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For Mr. Shenderovich, the writer, such sentiments are indicative of what he called the “sickness of imperial greatness” infecting many in Russia.

“Unfortunately, many intelligent, educated people in our country are susceptible to the idea of Russian greatness,” he said. “This is our sickness, one that we have not yet been able to cure.”

Mr. Putin’s clampdown on dissent has focused heavily on the Internet, until recently a rare outlet for opposition sentiments. Russian authorities in recent months have blocked opposition websites, including Mr. Navalny’s popular blog.

In addition, the parliament has approved legislation that could ban Western social networks such as Facebook from operating in Russia if they refuse to store data on users in the country.

Russia’s respected Kommersant newspaper reported that a presidential commission recommended that the Kremlin develop its own “sovereign Internet,” to be inaccessible from the West. A Kremlin spokesman denied the report.

“The authorities have become more fearful,” said Oleg Kozyrev, one of Russia’s most popular bloggers and an opposition activist. “But the Internet community is not afraid. Look at China. Their Internet is totally controlled by the state, but people still find ways to get information out.”

Western sanctions

Other activists fear things could get worse.

Persistent rumors that the Kremlin is planning to introduce Soviet-style restrictions on foreign travel reached new heights last month after the Foreign Ministry warned that U.S. Special Forces were “hunting” for Russian nationals in retaliation for actions in Ukraine.

Amid the darkening atmosphere, opposition activists can only hope that Mr. Putin’s popularity will wane as Western sanctions imposed in response to actions in Ukraine begin to bite.

Worries about sanctions already have triggered capital flight and plunged the ruble to record lows.

Putin’s popularity is due to the effective use of imperialist and anti-Western propaganda and his portrayal as a defender of ethnic Russians and a reclaimer of lands,” Mr. Kozlovsky said.

“It can’t last very long, though, especially if his winning streak ends and the economy feels the cost of these decisions.”

Russia’s beleaguered protesters, however, see no sign of light at the end of the tunnel.

“I often think I should leave Russia so that my children can grow up in a normal country,” said Ms. Dobina. “But why should I? This is my country, as well.”