Putin justified the changes as bringing Russian law up to international standards. But in the absence of an independent judiciary, the legislation is little more than a new cudgel in the hands of an overzealous security apparatus.
While the chilling effect of the legislation has yet to sink in, Putin's lieutenants are already using existing laws to go after the regime's most vocal critics.
Ilya Ponomaryov, Gennady Gudkov, and his son Dmitry – the three lone dissidents in the Duma who tried to thwart the legislative assault – were advised by the ethics committee to give up their seats for participating in protest rallies. The Gudkovs' private security business has come under pressure.
The family of Putin's mentor, the late St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, has also not been spared. The daughter, Kseniya Sobchak, is a TV celebrity from the establishment and an advocate of gradual political reform. In June, police raided her apartment, confiscating money and computers. Her mother, Sen. Lyudmila Narusova, has said she may lose her seat for opposing the new restrictions on rallies.
Putin, whose power structure is based on personal loyalty, is known for "not giving up his own." When he returned to the presidency in May after four years as prime minister, he took most of his former cabinet ministers with him.