August 16, 2019         15 Av, 5779
Update on Protests in Moscow, Russia
In July, Moscow election officials decided to ban opposition candidates from running for the city council -- sparking the largest mass protests Russia has seen since 2013. Over the past several weekends, the protests have swelled to over 50,000 in the Russian capital. About 1,373 protestors were detained on July 27, on August 3 - 1,001, and on August 10 - 352. In response to the protest, 14 people were arrested for "mass riots". President Putin and the federal government as a whole attempted to stay above the fray and ignore the protests.  Eventually, Putin's spokesperson released a statement saying that the protests were insignificant in the eyes of the government -- because there was nothing "exceptional" about them. Experts across the post-Soviet space have called these protests one of the most significant political developments in Russia in the past 10 years. 
Saturday, July 27
On Saturday, July 27, more than 20,000 Russians took to the streets of central Moscow. This demonstration, referred to as "Towards an honest election" had not received a permit from Russian authorities. According to the independent monitor OVD-Info, 89 people had been violently detained by 2:00 p.m., when the protests started. By that evening, 1,373 people had been detained.
Photo: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Key events 

Initially, the protest was planned to take place at City Hall, but the police blocked the entrance. A security fence divided the protestors into several groups, which then moved into the city center. 

The protestors chanted "Allow access" and "We want honest elections," and called on the government to fire Moscow Election Commission head, Valentin Gorbunov. Protestors also chanted slogans criticizing President Vladimir Putin and Mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin. Some protestors carried posters, mostly in support of Lubov Sobol -- an independent candidate who was denied participation in the elections. 

Some protestors threw plastic bottles at the police, who responded with batons. According to Rossgvardiya (the National Guard of the Russian Federation), two policemen were attacked with pepper spray. 

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained on July 24 for 30 days due to a Facebook post in which he called on people to take part in this unauthorized protest. On the morning of July 28, he was hospitalized due to an alleged allergy attack. Navalny said that this could have been an attempted poisoning.  

There are no accurate statistics available regarding the number of protestors. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs counted approximately 3,500 people, but the demonstration's organizers estimate that 7,000-10,000 thousand people participated. However,  most of the organizers could not attend the demonstration as most of them were detained the night before the event, including Lubov Sobol and opposition activist Dmitry Gudkov. 
Photo: Kommersant
Russian protesters in downtown Moscow confronted riot police during an unauthorized demonstration on July 28, demanding independent and opposition candidates be allowed to run for office in local elections. Credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP-Getty Images

  • People were not afraid to participate in the protest even though they knew they might be detained. A large number of police and security services were present, most of whom wore black masks.
  • Even if the leaders of the protest could not participate, it did not dissuade the other protestors from attending. The leaders were able to effectively coordinate the demonstrations via social media.
Photo: BBC News | "I have the right to choose!"
Saturday, August 3
On August 3rd, a second, unapproved demonstration in support of the independent candidates for Moscow's local elections occurred.  The protestors marched around Boulevard Ring chanting "We will regain the right to have honest elections". On this day, about 1,000 people were detained by Moscow Police -- about 19 people spent the night in jail.
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin blamed the organizers for the arrests. 

While the protests were happening, a music festival "Shashlik live" took place in Moscow's Gorky Park. The festival was announced only a few days prior.  The protest's leaders argued that the spontaneous event was a government attempt to dissuade people from attending the protests.
Photo: AFP
Saturday, August 10 
The demonstration on August 10 was officially approved by Moscow officials. As reported by OVD-info, over 50,000 took part in

 the August 10 protest. 

After the official demonstration had ended, hundreds of people marched to the Presidential Office Building. -- about 200 people were detained. 

The Investigative Committee is investigating the mass riots that took place on July, 27. So far, 13 people have been charged with crimes. Lubov Sobol was detained on this day as well -- before the demonstrations began.
Photo: TASS
Despite bad weather and rain, participants arrived at Prospect Sakhrova an hour ahead of schedule -- many people brought Russian flags. While the demonstrators experienced some technical difficulties with mobile service, it is possible that the cell phone towers were simply overwhelmed by the number of people. Cell phone voice quality was also reportedly impacted.  

Attendees came from all age brackets -- in contrast to previous demonstrations, where there were mostly young people.

Some popular, Russian musicians took part in the demonstration and even performed for the protestors. (This was not approved by the Government -- who referred to a special law allegedly forbidding any musical performances at demonstrations). Some Russian opposition journalists and activists took part in the protest. 

Forty-five minutes before the beginning of the protest Rosgvardia (National Guard) blocked off the prospect. They asked people to leave the venue right after the demonstration. 

Another music festival took place in Gorky Park. 

Photo: Tass
The protest leaders set their demands on the eve of the demonstration on August 10: the termination of charges against participants in past protests and the release of all those arrested and charged with a crime; the resignation of Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin and Moscow election commission head Valentin Gorbunov, and the forced resignation of all members of the Election commission. 
Photo: RBC | "The people are the power -- give us the right to vote!!!" | The other posters below read "Let Egor Zhokov go."
Government response

On August 13, the Kremlin broke weeks of silence on the opposition protests and police violence in Moscow. Giving the Kremlin's first official comments on the protests in Moscow, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin has not spoken out about the demonstrations because he does not think there is anything "exceptional" about them. "Protests happen in many countries," he said, adding that there are more important events in Russia for the president to care about.

Situation forecast 

The opposition has already announced new protests. The candidates who were denied participation in the elections will appeal to the Central Election Commission and to the courts.

Analyst Mikhail Vinogradov, the President of "St. Petersburg Politics Foundation", believes that the opposition is not currently able to translate its protest activities into a national movement. Meanwhile, the Russian government cannot give any convincing reasons for its refusal to allow independent candidates to participate in the elections.

Analyst Evgeny Ivanov from High School of Economics believes that this harsh crackdown on the protest might negatively impact the negotiating leverage of Sergey Sobyanin, who is seen as a Russian politician ready to compromise by allowing independent candidates to run unimpeded. For example, he allowed Alexey Navalny to run in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election. 

As reported on stated, the Moscow Government has approved a protest at Prospect Sakharova on August 25, but it should not be a march and include no more than 100,000 people. 
Media takeaways
By Oliver Caroll

On paper, the stakes are tiny: just a few places in the Moscow city government, a body with few real powers. But the Kremlin made an early decision not to allow opposition candidates near the ballot papers even there. On the eve of elections, authorities introduced new rules increasing the number of verified signatures independent candidates needed to register to approximately 5000. The hope had been that candidates would be unable to reach the required numbers in time. When most of them did, Moscow's local election committee ruled a large number of the signatures to be invalid, removing all but the most placid of candidates. 
That was the moment that a local problem became a national crisis — and one that is certain to grow, says Tatyana Stanovaya, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre. 

The Guardian
By Shaun Walker 

The surprise wave of summer protests is the biggest since 2012, when months of discontent culminated in a rally on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square the day before Vladimir Putin was inaugurated for a new term as president. After that rally, which saw violent clashes between police and protesters, a crackdown was launched, with a number of protesters handed lengthy prison sentences.
Now, authorities will again have to decide whether to step back or crack down, at a time when Putin’s ratings are slipping and his ruling United Russia party is widely despised. In recent months, the Kremlin has backed down when faced with public protests, mainly over local issues such as the construction of a new cathedral in a public square in the city of Yekaterinburg.
Putin has not yet commented on the protests. The Russian president, undeterred by any potential symbolic resonance, climbed into a miniature submarine as the police made arrests on Saturday and descended to the seabed in the Gulf of Finland to inspect the ruins of a second world war submarine.

BBC News
By Oleg Boldyrev

No one was under any illusion that the large gathering would impress authorities into letting people express themselves peacefully. This rally went very much the same way others have done - arbitrary detentions, standoffs, crowds breaking off into the side streets.
The question is whether the anger over not being able to nominate a candidate - even for lower-level, city elections - would galvanise Muscovites into bigger, sustained expressions of dissent. After all, there are lots of residents not happy with the way Moscow government and Mayor Sobyanin run the city, or respond to popular concerns. | (202) 898-2500 | 1120 20th Street NW, Suite 300N Washington, DC 20036