"This was a victory for the opposition, but a victory in a single battle. There is a long war ahead for them.”
Russian political consultant Abbas Gallyamov, former speechwriter for Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin, responding to protests in Russia *against* the arrest of one of Putin’s critics.
- Name to know: Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader against Vladmir Putin.
- He’s been described as a “blogger” or an “anti-corruption campaigner” or a “protest leader.” Bottom line – he has amassed a huge following of young Russians while critiquing the leadership of Putin and the Russian government. Here’s a good backgrounder on Navalny.
- Navalny nearly died after he was poisoned this summer – he blames Russia; Russia denies involvement. Independent labs tied a “Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent” to Navalny’s injuries. He received treatment in Germany and all the while, continued to speak out against Putin.
- Navalny returned to Russia on January 17 and was immediately arrested.
- What Happened: Protestors rallied on Navalny’s behalf. The Wall Street Journal describes the gatherings as “the largest (protests) in recent years…tens of thousands of people brave(d) freezing temperatures, the threat of the pandemic and the possibility of incarceration.”
- Numbers of attendees varied but reportedly protests occurred in 100 cities. More than 3,000 people were arrested.
- The Russian gov’t says: “Few people took to the streets; many people vote for Putin,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state television Sunday. “And many voted for the constitutional amendments. If you compare the numbers, you will understand how few people” there were on Saturday.
- Why It Matters: Vladmir Putin has maintained an iron-grip on Russian government, and supported changes to policies so he can stay in power. Navalny has been a critic of Putin for more than a decade and attempted to expose what he alleges is Putin’s corruption. The protests show Russian citizens are willing to take immense risk to voice their critique of Putin ~ something not often seen. Whenever protests like this happen, questions emerge about whether the Russian people will organize to significantly challenge Putin’s hold on power. A shift in Russian leadership would undoubtedly have worldwide impact.