At least 50,000 Russians took to the streets of Khabarovsk in eastern Russia this weekend to oppose President Vladimir Putin, the New York Times reported Saturday.
The intensity and size of the protests have "little precedent in modern Russia," the Times said. Anti-Putin activists estimate that between 50,000 and 100,000 Russians attended these events. The protests come in response to the arrest and detainment of local governor Sergei I. Furgal on charges of murder allegedly committed in the early 2000s.
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Many speculate that the arrest of Furgal—who beat a Kremlin-backed candidate’s bid for the governorship of Khabarovsk in 2018—indicates Putin’s interest in limiting political dissent. Putin recently enacted constitutional changes which allow him to remain president until 2036.
"The very fact that they could not find anything more fresh to accuse [Furgal] of is a clear signal that this is an act of political repression," said Russian political analyst Nikolai Petrov. "They are telling local elites that if they can arrest a sitting governor for crimes going back 15 or 20 years then they can arrest anyone."
Russia remains on aggressive footing with the West, launching new high-tech space weaponry and attempting to revise the history of Soviet occupation in the Baltic states. To strengthen itself geopolitically, Moscow is also entertaining a closer alliance with China.
Though muted, fierce criticism is circulating through the autocratic regime. Putin’s behavior is "shameless," says Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of Furgal’s rightist party. "You are sitting in high office and start acting like Stalin!"