This weekend featured anti-government protests in Russia, the largest since 2011. Tens of thousands of people are thought to have participated nationwide. In Moscow, the number probably exceeded 5,000, of whom almost 1,000 were arrested.
The size of the protests wasn’t large by Western standards. On the other hand, in the U.S. and Western Europe one does not risk arrest and worse by participating in peaceful protests.
The protesters hoped to avoid the worst by casting their event as an anti-corruption action. Putin was not criticized directly. Instead, the focus was on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who has amassed a fortune, including a collection of mansions, yachts and vineyards.
Readers may recall that Medvedev was the official to whom then-president Obama made his promise of greater “flexibility” towards Russia once that pesky 2012 election was over. That’s a story Medvedev probably enjoys telling as he sails around in one of his yachts.
The Russians regarded Obama as a lightweight from the get-go. He didn’t disappoint them.
The Trump administration has condemned the arrest of Russian protesters. The State Department issued this statement:
The United States strongly condemns the detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters throughout Russia on Sunday. Detaining peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values.
We were troubled to hear of the arrest of opposition figure Alexei Navalny upon arrival at the demonstration, as well as the police raids on the anti-corruption organization he heads. The United States will monitor this situation, and we call on the government of Russia to immediately release all peaceful protesters.
The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve a government that supports an open marketplace of ideas, transparent and accountable governance, equal treatment under the law, and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer read the State Department’s statement to the press. Thus, the White House is on the record as condemning Russia’s action in no uncertain terms.
Since taking office two months ago, President Trump has taken no action that can reasonably be viewed as favoring Russia. Moreover, the administration’s words — whether at the U.N., in Europe, in congressional testimony, or now, in response to the arrests — give no aid or comfort to Vladimir Putin.
If Putin invested resources in last year’s presidential election hoping that a Trump administration would be soft on Russia, he has yet to receive any return on that investment.
Ironically, our intelligence agencies say that Putin turned against Hillary Clinton because he was incensed by her alleged role in encouraging the 2011 protests referred to above. If so, I wonder what he makes of the Trump administration’s response to the current protests, which likely will encourage the protesters.