President Vladimir Putin was elected three times but is still dictatorial. Putin personifies the worst aspects of centuries of harsh Russian rule: totalitarian regimes marked by censorship, arbitrary imprisonment, jailed demonstrators and demolition of civil rights.
Putin got his toadies in parliament to pass a law banning “propaganda” about homosexuality. When several people, holding small rainbow flags supporting LGBTs tried to sing the Russian national anthem in Moscow’s Red Square, they were arrested.
The next day demonstrators were arrested in another Moscow square for unfurling umbrellas to protest closure of Russia’s only independent TV channel, Dozhd. All major cable owners dropped the channel under Kremlin pressure.
Pussy Riot, the punk protest group that wears colorful balaclavas, is treated shamefully. It is harassed, hounded and jailed. In downtown Sochi, plainclothed police officers attacked them with an irritant spray while Cossacks horsewhipped them. None of this is done without the approval of the Stalinesque Putin.
Earlier, the group was charged with hooliganism for performing an anti-Putin song on the altar of a Moscow cathedral, a reminder that the Russian Orthodox Church is a tool of the unchristian Putin.
Nikolai Zabolotsky. avant-garde poet exiled for eight years under Stalin, likened the repression under Putin to the gulag. Environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko was sent to a penal colony recently to face a five-year prison sentence.
Once a KGB operative, as Putin was, always a KGB operative. His regime is correctly characterized by the New York Times: “Soul-crushing repression, the cruel antigay and blasphemy laws and the corrupt legal system in which political dissidents are sentenced to lengthy terms on false charges.”
The Russian penal system violates the most basic human rights: cowing prisoners into “obedient slaves,” working them 20 hours a day and feeding them with food the Times calls “little better than refuse.” Prisoners labeled troublemakers are beaten, forced to stand outdoors for hours in bitter cold and prohibited from using the bathroom.
A new book by Gregory Feifer, “Russians: the People Behind the Power,” notes that the Winter Olympics were held in Sochi by decree of Putin.
“The very choice of Sochi, where Putin summers, defied logic and was a reminder of the role that irrationality has often played in Russian history,” Feifer writes. “The city’s subtropical climate necessitated hoarding the previous year’s snow under thermal blankets.”
The Sochi games, which cost $50 billion, became a symbol of Putin’s “crony capitalism,” enriching business friends, much of it from taxpayer funds. Putin power politics means Mafia politics. He replaced elected governors with his appointments. Putin tolerates no rivals.
Feifer concludes that the majority of Russians are convinced that “only a powerful oligarchic government can provide the order which they crave.”
Marina Hyde, writing in the UK Guardian, calls Putin “serially shirtless, the campiest world leader.” He preens as a strongman, piloting race cars, striking judo poses and hunting and riding without a shirt. He is as crude as his vulgar tough talk.
Putin launched a charm offensive during the games at Sochi, dropping by the headquarters of United States Olympic Committee leaders. He sipped wine, posed for photos and joked. But no one is fooled. Putin is a tyrant.