Russians told to stay away from Alexei Navalny’s anti-Putin protests

Jailed campaigner's allies arrested and social media warned before Saturday's rallies

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh enters the Savyolovsky district court prior to a hearing into her case in Moscow. Ms Yarmysh spent the night in jail and is accused of violating legislation on public gatherings and could be detained for 10 days. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/Getty Images

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh enters the Savyolovsky district court prior to a hearing into her case in Moscow. Ms Yarmysh spent the night in jail and is accused of violating legislation on public gatherings and could be detained for 10 days. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/Getty Images

 

The Russian authorities have warned people to stay away from nationwide protests called for Saturday by Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin critic who recovered from a near-fatal poisoning only to be jailed on his return to Moscow this week.

Mr Navalny’s announcement of rallies in support of democracy and against corruption was boosted by his anti-corruption foundation’s latest video report, which accuses Russian president Vladimir Putin of secretly owning a €1 billion palace beside the Black Sea; it has been watched 57 million times on YouTube in just three days.

Police have arrested several of Mr Navalny’s aides, lawyers and allies across Russia in the days leading up the protests, and prosecutors have ordered social media sites to remove content calling on people to join the rallies.

Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin saw it as “essential to obey the law and not allow the organisation of illegal actions, and especially [to prevent] young people, children and so on being encouraged to take part in these actions”.

“There are certain provocateurs who are calling for this action. The activities of provocateurs are well known to us. They are well known to the law-enforcement agencies and measures are being taken in relation to these provocateurs,” he added.

‘Threat to public order’

Meanwhile, the Moscow police warned: “Attempts to hold unsanctioned public events, as well as any provocative actions by their participants, will be treated as a threat to public order and immediately suppressed.”

Young Russians have posted a blizzard of videos on TikTok and other social networks, expressing support for Mr Navalny (44), offering advice to their peers on how to stay safe during protests, and replacing portraits of Mr Putin on classroom walls with photos of the jailed campaigner.

Russia’s communications watchdog ordered social media to remove protest-related videos or risk being fined, while the education ministry warned parents that “childish curiosity . . . in the hands of unscrupulous adults can drag a child into illegal actions and lead to a really unfortunate situation”.

Schools and colleges in several regions have told students not to take part in the protests, and some have reportedly changed their timetables in an apparent bid to keep young people in classrooms on Saturday.

Anger the Kremlin

The rallies have also drawn support from a number of popular actors, singers, bloggers and sportspeople, some of whom – like most Russian celebrities – had previously steered clear of anything that could anger the Kremlin.

Among associates of Mr Navalny who have been arrested in recent days is Vladlen Los, a Belarusian lawyer for his anti-corruption foundation, who was ordered to leave Russia and banned from returning for 2½ years, and the opposition leader’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh, who was jailed for nine days.

“I don’t plan to hang myself from the bars on the window, or slash my veins or throat with a sharpened spoon,” Mr Navalny – who accuses Mr Putin of ordering the nerve agent attack on his life last August – wrote on Instagram from his Moscow jail cell.

“I know for sure that there are good people outside my prison and help will come.”