not literally comparing the fairly mild police actions they are experiencing with the Stalin-era mass repressions, but they insist that it carries the same whiff of state lawlessness about it.
"Nobody's saying it's 1937 all over again. After all, nobody's getting shot here," says Yury Kostanov, a lawyer with the Independent Judicial Expertise Council in Moscow. "What we're pointing to is the absence of proper legal procedure. Police search and seize first, then begin to formulate a case. Judges follow the scripts written by prosecutors. There is complete arbitrariness about what's happening and we know from our history where that leads. There are good reasons to be worried."
Gudkov says a bigger wave of protests is on the way, probably in the autumn, and it will be powered not only by the middle-class political demands that have brought people into the streets of Moscow so far, but also by growing economic pain across Russia's vast hinterland as inflation inches up and new utility reforms erode working class living standards.
"We need to take steps to prevent radicalization of the protest movement, but how can we do that when the authorities act in such a manner?" he says. "I do not understand the leaders of our country. I'm of the same generation and background as Putin, and I've always been respectful and ready for dialogue. But he's waging war on the younger generation, like my son, Yevgenia Chirikova, Alexei Navalny, Ilya Ponomaryov. All these raids, arrests and different forms of harassment are driving them in a radical direction, and there are no avenues for dialogue other than to take to the streets," he says.
"I'm ready for any possible consequences. Things are flying out of the framework of law. They can strip me of my deputy's mandate, accuse me, wreck me. I don't think this will last long. Putin does not understand how deep the crisis has already become… The main thing is we must prevent the first shot from being fired on any side. If we have bloodshed here, the process will go out of control very fast. It's crucial for the opposition to remain peaceful, and for the authorities to heed this lesson as well," he adds.