Putin Doesn't Appear Worried About Anti-Government Demonstrations In Russia

Jun 11, 2017
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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

Turning to Russia now. President Vladimir Putin once said the people protesting in the streets without government permission deserve to be clubbed in the head, which is quite a set up for tomorrow because that's when anti-government demonstrations are planned in more than 200 cities across Russia. Yet, President Putin, a leader at the center of so much news here in the United States, doesn't appear all that vulnerable. To help us understand why, we're joined by NPR's David Greene, co-host of Morning Edition. He's in Moscow for a reporting trip. Hello, David.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Hey, Lakshmi. How are you?

SINGH: I'm well. Thank you. So let's begin by asking, how worried does Vladimir Putin seem to be about tomorrow?

GREENE: Well, I don't think he seems that worried at all and - though, I don't want to say he's not worried. I mean, any time there are protests in this country, it can be unpredictable. You've got this segment of society that's really upset about corruption and also Vladimir Putin's disregard for human rights. And the government - it looks like they're giving permits for many of these protests.

And so Putin it looks like is trying to manage this. But if the numbers swell, if there are arrests, if there are clashes with police, you just don't know where this is going to go. So, you know, this is a country that for anyone to actually go out on the streets and protest their government, it's courageous. It's significant. But few think, at this point, that this is any sort of major threat to Putin.

SINGH: Why does Putin have such a stronghold?

GREENE: I mean, I think there are a number of reasons for that. You look at polls and, you know, while polling is not totally reliable in this country, a lot of Russians like him. Putin rules this country with a lot of fear, and that makes it hard for any opposition movement to really gather steam. And Putin's party, United Russia - I mean, they basically run every level of government, and that means he has surrounded himself by people who just don't challenge him.

And I just - I want to introduce you to this voice, and it's one of the memorable voices of the trip I have to say. It's someone in Putin's party. His name is Vitaly Milonov. He's a member of the duma - or the federal legislature - and I was chatting with him actually about President Trump's election victory and the women's marches in the United States.

VITALY MILONOV: I saw some pictures from the marches after Trump won, with the female organs, you know, on the heads. And, of course, it's not for woman. Normal woman is nice, and sexy and not this male-looking...

GREENE: I just - I feel like I have to say there are many people in the U.S. who would hear this kind of thing and be very, very offended by what you're saying.

MILONOV: What?

GREENE: Characterizing women like that.

MILONOV: I think that America is still nice, quiet village in some parts. And all these disgusting liberals, all these designers from New York - they're not a part of a quiet America.

SINGH: Wow. Provocative remarks from Milonov.

GREENE: Yeah, I would say so. And maybe intentionally. So we were warned that he likes to be kind of outrageous. But the fact that he's a member of the legislature in Putin's party - it really is a reminder that this is not a country where everyone is clamoring to adopt what Milonov referred to as Western values. And he said he doesn't want Putin to cave to any sort of liberal pressure and neither do a lot of Russians.

SINGH: Who's organizing the protests tomorrow, then?

GREENE: The leader of this day tomorrow is a young lawyer Alexei Navalny. He emerged a couple of years ago. His big issue is wiping out corruption, and that's a priority that even many Putin supporters have. So he's calling for people to get out there. And, you know, Lakshmi, there's a presidential election planned in Russia next year. And some see Navalny as a legitimate challenger to Vladimir Putin. But Navalny has already spent time in prison, and Putin could just decide to not let him run. I mean, that's the way this country works.

SINGH: What about security for Navalny?

GREENE: That's the big, open question. The government is suggesting that this is going to be sanctioned events, which would mean they would provide some sort of security. But, you know, Lakshmi, I've been here before for protests. It's never clear how things are going to go - if it's going to remain organized, if police are going to allow it to happen or if there are going to be some clashes. It's really an open question, and I think the government keeps it kind of deliberately murky.

SINGH: David Greene, co-host of Morning Edition. He is in Moscow. Thank you so much, David.

GREENE: You're welcome, Lakshmi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.