For the second weekend in a row, protesters and police clashed in the streets of dozens of Russian cities. The protests against the government of President Vladimir Putin have been called by supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalni, who is under arrest.
According to the human rights NGO OVD-Info, at least 3,243 people were arrested by 5 p.m. (11 a.m. in Brasilia) in 60 cities. Last Saturday (23), the count fell from 4,000 detainees at the end of the day of demonstrations.
Police repression was much more organized on Sunday, also under the freezing temperatures of the Russian winter. In Moscow, the entire central area of the capital was closed to traffic this morning, including seven of the region’s main metro stations.
Since Saturday afternoon, according to Muscovites reported to Folha, the police were dispersed at strategic points for the influx of demonstrators in the city.
Protesters changed tactics due to the pressure. The act was to begin in Lubianka Square, where the famous headquarters of the FSB, the successor of the internal secret service of the dreaded Soviet KGB, is located.
With the location isolated, militants moved the pro-Navalni march to two other points in the Russian capital, forcing the deployment of security forces. There was a conflict and more than 500 people were arrested in the city, including about 15 journalists covering the acts.
In the central street of Tverskoy, a man sacrificed himself by setting his clothes on fire with gasoline. He was hospitalized in serious condition, according to the Meduza website.
Demonstrators protested both the arrest of Navalni and President Vladimir Putin, who was branded a thief in war cries from Vladivostok (far east) to Kaliningrad (an enclave of Western Russia in Europe) .
The national character of the protest puts it at the same level as last week, which was the largest since Navalni mobilized thousands of Russians against state corruption in 2017. There is no national tally of the protest. number of participants, who stayed at home tens of thousands.
Navalni was arrested on disembarking in Moscow on the 17th. He was returning from Germany, where he had been treated for poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok, developed in the Soviet Union.
The activist, who appeared in the public eye at the start of the last decade, directly accuses the Kremlin for the assassination attempt – in a hoax he obtained a confession from an FSB spy, who said he had put the poison in a blue Navalni underwear in the hotel where he was in Tomsk (Siberia).
Many protesters wore blue pants in Moscow’s minus 2 degree Celsius cold, along with brushes for cleaning the toilets – a reference to the $ 4,600 artifact believed to have been found in a palace which Navalni says belongs to Putin on the Black Sea coast.
Navalni was detained for violating his parole in a coma by leaving the country. In 2014, he got a commuted sentence for fraud, in a lawsuit he says is ridiculous. Tuesday (2), a hearing will decide whether he can return home or face three and a half years in prison.
This Sunday, Joe Biden’s new US government again called for Navalni’s release. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the “brutal tactics” of the crackdown.
On the eve of the demonstration, the authorities imposed their hand on members of the Navalni Anti-Corruption Fund, arresting several of them. Navalni’s wife, Iulia, was arrested again on Sunday morning.
In Vladivostok, videos on social media showed a very violent crackdown on the acts. The protests were particularly prominent in St. Petersburg and Volgograd.
There have been conflicts in places like Ufa and Irkutsk, and a small protest in the remote Siberian city of Yakutsk, known as the coldest in the world – thermometers were minus 43 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
The basis of the crackdown is the fact that acts committed without the permission of municipal authorities are a crime in Russia. During the week, Putin himself had condemned the protesters using this premise.
The president is in a delicate situation. If you allow excessive use of force, you will call for more condemnation in the Russian middle class and abroad. If you let the acts unfold freely, you risk repeating the journeys of 2017 and 2012, the greatest of your 21 years in power.
The example of neighboring Belarus, which faces six months of crisis due to protests against dictator and Putin ally Aleksandr Lukachenko, is a ghost around the Kremlin.
Russian analysts believe, however, that Putin will adopt common ground, counting on the gradual emptying of acts.
It can work, but the September parliamentary elections provide a horizon for activists, who promise to support any candidate other than United Russia, the party supporting the regime.
With that, perhaps the chances of Navalni being in jail are greater, demonstrating the authorities’ fear of the activist. The opponent was never popular: Research by the independent Centro Levada gave him 4% support among Russians, and only 2% intention to vote if he could run for president.
But Navalni appears to be right for now: he has linked his cause to widespread public weariness with the Putin government, which last year screwed up the constitution to allow him to try to stay in power until 2036.
As always, the change was varnished by voting (76% of Russians approved it), but the general opinion is that it reflects the feeling of having no alternative for ordinary people – in addition to the Putin’s popularity, which is at the lowest level of his career, but still at the respectable level of 60% approval.