November 28, 2023

They came for Dimitri Kolker, a patient physicist, in the intensive care ward. They came for Ivan Fedotov, a hockey star, as he was leaving training with a camera crew. They came for Vladimir Mao, the president of the state university, the week he was re-elected to Gazprom’s board of directors.

The message these high-profile arrests sent: Almost anyone is now being punished in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The wave of arrests across the country in recent days has indicated that the Kremlin is intent on tightening the screws on Russian society even more. It appears to be a manifestation of President Putin’s declaration in the early weeks of his war in Ukraine that Russia needs to purge itself of “scum and traitors” loyal to the West, and it is creating an unmistakable chill.

“Every day feels like it might be the last,” Leonid Guzman, 71, a commentator who continues to speak out against Mr Putin and the war, said in a phone interview from Moscow, acknowledging the fear that, too, it might be. Arrested.

None of the targets of the latest crackdown have been an outspoken critic of the Kremlin. Many of Putin’s fiercest opponents who chose to remain in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, such as politicians Elia Yashin And Vladimir Kara-Murza, they were already in prison. But each of the recent targets of repression represents the outward-looking Russia that Putin increasingly describes as an existential threat. The ways in which they were arrested seemed designed to make waves.

Kolker, a physicist, was admitted to hospital in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk last week for treatment for late-stage cancer, so weak he was unable to eat. The next day, agents from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, accused him of treason, and took him to a Moscow prison. Over the weekend, he died in custody.

“The FSB killed my father,” his 21-year-old son, Maxim, Wrote In all capitals on social media alongside a photo of a three-line telegram sent by authorities notifying the family of a death. “They didn’t even let our family say goodbye.”

Following in his father’s footsteps as a physicist in Novosibirsk, Maxim Kolker said Dmitriy Kolker has been known to hire students to work in his lab, helping to convince some budding Russian scientists not to seek work abroad.

He said in a telephone interview that the family must now return Mr. Kolker’s body from Moscow at their own expense.

It was not clear why the FSB targeted Dmitri Kolker, 54, a specialist in quantum optics. State media reported that he was imprisoned on suspicion of passing secrets abroad. But Kremlin critics say it is part of a broader campaign by the Federal Security Service to suppress freedom of thought in the academic world. Another Novosibirsk physicist, who was also arrested last week on suspicion of treason, Anatoly Maslov is still in custody.

The arrests came at the same time that Mr. Mao, a prominent Russian economist, was arrested for fraud, and the head of a sprawling state university, the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

Mr. Mao, 62, was by no means an open critic of the Kremlin. He had joined more than 300 senior academic officials in signing the A March open letter Describing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “necessary decision,” he was re-elected only last week to the board of Russia’s energy giant Gazprom. But he also had a reputation as what Russian political scientists call a “systemic liberal,” someone who was working within Mr. Putin’s regime to try to push him in a more open and pro-Western direction.

It turns out that his relations with the Kremlin were not enough to save Mr. Mao from a fraud case Already involved Dean of another leading university which critics said is designed to eliminate remaining pockets of dissent in Russian academia.

“The great enemy of government and the stability of government are the people who hold the knowledge,” said Mr. Guzman, who worked with Mr. Mao as a government advisor in the 1990s. “Truth is an enemy here.”

Ekaterina Shulman, a political science professor who taught at Mr. Mao’s Academy until April, described the institution as “the educational hub of most of the country’s civilian bureaucracy” and described his arrest as Russia’s highest-level criminal prosecution since 2016. She noted, that ideological purity has become a priority More important to the Russian authorities, especially in the field of education.

“In education, it is important that a person actively proclaims and shares the values ​​he must inculcate in the heads of his students,” said Ms. Schulman, now a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. “Here, vague loyalty may not be allowed.”

Mr. Putin said the same thing. In his March speech in which he criticized traitors in central Russia, he called those who actually reside in Russia but live in the West “in their thoughts, in their slave-like consciousness”.

It is also increasingly asserting that truly patriotic Russians should be committed to living and working in Russia. “Real, strong success and a sense of dignity and self-respect only happen when you connect your future and that of your children to your motherland,” he said at an economic conference in Saint Petersburg last month.

In this context, the news that Fedotov, the goalkeeper for the Russian national hockey team that won the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics last February, is on a contract in May with the Philadelphia Flyers, is likely to be seen as a challenge.

Fedotov, 25, one of the rising stars of the hockey world, was planning to leave for the United States this month, according to Russian media reports.

Instead, on Friday, as he was leaving a training session in Saint Petersburg, he was stopped by a group of men, some in masks and camouflage uniforms, and taken into a truck, According to a TV journalist Who was filming a special report about him and witnessed the incident.

Fedotov’s alleged crime, according to Russian news agencies: evasion of military service. Russian men under the age of 27 are required to serve for one year, although sports stars are usually able to avoid conscription. On Monday, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Mr Fedotov had been transferred to an unnamed Russian naval training base.

The in-depth arrest was widely seen as his punishment for choosing to play in the United States rather than stay in Russia. “I would not be surprised if they put him on a submarine and send him to sea,” RIA Novosti quoted Soviet sports veteran as saying. “He’s not going anywhere after that.”

For Mr. Guzmán, a liberal commentator who remained in Moscow, the common denominator running through the recent arrests was their seemingly unwarranted cruelty. In Putin’s regime, he said, such behavior is more likely to be rewarded than the state blames.

“The system is built in such a way that it is rare to punish excessive cruelty by an official,” Mr. Guzmán said. But excessive softness can also be. Therefore, any official seeks to show great toughness.”

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