Russian Protests Against Putin: Even the Paris Hilton of Russian Television Has Become a Dissident

Protests in Russia continue to grow and evolve. The protests have continued for days after overnight raids targeting the leaders of the opposition, their firms, and their families. Currently, those who have been detained have not been charged, but there are increased fears that some of the findings of the raids will result in minor charges presented against those who are in indefinite detention at the moment.

The authorities have repeatedly stated that the raids and searches are not a part of reported intimidation tactics targeting the opposition. Rather, they insist that the searches are being executed within the confines of the law, as they have intelligence that suggests that the leaders of mass rallies are responsible for the acts of violence that occurred following the opposition rally of May 6. The allegations are based on collected testimonies of 13 individuals arrested at the protest. It should be noted that just a few days ago, the head of Russia’s Investigative Service, Alexander Bastirkin, stated that these individuals were sought as witnesses in a pending criminal investigation and not as suspects. “It is not our aim to catch all of them and throw them in jail without any evidence,” stated Bastirkin referring to the detention of Alexei Navalniy, Kseniya Sobchak, Il’ya Yashin, and Boris Nemtsov.

The most surprising detention is that of Kseniya Sobchak, the daughter of the first democratic mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. Mr. Sobchak, who died in 2000, is responsible for the introduction of Vladimir Putting to the elites of Russia’s political circle, a move that secured Putin’s rise into power. Because of Russia’s nepotistic tendencies and the nearly institutional commitment to not touching members of the “family,” Kseniya Sobchak's falling under the thumb of the very person her father brought to power is both shocking and surprising. However, every cloud has a silver lining and for Ms. Sobchak it is of great significance and contrast. She was seen to be a Paris Hilton-like figure of Russian television, and now she is a part of a movement to and has become a dissident. There is one traditional way of becoming a dissident in Russia: serving time. She was questioned and detained following a raid on her residence where large amounts of cash were found. The cash, allegedly, was to be used to fund those gathering for the rallies: the so called Hillary Dollars.

In detaining, questioning, and humiliating high profile individuals, the Kremlin is making a huge gamble that the intimidation techniques of the past will work on the new generation of Russians. Thus far, the leaderless movement has survived as new figures emerge and reflect the immediate views of the gathered masses. Kseniya Sobchak, following her release after a second day of questioning, said that, “I have always believed politics to be the art of the possible.” If this is a shared view of the new generation, then the Kremlin has lost the wager.

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Lev Sviridov

Lev is an Acting Director of the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College and a Senior Research Associate of the CUNY Energy Institute at The City College of New York, specializing in the chemistry of Manganese Dioxide for grid scale energy storage applications. Additionally, Lev serves on the board of Concord Consortium, Human Rights First, and the 21st Century Foundation.

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