Thousands of protesters have been arrested in recent weeks during demonstrations over the jailing of Putin critic Alexey Navalny, the economic inequality, and the clamping of freedom of speech.
During the month of January, tens of thousands of people, of an assortment of all ages, marched in more than 100 cities and towns in Russia. This is a rare phenomenon in Russia as political protests over the past 20 years have been only concentrated in big cities. A large percentage of people had never protested before.
They are demanding the release of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny among other things.
On 20 August 2020, Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent. During a flight from Tomsk to Moscow, he became seriously ill and was taken to a hospital in Omsk after an emergency landing there, in a coma. He was transferred to the Charité hospital in Berlin, Germany, two days later. The use of the nerve agent was confirmed by five organizations for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) certified laboratories. Navalny accused President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for his poisoning.
Other prominent Russians, especially those critical of the Kremlin, have suffered poisoning attacks in the last two decades The EU and the UK imposed sanctions over Navalny’s poisoning on the director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, and five other senior Russian officials and the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT).
Russian prosecutors refused to open an official criminal investigation of the poisoning, claiming they found no sign that a crime had been committed, and the Kremlin denied involvement in the poisoning of Navalny.
On 17 January 2021, Navalny traveled to Russia from Germany and was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport for allegedly violating the terms of his probation. On 2 February, his suspended sentence was replaced with a prison sentence, meaning he would spend over two and half years at a penal colony.
While tens of thousands are asking for his release, they are also stating that Russians are unhappy with limited freedom of speech, alarmed at its curb, the bad economic situation has heightened during the pandemic, poor government support during the pandemic, unemployment at its highest since 2012, drop-in oil demand, suffered its sharpest contraction in 11 years.
Meantime, thousands are randomly arrested for protesting on the streets.
Tens of thousands of people turned out across Russia on Sunday for a second consecutive weekend rally in support of a jailed opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny. But where the protesters went, so did the police, meeting them in sometimes brutal clashes.https://t.co/adEMlWDM6g pic.twitter.com/KdnkalGS8e
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 31, 2021
According to Credit Suisse Research Institute in 2019, in Russia, the top 10% own 83% of the country’s wealth, making it the most unequal of the world’s largest economies followed by the U.S. and China.
In the words of Marina Shakhov, a 31-year-old sales representative, “Either the protests will gain momentum,” she says, “or the authorities will continue to achieve their goals through arrests, fines, intimidation, and people will go back to tolerating and staying quiet.”