By: Wes Culp
While raids against Russian political opposition organizations are not unheard of, the wholesale arrest of 200 opposition figures and municipal deputies at one conference is largely without precedent in the Putin era. The Interior Ministry justified the March 13 arrests at the Izmailovo Hotel on the basis of the supposed affiliation of the arrested with “undesirable organization” and the conference’s lack of adherence to COVID guidelines. The “undesirable organization” in question is “Open Russia” a political organization founded by the oligarch-turned-opposition-figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky to promote democracy and human rights. Following the arrest of these 200 opposition figures and deputies, the Interior Ministry and Investigative Committee conducted additional raids against leading coordinators of Open Russia and other groups affiliated with the organization. These actions follow the poisoning and arrest of Alexei Navalny, whose “smart voting” campaign ahead of the upcoming September 19 legislative elections has become a point of concern for President Putin and his United Russia party.
Recent legislative election opinion polling by the independent Levada Center found that United Russia enjoys the support of less than 30% of the electorate, indicating an ebb in support for the party and the regime with which it is affiliated. For some, the recent Open Russia arrests represent the growing anxiety within the Kremlin that the development of new opposition tactics mixed with waning support for United Russia could spell trouble for the regime in September. It is suspected that the arrests were supervised by the FSB, and were intended to signal that the regime is digging in its heels for the September election and any protests surrounding it. The months between now and September will test the ability of Russian opposition groups to organize and campaign for the September elections while under increased pressure from Putin’s regime.