Russian authorities arrested left-wing politician and opposition activist Sergey Udaltsov last week, with prosecutors accusing him of promoting terrorism. Udaltsov had made posts in support of other left-wing figures who are under investigation for creating a terrorist organization. Udaltsov’s arrest is the latest example of how Moscow’s judicial system and law enforcement agencies, which once targeted only “liberals” and opponents of the war, are increasingly turning their attention to inconvenient supporters of the military campaign.
- Udaltsov is a career activist. He first became involved in politics in the 1990s and ran for election to the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament as a candidate for a group called “Stalin Bloc – For the USSR.” Their manifesto included a pledge to rebuild the Soviet Union and nationalize Russia’s banks. Udaltsov was not elected and the party won just 0.63% in the 1999 vote.
- In the early 2000s, Udaltsov was one of the initiators of the first all-Russian leftist anti-capitalism march, sought election to the Moscow city council and took part in several other protests. In 2008, when many fringe groups combined to form the “Left Front,” Udaltsov was part of its council and coordinated its organizing department.
- His popularity peaked in the early 2010s when he regularly staged protests in Moscow. He was seen at all the big rallies, starting in 2011 when thousands took to the streets to protest the results of that year’s parliamentary election (for more about this, see here). In 2012, he was charged with planning to incite mass riots and was sentenced to 4.5 years in jail two years later.
- After his release, Udaltsov supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea but insisted that he remained a “harsh critic” of Putin. Last year, he spoke in support of the war in Ukraine and said that he “needed to stand with his country at such a turning point.” However, the activist still criticized the Russian authorities, and Putin personally, for the conduct of the war in Ukraine.
- Udaltsov is not the only supporter of the war who is currently behind bars. Last summer, a court ordered Igor Girkin (known by his pseudonym Strelkov) – a former Donetsk separatist leader in 2014 who famously said: “I pulled the trigger on this war” — to be held in custody on “extremism” charges. In recent years, Strelkov was an active pro-war blogger and harsh critic of the Russian defense ministry for not prosecuting the war more aggressively and effectively. From his prison cell in Moscow, Strelkov said he planned to runagainst Putin in this year’s presidential election.
Why the world should care:
In 2024, simply supporting the war is no longer sufficient protection against arrest in Russia. While Strelkov spent many months criticizing the authorities from within the pro-war lobby, it remains unclear what Udaltsov did to upset the Kremlin enough to throw him behind bars again.