By Michael Levitt
The world shouldn’t have needed Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine to realize the dangerous depravity of Vladimir Putin.
Since returning to power as his country’s president 10 years ago, he’s provided ample evidence — trampling human rights, forsaking democratic norms, occupying foreign territory and rewriting history.
Indeed, given his tyrannical record, his brutal assault on a sovereign nation should have astounded no one. What is surprising is that his massive human rights abuses over the past 20 years never triggered widespread outrage and international resolve until now.
A former officer in the KGB, Putin has long shown dictatorial tendencies. Since his first presidential win in 2000, he has taken Russia down a slippery slope of ruthless, anti-democratic rule to the point where today he exercises near-absolute control of the country.
In addition to his war crimes against Ukraine, Putin has proven true to form at home where he has intensified his already cruel, repressive measures against his people, including anti-war activists, independent media and anyone who dares protest his despotic actions. So far, he has had more than 10,000 Russians arrested for protesting his invasion of Ukraine.
Nevermind that the rights of Russians are supposed to be protected by domestic and international law — well and good in theory, except for Putin’s brazen disregard for democracy and individual liberty. Legal protection is no match for an autocratic leader who brooks no interference or opposition and has instituted restrictive legislation to undermine the constitutional defence of citizens’ rights.
While consolidating power and ignoring the rule of law, his unchecked authority has exacted a high price. It includes jailing political opponents; muzzling the media; controlling a propaganda machine; peddling anti-Western conspiracy theories; harassing journalists; attacking neighbouring states to reassemble pieces of the old Soviet empire; and interfering in elections in several countries.
All that without mentioning the scores of Russian opposition politicians, lawmakers, journalists and critics targeted by assassins at home and abroad, raising suspicions about Putin’s complicity.