Livin' it up, American style

Monday, November 20, 2006

Vladimir Putin, is he Stalin-redux?

Despite the US's mostly friendly relationship with Russian president Vladmir Putin (remember Bush looking into Putin's eyes and sensing his soul?), there have been several recent incidences that should cause the US to reconsider this friendship. It seems the former KGB man has not been able to move past the paranoia, suspicion, and repressive tactics of the Soviet Union.

Soon after Putin was elected president in 2000, he centralized the control of the federal government, taking away some autonomy from federalized terrorities and giving it to a few elected regional governors. In 2004, Putin decided that the regional governors would be nominated by the president, and then approved or disapproved by regional legislatures. This move was criticized as a step away from democracy and a return to the centrally run political apparatus of the Soviet era.

The Kremlin also controls most of the radio and TV stations in Russia, which came in handy during the 2003 parlimentary elections and then again in the presidential election of 2004, when the airwaves were filled with campaign ads largely for Putin and his party. Putin has been active in pursuing lawsuits against the biggest economic players in Russia, which is how he then gains more power for the Kremlin (like if the US government sued media mogul Rupert Murdoch, then made his FOX TV a government entity) and eliminates
political competitors. The Russian government has also recently banned, errrrr, made a "negative recommendation" against theaters showing the movie Borat, which is the first instance of censorship since the Soviet Communists used to run all artistic productions through state censors.

One of the more troublesome recent events was the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent anti-government journalist. She had written many newspaper articles and books about human rights abuses committed by the government, especially regarding Putin's crackdown in Chechnya. She was found shot 4 times in the elevator of her apartment on Oct 6, in what is suspected to be a contract killing. The next day, police seized her computer and investigative materials she had gathered for a story on torture practices used by pro-Russia Chechen officials. She was to have filed her story the day she was killed.

Today, inspiring this particular blog, was an NY Times
article about the suspected poisoning of a now deathly ill ex-KGB officer who was investigating her death. He was also a vocal critic of the KGB and President Putin. There are other incidences of people who were 'inconvenient' to the Putin administration getting conveniently poisoned, such as a KGB defector, and another journalist. Of course, none of these things can be traced back directly to Putin, but it is disturbing that these incidences are happening alongside a centralizing of government power away from the Russian people and towards the Kremlin and Putin.


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