What does the Putin pushback look like in Russia? In one remarkable turn of events last week, authorities came under so much pressure after arresting investigative journalist Ivan Golunov and fabricating charges against him, that they ended up dropping all charges and releasing him. In a country where journalists who publish material critical of the Kremlin turn up dead, the government’s reaction to the growing wave of protests reveals a regime nervous about the public.
Just as noteworthy was the passion that drove the backlash against Golunov’s arrest. Journalists and other Russians took enormous risks, massing in front of the police headquarters to demand his release. Three major newspapers, normally faithful to the Kremlin, published banner headlines proclaiming, “We Are Ivan Golunov.” Putin perhaps worried about appearing weak before ordering that the charges against Golunov be dropped—but he had good reason to fear an emboldened populace.
Meanwhile, the Russian economy, though out of recession, is barely growing. The economic boom that fueled Putin’s popularity faded after oil prices collapsed years ago. Living standards are falling, and the government’s efforts to curb expenses have sparked a furious reaction.