When you think of modern Russia, you think of a country that has developed out of its authoritarian past, moved away from the Cold War years and become a modern functioning democracy. Think again. It remains, sadly, one of the most abusive countries in the world according to Freedom House index.
Putin’s Russia is slowly becoming notorious for its iron fisted approach to civil society, the media and the electoral process. Throughout Russia freedom of expression is ignored, the media silenced and elections are crippled through staggering corruption. These problems only intensify when you look into areas such as Chechnya where human rights abuses intensify. All of this happens in an air of impunity.
Without tackling the issue of impunity, all other problems will continue to flourish in Russia. We will continue to see “slow-motion assassinations” like that of Sergei Magnitsky who was tortured for over a year whilst imprisoned for trying to report corruption he uncovered. We will continue to see assassinations of the likes of Makasharip Aushev who was a civil society activist who ran the web-site www.ingushetia.org. We will also see more of Anna Politkovskaya friends and work mates killed.
Sadly, not only are these crimes allowed to happen within Russia with impunity, but the Kremlin is allowed to interact international with impunity. The international community has routinely failed to apply any real pressure when dealing with Russia. It is not as if we are short of examples that we could raise with the Kremlin.
The common argument for why we cannot face up to Russia is our gas dependence (as highlighted in the EU Strategic Energy Review of November 2008). This government seems to be looking to domestic sources of energy in light of this (note that nuclear is not “domestic”). The question that we all need to be asking Mr Hague, is that in light of this growing energy independence can we now live up to our human rights commitments and challenge Russia’s appalling human rights record? For if we don’t, we become implicit in the continued impunity in Putin’s Russia.