Russia July 2019 –

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Opinion: Growing discontent in Moscow poses challenge to Kremlin
As tens of thousands rallied on the streets of Moscow, Russia’s rulers reacted with violence and fear. Their worries are warranted, writes Miodrag Soric.
( Deutsche Welle) The protesters’ boldness has unsettled those in power, and the country’s rulers are reacting helplessly. Again and again the president and prime minister promise improvements like more money and higher wages. In reality, Russians’ standard of living has been falling for five years. Everyone knows it. They can feel it in their wallets.
Ultimately this is about more than just material things. Many ordinary Russians feel the government doesn’t represent or understand them.
Read moreOpinion: 20 years of Vladimir Putin destabilizing the world
Among the protesters were many liberal-minded youths calling for more freedom and western-style democracy, but there were also older Muscovites. They were carrying communist flags and mourning for the Soviet era, when, in their view, the state took care of its people. Old communists and young democrats — united by their certainty that this government is not taking them seriously anymore.
After 20 years, is Vladimir Putin’s untouchable image crumbling?
During Vladimir Putin’s two decades in power, polls have often shown Russians blame their government rather than their president for their problems. Amidst a new wave of domestic tension, that could be changing.

8 August
Moscow’s Crisis Is Now Russia’s Crisis
(Carnegie Moscow Center) By agreeing to the brutal suppression of peaceful protests about Moscow city elections, Mayor Sobyanin has submitted to collective responsibility. For Putin and the Kremlin, it is impermissible that elections can be lost. This is a message for Russia’s next parliamentary and presidential polls. … Moscow has lost its status as a special political enclave in the country. The crackdown on protest is being directed not by the mayor but from the Kremlin. Both Russia’s rulers and the opposition see the confrontation as a trial run for a bigger showdown in the parliamentary elections of 2021 and the next presidential election of 2024.

Letter from Moscow
Much has changed in Moscow’s capital, where feelings about Vladimir Putin are more mixed than you’d think.
By Jeremy Kinsman
(Policy Magazine) This isn’t the place for profound political analysis, but the one thing most people agree western comment has wrong is our prevailing belief that Putin decides everything as a top-down dictator, mostly concerned with his own power. In Russia, he is generally seen as the guy who pulled the country up off the floor. We call him right-wing and autocratic. Most Russians would peg him as a relative liberal because they know there are more lethal potential tyrants in the wings that Putin fends off.
Most see Putin as an arbiter of various competing and diverse interests. His job has been to restore Russia’s stature, pride, and performance and a large majority of Russians credit him with a good job on those. He oversees, fairly loosely, an increasingly professional and technocratic administration that is almost apolitical. It isn’t a vision of inclusive and participatory democracy but it delivers.
Again, contrary to Western sentiment about Russia, Putin’s external adventures get mixed reviews domestically. Russians I know are tired of the extended conflict with Ukraine (though they see the Crimea annexation as a justified retroactive adjustment to the way the USSR broke up in haste). They don’t view the alliance with Bashar al-Assad as a trophy to cherish. Russians now travel abroad a lot; they get that there is resentment over Russian meddling in other peoples’ politics. On these issues, Putin’s nationalist populism may be out of step with European-inclined Muscovites. People are proud when he plays the statesman and mediator, especially when compared to Trump the disruptor. They like it when he pushes back against US unilateralism but they like it best when Russia succeeds in strengthening international cooperation among regional allies like the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Council, and on disarmament. (July 2019)

27 – 29  July
Opinion: The Kremlin fears its own people
Russian police reacted with force and arrested more than 1,000 people during opposition protests in Moscow. As the nervousness of Russia’s rulers increases, so does the courage of its opposition, writes Mirodrag Soric
(DW) Millions have now seen the images of the beaten demonstrators; they have caused outrage, in Russia and across the globe. Western companies that continue to invest in Russia — including Siemens, BASF subsidiary Wintershall and Daimler — need to take a good hard look at themselves. Anyone supporting Putin’s regime in Russia will soon have to defend that stance closer to home.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and the elite surrounding him are ever more fearful of their people. And with good reason. The government is accountable for a worsening in the Russian standard of living in recent years. The economy is stagnating, infrastructure is crumbling outside the major cities and educated young people are leaving Russia in search of better prospects. And ever since the so-called pension reform, millions of older voters also feel betrayed by the state.
That’s why political opponents are being frozen out of the vote. That’s why the media is being controlled, and why independent journalists are being persecuted. The Kremlin fears protests like the devil fears holy water; it’s a typical reflex of the powerful in authoritarian states.
As people fear less, the powerful fear more
Alexei Navalny discharged from hospital despite doctor’s opposition
(BBC) Alexei Navalny is Russia’s most prominent opposition activist – and one of President Putin’s most vocal critics.
That’s why news of a sudden illness makes headlines.
Especially if it’s a sudden illness contracted in a Moscow jail.
There’s been no confirmation that Mr Navalny was poisoned. But his doctors – and his supporters – are keen to know what sparked such sudden symptoms.
Russia’s Alexei Navalny may have been poisoned: doctor
(DW) A Russian doctor has said the opposition leader’s symptoms suggest that he might have been targeted with a “toxic agent.” Berlin has urged Moscow to release over 1,300 prisoners arrested during Navalny-backed protests.
Navalny developed what authorities described as an “allergic reaction” while serving a 30-day jail sentence for promoting a banned protest march.
Navalny, a critic of President Vladimir Putin and the most visible face of Russia’s opposition movement, is regularly arrested for calling on protesters to demonstrate against corruption and non-liberal government policies.
He challenged Putin in the 2018 presidential elections but failed to make a stand after a Russian court banned him from participating over a criminal conviction for alleged financial crimes that he described as politically motivated.

Hundreds arrested at Moscow demonstration for free elections
Recent wave of Moscow protests was sparked by move to ban all but a few opposition candidates vying for city council.
(Al Jazeera) More than 500 people, including opposition leaders and city council election candidates, were arrested on Saturday as police cracked down on an unsanctioned demonstration for fair elections.
Hundreds of riot police and members of the national guard were dispatched to the centre of the capital, closing down streets near the planned protest site at city hall and rerouting demonstrators and bystanders.
The number of detentions, monitored by the independent OVD-Info group, was still growing after about 3,500 people had gathered. Prominent political figures were forcefully put into vans before the protest could start amid scuffles.
Nearly 1,400 detained in pro-democracy protest in Moscow – largest number of arrests in a decade

18 July
Storied Russian Miniatures Dwindling in Face of Icon Revival
Once upon a time, the small, picturesque Russian village of Palekh gained fame far and wide for producing religious icons.
Then one day, a revolution came and its adherents, growling, “There is no god,” banned such art.
Hundreds of artists eventually learned to adorn lacquer boxes instead, painting scenes from Russian fairy tales or romanticized versions of country life.
These delicate miniatures made the village famous anew, especially after foreign collectors plunked down tens of thousands of dollars buying an art form considered uniquely Russian.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the renaissance of the Russian Orthodox Church revived icon painting. It is miniature art now facing extinction.

12 July
Europe’s security watchdog reveals key evidence in the Nemtsov murder investigation
This week brought a potential breakthrough in the investigation of Russia’s most high-profile political murder in recent memory, the 2015 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov — or, rather, it would have, if Russian law enforcement had any intention of investigating it seriously.

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