For the second week in a row, tens of thousands demonstrated against Russian President Vladimir Putin, defying a police crackdown Jan. 31. The protests, demanding the release from prison of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s main bourgeois political opponent, are the most widespread in the country in years.
Scores braved temperatures of -40°F in Yakutsk, above. Cops detained more than 5,000 people in 86 cities. Protests ranged from Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean to the Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea.
“Down with the czar!” several thousand people chanted in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. Some of the biggest rallies were in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk, in eastern Siberia, and Yekaterinburg, in the Urals.
The government doesn’t “allow people to express their opinions,” Masha Ulyanova told the Washington Post in Moscow. “They are afraid that they’ll lose power and they will have to live in this poor country that they have robbed.”
Navalny’s imprisonment has become a lightning rod for anger over declining living standards, decaying health services, Moscow’s military interventions abroad and its attacks on political rights at home. Wages have declined 10% in the past seven years.
Thousands trying to rally outside the jail holding Navalny chanted “Putin, thief!” referring to an extensively viewed video released by Navalny’s anti-corruption campaign that reported a luxurious Black Sea palace had been built for the Russian president. Putin denies ownership of the complex.
Navalny was detained when he arrived back in Russia from Germany, where he was recovering from being poisoned by a military-grade nerve toxin, an attack he says was ordered by Putin. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison Feb. 2, for breaching parole terms from a previous frame-up for “embezzlement.” He is appealing the ruling.