Russian authorities are expected to use force to detain protesters this weekend at rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, an expert in Russian politics told Euronews.
Dr Gulnaz Sharafutdinova of Kings College in London believes the Kremlin will want to quash any sign of unrest early on, especially in the context of protests in neighbouring Belarus.
“It’s already clear that police will be using, to an extent, probably a Belarusian-style response and be very heavy-handed in detaining the people who will be outside. I see from all the signs, from the warnings and stuff, that that will be the response,” she said.
Pro-Navalny demonstrations are planned across 60 Russian cities on Saturday, but the state has stepped up efforts to curb the events.
Officials have warned that all unsanctioned protests will be stopped and those deemed to have encouraged children to participate will be hit with heavy fines.
Many of Navalny’s associates have been rounded-up and detained in the lead-up to the rallies.
Two of his closest allies – Lyubov Sobol, and Kira Yarmysh – were detained on Thursday and a Belarus-born lawyer for Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation has been expelled from Russia.
President Vladimir Putin’s highest-profile domestic critic was detained on his return to Russia from Germany. He’d been treated there for a poisoning widely believed to have been sanctioned by the Russian President.
His supporters and independent journalists have been officially warned by police not to protest.
The Kremlin is particularly concerned about the interest the events have generated on Tik Tok and other social platforms.
“Public opinion in Russia is quite divided, and the Navalny supporters tend to be younger folks who also get their information from social media, from the Internet, and don’t watch TV,” explained Dr Sharafutdinova.
“But Russia also has big groups that are getting their information from television, where there is a lot of information against Navalny, against him being a provocateur who is funded by the Western security services and working for the Western security services and Western governments for Western interests,” she added.
Since being detained, Navalny has released a documentary and created a website about Putin’s lavish, €1.1 billion, Black Sea compound – while some viewers do not believe the contents of the documentary, Putin is being ridiculed for those that do, Dr Sharafutdinova said.
“At this point still, YouTube is available, although we are in a moment where that freedom might be curtailed as well,” she added.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s executive is reportedly mulling further sanctions against Russia over Navalny’s detention, a move that has drawn the backing of many MEPs.
”We condemn his detention by the Russian authorities,” announced European Council President Charles Michel.
“Mister Navalny’s rights must be fully and unconditionally respected, we call on Russia to release him immediately and ensure his safety.”