In Russia's once-quiet provinces, young people lead protest

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny (left), who was arrested during a March 26 anti-corruption rally, attends a hearing at a court in Moscow on Monday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reacted to the outburst of youthful rebellion skeptically, claiming that minors participating at the demonstration in Moscow had been promised monetary rewards if they were arrested.

Tens of thousands of people in more than 90 cities across Russian Federation rallied against government corruption on Sunday ― the largest nationwide protest of its kind in over five years.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who organized Sunday's unsanctioned protest, is serving a 15-day sentence on charges of resisting police.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's right-hand man said in an interview today on ABC's "Good Morning America" that current relations between Russia and the United States are "maybe even worse" than the Cold War. Many protesters on Sunday carried yellow rubber ducks as a reference to reports that one Medvedev-linked property has a house exclusively for ducks.

Diana Rudakova, a landscape designer who also went to the rallies to protest electoral fraud in 2011 and 2012, said she felt like a minority: "I'm 25 and I felt old at that rally".

Nina Khruscheva, a professor of worldwide affairs at The New School and the great-granddaughter of Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev, said that the protests and the Kremlin's efforts to subdue them could intensify in advance of the 2018 presidential election, in which Navalny announced his plans to run in December 2016. On Monday, a Russian court sentenced Navalny to 15 days in prison. It may not surprise you to learn that Denis Voronenkov had defected to Ukraine a year ago, had criticized Putin's seizure of Crimea and was planning to testify in a corruption case against a Putin ally. Those protesting teenagers - who didn't care if the protests were sanctioned or not as they didn't feel the need to have the government's permission to go out into the streets - are harder to manipulate as they don't take everything said on state television as gospel.

"They are exhausted of living below the poverty line while people they pay to rule wisely are swimming in gold", Pravov says. At least 500 protesters were detained.

This new generation has been commonly seen as politically indifferent and spending most of their time online.

A protester holds a yellow duck toy during anti-corruption demonstrations on March 26, 2017 in Moscow.

Navalny's popularity creates a dilemma for Russia's leaders: if they jail him on his corruption conviction, they create a martyr. However, the Kremlin described Sunday's "unauthorized rally" as a provocation. This, together with the regime's hysterical and violent reactions to any kind of public questioning of its actions, makes me fear for our security in the near future.

"The most surprising thing about Sunday's protest is that Navalny has managed to Wednesday enough of that grassroots energy to his anti-corruption agenda", said Gabowitsch. On Tuesday, Russian officials dismissed the current US state department, which issued a statement urging Russia to allow peaceful protests. "The radio station Echo of Moscow, drawing on unofficial estimates, put the number of participants in Moscow much higher".

The protest came in response to an investigation that Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation posted on YouTube. But even if Putin retains his position until he's 100 years old while continuing to retain his popularity, one person can not run around putting out various fires.

"I think if two presidents meet each other, if they exchange views and if they decide that they want to reestablish a dialogue, then there will be a chance for our bilateral relations to get better", he said.

J. Paul Goode previously received a Fulbright grant, which is administered by the US Department of State with the cooperation of the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, for related research on patriotism in Russian Federation.

  • Leroy Wright