Thousands of Russian citizens braved subzero temperatures to make their voices heard Jan. 23. From the frozen streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg to the snowy cities of Siberia, crowds flooded plazas and roads in defiance of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian state’s efforts to suppress Russia’s political opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.
Snowballs were hurled at Federal Security Service (FSB) vehicles by frustrated Russian citizens as chants of “freedom!” echoed through the streets.
The powerful show of protesters paints the picture of a Russian populace that is nearing a breaking point under Putin’s decades-long presidency.
Critics of the Kremlin have been protesting, but the events of Jan. 23 are the largest manifestation of dissent Russia has seen in years.
The arrest of Navalny seems to be the tipping point for Russians. A new beginning for the cold country could be closer than one would expect.
The explosive show of frustration by the Russian people is hardly surprising, though. In August, Navalny was poisoned with lethal nerve agent Novichok by a Russian FSB officer.
Navalny recovered in Germany for five months, but once he left Berlin and landed in Moscow, he was arrested at the airport. The cause for the arrest itself has made many skeptical. Authorities say Navalny violated the terms of a now-suspended 2014 money laundering conviction because of the flight. However, Navalny denies the legitimacy of those charges.
Navalny has been a steady pain to Putin over the years. As an outspoken critic of the president and prominent campaigner against the United Russia party, Navalny has made himself a target.
With the poisoning of the political leader and his recent arrest, the people seem to have had enough with Putin’s duplicitous dealings. They understandably want freedom, and their president allegedly beating down his largest political opponent in an effort to retain power, while denying involvement, has pushed them to protest.
You can only push people so far, and Putin is holding them near the edge.
“If Putin thinks the most frightening things are behind him, he is very sorely and naively mistaken,” Leonid Volkov, a top aide to Navalny, said on a Jan. 23 livestream on YouTube. The events of the past week are merely the beginning of a new dawn for Russia. The fight for freedom will forge onward.