The name has changed and the empire is smaller than it used to be, but there’s less and less these days to distinguish the Russian Federation from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Saturday’s brutal beating of crusading journalist Oleg Kashin appears to be the latest example of the resurgent Russian police state flexing its muscles to stamp out dissent; especially when it comes to journalists who refuse to follow the party line. A horrific video shows Kashin being repeatedly beaten by two men who appear to be wielding pipes or some other blunt instruments. Kashin, a journalist for Kommersant, a Russian political and business newspaper, suffered multiple injuries and is currently in an induced coma as doctors try to save his life. Most significantly, the journalist who has written so much to anger and embarrass the government had all of his fingers broken. As messages go, it does not get much clearer that. None of Kashin’s possessions were stolen by his assailants, which further validates suspicions of governmental orchestration.
The Russian authorities have naturally expressed their outrage over this vicious crime and have vowed to find and punish the perpetrators. In a just world, that kind of investigation would start at the top, with detectives questioning Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. Eight journalists have been killed in Russia this year alone, and only one of those murders resulted in an arrest. “Russia’s courts and the police do not have enough strength – or enough interest – to protect journalists,” said Mikhail Kotov, editor of the Russian Gazeta online newspaper. With parliamentary elections scheduled to occur within the next eighteen months, efforts to suppress freedom of the press in Russia will surely get worse. The Russian edition of Newsweek, which has provided a strong voice of opposition in the country, appears ready to close its doors along with other media outlets that don’t play by Putin’s rules.
The West’s Cold War dream of a liberated, democratic Russia – a vision that appeared to be tantalizingly close to reality when the USSR dissolved nineteen years ago – now seems as distant and as unachievable as ever. As President, Putin was the most popular leader of any nation in the world, with approval ratings among Russians topping out over eighty per cent at times. The economic downturn means the Medvedev isn’t quite as popular as his mentor, but there’s very little to suggest that the majority of the Russian populace would want to change the way the country is run. Putin is widely seen as having restored Russian pride, and he was fortunate to be at the helm when the nation’s experiments with capitalism began to bear economic fruit. He’s a hero among much of the populace, and that counts for a lot more than the fate of one courageous journalist who sought to tell the truth.