Two seemingly minor incidents in the past 24 hours that say a lot about the rapidly tightening political space in the post-Soviet area.
On Sunday, Russian riot police violently cracked down on another peaceful anti-Putin rally, this time in St. Petersburg. Though no candidates have yet been declared, we can now say that the 2008 presidential election campaign has begun, and the Kremlin is serving angry notice that it won't tolerate anything resembling an Orange Revolution in Russia. I expect the protests, and the repressions, will continue to grow in the months ahead.
And this morning, news from Uzbekistan - arguably the darkest corner of ex-Soviet Central Asia - that Human Rights Watch is being forced out of the country. HRW was one of the last international organizations with an office in Tashkent, and one of the few remaining checks on the power and abuses of President Islam Karimov.
His regime has been known to boil its political opponents alive. Literally.
Five years ago, both Putin and Karimov were labelled allies by the Bush Administration in the so-called "war on terror." In exchange for their support of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, both regimes were given a carte blanche domestically.
We're seeing the fruits of that short-sighted policy now in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Tashkent.