U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold
(D-Wis) in a Feb. 7 speech to the Senate, suggested Russia
under President Vladimir Putin seems to be backsliding toward dictatorship.
"From 2000 until the present day, President Putin has tightened his grip on Russia, increasing
the authoritarian nature of the Russian state," Feingold said. "While many Russian experts understand that President
Putin inherited a state mired in corruption and political violence, and dominated by powerful,
unaccountable oligarchs, they have called Putin's approach to establishing security 'flawed and
unfair.' A Washington Post article in March 2004 described how fear was creeping back into Russia,
reminiscent of the Soviet Union. A week before the Russian Presidential election in 2004, the
article states: 'scholars, journalists, reformist politicians, human rights activists and even business moguls
describe an atmosphere of anxiety that has left them wary of crossing the Kremlin.'"
Feingold added that "the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man and an oil tycoon, the
disappearances of critics of Putin, as well as the flawed parliamentary elections in 2003, have
been disturbing signs for those who care about democracy in Russia."
Furthermore, he said, "the U.S. State Department in its Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2003 raise
concerns over human rights abuses committed by the Government of Russia in Chechnya, as well as by
Chechen rebels, the failure of the 2003 parliamentary elections to meet international standards,
the impunity of law enforcement officials responsible for abuses, poor prison conditions, and a
weakening of freedom of expression and the independence and freedom of some media. In the global
survey, 'Freedom in the World,' published by Freedom House in December 2004, Russia was
downgraded to 'Not Free,' the only country to register a negative category change in 2004."
"On all fronts, Russia's democracy appears to be weakening," Feingold told his Senate colleagues. "In January 2002, the last significant independent Moscow TV station was shut down, many believe due to government pressure. Furthermore,
radio and print media have increasingly been restricted. It was widely reported that during the
parliamentary elections of 2003, television coverage was heavily biased toward the
pro-presidency party, largely ignoring or criticizing Putin's opponents."
The senator acknowledged that "President Putin faces a challenging political environment in Russia."
"However,' said Feingold, "human rights and political freedoms must not be ignored in an attempt to establish security; their neglect will only
lead to greater political turmoil. The United States must stand by its commitment to democracy in its relations with Russia.
If Russia wants to be a member of the community of democracies, it must demonstrate a meaningful
commitment to democratic principles."