Vladimir Putin imprisons those who don’t play by his rules

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

When he first took power, in 1999, Putin surprised people by offering lucrative jobs to some of the most troublesome regional leaders. If they accepted the jobs, then they were okay. They were playing by Putin’s new rules. But if they continued to defend the rights of their region, then they would face arrest or death.


Russian news media reported that 50,000 or more people had joined a rally in the capital of Khabarovsk Krai, a sprawling territory nearly 4,000 miles east of Moscow. Thousands more attended protests in other regional towns and in Vladivostok, a port city on the Pacific Ocean in neighboring Primorsky Krai.

The government in Khabarovsk, the regional capital, said in a statement that only 10,000 people had gathered “at the beginning” but gave no figure for the overall turnout. Police officers in Khabarovsk made no effort to stop what the authorities described as an “illegal” but peaceful protest and instead handed out face masks. In Vladivostok, however, a number of arrests were reported.

The protests began after the arrest on July 9 on murder charges of Khabarovsk’s governor, Sergei I. Furgal, one of a handful of regional leaders not affiliated with a party entirely controlled by the Kremlin.

The case has crystallized longstanding resentments in Russia’s far-flung regions toward Moscow, which is often seen as demanding loyalty while giving little in return. In a blow to local pride, the Kremlin responded to Mr. Furgal’s election victory in 2018 over its own candidate by rejiggering bureaucratic boundaries in the Far East to give primacy to Vladivostok, Khabarovsk’s longtime rival.

Mr. Furgal is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, a far-right outfit that has grown increasingly restive over its Kremlin-assigned role as a decorative and largely powerless “opposition” party in Russia’s tightly controlled political system.

In an interview with The New York Times this past week, the leader of the party, the nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky, complained that the Kremlin “treats us like idiots” and gives no space for real opposition. He said that after Mr. Furgal took office, the Kremlin had tried to get the new governor to quit the Liberal Democratic Party.

Protesters on Saturday focused their chants and banners on mostly local grievances, demanding that Mr. Furgal be returned to his home region and given a fair trial. They chanted “freedom, freedom” but muted the denunciations of President Vladimir V. Putin that were heard at earlier protests.

All the same, the large turnout, particularly unusual in Russia’s quiescent hinterland, posed a bold challenge to the Kremlin, exposing deep wells of public anger as Russia struggles with the economic damage left by the coronavirus pandemic and growing fatigue with political stagnation.