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Putin's Russia:

A Chronological Sampling of the Suppression of Political Opposition, Independent Media, and Civil Society

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  • Prime minister and acting president Vladimir Putin wins the March presidential election with 52.9 percent of the vote.
  • Putin challenges Russia’s powerful business magnates, known as oligarchs, with a series of investigations and raids by tax officials. The targets include enterprises in the automobile, energy, and media industries, particularly those owned by Vladimir Gusinky and Boris Berezovsky. Both men are eventually forced to flee abroad and give up their Russian assets.
  • Putin attempts to exert more control over regional governors, pushing through legislation that removes them from their ex-officio seats in the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament. He also creates seven new federal districts, or “super regions,” headed by Kremlin appointees who will oversee the regional governments. Most of the appointees have prior experience in the military or security sectors.
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Andrey Babitsky is abducted and detained while covering the war in Chechnya, which Putin had reignited with a massive invasion of the breakaway republic in late 1999. Babitsky is later convicted of passport violations and released under an amnesty.
  • At least three journalists are killed in connection with their work during the year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).



  • In March, Putin orchestrates a major cabinet reshuffle, placing loyalists—including a number of his former KGB colleagues—in important defense and internal security positions.
  • State-owned natural gas firm Gazprom bolsters its hold over the formerly independent media empire of Vladimir Gusinsky, effectively taking control of its NTV television station in April. Also that month, Gazprom shuts down the newspaper Sevodnya and fires the staff of the weekly Itogi.
  • In July, new rules require journalists covering the war in Chechnya to be accompanied at all times by an official from the Interior Ministry’s press service.
  • Also in July, Putin signs legislation that imposes new restrictions on political parties. To function legally, a party must have 10,000 members, with at least 100 in a majority of Russia’s 89 regions. Private individual donations are limited to $100 per year, and contributions from foreigners and international groups are banned.
  • At least one journalist is killed in connection with his work during the year, according to CPJ.



  • Russia’s last private nationwide television channel, TV-6, is closed down in January after a Moscow arbitration court orders its liquidation, allegedly at the government’s instigation. The station had been owned by exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky.
  • Corruption continues to pervade Russia’s political and business world. In May, the Moscow-based think tank Indem estimates that $37 billion is spent annually on bribes and kickbacks.
  • In June, the parliament passes legislation that gives the government the right to suspend parties or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) whose members are accused of “extremism.”
  • At least three journalists are killed in connection with their work during the year, according to CPJ. They include editor in chief Valery Ivanov of Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye, a newspaper known for publishing articles on organized crime and corruption.



  • In June, the authorities shut down TVS, the successor to TV-6 and Russia’s last independent national television station, replacing it with a sports network.
  • In July, Putin signs a new “illegal campaigning” law that effectively makes media outlets susceptible to closure for publishing critical information about candidates for office. The Constitutional Court later strikes down the most restrictive portions of the law, but it nevertheless has a chilling effect on reporting ahead of the December parliamentary elections.
  • In August, the government seizes control of VTsIOM (All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion), the country’s most respected polling firm.
  • On October 23, the authorities raid the offices of a political consulting firm that was advising the election campaign of the liberal political party Yabloko, one of several opposition groups supported by billionaire oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
  • On October 25, Khodorkovsky is arrested as part of a sprawling case that is widely seen as politically motivated.
  • Amid heavy media bias and accusations of vote manipulation, the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party captures 306 of 450 seats in December elections for the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
  • At least two journalists are killed in connection with their work during the year, according to CPJ. One of them is Aleksey Sidorov, Ivanov’s successor as editor in chief of Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye.



  • In March, Putin wins a second term with 71.4 percent of the vote.
  • The authorities continue to stifle the work of independent scholars. In April, disarmament researcher Igor Sutyagin is sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly disclosing military secrets to foreign intelligence agencies. Similarly, in November, physicist Valentin Danilov is sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of disclosing technological secrets to China. In addition to being criticized for due process violations, the cases are seen as part of an effort to discourage contacts between Russian academics and foreigners.
  • In May, Putin launches a punitive campaign against NGOs that receive foreign funding and “serve dubious groups and commercial interests.” Human rights groups are attacked by state-dominated media for allegedly working against Russia’s interests, and the offices of some groups are raided.
  • In August, a Kremlin-allied billionaire seeks more than $11 million in a libel suit against the business daily Kommersant, one of the country’s few independent newspapers. A judgment against the paper is eventually overturned on appeal, but such legal attacks are believed to have a chilling effect on the media.
  • In the aftermath of a catastrophic terrorist attack near Chechnya, Putin pushes through constitutional amendments in December that eliminate the direct election of regional governors, allowing the president to appoint them instead.
  • Also in December, the state-owned oil firm Rosneft acquires Khodorkovsky’s main oil asset after it is seized in a tax case against him.
  • At least two journalists are killed in connection with their work during the year, according to CPJ. They include Paul Klebnikov of Forbes Russia, who had reported on the links between organized crime, corruption, and Russia’s business elite.



  • During a wave of public protests against an unpopular reform of social benefits in January and February, many protesters are arrested, and officials allege that the demonstrations were carefully planned, possibly by the same groups that had organized the recent “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine.
  • In May, the State Duma passes a package of amendments intended to penalize media outlets for reprinting or rebroadcasting “inaccurate” news reports during electoral campaigns.
  • The government continues to intimidate news outlets for unauthorized reporting on issues relating to terrorism or the war in Chechnya. The ABC bureau in Moscow loses its accreditation in July after the network airs interviews with Chechen rebel leaders.
  • In July, Putin announces that his administration will restrict foreign aid to Russian civil society groups engaged in “political activities.” The government also publicly commits itself to defending authoritarian regimes across the former Soviet Union.
  • Khodorkovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev are each sentenced to nine years in prison in May, reduced to eight years on appeal in September.
  • At least two journalists are killed in connection with their work during the year, according to CPJ.



  • In early 2006, Putin signs a new law that gives bureaucrats ample discretion in registering NGOs and places onerous reporting requirements on such groups.
  • A law signed in July strips legislators of their seats if they change political parties, and bans parties from forming electoral alliances.
  • In October, a court orders the closure of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which monitored human rights conditions in Chechnya.
  • The government launches a harsh autumn crackdown on Georgians living in Russia as a result of political tensions with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili.
  • In December, new legislation gives the president the power to appoint the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who was previously elected by the academy’s general assembly. Critics claim that the new arrangement undercuts the academy’s independence.
  • At least three journalists are killed in connection with their work during the year, according to CPJ. They include investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya of Novaya Gazeta, whose reporting focused on human rights abuses in Chechnya.



  • In October, Putin informs the public that he will remain in power after the end of his second presidential term in May 2008 by serving as prime minister and working together with his handpicked successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev.
  • The government passes a series of measures that augment its ability to control the outcome of the December parliamentary elections. Under the new rules, all Duma members are elected via party list, and a party must win at least 7 percent of the vote to enter the legislature. Would-be parties must have at least 50,000 members and organizations in half of the country’s 83 administrative units to register.
  • The electoral process favors the ruling United Russia party, which enjoys extensive positive coverage in the state-dominated media. It ultimately wins 315 of 450 Duma seats.
  • NGOs report that Russian authorities prohibited or dispersed almost every public protest that was held throughout Russia during 2007.
  • Attacks on ethnic minorities and immigrants continue. According to Sova, a group that monitors ultranationalist activity in the country, crimes motivated by ethnic hatred led to 48 deaths and 388 injuries during the first nine months of 2007.
  • At least one journalist is killed in connection with his work during the year, according to CPJ.



  • In March, Medvedev wins 70.3 percent of the presidential vote after a tightly controlled electoral process. Putin is named prime minister and remains the dominant partner in the ruling “tandem” with Medvedev, despite the constitution’s investment of most executive power in the presidency.
  • In July, Putin lifts the tax-exempt status of most Western NGOs, subjecting them to a 24 percent tax beginning in 2009.
  • In December, masked men from the prosecutor general’s office raid the human rights group Memorial and confiscate its archives, which contained information detailing Stalin-era government abuses.
  • New constitutional amendments, set to take effect after the next presidential election, extend the presidential term from four to six years.
  • Journalist Magomed Yevloyev, founder of the opposition website, is killed in police custody. He is one of at least two journalists to be killed in connection with their work during the year, according to CPJ.



  • The government’s staunchest critics continue to face the risk of assassination. Human rights activists Stanislav Markelov and Natalya Estemirova are murdered in January and July, respectively.
  • In May, Medvedev creates a Commission for Countering Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests, adding to state pressure on scholars and others who objectively examine or question the actions of past Russian and Soviet regimes.
  • Whistleblowing lawyer Sergey Magnitsky dies in pretrial detention in November after being denied medical treatment. He was detained after accusing government officials of embezzling millions of dollars.
  • Journalist Anastasiya Baburova of Novaya Gazeta is murdered alongside Markelov in January. By year’s end, at least 19 journalists have been killed since Putin came to power, and in no cases have the masterminds of the attacks been prosecuted.



  • United Russia dominates the April and October local elections, which feature extensive violations including the failure to register opposition candidates, ballot stuffing, and restrictions on election monitors.
  • According to polling data from the Levada Center, nearly 80 percent of Russians believe corruption to be a major problem and find it much worse than 10 years earlier.
  • Police use force to disperse protests against road construction in the Khimki forest and regular demonstrations held to assert the constitutional right to free assembly.
  • In September, police visit more than 40 NGOs to demand documents, claiming that they need to determine whether the groups are abiding by Russian law.
  • In November, Kommersant journalist and blogger Oleg Kashin is brutally attacked and hospitalized in one of many such incidents during the year.



  • In September, Medvedev announces that he will step aside and allow Putin to run for a new, six-year term as president. The two claim that Putin’s return to the presidency had long been planned, exposing Medvedev’s tenure as a ploy to avoid the constitutional ban on serving more than two consecutive terms.
  • In a heavily manipulated process that is completed in September, longtime Federation Council speaker Sergey Mironov of the Just Russia party, who had become very critical of United Russia, is replaced with Valentina Matviyenko, a close Putin ally.
  • United Russia wins 238 seats in the State Duma during the December parliamentary elections. International observers report irregularities including extreme media bias, state interference, and lack of autonomy on the part of the election administration.
  • Prior to the elections, businessmen with ties to Putin buy additional television, radio, and newspaper assets. On election day, hackers attack the website of Golos, Russia’s only independent election monitoring group, bringing down an extensive map of reported electoral violations.
  • Mass protests erupt in the weeks following the elections. Hundreds of people are arrested, and many protest leaders are jailed for short periods, including prominent blogger and anticorruption activist Aleksey Navalny.
  • At least one journalist is murdered in connection with his work during the year, according to CPJ.



  • Despite growing public discontent, Putin secures victory in the March presidential election, officially winning 63.6 percent of the vote against a field of weak, hand-chosen opponents. He quickly begins enacting harsh new measures to suppress societal opposition to his rule.
  • Also in March, Russian lawmakers propose a bill that would prohibit the dissemination of “homosexual propaganda.” St. Petersburg and some other cities pass similar bans into law during the year, reinforcing a long-standing pattern in which LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights activism is suppressed by authorities or attacked by counterdemonstrators.
  • A law signed by Medvedev in May restores gubernatorial elections, ending the system of presidential appointments dating to 2004. The first set of elections are held in five regions in October. However, the new rules allow local officials to screen the candidates, eliminating strong opposition contenders and helping to ensure that pro-Kremlin incumbents win all five races.
  • In July, the State Duma passes a law imposing new restrictions on NGOs that receive foreign funding, obliging them to register as “foreign agents” and submit to frequent, unplanned inspections by the authorities.
  • Three members of the feminist protest band Pussy Riot, who had been arrested for filming a “punk prayer” against Putin in an Orthodox cathedral, are sentenced to two years in prison in August. The trial sparks an international outcry and solidarity protests across Europe and the United States. One of the three women is released on appeal in October.
  • In September, the government expels the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country, claiming that it was attempting to “influence political processes” and foment protests.
  • In November, a broadly worded new law, ostensibly targeting information that is unsuitable for children, creates a blacklist of internet outlets that initially leads to the shuttering of more than 180 sites.
  • Other laws enacted in 2012 include the recriminalization of slander, the imposition of sharply higher fines for participation in illegal protests, and a broad expansion of the definition of treason to encompass providing assistance to foreign organizations.
  • Authorities bring a series of criminal cases against Aleksey Navalny during the year, accusing him of fraud and embezzlement. Among other protest leaders facing politically motivated charges, the leftist activist Sergey Udaltsov is accused of “plotting to organize mass riots” and terrorism.
  • In December, Putin signs a law banning the adoption of Russian children by American families. The measure is seen as retaliation for a U.S. law imposing asset freezes and visa bans on Russian officials who commit human rights abuses.
  • At least one journalist is killed in connection with his work during the year, according to CPJ.




This chronology was prepared by Marissa Miller.

For more information on human rights and democracy conditions over the last decade, see the country chapters on Russia in Freedom House’s signature annual reports:

Nations in Transit: Democratization from Central Europe to Eurasia

Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Freedom of the Press: A Global Survey of Media Independence

Freedom on the Net: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media Freedom

Countries at the Crossroads: An Analysis of Democratic Governance