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Protests in Russia fizzle as Medvedev corruption case unravels

Police officers detain a man in the main street in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, April 2, 2017. Police in Moscow have detained about two dozen people at un-authorized rallies in the capital, a week after anti-government protests broke out across the country. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

The allegations of corruption made against Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev by the opposition activist and blogger Alexey Navalny have been given short shrift in – of all places – an article in the Washington Post.

In an unusual flurry of objective reporting, the Washington Post also admits that the turnout at follow on opposition rallies in Moscow on 2nd April 2017 was derisory and that Navalny – the individual the Western media regularly touts as the leader of Russia’s opposition – is widely disliked and has little support.

The protests on Sunday 2nd April 2017 were intended as a follow on to the protests called by Navalny the previous week.

I had previously estimated the total number of people who turned up to those protests at about 20,000 across the whole of Russia.  As I also reported it appeared that Russia’s ‘non-system’ liberal opposition agreed with this assessment, with one of the organisers putting the total number of people who had turned up for the protests across Russia at between 20,000 and 30,000.

Obviously this was not impressive enough for some people, and so over the course of the next few days the pro-opposition media in Russia and the West doubled that number to a still less than overwhelming 60,000.

That number is certainly too large.  It appears to originate in an unverifiable claim apparently first made by the pro-opposition radio station Ekho Moskvy that unlike the protests in 2011 and 2012 many more people protested outside Moscow than the 7,000 to 8,000 who protested in Moscow itself.

I am sure this was not the case.  I followed the contemporaneous rundown of the protests across the country provided by the independent news agency Interfax as the protests were underway.  Interfax is a highly reliable news agency, and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of its reporting.  In my opinion the claim that there were many more protesters outside Moscow than in Moscow is not only wrong, but looks like an attempt to draw attention away from the less than impressive turnout in Moscow itself by pretending that many more people turned out in the regions (where it is impossible for the international media to check the numbers) than actually did.  

As for the turnout in the follow on protests on Sunday 2nd April 2017, everyone including the Washington Post agrees this was derisory, with the protesters in Moscow outnumbered by the journalists present.   In the hours before the protests, as it became increasingly clear that turnout would be derisory, the ‘non-system opposition’ distanced itself from the protests, with Navalny denying that he had anything to do with them.

Unusually the Washington Post not only admits the incontrovertible fact that the turnout at the protests on Sunday 2nd April 2017 was derisory, but has now also admitted in a separate article that Navalny’s case that Medvedev is corrupt is based less on fact than on innuendo.  

Asked Friday whether the Russian parliament would look into the report, pro-Kremlin legislator Vyacheslav Nikonov dismissed it as a desperate attempt to get attention by an unpopular candidate. He also poured scorn on the way Navalny built his case against Medvedev, which relies on connections to the premier’s former classmates, Instagram photos that appear to place Medvedev on one of the yachts or at one of the estates, and garishly colored sneakers and shirts that were sent to one of the companies and were identical to ones worn by Medvedev in pictures and videos shown in the video.

Piecing together the evidence, Navalny concluded that without a doubt, Medvedev, who has frequently spoken of the need to fight official corruption, is “one of the richest people in the country and one of the most corrupt bureaucrats.

One former classmate linked to companies and charities mentioned in the scheme denied any connection, and Nikonov countered that Navalny’s accusations boiled down to the fact that “Medvedev wears pink sneakers.”

In an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio, Ilya Shumanov, a deputy head of the Russian branch of Transparency International, agreed that Navalny has failed to make an irrefutable case that Medvedev benefited financially from his acquaintances.

Elsewhere, in its article about the protests on 2nd April 2017, the Washington Post article actually admits that Navalny is extremely unpopular

But Navalny himself faces a bigger problem. He was once popular enough to win 27 percent of the vote in a 2013 Moscow mayoral election reportedly slanted in favor of the Kremlin’s candidate. But in the course of a week, I couldn’t find anyone who would say they like him.

And it’s not because Navalny has dabbled in unsightly nationalism in the past, endorsing Russia’s war against Georgia in 2008, using racist epithets to describe Georgians (for which he later apologized), calling for the deportation of illegal immigrants (sound like anyone you know?). Those issues are actually kind of mainstream in today’s Moscow.

The authorities, through state media, have cast Navalny as a stooge of Western elites, someone with no plans for how he’d lead and who issues slanderous videos to grab attention to raise his profile. And they’ve made sure that television viewers know he has been twice convicted in a fraud case he says is political.

If even the Washington Post and Transparency International are casting doubt on the allegations of corruption against Medvedev, and if even the Washington Post is admitting that Navalny is unpopular, then there is no excuse for anyone to retain any illusions either that Medvedev is going soon or that Navalny has any prospect of being elected Russia’s President.

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