By Paul Goble
The Russian government’s decision to immediately detain Aleksey Navalny on his return to Moscow has sparked plans for a major demonstration in the Russian capital this coming weekend. But it has already led to smaller protests in more than 20 Russian cities “from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad.”
Most of these were individual actions with supporters of Navalny carrying signs like “Freedom for Navalny, Prison for Putin.” In some places, the authorities ignored them; in others, the powers that be detained them and brought charges. But the geographic extent of the protests must be worrisome to the Kremlin because it highlights Navalny’s network and attraction.
The Moscow meeting is certain to attract more attention – that is where Russian and foreign journalists are concentrated – but these protests in the regions and republics reflect the attitudes of the more than 80 percent of the population of the country and thus are important as well.
The exact number of these regional protests on behalf of Navalny is unknown. The two best listings are at 7×7-journal.ru/articles/2021/01/18/navalnyj-spasibo-chto-v-rossii-onlajn-7×7-s-regionalnyh-akcij-v-podderzhku-politika and sibreal.org/a/31050433.html. But they are certainly incomplete because news from many places is slow to come in.
Besides showing the geographic extent of support for Navalny, these protests and the speed with which they appeared are important in another way: The Kremlin may be able to crush any sizeable protest in any one place, but it cannot effectively suppress numerous demonstrations expressing a common position in parts of the country far from one another.
Even Putin’s repressive machine is not yet up to that; and consequently, the existence of these “hearths” of Navalny supporters in regional cities may be the best defense those who march for him in Moscow may have – and perhaps even an important defense of the opposition political figure himself.