Democracy in Russia (2013-16)

Radio Liberty reported from Moscow on Wednesday:

Yevgeny Urlashov — a former Yaroslavl mayor and rare example of a Russian opposition politician in public office — has been sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison on corruption charges he says are trumped up.

Urlashov was arrested on July 3, 2013 — just over a year after his landslide victory at mayoral polls in the city of 600,000…

…Shortly before his arrest, he had said he intended to run for governor of Yaroslavl Oblast.

The rise of Urlashov, who secured nearly 70 percent of the vote in his bid for mayor, appeared to suggest an anti-Kremlin mood spreading to regional towns after mass opposition rallies broke out in Moscow and other major cities in December 2011.

Opposition parties of different stripes had rallied around Urlashov’s bid for Yaroslavl mayor as a way of upstaging Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party — and creating an opposition beachhead in the regions.

At the time, Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister and staunch Putin critic, wrote that “the road to the Kremlin is through Yaroslavl.”

This is what Milov wrote after the verdict and sentencing (the translation is mine), more than three years after Uralshov’s arrest:

Let’s make it clear at once: why did they lock up Urlashov?

They locked him up for this rally in Yaroslavl on June 19, 2013, which more than 3,000 people – a record by the standards of Yaroslavl oblast. Exactly two weeks later (July 3) Urlashov was arrested.

The June 19 rally demonstrated, much to the Kremlin’s displeasure, that a “revolution from below” was a possibility in the Russian provinces. All the major opposition forced gathered for the rally, including the largest systemic opposition parties – The Civic Platform [of which Urlashov was a member], the communists and A Just Russia. The slogans were against Unted Russia’s monopoly. An election to the Yaroslavl oblast Duma was due in September [2013], and the rating of The Civic Platform, headed by Uralshov [in Yaroslavl oblast] was around 70%. At the upcoming election, the anti-United Russia opposition had every chance to win a supermajority in the regional legislature and vote no confidence in governor Yastrebov.

At the June 19 rally, Urlashov – with explicit support from all the other opposition forces – announced his intention to run for governor.

If he and his coalition had won the September [2013] election, it would have been the first case in [Putin’s?] Russia of a governor being replaced “from below” through elections, by a united opposition.

It’s clear now why the Kremlin decided to put an end to that and arrested Urlashov two weeks after that rally? And kept him in jail for more than three years before the verdict, in violation of all term limits allowed by the procedure, and is viscerally afraid of holding a new mayoral election in Yaroslavl?

(Until his sentence takes legal effect – probably a month or two from now – Urlashov will technically remain mayor of Yaroslavl. Why wasn’t he formally removed? Hence Milov’s rhetorical question in the last sentence.)

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