Kremlin warned by opposition leader as he gets out of jail
‘Protests will grow’ and regime will ‘greatly regret what it has done’, says Alexei Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny walks free in Moscow: hopes outrage over the surge in official repressions will invigorate the movement. Photograph: Evgenia Novozhenina
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny warned the Kremlin to brace for more protests on Friday as he completed a 30-day prison sentence for breaching public meeting laws.
Mr Navalny, who was jailed in late July for calling his supporters to join an unsanctioned demonstration, has been absent from the political arena during a tumultuous month in Moscow that has seen tens of thousands of protesters turn out at the biggest anti-government rallies in years.
Law enforcers have cracked down ruthlessly, briefly detaining more than 2,300 peaceful demonstrators and jailing opposition activists for organising the events. State prosecutors have used flimsy evidence to pin criminal charges of mass rioting or assaulting police on some 14 young people who are now facing the prospect of long prison sentences for offences they deny.
Mr Navalny’s Foundation for the Fight Against Corruption, a non-profit group that works to expose Russian officials’ questionable wealth, has also come under unprecedented attack with state investigators levelling money-laundering accusations that could, if proved, bring its activities to a halt.
Attempts by the authorities to use “violence and intimidation” to crush the protests signalled the “final degradation” of Vladimir Putin’s regime, Mr Navalny told reporters as he stepped out of a detention centre in Moscow early on Friday morning. “The wave of protests will grow and the regime will greatly regret what it has done.”
The demonstrations in Moscow began last month after opposition-minded candidates were barred from standing in an upcoming city parliament poll. Election officials said the rejected candidates – including several employees of the Foundation for the Fight Against Corruption – had failed to collect enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, something they deny.
Many of Mr Navalny’s supporters who waited to greet him upon his release on Friday feared that the authorities would find some pretext to hold the charismatic opposition politician in custody at least until after the September 8th Moscow city legislature election. In a sign of the increasingly arbitrary workings of law enforcement agencies, the prison director had called for Mr Navalny to serve extra time to compensate for the day he spent in hospital last month after falling ill with a mysterious allergy.
Mr Navalny immediately got back to work, calling his team to a strategy meeting. In the coming weeks the prime goal will be to ensure that the Kremlin’s United Russia Party, that holds a majority in the outgoing Moscow city parliament, is dealt a resounding defeat at the polls. Plans are to promote a “smart voting” online campaign to identify and flag the candidates most capable of beating United Russia at the polls.
Mr Navalny is also hoping that outrage over the surge in official repressions will invigorate the protest movement.
However, the path is fraught with risk. Moscow authorities have refused repeated opposition requests to stage rallies this weekend and next, saying the events would interfere with other planned festivities in the city. Calling unsanctioned protests is against the law and could land Mr Navalny back in jail.