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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: February 3, 2015
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Opposition Plans March 1 Action to Protest Economic Crisis, War in Ukraine
7 years
Russian Woman Charged with Treason Released from Pre-Trial Detention to Await Trial
Alexey Navalny, among the main opposition leaders inside Russia, and Mikhail Khodorovsky, businessman and former political prison who is opposing Putin from exile, have teamed up to organize a protest march scheduled for March 1.

Says Newsweek:

Anti-Putin activist Alexei Navalny, who is currently under house arrest, has officially informed authorities of his intention to assemble a 100,000-strong, anti-government protest in Moscow on 1st March.

A photo of Navalny’s letter, addressed to Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin and requesting permission for the protest, was posted on his blog. The image also revealed that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was one of the letter’s five signatories.

Khodorkovsky is unlikely to return to Russia for the march, as he was not given guarantees that he can travel freely to and from the country when he was pardoned by President Vladimir Putin last year and released after serving a decade in jail.

Navalny is facing several court cases on various fabricated charges, including a frivolous "art theft" case involving a street artist's sketch given to him by his colleague, Georgy Alburov. In December, Navalny was handed a suspended sentence of 3.5 years, and his brother was given 3.5 years of labor colony. That case was also based on trumped-up charges related to a mail-order business contracted by the French firm Yves Rocher East, which denied it had any claim against the Navalnys.

Translation: I found in my case about the poster from the fence some amazing correspondence between Bastrykin and Chaika. Read here.

Georgy Alburov is the former executive director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Fund who was forced to flee Russia over this case. The reference is to the artist's sketch, which he tore from a fence, and to Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee and Yury Chaika, Prosecutor General.

In the correspondence, which Alburov published on his blog, Prosecutor V. Grin admits that the sketch was posted in a public place and not at an art exhibit and that no damage was done to the artist beyond 100 rubles required to file the case -- which was done at the behest of the authorities trying to trump up a case against Navalny and his associate.

As we discover from the letters, in an extraordinary action, the prosecutor returned the case back to the Investigative Committee for further investigation, because he doesn't find evidence to support the charges. Bastrykin replies that such an action is "unlawful" and will be contested. Finally, another document surfaces in which it becomes clear that the fence is now claimed as property by the Russian Orthodox Church, which means a further set-up may be awaited in this case.

In December, Navalny cut off his ankle bracelet enabling police to monitor him, because he said he was unlawfully kept under house arrest, which was not legally established as a form of pre-trial restraint for the "art theft" case and which cannot be a form of sentencing under Russian law. But police could monitor him anyway, and soon caught up with him and detained him when he went to a supporters' demonstration, and then some days later again when he went to give an interview on Ekho Moskvy.

On January 27, Navalny called for mass protests when his unlawful house arrest wasn't lifted. As Newsweek reported at the time:

“The idea is simple,” Navalny wrote today. “Those sitting in the Kremlin have not managed [to halt the financial crisis] and they are still not managing to do it. They have had 15 years and three trillion dollars at their disposal, all from our natural resources. A government such as this cannot stand strong,” Navalny added.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny's mayoral campaign manager and organizer of the December protest, is gearing up for March 1 on his Facebook page.

Translation: Central Committee of the Party of Progress.

When Volkov formed a Facebook group to protest Navalny's sentencing, originally anticipated in January, he had to quickly regroup and stage the gathering in December with no notice. Originally, some 18,000 people said they "planned to attend" but in the end, less than 5,000 actually showed up in freezing weather. About 250 people were arrested, and some given jail sentences of 14 days.

Navalny is calling the action "Spring," which he says is supposed to bring associations with the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, although these began with what was called "the Velvet Revolution" in what was then Czechoslovakia. The "Prague Spring" was in 1968, and preceded the Soviet invasion. Authorities are likely to be uncomfortably reminded of the "Arab Spring," which they feared would spread to their country. And Navalny may be hoping to create some deliberate "brand confusion," as nationalists, some of whom supported his own nationalist tendencies, perceived of the war in Ukraine as a "Russian Spring" that would lead ostensibly to more freedom for the Russian people in various lands.

Navalny bypassed other days that have brought out protesters, like February 23, Red Army Day, now called "Fatherland Defense Day" which is also the day that the Chechen people were massively deported in 1944.

Indeed, the question people have been asking is whether this march is about economic hardship and the "anti-crisis program" or against the war in Ukraine. Volkov answers the question (translation by The Interpreter):

Each to his own. There is no contradiction. Anti-war demands are very high in the list of the march's demands. We at the Party of Progress believe that the criminal military adventure in the Donbass is the consequence of the international political and economic crisis, a typical attempt at the expense of a "little victorious war" to distract attention from the collapse of the corrupt economy. That is, corruption is the reason for everything, and war is the consequence.

Obviously, many believe it is otherwise. Well, that's fine! As Mikhail Khodorkovsky noted, "there are no ideological contradictions here." The agenda of the march is sufficiently broad, and encompassing, and everyone can find something for himself in it. It's stupid to arge over terminological issues.

Activists in other cities in Russia, such as St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, will also take part in marches on March 1.

The Moscow march doesn't yet appear to have a Facebook page. The St. Petersburg one has created one, with 227 people signed up already to go. These figures can be very misleading, as the ratio of "planned" to "actual" has been something like 1 to 4.

A big factor will be whether or not the authorities grant permission for the rally. When permits have been given in the last year, as many as 30,000 to 50,000 people have turned out to protest the forcible annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine. But when permission is denied, only a few thousand people tend to come, if they are willing to risk arrest. Now, added to formal police arrest is a beating by a new "Anti-Maidan" group made up of Afghan war veterans, bikers and Cossacks who plan to disrupt every liberal opposition meeting they can by drowning out participants with their own large numbers -- and resorting to violence while the police look the other way.

(Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia which is funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.)

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick