If Russian President Vladimir Putin was hoping for a political honeymoon after successfully rewriting the country’s constitution to potentially give him two more terms in office, he was mistaken. Just 10 days after winning a popular vote designed to depict the country as united behind its leader, protests erupted that instead demonstrated the level of simmering popular discontent. They also underscored the gulf between the president’s Kremlin and many ordinary citizens after his more than two decades in power.
Last weekend more than 20,000 people took to the streets of Khabarovsk, a city in Russia’s far east on the border with China, in support of the former state governor who was dismissed by Mr Putin earlier this month and charged with attempted murder. The protests – the largest ever seen in the city – have continued daily since July 11, two days after Sergei Furgal, who is not from Mr Putin’s ruling United Russia party, was arrested, flown to Moscow and detained.
Since then, the protesters’ demands have morphed from the local to the national: from demanding a fair trial for Mr Furgal to calling for Mr Putin to step down. They have intensified since the Kremlin dispatched Mikhail Degtyarev, a lawmaker from Moscow with no local experience, to replace Mr Furgal, enraging citizens who viewed the governor’s sacking as the Kremlin ignoring local wishes. “This is our region,” protesters chanted on Monday evening.
The protests, spanning an unprecedented 18 consecutive days unhindered by local police, have left Mr Putin looking detached and listless in contrast to his usual decisive and hands-on image.