The people of the countries bordering Russia need to think long and hard if they are feeling nostalgic about becoming Russian again. In South Ossetia, there was euphoria at that area finally becoming Russian again back in 2008. But now, that area is totally forgotten. Aid that is earmarked for improving peoples' lives is instead spent lining the pockets of local politicians instead of going for the common good. Third world conditions abound. And families are being separated by a fence that is separating South Ossetia from Georgia. And people can be arrested for protesting.
In Russia, the government is tightening the screws on peaceful protests. Police are violating Russian law to detain people. Protestors are being dragged along the ground, sent to administrative detention for up to 15 days, fined hundreds of dollars, and denied medicine that they need in order to live.
“Many wondered what a post-Sochi crackdown might look like,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These detentions, the crackdown under way on the media, and violent attacks against dissenters by unidentified assailants paint a stark picture of what is going on in Russia right now.”Some people are being kidnapped and others are being assaulted as well. All this has been documented by Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 people between March 6 and 11 who participated in various protests, all of whom had either been detained or witnessed detentions. Based on their statements, as well as videos and photos Human Rights Watch examined, the police appeared to detain people without due cause and frequently resorted to unnecessary and excessive force by dragging and pushing unresisting protesters.
These measures are designed to create a chilling effect on protest. But they only serve to trigger more dissent.
In a March 4 statement, Russia’s ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, called the mass detentions groundless and random and noted the police failure to wear identification badges. Lukin said that police citations were in many cases “identical” and “written up in advance,” and expressed concern about the fairness of the administrative court hearings that have already taken place.Hundreds of people are protesting outside of hearings, meaning that there is a core group of protestors who aren't going anywhere. Expect this to be replicated if the Crimean Tartars or ethnic Ukrainians take to the streets there. If, say, the Estonian Russians decide to reunite with Putin's Russia, expect this sort of behavior to happen there as well.
The chief lawyer for Public Verdict, a nongovernmental Russian group that provides legal assistance to victims of police abuse, told Human Rights Watch that she provided legal advice to over 150 of those detained in Moscow. She said the problems raised in Lukin’s statement and that Human Rights Watch identified were relevant in all of the cases she dealt with.
The New York Times went to Georgia and South Ossetia to document what life could be like for Crimea now that it has joined with Russia. What they found was 3rd world living conditions, families being broken apart, and massive corruption.
Some towns have never really been rebuilt from the war.
Its political system is controlled by elites loyal to Moscow, suddenly wealthy enough to drive glossy black cars, though many roads are pitted or unpaved. Dozens of homes damaged in the 2008 war with Georgia have never been repaired. Dina Alborova, who heads a nonprofit organization in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, said her early hopes “all got corrected, step by step.”So much for Putin's claims that this was a humanitarian effort. As the promised money to reconstruct South Ossetia never came, conditions got worse and worse.
“During the first winter, we still thought, ‘The war just ended,’ ” she said. “By the second winter, frustration had taken root. When the third winter came, everything was clear.”
But within a few months of Russia’s recognition, shivering through the winter behind windows made of plastic sheeting, people began to wonder when the billions of rubles of aid pledged by Russia would reach them. The answer seems to have been that much of it was stolen: Mr. Malashenko said he estimated that 30 percent of the aid pledged by Russia had reached its target.And as soldiers are building fences creating boundaries separating South Ossetia from Georgia, people are starting to realize that they may never see family members again.
Zemfira Plieva, 43, who grew up inside South Ossetia and now lives just outside it, once crossed the boundary several times a week to sell vegetables or visit her sister, and she watched the spiky fence rising with dismay. When her mother died, three years ago, she was so afraid of being arrested that she did not attend the funeral. When asked what would happen if South Ossetia were formally annexed by Russia, she started to cry.Expect all this to happen in Crimea as well. Part of the problem is that Putin believes that a lot of the protestors are really in the employ of the US similar to Venezuela, Iran, Chile, and other governments that we have overthrown through covert means in the past. Putin, in his recent Duma speech on Crimea, suggested that the US would try and undermine his government by covert means. If the US is serious about respecting International Law, then they have an obligation to renounce the weapon of covertly overthrowing foreign governments. None of this justifies any of Putin's human rights abuses. But the solution lies in the hands of the Russian people, not in the hands of the US or any other foreign government.
“I will never again see anyone from my family,” she said. “I don’t even want to think about it.”
The US has treaty obligations to defend NATO allies in the event of an attack. But it is better to prevent such attacks from happening in the first place. The US has an obligation to insist that NATO allies do their part by strengthening laws against discrimination. That way, Putin will not be able to ferment unrest in the first place. And the US should insist on an end to the draconian austerity measures that have led to some of the worst European unrest since World War II. The more unrest and discrimination that there is in NATO countries, the more that Russia can ferment unrest similar to what they did in Crimea.