Russia kicked off 2021 with massive riots that have spread across the country. Last week, on Sunday, Moscow authorities arrested opposition leader and outspoken anti-Putin critic, Alexei Navalny, for violating the terms of his parole. Navalny had previously been in the world news after he was the victim of a failed nerve agent attack. The Kremlin has denied all involvement in the incident. However, international governments remain skeptical.
Navalny was airlifted to Berlin for emergency care following the attempted poisoning. After his release, he returned to Russia, where he was quickly arrested. Following his arrest, Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, known as FKB, released a video accusing Putin of corruption and called for protests. The video showed that Putin, alongside other government figures, had been using government funds to build a palace on the Black Sea.
The first of the protests started on September 23rd. An estimated 40 thousand people gathered in Moscow alone. Other major cities in Russia also reported large crowds. There were also protests at Russian embassies across Europe.
Andre Menshchikov, currently studying a Masters in Business Analytics and Big Data at IE, attended the protest outside the Russian Embassy in Madrid. He has never participated in an anti-government protest before, due to the fear of being arrested in Russia. Andre’s fears are very real: over 3,000 people were arrested last Sunday during the Moscow protests.
Still, Andre believes that these protests are extremely important in order to change the world view of Russia. He says that currently, many people internationally romanticize Putin. There have been many memes, as well as content on Instagram and Tik Tok, portraying Putin as a strong, manly leader, rather than highlighting his government’s human rights abuses.
Speaking of his experience at the protest, Andre stated that many of the people shared a similar vision of a change of government: “I have met a lot of different people. Many of them were not fans of Navalny himself. But, we have shared the same idea that the reign of Putin should end!”.
Andre also said that some of the people he met there had been personally persecuted by the Kremlin. One of them was a friend of the members of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk rock group. Three of their members were infamously imprisoned for a guerrilla performance in 2012. Andre said that this man actually had to flee Russia to live as a refugee in Spain after the protests at the Sochi Olympic Games.
All in all, the reaction to the protests internationally has largely been in support of the protestors and Navalny. Internally, the reaction has been to ignore the situation and blame international interference. A spokesman for the Kremlin blamed the protests on US government interference in Russian affairs, pointing directly at the US Embassy in Moscow.
The international community and the Kremlin will be watching closely to see how this situation plays out over the next few weeks, especially as Navalny is expected to receive a prison sentence on the 29th of January. The public should expect more protests. Andre says there will be protests outside of the Russian Embassy in Madrid on the 30th of January.