After a globally known incident of the poisoning of Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny in August of 2020 with the nerve agent Novichok and his survival, Navalny has been in the center of attention. He has blamed the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin along with Russia’s FSB for his poisoning. Upon his arrival in Russia on January 17th he was detained at the border and placed in a detention center in Moscow. A few days later his team published a YouTube video on his channel titled “A Palace for Putin: The Story of the Biggest Bribe” which caused mass protests across Russia in support of Navalny’s investigation.
Belarus, Russia’s Soviet brother has been in turmoil since August, when President Alexander Lukashenko, who’s been claimed as a dictator for being in power for 26 years held another round of unfair elections that kept his regime alive. The protests became of international recognition because of OMON’s (Belarus’ riot police) ill-treatment of protestors by torture and detention at. The protests have continued for about five months but have reduced in size due to winter conditions and the brutal oppression of the riot police.
It is widely known the Lukashenko and Putin have been very close allies with occasional disagreements that are always quickly forgotten about. But in terms of leadership many people compare them to be alike. Both have been in power for many years, both have held unfair elections, and both have opposition that has been scared to speak out or has been silenced by oppression. This was both the case with Navalny and Tsikhanouskaya.
Tsikhanouskaya was put out as an opposition leader soon after her husband, Sergei , a Belarusian activist, spoke out against Lukashenko and was arrested due to his announcement of wanting to partake in the 2020 Presidential Elections. After his arrest, Tsikhanouskaya decided to run in the elections in order to bring the people of Belarus closer together and have a voice against the regime. This ended with her having to flee the country after falsified election results in favor of Lukashenko. The European Union and the United States have both supported Tsikhanouskaya and have not recognized these results. In result, Belarus broke out in protests, citing that Tsikhanouskaya is their rightfully chosen leader.
Navalny, who was poisoned using a chemical weapon that Russia has claimed it no longer has, has blamed Putin and the FSB for this doing. Investigations have been opened, but no verdict has been reached. After the failed assassination attempt and his recovery in Germany, Navalny still wanted to return to Russia. He was detained at passport control upon entry to Russia. The basis of his arrest was leaving the country on a previous probation, even though he was in a coma when he was transported to Germany and did not have a say. A few days after the arrest, his team released a documentary about Putin and a castle he built with bribes on the Black Sea near Gelendzhik. The video has accumulated about 80 million views on YouTube and has caused mass protests around Russia at the end of January.
Russia and Belarus have been so close in their regimes over the last twenty years and have recently seen the largest protestions in the 21st century. Navalny and Tsikhanouskaya are both trying to lead their countries to a democracy. Even with Navalny’s detention, his non-governmental organization, Anti-Corruption Foundation, have managed to lead theseprotests through-out the country. Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in Europe, still leads and organizes protests from outside the borders of Belarus. Both protests have grasped much attention due to OMON, the riot police, that exists in both Russia and Belarus, and has demonstrated brutality and torture towards the citizens. The leaders of the two countries have also stated that both Navalny and Tsikhanouskaya are funded by the Western leaders in order to spread the west’s influence in a form of propaganda. Both leaders are denying that their citizens have any basis for negativity towards their regimes and wanting change.
The similarity that both situations face is credited towards the opposition leaders: Navalny and Tsikhanouskaya. The citizens have found a unification of their countries in the form of these people. When the citizens see that these leaders are there and they place this information for the whole world to see, the people are no longer scared to go out and make their mind be heard. The people found faces that represent themselves, but also have the platform to make their voices heard at the governmental and regime levels. It is because of these two leaders that the countries were able to mobilize such large protests.
Image Source: Atlantic Council