“Putin’s biggest fear is the gathering of people in the streets” | Political news

In recent months, Violetta Grudina has been assaulted, fined and the windows of her apartment shot down by what appears to be a shotgun.

Someone broke into his office, painted swastikas on the walls, and damaged the furniture. His home address was published in slanderous leaflets.

“A gang of non-humans luring our children to homosexuality and other indecency has arisen in our quiet northern town,” said the anonymous leaflet, which its neighbors received.

The “quiet town” is Grudina’s arctic hometown of Murmansk, a Barents Sea port near Norway, and the “non-humans” are his fellow activists who support the jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

In four days in April, Grudina, who had headed the Murmansk branch of the Navalny anti-corruption foundation since 2017, was arrested five times.

She said police refused to investigate the assault and had so far done nothing about the other incidents.

At the time of publication, the Murmansk Police Press Service had not responded to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

‘I am filled with anger’

Grudina claims that local authorities orchestrated the intimidation campaign to prevent him from running against a pro-Kremlin candidate in the upcoming municipal elections.

But she is not discouraged.

“It all makes me laugh, it all makes me angry. I am filled with a beneficial anger to continue working, ”the 31-year-old rights defender told Al Jazeera.

She believes she is the victim of a new aggressive wave of political purges initiated by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has gone from a one-off persecution of selected opponents to wider pressure on a growing number of critics.

“The construction of neo-Stalinism with Putin at the head is being completed in Russia these days,” Gennady Gudkov, an exiled opposition leader and former lawmaker who was expelled from Al Jazeera, told Al Jazeera. the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

“So far there is only one difference with Stalin’s regime – there is no mass imprisonment in the gulags and there are no mass executions without trial. Everything else is copied on Stalin’s model.

At the height of Stalin’s “great terror” of the late 1930s, millions of people were imprisoned and hundreds of thousands were executed, including investigators and intelligence agents who carried out the first round of arrests and executions.

“There have not been such massive purges since Stalin’s time,” a project of the American network Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty told Severreal.org, an imprisoned activist Andrey Borovikov, a supporter of Navalny in the northern city of Arkhangelsk. -April.

“The difference is that at the time people were shot and now they are sentenced to prison terms,” he said.

On Thursday, a court sentenced Borovikov to two and a half years in prison for “spreading pornography”.

In 2014, he posted a link to an uncensored video by German heavy metal band Rammstein that was not banned in Russia.

“ Trying to scare ” the opponents

Other observers, however, disagree with the Stalinist comparison, saying the new wave of arrests and the passing of repressive laws stems from multifaceted political change.

It started last year after Putin sacked his longtime prime minister, former president and cautious liberal Dmitry Medvedev, replacing him with a technocratic tax official. Mikhail mishustin.

“No, these are not mass repressions,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russia-based analyst for the Jamestown Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC.

“It is the whole mass of the state apparatus, hundreds and thousands of objectively useless people, who are incapable of producing anything, are putting pressure on the most remarkable opponents of the state system, trying to scare others, “

Moscow pressured Navalny opposition movement as Kremlin critic languishes in jail [File: Anton Vaganov/Reuters]

Putin has systematically eliminated all opposition to his rule, which is now in its third decade.

His government passed laws restricting media freedoms and made it difficult to register opposition parties. The Kremlin has marked Western-funded NGOs, including helping victims of HIV / AIDS and domestic violence, as “foreign agents”.

Several prominent critics, including investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, rights lawyer Natalya Estemirova and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, were killed during Putin’s presidency and hundreds of activists jailed.

But now a lot more people are facing pressure and jail time, and things are happening at breakneck speed.

Viktor Kudryavtsev, a 78-year-old physicist on trial for high treason, died of cancer on April 30, 14 months after being accused of passing information on Russia’s hypersonic weapons to “foreign intelligence services” .

Kudryavtsev’s death “illustrates how Russian intelligence services are killing science in Russia. Literally, ”his lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who called the charges against his client“ absurd ”and“ fabricated, ”wrote on Facebook.

Within hours, Pavlov himself was behind bars.

The next day, at 6 a.m., his hotel room in Moscow was searched and he was detained for “disclosing details of an ongoing investigation,” his firm Team 29 said.

At the same time, police searched Pavlov’s apartment in St. Petersburg and broke into his colleague’s apartment, he said.

Dozens of prominent lawyers, writers and journalists signed an open letter denouncing the detention and searches.

“The persecution of Ivan Pavlov, the confiscation of confidential lawyers’ files is an act of intimidation not only for Pavlov, but for the entire community of lawyers,” they wrote in the letter published on Monday.

‘Impossible to work in such conditions’

Pavlov’s clients include the Navalny Foundation, which has 40 branches all over Russia.

On Friday, the Russian financial monitoring agency, Rosfinmonitoring, blacklisted as an organization involved in “terrorism and extremism”.

“Under the guise of liberal slogans, these organizations are creating the conditions to destabilize the social and socio-political situation,” Moscow prosecutors said in a statement sent to a court which could, by May 17, ban the network of regional offices in Navalny.

Pro-Kremlin voices justify the pressure on Navalny’s activities and accuse the network of working with Western intelligence services.

“This is the government’s response to the spiraling and aggressive attacks by the bosses of Navalny – the intelligence services of the US, UK and Canada,” former lawmaker Sergey Markov told a radio station from Moscow on April 26.

Putin has systematically eliminated opposition to his rule since taking office [File: Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters]

If banned, Navalny’s foundation will be listed alongside Al Qaeda and ISIS (ISIS), and hundreds of its employees face up to 10 years in prison.

Thousands of supporters and donors also face up to eight years in prison for “funding extremism”.

“We have to be honest – it is impossible to work in such conditions,” Navalny’s assistant Leonid Volkov said on Thursday in a YouTube video, announcing the closure of the network’s 40 offices.

Are the apparent purges a sign of the Kremlin’s weakness?

Murmansk activist Grudina believes there is a real fear of political competition and transparency.

“The biggest fear of Vladimir Putin is that people gather in the streets,” she said.

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