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Beatings, shockers, tear gas: how the Russian authorities responded to the actions in support of Navalny

At the protests on Sunday, January 31, according to OVD-Info, more than 86 thousand people were detained in 5,3 Russian cities. Almost 1,8 thousand - in Moscow and more than a thousand - in St. Petersburg, writes Air force.

Photo: Shutterstock

In the capital, a protest center was planned at the Lubyanka, but the police blocked the approaches to the square. The tactics of blocking the center of Moscow and 11 metro stations did not help nullify the protest: this time there were fewer protesters than a week ago, nevertheless, thousands of protesters marched through Moscow streets.

In St. Petersburg, supporters of Alexei Navalny marched through the historic center of the city with a mass standing in three large squares, including right outside the walls of the city parliament on St. Isaac's Square.

The rallies were accompanied by harsh detentions, a firecracker was blown up in the ranks of the riot police, and one policeman pointed a pistol at the protesters.

Demonstrations in support of Alexei Navalny were also held in Novosibirsk, where at least 2000 people marched through the city chanting "Freedom!" and "Putin is a thief!"

According to local media reports, about 1000 people took part in the protests in Omsk, and about 7000 protesters took to the streets in Yekaterinburg. Mass arrests of protesters were noted in Krasnoyarsk.

After the mass arrests in St. Petersburg, over 1,5 thousand protocols were drawn up following the protests. The city courts considering these cases switched to night hours on 31 January.

Let's talk about everything in more detail.

Detentions and searches began even before the rallies

On the eve of the January 31 rally, the police came with searches and arrests to independent journalists and activists, writes "Jellyfish".

The editor-in-chief of Mediazona, Sergei Smirnov, was detained in the afternoon of January 30 while walking with his son. A protocol was drawn up against him on the repeated violation of the procedure for organizing or holding a rally (part 8 of article 20.2 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation). The protocol was drawn up for the fact that Smirnov allegedly called on his social networks to participate in the rally: as evidence, Smirnov retweeted a comic tweet about himself. Smirnov was released from the OVD and ordered to appear in court.

In addition, the police came to the journalists' home with "warnings about the inadmissibility of participating in the protests": to Dozhd reporter Vladimir Romensky, The Insider journalists, including the editor-in-chief Roman Dobrokhotov, Znak.com correspondent Mstislav Pismennikov and many others. The editor-in-chief of the Belgorod No. 1 newspaper was arrested for three days, allegedly for organizing an unauthorized action.

On the morning of January 31, before the start of the rallies in St. Petersburg, the police searched activists and human rights defenders at at least nine addresses. With searches came to the head of the "Alliance of Teachers" Daniil Ken, coordinator of the movement "Beautiful Petersburg" Krasimir Vranski, member of the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg Evgenia Litvinova and others.

On the subject: Severe detentions, beatings and injuries: how were the actions in support of Navalny in Russia

People on their knees, shocker and gated center

The actions on January 31 differed from previous ones in the high amount of police brutality during the arrests, although there were fewer clashes with law enforcement officials. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, for the first time in many years, because of the protests, central metro stations were closed, the police and the National Guard used stun guns and put protesters on their knees. The Russian service of the BBC was investigating the reasons for the unprecedented measures to prevent and suppress protests, writes Air force.

 

At the Sunday action, the police acted harder than last time.

There were isolated cases of police brutality at previous protests. So, at the protests around the Moscow City Duma campaign in 2019, the police hit Daria Sosnovskaya in the stomach, who tried to intercede for a detained person with a disability, broke Konstantin Konovalov's leg and sent Boris Kantorovich to the hospital.

But this time there are more such cases, and the cruelty is more systemic. It reminded me of footage from the summer protests in Minsk.

Traditionally, the police acted brutally in St. Petersburg. Znak.com published a video from the paddy wagon, where a man is lying unconscious, the police and the National Guard used stun guns and put the protesters on their knees.

The BBC was looking into the reasons for the unprecedented measures to prevent and suppress protests.

“I can't breathe, guys!”: What are the protests remembered for

 

Fontanka journalists filmed how the security official pulled out his service weapon during the confrontation with the protesters. One of the protesters was smashed into blood during the arrest. In OVD-info, the detainees themselves sent photos of blood stains on the floor of a police bus.

In Vladivostok, according to Novaya Gazeta, a protester was shot from a traumatic weapon.

"Can't breathe guys!" - shouted the detainee in Chelyabinsk, when three police officers knocked him down and held him on the ground. They did not respond to his requests.

In the same city, the police broke the arm of a pensioner.

In Kazan, the security forces forced the detainees to lie face down in the snow with their hands behind their heads. The video shows them talking to the protesters: “What are you, fat! I went down, I came here! I'll let you down right now, come here! "

And in Moscow, the journalists of Vostochnye Stories filmed the use of a stun gun by the police: in the video, at the time of the use of special equipment, a man is lying on the ground and does not resist arrest.

Aleksey Filatov, vice-president of the international association "Alpha", retired FSB lieutenant colonel, assures that force was used only against those who resisted detention. According to him, the security forces act according to the instructions: "First comes the language of persuasion, then the techniques of hand-to-hand combat, then the baton, then the electric shock."

But it is up to the policeman himself to assess when it is necessary to move to tougher special means, explains the retired FSB lieutenant colonel. For example, if he sees a threat to himself, his comrades or public safety, he can immediately use a stun gun.

“Tough methods are water cannons, gas, rubber bullets, warning shots with military weapons,” the expert recalled. "This is nothing."

Police brutality will lead to radicalization and the growth of protests, in turn, political analyst Alexander Kynev is sure: “It is not important how many [protesters] came at once, but how many are ready to come further. It cannot work for intimidation in a crisis. There has never been a single case where it worked. ”

“Tactically, a forceful response works - many stayed at home, fearing to be hit by clubs,” political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said. "But, on the other hand, such a forceful response does not solve the essence of the problem - disappointment with the authorities is growing."

According to "Jellyfish"Moscow policemen carried fire extinguishers with them - this was the first time such equipment was seen at the protests. In St. Petersburg, a policeman took out a service pistol and pointed it at the people on Sennaya Square.

The security forces did not limit themselves to threats. For example, in St. Petersburg, the police used tear gas when the crowd decided to fight off the detainees. The official authorities deny this, although Fontanka correspondents claim to have experienced the effects of this gas on themselves.

In Vladivostok, according to OVD-Info, in police station No. 4, people were shot at with traumatic weapons and beaten with an electric shock. One of the detainees said that riot policemen shot him in the leg during the arrest; the press service of the Russian MIA Administration for the Primorsky Territory denies this.

Disengagement tactics: why did they block the center of Moscow and St. Petersburg

During last week's protests, activists in many cities across Russia marched through central streets, and Petersburgers blocked Nevsky Prospekt.

This Sunday, the police tried to prevent such cases in advance: in St. Petersburg, they closed the passage along Nevsky Prospekt and closed several central metro stations, in Moscow they closed the city center even for pedestrians and also closed the metro exit. As a result, the protesters were split into several groups that walked around the city separately: some started walking from Sukharevskaya, and some - from the Red Gate.

“The task was, as I understand it, to exert maximum psychological pressure,” retired FSB Lieutenant Colonel Alexei Filatov told the BBC. - For another day, one could observe some saber-rattling. And the police won today's confrontation ”.

He considers the measures to block Moscow streets unprecedented - and successful: “This is why there were few violent clashes compared to January 23. And the fewer clashes, the fewer criminal cases. I think they achieved their goals, they worked effectively both on the prevention and during the events, ”Filatov said about the Moscow security officials. “Fewer people came out to confirm this than on 23 January.”

The situation with the closure of the city center was commented on by a BBC source familiar with the preparation of the capital's authorities for the protests. According to him, the authorities closed off the center of Moscow as part of the "disunity tactics".

“The logic is this: in a dense crowd in a limited area, for example, on Pushkinskaya, the protesters have a feeling of elbow grease, the risks of resistance and couplings increase,” he explained. “And if you disperse the protesters into different groups, the threat of direct clashes decreases, and it is easier to detain people. And it is more difficult for journalists to follow the situation, to give a picture of a large crowd ”.

On the subject: Russia staged a 'picket of snowmen' against Putin: it was dispersed by the police

The destabilization of the city as an organism - with closed metro stations, streets, shops - affects everyone, even those who have not been interested in politics before, and can not please anyone, argues Kynev.

“What has been done is a powerful blow to the piss in terms of destroying the pillars of power, even from the point of view of an apolitical public,” the political scientist believes.

The director of the Sova analytical center, Alexander Verkhovsky, called the blocking of the center of Moscow a completely disproportionate measure: “Even if the security forces were worried that people might attack the presidential administration building or the FSB, in order to prevent this, it was only necessary to block the sidewalks near these buildings, and not close half of the center ”.

At the same time, no matter what point you block - people will gather in another, the expert says: this is what happened when people walked in groups to Matrosskaya Tishina from different metro stations. “What does not happen in this case is the crowds that can overturn the riot police. Mass pressure becomes impossible. From the point of view of the police, this is an achievement, yes. ”

Indeed, if after the action on January 23, RIA and TASS reported about 40 victims of the actions of the security forces, then on January 31 not a single case was officially reported. This means that the police had fewer real reasons to use force than a week ago. However, the Moscow police opened a criminal case over the Rosgvardia car burned down during the action in Moscow. Nobody was hurt during the fire.

The harshness of the security forces' actions suggests that they have acquired a fundamentally different position in recent years, sums up the sociologist Konstantin Gaaze: “Over the past three years, they have grown into a power corporation that can already operate independently. Gone are the days when the presidential administration could summon generals and tell them about strategy. Now the security forces themselves make decisions about what to do. ”

Photo: Shutterstock

Times: Kremlin has a long-term problem

Russia is not on the verge of revolution, the Times writes. But the protests of the past 10 days indicate that most of the society is unhappy with their leaders. These rallies inspire the participants: to march shoulder to shoulder with like-minded people, chant “Russia will be free” and feel that they are on the verge of some kind of victory ...

But the truth is that the Kremlin still has many trump cards in its hands. There is no split among the siloviki, the number of protesters has not reached a critical mass, the parliamentary opposition has long been suppressed, and the foreign reaction is too weak to make the authorities and their “business friends” such as Arkady Rotenberg fear for their villas in Tuscany and mansions in London.

At the same time, the Times writes, Putin is no longer worried about international condemnation.

The leader, whose security forces are acting carelessly and insolently in an attempt to assassinate his fiercest critic (Navalny) or double agent in Britain (Sergei Skripal), is not shy about knocking a few goals in Moscow.

But in the long run, the Kremlin has a problem. Polls show that almost half of the people attended the protests for the first time. More than a third of the protesters have lived virtually their entire lives under Putin.

During the oil boom, Putin relied on the mantra of "stability." The economy is now so fragile that the specter of the 1990s no longer scares teens and twenties.

Ultimately, the Times writes, the fate of Russia will be decided by a silent majority, which is still convinced that there is no alternative to Putin. But now Russians can see Navalny as a viable replacement for the 68-year-old Putin.

“The learned helplessness of the population is the most powerful resource of Putinism,” a colleague from the German magazine Spiegel quotes the Times.

Changes in Russia are not around the next bend, the Times concludes, but the road leads there.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York

NYT: Navalny is a reason, and the reason is a drop in living standards

The New York Times writes that the protests erupted amid extraordinary events, but the root causes of mass discontent are much broader. The demonstrators are really outraged by the attempt to poison Alexei Navalny, his arrest and "Putin's palace." But the current protests, according to the NYT, are fueled by the worsening living conditions of most Russians.

Inflation-adjusted wages in Russia have declined since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, and are now 10% lower than seven years ago. This affects the support of various segments of the population for Putin's government. A whole spectrum of opposition groups took part in the protests, from communists to extreme right-wing nationalists.

“If you have no place in this system, you have no chance,” the newspaper quotes one of the protesters.

According to political analysts, it is no coincidence that the protests spread from Moscow and St. Petersburg to a distant province: it is there that the economic problems are felt most painfully.

Protests, as the newspaper notes, swept through hundreds of cities - from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, and after all, the province was once considered a stronghold of support for Putin.

The NYT quotes Russian political scientist Yekaterina Shulman: “When political factors change, the economy also becomes important. People say: yes, it happened, but the price of food in stores is also growing. "

Putin, with his sprawling security forces, the newspaper believes, is able to deal with protests without resorting to massive repression that could further inflame passions. Even the protesters themselves say many more people must take to the streets to force the Kremlin to change course.

Yet the current protests are remarkable in that they have united left and right, young people and old people alike, all of whom, instead of vaguely criticizing government officials, are shamelessly attacking Putin himself.

Putin has found himself in an unusually precarious position, and evidence of this, concludes the NYT, is that he had to personally deny Navalny's accusations that he had built a secret palace for himself on the Black Sea coast.

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