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Spate of arrests suggests Kremlin is further clamping down on dissent

July 4, 2022 Updated Mon., July 4, 2022 at 12:01 p.m.

By Anton Troianovski New York Times

They came for Dmitri Kolker, an ailing physicist, in the intensive care ward. They came for Ivan Fedotov, a hockey star, as he was leaving practice with a film crew in tow. They came for Vladimir Mau, a state university rector, the week he was reelected to the board of Gazprom.

The message sent by these high-profile detentions: Nearly anyone is now punishable in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The flurry of arrests across the country in recent days has signaled that the Kremlin is intent on tightening the noose around Russian society even further. It appears to be a manifestation of Putin’s declaration in the early weeks of his war in Ukraine that Russia needed to cleanse itself of pro-Western “scum and traitors,” and it is creating an unmistakable chill.

“Every day feels like it could be the last,” Leonid Gozman, 71, a commentator who continues to speak out against Putin and the war, said in a phone interview from Moscow, acknowledging the fear that he, too, could be arrested.

None of the targets of the recent crackdown was an outspoken Kremlin critic. But each represented an outward-looking Russia that Putin increasingly describes as an existential threat. And the ways they were taken into custody appeared designed to make waves.

Kolker entered the hospital last week for treatment for late-stage cancer, so weak that he was unable to eat. The next day, agents for the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB, arrived and, accusing him of treason, flew him to a Moscow jail. Over the weekend, he died in custody.

It was unclear why the FSB targeted Kolker, 54, a specialist in quantum optics. State media reported that he had been jailed on suspicion of passing secrets abroad. But the FSB has increasingly jailed scientists in a campaign that critics call an unjustified crackdown on freedom of thought.

Kolker’s arrest came at the same time as the arrest on fraud charges of Mau, a leading Russian economist who is the head of a sprawling state university, the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

Mau had joined more than 300 senior academic officials in signing a March open letter calling the invasion of Ukraine a “necessary decision,” and he was reelected to the board of Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, just last week. But he also had a reputation as someone who was working within Putin’s system to try to nudge it in a more open and pro-Western direction.

His Kremlin ties were not enough, it turned out, to save Mau from a fraud case that critics said appeared designed to snuff out the remaining pockets of dissent in Russian academia.

Fedotov, 25, one the hockey world’s up-and-coming stars at goalie, helped the Russian Olympic Committee men’s ice hockey team win a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Beijing and has signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.

On Friday, as Fedotov was leaving a practice session in St. Petersburg, he was stopped by a group of men and taken away in a van, according to a television journalist who was filming a special report about him and saw the incident.

Fedotov’s alleged crime, according to Russian news agencies: evading military service. Russian men under 27 are required to serve for one year, although sports stars are typically able to avoid conscription.

His elaborate detention was widely perceived as punishment for his having chosen to play in the United States rather than stay in Russia. But Russia’s sports minister, Oleg Matytsin, dismissed that idea.

“Live according to the law,” he said, “and everything will be fine.”

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