Democratic states have different ways of forming their governments: from parliamentary coalition deals to presidential nominations. They do, however, have one feature in common: appointments to the executive are, as a general rule, known to the public. On Tuesday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev handed President Vladimir Putin the list of his Cabinet nominees. Not a single name on that list was announced. According to the official transcript of the meeting, Medvedev had decided that naming the new ministers would “ignite excessive interest.” For now, the only source of information on the future makeup of the government are anonymous leaks—such as the one in Kommersant newspaper, suggesting that the odious Vladislav Surkov, sacrificed by the Kremlin at the height of the anti-Putin protests in December, will make a comeback as the new government chief of staff.
This appointment, if it materializes, will not be the only attempt by the regime to get revenge for its recent humiliations. On the same day Medvedev proposed his secret government, the Duma committee on constitutional legislation approved a draft bill that would severely restrict the already limited freedom of assembly. The measure, proposed by Putin’s United Russia party, raises the maximum fine for “violating order” at public rallies from the current 5,000 to 1.5 million rubles (from $163 to $48,900), and prohibits any person who had once “violated order” from organizing street rallies again. Pro-Kremlin legislators readily admit that this proposal is a reaction to the May 6th anti-inauguration march in central Moscow, which drew between 50,000 and 100,000 people. The new law will likely take effect before June 12th (Russia’s National Day and the anniversary of its 1990 declaration of sovereignty from the Soviet Union), when the opposition is planning another large rally in Moscow.
“If we want to blow up the situation … let us adopt this law immediately … And we will bring the end closer,” warned Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB colonel and a member of the Duma. “It is not the opposition that is bringing people out onto the streets … The main organizer of the protests is the ruling party, which has allowed fraudulent elections and fraudulent judicial decisions.” The strength of the protest movement was once again demonstrated on Sunday. In response to the mass arrests of opposition activists during Putin’s inauguration, novelist Boris Akunin suggested conducting a “stroll” through the city center. Previously, public events not “sanctioned” by the authorities (and thus likely to be dispersed by force) drew, at best, a few hundred participants. Sunday’s “stroll” was attended by 20,000 people. “We want to show that this is our city,” explained Akunin, “that we can walk through it where we want, when we want, and with ribbons of any color.” (Wearing a white ribbon—the symbol of the protest movement—was enough to warrant arrest on the streets of Moscow during Putin’s inauguration.)
The Kremlin would be wise to heed Gudkov’s warning. With 38 percent of Russians (according to the latest Levada Center poll) supporting the anti-Putin protests, any attempt to crack down on the movement would not hold it back, but only serve to radicalize it. “Future street rallies will be unsanctioned,” predicted Akunin. “There will be no organizers … there will be no one to fine … Your police will run off its feet trying to put up barriers. Beause nobody knows where an unorganized crowd of 30,000, 50,000 or 100,000 people can start heading.”