Can Russia’s Opposition Capitalize on the Momentum of Election Protests?

Can Russia’s Opposition Capitalize on the Momentum of Election Protests?
Demonstrators with Russian and various political party flags stand in front of a police line during a protest in Moscow, July 20, 2019 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

Every weekend for the past month, throngs of protesters have gathered in central Moscow to demand that the government allow opposition candidates to stand in elections for the city council that will be held on Sept. 8. Authorities have responded by arresting thousands of demonstrators, some of whom face jail sentences of up to eight years. In an email interview with WPR, Anna Arutunyan, senior analyst for Russia at International Crisis Group, explains what it will take for the recent protests in Moscow to evolve into a broader challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s legitimacy.

World Politics Review: What are the protesters’ main grievances, and how have they evolved over successive weeks of protests?

Anna Arutunyan: The protesters have a very specific demand: that opposition candidates be allowed to run for seats on Moscow’s city council in the upcoming municipal elections. The government has refused to register at least 30 candidates on the apparently false pretext of not gathering enough genuine signatures to qualify for the ballot. While this may seem like a minor local issue, it is also about a breach of law and about dishonesty, which is why the protesters’ demands have evolved and rhetorically escalated depending on the authorities’ reaction.

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