The Russian Kremlin Hides in Plain Sight
Proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin must be given credit for making two signficant innovations in neo-Soviet Russia as he seeks to recreate the Soviet dictatorship and empire but without its former vulnerabilities.
First, where the USSR saw an enemy in the Orthodox Church, Putin sees only a friend. Installing a fellow proud KGB spy as primate, Putin realized he could use the church as a weapon against dissent, invoking the power of the divinity in much the same way that the institution of the Tsar used to do.
And second, where the USSR saw only risks in the publication of bad news, Putin sees opportunity for further repression. Thus, far from enforcing a total crackdown on news about the brutal killing of Sergei Magnitsky while behind bars in the Kremlin’s custody, Putin actually encouraged both the media and his sidekick Dima Medvedev to spout off about the event.
Putin gains two clear advantages from this coverage.
First, Putin makes it known how dangerous his dungeons really are, without having to do the dirty work of talking about them himself. Nobody hearing reports about how Magnitsky met his end could fail to appreciate the shocking level of barbaric, inhuman suffering he endured, or why. Who wouldn’t think twice about following in Magnitsky’s footsetps?
And second, putin makes it known that a firm hand is required on the tiller of the ship of state in order to prevent chaos. His firm hand, of course. He’s happy to let Medvedev take the principle blame for such events, to let everyone understand that when Putin is in charge such things don’t happen. Well, at least they don’t get reported.
In other words, coverage of Magnitsky’s killing both reinforces and justifies Putin’s dictatorship. The only risk Putin faces is that the reporting would generate popular disgust and outrage that would transform into blowback against his government. But what practical evidence is there that Russian voters are capable of any such action? There is no widespread organization against Putin, and even if there were it’s clear Putin has a total chokehold on the electoral mechanisms, meaning that elections themselves cannot threaten him. Only open revolt in the streets could do so, and Putin has shown a clear willingness and ability to kill, arrest and imprison those who dare to engage in such behavior. They know they’ll meet a fate similar to Magnitsky, so only the hardiest of them will dare to do so. In Russia these days, such people are too few and weak to worry Putin much.