Staunton, April 3 – More than 1,000 residents of Petrazovodsk took part in a demonstration there yesterday which called for the ouster of the Karelia’s current head Aleksandr Khudilaynen, “the first region in Russia” in Putin’s times where the local population has demanded such a step, according to Karelian republic television.
(The television station’s assertion is not literally true: the people in several North Caucasian republics have demonstrated for the same ends at various points in the last decade. What is true is that by asserting this, the station has raised the stakes for both Petrozavodsk and Moscow in what might otherwise have been a minor issue.)
The protest was sparked by the arrest of Olga Zaletskaya, a Yabloko deputy in the city council, and Aleksandra Kornilova, another Yabloko activist who is the director of a local trading firm, for what the demonstrators said were trumped up charges intended to remove two of Khudilaynen’s critics.
The Yabloko Party council in Moscow and its Petrozavodsk section are demanding that the two be immediately released, saying that their arrests are politically motivated in advance of elections there and promising that a demonstration to be held on April 9 will repeat and extend the demands of Karelian residents.
Dmitry Rybakov of the Moscow council said that the April 9 meeting will be “against political repressions in Karelia and for the retirement of Aleksandr Petrovich Khudilaynen as head of the republic.” Moreover, like the one yesterday, it will call for an elected rather than a Moscow-appointed leadership.
Anatoly Tsygankov, the head of the Center for Political and Social Research in Karelia, suggested that the arrests, which were supposedly triggered by an investigation into land sales there, may not be as baseless as the demonstrators suggest, given that there are always conflicts about such things.
But as the Petrozavodsk television station put it, there is general agreement among city residents that the 13-day arrest of Zaletskaya, who has two young children and an elderly father, is “impermissible” and that “her detention will hardly increase support for the current leadership.”
Both these arrests and the protests they have triggered will only exacerbate tensions in Karelia and concerns in Moscow. In recent months, several Russian legislators in Petrozavodsk and Moscow security officials have suggested that separatism is on the rise there, and they will almost certainly view these protests as evidence that they are right.
Such fears mean the Russian authorities are likely to try to block the demonstration planned for April 9, possibly by arresting more opponents of the Putin-installed regime and stepping up their campaign against what they see as Finnish-inspired separatist attitudes there. (“Separatism in Karelia More Serious than Many Think, Petrozavodsk Deputy Says,” December 17, 2014)