Campaign diary

Thousands rally for an end to Putin’s farce

Navalny zabastovka

Alexei Navalny being detained on Moscow’s Tverskaya Street today. Photo by Evgeny Feldman from https://navalny.feldman.photo/

by Sarah Hurst

Thousands of people all over Russia responded to Alexei Navalny’s call for protests today, and Navalny himself was forcefully detained while walking with supporters down Moscow’s Tverskaya Street. Police manhandled him and loaded him in a prone position into one of their vehicles, driving him to a police station where he was released late in the evening ahead of a trial for “violating the rules of organising a gathering”.

Many other top associates of Navalny were also detained, including Moscow campaign coordinator Sergei Boyko and former Moscow campaign coordinator Nikolai Lyaskin. Early in the morning when two presenters were broadcasting on Navalny’s YouTube channel, police broke into the building and detained them. Coverage of the protests continued on the channel from a secret studio, and police continued searching for the studio, using a circular saw to break into the building where campaign merchandise is stored.

Arrests all over the country

Many regional campaign coordinators were also detained, including Ksenia Pakhomova in Kemerovo and Semyon Kochkin in Cheboksary. Kochkin continued tweeting from the police station where he was being held, reporting that over 70 participants in the protest in Cheboksary were detained (in fact it was 51). Despite freezing temperatures – as low as -45 degrees in Yakutia – large numbers of people came out to the regional protests and some spoke on stages expressing their frustration with Vladimir Putin’s 18 years in power. In most regions authorities did all they could to stop the protests, with the exception of Yekaterinburg, where liberal mayor Yevgeny Royzman joined in and spoke on the stage, saying, “These aren’t elections, and we can’t participate in them.”

Police lined the streets in the centre of Moscow and St. Petersburg, but mainly shouted through megaphones demanding the dispersal of crowds while people chanted slogans like “Down with the tsar!”, “Putin’s a thief!”, “We’re the government here!” and “Free Navalny!” In Moscow people gathered in Pushkin Square and some young people climbed lamp-posts and held up Russian flags. Many of them then walked through the city in the direction of Manezh Square, while in St. Petersburg people walked to Palace Square.

Sobchak in Chechnya

Meanwhile, presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak made a surprise visit to Grozny and stood in front of a memorial to murdered journalists holding a sign that said “Free Oyub Titiev” – the head of the Memorial human rights group in Chechnya who has been jailed on fabricated drugs charges. Afterwards she walked through the city and was confronted by aggressive men with beards who said she wasn’t wanted in Chechnya and shouted “Go home!” In the evening Sobchak returned to Moscow and went to Yakimanka police station, where Navalny was being held, to show support for him.

Later it was reported that an activist with the Vesna (Spring) democracy movement in Chelyabinsk, Denis Ibragimov, who spoke at the protest in that city today, had been sentenced to 10 days in prison for “minor hooliganism”. In Tula a protester called Ivan Polukarov was jailed for 15 days for “repeatedly violating the rules of participating in a rally”.

Putin has made no secret of the fact that he plans to rule by force for the next six years or longer, no matter what Russians think about it, and it is frightening to think about what kind of suffering he may inflict at home and abroad if he gets his way. Russians should continue the fight – they have nothing to lose.

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