Staunton, March 25 – Russian officials have approved only 24 of 100 requests for the right to protest tomorrow (newsland.com/community/7285/content/chto-budet-v-eto-voskresene-na-tverskoi/5746795 and snob.ru/selected/entry/122260) and have told Aleksey Navalny he bears responsibility for problems (ixtc.org/2017/03/alekseya-navalnogo-serezno-predupredili-video/#more-13849).
Nonetheless, at least some marches will occur – and that points to a new danger: Moscow has, as Boris Vishnevsky says, closed down almost all of the last possibilities for political and civic activity within the system; and yet the opposition and the Russian people plan to protest anyway (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/03/24/71901-germetichnaya-rossiya).
The potential thus exists for serious clashes, something the Putin regime almost certainly will use, whether it has provoked them or not, as an excuse for an even more draconian imposition of order and the imposition of what Vishnevsky describes as the “hermetic sealing off” of any chance for legal political activity other than that approved by the regime.
The Navalny-inspired demonstrations for tomorrow have attracted the most attention, but as the St. Petersburg Yabloko politician points out, the regime’s other recent moves may be even more disturbing in their consequences. Among “the latest examples” is the extension to Moscow and probably soon to the country of Petersburg’s ban on meetings between deputies and people.
Others include the decision of the Russian Constitutional Court to allow the authorities to detain individual picketers and “the intention of the St. Petersburg parliamentary assembly to deprive opposition fractions of the right to take breaks in sessions.” From now on, only the dominant party of power will have that right.
Each of these may seem like a small step, but taken together, they exclude the opposition from any real chance to legally oppose the powers that be. As such, both individually and collectively, they are typical of Putin’s approach, taking small steps that few will protest which lead to a situation in which few will be able to.
But there is a real downside to this: If Russians and opposition political leaders can’t protest legally, they will be forced into silence or underground. In the first case, their grievances and those of the Russian people will only grow given the Kremlin’s propensity to ignore what the population wants and needs.
In the latter case, Russia will enter a new and ugly period, one that recalls the time before 1905 and 1917 when political life was driven underground and when it festered to the point that it led to a revolution.
Putin’s tactics may keep him in office for some time. His control of the media and his influence in the West may even allow him to present what he is doing as reasonable if not completely democratic. But the future is bleak first for the Russian people and then for the Russian regime that refuses to allow them space to present their grievances.