The Putin Crackdown

Wall Street Journals

Americans consumed by the Presidential election might spare a moment for Russia. Vladimir Putin timed his 2008 invasion of Georgia for the U.S. campaign season, and this year he’s doing the same with his latest political crackdown.

The Russian strongman has ruled since 2000, but his current domestic power play stands out for its ferocity. Last Friday Russian prosecutors charged a protest leader, Sergei Udaltsov, with plotting riots. If convicted by a puppet tribunal, Mr. Udaltsov could serve 10 years, long enough to keep him out of the way until well into a possible fourth Putin presidential term.

A week earlier Russian agents abducted Leonid Razvozzhayev in Ukraine and brought him back for trial alongside Mr. Udaltsov in Moscow. Mr. Razvozzhayev went to Ukraine to seek political asylum but he said he was grabbed off the street, tortured and forced to sign a confession.

All of this is part of a putsch that has been going on since shortly after Mr. Putin maneuvered himself back into the Presidency this year after a five-year rest stop as Prime Minister. It includes the arrest of Alexei Navalny, an anticorruption activist of little visible wealth who faces a long jail sentence on dubious embezzlement charges. There’s also the two-year jail term for a couple members of a feminist rock band, Pussy Riot, for staging an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral. No challenge to his dominance is too small for Mr. Putin to punish.

The rubber-stamp Parliament has imposed steep fines and jail time for any “unauthorized” protests. The point is to scare away Russia’s new professional classes from backing the opposition. New laws have neutered local NGOs and turned alleged libel and slander into felonies. Pro-democracy groups from abroad have been banned, including the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Mr. Putin is trying to ensure that no political alternative to him can emerge. The opposition can’t even fairly contest a local mayoral election. This is dangerous for Russia because it means the frustration with corruption and lack of political freedom will boil beneath the surface and could eventually explode. But the former KGB colonel will make sure anyone who protests pays a price in the meantime.

The Kremlin has also moved to consolidate economic control. Mr. Putin brokered last week’s sale of TNK-BP to state-run Rosneft. A marginal player in the 1990s, Rosneft took over the prime assets of the country’s then largest oil producer, Yukos, after founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky fell politically afoul of the Kremlin. With TNK, a company run by a Putin crony will have larger reserves than Exxon Mobil XOM +0.47% .

The Bush and Obama Administrations accommodated Mr. Putin for the sake of containing Iran and other U.S. interests, but he denounces America when it suits him at home and abroad. He dismisses critical U.S. comments but they still embarrass him and show average Russians the U.S. is on their side.

Congress should get over its gridlock and pass the Magnitsky Act that bars Russian human-rights offenders from traveling to or banking in the U.S. Better still: Boot this non-democrat out of the G-8 group of democracies. займы на карту срочно unshaven girl https://www.zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com/best-payday-loans.php hairy woman

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