People took the streets of Russia today despite the cold temperatures to protest against the lack of choice in the upcoming elections in March that are practically designed to give Vladimir Putin another term in office.

The protests took place in different cities of Russia, from Vladivostok in the east to Kaliningrad in the west. They were called by the charismatic opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who intended to be a candidate in the elections, but now won’t be due to some legal problems he claims were manufactured to prevent him from running for the presidency.

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Navalny was arrested today during the protests. image credit: NBC News

“What we are being offered right now are not elections, and we must not participate in them,” said Yevgeny Roizman to the crowds. Roizman is the mayor of the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, a rare elected official from the opposition.

Defying Putin and the cold temperatures at the same time

Navalny, who call people to get out to the streets, was detained during the demonstrations in Pushkin Square in central Moscow. Apparently, he is going to be charged with organizing an illegal gathering.

In June, he was arrested as soon as he went out of his apartment to attend to an unauthorized anticorruption gathering. He spent 25 days in jail. This time, to prevent that situation, Navalny stayed in an unknown location, noting he would announce where he was but only gave the address where president Putin is registered to vote.

Navalny is an anticorruption leader of the opposition. He organized protests in March and June all over Russia, mobilizing middle-class youth mainly. He intended to hold more protests before the March 2018 elections to highlight that the Kremlin is manipulation the entire process and that the elections are a fraud meant to choose Vladimir Putin for his fourth term in office.

However, in a recorded message Mr. Navalny sent a message to the protesters – especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg where the protests were banned – saying the following: “You have your own life at stake. Every additional year of Putin staying in power is one more year of decay.” Attacking the government he said: “How many more years will you keep getting a lower salary than you are due? For how many more years will your business receive less revenue than it is due?”

State television broadcasts simply ignored protests. In Moscow and St Petersburg, the officials said they would crack down illegal demonstrations. Even so, about 2000 people gathered in St. Petersburg.

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People in Russia are protesting for freedom of choice. Image credit: CNN

 ‘Down with the czar’

The people in Pushkin Square chanted things like “These are not elections” and “Down with the czar!”. The temperature on the streets reached minus 50 degrees, but they didn’t want to leave. They even call for people to join them by chanting “There is still time to come; the weather is not bad.”

The demonstrations were quite peaceful. With about 240 people arrested nationwide, the number of protesters this Sunday is smaller than in previous protests. A lot of provincial cities were granted the permits to carry out the rally, but the protesters were pushed to remote locations. For example, in Kazan, the organizers were offered the parking lot of a garbage processing plant in an industrial district 30 miles north of the city.

According to Sergei Zhilkin, 32, a protester who is a mathematician and IT engineer: “The boycott won’t likely change anything, but there are two different factors that work against Putin,” said Sergei. “First, he gets older and is increasingly detached from what modern life is like; second, the new generation becomes more and more active in the society.”

Another protester, Gregory – he refused to give his surname for security -, said that Putin has been in power for 18 years and that is practically his whole life. He is 23. He said that he wasn’t there to support Navalny, but because he wanted freedom of choice. He also said that he pays taxes, but he doesn’t want it to go towards corruption, but to be used on new roads, and welfare.

Another man, Khaliulla, 79, said he had spent his entire life making sacrifices to build socialism. Now he can barely live on his pension. He said he has to choose between rent and medication. He complains because he wanted his retirement to be decent.

Putin has refused to mention Navalny’s name, but he did warn that such movements would only bring chaos to the country.

While Navalny calls for a boycott, another part of the opposition discusses whether exercising the right to vote, even under these conditions, might be preferable.

“I think that the most appropriate means is to vote for the candidate that suits you,” said Maksim Kats, another opposition politician from one of Moscow’s district councils. “But even if not, then at least spoil the ballot. And vote against Putin.”

Source: The New York Times