Little political change
Anti-Americanism, too, brought back Cold War memories as Putin and his associates accused the United States of having a hand in the protests. The activities of institutions funded by the U.S. government, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, were restricted. Then USAID was abruptly kicked out of the country. Opposition leaders were targeted for any association with foreigners.
And, perhaps most significantly, authorities brought embezzlement charges against opposition leader and blogger Alexei Navalny, who has declared his presidential ambitions and is seen by many analysts as the one opposition figure most likely to be able to unite the anti-Putin movement’s often-fragmented groups. Navalny denies that he embezzled $500,000 from a timber company, and he says the charges are politically motivated. He faces up to 10 years in prison and says he expects to be convicted. The trial started last month.
Even a Romeo-and-Juliet romance between two night-and-day opposition leaders abruptly ended this year. The very public relationship between leftist street activist Ilya Yashin and Russian TV personality Ksenia Sobchak, frequently described as the country’s Paris Hilton, was for many a symbol of mainstream Russia’s embrace of the protest movement. But in February, Sobchak announced that she had married an actor, not Yashin. Her role in subsequent opposition activity has been subdued.
The problem, analysts said, has been translating street-level energy into actual political change.
“We see a desert of opposition strength in terms of leaders, in terms of platforms,” said Georgy Bovt, a columnist and political analyst. “They appeared almost incapable of developing almost any coherent platform that could attract any significant number of people.”
A small opposition rally held in Moscow on Sunday only served to reinforce the disunity within the protest movement, with some leaders saying that the event only sapped energy from the demonstration planned for Monday. But they acknowledged the frustrations of the past year.
“People got a little disappointed when they saw after these big events that nothing was happening,” said Tsarkov, the protest organizer. “They came out, they protested, and no one listened to them. So, now, they do not know what to do.”