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Navalny raised the stakes too high

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Juri Rescheto
June 13, 2017

Alexei Navalny’s arrest could spell the end of the protest movement in Russia. And if it does, then the opposition politician will be partly to blame, says DW’s Juri Rescheto.

Russland Proteste in Moskau
Image: picture-alliance/AA/S. Karacan

In the southern Russian city of Novorossiysk, a young man is severely beaten when he goes to register a protest at city hall. He is a fan of Alexei Navalny. And in the Siberian town of Irkutsk, another young man is also attacked, simply for being the son of a businessman who rented a room for Navalny's election staff.

Thousands of students across Russia have been receiving threatening letters from the authorities, warning them against joining demonstrations organized by Navalny. Their argument: Navalny's protests are a provocation.

Then there's the incident involving a ten-year-old boy who was reciting from Shakespeare's Hamlet on Arbat, a popular pedestrian zone in central Moscow. Police officers reacted nervously, bundling the boy into a police car and taking him to a station, where he was held for several hours. There was no word on whether the boy was also a fan of Navalny, or indeed had ever heard of the politician. The incident shocked Russians, who talked about it for days.

Those who want to fight need to be careful

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DW's Russia correspondent, Juri Rescheto

These examples show just how nervous the Russian authorities have become, a condition that can only worsen as the presidential election draws closer. Absurd laws are being passed in order to jail people for questionable posts on social media. Absurd from the point of view of human rights activists; questionable from the point of view of the authorities.

Those who want to continue the fight need to be careful. Otherwise, the battle will soon be over. Anyone who lives in Russia knows that. Alexei Navalny lives in Russia, but despite knowing this, he continues to take risks. His battle could be lost, much sooner than he'd like.

The latest demonstration in Moscow had been cleared with the authorities. The fact that permission was granted is almost a miracle. The demo was scheduled to take place on the most important national holiday, Russia Day, in Sakharov Prospect in downtown Moscow: It's not Red Square, but also a significant location. 

An unnecessary provocation

Late on the evening prior to the demo, Navalny suddenly called on his supporters to meet somewhere else instead. He wanted them to gather at the site of the celebrations in honor of Russia Day, on Tverskaya Street. At the heart of the enemy camp, so to speak. For the authorities, this was a clear provocation. Navalny was warned, but he persisted, and landed behind bars. More than 700 Russians who heeded his call were arrested along with him - young people, students. Many of them will undoubtedly soon be released, but not all of them. Yes, the authorities have reacted disproportionately. But this was a completely unnecessary provocation by Navalny, on a special day, and in a special place.

As a result, the protest movement initiated by Navalny, which has been gaining traction, could soon be over, because its charismatic leader is simply unavailable. The tender young shoots of democracy in Russia may never get a chance to take root, and that would be extremely sad.

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