Protesters took to the streets in cities across Russia on 23 January to challenge the government’s decision to arrest opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Bitter winter weather, the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility of incarceration did little to deter thousands of people. Russian police and security forces were out in force, arresting over 3,000 demonstrators. This weekend’s gatherings indicate that there will be a large number of similar protests between now and parliamentary elections in September. This weekend’s protests only serve to highlight the resignations of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cabinet following his annual address to the Federal Assembly in which he proposed changes to the constitution which could potentially allow him to remain as the head of the Russian government past 2024 when his final term as president ends. More specific, Putin’s proposed political changes also place Navalny’s arrest under the microscope as many observers inside of, as well as outside Russia are making a connection between the two. After all, where there is smoke, there’s also generally fire.
Navalny was arrested almost immediately after returning to Russia from Germany. The fact that Russian authorities wasted little time moving against him has made the Kremlin appear nervous and vengeful. The action also serves to cast a deeper shadow over Putin and his intentions through the coming months as parliamentary elections approach. The potential for political unrest in Russia in the coming months is quite real. Vladimir Putin has had a hold on Russia for two decades. The majority of Russians continue to support their president, but that support is quite tentative. Putin will be acting to make certain that support does not collapse, while Navalny is undoubtedly working to erode that support and redirect it to his opposition movement.
The coming months promise to be active ones in Russia.