“Down with the czar!” cried the protesters in Pushkin Square.
This was in January 2018, not November 1917, and the protesters meant Vladimir Putin, not Nicholas II. About 1,000 Russians gathered in Moscow to protest the upcoming March 18 presidential election. Additionally, police reported protests in 90 other cities around the country, calling for Putin to step down and encouraging their fellow citizens to boycott the election.
Alexei Navalny, who is considered Putin’s most formidable political rival, organized the protests to highlight the election’s unfairness. The Kremlin barred Navalny from running because of his criminal record; he maintains that these legal problems were manufactured to prevent his candidacy.
If Putin wins, this will be his fourth term (roughly 18 years) in office. With virtually no opponent, he is expected to get over 90 percent of the vote, as he usually does. A poll from last June indicates that 87 percent of Russians approve of Putin and his policies. Through the recent demonstrations, Navalny and the protesters hoped to show the obvious corruption inside the Kremlin.
Protests against Putin have been going on since 2011, and have actually declined in support. The ones in January had the lowest turnout yet. The AP writes: "No figures were available for how many people participated in the protests, but the turnout was clearly smaller than for rallies Navalny organized last year. The size and scope of the earlier protests, which took place in provincial cities regarded as the center of Putin's support, rattled the Kremlin."
The government feared the protests after 2011 and took them seriously this January. For example, in Tula, a city south of Moscow, police went to every house where occupants indicated on social media that they would attend the demonstration to warn them about the dangers of doing so. Overall, they detained 256 people all over Russia.
Navalny never made it to his most recent protest, on January 28. While on his way, he was detained by Kremlin officers. A video taken of the arrest shows the officers beating and dragging him onto a bus. He tweeted to encourage his supporters: “I’ve been detained. That doesn’t matter. Come to Tverskaya. You’re not coming out for me, but for yourself and your future.”
This is not Navalny’s first detainment; the Kremlin has cracked down on him and his supporters before. The authorities are careful, however, to detain him for only one month at a time to prevent an uproar from his supporters. Navalny himself is also careful in the way he conducts his opposition. He never directly insults Putin. This is a survival tactic, as Putin is prone to poison members of the opposition who pose a real threat or directly insult him.
While many westerners and some young democratic Russians have high hopes for Navalny, it does not appear he will be successful anytime soon. The boycott will likely not change the outcome of the election. Putin is here to stay, and he has made that obvious.