Putin Is Not A Puppet Master

Ivan Golunov speaks with the media in Moscow after his release from jail.Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters

The Atlantic: A Russian Journalist’s Arrest Counters the Image of Putin the Puppet Master

Abroad, Putin is perceived as the master orchestrator of all of Russia’s actions. But his hold on the state’s security services is more limited.

MOSCOW—In the days following the arrest of Ivan Golunov, an investigative journalist detained on drug charges, dozens of reporters and public figures began lining up—quite literally—to take part in a peculiarly Russian form of protest: the “single picket.”

Demonstrations here require an official permit, and with authorities often loath to sanction critical rallies, protesters, in an effort to evade the requirement, will stand alone, holding up a banner or placard while a line of people will form nearby, ready to step in and offer relief. No two protesters can stand within 50 meters of each other.

And so, outside police headquarters in the center of the Russian capital, three separate “single pickets” were taking place at once, all to draw attention to what the authorities later admitted was the wrongful arrest of a respected journalist, one which drew condemnation from across Russian media, as well as around the world. After holding Golunov for several days, authorities finally dropped the charges against him today, with the interior minister announcing that he would seek to sack two senior police officers over the arrest, an apparent admission that it had been a botched operation.

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WNU Editor: When I first heard of the arrest of Ivan Golunov, I said to myself that this arrest .... happening with Chinese President Xi in Russia on a state visit and the St. Petersburg economic forum happening at the same time .... was (as a PR move) beyond stupid. But this is how Russia is ruled today. President Putin does have power, but he cannot be everywhere. Local politics are always at play, and I predict even more so as the date for Putin's "retirement" in a few years approaches.