Conflict Alerts # 222, 28 January 2021
In the news
On 23 January 2021, following the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, protests erupted in Russia and have begun to escalate into a movement against the leadership at Kremlin. What began as a call for the release of Navalny has garnered support from hundreds of thousands of protesters driven by long-term frustration towards the government and the failing economy. Dozens of Navalny associates in various cities were detained before the protests. Additionally, more than 50 journalists were "arbitrarily detained" during the protests.
On 23 January, more than 3900 people, including Navalny's wife, have been detained. Navalny released a feature-length video on YouTube titled, "Putin Palace" that has attracted 67 million views. The palace is said to be situated at Gelendzhik by the Black Sea and alleged that people close to Putin paid for the palace.
Issues at large
First, Navalny in the limelight. Since August 2020, Navalny has been in the news after a near-fatal poisoning of a military-grade nerve agent. In the later months of 2020, his team released a recording of an intelligence operative confessing to the attempt of killing him. In December 2020, marking the end of his probation, the Russian police began forcing his return, with a warning of seizing his assets. By 19 January 2021, Alexey Navalny was ordered to be jailed for 30 days after his return from Germany. The hasty process to arrest him drew much attention. In a video statement released after the ruling was announced, Navalny said, "Don't be afraid, take to the streets," "Don't come out for me, come out for yourselves and your future."
Second, responses to the arrests and protests. The public protests saw many youths take to the streets. There is strong criticism against detention and human rights groups have joined the Western governments in calling for Navalny's release and condemning the crackdown on peaceful protests. G7 leaders have said that the detention is politically motivated and the Russian forces are using violent suppression against the protesters. The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have called on the EU to impose sanctions on Russian officials for the journalists' arbitrary detention. The US has announced that they support the immediate release of Navalny. While Navalny accuses the Kremlin of carrying out the poisoning against him; Kremlin accuses Navalny of being supported by the US.
The arrest of Navalny and the subsequent dissent on the protesters has drawn global outrage with a chorus of calls for his immediate release. He can be seen as a driving force of the protests. However, Russia's current situation emphasizes the underlying issues of rising costs of living and corruption at multiple levels of the system. Navalny's team has called for more demonstrations on 31 January and 2 February when a court is scheduled to consider motions to convert his suspended sentence into a real prison term. Hence, we can expect the protests to gain further momentum in the coming weeks.