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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Avenues for Dissent Are Limited and Dangerous

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Peaceful protest is not a right accorded the subjects of Vladimir Putin's Russia. The violent clashes between riot police and pro-democracy demonstrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg over the weekend are business as usual for the president.

Several hundred protesters were arrested, including Garry Kasparov, who was taken into custody Saturday on his way to the square where the Moscow rally was held. A former world chess champion, Kasparov has won new prominence in recent years as Russia's leading democratic activist and the leader of The Other Russia, which organized the rallies.

Here is Kasparov's account of his arrest: "We were walking down the middle of the pedestrian walkway, not holding any flags or even shouting," he said in a statement. "They cut us off on both sides and when we stepped into a cafe the police pursued us and took us out. I say 'police,' but they failed to identify themselves or to give any reason for our arrest." After 10 hours in jail, he was fined and released. Kasparov was lucky. Many other protesters were beaten.

Kasparov also serves as a contributing editor to The Wall Street Journal and has been writing on Russian democracy for the newspaper since 1990. In his most recent article, published on March 30, he predicted the current violence. Putin, he wrote, would crack down "on any sign of public of political opposition, no matter how small, using overwhelming force." Putin cannot risk a Russian version of Ukraine's grassroots Orange Revolution.

In advance of the weekend rallies, it didn't help the protesters' peaceful cause that exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky gave an interview to a British newspaper saying he was plotting the violent overthrow of the Putin government and was already bankrolling the Kremlin's insiders to plot a coup. "It isn't possible to change this regime through democratic means," he told The Guardian. "There can be no change without force, pressure," Kasparov said. "The Other Russia has nothing to do with Boris Berezovsky."

With little access to the state-controlled media, rallies such as this weekend's are the only way for The Other Russia to draw attention to its aims. For now, the outside world is the only opposition voice heard loudly in the Kremlin.

Putin's seven years in power have been marked by ever-greater state control of the media and by a steady erosion in the rule of law and democracy. Parliamentary elections will be held later this year, and the presidential vote is scheduled for next March. These campaigns are just getting under way, and the question is whether the weekend violence is a harbinger of bloodier days to come.

This appeared as an editorial in The Wall Street Journal.