Protesters across Russia call for Navalny’s freedom
On the same day that President Vladimir Putin gave a nationally televised speech warning the West against threatening Russia, the homegrown opposition to his increasingly hard-line rule returned to the streets.
Tens of thousands of people protested in cities across the country yesterday for the first time in two months, responding to calls to support jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as his allies warn that his health is failing and his entire activist network could be outlawed soon.
The last time such demonstrations took place – in January and February, right after Navalny was arrested – major crowds turned out and more than 11,000 people were detained, according to independent rights monitors.
The Kremlin’s crackdown has grown more intense in the months since, targeting independent journalists, human rights organisations and Navalny’s associates. Yesterday’s rallies, though smaller than the demonstrations earlier in the year, were a show of defiance.
‘‘In our constitution, at the very beginning, it says we have freedom, but in reality we don’t,’’ said Anna, a 19-year-old student at the protest in Moscow, who like others spoke on the condition that only her first name be used because the demonstrations are considered illegal by authorities.
The government is ‘‘stomping on our throats to keep us silent,’’ she said.
Some protests overlapped with Putin’s annual state-of-russia address in Moscow. In the fareastern city Khabarovsk, near Russia’s border with China, video on social media purported to show protesters in a square surrounded by armoured vehicles and lines of masked riot police. Putin’s address was broadcast on a giant screen, and the person filming the video said authorities had turned up the volume.
Putin devoted the majority of his speech to promising better times ahead and more government support for Russians facing economic hardships. But he saved his most fiery remarks for the end with a message for the international community: Anyone who threatens Russia ‘‘will regret it like they’ve never regretted anything before.’’
His warnings to the West come amid tense relations with Moscow on several fronts.
Russia’s recent military buildup along the Ukrainian border has been widely criticised. But despite the redeployment of forces around Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia-backed separatists for seven years in the eastern Donbas region, Putin didn’t announce any new moves, barely referencing Ukraine at all.