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‘The Fish Rots From the Head’: How a Salmon Crisis Stoked Russian Protests

  • August 15, 2020

He called for new limits on commercial fishing, some of which were implemented, but the salmon have remained scarce. Then, early last month, a SWAT team from Moscow pulled Mr. Furgal out of his black S.U.V. and spirited him onto the eight-hour flight back to the capital.

He was accused of masterminding murders some 15 years ago, but Khabarovsk residents saw a naked Kremlin attempt to remove a maverick governor more loyal to his constituents than to Mr. Putin. Two days later they spilled into the streets in the tens of thousands in the biggest protests Russia’s regions had seen since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The protests, now in their second month, are driven by regional pride, economic frustration and fatigue with Mr. Putin. But their animating emotion, dozens of interviews across the region showed, was a sense of injustice, as encapsulated by the fish crisis: Salmon had been part of life here for generations, and now Moscow had taken it away and offered nothing in return.

“Putin only thinks about war and about his pockets,” said Andrei Peters, 53, a small-business man in the impoverished village of Takhta on the lower Amur. “No one thinks about the people.”

In the struggling fishing village of a few hundred people with no regular internet or road connection to the outside world, someone had printed out black-and-white Furgal posters on regular sheets of paper and affixed them to the wooden electricity poles. With their now ex-governor behind bars, residents said they feared they had lost the one person in power who heard their concerns.

Indeed, the few officials in the region who agreed to interview requests in the wake of Mr. Furgal’s arrest either dismissed their constituents’ fish-related anger or redirected the blame away from the Kremlin. In the Indigenous community of Sikachi-Alyan, an hour’s drive outside Khabarovsk, the village head, Nina Druzhinina, explained that “America is at fault for all of our sins.”

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