‘Murder is the only way he knows how to fight. He’ll go down in history as nothing but a poisoner’. These scathing attacks on Vladimir Putin came from Alexei Navalny in his final 15-minute speech to the court before heading to prison for two and a half years – a speech watched by millions.
With the latest figures indicating that more than 10,000 people have been arrested at protests across the country in his support, Navalny seems to have finally become too big for the Kremlin to quell.
Returning from a 5-month stay in Germany after recovering from an attempted assassination through the use of the nerve agent Novichok, Navalny has now become a living martyr for many in Russia. Certain arrest awaited him upon his arrival, but he has repeatedly attested his right to return to his home, with the need to stay relevant to the Russian people a necessity.
Russian law enforcement had openly threatened to jail Navalny in relation to a missed parole hearing in what appeared to be a thinly veiled attempt to keep him exiled in Berlin in the hopes that his influence would subside. Their fear became even more apparent when his plane was suddenly diverted to Sheremetyevo, away from its expected touch down at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport where media and large crowds awaited him. The move forced an estimated 8 other planes to adjust their routes, with one of the planes running low on petrol as a result, in what a pilot described as a “dangerous and reckless situation in the Moscow airspace”.
Detention centres reached capacity, leading many protesters to be detained in police trucks for days at a time in -11C weather without food
The Kremlin is now an administration in blatant panic, with last minute diversions to avoid media coverage of his large supporter base and the unjust arrest in the airport only emphasising their terror at the threat he poses. A more astute regime would have ignored his return.
Navalny’s assertion that ‘you can’t lock up the whole country’ is beginning to come into realisation in Russia as detention centres reached capacity, leading many protesters to be detained in police trucks for days at a time in -11C weather without food.
Tens of thousands are protesting when they would never have considered it before; the obvious infringement on people’s liberty and the falling of people’s income for five of the last seven years has become too much. A young man in Moscow who was asked why he wasn’t scared to join the protest simply replied “I was scared. I am still scared. But what’s happening in the country now—it’s bigger than the fear. What else is there to do?”.
Boris Johnson, amongst many others, called for Navalny to be released “immediately”
The reaction from the international community has been one of outrage, but their complaints will have little impact. Boris Johnson, amongst many others, called for Navalny to be released “immediately” and describes his prison sentence as “pure cowardice” on twitter.
This has been met with indignation from the Kremlin, with Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, suggesting that other countries “should not interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state” and instead “deal with their own problems”. With Russia already under various sanctions from the West, it is challenging to ascertain the options for increasing political pressure.
The lasting impact of the protests in a dictatorship that still maintains loyal security forces is difficult to forecast. What is certain is that there has been a shift in the mentality and the outrage of the populace. With the atrocities of the regime laid bare, there is nothing left for the government to do which would surprise those out protesting.
Lev Parkhomenko, a journalist, aptly summarised the view of the resistors on Facebook with the phrase “What’s better, a horrible end or horror without end?”. As officials continue their frantic attempts quash the dissent, the cracks in Putin’s intrepid image grow wider.
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