MOSCOW — Police, prosecutors, governors and local officials across Russia have started to come down hard on upstart citizens, signaling an end to the winter of tolerance that characterized the run-up to the March 4 presidential election.
But the crackdown that has unfolded in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s victory has provoked a determined reaction. Local activists are pushing back, forging new alliances and strategies, concentrating on local levers and turning to the daunting task of organizing — house by house.
Members of a feminist punk band are in jail and facing seven-year sentences, accused of sacrilege for singing an anti-Putin song on the altar of Moscow’s cathedral. Environmental activists are organizing in their defense. A scientist who wants to save a rare forest by the Black Sea was thrown in a cell overnight Tuesday, along with his attorney, and faces five years on a charge of hooliganism. Opposition political leaders plan demonstrations on his behalf here and elsewhere Saturday.
“It’s a sign of the beginning of repressions against civic activists,” Sergei Mitrokhin, head of the Yabloko party, said in a statement on the arrests.
On Tuesday, Alexei Navalny and the staff of his anti-corruption blog were summoned for questioning by investigators from the police extremism department. Two days earlier, prosecutors decided to pursue a fraud case against the husband of Olga Romanova, who emerged as a prominent leader of the anti-Putin demonstrations.
In the historic center of Moscow, work suddenly resumed Tuesday on a planned seven-story apartment building and underground garage that had been stalled by neighborhood protests since September. But the March election gave a seat on a local advisory council to one of the organizers of those protests, Yelena Tkach. Now part of the political system, she and her allies managed to halt the work, even as seven protesters were detained by police and a city official insisted that the project should go ahead.
“I won’t be satisfied until this is stopped,” Tkach said after she had perched atop a pile of debris to keep an excavator from removing it. One of 11 Kremlin opponents who won seats on the 15-member Presnensky district council, she now enjoys parliamentary immunity. Police instead detained her husband, Roman, on Wednesday.
Angry neighbors believe the project, on Kozikhinsky Lane, is the result of a backroom deal with city officials. Security guards attacked protesters this past summer while police stood by, but in the fall the city ordered a stop to the project.
“Because the election has passed and Putin was elected, they think now they can do anything they want,” said Anna Sergeyeva, an independent who won a seat on the Lefortovo district council and had come to Kozikhinsky on Wednesday to lend her support. “Now people are angry. And people are learning how to organize themselves.”
Tkach said plans are afoot to hold a meeting in every apartment house in the neighborhood, to gauge residents’ attitudes and organize for the future.
“You asked, ‘What happens after the elections?’ ” wrote Maria Eismont, chief of the Russian Web site PublicPost. “Come to Kozikhinsky.”
In the southern Russian region of Krasnodar, two environmental activists, Suren Gazaryan, a 37-year-old zoologist and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Yevgeny Vitishko, a 38-year-old geologist, were charged this month with hooliganism, accused of tearing off a panel of a metal fence surrounding a section of pine forest and writing on it. They face five years in jail.
Gazaryan discussed the case Tuesday by cellphone from the Black Sea town of Tuapse while he sat in the local police station with his attorney, awaiting questioning. Asked to send The Washington Post a photograph of the fence, he promised to do so later in the evening.
Within several hours, he and his attorney, Viktor Dutlov, were seized by security guards as they approached the fence. Their supporters said the guards handcuffed and beat them. Police kept them standing all night in a cold cell, they said. On Wednesday, client and attorney were sentenced to 10 days in jail for disobeying police.
More than a year ago, Gazaryan and other members of Ecological Watch of the Northern Caucasus discovered that a compound was being built in a national forest, home to the endangered long-needle Pitsunda pine, for the regional governor, Alexander Tkachev. It includes, Gazaryan said in the Tuesday telephone interview, three houses, a gym, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a solarium, a marina and a house for security guards.
The compound and a wide swath of public land, reaching to the shore, were surrounded by a barbed-wire-topped metal fence, Gazaryan said. In February 2011, he got seven days in jail for sitting down inside the fenced-off area.
Environmentalists wrote to local, regional and national officials but always met with the same reply: There was no fence, no construction, no vacation house. In November, Gazaryan and others returned and pried open the fence. A couple of students wrote on the fence, he said, calling the governor a thief. A week later, they came under investigation.
His defense has taken up all his time, said Gazaryan, an expert on bats. Instead of preparing for the annual Eurobats meeting in Dublin in May, he was sitting in the police station. He had no regrets.