The Guardian devoted an article "Putin's Russia: back in the USSR" in its issue of October 29 to Putin's system. The paper recalls the kidnapping and transfer from Ukraine to Moscow an opposition activist Razvozzhaev, who was trying to gain a political asylum in Ukraine, as well as threatening to kill his children if he did not sign a confession that could lead to arrests of opposition leaders of illegal activities.
Someone in Putin's inner circle sensed an opportunity to turn the tables on a protest movement fired up by rigged parliamentary elections last year. A conflict which had until then pitted the young, urban middle class against an ageing, corrupt and super-rich bureaucracy, was diverted into the challenge of a fringe group against a self-defined moral majority.
The conflicts Putin has generated since his re-election - youth versus the orthodox church, liberals versus conservatives, westerners versus nationalists - all stoke the motor of anti-Americanism. America is officially a partner.
Putin says so both publicly, and privately to Barack Obama when they last met at Los Cabos in Mexico. Those are words, but as far as deeds are concerned, the US representatives in Russia are treated like the enemy within, their motives suspect, their aid agency closed, their diplomats subject to intrusive surveillance.
These are tactics, and Putin is a tactician, not a master strategist. But none of them answer the real question: why go to these lengths? Putin's crackdown has Russia watchers scratching their heads. There are conflicting theories: he is vindictive; he is bored, disengaged and out of touch; he is more insecure than he seems.
The last thesis bears scrutiny. It goes like this: the real struggle being played out is not the visible war against activists in the courts, but the invisible internecine tussle between rival groups of advisers in his circle. As the stability Putin managed to achieve in his first two terms turns to stagnation in his third, his authority is being challenged from within.
"A crackdown, selectively applied, skilfully manipulated, is Putin's temporary and tactical answer. But it will do nothing to tackle the source of his problems - a corrupt, inflexible, unreformable system of government to which his name and fate are inextricably attached", concludes the newspaper.
Department of Monitoring