On Sunday, March 26, around 90,000 Russians came out across the country to protest. The outpouring was a huge surprise, not just because of the large scale or because the rallies took place beyond traditional protest hubs in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Much more surprising was the fact that Russians showed up because of an anticorruption campaign. To be sure, Russians have long bemoaned graft. Yet most investigations inspire only a muted public response: “Yes, we knew. But what can we do?”
This time, however, corruption investigations have sparked something more: the largest response to an anticorruption campaign since President Vladimir Putin came to power almost two decades ago. The story begins on March 2, when the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which is linked to the Russian opposition, released an exposé about Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. The FBK revealed that Medvedev had amassed a fortune of 70 billion rubles ($1.2 billion)—a trifle more than what he could have saved from his official salary. FBK’s video has since been seen over 15 million times and counting. Surely, there are many red faces in the Kremlin.
That stands in stark contrast to the visage of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s main opposition figure, who was leading the investigation. Shortly after the exposé was released, he was splattered with green paint by a provocateur at a rally meant to kick off his 2018 presidential campaign in Russia’s east. Realizing that the paint was not acidic or poison, Navalny soon turned the smear into an iconic moment on Instagram. Green faces went viral. One man wearing green face paint was arrested in Red Square for disturbing the peace.
Protesting in Russia has always been a bit risky. But for a while now, it has been almost entirely illegal. In late 2011, mass protests followed the rigged Duma elections. These were dubbed the Snow Revolution because the largest protests took place in the dead of winter. Fearful of his power slipping away, Putin went to work, making protest an even more complicated bureaucratic