Staunton, October 10 – Today, police and troops, some sent in from other parts of the Russian Federation, attacked the demonstrators in Khabarovsk, perhaps ending the current round of protests there but signaling that the powers must use outside forces because local ones may be infected by the same attitudes as those they are supposed to attack (sibreal.org/a/30885786.html).
That the authorities did not take this step earlier – today was the 92nd day of the protests -- must also be worrisome to the Kremlin because it suggests that officials feared that using force would have the effect of exacerbating the situation, possibly leading to the radicalization of Khabarovsk residents and of those elsewhere who support them.
Reacting to these events and their meaning, Kirill Martynov, the political editor of Moscow’s Novaya gazeta, says that the Khabarovsk residents who protested against the removal and arrest of their elected governor are “real heroes” who must not be forgotten (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/10/10/87463-zabyt-habarovsk).
Their willingness to stand up for their beliefs for so long was “unprecedented in the modern history of Russia: Even in the era of perestroika, citizens were not prepared for the defense of their rights over many months.” Some in Moscow have forgotten that, forgetting Khabarovsk as they turned to events in Belarus, the Navalny poisoning and the pandemic.
After all, Martynov says, “Minsk is almost 12 times closer to Moscow than Khabarovsk, even if it is in another country.” This isn’t some conspiracy, he argues. Instead, it is a reflection of the fact that even those who follow politics can’t follow everything at once – and the authorities count on that, acting when they assume people have turned away.
In reality, of course, if Russia were a real federation, the residents of Khabarovsk and other federal subjects could deal with their own problems rather than acting as if everything has to be referred to Moscow. By taking part in the protests, the people of Khabarovsk have underscored they are ready to do so.
But their rulers are not going to allow them to and will use the forces at their disposal across the country to crush any outburst. That is something everyone in the country understands and it makes what the people of Khabarovsk have done these last three months even more impressive. They knew what they were up against once Moscow made a decision.
Moscow and Moscow’s new man in Khabarovsk want everyone to “forget” that city and region, Martynov says. They want it to be reduced to a place where Moscow makes all the decisions and the people have no role but to accept what the center orders. That may work for a time, but the people of Khabarovsk have learned it won’t always.
The fact that the authorities were intimidated enough to wait 92 days before acting says something as does the fact that the people of Khabarovsk were prepared to stand for their rights for so long. They have been watching and learning from all this, and they are hardly alone in Russia beyond the ring road.