MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian authorities’ attempts to jail Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and intimidate his supporters could backfire and trigger new political protests amid the most serious financial crisis of Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Thousands pledged to take to the streets after Russian prosecutors this month called for the charismatic 38-year-old leader of the country’s belea-guered opposition movement to be sentenced to 10 years in prison for al-leged fraud.
The January 15 rally near the Kremlin walls could turn out to be the biggest de-monstration against Putin’s rule since the beginning of Moscow’s confronta-tion with the West over Ukraine late last year. The demonstration could stir simmering discontent over the collapse of the ruble and growing inflation as oil prices tumble and Western sanctions over Ukraine take their toll.
Facebook found itself in the midst of a political storm in Russia this month.
First it came under huge pressure from the Russian authorities over a page calling for the pro-Navalny rally on January 15, the day of his verdict.
Then it got attacked by the activist’s supporters for having “no guts” – in the words of the founder of Russia’s biggest social network VKontakte Pavel Durov – after it pulled the page down. “Back in the summer or early fall you could get away with banning such rallies,” said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Centre for Political Technologies.
“But now that the economic situa-tion has deteriorated dramatically, ban-ning such a rally could backfire on the authorities,” he told AFP.