The Russian crackdown just went to the next level

We were recently assured by the Washington Post that Joe Biden had made it clear to Vladimir Putin on their phone call this week that his treatment of Alexei Navalny and his supporters who have been holding protests around the country was unacceptable and the Russian president needed to mend his ways. Perhaps the White House needs to hire a new Russian translator or something because Putin clearly didn’t get the message. In the following 24 hours, Russian police and military units broke into Navalny’s offices and home, along with dozens of other locations, arresting people from the dissident’s foundation and more members of his family. They also put Big Tech on notice that no social media posts supporting the protests would be allowed or action would be taken. (Associated Press)

Russian authorities on Thursday detained several allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and issued warnings to social media giants after tens of thousands of people took to the streets in over 100 Russian cities last weekend to demand his release.

The detention of Navalny’s brother Oleg, his top ally Lyubov Sobol, Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva from the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors and Maria Alyokhina from the Pussy Riot punk collective comes as authorities try to stem another wave of protests set for Sunday.

All four were detained for 48 hours as part of a criminal probe into alleged violations of coronavirus regulations during the weekend’s protests.

They had already arrested Navalny’s wife once and now they’ve taken his brother into custody. The offices of his Anti-Corruption Foundation were apparently cleaned out as Putin’s goons searched for more “evidence” to be used against the group.

The other development in Navalny’s case is that the appeal of his current detention is being heard in a Russian court today. His attorney sounds less than enthusiastic about his prospects. Of course, when Navalny was first arrested upon his return to Moscow from Germany, they didn’t even take him to a courthouse. They held a makeshift “trial” right inside the jailhouse, so perhaps going before an actual judge in a real courthouse is an improvement. But probably not much.

The lengths Putin will go to in his efforts to quash any dissent are both remarkable and predictable. But the orders he’s issuing to Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok and Russian social networks will put Big Tech back in the spotlight yet again. Putin is ordering them to block any posts expressing support for the next planned protests this weekend. Will they meekly comply, as some of them have done for the Chinese Communist Party in the past? It’s already been suggested that Russia might block all of the social networks inside the country if they don’t toe the line, with Putin’s spokesman saying that “relevant government agencies” would make a decision about that after they see how the social media giants respond. The Kremlin already announced fines to be imposed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and two Russian social networks earlier this week.

Putin has a legitimate revolt on his hands, but he’s been in this position before. He occasionally makes public statements about considering “reforms” in his government, but in the end, he just keeps locking people up and eliminating leaders of the resistance until the unrest dies down. It would be surprising indeed if this one ended any differently.