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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Like It or Not, the Word is Authoritarian

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Of the epithets regularly applied to President Vladimir Putin and his political practices, "authoritarian" in particular seems to rankle the Kremlin and its supporters. But what other word comes to mind when 9,000 riot police officers are sent out onto the streets to handle several thousand protesters, as they were Saturday?

Part of the explanation for the government reaction Saturday is that, with Putin leaving office next year, those in power are determined to make sure nothing like the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine happens here. It is difficult to see how Saturday's gathering posed such a threat.

One of the leaders of the event was former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, whose liberal economic credentials, along with allegations about corrupt dealings while still in government, would make it impossible for him to win election in today's Russia.

Another, Eduard Limonov, is a writer whose National Bolshevik Party has been stripped of its official recognition and, despite offensive nationalist rhetoric in the past, has been in recent years limited to preaching social populism and staging publicity stunts.

The third, Garry Kasparov, who is handicapped in the eyes of much of the public because he shares Kasyanov's liberal bent, also carries the additional baggage of being an Armenian Jew in a country where ethnicity is still a major issue.

There is little chance that Kasparov, for example, could become for today's Russia the kind of figure Viktor Yushchnko became for the Ukraine of 2004. The police detained him anyway Saturday.

There were even more preposterous detentions. A Moscow Times reporter -- himself detained while trying to get comments from other marchers who had been corralled -- overheard a young man explaining to his girlfriend by cell phone that he could not meet her as promised because he had been detained on the platform of the Pushkinskaya metro station.

Another man told a call-in show on Ekho Moskvy radio that he, his wife and young child had been detained while they were trying to see what was happening. His wife and child were grabbed and bundled into one police vehicle, while he was stuffed into another. They were released not too long after.

Some of the younger members of the crowd wearing National Bolshevik regalia did start rushing the riot police following the speeches on Turgenev Square, apparently trying to provoke a confrontation. But the police did not bother detaining these protesters. They simply shoved them back.

The deliberate targeting of Kasparov and the arbitrary detentions were part of the day's absurd nature. They provide more than a hint of its authoritarian nature, too.