Campaign diary

Navalny holds four more rallies

Navalny Vladimir

The crowd at Alexei Navalny’s rally in Vladimir. Photo by Evgeny Feldman.

by Sarah Hurst

This weekend Alexei Navalny held rallies in Perm, Vladimir, Nizhny Novgorod and Chelyabinsk. All were attended by large crowds in temperatures well below zero. In Perm, as previously in Izhevsk, residents of a building invited Navalny to speak on their property, circumventing local authorities. This did not stop police from detaining Navalny’s campaign coordinator in the city, Natalia Vavilova before the rally was even over, reportedly dragging her on the ice while doing so. Vavilova was taken to a police station and later released with a requirement to return on Monday.

In Vladimir Navalny received a warm welcome on a frosty day, and wrote on his blog that the city’s governor, Svetlana Orlova, is a “crazy grandma” who has called local media outlets “henchmen of Bandera” and “foreign agents” for writing about the slow construction of schools. Navalny’s rally in Nizhny Novgorod was also successful, despite the fact that authorities there made him hold it in a remote location. Navalny was particularly happy to visit Nizhny Novgorod since his original rally there was abandoned when he was detained as he was about to go there and subsequently sentenced to 20 days in prison.

Navalny’s rally in Chelyabinsk came at an opportune time, soon after the news emerged that Russian authorities had covered up a radiation leak in the region, which is home to the aging and dangerous Mayak nuclear facility. A cloud of ruthenium-106 was detected in Europe weeks ago and it was suspected to have come from Russia, but the Russian government only admitted the country was the source much later. Still, authorities didn’t say whether an incident had happened, and an oncologist in Chelyabinsk assured people that the air was safe and told them to drink beer to calm their nerves.

Mayak plant is old and dangerous

Navalny spoke about the radiation leak on his live YouTube show last Thursday, saying that it showed that nothing has changed in Russia since the cover-up of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Navalny’s family lived in the Chernobyl area and he remembered them being sent out to dig up potatoes during the May holidays that year to prove that it was safe to do so. He also read a quote from a Soviet newspaper about the nuclear disaster of 1957 at the Mayak plant itself, which explained the explosion as “a rare appearance at this latitude of the Northern Lights”.

Yesterday thousands of Chelyabinsk residents protested against the terrible environmental conditions in which they are forced to live. Activist Nadezhda Kutepova told the Activatica environmental blog that she fled from Chelyabinsk to France with her children in late 2015 after being harassed by authorities for campaigning against the Mayak plant and drawing attention to the problems there.

Meanwhile, former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who is considered relatively liberal, told Forbes Russia that he thinks Navalny should be allowed into the election. Kudrin was recently brought back into Putin’s circle of advisors. The Kremlin is apparently still unsure what to do about Navalny, and this could be an option. It would neutralise the claim that Putin is afraid of his main opponent, but it would also force Putin to answer Navalny’s accusations or look weak and helpless. Neither option can be very appealing.

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