28 November 2021
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
If you take a close look at the dynamics of the political processes over the last ten years, it’s easy to guess that the political situation in Russian is going to continue to deteriorate. There have been no improvements whatsoever. Not a single serious step has been taken toward greater freedom and reliable guarantees of human rights in a single sphere of public life.
On the contrary, freedom’s scope has steadily narrowed, new laws have stripped citizens of their constitutional rights, and political and judicial tyranny have vied for cruelty and impunity.
Only one time, in 2012, after encountering mass protests, did the state make small concessions in the laws on political parties and gubernatorial elections. But that small victory for civil society was soon overshadowed by a wave of new repressive measures against everyone who disagreed with the authoritarian regime.
VARIOUS POSSIBLE NEGATIVE SCENARIOS
Nowadays, unfortunately, there are no grounds for optimism. However, there are various possible negative scenarios for the near future. The present regime prefers gradual changes, consolidating itself, step by step, at new frontiers of lawlessness and time after time taking away citizens’ rights and freedoms. However, this does not rule out swift bursts toward dictatorship and mass repressions.
This kind of thing has happened in very recent Russian history. In 1968, after the Warsaw Pact countries’ armies invaded Czechoslovakia, an offensive was undertaken against dissenters in the Soviet Union. Many arrests and trials followed, and forensic psychiatry took shape as a system and was given broad application. Military expansion against mutinous Czechoslovakia brought a toughening of the repressive regime inside the Soviet Union.
The same thing was repeated in 1979 after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. While the world community’s attention was distracted by the Soviet-Afghan war, in the Soviet Union, on the threshold of the Olympic Games, there was a swift crackdown on dissenters in the major cities, many dissident organizations were routed and their participants arrested, and Academician Sakharov was sent into exile without trial.
WAR UNTIES PUNITIVE AGENCIES’ HANDS
The drama of political repressions pales in the context of military actions with hundreds or thousands killed and wounded. For an authoritarian state, this is one of war’s attractive features. It not only makes it possible to introduce extraordinary measures in the country and strengthen its own power, but it also provides an opportunity to deal with all discontents without any particular fuss.
An exacerbation of the military situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border could easily lead to a military conflict between the two countries. Nothing is likely to stop the Kremlin from a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine if such a decision is taken. Ukraine, however, which according to Global Firepower ranks in 25th place in the world for military might, has a battle-worthy army of 255,000 men and 1 million reservists, 150,000 of whom have battle experience. And what is significant is that in this war the Ukrainians will be defending the freedom and sovereignty of their own country; they will be fighting inspired by their righteousness and faith in victory.
What can Russia’s opposition, which is at death’s door, and its embryonic civil society oppose to the punitive organs? Only the awareness of their own righteousness. In the event of war with Ukraine, the Lubyanka and Investigative Committee will be given carte-blanche to retaliate against the “domestic enemy,” as has happened in similar instances before.
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE IN WAR
And this time the matter will not be limited to encouraging emigration or detaining bloggers and making administrative arrests of solitary picketers. They’ll take up the matter in earnest. All “foreign agents” will be interned or sent out of the major cities. Criminal charges will be brought against those well-known oppositionists and journalists who don’t manage or want to assure the authorities of their loyalty in time.
Novaya Gazeta, Dozhd’, and Ekho Moskvy will either be shut down after demonstrative searches conducted there, or else they will be put under the strict control of Kremlin-appointed “commissars.” The activities of all human rights organizations will be halted indefinitely. The freedom to go abroad will be canceled or complicated by the introduction of new rules such as those that existed in the Soviet Union for exit visas. Russia will be cut off from the global Internet, and a law on a “sovereign Runet” will go into full force.
These could be some of the measures that follow a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Naturally, I’d like to be wrong.
Translated by Marian Schwartz