With Russia’s parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2and the pro-Kremlin United Russia party expected to win an overwhelmingmajority in the voting, President Vladimir Putin has intensified attackson his opponents–most recently, accusing them of being in the pocketof Western governments. Most of the country’s state-run media have fallenin line.
Attacks on opposition forces are not confined to verbaldemonization. On Wednesday, Farid Babayev–the head of the Yabloko partyticket in Dagestan was shot at the entrance of his apartment building.Babayev, a human rights activist and fierce critic of the United Russiaparty and local authorities, died on Saturday. That same day, GarryKasparov, one of the leaders of the opposition coalition Other Russia,was arrested in Moscow and sentenced to five days in jail for leading anunsanctioned street march on Russia’s Central Election Commission. (Cityofficials had given the coalition permission to hold a rally but not amarch.)
The Kremlin’s tightening grip on the media, especially national andlocal television, and authorities’ harassment of opposition parties,led Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky to draw a parallel between Putin’sRussia and Soviet Russia. “Russia stands on the threshold of therestoration of Soviet-style single-party rule.”
On the eve of elections, there has been an intensification of attacks onwhat remains of Russia’s free press. On November 9, Russianauthorities shut down one of the country’s few remaining independentnewspapers– the Samara edition of Novaya Gazeta. The pretext providedby authorities was cynical and hypocritical: in a country which leadswhen it comes to intellectual piracy, the police confiscated the paper’slast remaining computer (the others were seized in a raid last spring)and indicted its editor for allegedly using a counterfeit version ofMicrosoft software.
Last week, Dmitrii Muratov–the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta‘snational edition–was in New York to receive the Committee to ProtectJournalist’s International Press Freedom Award. I had the honor andpersonal pleasure of presenting CPJ’s award to him. My husband StephenCohen and I first met Dmitrii–a tenacious and brave editor–in 1993.He and a few other colleagues had gathered in the basement cafeteria ofMoscow News–then a bold paper of the glasnost era–to plan the launchof Novaya Gazeta. Survival of a different kind was on their minds atthat time; they were beginning the paper with two computers, oneprinter, two rooms and no money for salaries!