Journalist's death exposes the truth of Putin's brutal, lawless regime
IT IS time to end the fiction that Vladimir Putin's "dictatorship of law" has made post-communist Russia any less lawless. The murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of Russia's bravest and best journalists, a woman who dared to expose the brutal murders committed by Russian troops in Chechnya, is proof that the Russian president has delivered nothing more than a run-of-the-mill dictatorship with the usual contempt for law.
This recognition is a timely one for the world to make, particularly for Europe. Germany's foreign ministry is preparing a policy on Russo-German relations that will enshrine indifference to Mr Putin's lawlessness as being in the national interest of the most powerful member of the European Union. But indifference becomes appeasement when it encourages Mr Putin to pursue his lawless ways in the international arena, as in his current campaign to strangle Georgia's economy.
The killing of Ms Politkovskaya has incited an eerie sense of dj vu: just as in the KGB's heyday, people simply disappear in Putin's Russia. Ms Politkovskaya's death was the third politically tinged killing in three weeks. Enver Ziganshin, the chief engineer of BP Russia, was shot dead in Irkutsk on 30 September. Andrei Kozlov, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, who was leading a campaign against financial fraud, was assassinated on 14 September.
THE fact that Russia's prosecutor-general, Yuri Chaika, took over the investigation into Ms Politkovskaya's killing, as he did with Mr Kozlov's murder, doesn't inspire hope. In fact, involvement of the highest level of Russia's government almost guarantees the killers will never be found.
Ms Politkovskaya's murder is a particularly grim augury when you consider that she was a powerful critic of Mr Putin. In her articles for Novaya Gazeta, one of the few remaining independent papers in Moscow, and in her books, including Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy, Ms Politkovskaya wrote of the vanishing freedoms that characterise Mr Putin's presidency. Three possible fates await Mr Putin's enemies: exile, imprisonment or the grave.
I am not accusing Mr Putin's government of the contract killing of Ms Politkovskaya. After all, as a campaigning investigative journalist, she made many people angry besides Mr Putin. But even if Mr Putin's associates had nothing to do with Ms Politkovskaya being gunned down, his contempt for law created the climate in which the murder was carried out. Like the 12th-century killing of Archbishop Thomas Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral, the crime was committed in the clear belief that it would please the king.
THE six-year period since Mr Putin arrived in the Kremlin has been a time of deeply conflicting signals. On one hand, the world sees a young, educated leader pledging to modernise Russia. On the other, the president watches in silence while his ex-colleagues in Russia's FSB security service provide no security to those murdered, and launch a series of notorious espionage cases against journalists, scientists, and environmental activists.
The supposedly civilising influence of being a Western partner - chairing a G8 summit in St Petersburg for example - seems to have been lost on Mr Putin's Kremlin cabal. Exposure to Western values has merely delivered another Potemkin Village; Russia presents a faade of laws and democratic institutions, but behind that cardboard surface the same arbitrary brutes rule.
The danger for the world is that Mr Putin's lawlessness is being exported. Across Russia's near neighbours, a form of criminalised diplomacy is taking root. Look at Mr Putin's attempt to rig Ukraine's previous presidential election, and the on-again, off-again criminal charges brought against the opposition leader, Yuliya Tymoshenko. Look at the rogue breakaway regions in Moldova and Georgia that exist only because of the Kremlin's backing. Look at how the Kremlin seeks to blackmail its neighbours by threatening energy supplies.
It is past time for the world to recognise Mr Putin for what he is: a man who is taking Russia back into the shadows. The world must now ponder that old Latin maxim qui tacet consentere videtur - silence means consent - and ask if it is wise quietly to consent to Mr Putin's construction of a lawless energy superpower.
• Nina Khrushcheva is the author of a forthcoming book on Vladimir Nabokov.
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