Anti-Putin Protests Blocked in Russia
May 17, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg | Printer Friendly
Peaceful anti-Putin protestors have been detained from several demonstrations from May 13 to 16, culminating in the removal of participations by police from a three-day occupation of Russia’s Chistoprudny Boulevard. The demonstrations and sit-ins have followed a larger set of protests that began in December 2011 against the third-term election of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Thirty-five members of the political opposition, including leader Ilya Yashin, were detained by the authorities while police removed other protestors from the park. The Associated Press called the government’s response to the May 16 sit-in part of “a broadening crackdown on opponents of President Vladimir Putin.” A court order was used to remove the demonstrators, and according to city officials, protestors “had caused 20 million rubles [US$600,000] worth of damage to the park.”
In addition to the sit-in, some members of the opposition participated in a walking protest through Moscow. Because the protest was not officially sanctioned by the Russian authorities, demonstrators did not use picket signs or shout protest slogans. During the May 13 walk, none of the 18,000 participants were detained. However, the police did arrest participants in a subsequent demonstration on May 16. Bloomberg reported that “authorities, in a knee-jerk reaction, stopped the march numerous times and randomly selected participants to be driven in paddy wagons to police stations in remote parts of town.” Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist tied to the Putin administration, determined that the participants were young and highly educated, with an average age of 31 and 66 percent with a college degree.
Violent protests occurred on May 6 as a reaction to Putin’s inauguration for a third presidential term. Demonstrators chanted “Russia without Putin” and “Putin thief” in Moscow, while those in Vladivostok carried a black coffin, on which the word “democracy” had been written, through the city. Although organizers for the event claimed that 20,000 participated, the police claimed only 8,000 protestors were present. Reuters reported that, in Moscow, “police struck out with batons and hit several protestors on the head as they pushed back a crowd of thousands.” Protestors retaliated by throwing stones and bottles, while police used tear gas. Opposition activists Alexei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov, and Boris Nemtsov were arrested but later released with a 1,000 ruble fine. Protestors claimed that Putin had won the March 4 election using fraudulent means, though Putin denied the accusations.
The Kremlin party, currently in control of the parliament, has suggested a new law that would result in five-year prison terms or fines of up to 1.5 million rubles (US$50,000) for those who organize protests that end in violence or attend unsanctioned rallies. It has also called for lawmakers from the socialist Just Russia party—Ilya Ponomarev, Gennady Gudkov, and Dmitry Gudkov—to be disqualified from parliamentary immunity from prosecution because of their participation in the recent wave of protests. Third place presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov said that the actions of the protestors and reactions of the government only led to “a senseless escalation of conflict.”
During his inaugural address on May 7, Putin stated that “we [Russians] will achieve our goals if we are a single, united people – if we hold our fatherland dear, strengthen Russian democracy, constitutional rights and freedoms.” Critics are unsure of his actual commitment to the reforms that would make this possible.
For previous news on Russia, please see:
2012 Russian Presidential Election
Associated Press – Police Move Against New Protest in Moscow
BBC - Moscow clashes at anti-Putin protests
BBC - Vladimir Putin inaugurated as Russian president
Bloomberg - Russian Protesters Break Out Their Walking Shoes
Reuters - Police disperse, detain anti-Putin protester
Reuters - Russian police battle anti-Putin protesters