As the riot police incited on Saturday to recapture Moscow’s Pushkin class, you could see from the crowd that their truncheons were raised high, ready to strike. Then their black helmets came into view, and finally they pushed forward, causing waves of terrorized Russians to leave the capital’s boulevards and side streets. “Respected citizens, the current incident is illegal. We are doing everything to ensure your safety, ”an officer repeated on the loudspeaker, despite all evidence to the contrary.
For more than a decade, the Kremlin has used every tool at its disposal to keep Russians off the streets, creating fear and boredom to protest against Vladimir Putin. And yet in the cities of Russia on Saturday, tens of thousands of Russians sent a message to the Kremlin, from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok and even Yakutsk, where temperatures below -50C have been reduced. , Which would put an end to all protests in Russia: Enough is enough.
As the police fought to regain control of the city squares, some protesters fought, snowballed and traded strikes with officers in body armor. Many more rants went on to leave Putin, coining jokes, filming Instagram stories, and running to stay one step ahead of the police, who chased him across the city.
The spark was the arrest of anti-Russian leader Alexey Navalny, who was allegedly poisoned by the FSB. But many of the thousands in Moscow said the problems deepened, tied to Putin and his two decades of control over the country.
“I had stopped protesting for a long time, everything seemed pointless,” said 45-year-old Yuliya Makhovskaya. “But today something made me feel that I have to come. Navalni was just the last drop. “
Saturday’s protest was one of the biggest demonstrations against Putin’s rule in the past decade. More than 2,500 people were arrested at dozens of uncontrolled rallies across the country, calling for the opposition leader to be released from prison as it exceeded the expectations of many protesters.
Navalny’s allies hope they can force the Kremlin to release him through a show of strength, but it is unclear whether the protests broke the government’s resolve to send a Putin critic to prison for a decade or not.
In Moscow and several other cities, demonstrators at main intersections led to clashes as police protesters fled and columns of protesters broke through police lines in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, leading to fighting in the streets.
Police were seen losing control several times. In Moscow, the video showed protesters doing business with riot officials near the main site of the protests, as young protesters kicked around police-like police riot helmets. In St. Petersburg, protesters closed the city’s main street, Nevsky Prospect, and Navalny’s team eventually had to issue a call to let them go home.
Russia’s National Investigation Committee said it had opened an investigation into violence against police officers on Saturday evening. A spokesman for the US embassy condemned the violence against the protesters, accusing Moscow of suppressing Russia’s peaceful protest.
No one is reported dead, but several protesters appeared to be seriously injured, one with bleeding from the head and the other who appeared unconscious while being put into a police van. Another keeper, who was rubbing ice on a bruise under his right eye to reduce swelling, reported Observer He had hit her face twice in the night.
The biggest protest took place in Moscow, where a crowd of 40,000 was estimated by Reuters that the statue of poet Alexander Pushkin is dominated by a city. “leave!” The protesters asked Putin to step down.
The demonstrations were Moscow’s biggest since 2012, when protests against more than 100,000 flawed elections surfaced, along with Putin’s plan to return for a third term in the Kremlin.
These protests were sparked after Navalny’s arrest last Sunday, while returning to treatment from abroad after eating her poison. A parole board may send him to a penal colony by the end of January.
“We feel very bad for Navalni. You don’t have to be a master of chess to understand what’s going to happen to you, “said Natalya Krenova, a former schoolgirl who brought a copy of the Constitution to class with her because It ensured the right to protest. “As long as we keep coming out [to protest]The problem will never go away in this country. And that problem is of Putin. “
Police appeared to target Navalni’s young supporters, with helmet officers crowded to arrest them. The 19-year-old Ariotom, who studied at Moscow’s Economics University, said students were warned not to face protests or protests on Friday, which they deemed to mean expulsion.
“They are terrified that they are losing control over young people, who think they should be for Putin, be grateful to them,” he said. “My lot [classmates] Was afraid to come out today. “
Vladislav, a 24-year-old sound technician with a facial tattoo, said young people were fed up with the lack of change. “It seems hopeless,” he said.
The inquiry committee has also opened a criminal investigation calling on social media forschoolchildren to come to rallies, focusing on the explosion of posts on platforms such as TikTok in support of the opposition leader.
“Special respect to all the schoolchildren who called my lawyers ‘Mayhem at Tickcock’. I’m not sure what that means, but it feels good,” said Navalani from her jail cell in the evening of the protests. Said according to his team.
In his remarks, Navalny also thanked those who supported him and watched the investigation broadcast on Toast recently at the £ 1bn Black Sea palace built for Putin. As of saturday
In the evening, it was viewed 70 million times.
“I know there are a lot of good people outside this prison and this help is coming,” Navalny said.
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to the protest. Putin’s only public comment was to mark the passage of Larry King, the host of American talks.
Public protests earlier saved Navalny from prison. In 2013, he was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly embezzling money from a lumber company in Kirov city.
But the day he was sentenced, thousands of protesters stopped the traffic across Red Square, right in front of the State Duma, across the street from the Kremlin. The next day, Navalny’s sentence comes on probation, and the opposition leader is suddenly let go. The face proved embarrassing about what many people already knew: court decisions depend on the Kremlin craze.
“It is clear that only public pressure, only street protests, can drive Alexei out of Matroskaya Tshina where he was held by Putin,” said Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny and some of his colleagues, who were in custody last week Were not. “This is what Putin fears more than anything on Earth.”
Navalny’s advisers said they believed the 2013 strategy would work in 2020, but the protests would have to be magnified more, because Navalny was born of being an enemy of the Kremlin, whom Putin described as a “traitor”.
Analysts said it was unlikely Navalny would be released from prison this time, but strong turnout in cities across the country would make an important statement.
“Navalny will not be released,” said Mark Galotti, senior associate at the Royal United Services Institute ThinkTank. “As much as it is about creating a Kremlin protest, it has to pay for it, and demonstrating that putting a man behind bars will not kill his movement.”