The regime of Vladimir Putin ordered the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in a rushed jailhouse hearing after his return to Russia, then “found” it had the right to hold him for at least 30 days. The political crackdown against an anti-corruption campaigner Putin’s security forces attempted to assassinate has sparked outrage across Russia and around the world.
In a defiant show of resistance and independence, more than 100,00 have joined protests in more than 70 cities across Russia, demanding Navalny’s immediate release. Candidates supported by Navalny’s movement have been among the only non-loyalist candidates to win elected office in Russia in recent years. Putin is reportedly so afraid of the influence Navalny has built with the Russian people that he refuses to mention his name.
Navalny has reached people across Russia with his anti-corruption campaign. Anger at his detention is so deep there was even a sizable protest in Yakutsk, where temperatures were -50°C (yes, 50 degrees below zero).
The Washington Post is reporting today that:
Saturday’s demonstrations came after a sweeping national crackdown in which police detained opposition activists and courts locked up Navalny’s press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, and another team member, Georgy Alburov, co-author of a bombshell viral YouTube video “Putin’s Palace — History of the World’s Largest Bribe.”
The video, posted Tuesday, alleging colossal corruption in the construction of a vast Black Sea palace for Putin, has been viewed more than 68 million times. The Kremlin denies any relationship between Putin and the palace.
Now, police have arrested more than 1,600 people for participating in the protests, including Navalny’s wife Yulia. Protesters told reporters there were many more people who support Navalny but did not attend due to fears of Putin’s security forces.
Putin’s attempt to assassinate Navalny, then to defame him after the assassination attempt, and now jailing him and his supporters, may be shifting the nature of that fear. Human rights groups in Russia say Putin is losing support, as he fails to restore the Russian economy or manage the COVID pandemic.
While many stayed away from the protests due to long-running fear of security forces and the regime’s routine abuse of power, it is increasingly clear to Russians generally that Putin is not their ally. Putin’s approval rating among the Russian people has been steadily declining with misgovernment, abuses, and failures of recent years.
One poll in 2019 showed Putin with less than 1/3 popular support across Russia. Attacks on Navalny and his supporters increasingly look to Russians like a direct attack on their own rights. Today’s far-reaching crackdown may look desperate and illegitimate enough to override the fears of many who have lost faith in Putin.