Thursday, March 30, 2017

Decisions and Their Consequences : Living High on Corruption

"[Navalny along with other leaders of the weekend protests across Russia were guilty of a] provocation [and of] offering certain rewards [to schoolchildren to become involved in the protests]."
"The Kremlin respects people's civic stance and their right to voice their position. We can't express the same respect to those who consciously misled people and who consciously did it yesterday and provoked illegal actions."
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman, Vladimir Putin

"You can't detain tens of thousands of people. Yesterday we saw the authorities can only go so far."
"A time will come when we'll put them [government officials in Vladimir Putin's administration] on trial too -- and that time it will be fair."
Alexei Navalny, opposition leader, Moscow
Top Putin opponent Alexei Navalny, shown in this Feb. 27 file photo, was arrested during Sunday's protests.
Top Putin opponent Alexei Navalny, shown in this Feb. 27 file photo, was arrested during Sunday's protests.  (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV)

He hasn't yet been marked for assassination; perhaps it is for the time being a mere matter of time. He is not an oligarch, so he cannot have his vast financial holdings confiscated and turned over to the Kremlin to dispose of at the behest of the president. He has not yet been charged with offences so egregious as to merit a very long prison sentence in a federal institution that will keep him out of commission for a very long time.

Just fifteen days in prison for disobeying a police officer in central Moscow at a rally he was hugely instrumental in planning and coordinating. And a fine of 20,000 rubles for proceeding with the organizing of a clearly 'illegal' demonstration, unsanctioned by the government. Dmitry Peskov claims the Kremlin respects Russians' civil rights to protest. That 'right' is so respected that a required permit to allow such a demonstration to proceed would not be granted, making it an illegal activity for which a thousand people were arrested.

Vladimir Putin claims website was hacked
In 2012 when Russians came out in their thousands to protest Mr. Putin's election machinations calling on him to resign, the Kremlin had arranged for counter-protests to take place, strong-arming people to come out to show their support for Vladimir Putin. At that time it was basically a Moscow-only campaign when knowledgeable, middle-class, educated Muscovites expressed their anger at Putin's designs for Russia's future under his ongoing aegis.

The protests were assigned the status of being unrepresentative of Russians outside Moscow.

Now, however, in 2017, the spread of the protest movement is undeniable; it was not only the capital's boulevards and squares that were packed with protests, representing a metropolitan elite. This time demonstrations took place in 82 cities, where the regional capitals of places like Nizhny, Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok saw crowds of thousands organized not by those in control from Moscow, but by local organizers committed to the same anti-corruption movement as those from Moscow.

There can be little doubt that the evidence amassed by Mr. Navalny with the help of drone videos that showed a renovated 18th Century manor with a duck pond and accompanying duck house catering to the whims and pleasures of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev invoked anger from Russians experiencing financial hardships in the faltering economy. Russians are outraged that their officials live in opulent luxury while they attempt to muddle by.

But of course, during the days of the USSR, Russian notables had their big, expensive imported luxury cars and their country dachas.

And it's not just middle-aged grumps who have been demonstrating against corruption, but the young as well, those in their 20s, and teenagers appeared on Pushkin Square and other cities this past Sunday. The unemployed, struggling through the recession and seeing no opportunities for their futures. Navalny spoke for all of them at his Monday court appearance, calling for Medvedev to explain the corruption that had people so enraged.

It seems Vladimir Putin has been so busy on the international stage he hasn't had time nor the inclination to have a good look around at home to get a sense of the brooding public, resentful of where their president's choices in adventurism has taken the country. From intervention in Ukraine and interfacing with NATO and the European Union, struggling with the crippling Crimea economic sanctions and faltering oil prices, and the Russian military presence in Syria and the impact on the Russian economy.

It's a long distance from the spendthrift days of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, and the adulation heaped on Putin for bringing the world to Russia's feet. The billions in corrupt payoffs and opportunities to Putin cronies can't have helped an already faltering economy, and the vast financial investment Mr. Putin and the Kremlin committed to in rebuilding the Russian military's upgraded state-of-the-art munitions took place at a time when Russia's income had already dwindled dangerously.

This is simply Moscow's ducks leaving their placid lakes and coming home to roost on the roof of the Kremlin.

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