20 years under Putin: a timeline

On March 18, Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta published an op-ed by IMR Senior Policy Advisor Vladimir Kara-Murza. The article, entitled “Patriotism and Opposition,” was written in response to the officially sanctioned smear campaign against Kremlin opponents, who are being accused of “treason.”



“Many people tend to confuse two notions: ‘Fatherland’ and ‘Your Excellency.’”

Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin

Alas, little has changed in our country since the time of Saltykov-Shchedrin, whose works may soon once again be declared dangerous for the unripe minds of schoolchildren. The current regime, which fully understands the shakiness of its own legitimacy that is not founded on free elections, is purposefully substituting concepts, portraying criticism of itself as criticism of the country. The trick, it must be said, is not new, and has been tried many times by other authoritarian regimes, from Milosevic to Mugabe.

The greatest cause of hysteria by the regime and its propaganda squads are contacts between the Russian opposition and civil society and the outside world. It is as if the Kremlin and United Russia party have a monopoly on all external contacts on behalf of Russia, and anyone who dares to contradict the party line and refuses to praise Putin in international audiences is a “traitor.” And this is no longer just a figure of speech—it was precisely in this manner that the most zealous proponents of official pseudo-patriotism have labeled State Duma Member Dmitri Gudkov, who recently met with members of the US Congress and spoke at a human rights conference. Gudkov, like other opposition figures, is being accused of “complaining about his country.” This is worth noting—instead of “criticism of the government” (which is what the opposition, in fact, does,) the accusers are talking about “complaining about the country.” A seemingly small stylistic substitution, but what a difference in perception!

Leaders of the Kremlin are living in their own parallel world, where criticism of Putin constitutes an insult of the Motherland.

It appears that leaders and allies of the Kremlin, who are presumptuously equating themselves with Russia, are living in their own parallel world, where criticism of Putin constitutes an insult of the Motherland, while meetings with lawmakers from another country (in this case, from Russia’s OSCE and G8 partner) constitute “treason.”

It should be noted that only authoritarian regimes accuse their opponents of “treason.” Such accusations have been leveled against German antifascists, South African opponents of apartheid, and Soviet dissidents. In democratic systems, where the opposition is considered an inalienable part of state polity, this would be simply impossible. For instance, in the United States, which our pseudo-patriots like to cite, not only representatives of the incumbent (democratically elected!) administration, but also members of Congress from the opposing party regularly talk with foreign politicians. And no one would dream of calling them “traitors.”


On March 4, Russian opposition figures Mikhail Kasyanov (left) and Dmitri Gudkov spoke at a Washington forum co-hosted by the Institute of Modern Russia, Freedom House, and the Foreign Policy Initiative.


It is strange to have to repeat such simple truths. Criticism of a government that has not been freely elected by citizens (see, for example, the reports of OSCE and Council of Europe monitors on the 2011 and 2012 Russian elections,) cannot—by definition—be considered “criticism of Russia.” Even a democratic government does not have a monopoly on speaking on behalf of the entire country—what, then, is to be said about an undemocratic government? As for public activism directed against corruption and violations of the rights of Russian citizens, this certainly cannot be called “criticism of Russia.” Patriotism means loving one’s country, not covering for the lies and baseness of its rulers.

In their quest to smear the opposition, supporters of the regime often resort to outright forgery. Three weeks ago, in his op-ed, entitled “Russian Landing Party in Washington,” Eduard Lozansky informed the readers of Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the author of the present article has supposedly called for “the achievement of full superiority of US space, ground, air and naval forces in Europe and Eurasia,” and for “forc[ing] Russia to buy American meat.” It seems that, in the end, such blatant lies work against those who are disseminating them.

Not Russia’s interests, but personal financial interests are the reason why representatives of the government react so nervously to the opposition’s activities.

As for the protection of human rights, it is important to recall that it has always been based on international mechanisms; in our case—on the mechanisms of the OSCE, which includes both Russia and the US. The OSCE Moscow Document, which the Russian Foreign Ministry does not like to talk about, clearly establishes that “issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern,” “are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.” This principle acquires particular importance for countries, whose citizens are unable to appeal to their own freely elected Parliament, an objective court, or large independent mass media (because of their absence.) Alas, today’s Russia belongs to this category of countries.

But even that is not the main point. Those behind the publicly instigated hysteria really do have something to be afraid of. It is no secret that the principal aim of contacts between the Russian opposition and civil society and politicians from Western countries is the creation of anticorruption barriers for specific representatives of the current regime. This primarily involves the Magnitsky Act, which provides for targeted visa and financial sanctions for Russian officials implicated in corruption and human rights violations. According to a December poll by the Levada Center, 44 percent of Russian citizens support this pro-Russian and anticorruption law, while only 21 percent are against it (back to the question of who—the current regime or the opposition—has a greater right to speak on behalf of the country.) Not Russia’s interests, for which they could not care less, but very tangible personal financial interests are the reason why representatives of the government react so nervously to the opposition’s activities directed at shutting off access to the West for corrupt Russian officials. Well, such reaction (including the reaction to Gudkov’s visit) confirms yet again that the Russian opposition is on the right track.

The article (in Russian) on Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s website