Russian authorities are ramping up the pressure on those who disagree with them. The government has already arrested one opposition activist and raided several others’ homes. The push aims to quiet dissent ahead of a September election. But with every grounded flight, kidnapping, and arrest associated with the Russia government, the world sees further proof of the truth of Proverbs 29:2: “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.”
Andrei Pivovarov was the head of the former Open Russia movement. He was pulled off a Warsaw-bound plane at St. Petersburg’s airport just before takeoff late Monday. He was being taken to Krasnodar in southern Russia yesterday as part of a criminal probe.
Also on Tuesday, police raided the home of opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov. The former lawmaker hoped to run for parliament in September. At least two of Gudkov’s associates also had their homes searched.
The actions are part of a multi-pronged Russian government attack on opposition. Most analysts believe the crackdown is part of the authorities’ efforts to prevent anyone from mounting a challenge to the Kremlin-backed United Russia party in the September 19 parliamentary election. United Russia’s popularity has waned amid the nation’s recent economic woes—so the government is trying other tactics.
Last week, Pivovarov shut down Open Russia, hoping to protect its members from prosecution. The closure came after Russian authorities designated Open Russia as “undesirable.”
The government has already outlawed more than 30 groups under a 2015 law that makes membership in “undesirable” organizations a criminal offense. Another bill now in the works will increase the punishment for members of those groups.
Pivovarov’s lawyers posted a letter Tuesday on Instagram. In it, the jailed leader said, “There is no cause for joy, but I don’t feel despondent.” He added: “There is a plan to put any people with a different view under arrest, but such people already are the majority.”
The lawyers say Russian authorities filed the charges against Pivovarov after he declared Open Russia’s closure.
Natalia Zviagina, the director of Amnesty International’s Moscow office, says, “The Russian authorities must end reprisals against their political opponents and other critical voices in the country.”
In March, police briefly detained about 200 participants of a meeting of municipal council members that Open Russia helped organize.
Putin’s most determined political foe, Alexei Navalny, was arrested in January upon his return from Germany. He had spent five months there recovering from a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. The government sentenced him to two and a half years in prison in February. (See Navalny Re-arrested.)
In April, Navalny went on a 24-day hunger strike to protest the lack of medical treatment in prison. He ended the strike last month after getting the medical attention he demanded.
On Monday, he asked a court to halt the hourly night-time checks in his cell. He argues the checks “effectively amount to torture,” telling the judge that “you would go mad in a week” if subjected to such regular wake-ups.
With Navalny in prison, prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to label his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his network of regional offices as extremist groups. At the same time, officials are proposing another bill to bar members, donors, and supporters of extremist groups from seeking public office. That measure would keep Navalny’s associates from running for parliament in September. Groaning indeed.
(Andrei Pivovarov is taken from his apartment building after being arrested in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Ruslan Terekhov/SOTA via AP)