There have been, at most, a couple of brief moments in history when Russians have been free. I’m not sure whether there is something in Russia’s culture that is antithetical to freedom or whether a series of historical accidents are responsible. But it seems that the freedom Russians have enjoyed since the fall of socialism may be slipping away.
Today, a “Dissenters’ March” took place in Moscow to protest anti-democratic policies of the Putin government. Only around 2,000 marchers turned out, and they seem to have been outnumbered and overwhelmed by riot police. A number of them were beaten, and several hundred were arrested, including Garry Kasparov, the opposition’s most prominent leader.
What does it all mean? I don’t know. Here’s one point, though. Many people have forgotten that until the Communist empire fell, the Soviet Union supported and protected terrorists world-wide. Arafat was a Soviet client, as was Saddam’s Iraq. The current international consensus against Islamic terrorism was not possible in the 1970s and 1980s because the Soviet Union was the terrorists’ ultimate protector. Other dynamics came into play when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and incurred the wrath of many Muslims, but to my knowledge, those events had no effect on Soviet support for Islamic terrorism in the Middle East.
Today, Russia is a key (if ambiguous) ally of Iran. If Russia continues its apparent slide into totalitarianism, is there a danger that it might resume its former role as a protector and sponsor of Islamic terror? Possibly, but times have changed. Russia has nothing like the military power of the old Soviet Union. And in Chechnaya, of course, Russia is engaged in a bitter struggle against Islamists.
Still, for those who remember the dark days of the Cold War, when it looked for a while as though the Soviet Union was the more likely victor, the return of authoritarianism to Russia–if that really is what is happening–can only be disquieting.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill