So what changed? Why did Putin's crackdown on the media go from being a problem, then to a blot not unlike other blots, then to something you contrast to a successful corpse-salvage mission in Murmansk, to... a clear sign of Fascism?
What changed is Yukos. The arrest of oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky in October, 2003. The darling of everyone from Exxon and Chevron to Dick Cheney and Richard Perle. The man who argued that Russia should have supported the war in Iraq, and should orient its oil towards the West, rather than China. The man who, in the end, tried and failed to change the power structure in Russia.
The Economist has admitted as much: "If the emergence of Yukos epitomised Russia's transition from a planned economy to the wild capitalism of the 1990s, which for all its excesses thrived on private initiative, its destruction was a turning-point towards an authoritarian, corporatist state." (May 10, 2007)
What "excesses" might Yukos have committed? Murder, if you believe ex-Wall Street Journal writer David Satter, whose study of the rapacious oligarchs was once was cited favorably in The Economist. Mass theft, if you believe even Khodorkovsky's candid account of how Yukos' assets were acquired. Not that that's a big secret. But you see, admitting that into the record would sorta muddy up the picture. So that all gets passed off as "excesses," which could really mean anything, like "excess of free-market zeal." It's a whitewash, just like when Putin seemed pliable, The Economist downgraded his human rights record to mere "blot" status.
This is how The Economist has always worked in Russia, its hand constantly on two dials: a "sunny side" dial, and a "bleakness" dial, the latter ending in Fascism.
Take this example from the Yeltsin years, a period where The Economist's record is so appallingly deceitful that it would require a separate article, and scores of beta-blockers just to read through without suffering a 10-valve thrombo. In late 1997, when it still looked like Western financial institutions were reaping huge profits and stood to earn more, The Economist said of Yeltsin and his notoriously hated "privatization" lieutenant, Anatoly Chubais:
"Market forces have grown stronger with each year, but may not yet be strong enough to propagate themselves unaided. Their chances would be much better if there were a hundred more people in government of Mr. Chubais's calibre, or even a score. Mr. Yeltsin, at least, appears to believe that there isn't one. Un-Marxist as it might be to argue as much, great men are needed to do great things. Mr. Yeltsin, in his way, is one such. And Mr. Chubais, in his way, is another."
Exactly four months later, as the IMF-backed pyramid scheme was unraveling and Westerners started getting burned, The Economist changed its mind, but in smarmy known-it-all language suggesting it had known this all along: "Russia's institutions being worryingly weak and the powers of its president frighteningly strong, it is vital that the man in charge is beholden to neither demagogues nor billionaires...Unfortunately, as age, vodka and the wooziness of barely diluted power get the better of him, Mr Yeltsin is utterly failing to do this part of his job....Once a Titan, rightly lauded for helping to pull down one of the world's most evil regimes, he now seems to lurch, disaster-prone, from one fit of bad temper to the next. Poor Russia."
Yes, it was so long ago that he was "rightly lauded," I mean, how could anyone possibly have guessed he'd turn out to be so bad four long months later? It's like when Austin Powers discovered that Liberace was gay: "Who would have guessed? I never saw that one coming!"