Protests, Palaces and Putin

By Alex Yeo

''Navalny represents the problems these local movements pose on a much greater scale; a focal point of actual, uncontrolled opposition that provides a credible alternative to what the Putin regime can offer.''

Alexei Navalny, often called Russia’s most viable opposition leader, is once again at the centre of a political crisis for Putin’s regime. Last August, he was poisoned with a nerve agent, from the same family of agents as that which was used to poison Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. After spending time in Germany recovering, he has returned to Russia - where he was immediately arrested.

He has since called for protests over his arrest and released a documentary film detailing, allegedly, a private Palace (in his own words - “It isn’t a country house, or a dacha, or a residence, it’s an entire city, or rather an entire kingdom”) owned by Putin and paid for with the profits of corrupt enterprises. Protests have since broken out, with thousands protesting across Russia.

While this is certainly the most covered story about a protest in Russia for some time, it isn’t an isolated incident of unrest when looking at the last two to three years. So what’s brought Russia to this point?

Opposition under Putin

Opposition in Putin’s Russia has, since the mid-2000s, borne the moniker of “controlled opposition,” and this is not without merit. Controlled opposition is exactly what it says on the tin - political parties or figures which wear the dressings of an actual opposition, but in fact, are in league with the ruling regime. Such an opposition acts as, more or less, an official font for public anger, which can then be easily controlled. Parties such as A Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (an extremely right-wing party, unlike the British Lib Dems) can be counted among them.

Yet, recently, cracks have begun to be seen on a regional level. Firstly, in 2018-2019, there was an almost unprecedented backlash and protest movement in Ingushetia against a border deal with neighbouring Chechnya that saw the regional Head, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, resign. Secondly, a protest movement started in 2020, is still ongoing in the far-east region of Khabarovsk, over the arrest of the popular LDPR governor Sergei Furgal.