This article appeared in the August 14, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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How Moscow protests became an existential threat for Kremlin

Evgeny Feldman, Meduza/AP
Police detain a man during a protest in Moscow on Aug. 10 in which tens of thousands of people rallied against the exclusion of some city council candidates from Moscow's upcoming election. It was one of the Russian capital's biggest political protests in years.

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Moscow has been seeing its largest protests in years as thousands have come out weekly against the decision to bar opposition candidates from running in city council elections. While the stakes may initially have been about some minor municipal seats, the Kremlin may now be viewing the ongoing standoff as an existential threat.

The protests began in mid-July, when officials blocked several high-profile opposition candidates from running in the Moscow elections, even after they fulfilled the races’ onerous logistical requirements. Though the marches started small, they grew tenfold as police cracked down on protesters, sometimes violently. This past Saturday, some 50,000 people turned out in Moscow, according to organizers’ estimates.

The increasing numbers may be painting the Kremlin into a corner, experts warn. Mark Galeotti, a longtime Russia watcher, notes in The Moscow Times that Vladimir Putin and his allies remember the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union, and see giving ground to the protesters as repeating what they view as the mistakes of Mikhail Gorbachev.

“It was foolish and shortsighted to have kicked the opposition candidates off the electoral lists,” Mr. Galeotti writes. “Having done so, though, the government has locked itself into a position from which it cannot afford to retreat, or at least to be seen to retreat. This has become a struggle for power.”

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This article appeared in the August 14, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 08/14 edition