On Monday, hundreds of protesters were arrested across Russia.
Petitioning against endemic government corruption. Led by the activist and democratic reformer, Alexei Navalny, the protesters are seeking government reforms to fight corruption and protect human rights.
The Russian government, however, is determined to stop them. This morning, for example, Navalny and other protest leaders were arrested as they attempted to join the protests.
Still, even amidst this crackdown, there is hope. In his overreaction, Vladimir Putin shows his vulnerability.
While the Russian president remains very popular, Russians are increasingly concerned about corruption and the stagnating economy. And Putin has few options with which to improve things. Russia's economy remains highly dependent on energy exports. But with the price of oil reliably low, capital reserves are evaporating. That means critical infrastructure investments cannot be paid for. Additionally, Putin's patronage relationships restrict him from opening the economy to free competition grounded in the rule of law. After all, Putin is tied to billionaire oligarchs who offer fealty and wealth in return for cozy contracts.
But Putin is increasingly scared. His fear is not what will happen tomorrow or even next year, but what might happen in three years. Putin fears that the Navalny protest movement might one day inspire a broader revolt against his power base. And so, in an effort to restrain Navalny's appeal, Putin wants Russians to understand that he will tolerate no challenge to his rule.
Fortunately, Navalny is unmoved.
Escaping government censorship via his popular blog, Navalny delivers daily rebukes to Putin and his cronies. But Navalny's blog is also popular for its versatility. In recent days, for example, Navalny has criticized the state of Russian journalism. A full 95% of Russian journalists, Navalny says, are too "lazy" to do their job properly. Such plain speaking endears Navalny to his energetic supporter base.
Of course, the risks are real. Navalny is frequently charged with spurious offenses. At the end of May, a court ruled that Navalny had defamed Russian oligarch, Alisher Usmanov. The decision came after Navalny released a YouTube series accusing Usmanov of bribing Russian Prime Minister and former President, Dimitry Medvedev, with castles and other luxurious gifts. These allegations are almost certainly true, but they infuriate Moscow's corrupted elite.
More worryingly, Navalny is also sometimes attacked. In April, in the second incident of its kind, attackers threw antiseptic solution in Navalny's face, apparently damaging his right eye. He now travels with bodyguards. As Boris Nemtsov and others have found, Putin doesn't take kindly to criticism.
It is likely to be a long time before Navalny's hopes become reality. Regardless, we should salute his movement as it risks murder in the pursuit of democracy.