Protests in Russia: New Meaning Against Old Repression

Russian Police Use Batons on Protesters at Demonstration

Protests in Russia: New Meaning Against Old Repression

Experts and politicians believe that the current wave of street activity of citizens dissatisfied with the Kremlin is significantly different from the previous ones.

Companions of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was detained and arrested after arriving in Moscow, say that protests against this arrest will not subside: they announced on social networks that the next street demonstrations will take place on January 31, and called on people in Moscow to come to Lubyanskaya Square – the place where the headquarters of the Federal Security Service is located.

This service, as stated in the investigation of Navalny himself and several media outlets, is directly responsible for the poisoning of the opposition politician with a chemical warfare agent..

The Russian authorities, which responded to the protests of the past weekend with mass arrests, several dozen arrests and criminal cases, continue to pursue a course of containment through repression: mass searches were carried out of people close to Navalny and famous journalists, the politician’s brother Oleg Navalny, a lawyer of the Foundation, was detained fight against corruption Lyubov Sobol and member of the Pussy Riot group Maria Alekhina.

On international platforms, Russia continues to deny that Alexei Navalny was poisoned at all, and also gives rebukes to those who call on the Kremlin not to interfere with the rights of citizens to peaceful assembly enshrined in the Russian Constitution..

Will such a response stop the protests in Russia??

At the virtual round table in the Atlantic Council organization, held on Thursday, other Russian opposition politicians gave a negative answer to this question – economist Vladimir Milov and Chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation Vladimir Kara-Murza.

According to Vladimir Milov, the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation returned to Russia in order to wage a broad campaign against the “party of power”:

“Navalny was eager to return to that huge network of resistance that he had built over the years, and which Putin, as we now see, fears so much that he is trying to literally put everyone in prison – to prevent us from taking people to the streets and participating in the campaign against his party (United Russia – DG) during the elections … Navalny is very angry with Putin, who tried to poison him. He wants to answer that, and he wants to make that response fast and strong. That is why he wanted to return as soon as possible, and his return was never in doubt. “.

Milov believes that the impact of Navalny’s investigation of the palace on the Black Sea coast will grow over time: “These protests can be called a ‘field study’ unfolding before our eyes … The real effect of the film about ‘Putin’s palace’ may be delayed, maybe it will take time for people to mobilize, but all the same – now it is this film that mobilizes the most people, not even Navalny’s arrest, but his film. Because he destroys one of the main points of Putin’s mythology: Putin has always tried to present himself as a kind of ascetic. “.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, in turn, is sure that the use of force by the Kremlin against the protesters speaks of the scarcity of funds left at the disposal of the Russian authorities: “The use of force is all that Putin has left. But only through the use of force, the regime cannot survive for a long time “.

Changes in public opinion in Russia go beyond the influence on this opinion only of Navalny himself, for all the effectiveness of his strategy, Kara-Murza is sure:

Protests in Russia: New Meaning Against Old Repression

“This is not happening because of someone taken separately, and it is unstoppable, this movement is unstoppable. The most important mistake that many authoritarian regimes have made is turning their opponent into a symbol of the nation, imprisoning him. If the Kremlin thinks that by imprisoning him, it can somehow reduce his influence or drown out his voice, reduce the effectiveness of his “smart vote” campaign in the parliamentary elections due in September this year … then the result will be exactly the opposite. “.

What’s new in this protest?

In another discussion organized by the School of Slavic and East European Studies at the University of London, political scientists highlighted the novelty of the current protest wave in Russia. Specifically, Clara Ferreira Márquez, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, defined these new traits as follows:

“The protest is ‘cumulative’ in nature. The current demonstrations are a testament to the political and economic discontent that has accumulated over the past few years and exacerbated by the pandemic. This is a continuation of past demonstrations. Navalny is viewed by the Russian authorities as the only trigger for this protest, while in fact society takes to the streets under the influence of many other aspects. This means that it is difficult for the authorities to respond effectively to protests. “.

In addition, according to a Bloomberg columnist, the protest operates on platforms outside the reach of the state: “Unlike China, the Kremlin failed to establish effective restrictions on the Internet at an early stage and, therefore, is struggling to fight social media. He has no monopoly on this space … Social networks have already effectively broadcast videos of the marches. “.

Why does the West protect Navalny?

Professor of Political Science at the University of Los Angeles, Daniel Treisman, in an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America, answers this question as follows:

“I think that people in the West, politicians and the public, are seriously concerned about his life and health. Many were shocked by what happened last summer when he was poisoned, they were even more shocked when the details of this poisoning appeared. And also very many were seriously impressed by Navalny’s courage and his ability to speak with wide sections of Russian society. We don’t know how wide it is, but he managed to get over a hundred thousand people out of unauthorized rallies last weekend. This happened not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but also in other cities, more than a hundred throughout the country “.

“The US and Europe are really worried that those who tried to kill him the first time will want to do it again – in custody or elsewhere. So far, the West’s response has been mostly verbal – tough statements, and we have yet to see what practical steps will be taken, whether it will be additional sanctions, or something else. But it is clear that a lot of everything that happened before has accumulated at once, and now we may see a greater unity of the West in the matter of influencing Moscow, “the political scientist suggests..

Daniel Treisman also sees a serious role for the movie “Putin’s Palace” in what is happening: “We saw how angry the people who came out to protest last Saturday were. Navalny has strengthened himself politically, showing the film, which has been watched by over 100 million YouTube users. Putin now has no good options: by leaving Navalny in prison, he makes him a martyr, and by releasing him, he looks weak and gets an active leader of the protest. The Kremlin tried to resolve this situation and did it rather badly, only by making people angry. “.

  • Danila Galperovich

    Reporter for the Russian Voice of America Service in Moscow. Collaborates with Voice of America since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and host of programs for the BBC Russian Service and Radio Liberty. Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.

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