In recent months, Russia has adopted a slew of regulations – on freedom of assembly, free speech, the Internet, non-governmental organizations, gays and foreign adoptions – that would place it among the most repressive and backward nations on Earth. Only one difference: So far, no one is bothering to enforce most of the new rules.
In an opinion Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky says that enforcement has been decidedly spotty when it comes to all the new bills.
There have been a few slander charges against investigative reporters, but so far no one has been convicted or jailed. Similarly, no one has been slapped with the maximum fine of 300,000 rubles for organizing an unsanctioned rally or participating in one.
Not a single popular website has been closed down for “extremism.” A few sites have been forced to remove pages dealing with illegal drugs.
As for the “foreign agent” law, on Jan. 16 Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov effectively told the parliament that he had no intention of implementing the legislation. Bershidsky writes.
For the most part, the parliament has succeeded in painting Russia as a country where civil liberties are ruthlessly repressed – without having much actual effect.
Well-known Russian columnist Oleg Kashin noted a difference in some of the more recent laws: They are aimed at groups that are not particularly dangerous to Putin’s rule. As such, they could in the future prove useful to the Kremlin, should it ever want to undertake some symbolic liberalization.
“The list of reforms that could be immediately announced would be much more impressive,” Kashin wrote on openspace.ru. “One could lower the fines for taking part in rallies, abolish the ’foreign agent’ notion, decriminalize slander and so on, all the way up to allowing U.S. citizens to adopt Russian orphans.”