Max Seddon reported from Moscow for the FT earlier this week:
Russian police have arrested opposition leader Alexei Navalny and raided the homes of several of his allies in a sign that the Kremlin is worried about swelling dissent…
This one time I’m tempted to agree, and even upgrade “worry” to “fear” and possibly “incipient panic.”
Why would the Kremlin or the Moscow mayor’s office panic after a 25,000-strong, orderly, peaceful, legally authorized opposition rally?
I don’t have a simple answer but I see signs of fear and profound insecurity in the actions of the powers that be. At last Saturday’s rally, Navalny and other speakers called on their supporters to gather again this coming Saturday, by the mayor’s office, if the independent candidates are not cleared by then to run for the city council. This pending rally would be technically illegal (although the constitutionality of such bans is questionable), and the authorities have threatened, largely via social media, to unleash unprecedented police violence against the protesters. Moreover, as Seddon reports (see also the Moscow Times and Reuters):
Former MP Dmitry Gudkov… and four independent candidates for September’s elections for the Moscow city council were among those whose homes were searched as part of a criminal investigation into “hindering the work of electoral commissions”.
When a state body breaks the law and inflicts damage on a non-state actor, it sometimes accuses the wronged party of breaking the law by protesting too loudly. It works while the power is on the side of the state actor’s:
La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure…
Yet fear saps strength and forces errors. An acute sense of being wronged, on the other hand, is a catalyst and mobilizer. Over to Seddon again:
Opposition candidates only have 6 per cent support, while 89 per cent of potential voters say they have no interest in the vote, according to a study by Kremlin pollster Vtsiom earlier this month.
This is a BS poll, obviously: Vtsiom’s business is propaganda masked as sociology. But even if one took those two numbers at face value, the outlook wouldn’t be good for the government if two-thirds of the opposition supporters turned out to vote. With multiple candidates, you could win with 30-35% of the votes cast, so with a turnout of 11%, you could get elected even if barely 4% of the eligible voters come to the polls to support you. A seat on the city council would provide a platform outside of social media, a certain official status and a limited enquiry capability.
[Added July 27, 2019. It’s worth repeating that Moscow’s election authorities have effectively disenfranchised about 150,000 people, openly and brazenly.]