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Navalny urges Russians to protest war 'wherever you are'

March 2, 2022

Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny has urged Russians to hold daily protests against their country's invasion of Ukraine. He labeled Russian leader Vladimir Putin "a clearly insane tsar."

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Navalny was imprisoned early last year after returning to Russia from Germany Image: Sefa Karacan/AA/picture alliance

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday called on Russians to protest, urging them not to be afraid of going to prison.

Navalny led the biggest protests in Russia against Putin and survived a poisoning with Novichok nerve agent in 2020. He is now serving a prison sentence on old fraud charges.

The plea comes on the seventh day of Russia's onslaught in Ukraine, amid growing concern about civilian casualties and Moscow's increasingly indiscriminate tactics.

What did Navalny say?

"I am urging everyone to take to the streets and fight for peace," the 45-year-old said in a statement posted on Facebook.

"If, to prevent war, we need to fill up the jails and police vans, we will fill up the jails and police vans."

"We, Russia, want to be a nation of peace. Alas, few would call us such now."

"But let us at least not become a nation of frightened silence. Cowards who pretend not to notice the war of aggression unleashed by our obviously insane czar against Ukraine."

Navalny urged the people of both Russia and Belarus — which allowed Moscow's troops passage to attack Ukraine — to demonstrate in main city squares at 7 p.m. every weekday and at 2 p.m. on weekends and during holidays.

Russia intensifies attacks on Ukraine

"You cannot wait another day," he said. "Wherever you are. In Russia, Belarus, or on the other side of the planet."

Thousands of Russians have protested against the invasion, according to OVD-Info, an independent monitor, and more than 6,800 demonstrators have been arrested. Although free assembly is nominally enshrined in Russia's constitution, demonstrations require approval from authorities since the introduction of a contentious law in 2014, the same year Russia annexed Crimea. 

"Putin is not Russia," said Navalny. "And if there is anything in Russia right now that you can be most proud of, it is those 6,835 people who were detained because — without any call — they took to the streets with placards saying 'No War.'"

Navalny accused Putin of using "pseudo-historic nonsense" to justify Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

'Theft from Russian citizens'

In a video published last week, Putin said the war "was unleashed to cover up the theft from Russian citizens and divert their attention from problems that exist inside the country."

Putin last Thursday ordered troops to invade Ukraine last week, but has faced stiff resistance from the Ukrainian military and civilians.

Ukraine says more than 350 civilians, including 14 children, have been killed in the conflict and the International Criminal Court has opened a war crimes investigation against Russia.

Putin invaded Ukraine amid a crackdown on opposition within Russia, where Navalny's political organizations are banned.

After Navalny's imprisonment, many of his closest allies left Russia after facing multiple criminal charges, and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of nearly 40 regional offices were outlawed as "extremist."

Earlier this year, Russian officials added Navalny and a number of his associates to a state registry of "extremists and terrorists."

Alexei Navalny: Danger of dissent

A number of criminal cases have been launched against Navalny individually, leading to suggestions that the Kremlin intends to keep him behind bars for as long as possible.

rc/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)