Putin’s New Russia Reeks of the Old Soviet Union

Journalist flees the Russian president's "information terror" and issues a dire warning.

In addition to its other internal problems, Russia has a new one: the flight of its intellectuals to foreign countries.  This week, 31-year old Zhanna Nemtsova, the eldest daughter of murdered Putin critic Boris Nemtsov and herself a successful journalist, left Russia for safer pastures in Europe.  She wrote a “farewell letter” which was published in Vedomosti, a liberal business journal.

“Russian [state] propaganda kills,” she wrote, and added:

Many of the texts of Kremin-controlled media recall the rhetoric of African propagandists…Putin’s information machine—similar to those in Nazi Germany and Rwanda—is using criminal methods of propaganda and sowing hatred which generates violence and terror…People infected with hatred begin committing new crimes on their own initiative.

Ms. Nemtsova made the point that the danger of the Putin regime is not simply direct acts of violence perpetrated by paid agents of the president, but rather indirect state violence, whipped up by state propaganda, in the fertile soil of the large Russian population influenced by such propaganda.  Ms. Nemtsova even coined a new, rather useful term for the phenomenon -- “information terror.”

The information terror must be stopped, otherwise its consequences could be even scarier…There is nothing more dangerous than the spontaneous combustion of the huge potential of hatred accumulated in Russian society.

Meanwhile, Nemtsova has left for Europe, and appropriately enough, her lawyer wouldn’t say where she had gone -- for her own safety.  Her father was killed last February, after all, and naturally, the masterminds of his assassination haven’t been apprehended.  Putin had five Chechen males arrested for the crime, who remain in custody.

After Nemtsov’s murder, intellectuals really started leaving.  A widely-respected 82-year-old philanthropist, Dmitry Zimin, recently left Russia after being criticized in the state-run media simply for financing scientific research from his overseas accounts.  Criticism in the Putin-run media organs is normally the precursor, as it was in Stalin’s time, for “lawfare,” meaning meritless and politicized but ultimately destructive prosecutions.

There’s more: Environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova and writer Boris Akunin have now left the nation, and most notably, Member of the Duma Ilya Ponomaryov, while still officially a parliamentarian, now lives in the USA.  Russia says it is trying to extradite Mr. Ponomaryov from America for allegedly trying to embezzle $394,000 from the “Skolkovo Foundation.”

All the new expatriates say that Putin is tightening the noose on even the most timid and hesitant of opposition, particularly since the president’s annexation of Crimea last year.

Accompanying this lawfare and “information terror” is what people are calling “wars of memory.”  History itself is now a battleground to the president and his government.  The president is now supervising, to a degree, the editing of history textbooks for schoolchildren, and making sure they describe his own success in "securing social unity and agreement" at home while "consistently defending national interests" abroad.  But his interests extend to deep history as well.

In the new approved textbooks, Russian kids get to read how Great Men in Russian and Soviet history repeatedly defended Russia against a predatory West.  Example: The textbooks state as fact that the 1939 simple aggression pact against Poland with Nazi Germany was only a necessary response to the West, which was trying to goad Adolf Hitler into attacking the Soviet Union.

In Putin’s eyes, the New Russia owes a great debt to its past—its Soviet Communist past.

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