As Russian Society Unites, The Kremlin Tightens The Screws

April 24, 2017

On April 29 2017 thousands of people will take to the streets of Russia’s cities as a part of the #ENOUGH campaign with official letters addressed to president Vladimir Putin demanding that he abide by the Russian constitution and refrain from running for a fourth presidential term.

The main demonstration is planned to take place on Moscow’s Slavianskaya Square and move as a procession towards IIyinka Street where the Presidential Administration is located.  Letters will then be delivered to the administration office, where by law the president is obliged to receive, register and respond to them within a month.

In predictable accordance with the Kremlin playbook, authorities have sought to hinder the demonstrations wherever possible.  On Saturday 22, 30 Open Russia activists were detained by the police while distributing template letters to citizens in preparation for April 29.

This act of intimidation comes just days after the Moscow mayor’s office backtracks on its earlier promise to allow the demonstration and has now forbidden participants from gathering near the presidential administration building, thus denying citizens their constitutional right to submit letters to the president.

Maria Baronova, coordinator of Open Russia’s Human Rights team, has responded to the mayor’s decision: “We are going to the Presidential Administration to tell Putin in official written form that we’ve had enough.  We’re going on our terms and in full awareness of our right to do so.”

This controversy could be a bitter sign of things to come.  The authorities responded to the peaceful protests of March 26 with the heavy-handed detention of over 1500 participants, among them school children, journalists and passers-by.  The Kremlin, however, remained silent.

Top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini is due to land in Moscow on Monday April 24 to meet with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.  There have already been calls for Mogherini to raise issues of domestic Russian policy, and stress that the Kremlin’s abuses of human rights at home are incompatible with European cooperation.

As pragmatic issues of strategy in Syria and Ukraine take centre stage, it is vital that western diplomats do not refrain from calling out Kremlin officials for their abuses in the domestic political arena whether it is systemic corruption, the killing of journalists or the arrest of underage schoolchildren for expressing their political opinions.

Marine Le Pen, whose party has received around $10 million in Kremlin-sanctioned loans, has pulled through to the final round of the French presidential election and has often been outspoken about her respect for Vladimir Putin.  There has scarcely been a more appropriate time in recent memory for Europe to stand up for its fundamental values of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

For months now the debate has surged in Russia as to whether Vladimir Putin will himself stand for a fourth presidential term in 2018, or whether he will adopt the path taken in 1999 by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin and appoint a successor.

There has been talk of a “final term” among the higher ranks of the Kremlin elite; some have even suggested crafting a 70%+ majority, a record mandate to give poignancy and justification to 17 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule.

The lack of rule of law and domination of state monopolies has left the economy stagnant and uncompetitive.  Living standards are in decline while the defence budget is on the rise as the Kremlin entrenches itself in a vicious war in Syria and further isolates the country from the international community.

The #ENOUGH demonstrations aim to send a message to those in power that the Russian people are not going to tolerate it any longer.

In general”, states Open Russia founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, “the message is that Putin has done little in his 17 years in power besides constructing an entourage of irremovable thieves.  The point of the demonstrations is show that Putin does not have the unconditional support of the Russian people, and that those who oppose his eternal rule are not “American spies”, but have genuine concerns which for 17 years this government refused to address.” 

The question remains whether the authorities will deny thousands of Russians their constitutional rights, or allow a peaceful, but symbolic message to be delivered to the president that the Russian people have had enough.