Staunton, May 7 – Increasingly, Russian prosecutors are charging people who protest about anything with engaging in anti-war activities so as to have the opportunity to impose more draconian sentences in the hopes of stamping out not just anti-war protest but all other kinds as well, Aleks Lokhmutov says.
The lawyer who works as an analyst for OVD Info says that this began when prosecutors decided that any criticism of Putin was a criticism of the war because the Kremlin leader is the commander in chief; but it has expanded to public complaints about almost everything (reforum.io/blog/2022/05/07/kak-rossijskie-vlasti-boryutsya-s-antivoennymi-protestami/).
And while Russian laws are notoriously elastic, Lokhmutov says, this is creating a situation so absurd that he believes one or another appeals court may throw out convictions under these terms. So far that has not happened, but some judges, appalled by the absence of sufficient arguments by prosecutors in this regard, have ordered them to redo their preparations.
Also taking part in the roundtable at which the OVD Infor analyst spoke were other analysts who called attention to the government’s moves against protest since Putin’s war in Ukraine began on February 24.
Historian Sergey Lukashevsky says he expected far larger protests at the start of the war than occurred. But he says that “despite the significant toughening of laws on protest and the increase in official illegality, the repressive practice [of the authorities] has remained about where it was in recent years.”
Now, the main threat to potential and actual protesters is not harshness but increasing arbitrariness, the historian adds. “The current system perhaps is less horrible than was the case under Stalin but it is unbelievably flexible.” That means it doesn’t need an organized effort but rather can count on shifting from one thing to another to keep its opponents off balance.
At the same time, Lukashevsky says, “the regime is as yet not trying to achieve universal approval, but it has made mass protest impossible.” People recognize that and see that Russia has been thrown back to the late 1960s when tiny protests were significant. And that in turn means that tiny protests now are significant in ways that they weren’t only months ago.
No one should expect large protests in the near term, he continues. But “on the other hand, the price of protest is still not so high that it has been completely suppressed.” That is opening the way for what the historian calls “partisan protests, which are taking ever more varied forms.”
Such protests are less about influencing the government than about showing other Russians that thinking differently is still possible and in this way to defend the honor of Russia and the Russian nation, Lukashevsky says.