Updated: January 30, 2021 10:50:37 am
Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for nationwide protests on Saturday after he was arrested last week when he returned to Moscow from Germany for the first time since his poisoning in August 2020. Navalny was further remanded in pre-trial detention for 30 days despite demands by the United States and some European countries to release him.
So far, over 800 people have been detained in connection with the protests, including Navalny’s wife and close aides. The police have said the rallies are illegal.
What do we know of the protests in Russia?
Thousands of people have taken to the streets demanding the Navalny’s release. According to BBC, social media app TikTok has a number of videos posted by Russians supporting the planned protests and urging others to come out. However, mobile and internet services suffered outages in the day as protesters gathered.
Andrew Roth, who is the Moscow correspondent for The Guardian tweeted, “What I’m seeing right now walking up to the pro-Navalny protest in Moscow. Riot police deploying around the square, hundreds of protestors out maybe an hour before protest set to kick off. Hearing about arrests, square is not yet closed off.”
What I’m seeing right now walking up to the pro-Navalny protest in Moscow. Riot police deploying around the square, hundreds of protestors out maybe an hour before protest set to kick off. Hearing about arrests, square is not yet closed off. pic.twitter.com/0E5BmlJwzD
— Andrew Roth (@Andrew__Roth) January 23, 2021
Significantly, more than a dozen protestors have been detained in the city of Khabarovsk in Russia’s far east.
As per a BBC analysis of the situation unfolding in Russia, “…with economic problems growing, the Kremlin will worry that Mr Navalny could act as a lightning rod for protest sentiment. That explains the police crackdown on Navalny allies ahead of Saturday’s potential protests.”
But why is Navalny’s arrest sparking protests now?
Navalny, a lawyer-turned-activist, came to prominence in 2008 after he started exposing corruption in Russian politics through a blog. In 2018, he was barred from standing against Putin in the presidential elections. He has also been arrested on multiple occasions.
Since he started political campaigning, Navalny has spearheaded many anti-corruption rallies and is considered to be the face of the opposition in Russia, a country that has long been known to eliminate dissidents and spies by poisoning them.
The August incident was not the first time Navalny was poisoned. He was previously hospitalised in 2020 after he suffered an allergic reaction in jail, possibly from an unknown chemical substance. Two years before that, Navalny was doused with a bright green liquid in the Siberian city of Barnaul by an assailant who pretended to shake his hand.
Last month, Navalny said he had tricked a Russian intelligence operative into confessing to the botched attempt to kill him in August 2020 and divulged that the poison meant to do the job was placed on the inside of Navalny’s underwear.
As per a TASS news agency report, the FSB has called the video clip “fake”, and said that Navalny’s investigation was a “planned provocation aimed at discrediting the FSB which could not have been carried out without the organizational and technical support of international intelligence agencies.”
How has Vladimir Putin responded?
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged Navalny “relies on the support of US special services.”
He said, “It’s curious, and in that case, special services indeed need to keep an eye on him. But that doesn’t mean that there is a need to poison him. Who would need that?”
Putin, who is entering his 22nd year in power, has even told journalists with a laugh that if Russian operatives wanted to kill Navalny, “they would have probably finished the job.”
Last week, in a feature-length video on YouTube titled, “Putin Palace” in which Navalny alleged that businessmen close to Putin paid for the palace situated at Gelendzhik by the Black Sea. The video has since then gone viral and has been viewed by over 67 million people.
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