Friday, April 20, 2007

Stopping at Nothing

In the latest issue of the Spectator, Anne Applebaum considers that Vladimir Putin will stop at nothing to suppress the new wave of Russian dissidents. Britain is becoming the principal target of the Kremlin’s new assertive anti-Western policy. In the aftermath of last Saturday’s violent break-up by Moscow riot police of a peaceful march and rally, a disturbing event that was widely publicised in the world’s media, she concludes that
The new aggression might […] be evidence that the Kremlin is now so self-confident that it no longer needs to make any gestures to Western public sensibilities at all.

There are many reasons why this might be so. That 80 per cent public support — backed up by a television monopoly which gives no time to potential opponents — is part of it. High oil prices are even more important. Soviet dissidents at least knew that even in the darkest times, they could get some attention paid to their cause in the West: in 1980 a group of Russian women political prisoners sent a message to President Ronald Reagan, congratulating him on his election. It arrived within three days, to the President’s delight, infuriating the KGB. But nowadays, the West is so anxious to please President Putin, and so keen to buy his gas and oil, that Kasparov and Kasyanov can’t count on much press coverage. Reagan is not in the White House; it is hard to imagine a letter from a Russian prison raising many eyebrows today.

In the end, though, some of that self-confidence surely comes from a sense of vindication. For a brief period, in the early 1990s, it looked like the KGB was finished. Now it is back, and more important than ever. If nothing else, the past decade has proven to Putin and his colleagues that the values they imbibed during their years in the Soviet secret services were the right ones. They no longer care if others disagree.
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