Putin calls pro-Navalny marches illegal

On January 25th, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to convict protestors who were demonstrating to demand the release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was detained in one of Moscow’s most infamous jails. He was being held on a 30-day pre-trial detention order for failing to check in with parole authorities over a suspended prison sentence in a fraud case, and is now being transferred to a penal colony to serve out s sentence for embezzlement. Navalny denies all claims and instead indicates that the case had been constructed. On Saturday 23 January, several protests were being held across the country and tens of thousands of protesters ignored the police warnings to demand Navalny be freed from jail. The Russian Police detained more than 3,700 people and had to use force to break up rallies. Immediately after the protests, the President explained the actions of the protestors as dangerous and illegal, as the opposition politician’s allies announced a similar protest planned for Sunday. 

According to Reuters, the Russian President declared how people are not allowed to illustrate and advocate their own political concerns, stating “Everyone has the right to express their point of view within the framework provided by the law. Anything outside the law is not just counter-productive, but dangerous”. Despite the President’s warning, many citizens were still planning for additional protests. One of the close allies of Navalny, Leonid Volkov, announced the opposition is also releasing video investigations into Putin and his allies.

The pressure on Russia’s leadership is not only affecting civilians, but tensions between Moscow and Washington have flared over the Navalny protests. President Joe Biden confirmed he would not hesitate to criticize Moscow’s current actions, and a spokesperson for the United States described Putin’s tactics against protesters as harsh and further called for Navalny’s “immediate and unconditional” release, Reuters report. Additionally, the West is currently weighing possible new sanctions against Russia over its treatment of Navalny. The European Union declared it would abstain from recent sanctions on Russian individuals only if the Kremlin releases Navalny after 30 days. Meanwhile, the EU sent its top diplomat, Josep Borrell, to Moscow demanding Navalny’s release.

While advocating for Navalny’s release, neither the EU nor the US reported it would take quick action to raise pressure on Russia. Putin pursuing a hostile approach towards peaceful protesting is a threat to democracy, where freedom of speech plays a central role. However, raising awareness about a significant issue for the community does never call for violent actions. Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, which has yet to be recognized by the Russian leadership. An essential part of enhancing peace and security within a state is to increase communication and build trust between the leadership and the public. The decision of the EU to send a diplomat enhances the conversation between the Putin government and protesters. Additionally, the West consideration of sanctions against Russia over its treatment of Navalny is a step in the right direction as it could force the Russian government to perceive the significance of peace and security over authoritarianism. In addition, they would have to admit a threat towards democracy is a threat to our interconnected world and essential economic and political relations. 

The Russian Government has been accused multiple times of wrongful convictions as well as fraud towards both civilians and other states. The currently detained Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition leader, politician, and anti-corruption activist. He is known for advocating reforms against corruption in Russia, as well as against President Putin and his government, which has put him in difficult positions with the leadership before. In 2013, a court jailed Navalny for five years but then released him on parole after allies organized mass protests near the Kremlin. Before his return to Russia in January, Navalny and his supporters had anticipated he once again would be arrested. Reuters reported Navalny was immediately detained after flying back to Russia for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent, which Navalny states had been applied to his underpants by state security agents. 

Ultimately, the situation urges for a concrete solution, and striving for peace and security is the main ambition. Involving diplomats from the EU is a start to increase conversation, but Putin’s government and the citizens of Russia have a complex relationship. With the help from outside sources, the Navalny case could perhaps attain closure in the upcoming future, while reaching the goal of peace within the state seems distant. The number and variety of structural changes increase as institutions become more embracing and more intricately connected with one another, and an agreement between two of the most powerful nations, Russia and the U.S., enhances the possibility of a beneficial connection and increased stability. 

Olivia Berntsson