On the 5th of February, the Kremlin expelled three diplomats from Germany, Sweden, and Poland; after alledging that they partook in the protests that have erupted across Russia in objection to opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment. Navalny is the most prominent opposition figure in Russia, a staunch anti-corruption advocate, and a harsh critic of Kremlin. The diplomats argue that their actions did not in any way overstep their rights and obligations, although Moscow insists that they have taken part in ‘unauthorised demonstrations’.
What are the protests about?
Protests have erupted after Navalny was arrested upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering after being poisoned with the nerve agent novichok, similar to the one used in the Salisbury attack in 2018. In August 2020, Navalny was transported to Germany to receive treatment for poisoning after falling seriously ill whilst on a flight to Moscow. After delays in his transportation to Germany, allegedly based on his unstable condition, his family was eventually allowed to seek assistance in Germany. His supporters, however, claim that the delays were meant to ensure that any evidence of poisoning would disappear from Navalny’s blood.
Navalny remained in Germany until January this year, having fully recovered from the attack. Upon his return to Russia he was arrested for failing to be present at a parole for a fraud conviction he received in 2014, despite the fact that his absence was caused by him recovering from poisoning, which he believes was ordered by the Kremlin. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, but the actual prison time will be of two years and eight months, as he had already served some time under arrest. However, even from his prison cell, Navalny is able to cause Kremlin trouble, through his team, which released a video of a large complex that allegedly belongs to Putin and which is ’39 times the size of Monaco’, property which was funded through illicit means. This revelation, and the way in which Navalny was treated by both the courts and the authorities, sparked a wave of protests in Russia; the extent of which have not been seen since 2012. Whilst the protesters might not necessarily be direct supporters of Navalny, the dissatisfaction with the level of corruption in Russia, coupled with the recent events, has proven enough to give rise to massive protests in big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, and even in temperatures of minus 50 degrees in the Siberian city of Yakutsk. Over 1000 protesters have been arrested by the authorities thus far.
What has the international response been?
Navalny’s poisoning led to an international outcry, and his imprisonment has elicited a similar response from the other great powers. The expulsion of the three diplomats, however, has caused even greater tensions in the already strained relationship between Russia and the West. The fact that the three diplomats were expelled when Joseph Borrell, the European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, was in Russia is viewed by some as a statement of the Kremlin’s open defiance towards the values and laws the govern the West. Germany, Sweden and Poland have condemned Moscow’s actions and have declared that measures will be taken in response to the diplomats’ expulsion.
Written by Diana Jalea