Will Russia’s growing protests crystallize into a new opposition?


Baton-wielding riot police broke up anti-corruption protests and detained hundreds of demonstrators in Moscow and other Russian cities on Monday soon after arresting opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Reuters reports:

The protests, called by Navalny, a strong critic of Russian President Vladmir Putin, drew thousands of people and were some of the biggest in Russia since 2012. “Russia without Putin” and “Russia will be free” chanted the demonstrators, including many young people, who crowded into central Moscow on a public holiday.

Shouting “We demand answers,” and “Stop lying and stealing,” tens of thousands of protesters turned out Monday across Russia in a nationwide anti-corruption rally called by opposition leader Navalny as part of his long-shot bid to unseat Putin, The Washington Post adds: 

This turbulence is not likely to prevent Putin, whose approval rating has not been below 80 percent in three years, from winning reelection next March, Denis Volkov, an analyst with Russia’s independent pollster, the Levada Center, said in an interview. But it does point to a fundamental weakness of the system Putin has created. 

Will growing protest across Russia crystallize into a new political opposition movement? The FT’s Karthrin Hille and Max Seddon ask:

Although comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, analysts say the economic pain from the two-year long recession — triggered by the oil price crash and western sanctions — led to a spike in protest activity in 2015 and 2016. The Centre of Economic and Political Reform, a non-governmental group in Moscow, counted 1,141 protests just on labour issues last year. ….Analysts note that the focus of protest activity in the regions is shifting from economic subjects. According to KGI, almost half of all protests in the second half of 2016 focused on political issues in a broad sense — a drastic change from 2015, when economic and social concerns topped the agenda…..The public senses the change, and is growing estranged from its politicians, says the Russia Public Opinion Research Centre (Vciom), a pollster that monitors public sentiment for the Kremlin.


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