With the 2018 FIFA World Cup just months away the political climate in Russia is looking increasingly unsettled.
Today, a lengthy march through central Moscow took place with tens of thousands of people in attendance.
The rally was among protests nationwide in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s call to boycott the March 18 presidential election.
Navalny was detained as the march got underway, but it was to little effect. A tweet from his account read: “I’ve been detained. This doesn’t matter. Come to Tverskaya (Street). You are not going there for me, it’s for you and your future.”
It is also not without precedent. Mr Navalny was arrested and imprisoned for 15 days following the first protest on 5 December, but emerged to speak at the biggest of the post-election rallies in Moscow on 24 December, attended by as many as 120,000 people.
Vladmir Putin’s ability to silence his opposition has to this date been his greatest asset, but he will have a job on his hands silencing Navalny.
Using social media he has reached out to young followers using sharp, punchy language, mocking the establishment loyal to President Putin.
With an organisation which claims 84 regional offices and 200,000 volunteers, finding a gag to fit Navalny’s operation is a big ask.
Supporters of Alexei Navalny fill Pushkin Square in central Moscow. They’re chanting “Putin’s a thief!”, “Down with the Kremlin!” & “Freedom to Navalny”. pic.twitter.com/BtpxJJYrx9
— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) January 28, 2018
With the prospect of Putin, 65, entering his last term as president, Navalny’s followers foresee a Russian spring.
A recent survey of 4,000 people from all regions by the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences found that, for the first time since 2003, a majority favor change over “stability,” a key word in Russian political discourse and Putin’s primary argument for his extended reign.
Although such movements have been quashed in the past, all the signs are that Navalny has learned from those mistakes.
Instead of focusing on just Moscow and St. Petersburg, Navalny’s followers are looking to tap into the heartland of Russia, going for industrial heartlands such as Izhevsk instead.
He isn’t expected to win this election, but it doesn’t matter. Navalny’s trump card is to call the election void before it even takes place, calling for his supporters to boycott the vote in March.
By demoting Russia from a democracy to a dictatorship the prospect of a spring uprising becomes more of a reality.
If the country is indeed as corrupt as he pertains, participating in its political processes is pointless. Better move to overthrow its establishments entirely, which is precisely what Navalny is trying to do.
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