Tens of thousands of people in over a dozen Russian cities defied heavy police presence Saturday to protest the arrest of Alexei Navalny, a leading political opposition figure to Putin. Navalny’s poisoning, recovery, return to Russia, and his organization’s viral videos are turning him into a “household name” in Russia, according to PBS NewsHour’s Special Correspondent Ryan Chilcote.
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NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Ryan Chilcote has more on today's protests and the growing popularity of Mr. Navalny.
Alexei Navalny appears to be increasingly popular. Witness the fact that tens of thousands of people turned out at these protests, more than 2,000 of them arrested in dozens of Russian cities right across the expanse of the country.
When Navalny arrived from Germany a little over a week ago, his team released a video in which he alleged that President Putin has a palace that is valued at a billion dollars that was built on bribes. Now, the Kremlin has denied this allegation, but this video has been watched by more than 71 million people. That suggests that Mr. Navalny is getting increasingly popular.
I profiled him twice first in 2011 when he was basically an activist investor investigating corruption in-state companies and then again in 2017, when he was trying to run for president, he was actually barred from being on the ballot then. And 2011, he was almost unknown. In 2017, popular, but mostly among the youth and that appears to be changing.
Now, where does this go? Well, Mr. Navalny is well known, but perhaps not universally loved. And in fact, one pollster says his approval rating is around 15 to 17 percent. Nevertheless, he can discredit the Kremlin with his allegations of corruption, his movement that he's begun. And so it is likely that these protests will continue because it's likely that Alexei Navalny will remain in jail.
And here's the key thing to keep in mind. In September, Russia is going to have a very important parliamentary election for the State Duma. There is a school of thought that if the Kremlin wants to, they will keep him in jail until at least after that election in September and perhaps for years and years beyond that, simply to solve this political problem.