Opposition supporters participate in an anti-corruption rally in central Saint Petersburg on March 26, 2017.Thousands of Russians demonstrated across the country on March 26 to protest at corruption, defying bans on rallies which were called by prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny — who was arrested along with scores of others. (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny of the anti-corruption Progress Party led street protests in Moscow on Sunday, leading to hundreds of arrests across the nation, including that of Navalny himself.
Navalny called for the protest march late last week after saying that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of the ruling United Russia party has taken millions in bribes from local oligarchs, garnering big ticket it ems like real estate and yachts, according to him.
Despite the protest initially sparking from these allegations against Medvedev, protesters chanted “Down with Putin” instead on Sunday afternoon. Some in St. Petersburg called for both men to be jailed referring to them as the new Tsars of Russia. The Tsars were overthrown during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. It led to the rise of the Soviet Union, and this protest is likely to be viewed through that lens by Vladimir Putin.
Navalny tweeted, “I am proud of those who came to the streets today. You are the best people in the country and the hope of Russia having a normal future.” He also made no reference to Putin, saying of the arrests that “Many people were detained. This is understandable, so protect yourself. To all those who are against corruption…there are millions of us.” Navalny said he was “fine” regarding his arrest.
Many people in the West have often characterized Putin as having plans to revive the Soviet Union. But for many inside Russia, Putin is more like a Tsar, part of an elite aristocracy whose impenetrable inner circle is ripe for corruption and a roadblock to a modern economy. Its per capita income is in decline, and is now closer to Brazil’s despite being much more opulent than its BRIC counterpart. (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators gathered despite being refused a protest permit in Moscow. Some 8,000 people had gathered in Moscow’s city center for the unauthorized demonstration. More than 700 participants were detained in the capital alone, according to civil rights watchdog OVD-INFO.
The demonstrations will shine a U.S. media spotlight on Navalny, who is hoping to unseat United Russia’s strongman Putin in the March 2018 presidential elec tions.
“Sunday’s demonstrations were dominated entirely by the younger generation,” political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov told The Moscow Times. “These are Alexei Navalny’s key supporters.”
Russia Today, otherwise known as RT, did not say why protesters were demonstrating Sunday. In an article posted on line this afternoon, they described the unsanctioned opposition rally in St. Petersburg as an “unconnected gathering of demonstrators who rallied for traditional values.” RT reported that only three individuals were facing administrative action for minor violations in St. Pete.
Russia is no stranger to corruption and United Russia should be mindful of its consequences. The general perception in Russia is that an old-school clan of wealthy business owners and their friends in politics continue to carve up the country for themselves, much in the vein of the old autocratic Tsarist families. As a result, the country’s econ omy remains stuck in traditional power systems run by oil and gas magnates, real estate tycoons and electricity and mining oligarchs who don’t want to cede power. A number of privatization initiatives touted by Putin for the past six years have gone nowhere due to these close-ties between corporate owners and senior government officials. Investors have long chided Russia for letting much of its high tech, advanced sciences talent go to waste by continuing its focus on these traditional, old industries run by the oligarchs. Change to the Russian landscape remains slow because of these entrenched power systems.
Russia’s corruption perception index is a low 131 out of 176 countries ranked by Transparency International. Even China does better.
Alexey Navalny, Russian oppos ition leader, and his wife Yulia, shelter beneath an umbrella. He was arrested on Sunday. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)
Within the United States’ backyard, Russia ranks between Mexico and Venezuela, two of the most corrupt countries in the world and surely the most corrupt sizable economies in the Americas, according to Transparency International.
Russia’s problem with corruption is shared throughout the old Eurasian Soviet states, with Kazakhstan and Ukraine tied at 131 each. Business leaders over the age of 45 are are accustomed to doing business the old Communist party clan way, creating distrust that can sometimes spread throughout the population. Close watchers to the region say that changes to the crony capitalist system in Russia will take at least a generation to work through. Russia has only shed its Soviet skin 25 years ago.
Elsewhere, Ukrainians kicked their corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych to the curb in February 2014 for alle gedly negging on a promised European trade deal in favor of helping Russian gas giant Gazprom. Despite that, old-school politics remains and in Ukraine, like Russia, old habits die hard.
Russians protested against Putin running for office again some four years ago after being president for two terms already, with a one term interval that put Medvedev in charge. If Putin wins re-election next year, he would have served as president and prime minister of Russia for 20 years. Josef Stalin was Russia’s dictator from 1922 to 1952, the longest serving leader of Soviet Russia.
Prior to Stalin, Tsarist rulers like Ivan “the Terrible” Vasilyevich ruled for 37 years and the uber-rich Romanov family ruled between 1613 to 1917, before being ousted and later executed by a faction of Marxist revolutionaries and politicians referred to as the Bolsheviks. Civil war ensued shortly after, including infighting between left-wing associations that were ultimately defeated by the Bolsheviks. They moved the nation’s capital from St. Petersburg to Moscow and Vladimir Lenin became its leader in 1922, leading to the creation of the U.S.S.R.
Under Lenin, Russia consolidated the principle of state control of society and its economy. Lenin and his successor Stalin were notorious for terrorizing the opposition and controlling public opinion. A handful of Russian oligarchs and investment fund managers who have run afoul of Putin or those in his inner circle — men like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and American hedge fund manager Bill Browder — would likely say the same about Putin.