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But at a time when Russia is emerging as an energy superpower and a key ally on handling Iran and North Korea, human rights and freedom of speech are no longer at the top of the West's agenda. Some, including Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, are quick to defend Putin; in his recent memoirs, Schröder described the Russian President as "a flawless democrat." "It's frustrating that some European leaders hold this view," says Grigory Pasko, a former navy captain, journalist and environmental campaigner who in 2001 was sentenced to four years in jail on treason charges, and released in 2003. "You would hear less of this sort of thing if Europe were not so dependent on Russian energy."
Not all is bleak. Western leaders may be less inclined to support dissidents than they once were, but it is easier than ever for those opposed to Putin to get their message out. In Soviet times, dissidents had to smuggle their news and thoughts to a wider audience through surreptitious meetings with foreign reporters or crudely printed tracts. Today, any blogger with a grievance can become a dissident, and the Internet is the new samizdat. And in the past two years alone, Russians have lodged almost 20,000 individual grievance cases at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France; some of the most significant relate to abuses in Chechnya. "Yes, we're pushed to the kitchen again but this kitchen is so much bigger than the one we used to have," says Dmitri Furman, 63, an intellectual from the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe. In the 1990s, Furman wrote critical commentaries about politics and society for leading Russian newspapers. Today, no newspaper will take his pieces, but he sees some hopeful signs. "The network of liberal dissent in Russia is powerful," he says. "It is really beginning to realize how hopeless the existing regime is. It is also exhausting its own illusions, about Western help in particular."
Conceivably, the deaths of Politkovskaya and Litvinenko will awaken the West to the realization that all is not well in the new Russia. A Russia that is prosperous, in which there are goods in the stores and food on the table that is a Russia that is in the interest of all the world. But a Russia where the powerful whoever they are feel free to defend their prerogatives in any way they choose is one that brings back bad memories. Russia's leaders should not be surprised if they discover that, outside its borders, those who have wished the country well as it has emerged from the long nightmare of communist rule remember the years of poison and the gun and shudder at what is happening now.