Protests Break Out in Russia on Anniversary of Opposition Leader’s Death
Protests broke out in Moscow on February 26 to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, a prominent opposition leader and activist. The protests brought approximately 15,000 people out into the streets of Moscow—a lower number, according to Russia Beyond the Headlines, than previous demonstrations by the liberal opposition. With elections approaching in 2018 and the Russian economy still suffering from sanctions and corruption, the smaller number of protesters signal that opposition to the Russian government may be weakened.
Demonstrators carried signs with slogans like “Russia will be free” and “return free elections” and took part in pro-Nemtsov and pro-reform chants. Street protests have been illegal in Russia since 2014 when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law criminalizing repeated “meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets” in a given six-month period. The law, written to stave off the popular movements that the Russian government refers to as “color revolutions,” has resulted in several arrests. The first and most notable of these arrests was that of Ildar Dadin, an opposition activist who was recently released after a Russian constitutional court determined that his sentence had to be reassessed. Dadin himself joined in the demonstration, along with other members of the small group of loyal protesters still present in Russia.
The demonstration was larger than any in recent months and was met with heavy police supervision. Attendees were required to pass through a checkpoint with a metal detector before entering, and police detained a counter-protester who threw green ink at a liberal opposition activist, according to the Guardian.
In addition, the protest came at an already sensitive time for Russian opposition politics. Activist Vladimir Kara-Murza recently survived a poisoning attempt and an unfavorable embezzlement verdict in a questionable retrial derailed the 2018 presidential campaign of opposition politician Aleksey Nalvany. The government’s response to these two activist leaders is unprecedented in contemporary Russian politics, where some critics of the government, like Nemtsov or journalist Anna Politikovskaya, have been killed for their opposition work. Russian state media refused to cover the demonstration, and official statistics show that President Putin’s approval rating still approaches 85 percent. The Nemtsov protests are not likely to immediately shape public opinion or mitigate public fear of dissent—especially outside of Moscow and other urban centers. However, the demonstration shows that opposition ideas and leaders still matter to reform-minded Russians, and that, as long as any degree of dissent is permitted, it will continue to occur.