20 years under Putin: a timeline

The city of Sochi has been placed under a de facto state of emergency for the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Author and analyst Alexander Podrabinek emphasizes the unlawful nature of the restrictions imposed by Vladimir Putin, and expresses disappointment over the lack of reaction from Western democracies.



Haunted by thoughts of the Olympics, Vladimir Putin is burning with fever. He wants to both put pressure on the opposition and look innocent. These wishes are incompatible. He began with another crackdown on civil rights – a most pleasant and familiar thing for him. On August 19, 2013, Putin issued a decree on "peculiarities of applying enhanced security measures" during the Olympics.

This ordinance divides Sochi into "controlled" and " prohibited" zones. Limited access into controlled zones will be allowed for "individuals and transport vehicles" after security checks by the police.  Access to prohibited zones will be denied to all individuals and cars without service or operational needs. The boundaries of these zones will be marked with signs and secured.

From January 7, 2014, the entrance to Sochi and the movement of vehicles within the city limits will be prohibited to all cars except for vehicles of emergency services, vehicles with accreditation certificate and those registered in the municipality of Sochi.

The August 19, 2013 ordinance established that rallies and demonstrations could, of course, be held "in a different period of time" – just not between January 7 and March 21, 2014, during which the Russian Constitution will be suspended by its guarantor.

In order to ensure complete safety, the sale of arms, ammunition, explosives and toxic substances will be prohibited during this period of time. To make it more presentable, the president should have prohibited the sale of nuclear weapons as well, but this idea seems to have not occurred to him.

The use of Sochi's airspace will be restricted during the Olympics.  Restrictions will also apply to swimming in the Black Sea within the city area. Drivers going through the checkpoint on Russia's southern border with Abkhazia in neighboring Georgia will be subject to restrictions as well.

This sports concentration camp will be run by the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, the Operational Headquarters of the Olympic Games, the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, the Foreign Ministry, as well as other federal ministries and agencies.  These bodies will issue permissions and accreditation certificates, permit and deny access, carry out checks and searches, confiscate and give back, define particularities and regulate.

Since all these agencies are used to their ways, Putin should have added to his ordinance a paragraph on a categorical ban on corruption during the Olympics.  This idea did not occur to him either. Thus, all passes and permits will be sold as usual – only now for a higher price.

All indications show that a state of emergency will be introduced in Sochi for the duration of the Olympics – that is, there will be the appearance of a state of emergency, but in reality that will not be the case.  After all, one cannot equate hosting foreign athletes to carrying out a counter-terrorism operation, and a visit of government delegations to a natural disaster! This is why the government felt awkward when it came to using emergency law.

Putin found a solution: he issued an ordinance, which has the force of single-use law.  After the Olympics, the law will be discarded. This single-use law contradicts many constitutional principles and federal statutes. There is however, one paragraph in this law that goes beyond the usual legal violations. Legal restrictions on the right to protest contradict not only Article 31 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which gives citizens of the Russian Federation the "right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, mass meetings and demonstrations, marches and pickets," but also Article 55, which stipulates that "in the Russian Federation no laws must be adopted which abolish or diminish human and civil rights and freedoms."

Many people would rather get medals than think about the fact that the Sochi Olympics are connected with a crackdown on civil rights in Russia.

By restricting the right to protest, Putin's ordinance of August 19, 2013 demonstrates a flagrant violation of the Russian Constitution. Maybe the presidential administration realized before it was too late that it had made a misstep, or maybe Putin wanted to surprise his future foreign guests with a democratic delicacy, or perhaps he wished to be seen to his fellow citizens as a remarkable democrat – no one can know for sure. Maybe it was the combination of these reasons that prompted the appearance of another decree, issued by Putin on January 4, 2014.

Demonstrating an imperial generosity, the president replaced "a different period of time" in his previous ordinance with permits dissatisfied citizens are required to obtain for every step they intend to take "from a corresponding territorial body of the Russian Interior Ministry as well as from a corresponding security agency." Furthermore, although worn out by his generosity, the president did not neglect to mention that the number of participants, the time frame and the route of street demonstrations should be specified by the Sochi's city administration.

Roughly speaking, this is what it will look like. First, a couple hundred people will decide to organize a march on the Sochi seafront on the first day of the Olympics, demanding, say, the release of political prisoners. The city administration will then discuss the application with the police and the Federal Security Service and give the dissatisfied citizens the following answer: "We of course cannot violate the Russian Constitution by preventing you from peacefully expressing your opinion. However, we shall introduce the following changes to your protest demonstration: there will be 10 participants instead of two hundred; the march will begin at 1AM instead of noon, and will happen not on the Sochi seafront but through a gorge of the Caucasus mountain range. Thus, we have designated a special area for conducting rallies!"

That is not to say that the constitutional right to hold rallies, mass meetings and marches has prevailed. Restrictions connected with the requirement to get permission from the executive branch to hold mass protests are still in violation of the Constitution. However, the impudent insult of the Constitution is disavowed. The situation has returned to a familiar state of lawlessness.

The Russian public received Putin's concession with enthusiasm. Everybody is happy. It is analogous to this: in the beginning, the government declared that one in ten people would be shot to death. Society was saddened by this news. Then the government updated its decree by announcing that only one in twenty people would be killed. Society celebrated a thaw. Top news headlines include "Putin allowed mass rallies in the Sochi Olympics," "Putin allowed to organize demonstrations in Sochi," "Putin allowed sanctioned protest rallies during the Sochi Olympics." Putin is a strict czar, but sometimes he is gracious! He deprives people of their rights and restores them at his own discretion.

The reaction of the democratic West to this story is also worth mentioning. Nobody has expressed outrage at the emergency measures being introduced at the Olympic festival of sports. Many people would rather come to blockaded Sochi to do some running and jumping and get medals than think about the fact that the Sochi Olympics are connected with a crackdown on civil rights in Russia.