“For years Alexeï Navalny has been fighting for us, it is our turn to fight for his release.” In an investigation into a sumptuous mansion belonging to Valdimir Putin on the shores of the Black Sea, broadcast on Tuesday, January 19, the supporters of the Russian opponent published a message to call for demonstrations on Saturday and demand his release.
The return to Russia of the anti-corruption activist, victim suspected poisoning this summer, and his imprisonment have awakened the opposition, which is trying to make its voice heard despite the repression.
Returning to the country despite the risk of being imprisoned
After five months of convalescence in Germany following his serious illness contracted while in Siberia at the end of August, Alexeï Navalny returned to Russia on Sunday January 17th. The opponent, who has always maintained that he was the victim of an attempt to poison the part of the Russian secret services with a nerve agent, knew what fate awaited him on his return home: prison. The Russian prison service had warned him but these threats did not frighten him. “Am I going to be arrested? It’s impossible, I’m innocent”, had he proclaimed in front of the journalists present in the plane which brought him back.
After a night in police custody, the number 1 opponent in the Kremlin was jailed on Monday for violating the judicial review imposed on him as part of a five-year suspended prison sentence for embezzlement, of which he got scooped in 2014. Why then jump into the mouth of the wolf?
“He knows that he has no political future outside of Russia. To pursue political action in exile is very difficult, if not impossible.”Arnaud Dubien, director of the Franco-Russian Observatory in Moscow, researcher at IRIS
at “20 Minutes”
“VShe is a fearless person and he thinks that if he did not return, it could have ended his political career but also put those around him even more in danger “, add for franceinfo Galia Ackerman, historian, specialist on Russia.
By producing new revelations targeting Vladimir Putin
Alexeï Navalny had anticipated his arrest since the next day, he launched his counter-attack by broadcasting a vast anti-corruption investigation targeting President Vladimir Poutine and the “palace” he would have built on the shores of the Black Sea. ERecorded before his return to Russia on Sunday, this investigation ensures that the Russian president is the beneficiary of a large property and a huge palace near the Russian city of Gelendzhik. This very luxurious complex would also include vineyards, an ice hockey enclosure or a casino. It was funded, according to the opponent, by relatives of the Russian president, such as Igor Setchine, boss of the oil giant Rosneft, or businessman Guennadi Timtchenko.
“It is a state within Russia. And, in this state, there is only an irremovable tsar. Putin”, believes Alexeï Navalny, also accusing the Russian president of being “obsessed with wealth and luxury”. According to the opponent, 100 billion rubles (1.12 billion euros) were spent to build this complex, the total area of which is 7,000 hectares, i.e. “39 times the size of Monaco”. It is officially owned by the FSB, the Russian security services. This investigation, viewed more than 65 million times on YouTube on Saturday, was accompanied by a call to demonstrate to denounce the incarceration of the opponent.
By relying on social networks that power struggles to muzzle
To relay this call, Alexeï Navalny’s supporters rely on social networks, such as TikTok or Vkontakte (VK), the Russian equivalent of Facebook. On these platforms, the opponent enjoys strong popularity and the protest against Vladimir Putin is very present, when the traditional media, especially television, are controlled by the Kremlin. Thus, thousands of messages calling for a protest flourished this week, totaling hundreds of millions of views, like that of the young Russian “Neurolera” on TikTok, which explains how to impersonate a tourist and avoid arrest during protests.
But Russian telecommunications gendarme Roskomnadzor responded by threatening social media with fines in the name of protecting under-18s. On the eve of the demonstration, he indicated that TikTok had “deleted 38% of information implicating minors in dangerous illegal actions”, adding that VKontakte deleted 50% of those posts, Instagram 17% and YouTube, 50%. For its part, Facebook, which owns Instagram, said it had not complied with the authorities’ demand. “As this content does not go against our community standards, it stays on our platform”, a Facebook spokeswoman said in a comment to AFP on Friday night.
The fine, for platforms not respecting the law, can go up to 4 million rubles (43,880 euros at the current rate), according to Roskomnadzor. However, banning YouTube, which is owned by Google, completely seems more complicated. “Roskomnadzor doesn’t have a lot of funds, told AFP Artiom Kozliouk, director of the association for the defense of digital freedoms Roskomsvoboda, they have practically no leverage “.
“It is difficult to put pressure on Western social networks: by making concessions to a political regime, a blow would be dealt to their reputation on a global scale.”Artiom Kozliouk, director of a Russian association for the defense of digital freedoms
By calling for demonstrations despite the repression
In a video posted on social networks just after his incarceration, Alexeï Navalny launched: “What these bandits (in power) fear the most, you know, is that people take to the streets (…) so don’t be afraid, take to the streets, not for me but for yourself , for your future. ” According to the director of the Franco-Russian Observatory in Moscow Arnaud Dubien, “s’there was a demonstration, it could worry the Kremlin “, because it would show that the activist’s attempts to debunk Putin’s power are finding an echo. “Electorally, this is not necessarily a threat for Putin. But he represents something, he presents himself as close to the people, a patriot, heroes of the fight against corruption, and these are three very popular themes in Russia”, analysis for 20 minutes Jean from Gliniasty, director of research at Iris and former French ambassador in Moscow.
To prevent any collapse, the Russian authorities and in particular the Moscow police promised to “repress without delay” any unauthorized gathering that it considers to be “threat to public order”. Already in the summer of 2019, thehe previous large opposition rallies in Moscow had been suppressed. “Today, any unauthorized protest and even solo protests, just putting on a sign asking for something can lead to arrest and even a severe fine, sometimes even jail. “, details Galia Ackerman.
Hundreds of people have already been arrested on Saturday on the sidelines of the demonstrations organized in the Russian Far East, where several thousand people took to the streets in Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk and Chita. From his prison, Alexeï Navalny will be able to see the extent of his aura, his base and his capacity to mobilize. Problem, he risks spending the next few years behind bars. “The most likely hypothesis is that he will be convicted because of his previous conviction and the investigation opened in December and that he will spend several years in prison, believes Arnaud Dubien, the Kremlin’s calculation is that we talk less and less about Navalny. “