Protests have been instrumental in voicing people’s dissent against Russia’s harsh policies and creating landslide wins in elections for its opponents. Perhaps this is why President Putin is in a state of worry over the state of affairs in the far east.Protests erupted in the Russian city of Khabarovsk following the arrest of Sergei Furgal, governor of the region. The alleged charges pinned on the governor are of 4 murders, allegedly committed in 2004-2005.
Khabarovsk, a frozen hinterland bordering China, has long been a neglected territory under Putin. However, Furgal, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, won people’s support and votes, winning him the elections in 2018 against a Kremlin-backed candidate. He was liked by people, in comparison to the other mostly corrupt leaders, for his open disapproval of the Kremlin’s policies.
Furgal’s increasing popularity and Putin’s lack thereof threatened Putin’s win in the upcoming elections in september, triggering investigations into the governor’s past business of scrap metal, which led to his former partner accusing him of the murders that took place 15 years ago. However, many claim that the charges are bogus, and are an attempt to depose him as Putin’s approval ratings in the region witness a massive fall. To protect his interests, a plebiscite allowing Putin to continue his term until 2036, which earlier would have ended in 2024, was recently passed.
Sergei Furgal has pleaded not guilty to the charges in a Moscow court last month. His sudden, unofficial arrest, coupled with Putin’s passive response to the pandemic, a collapsing economy and rising environmental concerns especially after the Norilsk diesel oil spill in May, have finally taken a toll on the Kremlin’s rule. Tens of thousands of people poured out on streets demanding Furgal’s release and Putin’s resignation. Daily rallies have spread from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok, and Irkutsk in Siberia. Local news stations did not report on the rallies, instead continued their international coverage, clearly showing the bias and Putin’s grip of national media. The protests are charged with an increasing sense of regionalism and disapproval of Putin’s dictator rule. His decision to pacify protestors by replacing Furgal with a member from the same party backfired as the new governor, Mikhail Degtyaryov, an apparatchik lacking managerial experience, did not appeal to the people.
Sergei Furgal’s arrest over crimes allegedly committed 15 years ago are a stark reminder to future candidates of Putin’s absolute power in the country and his questionable regime.