Yesterday’s tragic terror attack in St. Petersburg, Russia—a shrapnel bomb went off in the city’s subway, killing fourteen and injuring 49—has obscured an important triumph for Vladimir Putin: a week after unexpectedly large anti-corruption protests erupted across the country, attempts by activists to sustain momentum were effectively quashed. DW:
There was a heavy police presence in central Moscow as authorities sought to prevent a repeat of last week’s demonstrations, the biggest anti-government protests in five years.
Police moved quickly to arrest 29 people as they attempted a march on Triumphalnaya Square, and another seven others were detained at Manezhnaya Square, TASS news agency reported, citing police numbers.
Sunday’s attempted march drew about 100 protesters, far fewer than the thousands across the country who came out onto the streets last weekend.
With organizer and aspiring politician Alexei Navalny behind bars for another week, his Anti-Corruption Foundation effectively shut down, and with the Kremlin threatening a strict line against those who protest without official permission, it wasn’t going to be easy to convince people to hit the streets a second week in a row. But the Kremlin left nothing to chance, going out of its way to censor two YouTube videos and three posts on various social networks calling for renewed protests.
Putin, a cautious autocrat by most measures, most probably stuck Navalny in prison for an initial 15 days to give himself the chance to assess the situation. After this past weekend’s non-events, he appears to be feeling more confident in his government’s ability to handle unexpected irruptions of public discontent. “In my point of view the existing [internet] restrictions are sufficient for now,” a serene Putin told journalists at a meeting yesterday.
What comes next? If another week goes by without protests, the Kremlin will breathe even easier. In the immediate aftermath of the protests a week ago, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov held out the possibility of addressing “legitimate” grievances surrounding corruption—a sign that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s future may not be assured. Political reshuffles, if they happen soon, could reveal a lot. Navalny’s organization almost certainly will not survive in a recognizable form, if at all, but maybe Navalny himself is released without further charges being pressed. Maybe he is even allowed to eventually run for President in 2018—as sure a sign as any that Putin and his cadres feel like they have little to fear.