Protests Over The Arrest Of A Popular Governor Continue For 3rd Week In Russia
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
As protests over racial injustice continue to rage across the U.S., in Russia thousands of people are also taking to the streets. For the 20th day in a row, people in the far east of the country marched to protest the arrest of a popular governor. Their anger was first directed at government bureaucrats in Moscow 4,000 miles away, but now that anger is increasingly directed at President Vladimir Putin himself.
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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking Russian).
CHANG: That is the sound of people protesting today, and they're shouting, Putin, resign. NPR's Lucian Kim joins us now from Moscow. Hey, Lucian.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hey.
CHANG: So who is this governor? I mean, why did his arrest spark these protests?
KIM: His name is Sergei Furgal. He's a local businessman who amazingly beat the pro-Kremlin candidate in a landslide for governor of Khabarovsk region two years ago. And then earlier this month Furgal was arrested by masked federal agents and taken to a Moscow prison, where he's now in pretrial detention on charges of ordering contract killings 15 years ago. He says he's innocent, and a lot of people in Khabarovsk have taken to the streets to support him.
CHANG: So if this governor is being charged with crimes for involvement in contract killings, why are people there so upset?
KIM: Well, people are upset because they feel Moscow has overruled their democratic choice, and they're also angry that he will stand trial there and not in Khabarovsk. Khabarovsk region borders the Pacific Ocean and China, and people there feel forgotten and neglected by the federal government in Moscow. I spoke with one protester. His name is Vitaly Blazhevich, and before the coronavirus pandemic, he taught Russian at a Chinese university.
VITALY BLAZHEVICH: I've been expecting that maybe the protest will go down. But every day when you come, you are experiencing - the protest is going up every day. I'm happy.
KIM: He says he didn't even vote for Furgal, but he's angry with the way that he's being treated.
CHANG: So do you think authorities are going to be cracking down on these protests? I mean, how long can they continue?
KIM: The Kremlin finds itself in a tough position. There are so many protesters that they can't use force and throw everybody in jail. And if the Kremlin ignores the protest, they run the risk of other regions getting the same idea. I asked Nina Khrushcheva, a Russia expert at The New School in New York, how dangerous she thinks the protests are.
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: They don't really have a leader. And those protests are probably the most dangerous because if the cause is Moscow has too much power, they can really spread like wildfire, especially there in Siberia in the Far East.
KIM: The protester I spoke to, Vitaly Blazhevich, said he was really angry that some protesters were being called into the police. And he said that's what brought him out every night this week. Saturdays have seen the biggest protests in Khabarovsk. Everybody will be watching what happens this weekend.
CHANG: That is NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Thank you, Lucian.
KIM: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.