Nemtsov on Oil and Media Censorship

Ahead of his meeting with President Barack Obama, Solidarnost leader Boris Nemtsov pens this opinion article in the Wall Street Journal:

The regime still has its sources of strength: oil and media censorship. But these two pillars are weaker than they seem.

The persistent and courageous efforts of independent journalists, lawyers and opposition activists — some of whom have been murdered — will eventually allow public discussion of Mr. Putin’s most abominable actions. Mr. Putin, for instance, was not only responsible for the order to fire at the school during the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis but is also reportedly involved in corrupt dealings with Kremlin-connected oligarchs. Public discussion of this could lead to a collapse in support for the regime.

As for oil, even today’s relatively high price of $70 a barrel is no longer able to support the Russian economy.

In April, Russia’s gross domestic product contracted by 10%,according to government statistics, while industrial production fell by17% in May. Unemployment has already surpassed 10%. It seems that $70oil may not save the regime and prevent social unrest. The origin ofthese troubles lies in the unprecedented level of bureaucracy andcorruption in the Russian economy. According to TransparencyInternational, an NGO that compiles statistics on corruption, Russiaunder Mr. Putin has descended to a shameful 147th place in the worldcorruption index.

Thanks to his weak personality and (to put it mildly) thequestionable legitimacy of the 2008 election, Russian President DmitryMedvedev is unable to exercise his formal constitutional powers. Forall intents and purposes, Mr. Putin continues to be the real ruler ofRussia and his authoritarian course remains unchanged.

Media censorship is as severe as ever, elections are a meaninglessfarce, judges are subservient to the executive, and the economy isdominated by corruption and state-connected monopolies.