Tens of thousands of Russians demand the freedom of Navalny | Free press

Moscow (dpa) – In an unprecedented wave of protests, tens of thousands of people across Russia have demonstrated for the release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and against President Vladimir Putin.

“Freedom for Navalny!” and “Putin, uchodi!” – in German: “Putin, get out!”, people sang in dozens of cities in the largest country in the world by area. Protests from the far east of the country to Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea were directed against the political persecution of dissenters. Police collided with protesters in Moscow. Dozens were injured. Civil rights activists counted more than 1,800 arrests across the country at the beginning of Saturday night.

For the first time, Navalny’s wife Julia and his colleague Lyubov Sobol were also in police custody. “Putin wor” – “Putin is a thief!” – shouted people in Moscow and many other cities. 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 robbing democratic rights, many shouted, “Russia will be free!”

Putin’s being called a thief is mainly due to allegations of corruption against him and his power apparatus. Navalny has exposed these machinations for years – and therefore has a particularly large number of enemies in the Russian leadership.

The highlight: In the latest reveal video, Navalny’s team shows for the first time photos, eyewitness accounts and documents about Russia’s largest private estate under the title “A Palace for Putin”. The Putin adversary believes that the billionaire “Tsarist Empire” with its own ice hockey arena, helipad, casino and aqua disco has been proven to be owned by the president. It is said to have been funded by bribes the Kremlin chief receives from his friends in state-owned companies and from oligarchs.

The Kremlin dismisses this as nonsense. But even days after the video was viewed 70 million times on Saturday afternoon, no one has yet committed to the Black Sea property. According to sociologists, this should have further boosted the protest mood in Russia, which is already widespread anyway.

In the capital Moscow alone, Navalny’s supporters spoke of 40,000 participants. The police gave the number significantly lower. In the evenings, there were sometimes serious clashes with the infamous OMON special police. Protesters broke metal bar barriers and threw fireworks and snowballs. In return, the uniformed men beat the mostly young protesters with batons.

Passing cars honk in solidarity with the protesters. “I don’t want to live in a Russia like we have now,” 30-year-old Irina told a reporter for the German news agency. “We don’t have a democracy.” There were many young people among the participants in central Pushkin Square – although the authorities had tried to deter them beforehand. For example, universities threatened to expel students. In St. Petersburg, protesters took the famous Nevsky Prospect.

In total, according to Navalny’s staff, there were protests in more than 90 Russian cities in support of the politician currently imprisoned in the infamous Moscow prison “Sailor Silence”. Many chiefs of regional staff of the Nawalny Anti-Corruption Organization had been arrested beforehand, some of them in brutal police operations. Videos posted a lot: “If you see this video, I’ve already been arrested …” And they called for protests again.

Due to the time difference that the people in Moscow were several hours ahead of, thousands of protesters had already taken to the streets in other cities – in the Far East of Yakutsk even in icy temperatures of -56 degrees Celsius. In many places, the dreaded brutal action by security forces has not materialized. 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.

How successful the opposition’s call to protest would ultimately be could only be expected in the end. At the end of the day, it was clear that many Russian cities had witnessed the biggest illicit protests in years – including Tomsk in Siberia, where Navalny was poisoned five months ago. Political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya noted that state power made two mistakes: “The poisoning of Navalny and his arrest.”

Navalny believes that a “killer team” from the FSB’s domestic intelligence agency was responsible for the Novichok neurotoxin attack in August on Putin’s orders. The president and the FSB reject this. In fact, Russia denies that there has been an attack at all. Several laboratories, including one from the Bundeswehr, have confirmed the Novichok poisoning. The EU has therefore imposed sanctions on Russia.

Navalny supporters also gathered for protests in many places abroad, including Berlin, Finland’s capital, Helsinki, and Warsaw in Poland. The EU and Chancellor Angela Merkel had called for Nawalny’s release. But Russia refuses to interfere in internal affairs. The protests must continue.

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