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A Specter Is Haunting Russia

A protester holds a placard that reads "Maidan" outside a courthouse in Moscow on February 24.

A protester holds a placard that reads "Maidan" outside a courthouse in Moscow on February 24.

A crowd chants "Maidan! Maidan!" before riot police move in, arresting scores of demonstrators. Three people stand behind a makeshift barricade of burning tires waving Ukrainian flags and banging sticks against metal shields.

A redux of violence in Kyiv? Not quite. Both of these scenes took place in Russia.

The first was in Moscow today, where hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside a courthouse where defendants in the so-called "Bolotnaya case" were being sentenced for their roles in anti-Kremlin protests that turned violent in May 2012.

In addition to the Maidan chants, the crowd also shouted in Ukrainian "Bandu het" (Out with the gang!) and hurled insults at riot police, calling them by their Ukrainian name, "Berkut."

Among those detained were opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny as well as Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.

The second scene happened in St. Petersburg a day earlier, on February 23, and was the work of performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky, who earned international headlines in November for nailing his scrotum to Red Square to protest Russia's "police state."

A specter is haunting Russia -- the specter of Ukraine's Euromaidan.

The stunning and dizzying fall of Viktor Yanukovych's regime -- which the hapless Ukrainian ruler tried to model on Vladimir Putin's kleptocratic and authoritarian power vertical -- is inspiring Russia's opposition.

Pavel Durov, the iconoclastic founder of the popular social-networking site VKontakte, helped a pro-Maidan video called "Fear is not Real" to go viral by republishing it on his page (a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock at Global Voices for flagging this.)


In a February 22 post on his Facebook page titled "Lessons of the Maidan," opposition figure Boris Nemtsov wrote that the conditions that led to Yanukovych's fall are all present in Russia.

"The only difference is that Putin has more money and the Russian people are more patient. But their patience is not infinite," Nemtsov wrote.

"Will the Kremlin learn the lessons of the Maidan? Will they lie and steal less? Will they give citizens their freedom back? I doubt it very much. They will lie even more. They will seize and cling to power more. Place your bets on repression. Then comes the inevitable Russian Maidan."

Whether or not the inevitable Russian Maidan is on the way, Nemtsov is right to place his bets on repression, intimidation, and petty harassment in the near term.

Police detained more than 300 people on February 24, some outside Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky Court and some who were attempting to enter Manezh Square near the Kremlin for a rally in support of the Bolotnaya defendants (seven of whom received sentences ranging from 30 months to four years).

And wearing the wrong colors, even by accident, can get you in trouble in Moscow.

Yegor Maksimov, a journalist with Dozhd TV, tweeted that he saw a man detained by the police for wearing a hat with the blue-and-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag.

"Idiocy! A man in a blue-and-yellow hat, WHICH HAD NEW YORK INSCRIBED ON IT, has been detained," he wrote, adding that the police said to the man: "So you support Kyiv, do you? Come with us."

Tweets and social-network posts supportive of Ukraine's Euromaidan are also increasingly attracting the authorities' attention.

Yulia Archipova, a student at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, found this out the hard way. Russian TV and radio journalist Vladimir Solovyov used an entire program to deride her and other students for pro-Maidan posts.

As Kevin Rothrock wrote at Global Voices, Archipova, who holds a Russian passport, was "vilified (in absentia) for being a homosexual-loving Ukrainian citizen."

They used to say that when Moscow sneezes, Kyiv catches a cold. We'll soon see if this logic works in reverse. The Russian opposition seems emboldened by the Maidan and a spooked Kremlin is tightening the screws to prevent the revolutionary virus from spreading north.

As I've blogged in the past, the protest movements in Ukraine and Russia have been energized by the coming of age of a post-Soviet generation in both countries that yearns for a different kind of politics.

The difference is in Ukraine -- where the security services are less embedded in politics, the system is more pluralistic, and civil society is more developed -- people were willing to remain on the streets in large numbers even in the face of brutal police tactics and live ammunition. The more the authorities cracked down, the more emboldened and persistent the demonstrators became. The Ukrainian street simply wore the regime down.

The Russian street has not shown this kind of stamina and resolve. At least not yet.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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