Foreign Affairs

Putin critic Alexei Navalny’s wife fined for protesting against his arrest

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Yulia Navalnaya did what any partner would be expected to do when their loved one is arrested under suspicious circumstances. She joined fellow protesters on the streets of Moscow and demanded the safe release of her husband, Alexei Navalny.

In many countries, this wouldn’t result in any punishment, but in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it means Ms Navalnaya has received a 20,000 rouble (£192.33) fine. 

The punishment came this Sunday in the latest wave of anti-Putin protests across Russia. From the cosmopolitan streets of Moscow in the West to the -50 degrees Celsius climate in Yakutsk to the East, hundreds of thousands have voiced their anger at the president.

More than 5,400 people, including Ms Navalnaya, were detained on Sunday and charged with joining an unauthorised rally.

Her lawyer, Svetlana Davydova, confirmed to the Interfax news agency on Monday that her client had been issued with a fine, and the defence plans to appeal the ruling. The police were seen to use brute force and stun guns against the peaceful protesters.

A legal aid group that monitors arrests at protests in Russia, OVD-Info, said that the number of people detained on January 31st, 2021 was the most in its nine years of keeping records during the Putin administration.

Why are people protesting in Russia?

Thousands of people across Russia feel that Putin has simply gone too far this time. His treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been a bone of contention for years, but this latest detainment has sparked outrage. 

Mr Navalny is widely regarded as the Kremlin’s fiercest critic. He dedicates his time to highlight the problems within Putin’s government, particularly corruption.

His team very recently released an extremely detailed video investigation into Putin’s property on the coast of the Black Sea. Dubbed ‘Putin’s Palace’, the property near Krasnodar is said to contain an ice hockey rink, a casino, and be 30 times bigger than Monaco.

The investigation alleges that the property belongs to Putin and that illicit public funds were used to build what is essentially private property. The video reached more than 20 million people within a day of its publication and has been a huge source of embarrassment and anger for the president.

The Kremlin has stated that the property does not belong to Mr Putin and that the entire investigation is fabricated.

The video alleges that the property cost £1bn and was paid for with “the largest bribe in history”. It has its own port, is a no-fly zone, and is guarded by federal security forces. Navalny states that illicit funds provided by Mr Putin’s inner circle of oil chiefs and billionaires were used, and that “they built a palace for their boss with this money”. 

In a particularly powerful line, Mr Navalny says: “It is a separate state within Russia.”, and adds: “in this state, there is a single, irreplaceable tsar. Putin”. 

The most recent detainment

The video was released two days after Mr Navalny was arrested at a Moscow airport on January 17th. He had been in Germany for five months recovering from a novichok-induced coma. He blames this attack on the Kremlin, which they, of course, deny any involvement with. 

The arrest was because of probation violations from a 2014 money laundering conviction. It is widely believed that that initial conviction was politically motivated as well.

The 44-year-old attempted to run for the presidency in 2018 but this criminal charge meant he couldn’t. He did manage to get some supporters elected to local councils in Siberia in 2020.

This wave of protests is the biggest public challenge to President Putin’s power since his re-election in May 2012. Navalny has already made it clear that he would not commit suicide whilst under detention, suggesting he may be anticipating another attempt on his life by Putin’s administration. 

The international attention on the Kremlin right now makes this extremely unlikely, but the next steps in this saga are likely to have huge political ramifications all over the world.

Cover image: Bogomolov.PL via Wikimedia Commons. Image was cropped. Licence here.

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