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Russia’s Protests Resume Amid Heightening Repression

On Monday, some 30,000 people gathered on Bolotnaya Square—the site of the unprecedented anti-Putin protests in 2011 and 2012—in a rally that was marked, in the words of media commentators, by “hope without illusion” and “solidarity without euphoria.” This protest was not, as a year ago, directed against a fraudulent “election” that returned Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin. This time, Muscovites came out to protest the looming transformation of an authoritarian regime into a full-fledged police state.

As Putin Avoids Navalny, the Reformer's Popularity Rises

Vladimir Putin rarely passes an opportunity to denounce his opponents, without much concern for reality. He has suggested that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was guilty of “murders” (despite the fact even the official Kremlin-inspired indictment against Russia’s most prominent political prisoner carries no such charges); accused Boris Nemtsov of stealing “billions … together with [Boris] Berezovsky” (although it was Putin, not Nemtsov, who was associated with Berezovsky in the 1990s), and criticized Garry Kasparov for giving an interview in English (even though the interview was for Western journalists).

Commission: Kremlin Pre-Planned Moscow ‘Riots’

On May 6, 2012, some 60,000 people marched through downtown Moscow to Bolotnaya Square to protest the inauguration of Vladimir Putin, “elected” to a de facto fourth term in office in a vote that international monitors assessed as not fair. The march had been officially sanctioned by City Hall, and nobody expected anything other than a peaceful rally—just like the ones in December 2011 and February 2012.

But as the protesters approached Bolotnaya, they were met by thousands of armed riot police who had blocked parts of the square, hindering access and creating an artificial stampede. According to the Kremlin’s version, what happened next were “mass riots” by demonstrators who attacked and assaulted police officers. Sixteen people are currently behind bars on this charge; 11 more have been indicted.

Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny on Trial

Judge Sergei Blinov, until recently little known outside his town of Kumyony, may well go down in history. At the very least, the laurels of Viktor Danilkin—the Moscow judge who issued the absurd, politically motivated prison sentence for Mikhail Khodorkovsky—could rightly be his. In the past 18 months, Judge Blinov issued 130 rulings; every single one was a “guilty” verdict. Last December, he was transferred from Kumyony to Kirov, a city of 500,000 people some 550 miles east of Moscow—it was here, at the Leninsky District Court, that, on Wednesday morning, Judge Blinov gaveled into session the trial of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent anticorruption campaigner and opposition activist and, as of this month, a declared presidential candidate.

Margaret Thatcher Understood Russia

It has often been said that Margaret Thatcher was more popular in Russia than she was in her own country. This was especially true in the late 1980s, when she, together with Ronald Reagan, played an instrumental role in the weakening of Soviet Communism, helping Russians liberate themselves from totalitarian rule. Having forced the Kremlin into an “arms race” it could not win, Thatcher and Reagan accelerated the demise of the Soviet system, making its political and economic bankruptcy evident to the entire world, including, not least, to the Russian people.

Putin’s Best Hope: A Fragmented Opposition

With public support for Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party falling by the month (according to the latest Levada Center polls, only 32 percent of Russians would vote for Putin in a presidential election, while 40 percent agree with the opposition slogan that United Russia is a “party of crooks and thieves”), the best hope for the Kremlin and its regional protégés to hang on to power is a fragmented opposition.

Boris Berezovsky, the Man Who Made—and Tried to Unmake—Putin

In the spring of 2000, after his favored candidate, Vladimir Putin, officially won the Russian presidency (having been acting in this capacity since December 1999), Boris Berezovsky came to the office of then-leader of the liberal opposition in the State Duma, Boris Nemtsov, to complain of boredom. There was nothing else to do, Berezovsky lamented—the presidency was in his pocket; everything was under control. “You won’t be bored,” Nemtsov retorted, “[Putin] will never forgive you for your support.”

Duma Leaders Accuse Kremlin Critic of Treason

In the decorative rubber stamp that is today’s Russian State Duma, Dmitri Gudkov is a rare voice of opposition. Last June, he and a handful of colleagues organized Russia’s first-ever parliamentary filibuster, forcing the chamber to consider some 400 amendments (many of them purposefully absurd) in an effort to delay the adoption of a law raising fines for “violations” during street rallies. In December, he was one of just eight members of the Duma who voted against “Herod’s Law,” which banned adoptions of Russian orphans by US citizens. He has publicly supported the Magnitsky Act, which provides for targeted US visa and financial sanctions against Russian officials implicated in corruption and gross violations of human rights.

Kremlin Propaganda at Its ‘Best’

Even seasoned Western Kremlin-watchers sometimes have trouble realizing the full magnitude of manipulation and misinformation that Russia’s state-run television—still the main source of news for tens of millions of voters—feeds the country’s citizens on a daily basis. The lies become especially malicious when it comes to the Russian pro-democracy opposition, which is usually presented to viewers as a “fifth column” of the West working to undermine Russia’s national interests.

The Real Russia

Western policymakers often say “Russia” when they really mean the Kremlin. This is often a convenient substitution—it is certainly more pleasant-sounding and politically appealing when the White House speaks of a “reset with Russia” rather than a “reset with the Putin regime” (which it, in fact, was). “There is a Russia of the Kremlin … and there is a Russia of civil society,” eminent political analyst Lilia Shevtsova reminded earlier this week at a Capitol Hill conference cosponsored by the Institute of Modern Russia, Freedom House, and the Foreign Policy Initiative. “And the West has to formulate finally a dual-track policy towards the Kremlin Russia and towards our Russia.”

Out of Arguments, Pro-Kremlin Voices Smear Opposition

Claims that the Russian pro-democracy opposition is working for the West to undermine Russia’s national interests—and is therefore nothing but a bunch of traitors—are a favorite tune of Kremlin supporters. The absence of any facts to substantiate such claims has never stopped them. In October 2011, the news website Infox.ru published a story with a truly sensational headline: “Kasparov Urges War Against Russia.” Those who read it learned that one of the leaders of Russia’s opposition, while speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, urged the West to “act against Russia … from the position of strength” and “reminded [the audience] of the ‘successful’ experience of democracy-building by military intervention in countries of the Middle East and Africa.” “Judging by this experience,” the story continued, “the most effective way to install democratic procedures is by ‘humanitarian’ bombing.”

Russian Blogger's Investigation Forces Senior MP's Resignation

On Wednesday morning, Vladimir Pekhtin, one of the most senior and longest-serving members of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in the State Duma, took to the floor to announce his resignation because of “controversial documents published on the Internet.” He did not mention Alexei Navalny by name, but it was indeed Russia’s leading anticorruption blogger who forced the Putin loyalist out of politics. Last week, Navalny published documents showing Pekhtin’s (undeclared) ownership of more than $2 million worth of luxury real estate in Miami Beach, Florida.

A Putin Flak and His Miami Villa

Vladimir Pekhtin is a quintessential loyal foot soldier of Vladimir Putin’s regime, having served as one of the leaders of the ruling Unity/United Russia party in Parliament since 2000. He has backed the laws labeling NGOs as “foreign agents” and banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans, called former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a “traitor” for having declared perestroika, and cheered the abolition of gubernatorial elections and the prison sentence for Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Resurrecting Stalin — Again

Russia’s ruling regime is persisting in its attempts to rehabilitate the name of Joseph Stalin. For Vladimir Putin, this has been a consistent course—from the reinstated melody of Stalin’s national anthem to new school textbooks justifying Stalin’s mass purges as “adequate to the task of modernization.” In 2010, as Russia marked the 65th anniversary of victory in the Second World War, the authorities attempted to “decorate” the streets of Moscow with portraits of the dictator—but were forced to back down in the face of strong opposition from veterans, civil society groups, and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Kremlin Breaks Pledge on Gubernatorial Elections, Protests Loom

At the height of its panic in December 2011, as tens of thousands of protesters in Moscow demanded free elections and political reforms, the Kremlin announced several concessions, the chief of which was the reinstatement of direct gubernatorial elections, abolished by Vladimir Putin in 2004. Having ceded ground to the opposition, the regime tried its best to limit the damage. Between January and June 2012, while the old rules were still in effect, the Kremlin made a slate of gubernatorial appointments, reducing the number of regions that were supposed to hold elections in October of that year from ten to five. Among the provinces that were denied the right to elect their governors in 2012 were the Yaroslavl and Sverdlovsk regions, where Putin’s United Russia party—even according to official results—received, respectively, 29 and 33 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary election.

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