Lithuania-based Leonid Volkov, once the anti-corruption campaigner’s chief of staff, has been one of the leading organizers of the demonstrations held in a number of cities throughout the country over the past fortnight. However, in a video posted to the Navalny Live YouTube channel on Thursday evening, he said there would not be a repeat of the marches this week.
Instead, he argued, they should be halted until the spring and the summer, ahead of national elections to the State Duma, the country’s national parliament. “It’s better to end it on a high note,” he added. Volkov had been one of the loudest voices behind calls for people to take to the streets.
Initial protests saw tens of thousands turn out in opposition to the Kremlin in the wake of Navalny’s arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. While the vast majority of them were peaceful, others deteriorated into violent clashes with the authorities.
A second weekend of demonstrations saw smaller crowds, and calls for mass pickets in the middle of this week following Navalny’s sentencing went largely unheeded. Despite low attendance, police in the capital cracked down on the rallies, making widespread arrests and using batons to disperse groups. Unauthorized mass gatherings are prohibited across much of the country under Covid-19 pandemic prevention laws.
However, Volkov said the opposition’s fight against the Kremlin would not simply fade out. “We are opening a second front,” he said. “Foreign policy.” Pointing to efforts to seek support from new US President Joe Biden in securing Navalny’s release and sanctioning high-profile Russians, he emphasized their growing efforts to find allies abroad.
The Anti-Corruption Foundation, a group set up by Navalny in 2011, wrote last week to the White House to call for punitive measures against Moscow and 35 purported allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We would be grateful if the US would take concrete policy and sanctions actions to limit corruption and the abuse of human rights,” it said. The organization is registered by the Russian Ministry of Justice as a ‘foreign agent’ over its ties to funding from overseas.
The move prompted a furious reaction from lawmakers within the country, and Putin’s spokesman told journalists that “the fund has demonstrated, technically and in general, that it deserves the status of a foreign agent.” First Deputy Chair of the Russian Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov lashed out at the organization in comments made to the RIA Novosti news agency on Sunday. “It smacks of treason,” he said. “Can you imagine an American organization appealing to Vladimir Putin with a request to impose sanctions on the US president?”
However, not all analysts felt that Volkov had the clout to decide the course of events. In comments reported by the VTimes news platform, President of the Center for Political Technologies Boris Makarenko, said the activist “overestimates his own importance. It is not Volkov who organizes protests, it is not for him that people go out to protests. Whether protests take place and what he says have very little in common. Full stop.”
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