The Blog

Life and Death in Putin's Russia

4:00 PM, Jun 23, 2008 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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Julia Latynina's acid commentary on the reign of President (and now prime minister) Vladimir Putin has been one of the glories of the Russian press in recent years. She finally got a piece in the Washington Post on Sunday and it is a blistering indictment of how Russia has become a criminal state.

Under Putin, the Russian businessman has been transformed into game being hunted by people in epaulets. Who was the first victim of this hunt? Oil company executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for tax evasion in 2005, and his company, Yukos, which the government dismantled and sold off after his arrest. Who was the hunter? Then-president Putin.

In the 1990s (the era that the crowd supporting Putin claim was so unruly and unlawful) I used to sit around the kitchen table of a Moscow apartment with friends, and when we heard gunfire outside--a common occurrence back then--someone would joke "oh well, one less banker." Yes, there was murder and criminality then, but it was largely unorganized and often a savage mechanism in which two unsavory parties tried to solve a business dispute.

Today murder and criminality in Russia are once again a state-sponsored monopoly. If you are one of the inner circle you can--literally--get away with murder. It is a brutal and repressive regime that gets uglier with each passing day. Latynina's take is worth a close read.