Rumors of a coming thaw, it appears, were greatly exaggerated.
When Sergei Kiriyenko was named the Kremlin's deputy chief-of-staff and top political manager in October, it was seen by many as a sign that Vladimir Putin's regime was considering a shift away from the autocracy, conservatism, and nationalism that had defined it in recent years.
It was interpreted as a signal that Putin's hard-line policies at home had run their course and that the balance was shifting in favor of so-called regime liberals and technocrats.
For the record, I never bought this.
And after the arrest of Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev earlier this week for bribery, I buy it even less.
Like Kiriyenko, Ulyukayev is associated with the regime's technocratic wing. And the charges against him are patently absurd.
He's accused of threatening and extorting a bribe from the state oil giant Rosneft, a company run by Putin-crony Igor Sechin -- one of the most powerful men in Russia.
And let's face it, anybody who threatens and tries to extort Sechin shouldn't be arrested -- they should be committed.
But the fact that the charges are ridiculous is precisely the point.
There's nothing like a random, arbitrary, and completely absurd criminal case to put the fear of God into everybody. Call it the Kafka effect.
Ulyukayev is the first sitting minister arrested in Russia in decades and this sends a powerful signal to the entire elite: nobody is safe.
No, there isn't going to be any thaw. In fact, Garry Kasparov got it right in the title of his latest book: Winter Is Coming.
In fact, it's already here.
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