“Putin is the richest man in the world by a multiple. Imagine controlling 25 per cent of the wealth of a country? Wouldn’t that be fucking amazing?”
It is not impossible that Trump’s departure from the White House could soon be followed by his venal soul-mate Vladimir Putin exiting the Kremlin. Despite him making himself President for life through one of the most crooked referendums of modern times, Russian people outside of his mafia state apparatus have had enough of corruption and theft from the nation’s coffers.
Putin attempted last year to add anti-corruption activist Navalny to a growing list of assassinated opponents. That poisoning attempt failed. Navalny recovered in Germany and returned to Russia on 17 January, only to be immediately arrested.
Throughout the former Stalinist dictatorship, opponents of the regime circulated samizdat — clandestine literature in leaflet and pamphlet form. Today’s equivalent is far more effective, via YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
Navalny’s supporters put up a two hour investigation on YouTube of Putin’s Palace on the Black Sea, said to have cost £1 billion and with tacky details such as the pole-dancing stage and the £600 Italian toilet brush. Demonstrators have since been waving much cheaper versions of that brush, indicating the direction they want Putin and cronies to go.
Protest rallies were held in 66 locations across Russia at 2pm local time on 22 January. They had been organised after Navalny’s return and arrest, so at only a few days’ notice, and in sub-zero temperatures, -50C in Irkutsk. Many tens of thousands were out in both St Petersburg and Moscow; the crowds were able to break through police lines in St Petersburg, and continued to attract more people through to the evening.
Demonstrators also enjoy a lot of passive support from motorists and other passers-by.
Young people are at the forefront of this latest anti Putin movement. Protest organisers had been accused by Putin supporters of being “paedophile groomers” because notifications had been posted on TikTok. In fact, only 4% of the protesters were under 18, and the main contingent is young middle-age. A random sample of 359 protesters in the capital and found that 42% of them had not attended a demonstration before this year.
The Interior Ministry said that the demonstrations would be “immediately suppressed”. According to OVD Info, 3,711 people were detained throughout the country, 1,442 of them in Moscow
The presence of TV cameras didn’t prevent Tianamen Square. And Lukashenko is still dictator in Belarus. But it’s not so easy now.
The recently-released prize-winning film Dear Comrades about a massacre of striking engineering workers in the USSR in 1962 reminds us of how many attacks on the working class happened without us knowing in those days of heavy state censorship. Nowadays massacres can’t be covered up so easily, despite the state threatening social media users with criminal charges for encouraging young people to demonstrate.
“Would that the Roman people had but one neck!” said the emperor Caligula. No doubt Putin is feeling the same about the Russian people. He can poison, shoot or imprison only so many. Presidents for life seldom end them happily.
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Some on the left argue we shouldn’t support these demonstrations because they are being led by “the far right”. Painting opponents to the regime as “fascists” is an old trick which resurfaced to justify Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Navalny has pandered to Russian nationalism. But Putin has done worse with his invasions of neighbouring states and his toleration of racist attacks on ethnic minorities by Nazi gangs in Russia itself.
As Kirill Medvedev, an activist of the Russian Socialist Movement, puts it: “With the further development... it will no longer be easy to separate the corrupt ‘friends of Putin’ from those whom Navalny calls ‘honest businessmen’, but whose fortunes are just as huge, and similarly generated by illegal schemes from the 1990s and 2000s and, of course, by over-exploitation of workers.
“All of this opens up great opportunities for leftist politics, which, with an equally skilful combination of valour and rationality, could produce a far more powerful wave of discontent and a far more coherent program of change than Navalny’s eclectic populism. The movement sparked off by Navalny has gone beyond his control and is essentially a revolt against corruption”.