Russia's Crackdown Ahead of Crimea's Referendum

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, bemoaning the lack of "calm" on Russia's streets, images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, bemoaning the lack of “calm” on Russia's streets, images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Months into the protests in Kiev at Maidan, Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky gave a speech [ru] on the parliament floor, where he lashed out at Russian bloggers and opposition members for disrupting the nation's “calm.” Zhirinovsky, the firebrand leader of Russia's misleadingly-named Liberal Democratic Party, singled out environmental activist Yevgeniya Chirikova, politician Boris Nemtsov, and anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny, arguing that the latter two figures belonged under house arrest, in order to restore quiet to Russia. (Zhirinovsky cited the house arrest of protest figure Sergei Udaltsov as a precedent for taking politically troublesome Russians off the streets.)

At the time of Zhirinovsky's speech, Nemtsov was serving out a ten-day imprisonment after being arrested at an unsanctioned demonstration in Moscow. A court soon sentenced Navalny, who was in jail with Nemtsov, to house arrest on dubious accusations that he'd violated restrictions on his movement within Moscow. Russia's most prominent blogger is now barred from using the Internet or speaking to anyone outside his family.

These moves came in the same week that hostilities mounted in the Crimea, where the Kremlin allegedly deployed thousands of troops in violation of its basing agreement with the Ukrainian government. Navalny's new political party, incidentally, has strongly stated its opposition [ru] to Russian intervention in Ukraine.

In a Facebook post [ru] last week, Nemtsov also expressed his opposition to a war with Ukraine:

Пока я под арестом, Совет Ярославской Думы (!!!!)поддержал решение Совета федерации о вводе войск на территорию Украины. Единогласно. Так вот, господа депутаты. Я категорически против ввода российских войск. Я категорически против братоубийственной войны с Украиной.

While I am under arrest, the Council of the Duma of Yaroslavl (!!!!) upheld the decision of the Council of the Federation to invade the territory of Ukraine. Unanimously. So, dear deputies, I am categorically against Russian troops. I am totally against the fratricidal war with Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Chirikova's Moscow-based “ecological defense” organization joined an anti-war statement [ru] by several Ukrainian NGOs.

“March 15, 2014, Moscow, The March for Peace,” banner from Facebook event.

Amidst the crackdown on Russia's civil society leaders, eyes now turn to March 15, when Muscovites will demonstrate against Russian intervention in Ukraine, a day before Crimean voters decide between secession and expanded autonomy. At the time of this writing, roughly 2,600 Facebook users have RSVPd for the rally in Moscow. Another 22,000 people have been invited.

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