Russia’s nationalists blame migrants and other non-ethnic Russians for crime and want to restrict immigration to their diverse country. The more extreme among them want to expand Russia’s territory to the historical limits of its empire and plot anti-immigrant violence that has many of them locked away. Liberal activists want social reforms that would improve the country’s struggling educational system, give poor Russians an extra hand and better integrate Russia with the West.
The groups share a desire to fight corruption and bolster their voice in government, but they have long focused on their differences, not their common goals. Leaders on both sides have expressed surprise that they are working together.
“This is a new factor in Russian political life,” said Andrei Piontkovsky, a liberal political analyst. “Today, with our immediate national task of displacing Putin, this is a real political alliance. Tomorrow, we would be opponents on a different political theme.”
In the days after the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections, liberals and nationalists protested together, united in part by the 15-day detention of Alexei Navalny, a blogger and anti-corruption activist. Although Navalny appeals to both groups, he has worked to maintain his support from nationalists, participating in the Russian March, an annual event that draws people who chant anti-immigrant slogans and sometimes give the Nazi salute. He was kicked out of the reformist Yabloko party in 2007 for his nationalist activism.
Organizers from both sides say he is the one person who appeals to both camps, although some view him with suspicion for that reason.
In the middle are the people who, until earlier this month, steered clear of politics. But many sympathize with the nationalists’ stance of putting Russians first even if they don’t identify with the leaders. A November poll by the independent Levada Center found that 59 percent of Russians surveyed thought favorably about the nationalist slogan “Russia for Russians.”
Analysts say the nationalists’ involvement in the movement against Putin could give them a prominent platform to air their cause.
“Nationalist ideas are rather popular among the population,” said Alexander Verkhovsky, the head of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, which tracks nationalist groups. “But regular people who feel humiliated and fed up with Putin will never support extremists.”