Over at UN Dispatch, I’ve been running a series about how Russia systemically abuses its people. I wrote the first during a trip to Moscow, about why the authorities are raiding western NGOs:
The bill itself doesn’t contain anything egregious – it rightly identifies Russia as a human rights abuser and puts in place specific sanctions against the individuals responsible for those abuses. But by singling out Russia for censure, the U.S. opens itself up to well-grounded charges of hypocrisy, given the lack of similar bills targeted at Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.
That’s why the Russians pressured USAID into closing down its Moscow offices. It’s why U.S. democracy promotion NGOs NDI and IRI left the country. (Imagine the reaction if Russia spent millions of dollars trying to influence American elections the way the U.S. does so in Russia.)
Last week, I followed up with a question about why the upcoming Sochi Olympics aren’t moderating Russia’s behavior they way Beijing’s 2008 games did in China:
In a way, Russia has figured out that ignoring celebrity criticism doesn’t really carry any cost. As great an album as Brothers in Arms is, Mr. Knopfler is not going to affect the Kremlin’s anti-NGO campaign, or suddenly inspire them to prosecute horrific acts of violence against journalists.
President Vladimir Putin, too, has a role to play as well. A staunch believer in the idea of “absolute sovereignty,” Putin believes the international community does not have the right to dictate how his country operates. In practice, this means he feels little need to adhere to international precedent or norms, which is why he felt little compunction about unceremoniously pushing human rights groups out of the country.
And finally, today I got up a post about what we can learn of Russia’s systemic abuse of journalists from last week’s death of Mikhail Beketov (another name I need to add to our running memorial of murdered journalists).
Sadly, Beketov’s plight is not unusual. In Russia, violence against journalists is not directed by the state per se, but rather is enabled by the state. In her 2004 book Putin’s Russia, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya explained in detail how this system worked: when a journalist criticizes an official or rich person too strongly, they are first threatened, then hurt a little bit, and then, eventually, killed. The killers are never brought to justice.
Politkovskaya faced this system: after reporting on atrocities against civilians in Chechnya, she was first detained, then harassed, then threatened (including by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov), then poisoned, and, in October of 2006, shot to death in the elevator of her apartment building. The Russian government indicted three men in her murder, but in 2009 acquittedthem all.
Sigh. I wish Russia wasn’t such a persistently depressing place, but it is.