The government of President Vladimir Putin has tightened the screws on Russian society since his return to the Kremlin in May 2012. This crackdown has been carried out by the parliament, law enforcement agencies, and the courts. There have been high-profile trials like those of Pussy Riot and Aleksey Navalny, a campaign against “foreign agent” NGOs, increased penalties for participation in unauthorized protests, broadened definitions of treason, and culpability for those “abusing the religious feelings of believers” or spreading “homosexual propaganda.” In analyzing these stifling trends, this memo makes three central points:
- The crackdown should be seen not just as a response to the 2011-2012 protests and the rise of an active opposition movement, but as a repudiation of the main tenets of “Medvedevism,” which embraced (especially rhetorically and symbolically) a more liberal and modern vision for Russia.
- Although the clampdown gives the impression of a well-directed plan from a single center, the unfolding process also shows clear signs of bureaucratic and clan competition and freelancing, and is not simply the product of a unified well-oiled machine.
- The Kremlin clearly has the advantage, but there are definite risks that follow from this campaign, including potential future problems within the very law enforcement organs that have spearheaded the offensive.
Putin’s Crackdown: Sources, Instruments, and Challenges
PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 277
By Brian Taylor