The head of French diplomacy worried about a “questioning of the rule of law” in Russia, after arrests during unauthorized gatherings in support of Navalny. American diplomacy had also raised the tone.
In the aftermath of unauthorized rallies in support of Alexeï Navalny, which brought together thousands of demonstrators across Russia and during which the authorities made numerous arrests, the head of French diplomacy denounced a “very worrying authoritarian drift” . “The questioning of the rule of law by these arrests, collective and preventive, is unbearable,” said Jean-Yves Le Drian on January 24, in the program Political questions from France Inter radio, the France Télévisions group and the daily The world. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs also said that it was necessary to “make operational” the anti-Russian sanctions decided in October by the member countries of the European Union.
At the same time, Jean-Yves Le Drian noted that Russia was a “neighbor” with whom it was necessary to continue discussing “questions of security and confidence”.
The day before, the spokesperson for the US State Department, Ned Price, had strongly condemned “the use of brutal methods against demonstrators and journalists” during demonstrations in Russia.
Nearly 3,500 demonstrators were arrested across Russia on January 23, according to the NGO OVD-Info. Thousands of demonstrators had beaten the streets in many cities of the country, during rallies that did not obtain permission from the authorities, and during which demonstrators and members of the security forces were injured. In addition, according to Vladimir Solovyov, president of the Russian Union of Journalists, around 40 journalists were arrested on January 23, but all were released immediately after their documents were verified.
The protesters demanded the release of the opponent Alexeï Navalny, imprisoned for breaching the conditions of a suspended prison sentence, upon his return to Russia on January 17. According to the Russian prison services, he did not appear for registration at the inspection at least six times during the year 2020, between January and mid-August.
At the end of August, Alexeï Navalny was transferred to a coma in Germany, after suffering from illness. He accuses the Russian authorities of having tried to poison him (a version also defended by several governments, including those of France, the United States, and Germany), which Moscow refutes. He was released from the hospital with no after-effects.
Moscow denounces US interference ahead of protests
On January 19, a few days before these protests, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that Alexey Navalny’s imprisonment was “a completely internal matter” and that Russia would not allow anyone to interfere. in his business.
However, this January 24, the same Dmitry Peskov denounced during an interview with the Russian public channel Rossia 1 of the publications on the site of the embassy of the United States, which “indirectly constitute an absolute interference” in the internal affairs. Russian. In question: on January 22, the site of the United States Embassy had listed the places and times where unauthorized gatherings were planned in Russia, while calling on the Americans not to go there.
The Russian Foreign Ministry had already denounced the behavior of the United States Embassy, in a statement. “One can imagine what could happen if the Russian embassy in Washington published a map of the routes of the demonstrations, with the Capitol for example as an end point,” commented Russian diplomacy spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on January 23, also announcing: “American colleagues will have to deliver explanations to the Russian Foreign Ministry.”
Many people voted for Putin. And a lot of people voted for constitutional amendments
Dmitry Peskov finally underlined that the demonstrators were few in comparison with the support for the executive within the Russian population: “Few people took to the streets. Many people voted for Putin. And a lot of people voted for constitutional amendments. If you compare the figures you will understand that there were very few people, although they are also Russian citizens, ”he argued – the Russian president having been re-elected in the first round with more. 76% of the vote in 2018. The Kremlin spokesman added that he respected all points of view, but resolutely opposed the illegal protests.