Russian police raid activists' homes on eve of massive anti-Putin protest
The opposition sees the raid as the latest effort to intimidate Russians who have been protesting Vladimir Putin's government since December.
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One protest leader still at large, journalist Olga Romanova, used her Facebook page today as a clearing house for all the latest information on the police raids. "News from the battlefront: police are besieging the home of Alexei Sakhnin in (the Moscow-area town of) Zhukovsky," she posted around noon. Later she wrote that police arrived in force at the Moscow apartment of liberal PARNAS party leader Boris Nemtsov, but he had apparently flown the coop and was nowhere to be found. In the evening she announced that police were raiding the home of Navalny's wife's parents.Skip to next paragraph
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"This is all an obvious attempt to frighten people away from turning up at the rally, and to put psychological pressure on the activists," says Boris Kagarlitsky, a long time left-wing activist and director of the independent Institute for Globalization and Social Movement Studies. "The atmosphere is much more tense than it appears on the surface. It may well be that the authorities are not united in their views on how to deal with the situation, and the population is angry. The way the police are behaving is getting people angrier."
Last week, Russia's State Duma rushed through a law that drastically increases fines and other penalties for organizers of protest meetings and for ordinary participants charged with any kind of infraction. The law whipped through two Duma readings, was approved by the Federation Council (upper house of parliament) and signed by Putin in just three days. (The main features of the law can be seen here.)
Tomorrow's planned demonstration is the latest in a series that began last December to specifically protest against alleged electoral fraud, but more fundamentally appears to be animated by a full spectrum of middle-class grievances against bureaucratic unaccountability, political autocracy, corruption, and the lack of legal equality in post-Soviet Russia.
Most of those who come out to the rallies do not seem to be led, or even inspired, by the opposition leaders who were the objects of today's raids. Most past rallies have been largely self-organized through social media like Facebook and the Russian-language VKontakte, so it appears likely that today's show of police force – which was extensively reported on state-run TV channels – was aimed at influencing the public mood.
"I'm afraid we can see a lot of arrests [at tomorrow's rally] because the authorities have not moved fast enough to adapt to the situation," Grigory Tyumanov, a correspondent with the Moscow daily Kommersant wrote in a blog post today. "On the contrary, the government seems to be doing everything it can to aggravate the situation. If they didn't employ repressive methods, these demonstrations would probably fade away. But the strategists in the Kremlin are making sure that the protest leaders will look like martyrs."