Putin's RuNet Crackdown
Back in December, I wrote about the onset of open warfare on the Internet by the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, helped along with his American enabler Barack Obama. Recent developments indicate a surprisingly bold and rapid escalation of this war, due no doubt in large part to Obama's absolutely disgraceful and un-American program of appeasement.
The first stunning development came when Live Journal, the leading blog host in Russia, capitulated to the Kremlin and censored photographs from the blog operated by Pussy Riot, which has been declared to be "extremist" under a new law which authorizes the Kremlin to shut down virtually any internet site it likes. Three members of the group, two of them young mothers, made international headlines when they were railroaded into prison for multiple years for singing against Putin in an Orthodox Church, but that wasn't enough to satisfy the bloodthirsty Putin regime.
And then the Kremlin got even more ambitious. It began blocking entire websites operated by Putin's critics from appearing on the internet at all, by putting pressure not on blog hosts like Live Journal but on the higher-level Internet Service Providers (ISPs) which control access to the web. Simultaneously, the Kremlin has begun to put the kibosh (Russian-language link) on participation by government leaders in social media like Twitter.
As if to confirm for any doubters who may remain that it will stop at nothing, the Kremlin actually arrested its most scathing critic, Sergei Udaltsov. All indications are that a second outspoken critic, Alexei Navalny, will soon meet the same fate.
As Russia expert Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation explains, lurking behind these moves is a virulent new form of anti-Americanism. Russians are looking to block marriages to and adoptions by Americans, to ban Americans from appearing on Russian TV, and even to purge the Russian language of "trash" like "Americanisms." It is aggressively seeking to cut off Russian NGOs from American funding, and it operates a propagandizing TV network whose goal "is to broadcast a Kremlin-created narrative that is unadulterated U.S.-bashing," according to Cohen.
Cohen warns that Obama's failure to fight back against these venomous attacks is handing Putin an easy victory. Putin is convinced, as Hitler was convinced by Chamberlain, that the U.S. will not stand in his way, so he acts with unfettered brazenness and American values pay the ultimate price.
Freedom House has also called Obama to task on his policy of appeasement, which Obama euphemistically calls "reset." "Putin has overseen the worst deterioration in Russia's democracy and human rights situation since the collapse of the Soviet Union," said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. He concludes: "It is clear that a new American policy toward the Kremlin is needed."
A new report by Chatham House emphasizes the importance of American action by showing that so-called "liberals" within Russia aren't going to change anything all by themselves. A report on Open Democracy does the same thing, by showing that deep-seated Russian hostility to the West isn't going to change on its own. Without inspiring American leadership, Russia will continue to wallow in the mire of dictatorship and oppression, it will continue to liquidate American values, harass its neighbors, support American enemies (from Venezuela to Syria) and work towards American downfall.
The internet is the last bastion of opposition against Putin. Television and newspapers were put under control long ago, and the street demonstrations have been quelled. Opposition parties have been purged from parliament, and local government has been centralized. NGOs have been muzzled. So even though the Internet reaches less than half the Russian population, Putin deeply fears it. If he can, he will do to the internet exactly what he's done to the rest of Russian civil society.
It would be a grave mistake to think there is any intrinsic characteristic of the internet that would prevent Putin from doing so. The Putin Kremlin has shown itself more than capable of launching powerful DDoS attacks on websites that are beyond Russia's borders, and of using brick-and-mortar solutions like arrests, assaults, and even killings to silence stubborn critics as well. Putin has all the weapons he needs to strangle the Runet, and he means to do it.
But his most powerful weapon is Obama, whose craven silence gives Putin a free hand to act without costs. In fact, Obama is actually working hard to reward Putin, by offering him most-favored nation trading status and admission to the lofty corridors of the World Trade Organization. It's time for the American people to ask themselves whether they are comfortable having history record that their generation revived the horror of Russian totalitarianism that their ancestors worked so hard to lay in its grave.