Staunton, April 20 – Some Russians recognize that Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea was simply wrong, others are upset that absorbing the Ukrainian peninsula is costing so much money, but now a third group is angry about Crimea less for those reasons than because of the behavior of officials in Crimea and of former Crimean officials in Moscow.
Two days ago, as they have every 18th of the month since the end of 2016, Russians angered by the heavy-handed Russian repression of Crimean Tatars and others on that peninsula demonstrated in order to show their support for the political prisoners there (ru.krymr.com/a/28439729.html).
Vsevolod Nelayev, the organizer of this campaign of individual picketers in St. Petersburg, says that “the overwhelming majority of passersby are sympathetic to the picketers. There is a handful who are aggressive and express their anger and also a very few who approach, voice their support, and even ask to be photographed together.”
This week, he adds, “only one man approached him and offered his hand but I couldn’t speak with him very long. The police first checked my documents and then took me to the station. As it turned out, they were detaining me for a sign I carried a month earlier, when I stood with a placard declaring ‘According to the Budapest Memorandum, Crimea is Ukraine.’”
“I consider that such actions are useful” given that thousands of people see out signs, Nelayev says. They show sympathy and support. Indeed, he said he “sometimes encounters understanding in the eyes of the police.” And because “from time to time, new activists join the movement, this means we aren’t picketing for nothing.
In many ways, Nelayev’s 18th of the month pickets are normal opposition behavior and may not reflect the views of many more than those taking part in the actions themselves. But there is another source of opposition that is broader and that is causing even some who supported Putin’s Crimean policy to change their mind.
According to such people, “we got Crimea, but we also got Poklonskaya,” a reference to Natalya Poklonskaya, a Crimean prosecutor who now serves in the Duma and who has distinguished herself by her attacks on the movie “Mathilda” and her deification of Nicholas II (ru.krymr.com/a/28439809.html).
To the extent that Russians begin to conclude that absorbing Crimea has led to problems inside Russia that affect them – and such statements indicate that this is a very real possibility -- that will be another reason for a further softening in Russian support for Putin’s aggressive policy there.