Russian opposition leaders under pressure | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.06.2012
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Russian opposition leaders under pressure

Russia's leadership is putting pressure on the country's opposition. After protests in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin, interrogations and searches of opposition leaders are continuing.

Not a day goes by without a search or interrogation. On Wednesday (June 13), leaders of the opposition movement in Russia again had to present themselves for questioning. The blogger and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the leader of the Left Front, Sergei Udaltsov, were summoned as witnesses by investigators in Moscow to answer questions about rioting during the anti-Putin demonstration on May 6 in Moscow, in which several people were injured, including police.

Since the beginning of the week opposition leaders in Moscow have been interrogated for hours and their homes and offices searched. Alongside Udaltsov and Navalny are the liberal opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov and Ilya Yashin, and the television presenter Kseniya Sobchak. "The government shows that given a choice between the carrot and the stick, it prefers the whip," said Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"The Kremlin wants to intimidate the people"

Protesters in Moscow

Tens of thousands protested against Putin in Moscow on June 12

Petrov says the state authorities' main goal in conducting the searches was to prevent the demonstration against President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday (June 12) in Moscow. Dmitry Oreshkin, a co-founder of the "League of Voters" alliance, agrees: "They wanted to intimidate the people and detain the leaders of the protest." Oreshkin pointed to a new law that came into force only a few days earlier that placed onerous restrictions on the right of assembly in Russia.

If this was the Kremlin's strategy, it did not work. For as in the past few months, tens of thousands took to the streets of Moscow to protest against Putin and the Kremlin party United Russia. Despite initial fears, everything went peacefully. "The government apparently still won't dare crack down" said Oreshkin, one of the organizers of the demonstration.

President Putin at a crossroads

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Since early May, Vladimir Putin is again Russia' president

The Russian leadership has arrived at a crossroads, Oreshkin said. "It now faces a very difficult choice: either return to the Soviet model or turn towards more democracy." The combination of authoritarian political style and democratic rhetoric is no longer accepted by a significant part of the population, he said.

But it's business as usual for Putin. "He says we have to find a compromise, but at the same time has opposition leaders like Udaltsov arrested," Oreshkin said. With such a style of politics Putin could still remain in power for years, but trust in him will dissipate quickly.

No one wants the protests to escalate

Oreshkin does not expect a radicalization of the protests in Russia. A violent revolution in Russia, like that of the communists under Lenin in 1917, is not imminent. Neither the Kremlin nor the opposition leaders are interested in an escalation, Oreshkin said. Putin and his advisers do not want conditions in Russia to be like those in neighboring Belarus, where authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has taken a hard line against the opposition for years.

Petrov also believes that Putin does not want a radicalization of the protests. The demonstration on June 12 was probably the last before the summer break, which is why the Kremlin let the protest take place peacefully, he said. At the same time, however, the more stringent law is intended to prevent the people from taking part in further actions.

"Opposition may become martyrs"

Oreshkin advises the opposition, including hardliners, to avoid radicalizing the protests. "You can only lose a radical struggle with the government," he said. In such a struggle, the Russian establishment would be "more experienced and competent." Instead, he advocates peaceful protest to force the Kremlin into a dialogue with civil society. It is precisely this path that the opposition movement intends to follow in the weeks and months ahead.

Petrov does not dismiss the possibility that opposition leaders like Navalny or Udaltsov could be prosecuted and convicted. "But that would only create martyrs and give new impetus to the protests," he said. Further legal persecution of leading opposition figures would be proof that the state leadership was not willing to respond to the demands of the demonstrators for democracy, he said. More protests in the autumn would then be inevitable.

Author: Roman Goncharenko / sgb
Editor: jm

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