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An opposition activist looks out from a police bus after being detained near a protest camp on May 17.

An opposition activist looks out from a police bus after being detained near a protest camp on May 17.

Can we call it a crackdown yet?

A court in St. Petersburg has ordered former schoolteacher Tatyana Ivanova to pay 30,000 rubles ($890) in damages for the "moral suffering" she caused when she blew the whistle on alleged electoral fraud back in December.

Aleksandra Dukhanina, a diminutive 18-year-old Moscow State University student, has been detained and faces five years in prison for allegedly attacking police officers during antigovernment demonstrations that turned violent on May 6.

Two others -- Maksim Luzyanin, a 36-year-old businessman, and 22-year-old Andrei Barabanov -- have also been detained and charged with provoking violence in those same demonstrations.

A court in the southern town of Cheboksary has sentenced Dmitry Karuye, a 20-year-old opposition activist, to 15 days in jail for allegedly spitting on a portrait of President Vladimir Putin.

The preliminary investigation into the feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot has been completed. Three members of the group -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich -- face up to seven years in prison on charges of hooliganism and conspiracy to spread religious hatred for performing the song "Holy Mother, Throw Putin Out!" in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.

And, of course, the State Duma is debating a bill that would make it exceedingly difficult -- if not virtually impossible -- for the opposition to organize protest actions. And more than 20 activists protesting the law were detained outside the Duma on June 5.

After a brief mini-thaw between the parliamentary and presidential elections, there has been a gradual uptick in repressive measures, ranging from high-profile cases (Pussy Riot) to more obscure ones (journalist Andrei Kolomoisky's prosecution for posting a video mocking Putin on his blog).

But the pace has clearly picked up of late, indicating that Putin has settled on a get-tough strategy with the increasingly emboldened opposition and its supporters.

"It appears that the Russian regime has definitely made up its mind about its attitude toward the protest movement. It considers any street actions to be protests and intends to take the toughest possible measures against participants in these actions without conducting any meaningful dialogue with society," wrote in an editorial last week.

As I have blogged in the past, the Kremlin's decision to embrace hard-line tactics with the opposition reflects the philosophy of deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin's latest political guru.

Volodin's predecessor -- and archrival -- Vladislav Surkov, the regime's former uber-ideologist, was not opposed in principle to hardball methods, but by and large he favored the softer touch of tricking, cajoling, and co-opting the opposition.

Playing rough with opposition protesters and marginalizing their leaders worked when the opposition was -- well -- marginal. But Surkov understood that in the current political environment, the approach could easily backfire. But he is no longer in the Kremlin (he's government chief of staff) and no longer responsible for the regime's political management strategies.

A new poll by the Public Opinion Foundation shows that trust in Putin had fallen to 48 percent by the end of May, down from 55 percent in March. A hard-edged approach now, especially with economic storm clouds on the horizon, could make these numbers even worse, embolden the opposition, and win it more supporters.

2012 is clearly not 2007.

"The authorities don't understand this," Pavel Salin of the Center for Political Assessments told Russia Profile. "Unfortunately, they continue to operate with zero logic, and they don't understand that society, which has gone through a fundamental change in attitude, is several levels above them."

This was on display in the St. Petersburg courtroom when the judge ruled against Ivanova, the whistle-blowing former schoolteacher and election commission official. (You can read my post on her here, with a video of her explaining what she witnessed.) After the verdict, supporters presented her with flowers and spectators shouted, "Shame on the judge!"

And Ivanova, for her part, said she was undeterred. "I feel energized," she said. "I want change so badly."

-- 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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