Staunton, June 19 – Today, 1500 Russians went into the streets of Khabarovsk to demand an end to repression, the release of political prisoners, and the return to office of ousted former governor Sergey Furgal. The meeting occurred after a local court in an unprecedented move ruled that a ban on the meeting imposed by the mayor there was illegal.
Among the signs the protesters carried was one which declared that “we don’t need any Moscow castoffs,” a clear indication that this large protest was not only a continuation of the earlier marches in favor of Furgal but also that its members increasingly blame Moscow for what has happened in their city and region.
Even more more important, this meeting called into question the assumption of many Russians that if the authorities arrest all the leaders, they will end any possibility of protest, a reflection of their contempt for the population which will find new leaders and take part in new protests (region.expert/khabarovsk190621).
And while the Kremlin operates on that assumption – its arrest of Aleksey Navalny and other opposition figures in recent months reflects a desire to clear the political field in advance of the Duma elections and preclude protests, Russian leaders are being forced to recognize that Russians are so angry they will find new leaders or go into the streets on their own.
In a commentary for Rosbalt, that news agency’s parliamentary correspondent, Elena Zemskova, says that increasingly people are aware that “despite ‘the defeat of the opposition,’ the powers consider the chief problem of elections to the Duma their legitimacy and are seriously preparing for possible protest actions” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/06/18/1907362.html).
Increasingly, she continues, officials are worried that some Russians will boycott the elections altogether or view the decision to hold the vote over three days as opening the way for falsification, something that could send Russians into the streets on their own. Parliamentarians are worried that they may be encouraged to protest by foreign governments, including the US.
If Russians do go into the streets for those reasons, there is a possibility, Zemskova says, that a Belarusian scenario will occur in Russia, something for which, she argues, the Russian powers that be have only themselves to blame.