MOSCOW-Russia’s protests in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny this weekend are a challenge before President Vladimir Putin in managing social discontent ahead of this year’s parliamentary elections.
Saturday’s unannounced rallies were one of the biggest in recent years and he told thousands of people about the possibility of an epidemic and the chaos, given the cold temperatures. Security forces detained more than 3,500 people in at least nine years, according to independent surveillance.
The protests have left the Kremlin facing a dilemma: either bending under pressure from the street and reducing its authority by releasing Mr Navalny or risking for more remorse and unifying the opposition by putting him behind bars.
“There are some good options for Putin,” said Abbas Galmov, a Moscow-based political consultant and former speech writer for Mr. Putin. “It seems like Navalny is attacking and the Kremlin is defending.”
Mr Putin’s approval ratings have gained momentum in recent years amid a sluggish economy and protest activity. Observers say Navalny’s demonstrations could threaten Mr Putin’s dominance even if he was allowed to remain in power until 2036 despite constitutional changes last year.