“We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs and defend our sovereignty,” Putin said. “It is necessary to think about improving the law and toughening responsibility for those who take orders from foreign states to influence internal political processes.”
Missile defense targeted
The government’s rhetoric gathered steam as the elections approached and intensified dramatically when Medvedev made the first serious threats about a Europe-based missile defense system.
In Brussels at the meeting of NATO foreign ministers Thursday, Russian officials said the alliance was trying to bully their country into participating in the system, which Moscow fears could be used against Russia. The United States says it is intended to curtail threats from elsewhere.
Ominous signs were mounting when an Interior Ministry official suggested that a cherished U.S. interest — an unfettered Internet — was ripe for control in Russia, saying that users should be identified by their names and faces. His boss quickly denied any such plan was under consideration.
The Vkontakte social network said that federal security services had asked it to block the activity of opposition groups. It refused.
Over the weekend, the Web sites of independent organizations reporting on the election were hacked, Golos among them. On Thursday, Golos Deputy Director Grigory Melkonyants said his Facebook page was under attack.
Late Wednesday, Yevgenia Chirikova, the widely admired leader of an environmental group that has been fighting the government, was detained at an airport, where she underwent a body search. She had been in Europe discussing the elections’ validity with officials.
“They searched and released,” she tweeted. “They did not find millions from the state department. They seem to be upset.”
At a news conference Thursday, the Interior Ministry insisted that Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblowing lawyer working for an American firm, had died of heart failure while in pretrial detention in 2009 despite detailed reports finding that he was tortured and killed. The officials said they might try William Browder, the investment manager who employed Magnitsky, in absentia on tax charges.
The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, has been expected to leave this month, although his successor, Michael McFaul, the adviser to President Obama who was the architect of the reset, has not been confirmed.
Resetting the reset button
The Obama administration has shown signs of a less tolerant approach to Russia, suggesting it had met its reset objectives and was preparing for a testier relationship.
At the end of October, Clinton’s chief technology aide visited Russia to promote the benefits of a free Internet. Her assistant secretary for democracy and human rights met beleaguered activists, asking what kind of support the United States could provide.
Those who watch Russia expect that whatever happens, the consequences will be worse for Russians than for Americans.
Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said Putin faces some choices he might have wished to avoid.
“What I think dismays him is that until now it was fairly soft authoritarianism,” Aron said by telephone from Washington. “The dilemma he faces is embracing the more traditional authoritarianism or risk looking weak. In the last 12 years, the regime has not had to face this dilemma yet.”
Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Brussels contributed to this report.