Two decades after coming to power, Vladimir Putin remains Russia’s most popular politician. But his regime is on the defensive right now. The center of the Russian capital dawned closed and by nightfall, there were more than 5,000 protesters arrested throughout the country. No such confrontation between citizens and authorities had been seen since that turbulent 2012 when the current dissidence burst onto the Russian political scene protesting Putin’s return to the Kremlin.
A year ago the Russian president revealed his master move to stay in power beyond the legal limit of 2024: a constitutional reform to eternalize as a leader and a new prime minister to ‘sell management’ to society. The dissidence, caught by surprise and with the threat of the coronavirus already looming in the east, could only then react with unimportant concentrations.
The Russian government insists that opposition leader Alexei Navalny has little support in the street and presents him as an agent of the US or Germany. But the center of Moscow dawned as a ‘ghost town’ that fears the violent effects of discontent. A dozen metro stations and some of the main access streets to the Kremlin were closed to try to stop the protests of Navalny’s followers, who demonstrated demanding his freedom.By nightfall in Moscow, there were more than 5,000 people arrested across Russia in the demonstrations. In the capital, the police were closing streets until they were removing the protesters from the center of the city.
Next to the Komsomolskaya metro stop, people jumped on cars to escape the security forces. Police officers were seen randomly using electric shocks in some Moscow neighborhoods. In Moscow, physical fear of the police is spreading, one of the things that separated them from their Belarusian neighbors. The violence also worked in the opposite direction. In St. Petersburg, a man was reported for hitting riot police on the head. In the same city, one of the policemen even pointed a gun at the protesters and several opponents were beaten unconscious.
At least 82 journalists were detained during the January 31 protest actions, Sofia Russian, a member of the Union of Journalists and Media Workers, told Open Media. The Russian regime has increased pressure against the media. The body that regulates communications, Roskomnadzor criticized that messages were spread on social networks “with exaggerated figures on the number of participants in illegal demonstrations.” And he threatened fines and lockdowns. According to various media, some 10,000 people demonstrated in Moscow. The authorities lowered that figure to 2,000
NAVALNY MAINTAINS TENSION
Across the regions, the largest rallies took place in Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg, although many cities saw less participation than a week ago. But Navalny is succeeding in keeping the tension up and appearing in the country’s political debate. The question is whether he will be able to maintain that dynamic until the Russian parliamentary elections, which are around the summer.In the Siberian city of Tomsk, where Navalny was poisoned last year, protesters unfurled a banner with the slogan “Russia will be free.
The novichok poison that the FSB intelligence service allegedly administered to him has worked as ‘vitamins’ for a dissidence that, decimated by the arrests, has had the Russian capital in check for the second time in a week. In Khabarovsk, in the Russian Far East, citizens braved a temperature of 23 degrees below zero to join the demonstrations across the country. “In many cities, people are not afraid of all this unprecedented pressure that was exerted throughout the previous week: searches, arrests, illegal detentions, criminal cases,” Dozhd Ivan Zhdanov, director of FBK, the anti-corruption platform that he leads, told the independent channel. Navalny,
The Kremlin, which until recently tried to ignore its main critic and avoided even mentioning his name, this month has been forced to speak about Navalny every two by three. Last week Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov denied that Putin has a palace in Gelendzhik, on the Black Sea coast, as Navalny claims in a video posted by his team online after he was arrested. The video, titled ‘Putin’s Palace’, has received more than 103 million visits in a few days. Putin denied ownership and even brought one of his bishops to the fore on Saturday. Arkady Rotenberg, a Russian businessman, and oligarch, as well as a personal friend of the president, appeared in the media saying that he is the owner of that palace.
The leaders of the three parties of the so-called ‘systemic opposition’ (Gennadi Zyuganov for the Communist Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky for the nationalists, and Sergei Mironov of Fair Russia) have turned their backs on Navalny, fearful that he would rob them of representation in the elections. of September. And they have raised the tone: “Traitor to the fatherland” is the usual accusation against Navalny these days in the corridors of the Duma, the Russian parliament.
STRONG POLICE PRESENCE
Today’s demonstrations, like those of last weekend (which ended with more than 3,000 detainees throughout the country), were not authorized. On the Saturday of the previous week, there was a heavy police presence. This time, restrictions on pedestrian traffic were even introduced in central Moscow. In those districts of the capital where the protest action was planned, shops and catering establishments were closed in advance. The center also limited the sale of alcohol in glass containers. In St. Petersburg, there were similar limitations to the city center. In the afternoon the police were forced to fight street by street.
On last Thrusday Moscow court confirmed Navalny’s 30-day pre-trial detention for violating the probation terms of a previous conviction that he says is politically motivated. Navalny was taken into custody until February 15 after returning from Germany, where he spent months recovering from his poisoning. At first, his followers wanted to demonstrate today in front of the FSB headquarters, which they consider guilty of attempting a ‘political assassination’. At the last moment, seeing all the entrances closed, they changed the meeting point to a place north of the city center. The same ‘dribble’ occurred in Saint Petersburg.
In recent days, the regime has tried to stifle the protest. Family members and allies of the jailed opposition leader have been detained on charges of violating coronavirus restrictions in widespread raids on their homes and offices. Navalny’s brother, Oleg, and the lawyer from the Anti-Corruption Foundation Liubov Sobol, as well as Navalny’s ally and director of the Alianza de Médicos union, Anastasia Vasilieva, were detained within 48 hours. Several key Navalny aides have already been detained on the eve of last weekend’s protests and are currently serving arrests for organizing those demonstrations.