June 16, 2019


Russia just had a mini popular uprising (Roman Dobrokhotov, 6/16/19, Al Jazeera)

But just as the arrest was unprecedented, so was the reaction of Russian society. Almost immediately after the news spread, a huge queue formed in front of the central office of the Moscow police. People were lined up for their turn to stand in an individual picket line, the only form of protest that does not require prior permission from the authorities. The picketing continued overnight.

Then three of the biggest independent newspapers - Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBC - were published on June 10 with the same front page: "We are all Ivan Golunov". There was so much noise about the arrest that it completely overshadowed the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, where Putin was trying to convince investors to put their money into Russia.

The outpouring of solidarity with Golunov was so strong that public figures who did not express enough support also faced a backlash. For example, a member of the presidential media pool, Andrei Kolesnikov, reportedly had to delete a Facebook post about the arrest after he received a barrage of critical comments from readers who found his words too cautious. Even people who would not normally engage in politics would discuss his arrest and change their avatars to messages in solidarity with Golunov.

Soon a planned protest was announced in downtown Moscow, to be held without permission from the authorities.

The reaction of the Kremlin towards the public outrage was equally unprecedented. The case threw state media into total confusion. Some propagandists supported the arrest, while others either backed Golunov outright or demanded that the messy case be sorted out and all evidence made public.

Then the unexpected happened: On June 11 Golunov was set free.

Russian authorities very rarely let anyone go under public pressure. On one of those rare occasions, opposition politician Alexei Navalny was released in 2013 - after being sentenced to five years in prison - following a spontaneous demonstration the authorities feared could turn into mass unrest. 

But this time, the authorities acted even more out of character. Golunov was not only released, he was also pronounced innocent, while the police officers involved in the planting of evidence were dismissed and, in fact, might themselves face a court case.

This basically meant that the state - for the first time in years - actually admitted to falsification of evidence in a politically motivated case.

Posted by at June 16, 2019 9:16 AM