Alexei Navalny supporters oppose the vast Russian police operation as a sign of heightened Kremlin anxiety

There are no signs of support for protesters within governments, parliaments, large corporations, or security agencies that Vladimir Putin is well aware of.

Moscow: The Kremlin launched Russia’s most horrific national police activity in recent memory on Sunday, trying to defeat protests in favor of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who swept the country for the second straight week. did.

However, military demonstrations, including closed subway stations, thousands of arrests, and often brutal tactics, could not alleviate anxiety. People gathered on the ice of the Pacific bay and for thousands of Navalny in cities from Siberia to the Urals and St. Petersburg. In Moscow, protesters evaded the lines of checkpoints and riot police officers to march in line to the prison where Navalny was detained, “for all, and for all.” To! “

By late Sunday night in Moscow, more than 5,000 people were detained in at least 85 cities across Russia, many later released, according to a group of activists. An unprecedented number of MTFs wearing black helmets, camouflage and bulletproof vests basically blocked the center of a metropolitan area of ​​13 million people, stopping passers-by miles away from protests. I checked the paperwork and asked what I was doing outside.

“I don’t understand what they’re afraid of,” said a protester named Anastasia Kuzmina, a 25-year-old account manager at an advertising agency, about police. Mentioning the peak year of Joseph Stalin’s massive crackdown, she added, “We seem to have slipped into 1937.”

The large police response has shown the Kremlin’s fears of Navalny’s ability to unite different critics of Russia’s President Vladimirputin, from nationalists to liberals to many who have no particular ideology.

However, military show of force also revealed that Putin had no plans to retreat. Immediately after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused “sustainable use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry protested as part of a “strategy to contain Russia.” He issued a statement accusing him of supporting it. “

Both sides’ next tests will take place on Tuesday, and Navalny will face a court hearing on alleged parole violations related to a six-year-old embezzlement case that could be sent to jail for several years. Navalny’s allies, some of whom helped steer foreign rallies via Twitter, Telegram, and YouTube, declared Sunday’s demonstrations successful and filed more protests outside court on Tuesday. I called.

“Russian citizens have once again shown their strength and strength, and Putin undoubtedly understands this,” said Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s top aide to coordinate foreign protests. Said on Sunday on a live YouTube broadcast.

However, police sought to project their strength not only in numbers, but in more fear-inducing tactics. Video footage shot in Moscow and St. Petersburg showed people who did not appear to resist the cry of arrest after police used devices like taser guns against them — in previous protests. Weapons that have not been reported to have been used. There were also reports that tear gas was used in St. Petersburg.

The crackdown on protesters ratchets authoritarianism to avoid a potential threat to his power as Putin, who maintains a little freedom in the country, including the open internet and some independent news media Showed that you are ready. The question is whether more Russians will actively resist such authoritarian shifts, especially as an image of police atrocities through social media over the next few days.

“Bolts are tightened,” said Nikolai Babikov, 31, a computer system analyst in Moscow, anxiously staring at the thick gray police van holding the riot police and detainees. “Freedom is being lost and little by little we are becoming the Soviet Union again.”

Putin has faced growing public dissatisfaction for several years amid declining real income and declining patriotism following the 2014 Crimean annexation. Navarny is the Kremlin’s most noisy critic, and Putin killed him in an attack by a nerve agent last summer.

Navalny matched his accumulated dissatisfaction when he returned to Moscow after recovering from an addiction in Germany two weeks ago, despite facing an almost certain arrest on his arrival. Later, with Navalny in jail, his team released a two-hour video accusing Putin of building a secret palace for him in the Black Sea.

The video has been watched over 100 million times on YouTube and has fueled protests calling for Navalny’s release. On Sunday, footage from across the country showed some protesters wielding toilet brushes and chanting “Aqua Disco” — to the $ 850 toilet brush and elaborate fountain detailed in Navalny’s report. Reference.

The Kremlin denied reports of the palace and scrambled to contain public anger at it. On Saturday, State Television aired an interview with Putin’s friend Arkadi Rothenberg. He said he was actually the owner of the property and was planning to turn it into a hotel.

“I’m honest and nothing else,” said Lyudmila Mikhailovna, an 83-year-old retired pediatrician in Moscow who refused to reveal her surname.

She wasn’t a big fan of Navalny, but said she came out to protest after watching his video about the palace.

Sunday’s protests began around noon on Russia’s Pacific coast and spread nationwide in 11 time zones from east to west. In Vladivostok, a port city in the Sea of ​​Japan, protesters have landed on the ice that covers Amur Bay, avoiding the city center blocked by riot police officers. They clasped their hands, showed the video, formed chains, and danced, chanting “Putin is a thief!” And “Russia will be free!”

The riot officers, who were initially hesitant to chase the frozen water, decided to chase. But it was like a slow-motion chase, with both sides moving violently over a snow-covered ice spread under the gray late afternoon sky.

This was just one of many notable scenes on Sunday in eastern Russia, where large-scale protests were rare. In the Siberian city of Irkutsk, where temperatures approached -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 degrees Celsius), turnout was significantly lower than the thousands who protested last weekend, and the presence of police was even more impressive.

Citizen activist Alexey Zhemchuzhnikov said a chain of riot police officers with full-body armor and shields was deployed for the first time, blocking parts of the city center. He said mobile internet access was blocked.

“This was the first time for Irkutsk,” Zhemchuzhnikov said of the police response. “They were scared.”

Still, there are no signs of support for protesters within governments, parliament, large corporations, or security agencies, all of which remain firmly in Putin’s grasp. In Russia, the elite fission, at least superficially unseen, was crucial to the success of street movements in other former Soviet countries.

In Moscow, Navalny’s team led protesters on an evasive, zigzag route to avoid police barricades. It encouraged them to be together in a larger and harder to arrest crowd. Long before the protests began, police blocked much of the city center with pedestrians and closed subway stops around the Kremlin. This is the first crowd management tactic used in recent years.

“Keep on the boulevard and stay in a large group,” Navalny’s team instructed protesters using the messaging app Telegram. “Remember, the more we are, the harder it is for the police to do anything.”

Mostly young protesters followed Navalny’s social media accounts over the phone, often following the team’s instructions, to the prison where Navalny was held. Police wielded shields and batons, divided the crowd into smaller groups, pushed protesters into walls and fences, and then tried to detain them.

In a chaotic scene, police officers arrested people trying to hide in the backyard or at the entrance to an apartment. By the evening Tas The state news agency reported that police are looking for stragglers in the courtyards and apartment buildings.

The tougher tactics were content with the protests in Belarus. There, President Alexander Lukashenko used fierce police force to quell the protests after the election fraud last summer. Russian police on Sunday did not use Lukashenko’s toughest methods, including stun grenade and rubber bullets, but seemed to reflect his strategy of arguing with force rather than dialogue.

Newspaper reporter in St. Petersburg Novaya Gazeta After “severe detention,” police officers posted a video of dragging an unconscious protester into a police van. Reports of plainclothes police officers beating protesters surfaced in two local cities, Kursk and Volgograd.

In Moscow’s magnificent garden ring, retired pediatrician Mikhailovna, a major boulevard in the city center, shines on the phalanges of a muscular officer in front of him.

She has been protesting since Mikhail Gorbachev’s time, and despite repeated disappointments, she said, “May my children and grandchildren not have to live in a greedy police state.” Things are now intolerable. “

Anton Troianovski, Andrew E Kramer, Ivan Nechepurenko, Andrew Higgins c.2021 The New York Times Company

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Alexei Navalny supporters oppose the vast Russian police operation as a sign of heightened Kremlin anxiety

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