Don't expect democracy to flourish
Despite its oil and gas resources, Russia's economy is wobbly, its growth rate last year an anemic 1.3 percent, down from 3.4 percent in 2012. Vladimir Putin has failed to build a robust, free-market economy or anything close to a full-fledged democracy where dissent is tolerated if not somewhat encouraged. The Kremlin's heavy-handed political, diplomatic and economic tactics spook many investors.
These days, Russians also are enduring the "most severe crackdown against human rights since the collapse of the Soviet Union," says the prodemocracy organization Freedom House. Putin has harassed advocacy organizations under the pretense of shielding Russia from "foreign agents." Many organizations have been subjected to "aggressive and intrusive" inspections, Human Rights Watch says.
One recent image captures perfectly how Putin's thin-skinned Russia handles criticism: Cossack militias apparently attacked the punk activist group Pussy Riot — young women in neon-colored balaclavas — with pepper spray and whips as they prepared to play a new song, "Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland."
They were whipped for trying to sing a song.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE