The Kremlin tries at all costs to avoid protests in support of Alexei Navalni. The Russian authorities have demanded that the main social networks block the messages and videos that call for a demonstration this Saturday for the release of the prominent Russian opponent.
The dissident was arrested last Sunday upon returning to Russia after recovering in Germany from a poison attack this summer in Siberia. The telecommunications regulator warns that the demonstrations are not authorized and has threatened TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Facebook or Vkontakte with heavy fines and a veto in Russia. In addition, the Russian police have arrested several collaborators of the activist on Thursday.
The wave of repression against the opposition has intensified. In addition to the arrests of lawyer and politician Lyubov Soboland other allies close to Navalni, accused of inciting the protests, the authorities searched the homes of several of his collaborators and the offices in different parts of the country of the anti-corruption fund led by the activist and that on Tuesday published an extensive investigation into alleged billionaire palace owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin and paid for with fraudulent funds.
The prosecution has warned 23 people about the call for protests. Isolating the leaders: another common hand in the Kremlin’s playbook to try to deter mobilizations and deflate them before they occur; also to test the spirits and the degree of social support.
“We have all the legal grounds to accuse of minor crimes before the event all those who [promote it] in person, online and in writing,” said the Deputy Minister of the Interior, Alexander Gorovoy, who assured that “the spirits of protest” are encouraged from abroad and that linked the calls in support of Navalni, who is serving 30 days in preventive detention awaiting a court hearing that could impose a sentence of several years , with the protests against electoral fraud in Belarus.
“Many foreign stakeholders are trying to shake things up this year in a major political cycle,” Gorovoy told an Interior meeting, quoted by the Interfax agency.
In 2021, with the new package of laws approved in December by President Putin, the right to demonstrate is even more restricted and the penalties for those who call and participate in unauthorized protests are harsher.
Despite this, videos and messages in support of Navalni have flooded social networks, where the labels “January 23” (due to the protests scheduled for Saturday), “free Navalni” and the like accumulate about 200 million views.
Hence the authorities’ warning to the main social networks, especially for spreading messages aimed at “involving adolescents in illegal activities.” An administrative offense that is punishable by four million rubles (about 44,500 euros) or 10% of the company’s annual income in Russia.
On TikTok, hundreds of videos show teenagers removing traditional Putin photographs that preside over Russian classrooms or replacing those images with a snapshot of Navalni. In a rare gesture, several prominent Russian sports figures, such as Igor Denisov, former captain of the national soccer team, showed their support for the opponent on social media.
The openly nationalist politician, who has gained popularity in recent years with investigations into corruption and scandals of the Russian political and economic elite, has a lot of appeal among young people, with whom he connects especially well due to his use of social networks and his YouTube channel, in which he publishes videos such as the one broadcast by his team on Tuesday, in which the opponent delved into Putin’s alleged palace on the Black Sea, which is 39 times the size of the Principality of Monaco, which has cost 1,200 million euros and has even a hockey rink. A video that accumulates 44 million views in 48 hours.
As a prelude to a decisive year for politics in Russia, where elections to the state Duma are planned in September, the warnings about going to the protests go further and several public universities and study centers have warned their students that they could face to an expulsion if they participate in unauthorized mobilizations. In some centers, such as Bashkir State University, they have made this Saturday a compulsory school day and attendance.