News from Russia is becoming increasingly bleak.
I was watching Andrew Marr on Sunday AM interviewing a friend of the late Alexander Litvinenko this morning. During that interview Marr observed that the Russian Duma had recently passed a law which effectively made it legal in Russia to order the death of dissidents abroad. If true, this is a monstrous law that should have triggered strong protest from European governments.
Russia, having shed communist tyranny only a decade ago, is now rapidly sliding towards fascism. It is not only the murders of Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya that suggest that the rule of law is rapidly being replaced by a thuggish dictatorship.
The signs that President Putin's government would return to the old ways were there early on. Indeed, his administration was ushered in on the back of the bombing of Moscow apartment blocks in a crime that was at the time blamed on Chechen separatists but which has often been linked to the FSB (the replacement of the KGB) - an accusation made by Litvinenko, among others. During the Kursk tragedy early in first term, a distraught mother of a naval hero lost in that submarine tragedy, when hectoring a podium of officials, was suddenly silenced on camera by a nurse who injected her with a serum; state doctors later said that it had been to calm her nerves.
Since then the situation in Russia has darkened. Politics has taken on a decidedly nationalistic tone, political parties have either been squeezed out or have become pawns of the Kremlin, and the Second Chechen War has killed at least tens of thousands. As international oil and gas prices have risen, and Europe has relied and will rely ever more on Russia as a source of energy, Russia's power and that of its government is rising sharply. This manifested itself recently in the crisis with Georgia. The small, Caucasian former Soviet republic detained and expelled four Russian spies. The resultant over-reaction by Moscow led inter alia to Georgian's resident in Russia being harassed by public servants and even to Georgian school children living in Russia being denied admission to their schools.
Also on Sunday AM this morning, the Financial Times's Moscow correspondent confirmed that the FSB is now effectively running Russia. This is a terrifying prospect. A rising Russian power in the hands of a security elite that views the loss of the Cold War as a temporary set-back is a serious danger to Europe and especially to what they call their "near abroad" - the former Soviet republics, some of which are now NATO and EU members. It is absolutely vital that Europe unite to deal with Russia, both to curb the threat it poses and to guide it back towards democracy and the rule of law.
Only a liberal, democratic Russia can ensure peace and security in Europe and prosperity and freedom for the Russian people. It is imperative that Europe develop a strategic approach to achieving this goal.