Information Warfare · Russia

5 Years After Crackdown, an Anti-Kremlin Protest Resumes


Protesters from across the political spectrum joined an opposition rally in Moscow on Saturday. Credit Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

MOSCOW — Pro-Western liberals, hard-line nationalists, gay-rights activists and other Kremlin opponents gathered in central Moscow on Saturday, seeking to revive a broad-based protest movement against President Vladimir V. Putin that was snuffed out five years ago by mass arrests and stiff jail sentences. The demonstrators chanted the one demand that unites their disparate causes: “Russia Without Putin!”

Waving Russian flags and the black, yellow and white standard of the Russian empire, thousands of protesters from across the political spectrum held a noisy but good-natured rally to mark the fifth anniversary of a violent police crackdown that ended months of protests against Mr. Putin in 2011 and 2012.

The Ministry of Interior said that only “around 1,000” people had taken part in the rally on Saturday, which was held on a broad avenue named for the Soviet-era dissident Andrei D. Sakharov. The true number appeared to be several times larger, though not as large as the 10,000 people organizers had hoped would come. The Moscow city police reported no incidents.

OVD-Info, an independent group that tracks protest arrests, reported that at least seven people had been detained by the police at a separate gathering in Bolotnaya Square, the site of large anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2011 set off by public fury over falsified election results.

Unlike the nationwide demonstrations organized on March 26 by the anti-corruption activist Aleksei A. Navalny, the protest on Saturday was approved by the authorities beforehand, and, while out in force, police officers and members of the Russian National Guard, an internal security force set up last year, did not try to disrupt the gathering. The crowd was also much older than the ones at Mr. Navalny’s rallies, which drew mostly youthful protesters in March.

Mr. Navalny, 40 and Russia’s most charismatic opposition figure, was absent from Saturday’s rally, which was organized by an older generation of Kremlin critics like Lev Ponomarev, a Soviet-era human rights activist.

Demoralized and mostly silenced for years by official harassment and a barrage of propaganda on state-controlled media that portrayed them as traitors, opponents of Mr. Putin have again found their voice in recent months with an unusual series of modest but, for the Kremlin, unnerving street protests. The March 26 anticorruption rallies, held in nearly 100 towns across the country, were followed last month by protests in about 30 cities initiated by Open Russia, an organization founded by the exiled billionaire Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky that was recently banned by Russia’s prosecutor general as “undesirable.”

The Saturday rally drew diverse and sometimes contradictory groups, including gay-rights activists, extreme nationalists, hard-line socialists, opponents of hunting and critics of a Moscow city government plan to resettle hundreds of thousands of residents so their buildings can be replaced by new developments. A similarly broad coalition of Kremlin opponents drove the 2011-2012 protests, which at their peak brought up to 100,000 people into the streets but fizzled after a wave of arrests and prison sentences.

“There are lots of very different people here, but this shows a lot of people are angry about something,” said Ildar Feseyev, a 65-year-old member of Yabloko, a liberal party, who joined the protest. Nearby, burly young men waved the old Russian imperial flag and shouted for the release of Dmitri Demushkin, a nationalist recently sentenced to two and half years in prison for inciting hatred.

The protest on Saturday, and those before it, posed no serious threat to Mr. Putin, who enjoys strong approval ratings, according to polls. But the discontent signals a potential danger as the Kremlin gears up for a presidential election next March and seeks to keep the country in a state of political somnolence. Mr. Putin has not yet declared his candidacy, but few doubt he will run again.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/06/world/europe/russia-vladimir-putin-protests.html?_r=0

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