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Retrograde Russia

It's clear now, Russia can't be talked into pluralism under Putin. Where does that leave the West?

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Over the years, each curtailment of freedom under Russian President Vladimir Putin has been met by regret and protest in the West – but also a debate about whether this might be the end of it. It's now time to end that debate.

Recent events make it clear that the rollback from pluralism continues (it's hard to argue that Russia under Boris Yeltsin ever was a full-fledged democracy). At the same time, Mr. Putin is sharpening his rhetoric and actions in his dealings with Europe and the United States.

Control of Russian television, a clampdown on dissent, and eliminated gubernatorial elections have been followed by further restrictions. Radio has now lost its independence. Anti-Kremlin political parties are being denied registration and the ability to field candidates. Protesters are beaten and arrested.

Internationally, old Soviet behavior is again on display, this time in the neighboring Baltic states – now members of the European Union and NATO. Estonia, after removing a World War II memorial to fallen Soviet soldiers, has accused Russia of a massive cyber attack on its computers. And Moscow just announced it won't repair a year-old rupture in an oil pipeline that supplies Lithuania, but will ship the oil at Lithuania's greater expense.

Meanwhile, Putin is inflaming a dispute over a planned US missile-defense system in Eastern Europe to forest-fire heights. The wisdom of the limited shield aside, he falsely claims it threatens Russia. He's accusing the US of starting an arms race, implicitly likening the US to the Third Reich and threatening to retarget missiles toward Europe.

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