Russian lawmakers approved a raft of new measures restricting political activity and protests as well as tightening control over the Internet in what analysts say is a response to simmering popular discontent and fears of more pressure from the U.S.
The State Duma passed the measures – all backed by the ruling party and virtually certain to become law – with little debate. They include criminal penalties for individuals determined to be “foreign agents,” including journalists and political activists. Others impose further limits on public protests, broaden definitions of libel online and ban the publication of information about security services personnel.
Another measure gives regulators the power to block foreign internet companies for limiting access to Russian content, such as state-run media.
“This is tyranny and tightening the screws,” said Elena Lukyanova, a prominent law professor who’s often critical of the authorities.
Backers of the measures defend them as necessary to protect the political system from outside influence, arguing they’re in line with the constitution.
With consumer incomes stagnant and public support for the government weak, authorities face a challenge delivering a commanding victory for the ruling party in next year’s parliamentary elections. Persistent anti-government protests in the Far East city of Khabarovsk, as well as in neighboring Belarus, have added to pressure.
“They are preventively crafting a shield against the support of Russia’s opposition from Joe Biden that they expect” when the new U.S. administration takes office, said Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. “We are ready – that’s what they are demonstrating to America now."