28 November 2021
By Aleksandr Podrabinek
It is not difficult to see that the political situation in Russia will continue to deteriorate, judging by the political dynamics of the last ten years. There has been no improvement. Not in any area of public life has there been a single serious step towards greater freedom and solid guarantees for human rights.
On the contrary, the space for freedom has steadily shrunk, new laws have deprived citizens of their constitutional rights and police and judicial arbitrariness has competed with brutality and impunity.
Only once, in 2012 when faced with mass protests, did the authorities make small concessions – concerning the laws on political parties and gubernatorial elections. But even this small victory for civil society was soon overwhelmed by a wave of new repressive measures against all those who dissented from the authoritarian regime.
THERE ARE VARIOUS NEGATIVE SCENARIOS
Unfortunately, there is no reason to be optimistic at the moment. However, there are a number of different negative scenarios for the near future. The current regime prefers gradual change, step by step establishing itself on new frontiers of lawlessness and progressively removing citizens’ rights and freedoms. But this does not rule out rapid moves towards dictatorship and mass repression.
There were similar developments in recent Russian history. In 1968, after the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries entered Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union launched an offensive against dissenters. Numerous arrests and trials followed, punitive psychiatry was systematically developed and became widely used. The military intervention against the rebellion in Czechoslovakia brought with it a toughening of the repressive regime inside the USSR.
The same thing was repeated in 1979 after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. While the world’s attention was distracted by the Soviet-Afghan war, in the USSR, on the eve of the Olympic Games, cities were hurriedly ‘cleansed’ of dissidents, many dissident organizations were broken up and their members arrested. Andrei Sakharov was sent into exile without trial.
WAR UNLEASHES THE FORCES OF REPRSSION
The drama of political repression pales against the background of military operations with hundreds or thousands of dead and wounded. This is one of the attractive features of war for an authoritarian regime. War not only makes it possible to introduce emergency measures in the country and strengthen the regime’s own power, but also makes it possible to deal without fuss with all the discontented.
An escalation of the military situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border could easily lead to military conflict between the two countries. There is nothing likely to stop the Kremlin from a fully-fledged invasion of Ukraine, should such a decision be made. However, Ukraine, which is ranked 25th in the world in terms of military readiness by Global Firepower, has a combat-ready army of 255,000 personnel and one million reservists, of whom 150,000 have combat experience. And, significantly, in this war Ukrainians will be defending the freedom and sovereignty of their own country. They will fight inspired by the rightness of their cause and their belief in victory.
And what will the extremely weak Russian opposition and the country’s embryonic civil society be able to oppose to the repressive authorities? Only a consciousness of its own rightness. In the event of war with Ukraine, the Lubyanka and the Investigative Commttee will be given carte blanche to carry out reprisals against the ‘enemy within,’ as has happened previously in similar cases.
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE IN WAR.
Only this time it will not be limited to encouraging emigration or jailing bloggers and spells in cells for participants in single-person pickets. They will take real action. All the ‘foreign agents’ will be interned or expelled from major cities. Those prominent members of the opposition and journalists who do not have time, or do not want, to prove their loyalty to the authorities will face criminal charges.
Novaya gazeta, Dozhd* and Ekho Moskvy will either be shut down after demonstrative searches have been carried out on their premises, or they will be placed under the strict control of ‘commissars’ appointed by the Kremlin. The activities of all human rights organizations will be suspended indefinitely. Free travel abroad will end or will be made more difficult by new regulations similar to Soviet-era exit visas. Russia will be cut off from the global Internet while the law on the ‘Sovereign Runet’ will be implemented in full.
These may all be part of the measures that will follow a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Of course, I would like to be wrong.
*The Ministry of Justice added Dozhd to the registry of media foreign agents – ed.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove