PUTIN ADDRESSES THE NATION: THE NATION ADDRESSES PUTIN
PROTESTS IN RUSSIA, 21 APRIL 2021
On April 17, several doctors expressed an opinion that the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny may die if not allowed medical help immediately. Navalny is serving a two-and-a-half-year term for failing to appear in person at a parole hearing. Navalny was in a coma in a German hospital after a poisoning attempt last year and thus allegedly violated the probation terms of his suspended sentence. He is in a penal colony 60 miles east of Moscow and currently on the 24th day of a hunger strike. His blood test results show the possibility of renal failure or cardiac arrest at any moment. The Kremlin consistently refused to allow a doctor’s visit and instead transferred him to a solitary cell of a penal colony TB ward.
On April 19, Navalny’s team called for an urgent all-Russian protest to demand medical help for Putin’s most outspoken critic. Unsanctioned rallies were announced for April 21, 2020, the day of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Annual Address to the nation.
On April 21, an estimated 50,000–120,000 were out in the streets protesting, according to МБХ-Media. Overall, 1,776 protestors were detained in Russia yesterday, including 10 journalists.
The protests were not covered on national TV or state-controlled social media.
ANTI-CORRUPTION FOUNDATION UNDER PRESSURE
After the January 2021 mass protests, most of Navalny’s allies have been under house arrest or left the country.
Putin's Purges: A 'Frontal Attack' on Navalny and his Allies - Byline Times
Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader, lawyer, and anti-corruption blogger, is serving a two-and-a-half-year term…
This week, the Kremlin started a process to recognize Navalny’s project, Anti-Corruption Foundation, as extremist organizations. The Foundation carried out investigations for 10 years under extreme pressure, facing raids, arrests, criminal cases, interrogations. The “terrorist organization status” would mean 6–10 years prison terms to all Navalny’s team members.
On the day of the protest, the pressure on Navalny’s allies intensified.
In Moscow, the police pulled an opposition leader Lyubov Sobol out of a taxi. Later, Sobol tweeted: “After spending many hours in a paddy wagon and at the police station under Putin’s portrait (I consider this a psychological torture), I was released. The court hearing is tomorrow. …I will not stop demanding freedom for Navalny and campaigning for the State Duma.”
Navalny's press secretary Kira Yarmush was detained in Moscow hours before the scheduled protest. Yarmush is now under arrest for 10 days. She has been accused of organizing the rally on the Internet, although she has been under house arrest without the Internet for two and a half months.
In St. Petersburg, the police searched the homes of six activists and a journalist. In Kurgan, an employee of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund center, as well as the girlfriend of the coordinator, were detained. In Irkutsk, an activist was detained for six hours before the rally, without a reason, as he walked down the street. In Yekaterinburg, Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund center coordinator’s residence was raided.
“A TICK CRISIS”
As during the January protests, the government relied on physical force as well as Internet restrictions. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, security forces blocked the central streets eight hours before the rallies, and water cannon trucks demonstratively arrived downtown.
Some local authorities showed creativity. In Ulan-Ude, the mayor’s office suddenly discovered a tick crisis and decided to urgently fumigate the square on which the rally was planned. In Magnitogorsk, the Polytechnic College changed its schedule for one day only: on April 21 classes were postponed so the students could not be at the protest.
BANS, HACKS, AND LEAKS
On April 20, Russian “Facebooks”, Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, deleted calls for actions in support of Navalny on the requests of the Russian watchdog Roskomnadzor. The Navalny Foundation database was hacked last week and 500,000 e-mail addresses of people registered for the protests were leaked and made public. Later, these people received threats. Many coordinators, activists, volunteers, and regular citizens unaffiliated with Navalny received sentences for posting about Navalny’s cause and protest on social media. In Karelia, nine people were detained for social media posts about the rally.
PROTESTS START: FAR EAST
Russia has eleven timezones, and the Far East is the first one to start the action. Then, the protests rolled towards the West.
On April 21, 2020, an estimated 30–40 courageous people started the all-Russian rally in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk.
Central parts of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk were blocked by troops, military vehicles, and paddy wagons.
In Magadan, about 10 people were detained and police violence was reported.
In Yuzno-Sakhalinsk, two people were detained by the monument to Vladimir Lenin.
Many protests in Russia take place at squares and streets named after the Communist leader of the past. It is the lingering heritage of the Soviet era that Vladimir Putin had expressed nostalgia for on multiple occasions.
PUTIN SPEAKS: THE WIZARD OF OZ
Around the time the Far East cities rallied, the Russian President started to deliver his annual address. He emphasized that “Russia will always uphold and defend traditional values that have been forgotten in a number of countries” and stuck to the domestic issues. His one-and-a-half-hour-long speech contained a lot of statistics and put to sleep a few people in the audience. He did not mention Navalny, protests, or any major foreign policy strategy.
A giant image of the President was projected on the skyscrapers in Moscow, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Perm, and other cities.
THE URALS AND SIBERIA: “FREEDOM!”
As Putin made a speech, large industrial cities in the Urals and Siberia joined the protest. In Ekaterinburg, about 4,000 people came to the rally. Not everyone could make it: students from a local university dorm were not allowed to leave the premises. Security forces, the police, and water cannon trucks occupied the downtown. The coordinator of the local Navalny center was detained.
In Omsk, about 1,000 people marched around the city, demanding freedom for Navalny and the resignation of Putin. In Irkutsk, about 600 people took part in the rally, chanting, “We are not afraid!” In Novosibirsk, people chanted, “Allow Navalny to see a doctor!”
In Tomsk, the rally was attended by 1,500–2,000; in Chelyabinsk, about 1,000. In Chita, 200 to 300 people took part in the rally. In Perm, where 500 — 1,000 people attended the rally, protestors chanted, “Freedom!” Violent arrests were reported in Chelyabinsk, Tumen, Ufa, and Ekaterinburg.
In Krasnoyarsk, more than 500 people chanted, “Putin is a thief!”, “Freedom to Navalny!”, “Freedom to political prisoners!” and “Get out of Krasnoyarsk!” They also danced a folk dance to the sounds of the police loudspeaker. In Ulan-Ude, the protest attended by 150–200 people was dispersed by security officers. In Kemerovo, 22 people were detained, including a journalist. In Ufa, police dragged people out of the crowd to paddy wagons. In Bratsk, men in civilian clothes, medical masks, and black caps, detained the protesters.
MOSCOW: “AWAY WITH THE TSAR!”
In Moscow, the downtown area was blocked a few hours before the rally. At 7 p.m., protestors flooded the streets singing revolutionary songs a block away from the Red Square.
People chanted “Putin is a thief!”, “Away with Putin!”, “Away with the Tsar!” and “We want changes!”
Navalny’s wife, Julia Navalnaya, mother, and brother joined the protestors. According to the Ministry of Affairs data, 6,000 people were at the protests in Moscow.
The police asked protestors to disperse but did not use force. Many observers expressed surprise at the unusual behavior of the security forces. Only 26 people were detained. When the police began to cordon protestors off Tverskaya, the protesters chanted: “Stop serving monsters! Police, join the people!”, “Love is stronger than Fear!”
Later, the police raided the apartment of Navalny’s team editor and a journalist, beating up the activists and demanding passwords for electronic devices. The editor was detained and his whereabouts are not known.
The photo of the day, by Fariza Dudaeva (Novaya Gazeta,) depicted a riot police officer in full gear standing idly in front of the Moscow Circus. The COVID-era sign read: “Dear Patrons! Everything will be all right!”
ST. PETERSBURG: “RIOT POLICE GOES UNHINGED”
In St.Petersburg, police vans and large vehicles blocked streets downtown. All public transportation stopped operating in central St.Petersburg. The riot police and the National Guard kept chasing the protesters from one location to the other.
The protest broke into smaller groups and “wandered” all over town. About 4,500 people made it to the streets. “Putin, retire!” chanted many young people by the iconic Bronze Horseman statue, known as a symbol of tyranny. Other slogans included “Freedom to Navalny!” and “One for all and all for one!”
Unlike in Moscow, the riot police used extreme violence in St. Petersburg. They chased people down the streets, using batons and electric shockers.
On a Telegram chat, protestors sent each other warnings, “It becomes dangerous on the Nevsky prospect. The riot police are moving there, be careful.” “A column of riot police is chasing peaceful protesters, riot police trucks are rushing to the Square of Uprising.” “Folks, get away from the Children’s Theater!!! Riot police!”
By 10 p.m., Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation team addressed the protestors, “We fear for your safety, so we recommend that you disperse. The security forces are unhinged. They are attacking passers-by. You are the bravest people, and you are not afraid of anything. But please be careful!.. Today you have shown that the city belongs to you. You are the light of this city, and you are the power. It is becoming more and more dangerous to be on the street. And so we end the rally.” One of the employees of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation was arrested.
850 people were detained and transported to police stations in regular buses. Several detainees got ill on the way, and an ambulance was called. Women detained in one of the police stations were held inside, not allowed to see a layer, and “terrible screams” were heard from the street, “as if they were being tortured.”
OTHER CITIES IN EUROPEAN/CENTRAL TIMEZONE
In Cheboksary, Izhevsk, Murmansk, coordinators of the local Navalny Anti-Corruption Funds, and other protestors were detained. In Volgograd, the police used pepper spray. In Ufa, several men were detained at a police station without access to a toilet or water. In a number of cities, lawyers were not being allowed to see the detained, according to OVD-Info.
On April 20–21, solidarity protests took place all over the world. From Australia and Japan to Argentina and Canada, global Russians and the international community expressed their support of Navalny and their outrage at Putin’s regime.
** Some videos and photos with links here.
** This report is prepared based on live reporting by Media Zona, МБХ, Znak, RusNews, Fontanka.ru, Novaya Gazeta, Telegram channels of the Navalny team. All photos are from courageous Russian journalists and protestors. Many thanks to all who risked their life and freedom to make the world a better place.
***An article in The Byline Times is forthcoming this week.
Read more reports on January 2021 protests in Russia:
Special Report: "Putin is a Thief" - the Russian People Rise Up - Byline Times
Mass protests against Putin's regime rolled over Russia on 23 January, 2021 in support of the opposition leader Alexey…