Yesterday thousands of people were out on the streets of Russian towns and cities protesting government corruption.
MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s opposition, often written off by critics as a small and irrelevant coterie of privileged urbanites, put on an impressive nationwide show of strength Sunday with dozens of protest across the vast country. Hundreds were arrested, including Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.
It was the biggest show of defiance since a 2011-2012 wave of demonstrations rattled the Kremlin and led to harsh new laws aimed at suppressing dissent. Almost all of Sunday’s rallies were unsanctioned, but thousands braved the prospect of arrest to gather in cities from the Far East port of Vladivostok to the “window on the West” of St. Petersburg.
An organization that monitors Russian political repression, OVD-Info, said it counted more than 800 people arrested in the Moscow demonstrations alone. That number could not be confirmed and state news agency Tass cited Moscow police as saying there were about 500 arrests.
Despite the fact that the accusations hit close to home with Prime Minister Medvedev featuring prominently, the Kremlin’s response has been pretty muted. Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption crusader who led the unauthorized protests got off with a slap on the wrist;
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who organized a wave of nationwide protests against government corruption that rattled authorities, was fined 20,000 rubles ($340) by a Moscow court on Monday.
It was a comparatively lenient punishment for organizing an unsanctioned rally for which he faced up to 15 days in jail. The court has yet to deliver a ruling on charges accusing the opposition leader of resisting arrest.
The fact that the Kremlin didn’t crack down harshly suggests that they aren’t panicking (yet), but they’re clearly approaching the situation with caution, no doubt because of the widespread nature of the protests and the fact that they’re not limited to middle-class liberals.. Russians may be prepared to tighten their belts and suffer through a sluggish economy in support of Putin’s aggressive foreign policy but they’re clearly expecting that those who run the country should show some solidarity.
This is definitely one to watch. If the protests continue and grow in size, then expect the Kremlin’s response to grow progressively more brutal.
UPDATE: Here’s the video that started it all, now with subtitles. And having seen it, I’m revising my previous opinion. If Putin and his hangers-on aren’t yet panicking, they should be. It’s a witty yet thorough romp through Medvedev’s tangled personal and business holdings – and it’s been watched 13 million times.