Neo-Soviet Russia crawls back toward darkness

Events in Vladimir Putin's Russia in recent weeks were such that even seeing them reported by unimpeachable sources does not make it easy to believe they occurred.

First, Putin instructed his entire cabinet that each of them must contribute a month's pay to building a statue to glorify mass-murdering dictatorial Tsarist lunatic Pyotr Stolypin, famous for hangings using a rope which became known as "Stolypin's necktie."

Then, as if to make Putin proud, Russia launched itself upon a series of totalitarian measures at which perhaps even Stolypin might have winced.

It announced sweeping new measures to control the content of blogs.

It banned handicapped people from the St. Petersburg subway system.

It banned whole litanies of commercial aircraft, threatening to bring passenger air travel in Russia to a screeching halt.

It banned an attempt a former prime minister to organize a political party that could challenge Putin in parliamentary elections.

And then, for perhaps the first time, the Putin regime actually tried to ban a person.  First it tried to ban former first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov from leaving the country, as if he were Andrei Sakharov, and then it began talking about stripping his citizenship and expelling him, as if he were Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

One thing became chillingly clear:  Those who told us Russia could "never go back" to the dark days of the USSR could not have been more wrong.

The aircraft ban in particular offers profound insight into the nightmare known as Putin's Russia.  It comes on the heels of two spectacular plane crashes, and highlights the government's total inability to address preventive measures.  Despite alleged economic progress, in fact virtually nothing is being done to address the practical concerns of life on the streets.  Instead, Russia's oil windfall is being diverted to Russia's vast network of corruption and towards an aggressive neo-Soviet crackdown.

This was equally in evidence with the sinking of the Volga River cruise ship Bulgaria.  The Putin regime failed to do anything to stop the decrepit, aging, unlicensed vessel from plying the Volga's chop with one-third more passengers than she was made to carry, and so it was left with only the Soviet "solution" -- mass arrests.  It arrested those connected with the ship, and it arrested those connected with other ships that sailed right by the disaster without stopping to help.

But Russia's problems can no more be solved by totalitarian measures than could those of the USSR.  These measures only temporarily conceal the government's inability to address basic infrastructure problems because of rampant corruption and anemic economic performance. Ultimately, left unaddressed, the fundamental issues are fatal.

Putin is acting more and more like Stalin.  Slowly escalating the level of outrage, Putin is hoping the West will get used to his conduct, tolerating higher and higher amounts of abuse.  Maybe then, we will stand mute while the first rows of prisoners are marched into the spanking-new gulag archipelago.

But Putin has, perhaps, made one mistake. Instead of ordering his cabinet to help build a monument to Stolypin, who after all was a great killer of Russians, he should have told them to fund a bust of Barack Obama.  It's the craven policies of the American president, after all, which have been most crucial in helping Putin consolidate his malignant rule.

On Independence Day, tiny Netherlands stood up to Russia. It passed a tough new law condemning and banning from the country all the Russian officials who were involved in the torture and murder of attorney Sergei Magnitsky.  The contrast between this tiny nation's bravery and Obama's cowardice could not have been more abject, or pleasing to Vladimir Putin.