A photoshopped image show Russian President Vladimir Putin riding a bear.

Vodka and Censorship

How Vladimir Putin is Re-Lowering the Iron Curtain and Taking Russia Back to the Cold War.

Of all the news surrounding the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, the most alarming to me was the realization that the Russian government may very well have tampered with the outcome of the election by releasing documents from the DNC. These hacks, along with Donald Trump’s seemingly buddy-buddy attitude towards Vladimir Putin got me interested in the recent affairs of the former Soviet Union. What I found was shocking. In the 15 years since he rose to power, Putin has implemented numerous laws and regulations which are threatening to take Russia back to the Cold War era. Over the last decade Putin has shut down almost every media outlet which doesn’t report only government approved news, and has even gone so far as to order all food that’s imported from the EU be burned. This collection of articles all discuss Putin’s policies and how they are putting Russians in danger, and many are written by people who have lived under Putin’s rule, including Masha Gessen, one of Russia’s only outspoken LGBT advocates. But first, let’s begin with a history lesson.

Vladimir Lennin, Russia’s first communist leader.

A Not-So-Brief History of Modern Russia

Russia as we know it first began forming in the 15th century when Ivan III defeated the Tartars and captured Novgorod, becoming ruler of most of the Russian people. Up until this point the only contact with the outside world was through defending against invaders such as the Mongols. In the 16th century Russia began having much more interaction with the West. In 1553 the English reached Russia and began trading. A decade later, the printing press was introduced to Russia. In 1547 Ivan the Terrible was crowned Tsar. Ivan expanded Russian territory and pushed the Mongols out of Russia for good. Ivan died in 1584, and his youngest son rose to the throne (Ivan accidently killed his oldest son by bashing him in the head with his staff in a fit of rage). Ivan’s youngest son died in 1598, and left the throne without an heir. His brother-in-law Boris Godunov took the throne, but was deposed in 1605. Russia fell into a state of anarchy until 1613, when Michael Romanov was named Tsar.

In 1645 his son Alexis took the throne and helped defend Ukraine from the Poles, and in 1654 Ukraine formed a union with Russia. Alexis was followed by his son Fyodor III, who was followed by his son Peter. Peter was originally named Tsar because his older brother was mentally deficient (which seemed to be a recurring problem in Russia during this period), but then his brother was named co-Tsar with him. Since both boys were underage their sister Sophia was named regent. Sophia tried overthrowing Peter, but was stopped and sent to a convent. Peter fully gained power in 1697, and went on a tour of Europe. While he was away his sister Sophia somehow managed to plot another coup, which was once again stopped. Peter then modernized Russia by building factories, creating a navy, translating foreign literature into Russian, and introducing the Julian calendar. Peter died in 1725 and was succeeded by Catherine I. Over the next 35 years the throne changed hands 5 times, until finally Catherine the Great seized control in 1762 after having her husband, Tsar Peter III, assassinated. During her reign Russia went to war with the Turks and won considerable land, including Crimea and parts of Poland. During this time Russia also expanded foreign trade. Catherine died in 1796 and her son Paul I took the throne until his assassination in 1801.

Paul’s son Alexander fought against the French but was defeated in 1807. Russia fought France again from 1812–1813, and the French made it all the way to Moscow. Famously, Moscow burned down, and the French were forced to retreat out of Russia. Thousands of French died on the long march out of Russia, and in 1814 Napoleon was defeated. Alexander’s death in 1825 led to rebellion as some officers were inspired by the French revolution and formed a secret society called The Decembrists. They were stopped, and Tsar Nicholas I took power. This was the beginning of Russia history of censorship. Nicholas was determined to stamp out revolutionaries ad had writing censored. In 1854 the Crimean War began, and the French, British, and Turks fought Russia for two long years until Alexander II signed the Treaty of Paris. Alexander II reformed Russia by getting rid of serfdom and setting up local elections. He was assassinated in 1881. In the 1890’s the industrial revolution hit Russia, and Tsar Nicholas II took control in 1905.

Nicholas led an unsuccessful war against Japan and after hundreds of protesters were killed by the army, Nicholas was forced to created a governing body called the Duma. The Duma had no power, and the angry populace led a revolution in 1917. This led to a civil war between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks which decimated Russia. The Bolsheviks won and Vladimir Lenin rose to power. He died in 1924 and Josef Stalin took power. Stalin used his secret police to force the country to do his bidding, and went so far as to cause a man-made famine which killed an estimated seven million Russians. Russia then entered into a non-aggression pact with German, which the Germans broke soon after. Russia then joined forces with France, Britain, and the United States to defeat Hitler. After the war, Russia began funneling money into the military to keep up with the United States, which led to more famine. Stalin died in 1954, and many of his policies were dismantled, although the country remained communist until 1991. In 2001 Vladimir Putin took control, and his policies are detailed throughout the remainder of these articles.

Anton Vayno, Putin’s new Chief of Staff

8/15/2016

Written By Masha Gessen

“Like most of the men who run Russia, Vayno has left few traces in the public space — -except that he has written several articles and at least one book. These are bizarre and, now that their author is one of the most powerful men in Russia, frightening.”

This article, written by Masha Gessen, brings attention to the writings of Anton Vayno, Vladimir Putin’s recently appointed Chief of Staff. In the first of these writings, entitled “The Capitalization of the Future”, Vayno “proposes a new term for the space-time continuum.” Vayno dubs it “protocol”, a term that he probably adapted from his time in Putin’s “protocol service”. The second thing detailed in this paper is a table that Vayno titled “A Model Protocol for Shaping the Time-Space Relationship”. It’s an extremely confusing concept that I don’t understand in the slightest. The third and final topic of this article is an object that Vayno has dubbed the “Nooscope”. It “consists of a network of space scanners” that “give clear readings of co-occurrences in space and time, beginning with latest-generation bank cards and ending with smartdust.” The second of Vayno’s publications is called “The Image of Victory” and it offers “nothing less than a recipe for global domination.” It applies tactics from sambo, a Russian martial art, to just about everything from war to economics. One example Vayno uses is Napoleon’s ill-fated attempt to invade Russia in 1812. Vayno sums it up like this, “If you are at Point A and you need to strike at Point B, then you will be forced to make a one-two strike, from A to B by way of Zero. That is too long a strike. But if you place yourself at Point Zero, then your strike will be short and merciless.” In layman’s term this means to strike when your opponent least expects it. The fact that the author of such a paper is now Putin’s right-hand-man may say something about Putin’s future plans. In fact, while the rest of the world has been focusing on the U.S. election, Putin has upped tensions in Ukraine by saying he won’t be taking part in any peace negotiations with Ukraine. Whatever Putin has planned, Anton Vayno will be right in the middle of it, which is fitting, seeing as the letters of Vayno’s last name can also spell voyna, the Russian word for war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

9/26/2015

By Masha Gessen

“A middle-aged radio engineer has been sentenced to fourteen years in a maximum-security prison in Russia after being convicted of high treason. His crime: sending a résumé to a Swedish company five years ago.”

This article, written by Masha Gessen, tells the story of Gennady Kravtsov, a former employee of the Russian foreign-intelligence agency (also known as G.R.U.). In May of 2014, Kravtsov was arrest for treason after the Russian government discovered that Kravtsov had sent a resume to a Swedish tech company while he was working for G.R.U. The Russian government “claimed that the résumé or the cover letter contained classified information”, while “If his lawyers are to be believed, Kravtsov is an innocent man who made the mistake of trying to prop up his ego by seeking a job offer from abroad.” The problem is that in his resume, Kravtsov mentioned that he was working on the Tselina-2 satellite. The Russian government claims that by “making mention of a satellite on which he had worked and with disclosing his job title” Kravtsov “could reveal information about the G.R.U.’s staffing structure.” However, the satellite has “ been decommissioned and information about it is widely available — indeed, it was originally designed and constructed in Ukraine, so foreigners have had access to it all along.”

Kravtsov’s fourteen year sentence has only been made possible by legislation that was passed in 2012. Normally, the government “would have had to prove that his actions were detrimental to state security.” However, “Under the law’s new wording, no harm need be done for the crime to be prosecuted.” This law heavily resembles laws passed during Stalin’s rule, and shows how Putin has been moving Russia back towards Russia’s post-World War II level of government censorship.

“Whatever the secret facts of Kravtsov’s case, its outcome sends a dire warning to any Russian who has worked for the state and who is now considering selling his skills abroad. These kinds of warnings may prove as effective in instilling fear as the mass arrests of imaginary spies were eighty years ago.”

The Kremlin, the official residence of the Russian President

04/25/2014

By Masha Lipman

“In the mid-nineteen-sixties, Brezhnev’s Soviet Union introduced a law aimed at stifling ideological dissent. Article 190, Part 1 of the Soviet Criminal Code criminalized ‘the dissemination of the intentionally false insinuations defiling the Soviet state and social order.’ The post-Stalin regime was not the sort of dictatorship that exterminated its own citizens, but it insisted that public expression be in full compliance with the Communist Party line. It was not uncommon for people to be sentenced to years in work camps for ‘disseminating’ three or four copies of underground literature.”

The internet is Valdimir Putin’s biggest enemy. In the old Soviet Russia, it was fairly easy to stop anti-government opinions from spreading, you just destroyed the typewriters and printing presses. But in today’s digital age, when nothing is ever truly deleted and billions can see what you post online, stopping anti-government sentiment is impossible. “Putin called the Internet a ‘C.I.A. project’ that has ‘evolved in this manner’ — that is, with interests opposed to Russia’s — ever since its creation.” This is why Putin has recently passed numerous laws to restrict internet access. One law made “enables the government to block Web sites without a court ruling (a few have already been blocked). Another bill mandates that bloggers with more than three thousand followers bear the same legal responsibility as mass-media companies, meaning, for example, that such bloggers can be fined if they post inaccurate information. In the Russian legal environment, where court rulings in politically sensitive cases are commonly guided by instructions from, or simple loyalty to, the Kremlin, any unwelcome information will be easily categorized as ‘inaccurate’.”

These laws have caused many Russian Internet pioneers to leave the country. “Russia’s largest social network, VKontakte, had been launched in 2006 by Pavel Durov, sometimes referred to as Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg. After what appears to have been a forced sale of his package to business structures loyal to the Kremlin, Durov left Russia; he has said that he has no plans to go back.”

It seems “Putin’s effort to protect Russia from pernicious Western influence will also affect the Internet as we know it. ‘It will facilitate the introduction of borders in the Internet, and lead to its ‘Balkanization,’ ‘Andrey Soldatov, a Russian Internet expert, said.”

05/18/2016

By Masha Lipman

“RBC’s Web site emerged as a must-read for those in Russia who were still interested in hearing from independent voices. Most impressively, RBC engaged in investigative reporting — a genre that has become almost nonexistent in the country.”

This article by Masha Lipman details how the Russian media organization RBC rose to the top in Russian media by specializing in investigative reporting, and how those investigations were ultimately their downfall. RBC was purchased by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov in 2013, and they immediately began “hiring some of Moscow’s best reporters and editors — which wasn’t difficult, as many independent outlets were closing, avoiding sensitive subjects, or switching to nonpolitical coverage. This new RBC team made an immediate splash as they “produced thorough reports on the finances of the Russian Orthodox Church and on Russian soldiers in Donbas; their reporters investigated how much Russia is paying for its military operation in Syria, made well-founded allegations of corruption in the Ministry of Culture, and got very close to Putin’s inner circle.” Also, “In late March, they published a piece about a lifelong friend of Putin, the cellist Sergei Roldugin, whom the Panama Papers connected to hundreds of millions of dollars held in an offshore account. Most sensitive of all was a report that came close to identifying one of Putin’s two daughters, whose lives had previously been completely hidden. RBC found that Putin’s younger daughter, Katerina (whose identity was soon confirmed by Reuters), lives under a different last name and works at Moscow State University.” The Kremlin quickly grew intolerant of these reports, and in April Kremlin agents sacked Prokhorov’s offices in Moscow. A few weeks later “the three RBC editors left their jobs. In her first interview after her dismissal, with the Financial Times, Elizaveta Osetinskaya, the editor-in-chief of the RBC group, mentioned two recent RBC articles that caused the editors’ departure: one about plans for an oyster-and-mussel factory farm next to a billion-dollar Black Sea estate that many refer to as “Putin’s palace,” and one on the Panama Papers that was accompanied with a picture of Putin, even though his name did not appear in the leaked documents.”

This is a continuation of Putin’s want to control major media sources. “Back in 2001, Vladimir Gusinsky, the owner of Media Most, Russia’s largest privately held media company, was forced out of the country. His outlets, including the company’s crown jewel, the national TV channel NTV, were taken over by the gas monopoly Gazprom, the Kremlin’s proxy. Boris Berezovsky, who had controlled another national TV channel, was forced to leave Russia around the same time, and the Kremlin took control of his channel as well.” The crackdown on RBC is of more significance then any of these previous attempts. “In addition to being the best political outlet in Russia, RBC was also the most widely read independent publication: this spring, it reported twenty million visits per month. Besides, RBC was the only independent outlet that was hiring editors and writers and expanding its operation.”

Ever since taking control of the Russian government, Vladimir Putin has been taking control of any media source that doesn’t report the news he wants them to. This is just another step towards dragging Russia back into the post-World War II days of Joseph Stalin. However, there are still some media outlets that resist. “RBC is not the last remaining independent outlet in Russia. There remain other publications whose primary concern is meeting journalistic standards, not fear of displeasing the Kremlin. But each one is deeply vulnerable, and knows this — and the fewer that exist, the more vulnerable they get.”

03/12/2014

By David Remnick

“As Vladimir Putin sends troops into Crimea and hints at following up on this cruel gambit with further moves into eastern Ukraine, he is, step by step, turning back the clock on information.”

Following the end of the Cold War, media exploded in Russia. “After decades of totalist censorship, after art, history, science, journalism, philosophy, and so much else had languished under the state, Gorbachev, particularly in the years from 1987 to 1990, unleashed everything. The thrill of this was unimaginable. After so much gray, color; after so many lies, truth, debate, discussion.” Now Vladimir Putin is trying to undo all of that truth and discussion. “The latest step came with the announcement that Galina Timchenko, the longtime and much admired editor of the news site Lenta.ru, has been fired, and replaced by Alexei Goreslavsky, the former editor of Vzglyad.ru, a site that is far more sympathetic to the Kremlin.”

The firing came after the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service “warned that Lenta.ru was venturing into ‘extremism’.” “Lenta.ru had published an interview with Andriy Tarasenko, a leader of a far-right ultra-nationalist group, Right Sector. Tarasenko is an unlovely figure, but Lenta.ru was hardly endorsing him; the editors were guilty of nothing more than committing journalism. And now they are paying for it.” Many writers and staff members say they will quit before they work for Goreslavsky. Seventy-nine workers issued this statement of protest, “Over the past couple of years, the space of free journalism in Russia has dramatically decreased. Some publications are directly controlled by the Kremlin, others through curators, and others by editors who fear losing their jobs. Some media outlets have been closed and others will be closed in the coming months. The problem is not that we have nowhere to run. The problem is that you have nothing more to read.”

This is just one of many of Putin’s attempts to destroy free speech. The firing of Timchenko “comes shortly after Dozhd (Rain) — an independent television station that dared to cover things from the pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow, two years ago, to the anti-government demonstrations in Kiev, this winter — was dumped by major cable operators.” “Last December, Putin dissolved the RIA Novosti news agency and created a new one called Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today). He placed in charge one Dmitry Kiselyov, an odious and unembarrassed reactionary whose contribution to the debate over anti-gay propaganda legislation was to say that the internal organs of homosexuals who die in car accidents should be burned rather than risk their being transplanted into the bodies of the living.” Despite this, Putin’s censorship hasn’t gone full Stalin, his “media strategy is more sophisticated than that.” “The sophistication of it is that Putin exerts just enough control (blacklisting certain known dissident voices from state television, for example), and punishes just enough of his opponents, to set markers — boundaries of the permissible. Sometimes those boundaries are crossed, but a general tone has been set.” Putin knows that in today’s world he can’t completely eliminate dissidents and free speech, but his opponents know that if they choose to defy him, they probably won’t have a job for very long.

02/26/2016

By Joshua Yaffa

“During the first decade of Putin’s rule, the Kremlin depicted its opponents as freaks or idiots, but now they are portrayed as outright enemies of their country.”

Just after midnight on February 27th, 2015, Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead just outside the Kremlin. Nemtsov “was among the bright young reformers who quickly ascended the ranks under President Boris Yeltsin. He served as governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, then, in 1998, took the position of Deputy Prime Minister.” Once Putin came to power “Nemtsov failed to adjust, and was pushed out of the Russian parliament in 2003.” After this Nemtsov went on to start numerous opposition parties, none of which were successful. “Yet Nemtsov remained one of the most visible and consistent figures of the opposition, and was a forceful speaker at nearly every demonstration in Moscow’s short-lived season of protest in late 2011 and early 2012.” Nemtsov was also well-known for his investigative reporting; “his 2013 report on bribery and fraud in the preparations for the Sochi Olympics was widely cited by Russia’s independent press and by Western journalists. “Nemtsov had been preparing for an anti-Kremlin march…Hours before he was killed, he did a radio interview urging people to attend the march, and connecting the country’s economic woes to Putin’s policy in Ukraine.” Nemtsov understood that himself and opposition leaders like him were rapidly losing their voices in Russia. “Three years ago, we were an opposition. Now we are no more than dissidents,” he told the Financial Times.

The most pressing questions following the assassination were Why and Who. Typically, the investigations of such cases are ‘’slow and inconclusive”, “but in the case of Nemtsov, Putin granted the F.S.B. — the country’s main security agency, of which Putin was once the director — unusually wide license to go after the killers.” The F.S.B presented Putin with five suspects names three days later. All five were arrested, and all had ties to Ramzan Kadyrov, “the colorful and brutal ruler of Chechnya” (Kadyrov has also been the subject of John Oliver jokes numerous times https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDF5_6oL4Tc). “One suspect, Anzor Gubashev, who was said to be the getaway driver, told investigators that, beginning in October, 2014, he came to believe that Nemtsov was ‘carrying out a policy against our state, supporting the West and defaming our government’.” “Gubashev mentioned Russia’s standoff with the West over Ukraine, and called Nemtsov an agent of the C.I.A. and Obama. ‘We don’t feel the least bit sorry that we took him out, because from the very beginning he was a Western prostitute, and was causing all sorts of chaos,’ Gubashev said during interrogation.” Question still surround the murder, even after the arrests of the suspected killers. “Many of Nemtsov’s allies, including Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for Nemtsov’s family, say that the evidence points to a man named Ruslan Geremeyev, a high-ranking officer in Sever (A battalion in the 
Chechen Army.” “Geremeyev has deep connections to Kadyrov’s inner circle: he is the nephew of both Adam Delimkhanov, Kadyrov’s closest ally and purported enforcer, and Suleyman Geremeyev, a powerful Chechen politician. Other suspects in the case told investigators that Geremeyev spent time at the Moscow apartment where the assassins stayed during the weeks before the killing.” However, both times investigators went to the head of the Investagative committee, the head refused to charge Geremeyev. “In the absence of satisfactory answers, rich and ever-metastasizing conspiracy theories have taken hold among the opposition in Moscow. Perhaps Kadyrov thought that he would be pleasing the boss by removing an enemy. Or maybe the F.S.B. set up Kadyrov, to create a wedge between him and Putin. Maybe, and most terrifying at all, Putin knew all along.” No matter what really happened to Nemtsov, Russia is not a safe place for opposition politicians. Just like in the days of Stalin, there is an ever present threat of danger if you oppose the leading party. “Although Nemtsov’s murder was not the only sign of Russia’s political degradation in the past year, it was the most dramatic: the killing, within sight of the Kremlin, of a person who, even in his opposition, was a member of the political establishment. And the state doesn’t appear all that able, or motivated, to do much about it.”

05/28/2015

By Masha Gessen

“Attacks by poisoning are possibly even more common in Russia than assassinations by gunfire.”

For political dissidents in Russia, it’s no longer safe to walk the streets or enjoy a meal. On May 27th, 2015 “Vladimir Kara-Murza, a thirty-three-year-old opposition journalist, was hospitalized in critical condition after he collapsed at his office in Moscow. He was diagnosed with renal failure that had resulted from acute intoxication. Put more simply, some sort of poison was causing Kara-Murza’s illness.” At the time this article was published, doctors still didn’t know what caused Kara-Murza’s illness, but his wife and others suspect foul play. It is quite common for any member of the Russian media who receives death threats to also be extremely careful about what they ingest. “Soon after the chess champion Garry Kasparov quit the sport to go into politics full time, in 2004, he hired a team of eight bodyguards, who not only accompanied him everywhere but also carried drinking water and food for Kasparov to eat at meals shared in public.”

Poison seems to be the weapon of choice for many Russian assassins. “Most famously, Alexander Litvinenko, a secret-police whistle-blower, was killed by polonium in London, in 2006.” Then, in May 2015, “British newspapers reported that a Russian businessman who dropped dead while jogging in a London suburb in 2012 had been killed by a rare plant poison. He had been a key witness in a money-laundering case that had originally been exposed by the Moscow accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured to death, in 2009, in a Russian jail.” In 2008 “a lawyer who specializes in bringing Russian cases to the European Court of Human Rights, Karinna Moskalenko, fell ill in Strasbourg; her husband and two small children were also unwell. The cause of their illness was identified as mercury that had somehow found its way into their car.” The message being sent is that no one is safe. If someone like Alexander Litvinenko is important enough to have killed, then famous journalists and opposition politicians had better be on high alert.

08/11/2015

By Masha Gessen

“One-hundred and fourteen tons of pork were annihilated in the Russian city of Samara, on the Volga River. The pork, which had been imported using Brazilian documents, was revealed to have come from the European Union. More than two hundred tons of other food followed — cheese in Orenburg, pork in St. Petersburg, nectarines and tomatoes in the Leningrad Region.”

On July 29th 2015, Vladimir Putin signed “a decree ordering the destruction of all foodstuffs brought to Russia in violation of sanctions that the country has imposed on imports from the European Union and several other Western countries, which have themselves subjected Russia to economic sanctions.” Russia effectively told the EU “We didn’t need your food in the first place” and “Russia will only win by eating what it produces.” Two days later, the Russian cabinet published rules for the disposal of such illegal food which stated that the food must be incinerated. The most bizarre thing about this law is that Russia has a long history of starvation problems. “The entire history of the twentieth century in Russia is possibly best told through a chronology of hunger. There were the post-Revolutionary manmade famines that killed millions in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and what is now Russia. The famine designed by Stalin was followed by one invented by Hitler: the single most traumatic and best remembered narrative of the Second World War in Russia comes from the Siege of Leningrad, during which hundreds of thousands died of starvation.” The post-war years were also hungry ones for Russians. “A brief period when most people seemed to have enough to eat followed, only to give way to the crippling food shortages of the nineteen-seventies and the rations introduced in the late eighties. Then came the hell for many people that was the nineties.” After the fall of the Steel Curtain in 1991, grocery stores were barren. “In 1999, Gessen interviewed squatters who were living in a dilapidated building in the Far East; they had come there from a nearby village in search of food. Prior to moving, they, like the rest of the people in their village, had spent a month eating supplies salvaged off a ship that had wrecked nearby. A young woman said that her sister had lost a two-month-old baby after she had given him powdered milk from the ship. She had no breast milk because she was so malnourished.”

Due to this history, Russians hold food in high regard. “Disposing of uneaten food — even letting food go bad so that it has to be discarded — has been seen as something akin to a crime. And now Putin, whose own mother nearly died of starvation during the Siege of Leningrad, has ordered that food be destroyed.” Some have shown outrage about the rule, and have called for the contraband foodstuffs to be distributed to the poor, but “the outrage seems to have remained on paper — or onscreen.”

This seemingly outrageous law is yet another way for Vladimir Putin to show the outside world he refuses to rely on their aid. Russia will either succeed by herself, or collapse by herself, much as she did 25 years ago.

10/14/2016

By Joshua Yaffa

“A viewer of Russian television this week could be forgiven for thinking that the end of the world was imminent, and that it would arrive in the form of grand superpower war with the United States, culminating in a suicidal exchange of nuclear weapons.”

If there are two things that Russia seems to love, it’s vodka and war. Last month a government controlled T.V. station aired “three separate test firings of intercontinental ballistic missiles, two by submarine, one from a launch pad in the Far East.” Then a few days later, “Dmitry Kiselev, the most bombastic and colorful of Kremlin propagandists, warned on his weekly newsmagazine show that ‘impudent behavior’ toward Russia may have ‘nuclear’ consequences.” Such threats are nothing new in Russia, but they have escalated ever since the U.S. sanctions on Russia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

These newest threats come after the U.S. — Russian ceasefire agreement in Syria fell apart. Originally, the war in Syria appeared to offer an opportunity for improvement in Russian — American relations. “According to a deeply informed new book on Putin and his court, ‘All the Kremlin’s Men,’ by the Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar, the idea, as Putin and his speechwriters had imagined it, was to ‘brand isis as the new Third Reich.’ Putin envisioned a grand coalition, Zygar writes — just like in the good old days of the Second World War — that would bring Russia out of its isolation; what’s more, Putin seemed to hope that, by ‘defeating Islamic terrorism, the Russians and Americans would finally succeed in creating a new world order.’ It would be Yalta, 1945, all over again — Putin’s dream scenario of how global diplomacy is meant to work.”

Those dreams fell apart in September, when American forces accidentally bombed dozens of Syrian troops, and Syrian forces killed 20 people in an attack on a U.N. aid convoy. The collapse of this ceasefire has seemingly “convinced Putin once and for all of the pointlessness of dealing with the United States, and prompted him to indulge the more maximalist of his anti-American urges. He cancelled a U.S.-Russian agreement on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium. The program had been functionally dormant for some time, but Putin got rid of it with a flourish, producing a fantasy list of demands — which included the U.S. reducing its military presence in NATO member states, lifting the sanctions imposed over Ukraine, and paying compensation for lost revenue it caused — that would need to be met before the program could be renewed.” “The absurdity and impossibility was the very point, an unsubtle message to Obama: don’t even bother trying to mend this relationship — it’s hopeless.” “Then, Russia delivered nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea. It was a purposefully provocative move. The missiles are potentially capable of reaching Berlin, and, more important, they make the defense of nato member states in the Baltics more difficult for military planners. According to the Russian defense ministry, the country’s military timed the delivery of the missiles to insure that it would be seen by U.S. spy satellites.”

The big question here is “Why has Russia suddenly gone full-on war crazy?” Alexander Golts of The New Times (A liberal Moscow magazine) offered this insight, “Russia entered into this new Cold War without the resources the Soviet Union once did, but what does Russia have? It has nuclear weapons. So it must constantly convince the United States, and the West as a whole, that it is a little crazy.” In simpler terms, Russia is making up for it’s weakness in economic and militaristic strength by making itself seem just crazy enough to nuke the rest of the world. Would they really commit such an act? Probably not. But the fact that the answer to that question is probably not instead of definitely not is enough to keep the rest of the world on its toes.

Conclusion

Through this journey into the censorship of Russian media and the consequences of opposing Vladimir Putin I learned quite a bit about how a dictator rises to power. Through hostile takeovers and threats, Vladimir Putin has a firm grip over the media in Russia, and is using that grip to dictate what the citizens of Russia see. But I also learned that there is hope. Through the efforts of people like Masha Gessen, who works tirelessly to bring Putin’s dark tactics to light, I have hope that the people of Russia can seize back control of their media and take full advantage of their right to free speech.

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