Duplicity vs. Demipotence

Andrew Higgins writes in The New York Times, reporting from Moscow:

The president, speaking in the Kremlin in December, declared that prosecuting people for their religious affiliations was “a total nonsense” and had to stop.

But instead of curbing a campaign across Russia against Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mr. Putin’s remark has been followed by more arrests; a conviction and six-year prison sentence for Mr. Christensen; and, in a new low, reports late last month of the torture of believers detained in Siberia.

Higgins’s thesis is that Putin may not be the all-powerful dictator he is commonly made out to be – rather, he might be presiding over

a state that is, in fact, shockingly ramshackle, a system driven more by the capricious and often venal calculations of competing bureaucracies and interest groups than by Kremlin diktats.

I may accept the thesis but I don’t buy this particular argument. It’s more likely that Putin was simply being duplicitous: He’d very much like to root out Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia but wouldn’t admit his intention, so chose to speak like a good constitutionalist. There’s any number of reasons he would want them destroyed, for all their pacifism and non-violence.

(Why did the Nazis persecute the Witnesses? Why did the Soviets – even as late as the 1980s – paint them, alongside the Baptists and the Pentecostals, as Satan’s own brigade? Why is Beijing trying to stamp out Falun Gong?)

For a better supporting argument for Andrew Higgins’ claim, I would look into the “whale prison” case, since it’s rather unlikely that Putin is cetaphobic.

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