Watching the passing masses of protesters chanting “Freedom!” and “Putin resign!” while passing drivers honked, applauded and offered high-fives, a sidewalk vendor selling little cucumbers and plastic cups of forest raspberries said she would join in, too, if she did not have to work.
“There will be a revolution,” the vendor, Irina Lukasheva, 56, predicted. “What did our grandfathers fight for? Not for poverty or for the oligarchs sitting over there in the Kremlin.”
The protests in Khabarovsk, a city 4,000 miles east of Moscow, drew tens of thousands of people for a three-mile march through central streets for the third straight week on Saturday. Residents were rallying in support of a popular governor arrested and spirited to Moscow this month — but their remarkable outpouring of anger, which has little precedent in post-Soviet Russia, has emerged as stark testimony to the discontent that President Vladimir V. Putin faces across the country.
Mr. Putin won a tightly scripted referendum less than four weeks ago that rewrote the Constitution to allow him to stay in office until 2036. But the vote, seen as fraudulent by critics and many analysts, provided little but a fig leaf for public disenchantment with corruption, stifled freedoms and stagnant incomes made worse by the pandemic.
“When a person lives not knowing how things are supposed to be, he thinks things are good,” said Artyom Aksyonov, 31, who is in the transportation business and who was handing out water from the trunk of his car to protesters under the baking sun in Lenin Square, on the protest route. “But when you open your eyes to the truth, you realize things were not good. This was all an illusion.”
Across Russia, fear of being detained by the police and the seeming hopelessness of effecting change has largely kept people off the streets. Many Russians also say that whatever Mr. Putin’s faults, the alternative could be worse or lead to greater chaos. For the most part, anti-Kremlin protests have been limited to a few thousand people in Moscow and other big cities, where the authorities usually crack down harshly. [Continue reading…]