Russian Opposition Holds Valentine’s Day Flash Mob Protest
(Bloomberg) -- Supporters of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny staged a Valentine’s Day protest by waving lights as a symbol of discontent with the authorities that have waged a harsh crackdown on street rallies.
A top Navalny aide, Leonid Volkov, had urged supporters to go outside at 8 p.m. Sunday and hold up phone flashlights or other lights for a few minutes, after announcing that the opposition was suspending further street rallies until spring.
“Putin made fear his sole weapon,” Volkov said. “We have to overcome this fear. We have to carry out a protest action that riot police can’t stop and that anyone can join.”
President Vladimir Putin said he can understand why people support the recent rallies, according to his meeting with the chief editors of major media outlets broadcast on state television Sunday.
“Irritation is growing, there are many problems, there is not enough money,” Putin said. He referred to Navalny only as a “figure” that was being used by Europe, the U.S. and other countries to destabilize Russia.
The flash mob, which organizers called “Love is more powerful than fear,” started in the Russian Far East and moved across the country’s 11 time zones from Siberia to Moscow. Navalny’s team account and participants posted photos of people holding torches and phones. The organizers didn’t have information on how many people took part.
Navalny himself posted a photo with his wife, Yulia, on Instagram, with the message: “I love you. And all the jokes I make in the courts, I make only for you to laugh in the first row.”
Riot police detained more than 11,000 when protesters took to the streets in dozens of cities on Jan. 23 and 31. The largest nationwide protests in a decade came after police detained Navalny when he returned to Moscow last month from Berlin, where he’d been recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he and Western governments blamed on Putin’s security service. The Kremlin denies responsibility.
The European Union is working on a proposal to sanction Russia over the imprisonment of Navalny, according to two people familiar with the discussions. A Moscow court jailed the opposition leader for two years and 8 months on Feb. 2 for breaching probation terms from a 2014 fraud conviction while he was recovering in Germany.
Navalny’s allies have urged the EU, the U.K. and the U.S. to sanction 35 top Russian officials and business figures close to the Kremlin. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Friday that Russia is ready to break off ties with the EU if the bloc imposes sanctions that damage the nation’s economy.
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