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By Saagar Enjeti
Russian President Vladimir Putin is jailing critics and protesters amid the biggest challenge to his power in years.
Alexei Navalny was jailed and fined Monday for a period of fifteen days. Navalny’s arrest was accompanied by nearly 1,000 other arrests after protesters clashed with police. The gathering was part of 99 other protests across Russia sparked by a report from Navalny detailing Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev’s private assets, which are worth millions of dollars.
The report, published in early March, 2017, detailed Medvedev’s mass accumulation of luxury assets by exploiting a network of Russian oligarchs and charities. Many of Medvedev’s assets are allegedly owned in name only by these oligarchs, who have deep ties to the Russian prime minister. “The system has turned so rotten that it doesn’t have any healthy parts at all,” Navalny said in a video publicizing the report.
Navalny declared his intention to run against Putin in the upcoming 2018 Russian presidential election, but was rendered ineligible by a criminal conviction in February. Navalny has pledged to continue his race against Putin, and is seen as the only real opposition figure in Russia.
The arrest of protesters drew criticism from the Trump administration’s Department of State, which tweeted its dissent Monday. The tweet echoed State Department Spokesman Mark Toner’s statement Sunday which “strongly condemned” Russia’s arrest.
U.S. condemns detention of 100s of peaceful protesters in #Russia today. Detaining peaceful protesters is an affront to democratic values.
— Department of State (@StateDept) March 27, 2017
The Trump administration’s handling of the protests may derail any attempt to better relations with Moscow. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Putin during widespread protests in 2011, sparked an intense animus in Putin, experts say.
FBI Director James Comey repeatedly referenced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal animus towards Clinton as one of the major motivations behind Russian meddling in the 2016 election during congressional testimony in late March. Comey described how Putin “hated Hillary Clinton so much” he developed a preference for President Donald Trump. “I hate the New England Patriots, and no matter who they play, I’d like them to lose,” he continued, deploying a sports metaphor.