After Alexei Navalny’s arrest in January 2021, the opposition movement broke into factions. Where there once was a semi-organized opposition with several political parties opposing Vladimir Putin’s rule, the movement currently holds no clear political figurehead.
As the Russian military is turning its attention to Eastern-Ukraine, the state has only increased imprisonment of those who oppose the war domestically.
“Right now the entire opposition has been dispersed, there are no physical leaders. There needs to be some form of self-organization.” Victor*, a civil-leader of the Russian opposition in Novosibirsk, says.
Yet this self-organization has come at a cost. Last month Victor’s companions were arrested. For their actions they got a hefty fine or ended up in jail.
Because of the heavy intimidation by the government and pro-Putin loyalists, the Siberian city in the middle of Russia’s territory has seen its opposition dwindle. “In Siberia protests is now almost at zero.” Victor says.
Due to the recent intimidation by authorities, a lack of political leadership, and the rise of loyalists to the regime, Siberia has become a dangerous place. “The police used to at least try to stay within the law. Now they don’t, and that’s really scary.” Sasha*, a civil leader of Novosibirsk’s opposition, says.
Victor believes that “Supporters of Russia’s invasion are playing dirty tricks.” The tricks Victor is refering to is the destruction of any anti-war symbols around the city. But the problems the opposition is facing aren’t exclusive to Siberia.
At the time of writing the Russian government has arrested more than 15 thousand civilians who oppose the war.
The deconstruction of the Russian opposition started in 2015. When Boris Nemtsov, former governor of Nizhny Novogrod, was assasinated in Moscow. When Navalny was poisoned, and later arrested, the opposition broke down even further.
The Russian state began closing down opposition party offices and arresting anti-governmental vocalists. And, as of, the 24th February has transitioned to arresting anti-war vocalists as well.
“If we talk about the Russian opposition until recently, it consisted of the headquarters of Navalny’s organization,” Nina*, Victor’s wife says. “When the FBK was recognized as extremist, their activities became prohibited.”
In the beginning of 2020 the Russian government outlawed Navalny’s FBK. Not much later Navalny shut down all operations.
“Here in Novosibirsk, the head of the FBK office almost became mayor in 2019. Now he is abroad because a criminal case has been opened against him. He has a choice now, either go back to Russia and straight to jail, or continue his activities – at least from abroad.” Nina continues.
Although there are still some politicians inside Russia who vocally disagree with Putin’s regime, their voices are either undermined, do not have the potential to become politicians, or have too radical views to really lead the opposition.
Yevgeny Roizman, member of the social-democratic party A Just Russia; “Has always been a controversial character. I don’t accept his wild views on the treatment of drug addicts for example’’ Sasha says.
In a report from the BBD, Roizman ran a drug rehabilitation organization that chained patients to their beds and deprived them of food. His actions caused humanitarian outrage. With many organizations filling complaints.
Only after human rights organizations filled their complaints did the treatment within the rehabilitation centers soften. It’s unclear if the organization City Without Drugs is still active.
There are some political voices who are respected throughout the opposition. Yet these individuals hold little chance to become formal members within the government. “The Russian government is mostly targeting people who can become real politicians.”
Apart from the people with political aspirations the Russian government is also targeting those who can go under the radar.
With most of the political voices imprisoned or residing far from the borders of Russia’s territory the opposition has become isolated.
“In my opinion, there is no opposition in Russia. If we are talking about some real political force, then this is practically impossible in modern reality, because there is no dialogue with the authorities.” Zed*, a civil member of the Novosibirsk opposition says.
*Sources have been altered for the protection of identities
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