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Times of London: The Bear Shows its Claws

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An editorial in today’s Times:

Beware. The claws are there Like the end of history, the end of the cold war turns out to have been little more than western wishful thinking. And like history, the cold war seems to be repeating itself. Once again chilly winds are blowing across the steppes and over the rest of the world; perestroika and glasnost are little more than memories. Russia today is beginning to resemble the old Soviet Union — repressive at home and aggressive abroad. President Putin is quick to stamp on opposition. One has only to think of Anna Politkovskaya, of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and of Alexander Litvinenko. Yesterday it was the turn of Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion, to feel the grip of the new authoritarianism. He was arrested at an anti-government rally in Moscow. Mr Kasparov is a critic of Mr Putin and head of a group called the United Civil Front. Other activists and several journalists were also arrested in a massive police operation that is becoming standard in Russia. Clearly not all Mr Putin’s critics are disinterested freedom fighters with pure democratic motives; equally clearly much of what they say is true. He inherited a country with an independent parliament, a free press, a healthy political opposition and fair elections. He has dismantled most of it. He now talks of “managed democracy” in which the Kremlin runs a pseudo-opposition. Those who prefer to ignore Russia’s internal affairs, or think of them as transitional, cannot afford to ignore Mr Putin’s international stance. Although he may not actually beat the conference table with his shoe, as Nikita Khrushchev did at the United Nations in 1960, he is increasingly prepared to display aggression to world leaders. Ruthless to Chechyna and Ukraine, he makes no secret of his contempt for the European Union and Nato. He recently signed a deal to help Iran with its nuclear project despite international protests and he is using US missile defence plans as a justification for returning to the arms race. The bear is showing its claws again and the West had better take note.