Opposition leader has called on Russians to protest against ‘these thieves, bigots and perverts in power’ and boycott upcoming presidential election
Russian police forced their way into the Moscow office of opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Sunday and started questioning people, images broadcast online by his supporters showed.
The move came as hundreds of supporters of Navalny began a nationwide day of protests against the authorities, calling on voters to boycott what they say is a rigged presidential election scheduled for 18 March. Navalny had urged nationwide unsanctioned rallies to protest against “pseudo-elections”.
Roman Rubanov, a Navalny supporter, wrote on social media that the police said they were looking into reports that there was a bomb in the office, something he said came as a surprise to him.
Ratcheting up tensions with the government, Navalny called on Russians to show up at rallies in the centre of Moscow and Saint Petersburg with placards and leaflets, a move considered likely to provoke police.
Rallies have been planned in more than 100 cities across the country. In most cities, permission to stage rallies was received, Navalny said.
“Your life is at stake,” he told supporters in a video address.
“How many more years do you want to live with these thieves, bigots and perverts in power? We’ve already endured this for 18 years.”
Navalny warned that authorities planned to clamp down on his youngest supporters, tweeting a screenshot of a text message sent around ahead of the rallies.
The message urged parents to make sure their children did not attend the Sunday protests. “Raids are possible,” it said.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, warned that unsanctioned rallies would lead to “certain consequences”.
Navalny – seen as the only politician with enough stamina to take on Putin – has built a robust protest movement despite constant police harassment, tapping into the anger of a younger generation yearning for change.
He says the upcoming election will be little more than a coronation of Putin who is widely expected to win a fourth presidential term and extend his Kremlin power until 2024.
In 2017 Navalny mounted a forceful bid to run for president but officials ruled him ineligible due to a criminal conviction which he says is politically motivated.
Navalny has said he will use the full force of his campaign – including more than 200,000 volunteers – to organise “voters’ strikes” and encourage Russians to stay away from polling stations on election day.