Filed under: Russia
The Washington Post reports that Anna Politkovskaya's newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, has been forced to shutter its bureau in the city of Samara after a determined assault by the malignant forces of Vladimir Putin's Kremlin. The paper recently launched an English-language online version, but is so strapped for cash because of the Kremlin's relentless pressure that the translation quality is abysmal, nearly unreadable.
Putin's forces have charged the Samara editor with using unlicensed software in his computers. The Post states:
The case is part of a larger assault on independent news media, advocacy organizations and political activists, according to government critics. But it is one that is specifically tailored to deflect foreign criticism. In multiple police raids against such groups, authorities are ostensibly targeting the alleged use of counterfeit software. Western governments and companies have long urged action against the widespread piracy in Russia. In the past 10 months, police in at least five Russian cities have raided the offices of media outlets, political parties and private advocacy groups and seized computers allegedly containing illegal software, paralyzing the work of the organizations. Often, authorities demand that employees submit to questioning and order them not to leave town until legal action is completed.
This is the same tactic that was used against Mikhail Khodorkovsky when he began to show interest in Putin's job. Russia is a fundamentally corrupt society where anyone -- anyone -- can be accused of a "crime" at any time. International corruption ratings agency Transparency International said that in 2006 Russia's level of societal corruption placed it #121 out of 163 countries studied, on a part with Rwanda and well below Kazakhstan.
In other words, Russia is becoming a desperate society, and desperate times call for desperate measures. The Moscow Times reports today that the price of a gallon of gasoline in Russia today is the same as in the United States, $2.95 per gallon. But the average wage in Russia is a tiny fraction of that in the U.S., meaning it's a price most Russians can't pay, leading to the closure of many unprofitable gas stations. The price in oil-rich Russia is so high because of the Kremlin's desperate need to market its fuel abroad in exchange for cash it can use to fund a new cold war arms race with the United States. This has actually resulted in gasoline shortages in Russia itself, with conditions similar to what America experienced in the 1970s, and the problem is compounded by a classic Soviet-style inability to produce sufficient quantities at refineries, driving prices still higher. The irony of Russia being one of the world's "energy superpowers" while facing these price spikes and shortages is not lost on the average Russian driver.
Food prices have also soared recently (the Kremlin itself has admitted that Russia's overall consumer price inflation will be double-digit this year, up to 40% higher than what the Kremlin had predicted and 20% higher than last year), leading to the imposition of draconian Soviet-style price controls, so it was hardly surprising when the latest public opinion survey showed a major slide in popularity by Putin's United Russia political party, so it's hardly surprising that Putin would feel the need for a major crackdown. He's banned the entry of foreign election observers for the country's parliamentary elections in December, pulled United Russia out of all political debates, confiscated huge quantities of campaign literature printed by rival parties and banned the registration of certain parties outright.
And now he's shutting down the last vestigial traces of the inconvenient press. The Post reports:
"This is not a campaign against piracy, it's a campaign against dissent," said Vitaly Yaroshevsky, a deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta in Moscow, who is in charge of the newspaper's regional editions. "The authorities want to destroy an opposition newspaper. It doesn't matter if we send more computers to Samara. It doesn't matter if we show we bought computers legally. It will change nothing." The paper says it believes its software is legal.
In fact, it's a campaign against the people of Russia, against their future, against the very existence of Russia itself a civilized nation -- or indeed any kind of nation at all.