26th March 2017
Article by Alexander Mercouris
Protests called by liberal opposition activist in Moscow and across Russia attract few supporters.
Some sections of the international media including RT, Russia’s publicly funded international TV broadcaster, are reporting today that Moscow and Russia has been hit by a “wave of protests”.
Here is a detailed description of the Moscow protest by The Duran’s Vladimir Rodzianko, who went to see what was happening for himself (photographs and video provided).
There have indeed been scattered protests in Moscow, St. Petersburg and some other Russian cities. The protests were called by the Russian neoliberal ‘non-system’ activist and ‘anti-corruption’ campaigner Alexey Navalny, purportedly in order to protest against the alleged corruption of Russia’s Prime Minister and former President Dmitry Medvedev.
Medvedev seems an unlikely target for these protests. His time as President from 2008 to 2012 is sometimes seen as a sort of liberal heyday, and it is indeed a fact that in the last weeks of his Presidency he rushed through a series of liberalisation measures in response to the protests which took place in Moscow and elsewhere following the 2011 Duma elections. The fact that the very same liberals who whilst he was President hailed Medvedev as their hero and who are the main beneficiaries of his liberalisation of the political system should now turn on him does rather seem like a case of of them biting the hand that fed them.
Whether Medvedev is actually corrupt or not is another matter. Navalny’s allegation is that Medvedev has creamed off funds paid into various charities and NGOs in order to enrich himself by investing the money in a series of corrupt property deals. As is often the way with Navalny, his allegations are simultaneously detailed and entirely circumstantial, making it possible and indeed likely that he is simply cobbling various unconnected transactions together to create the appearance of a case.
As it happens, despite Navalny’s reputation in some quarters as an exposer of corruption, he played no role in exposing what have been by far the two most serious cases of corruption in high places in recent years – the ones involving former Defence Minister Serdyukov and former Economics Ulyukaev – whilst Navalny himself was not only recently re-convicted of embezzlement in the Kirovles case, but has also in recent years been convicted of embezzlement in another unrelated case involving Yves Rocher, putting his credentials to pose as an anti-corruption campaigner in serious doubt.
Today’s protests, though purportedly called to protest the alleged corruption by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, are really intended to prepare the ground for Navalny’s heavily trailed Presidential bid in the Presidential elections next year.
As it happens it is not clear at the moment whether because of his recent conviction in the Kirovles case Navalny is eligible to stand in this election. However if he does stand then he has absolutely no chance of being elected. As I discussed recently in an article written immediately after last autumn’s parliamentary elections in Russia, Parnas – the party with which Navalny is most closely associated – only won 0.70% of the vote in that election, whilst the combined vote of all the anti-government liberal parties in that election came to no more than 2.56%. That this is a totally insufficient electoral base from which to launch a serious bid for the Presidency should not need explaining.
It is in fact highly doubtful that Navalny genuinely believes that he can win the Presidential election next year, or that he seriously aims to. However he has to show to his supporters and funders – both those in Russia, and more importantly, those in the West – that he is an active force in Russian politics and that he is providing some value for all the backing they are giving him. That leads him to make wild allegations against people like Medvedev, to announce a bid to stand in an election he cannot win, and to call a protest in Moscow and across Russia which on any objection assessment simply highlights the absence of widespread support for him.
It is this need to retain attention which explains why Navalny not only called the protest today but insisted on holding it in the form of an unsanctioned march along Tverskaya in central Moscow rather than in the various locations offered him. Through this act of seeming ‘defiance’ Navalny is able to strike a heroic (though fake) pose (since he knows nothing will actually be done to him), provoke conflict – including his own arrest – and disguise the fact that only a few thousand people turned up to support him (the police in Moscow put the number between 7,000 to 8,000) by mixing his supporters up with ordinary pedestrian traffic and the large number of onlookers who might normally be expected on a Sunday in what is Moscow’s main and busiest thoroughfare.
Elsewhere the police estimate that Navalny brought out a further 3,000 people in a protest rally in St. Petersburg (where no incidents are reported) and there are scattered reports of much smaller protests elsewhere. A reasonable guess might be that Navalny brought out a total of between 15-20,000 people to protest across the whole of Russia, including in Moscow and St. Petersburg, some in sanctioned protests, some in unsactioned ones, though that may be an overestimate. He of course will claim that there were many more.
Regardless, a serious ‘protest wave’ it certainly was not, or anything close.