From 2012 to 2022, the regime tightened the screws in multiple areas, introducing additional restrictions on public assembly, passing laws on "foreign agents" and "undesirable organizations,” and increasing control over the public expression of discontent. Public assembly has been a matter of concern for the Kremlin for a long time. Despite Article 31 of the Constitution, which grants Russians the right to gather peacefully to express their grievances, public meetings have been difficult to organize. In 2012, the fines for violating application procedures (the organizers must notify local authorities to hold a public event) were dramatically hiked, while repeated violation of rally conduct was criminalized in 2014 (the so-called Dadin Article
named after the first victim of the legislation). Even solo pickets – the only form of public protest that doesn’t require sanction by the authorities – became the target of repression, especially during the pandemic, when additional restrictions on public assembly were enacted. Attending unauthorized rallies has been punished by police detention followed by administrative or criminal prosecution.
The so-called "foreign agents" law undermined the organizational basis for mobilization, stigmatizing organizations that challenge the status quo. It expanded rapidly in 2020-21 and by August 2022 the "foreign agents registers" encompass over 480 individuals and organizations (additions appear almost every week). In December 2021, Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most respected human rights organizations, was closed due to repeated violations of the "foreign agents" law; meanwhile, other civic organizations limited their activities or disbanded voluntarily. The most recent amendments
to the legislation aggravate the situation further by making the grounds for inclusion in the register even vaguer.
Lastly, the regime’s tight control over the media and public expression has severely undermined the capacity for coordination, which is necessary for mobilization. The instruments of control include a package
passed on March 4 that criminalized the distribution of "false information about Russian military forces" or information that discredits them. By mid-June, there were at least 59 cases
opened for distributing fakes, including a seven-year sentence
for Moscow municipal councilor Alexei Gorinov and the arrest of Ilya Yashin, a well-known opposition activist from Moscow. In addition, Roskomnadzor has blocked hundreds
of independent media and websites on the pretext of spreading disinformation about the "special military operation" (many, like TV Rain and Echo of Moscow were shut down at the very start of the war).
Overall, since 2012 the frequency and scope of repression has dramatically increased. The force used against anti-war protesters is done with existing tools: nobody can get permission to hold an authorized rally, which serves as the basis for detentions and prosecution. OVD-Info (an unregistered nonprofit organization that monitors political persecution in Russia and provides legal help) counts over 16,000 detentions since the start of the war. The recent detention
of Yevgeny Roizman, Yekaterinburg's former mayor and an outspoken critic of the regime, is another signal to Russians that the government won’t tolerate any public stand against the war.