Samara Crackdown before the Dissenters’ March

The May 18 Other Russia ‘Dissenters’ March’ in Samara (17:00 local time, 16:00 Moscow, 12 noon GMT) was officially approved by the town council and mayor of Samara. (Albeit after pressure from the German government.) The deputy mayor signed our application himself. But Other Russia organizers and activists have been harassed and detained constantly by security forces of every kind as the Kremlin does its worst to suppress attendance. Today several more were detained upon arrival at the Samara train station. They included Denis Bilunov, executive director of Kasparov’s United Civil Front, who was held for six hours “on suspicion he was carrying counterfeit money.” Instead they found 95,000 real rubles ($3,675 US), which the Kremlin-controlled websites trumpeted as proof that Kasparov is attempting to fund an ‘orange revolution.’ Bilunov’s case was conducted by several heavyweight authorities, including the deputy chief of the FSB in the Samara province. (Denis adds that they left the order for his arrest sitting on the table where he could see it and it had come from Moscow.) Sergei Udasltsov of Vanguard of Red Youth was also picked up by authorities upon arrival in Samara.

The Other Russia had agreements with two local radio stations and a local TV station to run our commercials advertising the march. All have been dropped without explanation. Even the local Echo of Moscow station refuses to air a paid commercial for an officially approved rally. It goes without saying they must have been put under tremendous pressure. And due to the confiscations of materials and detention of staff, for the first time we were unable to publish our newsletter to promote the march.

This level of harassment exceeds that of all previous events. The Kremlin wants to keep the streets clear of protestors while the EU-Russia summit continues in Samara, but without formally banning — or beating — our activists in front of their European guests. Garry Kasparov arrives in Samara on Friday morning with an entourage of mostly Western journalists (the Kremlin has nothing to fear from their pet Russian press). Will Putin’s security forces arrest him on more concocted charges? Will Merkel and the other EU representatives in Samara turn a blind eye as peaceful opposition activists are swept from the streets by security forces?