In the wake of mounting evidence of widespread fraud in Sunday’s elections for Russia’s Duma, protest movements calling for an annulment of the election’s results have begun to gather steam. Despite the arrest of nearly 800 demonstrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg this week, plans have now been drawn up for protests this Saturday (10 December) in at least 80 cities across Russia. While the search has now been joined among observers for a suitable moniker—”Russian Spring” (which makes little sense) and “Russian Winter” (even less sense) appear to be frontrunners—it is still far too early to determine what effect, if any, these protests will have—or even if people will show up.
Three immediate issues loom over this nascent movement (or, more accurately, movements):
(1) What effect, if any, will the arrest of leaders and “first movers”—many of whom received 15-day jail sentences—have on the subsequent ability to mobilize participants?
(2) Can these groups rely on Twitter, LiveJournal, and other social media to organize, or do they need grassroots efforts and more traditional means to reach older would-be participants? Pictures from these early protests reveal just how young these activists are. Yet most (older) Russians rely on state-run television for their news, media outlets that have steadfastly refused to air any coverage of these protests or Saturday’s planned activities.
(3) How will the state respond? The regime clearly believes in the appearance, if not (yet) the use of force, to deter protests or interrupt them if they occur. Yet the wild card here may be the counter-protests tacitly sanctioned (and in some cases, actively aided) by the state. These include pro-Kremlin youth groups and nationalist movements, both of which have already held “patriotic” rallies to denounce protestors. Whether protesters will be willing to run these twin gauntlets in sufficient numbers remains to be seen. Whether OMON and other police forces will actually resort to large-scale violence is also an open question.
Events will move quickly this weekend. Here are some useful Twitter feeds and LiveJournal pages that have been covering these events closely.
In English, see @siberianlight, @MiriamElder, and Radio Free Europe. In Russian, see @4irikova, @navalny, @b_nemtsov (all 3 are key leaders of the protest movement) and Marina Litvinovich (@abstract2001), a Moscow-based human rights activist. This is clearly just a start, so if you know of other useful sources, let others know by leaving a comment below. For background of protests in post-Soviet Russia, see Graeme Robertson’s excellent (and timely) The Politics of Protest in Hybrid Regimes: Managing Dissent in Post-Communist Russia (here).