Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny has urged Russians to stage daily protests against Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the country should not be a “nation of frightened cowards” and calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “an insane little tsar”.
“I am urging everyone to take to the streets and fight for peace,” he said in statements posted on Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, calling on Russians not to be afraid of going to prison.
“If, to prevent war, we need to fill up the jails and police vans, we will fill up the jails and police vans.”
“Everything has a price and now, in the spring of 2022, we should pay that price.”
The 45-year-old, who has led the biggest protests in Russia against Putin in recent years and survived a poisoning with Novichok nerve agent in 2020, is now serving a prison sentence on old fraud charges.
Navalny’s movement had previously called for a campaign of civil disobedience to protest against Russia’s invasion of its western neighbour.
Several rounds of anti-war protests have already taken place in cities across Russia. More than 6,800 people have been arrested for taking part in the demonstrations, according to independent protest monitoring group OVD-Info.
“Putin is not Russia. And if there is anything in Russia right now that you can be most proud of, it is those 6,824 people who were detained because – without any call – they took to the streets with placards saying “No War”, Navalny wrote on Twitter.
Navalny urged the people of Russia and Belarus – which allowed Russian troops passage to attack Ukraine – to demonstrate in main squares at 7pm every weekday and at 2pm on weekends and during holidays. Those who live abroad should gather at Russian embassies to protest, he said.
“You cannot wait another day,” he said, adding that Russia should not become a “nation of frightened cowards” who are pretending not to see an “aggressive war unleashed by our clearly insane little tsar”.
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh also reiterated his call to protest on Twitter.
“The most important [thing]: to spread information. If you are afraid of reposting (although it’s late for fear) – at least spread it among your acquaintances by word of mouth… No war,” Yarmysh said.
Navalny, the most prominent opponent of President Putin, was jailed last year after he returned to Russia from Germany following his recovery from what Western laboratory tests established was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia. Russia denied carrying out such an attack.
Since then, authorities have clamped down even more tightly on his movement, and key figures have fled into exile after being designated by the authorities as “foreign agents”.
On Wednesday Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s leading independent newspaper, reported that children were detained by Russian police for laying flowers and anti-war signs at the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow.
“In the Presnensky police department, children and their parents are left overnight,” the newspaper tweeted in Russian, alongside a photo of the children and their parents.
“The police detained them when they laid flowers at the Ukrainian embassy,” it added.
В ОВД Пресненское детей и их родителей оставляют на ночь. Полиция задержала их, когда они возлагали цветы у посольства Украины
Фото: фейсбук pic.twitter.com/Wq3trWsjPN
— Новая Газета (@novaya_gazeta) March 1, 2022
[Presnenskoe police station is keeping children and their parents in detention overnight. Police detained them when they were laying flowers at the embassy of Ukraine.]
Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify Novaya Gazeta’s reporting.
Putin last Thursday ordered troops to invade pro-Western Ukraine to “de-militarise” and “denazify” the country amid a historic crackdown on opposition at home.
Navalny, whose political organisations remain banned, accused Putin of using “pseudo-historic nonsense” to justify the invasion of Ukraine.
“I cannot, do not want and will not remain silent, watching how pseudo-historical nonsense about the events from 100 years ago has become an excuse for Russians to kill Ukrainians, and for Ukrainians to kill Russians while defending themselves,” he said.
“Putin is not Russia.”
Ukraine says more than 350 civilians, including 14 children, have been killed in the conflict and the International Criminal Court has opened a war crimes investigation against Russia.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday that nearly 836,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion.