Supporters of the Russian opposition march on February 29, 2020 in Moscow, in memory of the Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, assassinated in February 2015. - Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP
Thousands of supporters of the Russian opposition gathered this Saturday to protest against the constitutional reforms wanted by President Vladimir Putin, and in memory of the opponent Boris Nemtsov, assassinated five years ago at the foot of the Kremlin.
It is the first large-scale demonstration since the announcement of the vast constitutional revision wanted by the Russian president and since the protest movement in favor of free elections which shook Moscow in the summer of 2019 and which had been firmly repressed. It also commemorates the death of Boris Nemtsov, one of the main anti-Putin voices until his assassination in February 2015. Five operatives were convicted, but the sponsor was not found.
Over 14,000 people in Moscow
In Moscow, more than 14,000 people gathered, according to the NGO Compteur Blanc, with portraits of Boris Nemtsov and chanting "Russia without Putin" and "Russia will be free". “I am against constitutional changes. I want power to be changed and I don't want us to ignore international law, ”said one of the participants, Albina Poukhova, 54.
For another protester, Semion Pevzner, 75, the reform wanted by Vladimir Putin "has only one goal: to stay in power by any means". The demonstrators also called for the release of "political prisoners", young Russians condemned in recent months in various controversial cases for "violence" against the police or "terrorist" activities.
"The only possibility of saying that we are against what is happening"
In St. Petersburg, nearly 2,000 people marched through the center of Russia's second city to the monument to the victims of political repression. "It is, in fact, the only possibility of saying that we are against what is happening in the country and against the police state," said Galina Zouïko, 55.
"The Kremlin will look at how many people are participating in the march for Nemtsov. On that will depend on what level of cynicism they will continue the operation to keep Putin in power, "Kremlin opponent number 1 Alexei Navalny wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, calling on his supporters to join the parade.
В Кремле будут смотреть, сколько людей выйдет на Марш Немцова. От этого зависит, насколько нагло они проведут операцию по сохранению Путина у власти. И от этого же зависит судьба политзеков. Приходите и распространяйте видео с призывом на марш, это важно: https://t.co/IaQa5sneyi- Alexey Navalny (@navalny) February 25, 2020
Authorized by the authorities, the march is the first major demonstration since Vladimir Putin announced a constitutional revision which will strengthen several prerogatives of the president and will strengthen the role of the State Council, a body previously consultative.
Only 25% of Russians support constitutional changes
For many analysts, Vladimir Putin organizes with this reform after 2024, leaving the maximum number of open doors to preserve his influence and perpetuate the system he has built in 20 years in power, when he must to leave the presidency since he will not be able to run again.
According to a recent survey by the independent Levada center, only 25% of Russians are ready to vote in favor of the constitutional changes wanted by Vladimir Putin, while 65% say they do not understand what they mean. Respondents are divided on the future of the president: 44% want him to leave power after 2024, 45% see him stay.
Reopen the investigation
The shooting of Boris Nemtsov had caused a shock wave in Russian society and abroad. The calls to find the authors and the sponsors had multiplied against a background of suspicions of involvement of the Russian authorities.
The opponent, who embodied the generation of young reformers of the 1990s, had served in the government of Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) before becoming a virulent critic of Vladimir Putin. At the time of his death, he was preparing an investigation into the involvement of the Russian army in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
In 2017, five men from the Russian republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia were sentenced to 11 to 20 years in prison for his murder. The official investigation estimates that the opponent was assassinated for his criticisms of Islam, but it is questioned by the opposition, which suspects an implication of the authoritarian Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, already implicated in d other murders of opponents and journalists.
The alleged sponsor was identified by the investigators as Rouslan Gueremeïev, commander of a Chechen military unit. Never arrested, he would have fled abroad. The European Union and Alexei Navalny called on the Russian authorities to reopen the investigation.
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