Moscow (dpa) – Under massive police brutality, tens of thousands of people across Russia have demonstrated for the release of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny and against President Vladimir Putin.
“Freedom for Navalny!” and “Putin, uchodi!” – in German: “Putin, get out!”, people shouted. Saturday’s protests in more than 100 cities in the largest country in the world are considered to be the largest in the past decade. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, men beat and kicked protesters. Many were injured – and more than 3,500 arrested. The US and the EU criticized the political persecution of dissidents in Russia.
On the other hand, the Kremlin downplayed these previously invisible mass protests against Putin: “Few people” went to the protests. “A lot of people vote for Putin,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on state television on Sunday. However, independent media assumed 40,000 protesters in Moscow alone. This is considered a lot – given the many prior arrests and the widespread threat of punishment from the authorities. In many cities, people also braved extreme freezing temperatures – in Yakutsk in Siberia, it was around minus 56 degrees Celsius.
State propaganda – as did Kremlin spokesman Peskov – pointed out that the demonstrations were not allowed. The main topic in the state media was that children were reportedly incited to protest. On the other hand, Putin’s opponent Navalny was again labeled “criminal”. In fact, there were mostly young people on the streets, but not as children, DPA reporters on the spot reported.
In Moscow, uniformed officers from the dreaded OMON special police beat protesters who broke through barriers and threw snowballs. In St. Petersburg, an OMON member of a 54-year-old woman kicked a 54-year-old woman in the pit of her stomach so hard that her head hit the asphalt. She asked why the men in uniform were taking a demonstrator. She was taken to hospital unconscious with a concussion.
For the first time, Navalny’s wife Julia and his colleague Lyubov Sobol were in police custody in Russia. Many of Nawalny’s employees had been arrested before the protests began.
Because of the brutal approach, prominent Russian opposition members who fled abroad, partly out of concern for their lives, called on the EU to impose sanctions on oligarchs and friends of Putin. “Hunt them down, follow their flow of money,” said former world chess champion Garry Kasparov. “Stop playing with the mafia.” Sanction laws in the US and the EU are poised to freeze the assets of Putin’s billionaire friends in the West.
“Putin wor!” – “Putin is a thief!”, People in Moscow and many other cities shouted. It was the phrase of the day that connected the many protesters across the country, even across the vast distances. It was not just about the “theft of democratic freedoms”. Many demanded «Freedom! Freedom! “- a Russia without oppression. Putin’s being called a thief is mainly due to the charges of corruption against him and his power apparatus.
Putin’s opponent Navalny has been exposing these machinations for years – and therefore has a particularly large number of enemies in the Russian leadership. The highlight: In the latest top-state fortification revelation video, Navalny’s team shows for the first time photos, eyewitness accounts and documents about Russia’s largest private estate entitled “A Palace for Putin”. The 44-year-old thinks the billionaire “Tsarist Empire” with casino, ice hockey arena and helipad has been proven to be the president’s.
Everything would have been financed by bribes the Kremlin chief receives from his friends in state-owned companies and from oligarchs. The Kremlin repeatedly dismissed this as “nonsense”. But even days after the video was published, with nearly 80 million views on Sunday afternoon, no one has yet committed to the Black Sea property.
According to sociologists, the video likely further fueled the protest mood in Russia, which is now widespread. “A dictatorship has finally been established in Russia,” said former oil manager and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who himself spent years in a prison camp after criticizing Putin. “The main reason for staying in power is the unimaginable theft and the desire to escape responsibility for the crimes committed.”
Khodorkovsky, Kasparov and Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Mursa, who has also been poisoned in the past, stressed at a joint online press conference that there is still a long way to go for change in Russia. The Putin system is strong. However, Kara-Mursa said that Russian history has shown several times that revolutionary processes can arise spontaneously.
In Germany and other countries people also demonstrated for the release of Nawalny. In Berlin, about 2000 people marched past the Russian embassy in a protest march. In Düsseldorf, 200 people demonstrated on the market square.
Due to the corona pandemic, no rallies have been approved in Russia for months. Human rights activists see this as an excuse to silence the opposition. They emphasize the right to freedom of assembly and expression. Experts in Russia noted that many people were not intimidated by the threats from the authorities.
State power made two mistakes, said Russian political scientist Tatiana Stanowaja: “The poisoning of Navalny and his arrest.” The protests have now given him legitimacy all over Russia and made him a hero. “The image of the predictable politician and adventurer has changed – he is now seen as ‘one of us’ and ‘our man’.” Navalny’s team spoke of a “grandiose all-Russian move” – and announced that the protests would continue next weekend.
The EU and Chancellor Angela Merkel had called for Nawalny’s release. EU foreign ministers are discussing the Navalny case this Monday – and the new sanctions against Russia called for by the European Parliament. Moscow, however, refuses to interfere in internal affairs. The Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry were outraged by the actions of the US Embassy in Moscow, which listed the exact meeting points and times prior to the demonstrations.
The new US administration, in turn, condemned the “harsh methods” used by Russian security forces in dealing with protesters and journalists. The Russian journalists association spoke about 40 arrests among journalists on Saturday.