So relentless is Russia's crackdown on dissent that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize just three weeks ago to newspaper editor Dmitry Muratov has already come to resemble a mere spark from a match that quickly died in the spreading darkness.
This week alone, several allies of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny were detained on suspicion of extremism and face up to 12 years in prison; the state blocked the website of OVD-Info, which monitors police abuses and helps people arrested at political protests; and a court extended to 15 years the sentence of historian Yuri Dmitriev, in a sex abuse case that supporters say was fabricated to punish him for uncovering a Stalin-era mass grave of executed political prisoners.
Meanwhile, judges in Moscow ordered the closure of Memorial, Russia's foremost civil society group, which chronicles Soviet repression, commemorates its victims and defends today's political prisoners such as Navalny. Muratov and Russia's other living Peace Prize winner, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, urged the Kremlin to spare Memorial but their appeal was ignored.
Since the jailing in February of Navalny, who nearly died last year in an apparent poisoning by the security services, dozens of activists and journalists have been jailed or fled Russia, and their organisations blacklisted or banned, in the biggest wave of oppression to be unleashed in the country's post-Soviet history.
Memorial not only documented past and current abuses by the authorities, but also defended the right of ordinary Russians to know how power is wielded by a highly secretive and corruption-riddled state that acts with impunity.
But Putin’s ruling elite does not welcome scrutiny after two highly profitable decades in power, and regards any organisation or initiative that is not officially approved as inherently subversive.
It is the outlook of the former KGB officer writ large as ideology – in which the limits of society’s freedom will always be defined by the need for ever-tighter state control, and by the personal interests of those who wield it.