Russia’s Last Political Freedoms Are on the Way Out

The trial to liquidate Russia’s best-known human rights organization is about much more.

By , a journalist focusing on European and Russian politics.

A new sort of Russian regime has emerged since 2020. “It is more ideological, conservative, and aggressive,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a founder of Moscow-based political analysis firm R.Politik and nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center. The roots of this new system can be traced back to 2016, when Russian President Vladimir Putin began handing more domestic policy power to security services as he became more involved in foreign policy, including in Syria and Ukraine. By 2020, Russia’s security services were responsible for controlling the non-systemic opposition—the real opposition, as opposed to pro-Kremlin parties and organizations that play their assigned roles in Putin’s so-called managed democracy). “[The government’s] policy against critics had been selective, but now it is indiscriminate and routine,” Stanovaya said. “Non-systemic opposition is seen as a national security threat and has lost the right to exist in the eyes of the Kremlin.”

War against the opposition has become a way of life for the Kremlin’s law enforcement agencies and armies of security officers. “It’s how they prove that they’re needed and that they serve the country well,” Stanovaya added. “If you don’t show Putin your willingness to fight against the enemies, the non-systemic opposition, it means that you yourself may be seen as an irresponsible political force.”


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