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Russia watchers are looking for signs of change since the appointment of a new mayor for Moscow late last week.
Sergei Sobyanin, a close confidante of all-powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was given quick (and nominal) parliamentary approval on Thursday and inaugurated hours later.
Sobyanin has long been a powerful behind-the-scenes player, loyally serving Putin in various roles throughout his presidency and subsequent premiership. He’s 100 percent Putin’s man. So what changes can we expect?
For one, Moscow authorities have recently allowed the liberal opposition to hold a rally, expanding initial approval for just a couple hundred participants to 800. They even granted the opposition the spot they wanted — at a public square in the heart of Moscow that Luzhkov unceremoniously shut for construction when protestors kept showing up there despite official bans.
Great news, right?
First, enter Russia’s disheveled opposition, quickly erupting into internal squabbling as rival divas seek to lead the debate. Longtime activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva welcomed the authorities’ decision and promptly said the Oct. 31 protest would go ahead as planned. A bunch of others frothed at the mouth since their request for a 1,500-person protest was not accepted in full.
The result? The opposition has split (this all happened in a matter of hours) and now two protests will be held at the square on Sunday afternoon.
And here’s the good bit. As the squabbling continues, and the authorities probably look on with glee, another group of unhappy Russians was given quick permission to hold a rally of their own. The Slavic Union, Russia’s biggest neo-Nazi group, said authorities approved their request for a 10,000-strong protest to be held on Nov. 4.
“This is the first year when they gave us approval for a rally in practically 10 days,” Slavic Union head Dmitry Demushkin told Interfax.
The group marches every Nov. 4, chanting slogans like “Russia for Russians!” and glorifying Hitler. Anyone who does not look ethnically Russian is advised to stay indoors, and racial killings and beatings tend to jump that day. The group was banned last year, so why they’re being given permission to hold a rally makes little sense indeed.
Sadly, there’s little question which rally will draw more participants. So, who is Russia’s true opposition?