On January 23, Russian cities faced the “largest protests in contemporary history”; swarms of people cried out for the liberation of scandal-ridden ‘opposition’ leader Alexei Navalny, peaceful protesters were trampled and bitten by special police forces. That’s what the head-lines of pro-opposition tabloids said about the demonstrations that were held after the return of Navalny from Berlin to Moscow. In fact, the media hype aimed to instigate violence was much stronger than the real support among the population. The first wave failed, making further provocations more difficult.
According to the non-systemic opposition headed by Alexei Navalny, the alleged number of protesters in all 110 Russian cities was at least 250 thousand people. These numbers appear to be exaggerated, and are very dubious.
In relative terms, the highest level of public support for Navalny was expected to surface in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, and Khabarovsk. The largest protests were held in the Russian capital Moscow and the second largest city of St. Petersburg.
Estimates for the number of participants in the cities differ greatly. Russian Ministry of the Interior claimed that about 4000 Moscow citizens took to the streets in support of Navalny. Official data provided by police is based on the city’s video surveillance system, which is one of the best in the world in terms of number of cameras and their quality.
At the same time, the chief officer of the Anti-Corruption Foundation established by Navalny reported greater participation, by magnitude of ten, at 40,000 protesters. This data is based on reports of various journalists and activists. Unsurprisingly, over the years ‘the opposition’ has significantly increased protester turnout estimates at all its protests.
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For a more balanced analysis, it could be considered that about 12,000 took part in the protests in Moscow. This is three times more than the official figures and three times less than data provided by opposition.
The population of Moscow is officially estimated at over 12 million; according to conservative unofficial estimate it approaches 15 million. Moreover, the population of the Moscow Region is more than 7 million, according to unofficial data, it is near 9 million.
Even taking into account official data of the entire Moscow area, it makes about 20 million of population.
Thus, the real support of Navalny in the capital was approximately 0.06%. It was a complete failure.
In other cities where a high level of support was expected, the organizers also failed to receive appropriate support. In Novosibirsk, there were less than 3,000 participants. In Khabarovsk, where protests in support of former governor Sergei Furgalo still persist, opposition media reported that less than 1,000 people had taken to the streets. Moreover, judging by photographs of the protests these figures are clearly overestimated.
In some cities, such as Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, the protests had minimal support, with about 100 participants in each city.
Aside the low numbers of participants, only every tenth protester was really supporting Navalny and his political ideas. The majority of protesters were unaware of his detention and his political projects; they were only following other mainstream agendas. Many of the protesters were minors, who took to the streets to have fun after months of staying at home. Some participants were demonstrating against the current Government in general or against alleged ‘arbitrariness of Putin’s regime’ that is actively promoted by ‘the opposition’. An example of this ‘arbitrariness’ is the fake documentary ‘Putin’s Palaces’ that has been recently released by Navalny’s team.
In fact, the protests on January 23 demonstrated the total failure of pro-Western ‘opposition’, such weakness of public support was not even expected by Putin’s regime.
However, the real battle with ‘the opposition’ is held not on the streets of Russian cities, but online social media.
All protest organization and calls to take to the streets were held on social media networks. Hype over the protests was artificially raised on such platforms as VKontakte, Instagram, TikTok, etc, aiming to involve as many minors as possible. Highly likely the expectation was for the minors to become first victims of ‘cruel Putin’s regime’ and provoke their relatives to take part in the second more violent wave of protests.
However, the hopes of ‘the opposition’ were shattered. The protests were mainly calm, no casualties were officially reported. About 3000 protesters were detained all over the country, despite the fact that these were unauthorized demonstrations.
All minors detained during an uncoordinated rally in the center of Moscow were released after the arrival of their parents, said Olga Yaroslavskaya, children’s ombudsman of Moscow.
After the protests in Belarus during August 2020, Russian law enforcement did not use violence and acted quite restrained, only responding to protesters’ attacks or obvious law violations. As a result of this police restraint, protester clashes with the police that took place in St. Petersburg and Moscow resulted in more injured security officials (42) than civilians (29) who went to the hospital after the rallies.
Peaceful protests were not what pro-Western ‘opposition’ expected. Obviously, their major aim was ‘to take pictures’ that would become a proof of fierce violence by law enforcement, aimed to inspire more supporters and legitimating their efforts of destabilization.
The traditional tactic of provoking clashes with police by small aggressive groups was employed. Attacking police officers, protesters attempted to instigate large-scale violence.
Another video from January 23 shows the protesters surrounding special police forces.
More videos show the protesters’ misbehavior, they vandalized monuments and burned the Russian flag.
After realizing the fail of the first round of protests, the organizers continued their provocations online.
On January 24 social media was flooded with fake claims about protesters who were allegedly killed by police officers.
One of the fake victims of the ‘violent regime’ was popular blogger Vitaly Tsal. According to some fake accounts, showing his ‘last photo’, he was brutally killed by police officers. However, this photo emerged online after his surgery to the nose in June 2020.
The continued online campaign proves that the protests on January 23 were not a one-time action, but an attempt to launch a long-term process with periodic rallies. It was only an introduction to the main wave of protests that should start on January 29, when the court will decide on the detention of Alexei Navalny. The organizers likely believe that such a long-term campaign will obtain an alternative source for growth due to general dissatisfaction with continued coronavirus restrictions.
However, the ‘opposition’ has already missed the key point and lost its first battle. The teens had fun and received their dose of adrenaline, women with posters have walked down the streets and danced in a ring at -50 degrees Celsius frost, while the main provocateurs were detained and are now treating their abrasions. Navalny’s Team failed to take the necessary ‘violent picture’ and thus, to gain more supporters.
The protests scheduled for January 29 will gain even less support, as they will mainly be dedicated to supporting the liberation of Navalny personally. The large part of those who took to the streets on January 23 were not supporting him, but demonstrated against the current regime, or were not even followers of politics and clearly unaware of Navalny and his political ideas.
Anyway, the on-going destabilization campaign in Russia is only at an early stage. The large support and amounts of money that were provided to Navalny’s team from the West will not let them abandon the campaign even after total failure.
Remarkably, the US Embassy published on its website detailed information on the planned protests, with exact places and instructions. Washington openly instigated an unauthorized rally, interfering in Russia’s internal affairs.
The large destabilization campaign in Russia that started just a few days after the Biden inauguration turned out to be a poorly planned operation. The goal of puppet Navalny’s team was to provoke heavy violence, possible deaths; death of minors would be even better for a more impressive image. They failed. Navalny’s real support among the population was not comparable to the online hype. Now, the new round of propaganda starts in an attempt to present protests larger than they were, create a myth about casualties with fake deaths in Tik Tok. Such desperate attempts are ridiculous and are doomed to fail. Navalny will likely be jailed; and pro-Western ‘opposition’ will be forced to create a new leading figure (according to Belorussian scenario it may become Navalny’s wife), as well as to find new methods to manipulate public opinion in order to at least maintain the support they already have.
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