When the Russian opposition determined this time to carry an indication in entrance of Lubyanka, the headquarters of the dreaded Federal Safety Service (FSB), it raised the stakes. In response, the Kremlin selected to double down.
Final week’s protests met with sporadic police violence which, horrific although it was, appeared to easily be the results of native overreaction and indiscipline.
Yesterday’s response was not simply harsher, it was systematically. The entire of central Moscow has been reworked right into a fortress; tear gasoline and tasers utilized in St. Petersburg; detainees pressured to lie down within the snow in Kazan. All in all, whereas perhaps much less got here in March this time, the number of arrests was higher: almost five thousand.
The federal government’s technique appears to be to regularly construct up the stress. The goal is to scare away all opponents, besides the genuinely intransigent opposition, by the specter of virtually random arrest or beating, and to go away little question that the Kremlin may do extra. worse, and can if obligatory.
Putin, in any case, is a post-modern dictator. His regime was largely maintained not by worry and energy, however by apathy. The Russians are satisfied that, imperfect although it’s, what they’ve is about what they might hope for.
They’ve additionally been bought the concept that politics is ineffective. In a faux democracy run by phases, the “opposition” events are toothless and ugly, so why vote for them? If change is unattainable, why threat persecution by working for it?
That is what makes Navalny an issue for previous folks within the Kremlin. By persevering with to prepare and marketing campaign, placing his devastating revelations about official web corruption the place the Kremlin cannot crack it, and now placing himself voluntarily within the palms of his persecutors, Navalny is not simply undermining Putin’s declare to work for the great of his folks. He additionally reminds Russians that they nonetheless have selections and that actual politics is probably not useless, simply at relaxation.
Putin might not wish to rule from a throne of bayonets, however he’ll if he has to. The tragic reality is that the extra profitable the protests, the much less seemingly they’re to safe Navalny’s freedom. However he in all probability needed to know.
Putin’s regime is just not going wherever anytime quickly. He has the assist of elites and safety forces. However Putin will not final without end, and it is a lengthy sport.
In any case, the battle is just not actually between Navalny and Putin. Relatively, it’s about legitimacy and hope. The extra the present regime seems to be an authoritarian kleptocracy, the much less it might probably declare its legitimacy. And the longer the opposition can survive, the larger the probabilities of rekindling optimism and hope amongst these many Russians sad with the established order.
Dr Mark Galeotti is Honorary Professor within the College of Slavic and East European Research at UCL and writer of “A Temporary Historical past of Russia”.