More intolerance in Putin's Russia
The fact that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained by police last Saturday shortly after arriving at a protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, should hardly have surprised Moscow observers. Navalny's team, which organised the protest in Moscow and several other cities in Russia, said he was detained shortly after arriving at the central Pushkin Square in the Russian capital. Images showed Navalny, who was arrested for illegal protest organisation, being carried through the crowds by police. Putin will be sworn in on Monday as President of Russia for the fourth time, having overwhelmingly won re-election in March. The election was, for all practical purposes, an absolute farce. Here was the odd case of the ruling dispensation betraying its insecurity at the thought of a strong contender taking on the ruling President who was once a KGB agent. Too much power in recent years has led to growing intolerance of anyone who could provide some challenge at the hustings. So, you choose who your "opponents" ought to be. It is common knowledge that Putin has always been wary of Navalny. So, Navalny, his fiercest opponent, was barred from the race because he carried a fraud conviction, which he dismissed as a politically motivated move to keep him off the ballot. Protesters chanted "shame" and "Putin is a thief" as they marched through Moscow on Saturday, some carrying placards or Russian flags. When they chanted "we're fed up," one elderly man said, "I was fed up 10 years ago." A police helicopter hovered low over the demonstration to survey the scene. At one point a red smoke flare was set off in the crowd. A heavy police presence could be seen near the Pushkin Square, with riot police and buses standing by. Police officers trying to disperse protesters and escorting them out. A number of pro-Putin supporters also turned up at the protest, their chants drowning out those for Navalny. Russian authorities demand that applications be filed and the timing and location approved for any rallies, protests or public events. City officials had not authorised the protest in Pushkin Square. The Navalny campaign had been offered another location away from the city centre but went ahead at the unauthorised venue. Navalny has been arrested many times, including in January, when he led anti-Kremlin rallies in which he called for Russians to boycott the presidential election. The opposition leader has risen to prominence in recent years by posting investigative stories online about the alleged corrupt practices of Russia's elite that include the oligarchs. Authorities recently shut down his website as well as several social media accounts. Interestingly, the Kremlin rejected allegations of widespread high-level corruption and condemned Navalny as a dangerous threat to the country's stability. But, in an authoritarian set-up what else could be expected?