President Putin, the newly-acclaimed champion of peace and defender of diplomacy has done nothing to enhance his reputation as the world’s peace-broker by having the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, invaded yesterday by armed Russian secret servicemen whilst the ship was in international waters. Putin shouts loudly when one of his token, Islamic dictators feels the muscle of the righteously indignant US at the scope and level of the slaughter in Syria, making dark threats ans bolstering the dictator by what ever means he can.
Those who think that Putin is some kind of hero to humanity, though, should look long and hard at his conduct over the last twenty years and realise that, rather like the Chinese system, Putin’s Russia window dresses its democracy to the world. Occasions such as the invasion of the Arctic Sunrise – manned by peaceful protesters whose only fight is a media campaign – are but the light shining through the weakness in the joints of the polished veneer that Putin seeks to present as Russian democracy and diplomacy. What else goes on behind the facade is anyone’s guess.
What is even more troubling is that all of the Greenpeace protesters are being taken to Murmansk, despite the fact that they have broken no laws. Putin claims to be irritated with the image of the US as the world’s policeman, but who is the world’s policeman now?
Putin has proven himself a vile dictator who manages dissent with reward and retribution – the fabled ‘carrot and stick’ approach. Believe it or not, though, there are many who have been much more unlucky than Grigori Nekhoroshev, editor of the Moskovski Korrespondent, owned by the billionaire tycoon, Alexander Lebedev. His paper was shut down in 2008 and serves as a perpetual warning to those – corporate or individual – who offend Putin by reporting anything concerning that which he deems ‘private’.
There was a great deal of rumour going on at the time of an affair between Putin, 55, and Alina Kabaeva, 24, who is also an MP in his party, but no one had been foolish enough to dare to print them. The editor agreed that there was no evidence for the story other than that of a party planner, who claimed to be one of the parties in the running to organise the reception. By that stage Putin had already divorced his wife of 24 years, Ludmilla. “I thought we should run the story to help break the taboo,” said Nekhoroshev, but the price was not only his job but that of the survival of the paper: The closure came a few hours after Putin had said during a visit to Sardinia that there was not a word of truth in the story and derided the journalists concerned. The Kremlin fiercely protects Putin’s private life and the punishments are severe for those who take this matter lightly. Russia ranked 172nd of 197 countries in the 2012 Freedom of the Press report by US watchdog Freedom House.
Another paper owned by Lebedev is the Novaya Gazeta, a Russian liberal opposition newspaper well known for its critical coverage of Russian political and social affairs: Since 2001, a year after Putin came to power, four Novaya Gazeta journalists, including Yury Shchekochikhin and Anna Politkovskaya have been murdered. The investment in a pension for an investigative journalist in Russia is knowing when to keep quiet.
Under Putin’s presidency, all Russian television channels have been brought under the control of the Kremlin, which punishes any newspaper that steps over the line it sets out. “It just goes to show what a terrible state the Russian media is in after eight years of Putin’s regime,” Oleg Panfilov, an analyst, said in 2008 at the time of the closure of the Moskovski Korrespondent. “It is so cowed that one just needs to bark at it to see it hide under a table.”
Putin’s influence extends well beyond Russia though. Last year a Chechen newspaper was closed down just hours after its editor-in-chief, Belkis Dudayeva, accidentally embarrassed Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed, puppet leader of Chechnya, while questioning Russian President Vladimir Putin. She opened her question to Mr Putin by prefacing it with: “Thank God that Chechnya has now become a region of peace and prosperity…” The ensuing laughter from other journalists seems to have stung Kadyrov, who announced later that the newspaper would be closed down. The Kremlin has relied on Ramzan and his armed militia to put down the insurgency and to rebuild Chechnya but Putin’s economic and military support for the Chechnyan leadership has been rewarded with the embarrassment of international organisations accusing Kadyrov of crimes against humanity in his fight against the rebels and having members of his opposition assassinated.
We should all be petitioning, protesting and writing about Russia’s aggressive act towards the Arctic Sunrise. Putin must be left in no illusion that those of us who live in democratic countries will not accept his bullying tactics towards organisations such as Greenpeace. Of course, the protesters on the Arctic Sunrise are relatively safe in comparison to Russian journalists, but we should still be concerned by the management style that Putin presents – or more often attempts to hide. Within a generation or two Russia will be the largest economic and political influence in the northern hemisphere. Our children and grandchildren may have more to do with Putin’s legacy than we imagine.
Click on the image below to access the Greenpeace protest …