Mass arrests in Moscow in run-up to election

Police in Moscow have again arrested hundreds of people protesting the exclusion of key opposition candidates from the Moscow city council elections in early September. Liberal activists had called for a protest walk. The weekend before last the police had already taken roughly 1,400 people into custody. Commentators fear the conflict could spread.

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Wedomosti (RU) /

State is pouring fuel on the fire

The authorities' crackdown against the protests could result in countrywide clashes between the people and the state, Vedomosti fears:

“The disproportionately brutal way in which the action was dispersed proves once again that the state has chosen to promote sustained violence no matter what the consequences. ... However, the brutality has also added a new dimension to the conflict, which could otherwise have remained a local, Moscow issue: the violence and omnipotence of the hardliners, and the people's defencelessness in the face of the arbitrary whims of the executive - this is an issue that is potentially far broader than not allowing the opposition to participate in the Moscow elections. Rather than preventing the dissatisfaction from spreading the decision to resort to brutality could end up fuelling protests in other parts of the country.”

Obosrewatel (UA) /

Russia threatened with civil war

The mood in Russia is pre-revolutionary, writes historian Andrei Subov in Obosrevatel:

“Now I can say that we are on the threshold of a revolution in which blood is answered with blood and violence with violence. If this threshold is crossed, a real civil war will begin that I sincerely hope won't happen. Could there be an alternative to such a solution? Yes, of course. But only on the condition that those who really wield the power switch from their idiotic repression of the fledgling protest process to comprehensive reforms rather than stopping half way, like Nicholas II did in 1910/11 and even before then. If this path is taken the state will change radically, power will be democratised, a redistribution of assets will restore the unity of society and the country will be able to develop peacefully.”

The Independent (GB) /

Opposition not engaging the wider public

The 'Russia without Putin' slogan won't be enough to bring about true change in Russian politics, The Independent comments, criticising the strategy of the Kremlin opponents:

“After years of declining real wages and fiscal tightening by the state, public support for the government has been weakening. This should have allowed radical opposition to increase its appeal, but hasn't happened so far. Part of the problem is the opposition's inability to engage with the wider public's concerns such as low living standards or the unpopular pension reform. Instead, the opposition focuses on slogans that appeal to their core supporters, summed up as 'Russia without Putin'. This is at a time when Putin still remains relatively popular.”

Politiken (DK) /

People have seen through the sick system

The recent mass arrests testify to the growing insecurity of the Russian leadership, Politiken is convinced:

“What may look like strength is really an expression of the opposite: Putin is weakened and increasingly fears his people. ... The discontent with Putin's leadership will not be suppressed by either the fear of reprisals and murder of opposition politicians nor by the arrests of recent days. ... The polls provide further proof of Putin's waning popularity. ... The Russians have begun to see through Putin and his sick system. One can understand the nervousness of those in power and their reluctance to allow the people to take part in shaping the country's politics. It could cost them their power.”

Wedomosti (RU) /

Why the Kremlin should risk democracy

Vedomosti outlines how the state could manoeuvre its way out of the present situation without losing face:

“On the one hand the Kremlin would have to demonstratively praise the hardliners for their services, while at the same time gently removing them from the steering wheel at Moscow's city council. ... This would not be a sign of weakness but a demonstration of political wisdom and generosity. After all it's time for them to stop frightening themselves and those around them with doomsday scenarios to the effect that the creation of an opposition group in Moscow's city council would inevitably lead to its deputies undermining the FSB and the Kremlin administration. Only this course of action can serve to deflate the anger and reduce the likelihood of an escalation of the confrontation in central Moscow.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

Moscow wants pushovers in parliament

Boris Vishnevski, opposition member of the St. Petersburg municipal government with Yabloko party, explains in Novaya Gazeta why the state apparatus doesn't want to see any critical minds in the Moscow city government:

“The reason the city leaders don't want to let the opposition into the municipal government isn't because they're afraid they'll no longer be able to dip into the city's budget. ... No, they're afraid the people will get political representatives and defenders of their rights. They're afraid that their 'information blockade' against the extra-parliamentary opposition will be broken up because it's more difficult to gag a parliamentary opposition. They fear an end to the customary servility of local government members who for years have obediently voted for everything the administration presents them with.”

Dnevnik (BG) /

The masquerade is over

Russia's power elite can now let their masks fall completely, writes political scientist Liliya Shevtsova in a Facebook post quoted by Dnevnik:

“The events surrounding the Moscow city council election have shown that the form of governance based on imitating the rule of law used by the Kremlin is obsolete. ... The structures and organisations that were created to give despotism a civilised coating have become superfluous - from the electoral commission and the Moscow parliament to the to the president's human rights advisors. What are they supposed to do now? In this new situation they are no longer needed because the masquerade is over. The new situation requires decisiveness and clarity. Enough of the post-modernism! No more changing one mask for another!”

Kaleva (FI) /

Repression instead of dialogue

Under pressure from the opposition the government is reacting with counter-pressure, Kaleva observes:

“The pressure on opposition candidates and the interference in the registration of candidates for the regional elections shows that tensions are simmering under the surface. The powers that be don't want to run the risk of candidates from the opposition being elected. Worrying, too, is that President Vladimir Putin's government doesn't want to engage in dialogue but instead is consolidating its power and foiling the opposition's attempts to gain influence. ... Those who had hoped for a move towards democracy in Russia will be disappointed for the time being because there's no sign of things changing anytime soon.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

A minority that can set the tone

On his blog with Echo of Moscow, Moscow-based sociology professor Grigori Yudin counters the idea that in a city with 15 million residents the current protests by 15,000 people are a drop in the ocean:

“For years this regime has pursued a policy of de-politicisation. The price, however, is that small groups can secure big influence in elections. And if these groups are well-organised this effect is accentuated. For that reason, even though most Muscovites couldn't care less about elections and are more interested in a concert by Rammstein, elections aren't decided by the majority but by a minority. Those who are demonstrating today in Moscow, and the Muscovites they represent, are a group with a functioning internal communication and the ability to implement strategies.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

False sense of security in Putin's party

The protests in Russia are proof that Putin is wrong when he predicts the end of Western liberalism, De Volkskrant argues:

“More and more Russians are tired of the corruption, of seeing their buying power shrink over the last five years and of the growing gap with the West. Putin sees this distance as a kind of vaccination against the democracy virus that has led to rebellions against those in power in neighbouring countries. ... The government has the advantage of having most of the media under its control. Moreover the United Russia party - or the 'Party of Power' as its called in Russia - distributes jobs and lucrative favours everywhere. ... But this can't be described as a very attractive political model, much less as proof for the claim that liberalism is on its deathbed. It's more like proof of the contrary.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Why the Kremlin is seeing red

In an interview Alexey Venediktor, editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow radio station, sees several reasons for the repression:

“I think there have been a number of incidents that the state has found very frustrating: the elections last autumn in Khakassia and Khabarovsk, where the candidates of the ruling party lost against persons whose victory seemed more or less accidental. ... That means that a protest vote has been registered in these elections, and the government has drawn its conclusions from that. Moreover our state can see very well what 'yellow vests' are: peaceful protests that culminate in endless unrest. ... And we also know that the search for Putin's successor has begun. The Mayor of Moscow is one of the candidates, one of the few people who neither belongs to the Petersburg group nor to the hardliners. ... In this context allowing the non-systemic opposition to enter the capital's legislative organ was deemed absolutely out of the question.”

Obosrewatel (UA) /

The spectre of a Russian Maidan

Those in power in Moscow will stop at nothing to prevent a Russian Maidan, writes journalist Vitaly Portnikov in Obosrevatel:

“The success of the Ukrainian Maidan in 2004 and 2013-2014 was not just due to the citizens' willingness to protest against election fraud and the leadership's rejection of European integration. ... It was also due to the opposition being represented in parliament and being able to take part in negotiations with the authorities. ... In Russia there is nothing comparable. ... High-ranking politicians with alternative views haven't even dared to dream of being represented in the Duma in recent years. ... In this situation it's clear that the regime's top priority is to prevent the establishment of independent political representation.”

The Times (GB) /

Truncheons are no guarantee of stability

The news from Moscow makes The Times think of the protests in Hong Kong:

“The message, in both cities, is the same: those taking to the streets to champion democracy will be harshly treated lest their brave example become a model for others. ... The Kremlin is worried that unless it cracks down hard now, dissent will spread. The future looks difficult for Russia and Mr Putin's own political fate is uncertain. There will be few more licensed rallies. But repression is no guarantee of political stability, as most Russians know. Only the Kremlin thinks that this will stave off trouble indefinitely. Hong Kong shows otherwise.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

The young no longer willing to submit

The new protests in Russia are facing Putin with a difficult dilemma, De Telegraaf writes:

“Many Russians have had enough of the corruption, the oppression of political opponents, the legal inequity and the gagged press. Up to now the Kremlin has successfully played the conspiracy theory card according to which revolts like the one on Kiev's Maidan Square in 2014 were engineered by external forces. But the young Russians' mentality and wishes have changed as a result of social media and trips abroad. Clearly the Kremlin can't accept that. The old, servile generation that can still remember Soviet terror is shrinking. The Russian youths have apparently lost their fear. Must the state now give in to their demands? That would only add fuel to the fire. Repression then? That's been Putin's tactic so far.”

Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

Keep a close eye on this barometer

There are good reasons to follow the events in Russia closely, Ilta-Sanomat comments:

“At first glance the regional elections don't seem particularly interesting, or even particularly important. ... But it seems this time that they are an unusually exciting barometer for Russia's development. ... Interesting among other things is that the ruling party United Russia has not put up its own candidates for the City Council in Moscow. This is a clear indication of how United Russia is and proof that an attempt is underway to fool voters: the candidates backed by the Kremlin are running as independent candidates. ... Part of the Russian opposition already believes that this is the beginning of the end for the ruling elites.” (RU) /

Potential winners disqualified

In a Facebook post published by political scientist Alexander Shmelev says electoral manipulation is taking on a whole new dimension:

“In the past it served to massage the results of 'United Russia' and its candidates who would have won anyway, but by a smaller margin than the Kremlin would have liked. ... The current elections for the Moscow City Council are unique because in all constituencies the expected winners are de facto not being allowed to run. ... So we have an alternative team at the ready which enjoys far more support than the official one. In this situation the traditional 'If not Putin, who?' no longer applies because on the one side we have politicians who have been active in their constituencies for a long time and who have the support of the people - and on the other, the unknown fools that the government wants to see elected in their place.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

The wind has changed

The Kremlin is taking a dangerous course by oppressing the opposition, comments Handelsblatt:

“The Kremlin didn't want to risk defeat in the capital. The most recent election in Istanbul with its ally Erdoğan served as a warning of potential erosion of power. But to exclude almost all opposition politicians in Moscow is a dangerous game. It unites the opposition and fuels discontent. Above all young people are flaunting the tightened demonstration laws and taking to the streets. These protests show that the wind has changed. A harsher wind is blowing in Putin's face. And the Kremlin boss must take care not to trigger a hurricane by clamping down.”