Moscow — Thousands of people took to the streets in Russia’s far eastern city of Khabarovsk for the 24th consecutive day on Monday, continuing a rare spate of ongoing anti-Kremlin demonstrations in the region sparked by the arrest of a local politician.
Sergei Furgal, who defeated an unpopular incumbent for governor from Russian President’ Vladimir Putin’s ruling party in 2018, was arrested last month on charges relating to murders from 2004 and 2005 and transported to a jail in Moscow. Putin then appointed an acting governor, Mikhail Degtyaryov, who had no connection to the region.
While Furgal’s arrest was seen by many as politically motivated, Degtyaryov’s appointment, which wasn’t welcomed locally, pushed the demonstrations in a more anti-Kremlin direction.
Chants of “Russia without Putin,” “We are power here,” and “Give us Furgal back” were heard at the protest on Saturday that drew some 10,000 people despite pouring rain, according to local media. Official estimates put the crowd at roughly 3,500.
While anti-Kremlin demonstrations are common in Russia’s capital Moscow, as well as its second-largest city, St. Petersburg, they are rare in more remote areas.
Sergei Alov, a Khabarovsk resident, told CBS News in a telephone interview he had never witnessed such large protests in the region before. He noted that the popular governor’s dismissal had united both long-time Putin supporters and an opposition-minded young generation.
“It is a very mixed crowd,” said Alov, who has been participating in the protests since they started over three weeks ago. He said he was surprised that thousands of people have gotten involved. “I myself voted for Furgal, but I didn’t take any interest in the political life,” he added.
Though Putin’s approval rating remains high across Russia, his popularity has been declining due to economic difficulties worsened by the coronavirus outbreak.
Khabarovsk police have not attempted to crack down on the unsanctioned demonstrations, though a few people have been detained, including a local blogger known for his coverage of the protests. Despite receiving hardly any coverage in state-run media, a recent survey by the independent pollster Levada Center showed that 83 percent of Russians knew about the demonstrations in Khabarovsk, with 45 percent viewing them positively.
Although similar protests have been popping up in other eastern cities, Moscow hasn’t changed its approach.
“Khabarovsk demands from the Kremlin new rules of the game, while the federal vertical of power is trying its best to show that it is not going to step back from the existing rules,” political journalist Andrei Pertsev wrote in a commentary for Carnegie Moscow.