Putin starts to ‘tighten the screws’ on foes

Protest leaders are swept into jail

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Opposition lawmaker Gennady Gudkov said he was forced to close his 20-year-old private security firm after pressure from authorities.

About 3,000 people rallied in downtown Moscow last week to call for the release of 14 suspects detained after violent clashes between Putin opponents and police near the Kremlin in May.

Speakers at the rally, including Mr. Udaltsov, warned of a “return to 1937,” a reference to the height of political repression under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Those fears were echoed this week by Russian tycoon and Kremlin critic Alexander Lebedev, who said the charges against Mr. Navalny indicate that the country is on the “brink of political repressions.”

In July, Mr. Putin signed two laws that opponents say are attempts to stifle mass protests planned for the fall. One law re-established criminal penalties for libel, and the other gives the government the power to ban websites deemed damaging to minors.

vsay the website law is far too wide in scope and open to abuse.

Kremlin ‘testing the waters’

In June, Mr. Putin also approved a law greatly increasing fines for protest-related offenses. The legislature is also expected to approve a bill that would force nongovernmental organizations that are funded from abroad and engaged in politics to declare themselves “foreign agents.”

“During June and July, we have seen the shift to a harsher type of political regime,” said analyst Lilia Shevtsova at the Moscow-based Carnegie Center think tank.

“The Kremlin is testing the waters to see whether they can apply repression without provoking a Western reaction or society to take to the streets again. But it’s not a dictatorship yet because the authorities are unsure if they can rely on the security structures.”

Ms. Chirikova urged the United States to protest the charges against Mr. Navalny by introducing sanctions against Russian officials. She also criticized the White House for putting business ties with Moscow ahead of “the human rights of the Russian people.”

She said the threat of jail time would do nothing to stop her involvement in the protests against Mr. Putin’s 12-year rule.

“They’ve already tried to take away my children and my small engineering business,” she said. “But when you see what is going on in your country, there is no other choice but to struggle.”

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