Russian vs Chinese Autocracy
China has traditionally been far more oppressive than Russia but Russia employs tactics against dissenters that recall those of the mafia.
What is interesting when comparing oppression in Russia and China is how profoundly differently it works in each country. In China, all citizens get monitored with social credit system. They have the great firewall of China and Uyghurs get placed in massive re-education camps. Chinese dissenters quickly disappear or get pressured to “come home.” For all practical purposes, Chinese oppression has has for years been much stronger than Russian oppression.
Russians have had more freedom of expression. For instance, there has long been no “Great Firewall” in Russia. Criticism of the government by regular people has mostly been tolerated. And while Russian elections are heavily manipulated in Putin’s favor, they have actually happened. China doesn’t even pretend to be a democracy. Russia may not be a democracy but they sort of try to pretend they are, by actually holding elections and having multiple parties in parliament.
Yet Russia engages in oppression of a dissent in a way that makes me think of gangster rule. Throwing journalists off balconies, poisoning opposition leader Alexei Navalny with Novichok nerve agent, and poisoning former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko with Polonium-210 — all of these events make you think of methods used by the mafia.
This has made me reflect on the fact that the freedom and restrictions within Russia are very similar to those experienced by anyone living under a Mafia racket. Think of Chicago in the 1930s ruled by Al Capone or mob-controlled New York in the early 1980s. In this world, you have more freedoms than people living in actual dictatorships, yet if you step out of line you know that the mob will make a brutal example out of you.
The mob achieves its power through spreading fear. That is why they often kill people in very spectacular ways. It sends a message to anybody who dares oppose them. It is why Russia does not simply kill people with a bullet in what looks like failed robbery. No, they kill people with things like Novichok and Polonium because it sends a clear message. They can deny that they did it…