The Russian landscape has been unsettled over the last few months since President Vladimir Putin took back his seat as the country’s leader. A large demonstration of at least 20,000 protesters gathered on the eve of Putin’s inauguration on May 7, sparking a heated and violent clash between the police and the gathered group.
Protesters continued to move through Moscow throughout the month of May, inhabiting different squares until police forced the groups to move on. Many protesting groups have continued to march through the streets, using elusive tactics and leaving signs or slogans at home so that their movements will not be considered official rallies. Small bands of protesters have consistently wandered around Moscow since the inauguration. Hundreds of arrests have also followed along with these demonstrations, according to Sky News.
Even with these new strategies intact, many protesters have found it difficult to keep the movement cohesive. President Putin has added mounting pressure on these groups to abandon their retaliations against his government. In tandem with naming his new Cabinet, the president also supported a bill this week that would raise the fine for joining unofficial rallies from only about $160 to more than $32,000. The bill looks likely to pass and be enforced in the near future.
Opponents to the measure argue that Putin is effectively limiting the ability of the middle class to protest the government, but allies of Putin’s regime, and authors of the new bill, have argued that demonstrators should be punished and forced to do public service in addition to the steep fine. Many of the lawmakers fear continued unrest as Putin’s Cabinet begins to enforce new social reforms.
The Associated Press reports that lawmakers, such as Valentin Romanov, are anticipating more unhappiness among the Russian opposition. In his own words, the bill is “a pre-emptive move preceding a rise in social protests across the country.”
In an interesting dialogue, even Senator McCain of Arizona finds Putin’s approach to political protests over-the-top. The Moscow Times quoted McCain as saying, “People in Russia are very unhappy with this oligarchy and corruption that goes from top to bottom.” Putin has been known to refer to McCain as “nuts” in the past.
In any case, Putin’s support of the harsh fines and the brutal suppression of any type of gathering reflect his retention of many of the same ministers and Cabinet members that have stayed with him for many years past.
Putin is so committed to shutting down opposition movements, he has made notable appointments based upon an individual’s support of suppression. Just last week, Putin appointed a tank factory worker as the Urals Federal Discrict envoy. Igor Kholmanskikh, a worker from the region, came to Putin’s attention after telling the President back in December that he wanted to come to Moscow with some friends to squash the rebellious crowds, according to the Moscow Times.
Envoys throughout Russia are often positioned as powerbrokers with the elite in various regions. Envoys also have close contact with police forces in order to enforce the rule of law on the population.
Putin’s new fine should work to cripple the opposition movement even further, although many of the camps and groups have already been ousted from most of the available public squares and spaces in Moscow. It is clear that Putin will not tolerate open debates about the role of the government in people’s lives in Russia.
Photo Credit: Leonid Faerberg