We haven't heard much about the "party of swindlers and thieves" for some time now. There aren't so many exposes of officials' luxury villas in the south of France. And, by the way, when was the last time you read a snarky blog post about Russian President Vladimir Putin's Botox habit? But we sure are hearing a lot about "national traitors" and "fascists" bent on undermining Russia's restored greatness. And the early 20th-century Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera—or at least a grotesque caricature of him—has made a comeback as a national boogeyman.
In the space of a few months, Putin has managed to change the conversation. The Kremlin no longer looks like it is out of ideas and running out of time. Putin's approval rating is at 83 percent. Even the ruling United Russia party—you know, the one made up of all those swindlers and thieves—is polling at 60 percent.
And the Kremlin's critics have been effectively silenced. With the world's eyes on the Ukraine crisis, an ongoing crackdown on NGOs in Russia intensified this week with prosecutors conducting raids on organizations in Kazan, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod. Independent media is being muzzled, bloggers are being stifled, and officials are dreaming up measures to squash dissent that make the crackdown of 2012-13 look almost quaint. "The Ukrainian revolution is becoming the prelude to a Russian counterrevolution," political commentator and onetime Kremlin spinmeister Gleb Pavlovsky wrote recently.