Geopolitics

How The Kremlin Silences Youth Protests Ahead Of Elections

Little room is left for the movement led by Alexei Navalny to challenge Vladimir Putin's bid for reelection.

January 28 protests in Moscow
Pavel Lokshin

KALININGRAD — In mid-January, Oleg Alexeiev noticed agents from the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) lurking in front of his apartment in Kaliningrad. The next thing he knew, the 22-year-old was sentenced to 20 days for promoting "illegal action."

The charges refer to the demonstrations organized by prominent activist Alexei Navalny in late January, which demanded a boycott of the upcoming presidential election. Alexeiev, a member of the Navalny staff in the Russian Baltic Sea enclave, had also called for participation in the demonstration and as a result, wound up in jail.

In the weeks leading up to the March 18 election, the Kremlin fears a rebellion coming from among the nation's youth. Although polls show that President Vladimir Putin has a comfortable lead among young voters (two-thirds, between the ages of 18 and 24, say they plan to vote for him), his approval ratings among youth are far lower than among other age groups.

The young Russians who have mobilized for protests should not, in any case, be underestimated. There is growing dissatisfaction with Putin among the youth, with laments about the lack of career opportunities for most, while society's advantages are enjoyed by children of Kremlin-friendly elites.

Forum Seliger camp — Photo: Kontinent/ZUMA

Cases like that of Alexeiev have become part of everyday life in Russia. Almost daily, the human rights platform OVD-Info documents new reprisals against Navalny's mostly young followers and collaborators. Nationwide, house searches are taking place, and people continue to be arrested: sentences of 20 days or 30 days. In Tomsk, Siberia, a protester was fined 2,000 euros participating in a demonstration.

Navalny, the undisputed head of the anti-Putin opposition, has been barred from the election because of a felony conviction (which he says was politically motivated,) has since called on citizens to boycott the vote. The 41-year-old lawyer and leader of the Progressive Party has committed himself to the fight against state corruption and has been sent to prison on several occasions, most recently in October for 20 days.

Alexander Dobralski, Oleg Alexeiev's lawyer, calls the jailing of his client an "illegal deprivation of liberty." But, Dobralski adds that his young client is proud to have been imprisoned like Navalny, his role model. "In Russia," says Dobralski, "any professional politician of the opposition, unfortunately, has to be prepared."

The Kremlin is banking on repression, through various channels. For example, Alexeiev was also kicked out of university during his sixth semester studying law. The Emmanuel Kant University of Kaliningrad justified this with his allegedly poor academic performance. Russia's Association for Student Rights is also dealing with Alexeiev's case.

Navalny supporters are being pressured at other universities, as well. Those who openly sympathize with him have been threatened with dismissal, while a medical academy in St. Petersburg has called on its students to avoid taking part in any of Navalny's actions. The Ministry of Education and Science in Moscow has refused to comment on these events.

Any professional politician of the opposition has to be prepared.

Not only are political activists themselves targeted, but so are their relatives. In Siberia, for example, a friend of Navalny activist, Natalia Pachomowa, was kicked out of college after she refused to withdraw her registration for a demonstration. Her mother, an award-winning teacher, was fired after 20 years on the job.

Provocative non-political actions are tolerated. A homoerotic parody in the Volga city of Ulyanovsk caused a scandal, but had no serious consequences for the students: They got away with a warning. Anyone who protests against Putin, however, faces real risks. Russia plans to spend some 21 million euros on "patriotic education" by 2020. The Kremlin invests in special "cadet classes' to educate children to be obedient and to prepare them for a military career. There are also Soviet-style military-style sports clubs for youth and young adults.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

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$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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