Thousands of people in over 80 cities across Russia defied a heavy police presence to protest last Sunday in support of jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
Up to 40,000 gathered in Moscow. They chanted, “Free Navalny” and, “Down with the Tsar.”
Russian authorities cracked down on demonstrators in an effort to prevent a repeat of scenes the week before.
Then protesters threw snowballs at riot police, shut down traffic and fought off attempts to arrest them.
These are the biggest rallies against President Vladimir Putin in years. One protester in Moscow said, “Moscow looks like a fortress today.
“They can stop us when there are not enough of us but as more come it’s going to be impossible.”
In Vladivostok on the Pacific coast, protesters chanted, “My Russia sits in prison!” after they were chased onto the ice over the frozen Amur Bay.
A few hundred protesters gathered in Yakutsk, the world’s coldest city, for a second week despite temperatures of minus 43C.
Over 5,000 arrests were made last Sunday across the country.
Videos on social media showed police using tear gas and Tasers to detain protesters in Moscow.
Navalny was arrested on 17 January after returning to Russia from Germany. He was receiving treatment for nerve agent poisoning that he claims the state is responsible for.
He was set to face trial on Tuesday this week for not complying with a suspended sentence.
Navalny has highlighted the corruption of the Putin government. He recently released a video alleging oligarchs spent billions on a lavish palace for Putin on the Black Sea coast.
After the film racked up more than 100 million views on YouTube, Putin denied he owned the property and likened Navalny to a “terrorist” for organising the rallies.
However, Navalny is no friend of the working class. He is a self-described nationalist who also peddles anti-immigration views.
He’s a neoliberal and co-organiser of the annual far right “Russian March”. The march attracts fascists, antisemites and Islamophobes.
But he has struck a chord because of the desperate state of Russia today.
Years of precarious employment conditions and inequality have led to widespread bitter anger against the government.
According to official figures,4.4 million people were unemployed last year, a growth of almost 25 percent from 2019. Over half of these receive no unemployment benefits at all.
Covid-19 has struck the most vulnerable in Russia the hardest, highlighting harsh inequality.
Russia’s workers and the poor need opposition, but from a very different source to Navalny.
And they should beware the manoeuvres of Britain, the United States and the European Union who will seek to profit from hypocritically denouncing state violence.