Since taking the office in 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin has systematically repressed all opposition figures, organisations and protests by using violent police crackdowns and alleged assassinations.
The protests that erupted in Russia over the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on January 17 was curbed with brute force. The Russian police detained more than 5,000 people who demanded Navalny's release.
Navalny was detained at the airport soon after landing in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning since last summer.
"I understand that I live in a totally lawless state. In a police state, with no independent courts. In a country ruled by corruption. I would like to live differently,” a protester said.
Navalny also accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, a charge Kremlin denies.
In the past decade, Russia has been witnessing the systematic and violent repression of peaceful protests as well as elimination of opposition figures through the Kremlin controlled judicial system and alleged assassinations.
How Putin strengthens his anti-democratic power
In nearly a decade long post-Soviet era, Russia went through some democratic reforms which enabled pluralism in media, competitive elections, and freedom for political life and NGOs.
The democratisation efforts continued under former Russian President Boris Yeltsin who governed the country from 1991 to 1999.
During this period not only civil society had democratised but also competitive elections were secured for regional governors.
With the arrival of some degree of democracy, the country's politics diversified too, with new political actors and operators emerging along with a civil society and dozens of powerful oligarchs.
In 2000, as Putin became Russia's president, political freedoms started to wane at both national and regional levels.
As the first step of his centralisation of power, Putin brought three big television channels, RTR, ORT, and NTV, under his control.
He also seized Boris Berezovsky’s ORT and forced him to flee to London in 2000.
One of the most effective oligarchs, Vladimir Gusinsky, the owner of NTV and a banking empire, tried to resist Putin’s takeover of his media channel. However, he was accused of money laundering and was forced into exile. He lost not only NTV but also Segodnya newspaper and Itogi, a news magazine.
By 2021, the Kremlin controls all the major national television networks.
Eroding autonomy of regional power centers
Putin created seven supraregional districts which are now controlled by the Kremlin. He appointed former generals and the KGB officials.
The autonomy of regional governments was eroded by the new "super" governors who took over “all the federal agencies in their jurisdiction” which used to belong to regional governments in the Yeltsin era.
Putin’s political soldiers have threatened regional leaders into subjugation and undermined their power and autonomy in time.
Putin removed elected governors and heads of regional legislatures from the seats in the upper house of Russian parliament, the Federation Council, by appointing his loyal representatives to their positions.
As a result, the regional elections for the executive offices have stopped since 2005.
Putin also weakened some opposition parties such as Yabloko and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation as well as some political parties, the Republican Party and the Popular Democratic Union, were not allowed to register elections.
Crackdown on protests
Since 2000, there have been numerous protests against Putin over anti-democratic political actions, economy and violation of political freedom. Nearly all these demonstrations faced violent police interventions and heavy court decisions.
The former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and leader of the Other Russia opposition party was arrested in Moscow in 2007 when police broke up a march of about 3,000 protesters and arrested hundreds of demonstrators.
Kasparov has faced trials and served a five-day sentence for organising an illegal opposition protest.
“I hope people around the world can see what happens to opposition activists in Russia ... This regime is entering a dangerous phase of becoming a dictatorship,” Kasparov said after releasing.
One of the biggest protests in near Russian history has started in 2011 by motivations of fraudulent elections and corruption.
The protests across the country were continued till 2013. As a result, more than a thousand protesters were arrested, many opposition leaders repressed and election results were not revised. Putin solidarated his power more by cracking down opposition figures in the mass protests.
Boris Nemtsov, who served as deputy prime minister in Yeltsin administration, was assasination in Februrary 2015 by shooting several times from behinf while crossing a bridge in Moscow. He was murdered two days before planned a peaceful demonstration against Russian involvement in Ukranian civil war and the financial crisis in the country.
Yevgenia Albats, the editor of New Times magazine, said: “he(Nemstsov) was afraid of being killed," after the assasination.
"And he was trying to convince himself, and me, they wouldn't touch him because he was a member of the Russian government, a vice premier, and they wouldn't want to create a precedent. Because, as he said, one time the power will change hands in Russia again, and those who served Putin wouldn't want to create this precedent," she added.
His assaination is added to the long list of murdering high-profile Russian politicians, human rights activists, and journalists in the Putin era.
For example, one of the most outspoken journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006 by becoming 13th Russian journalists who targeted in a contract-style murder in the first sixth year of Putin’s presidency.
Alexei Navalny also accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder which the Kremlin denies.
In March 2018, Ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, and were taken to a hospital, where for weeks they lay unconscious in critical condition. British authorities blame Russia for what they say was a military-grade Soviet-made nerve agent poisoning. However, Russia denies responsibility for the attack.