Story highlights

Russian protests signal a change in the narrative of Russian politics, prominent Russia watcher says

Young people are denying the status quo of Putin's power

CNN —  

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has 30 days to ponder his next political move from prison after being found guilty of calling repeatedly for unlawful protests.

The protest leader is one of almost 1,400 people detained during mass protests Monday, a sign the Kremlin has little patience for Russians who are turning to him for new leadership.

While turnout for the Russia Day demonstrations was said to be lower than mass protests in March, Navalny’s influence was clear as protesters jostled with police and yelled anti-Putin messages.

Jill Dougherty, a Russia expert and former CNN Moscow bureau chief, said Navalny was likely to be plotting his next demonstration in the lead up to the presidential election next year.

“Right now he’s thinking, ‘what’s next’.. In some way he’s going to have a protest, but how and where is a tactical question. I’m sure he’s looking for opportunities,” she says. “(Holding Monday’s protests) on Russia Day was definitely a tactical decision. He jumped on that.”

The arrests topped detentions following similar, Navalny-led protests in March. Then, as many as 700 protesters – including Navalny – were arrested, according to OVD.

Presidential contender?

Navalny is seeking candidacy in next year’s presidential election – something which, given his popularity amongst the country’s youth, Putin would rather avoid.

His campaign comes despite him being convicted of embezzlement and given a suspended sentence in February. Russian laws prohibit convicted people from running for office. Navalny says the charges against him are politically motivated.

“According to Russian media, 70% of people at Monday’s protest were in their teens or early 20s,” says Dougherty, from the Evans School at the University of Washington.

“The Kremlin looks at these kids who are now maybe 17 or 18 and they know they’re going to be voters in 2018, so they’re trying to discourage them from support Navalny. There’s a big outreach planned toward young people encouraging them that the government is on their side.”

But Monday’s protests and March’s Navalny-organized anti-corruption demonstrations are evidence the government’s grip on the political narrative is weakening, says one seasoned Kremlin-watcher.

“The significance of the event today, and the significance of the event at the end of March, is that the Kremlin is still making an impression that they control everything – they set the rules, they set the boundaries, politics is monopolized by Putin, (and) they decide how it’s going to develop,” Arkady Ostrovsky, Russia and Eastern Europe editor for the Economist, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

He says the 41-year-old Navalny is “completely ignoring this rule, saying, you’re fooling yourselves.”

Ostrovsky says that while the Kremlin insists that they “control the rules and Navalny is saying, ‘no you don’t any longer – look at these young people in the streets.’”