A downtown Moscow roundtable ordered by President Vladimir Putin to discuss a controversial new law that could see a massive increase in fines for participants of illegal protests saw a walk-out by a number of opposition figures on Thursday.
“There is no discussion here at the Discussion of the Law on Protests,” wrote protest leader Yevgenia Chirikova in a Twitter post after she had quit the meeting, which was hosted by the ruling United Russia party.
Chirikova was joined in her move toward the exit by several other opposition activists, including socialite television presenter Ksenia Sobchak.
“There is no dialogue, it’s just a monologue,” she told journalists as she left the hall.
The controversial draft bill was approved in the first reading by Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, on Tuesday and comes in the wake of unprecedented protests against Putin’s 12-year rule. It could come into law in early June, just ahead of a new Moscow anti-Putin demonstration.
The draft bill could see the maximum fine for participation in illegal demonstrations go up from the current 5,000 rubles ($160) to 900,000 rubles ($29,000), an amount far beyond the means of all but the very wealthiest of protesters. The average salary in Russia is around $900, although wages are much higher in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“This law will not stop the growing protests and bears a deeply provocative nature,” Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the roundtable.
The Kremlin’s rights council said in a statement on Wednesday that it would ask Putin to veto the bill, should it be approved by both houses of parliament. Putin subsequently reprimanded the council’s head, Mikhail Fedotov, for addressing him “through the media” and instructed United Russia to organize a public discussion of the planned law, which he said was necessary to protect Russians from “radicalism.”
Opposition parliamentarian Dmitry Gudkov said on Wednesday that opposition lawmakers would attempt to derail the discussion of the draft bill by tabling thousands of amendments.
Thursday’s debate comes after a report by a respected Moscow think-tank predicted increasing protests and a deepening political crisis in Russia.
The report was published by the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Research, which successfully predicted the outbreak of the current unprecedented mass anti-Putin protests in a similar report last year.
Putin was sworn in for a third presidential term on May 7 after winning polls marred by allegations of electoral violations. Police and protesters clashed in central Moscow on the eve of his inauguration, triggering a rolling protest that has yet to entirely subside.