ON MY MIND
Given the news that convictions for extremism have increased threefold over the past five years, you can only reach two conclusions: Either Russians have become a nation of rabid extremists or the Kremlin is becoming more zealous in prosecuting citizens under its notoriously flexible anti-extremism laws. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's the latter.
Exhibit A: A man in Tver was sentenced to two years and three months in prison for re-posting an article critical of Russia's annexation of Crimea on social media. Exhibit B: A journalist in Saratov is under investigation for extremism for posting a picture on Facebook of the Virgin Mary wearing a mask and holding a Molotov cocktail. And that is just in the past couple days.
But while the Kremlin is eager to prosecute such fictional "extremism," they gladly ignore the real thing -- as long as it adheres to the party line. Violent hate crimes against homosexuals, for example, are hardly ever even investigated, let alone prosecuted.
IN THE NEWS
Japanese Prime Minister visits Russia -- and breaks Putin's G7 isolation.
Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev says unemployed Ukrainian refugees in southern Russia pose a threat to Russia.
A man in Tver has been jailed for "extremism" for re-posting an article critical of Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The "extremism" trial of opposition nationalist Dmitry Dyomushkin begins today.
Poland has charged a Warsaw lawyer with spying for Russia.
A Russian orchestra played a concert in Syria, in Palmyra's ancient amphitheater.
And The New York Times noted that Russia "plays Bach where ISIS executed 25" people.
A second Russian journalist has been found killed in his apartment.
WHAT I'M READING
An Opposition Without Leaders
In an op-ed in Vedomosti, sociologist and economist Anton Oleinik argues that Russia's opposition might be better off without leaders.
"Many argue that the scandals involving the leaders of Russia's political opposition in the run-up to this September's parliamentary elections play right into the hands of the ruling elite. Using any means available to discredit the leaders of the democratic opposition, it's said that the people now in power are ensuring desired outcomes in the State Duma elections this fall, and in the presidential election in 2018," Oleinik writes.
"But if we look at the situation from another point of view, it could be that today's disappointment in the opposition's leaders and the collapse of the democratic coalition, ironically, may contribute to qualitative changes in Russia's protest potential, perhaps ultimately strengthening it. Critically minded citizens, after all, must learn to live without thinking only of their leaders -- and this includes the opposition's leaders."
Meduza has an English-language translation by Kevin Rothrock here.
Be Careful What You Wish For
In a piece in The National Interest, Kazushige Kobayashi argues that the West may not be ready for a democratic Russia.
"Think about it: If we can barely prevent democratic Poland and Hungary (which are deeply embedded in NATO and the EU) from 'going rogue,' what makes us think that we would be able to handle a democratized Russia?" Kobayashi writes.
"As the Central European cases have taught us, democracy can become a powerful tool for the ascendance of illiberals, and we know little about how to remedy this problem without compromising core democratic values (that is, without simply criminalizing illiberal political organizations)."
Exploiting Victory Day
Writing in Novy Region, Russian journalist Ksenia Kirillova takes a look at how the Kremlin exploits Victory Day celebrations.
"It’s hard to imagine a greater travesty to the fallen as well as to the survivors than the sight of thugs and rapists, wearing St. George ribbons and accusing Ukrainians of fascism, in the very country savagely attacking Ukraine in an undeclared war," she writes.
"Today, just as a year ago, the blood, pain, and suffering of some are being used by others to justify militaristic hysteria, hatred, aggression, and lies to rob, murder, and slander in a boundless orgy of barbaric baseness."
Euromaidan Press has an English-language translation here.
The Economist writes that Russia's crackdown on Salafis in Daghestan may be driving Muslims to Islamic State.
Full Speed Ahead On Missile Defense
The New York Times is reporting that NATO is moving forward with missile defense despite Russian criticism.
According to a piece in Gazeta.ru, Kazakhstan and Belarus will not hold Victory Day parades this year.
According to a poll by the Kremlin-connected Public Opinion Foundation, Russians are more interested in politics than at any time since 2001.