Clinton backers say they had good intel on Russia but did they see the general uprising?

NOBODY inside or outside Russia saw it coming. The government seemed to have established complete control over politics, marginalising the opposition with nationalist adventures in Ukraine and Syria. Vladimir Putin’s approval rating had stabilised at more than 80%. After Donald Trump’s victory in America, the Kremlin had proclaimed the threat of global liberalism to be over. And yet on March 26th, 17 years to the day after Mr Putin was first elected, tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets in nearly 100 cities to demonstrate against corruption, in the largest protests since 2012.

The protests began in Vladivostok and rolled across the country to Moscow and St Petersburg, which saw the largest crowds. Riot police arrested more than 1,000 people in Moscow alone. The state media ignored the demonstrations; the top Russian search engine, Yandex, manipulated its results to push reports of them down the page. The Kremlin was speechless.

The marches came in response to a call from Aleksei Navalny, an opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner who wants to run for president next year. Despite the government’s crackdown on activism, Mr Navalny has doggedly continued publishing exposés of corruption on social networks and YouTube, and expanding his volunteer organisation. His latest target is Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister. On March 2nd Mr Navalny released a film alleging that Mr Medvedev had used charities and shell companies to amass a collection of mansions, yachts and other luxuries. The video has been watched 15m times on the internet.

The decision to target Mr Medvedev was strategic. Whereas Mr Putin is praised for restoring Russia’s geopolitical power, Mr Medvedev is seen as weak and held responsible for Russia’s economic woes. He is often ridiculed for his taste for Western gadgets and frequent gaffes. (“We have no money, but you hang in there,” he told pensioners in Crimea last year.) He is equally disliked by security-service hardliners, such as Igor Sechin, Mr Putin’s closest confidant, and by moderate technocrats such as Aleksei Kudrin, a former finance minister. Yet the protests were not restricted to Mr Medvedev. Denis Lugovskoi, an engineering student who demonstrated in Orel, 325km (200 miles) south of Moscow, says they were aimed at the whole political elite.
There is more.

Like the end of the cold war, the intelligence agencies did not see this uprising coming either. It appears to be a different demographic from previous demonstrations.  This time it is mostly young people who are feeling the effects of the sanctions while the elites continue to bask in luxury.  The political elites in Russia appear to be as out of touch as the Czars were a hundred years ago.


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