You always suspected it; and now the punditocracy is coming around. According to an article in The Washington Post, Russia is well on its way to returning to the politics and policies of the old Soviet Union.
Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has repeatedly bemoaned the loss of Soviet "greatness"; when the Soviet Union fell, Putin was a KGB spymaster in Germany, so he probably never had to wait in long lines for crumbling toilet paper and spoiled potatoes. He would never want to literally reestablish the Soviet Union, and turn over power to the Communist Party — Putin's wealthy patrons in business and organized crime, and his vast network of well-connected buddies, would never want such a thing. But as for bringing back the repression, state control, and military expansionism? Break out the hammers and sickles, comrades.
Here are some of the ways Russia is reverting to its former criminal ways, according to the Post and other sources:
- One of the great benefits of the fall of Communism was that citizens could travel abroad freely, with 40 million Russians traveling outside the country each year. Now Putin is barring police officers and other government workers from leaving Russia; as many as four million Russians, and possibly their families, may be affected.
- Any blogger with 3,000 or visitors a day must register with the state and conform to state regulation. Russia's parliament is also considering five year prison sentences for protesters, and a law banning criticism of the government. Just last week, the founder of Russia's largest social media site announced he had fled the country, after Putin's thugs tried to force him to give up info on opposition leaders.
- State-controlled media constantly attack opposition politicians and government critics, accusing them of treason, and of being in the pay of the United States. People who happen to speak English are targeted as foreign spies.
- Putin is reviving the Soviet-era Preparedness for Labor and Defense Program, which forces every male citizen under 60 to participate in physical fitness regimes.
- This past week, the US State Department concluded that human rights violations by the Russian government included: “allegations of torture and excessive force by law enforcement officials, life-threatening prison conditions, interference in the judiciary and the right to a fair trial, restrictions on freedom of speech and press, restrictions on free assembly and association, restrictions on religious freedom of some religious minorities, electoral irregularities, widespread corruption, societal and official intimidation of civil society and labor activists, violence against women and limits on the rights of women in certain regions, trafficking in persons, and limitations on workers’ rights.”
- Economist Yevgeny Gontmakher thinks that Putin, by relentlessly promoting Russian self-reliance and promising his people grandiose schemes like a restored space program and military expansionism, is adopting the North Korean Juche philosophy.
- Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly said it will be at least a century before Russia has a functioning democracy and respect for the rule of law.
- A new law bans all profanity in films and media, and imposes a $70 USD fine for people who swear in public.
For decades, the Soviet Union was the second most powerful nation on the planet. Today, we're fortunate that the second most powerful nation is not an oppressive Communist dictatorship — oh, wait. If Russia gets its act together, America may have to deal with two totalitarian superpowers — and with America's fortunes declining, we have to ask what that will mean for the world.