Putin appeals to the nationalistic Russia, those people who felt a sting after the fall of the Soviet Union brought freedoms but decreased their superpower prestige, and has done his best to resurrect the fear that put the world on edge for so many years. Khodorkovsky once said, “It is the Singapore model, it is a term that people understand in Russia these days. It means that theoretically you have a free press, but in practice there is self-censorship. Theoretically you have courts; in practice the courts adopt decisions dictated from above. Theoretically there are civil rights enshrined in the constitution; in practice you are not able to exercise some of these rights.” Sunday was the first anniversary of the slaying of journalist and Putin critic Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down in her apartment building in a contract hit of suspicious origins. Politkovskaya was slain on Putin’s birthday – and as some Muscovites solemnly marked the date of her death, across town the extremist, pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi rallied in celebration of Putin’s 55th. “Putin stay with us forever!” they cheered, according to The Associated Press. They should get their wish, as long as Putin keeps increasing the grip of the police state, squashes independent media and keeps dissidents safely under lock and key. I sat down with Amsterdam on his visit to Los Angeles this week to talk about his client and Putin’s power grab. “The situation in Russia is extraordinarily difficult because there is no leadership in terms of the fields of morality and rule of law,” Amsterdam said. “In fact, the leadership are the major crime-breakers in the country and that’s a known fact.” Chess legend Garry Kasparov has decided to run for the Russian presidency, speaking out as an opposition figure when many others dare not. “We’re facing a very dangerous regime that is threatening not only the future of my country but the stability of the whole world,” Kasparov told “60 Minutes” last month. No one gives Kasparov, who won’t even be allowed TV time to express his views, much chance of making it into the Kremlin. “The whole idea of a one-man, one-party state is largely that it keeps potential leaders down,” said Amsterdam, noting that he agrees with Kasparov regarding Putin’s strong performance in popularity polls: “Give Russia a couple weeks with a free media and there’ll be a world difference.” When asked about the U.S. assertion that Russia’s foreign espionage now equals that of the Cold War era, Amsterdam quickly disagreed. “It is much higher than the Cold War,” he said. “I’ve had people in other governments tell me that they’ve never seen anything like it. For instance, there are more Russian spies in Berlin now than at any time in the Cold War. Even when (former Chancellor Gerhard) Schroeder was schmoozing with Putin, he was under attack in his own country because of the massive influx of spies. “It’s because of how widely Mr. Putin defines `threat’: a threat is now defined as free media, a threat is now defined as civil society.” One key threat posed by Putin’s Russia – in addition to financial alliances with nefarious regimes such as Venezuela and Iran – is what Amsterdam calls the “authoritarian veto” at the United Nations. Ganging up with veto-wielding buddy China at the Security Council, for example, Russia has defended the Myanmar junta mowing down monks in the name of Burmese sovereignty. “The conscience of the world is vested in Beijing and Moscow,” Amsterdam said. “It’s a pretty sorry state.” Bridget Johnson writes for the Daily News and blogs at insidesocal.com/friendlyfire. E-mail her at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Vladimir Putin’s shirtless outdoorsman romp won’t be the last time the Russian president shamelessly flexes his muscles. Watching the slow, painful reconstruction of the Iron Curtain, one wonders if President Putin might more aptly be titled Czar Vladimir. “It is the most corrupt regime in Russian history, which says a hell of a lot,” said Robert Amsterdam, international counsel for Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The Yukos oil tycoon turned political prisoner was supposed to be up for parole on Oct. 26, the anniversary of his fourth year of incarceration on charges of fraud and tax evasion, but his time in a Siberian gulag was extended late last month. Putin cannot, under Russia’s constitution, run for another term as president when his time is up in May. So the buzz is on his game plan to stay in power: He can endorse a weak yet loyal presidential candidate, and be puppetmaster as prime minister with perhaps enhanced powers. Later, he can run for president again.