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Navalny Team Switches Tactics In Call For New Protest In Russia

Leonid Volkov is a close aide to Aleksei Navalny.
Leonid Volkov is a close aide to Aleksei Navalny.

The leader of the network of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's teams across Russia has called for new anti-government protests in courtyards and backyards across the country, a change in tactics from mass street rallies that resulted in thousands of arrests.

Leonid Volkov, who last week said there would be a temporary halt in the mass protests demanding Navalny's release from detention, announced the new action on February 9, saying it will take place on February 14.

Volkov said the protest will begin at 8 p.m. local time and last for 15 minutes. During the action, people will gather and shine lights into the sky, then post pictures of the protests on social media.

The tactic, similar to what has been used in neighboring Belarus during months of protests against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, is aimed at preventing Russian police from interfering.

"Putin made fear his main and only weapon. So we need to adopt something stronger than fear," Volkov said.

"We will do it in a much smarter way this time and we will try to avoid direct confrontation with police," he added.

The 44-year-old Navalny, Putin's top critic, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a nerve-agent poisoning that he says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which the Kremlin has denied.

The detention sparked outrage across the country and much of the West, with tens of thousands of Russians taking to the streets in rallies on January 23 and 31. Police cracked down harshly on the demonstrations, putting many of Navalny's allies behind bars for the actions, and then detaining thousands more -- sometimes violently -- as they gathered on the streets.

On February 2, Navalny was found guilty of violating the terms of his suspended sentence relating to an embezzlement case that he has called politically motivated. The court converted the sentence to 3 1/2 years in prison. Given credit for time already spent in detention, the court said the Kremlin critic would have to serve 2 years and 8 months behind bars.

'Cat And Mouse'

That prompted people to take to the streets again. Afterward, Volkov, with an eye on fall elections, called for a pause in the demonstrations until the spring saying weekly rallies would result in mass arrests.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on February 9 declined to directly comment on Volkov's new initiative, saying only that people will be held responsible for any violations of the law.

"We will not play cat-and-mouse with anyone," Peskov said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova linked Volkov's announcement with an online meeting he and another Navalny associate, Vladimir Ashurkov, held a day earlier with representatives of EU member states, the United States, and Britain.

She labeled Navalny's team as "traitors" for negotiating with people "who see Russia as either an adversary or an enemy or an aggressor."

The situation around Navalny's poisoning, arrest, and conviction, as well as police brutality during his supporters' rallies, has strained Russia's relations with the West, which has demanded Navalny's immediate release and proper investigations to be launched into his poisoning in August last year.

Moscow, in its turn, has accused the West of hysteria and double standards over Navalny and has accused the United States and others as meddling in Russia's internal affairs.

With reporting by Interfax, RIA Novosti, and TASS