Mass protests in Russia: a battle against Putin’s regime and corruption

Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Putin’s alleged $1.7 billion palace spark outrage across the nation

Two-week demonstrations continue in Russia in support of the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. With over 10,000 arrests since Jan. 23, the Russian nation is in the midst of a major battle against the Kremlin and its corruption.

Almost 40,000 protesters took to the streets of Moscow on Jan. 23 after Navalny got detained as soon as he returned to Russia earlier that week. He was arriving from Germany, where he had been recovering from serious poisoning which took place last year on Aug. 20 — an alleged assassination attempt from Vladimir Putin’s government.

From Siberia to St. Petersburg, Russians held mass protests across the entire country in solidarity with Navalny. The most recent pro-Navalny rally took place on Tuesday, when a Moscow court sentenced the opposition leader to over 2.5 years in prison for breaking parole conditions during his recovery in Berlin.

“I’ve offended [Putin] so deeply by the fact that I have survived,” said Navalny to the prosecutor. Since the Kremlin’s critic miraculously survived a chemical attack by a nerve agent (which was reportedly planted in his underwear), Navalny believes that Putin’s only choice was to push for his imprisonment.

The protesters calling for Navalny’s release have been met with brutal resistance from Russia’s specialist riot police over the past two weeks. Peaceful demonstrators suffered from electric shocks, were beaten with batons, kicked in the stomach, and dragged into crowded police buses.

Navalny’s wife and brother have already been arrested since the protests began. While there have been no casualties, the press also fell victim to police brutality with over 100 journalists either injured or detained since Jan. 23.

On behalf of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned Navalny’s imprisonment on Feb. 2, the day of his sentencing.

“We call for his immediate release, as well as the release of the peaceful protestors and journalists who have been detained in recent weeks. The justice system must never be abused for political purposes,” stated Trudeau on Twitter.

U.S. President Joe Biden also publicly denounced “the politically-motivated jailing of Alexei Navalny and Russian efforts to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

Navalny is perceived as the biggest political threat to Vladimir Putin and his presidential reign of almost 17 years. Putin first came into power in 2000, serving as the president of Russia for two terms until 2008, and then again from 2012 to this day.

As the Russian constitution does not allow one to be president for more than two consecutive terms, Putin served as the prime minister from 2008 until 2012. In reality, he still possessed the majority of political influence, with 60 per cent of Russians believing he “still held all the power in the country” in 2008 despite his lower-ranked position.

Unwilling to give up his power, Putin ordered constitutional changes last year which would allow him to be president until 2036. With the legal system working in his favour, Putin’s only major threat became Navalny himself.

In fact, Russians were not only outraged by the jailing of Putin’s most outspoken critic. These country-wide protests were also sparked by major corruption allegations spread by Navalny.

Upon his arrival to Russia, Navalny posted a two-hour video on his YouTube channel titled “Putin’s palace. History behind world’s largest bribe.” This sophisticated investigation by Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) was viewed over 110 million times on the platform in just three weeks.

The documentary revealed an Italian-style palace valued at $1.7 billion, which was allegedly built for Putin on the coast of the Black Sea in Southern Russia. The castle has a no-fly zone over its property and a private border checkpoint, and its staff are not allowed to bring cellphones with cameras onto the premises.

“It is the most secretive and well-guarded facility in Russia, without exaggeration,” said Navalny in the documentary. “This is not a residence. It’s an entire city, or rather a kingdom.”

The estate’s area is 39 times larger than the country of Monaco, according to the documents and 3D-models provided by a construction subcontractor. The palace consists of a casino, an underground hockey rink, a church, an amphitheatre, several vineyards, and a tunnel leading to the waterfront.

Beneath the luxurious 11-bedroom residence, the entire complex reportedly goes as deep as 16 floors underground. Currently being under construction, Navalny’s FBK states that this is the most expensive palace in the entire world.

Putin denied all allegations regarding his ownership of the estate. “Nothing that is listed there as my property belongs to me or my close relatives, and never did,” stated the Russian president in a press conference.

As of now, opposition supporters have not been able to achieve Putin’s resignation and Navalny’s unconditional release. After protesters took a stand against corruption in the Kremlin and the lack of political freedom, Putin is still holding onto his power.

Going forward, Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov asked all of his supporters to avoid demonstrations in the coming weeks, as the main focus should be on the upcoming parliamentary elections set to take place in September 2021.

Volkov believes foreign leaders must play an important role in achieving justice in Russian politics. He is counting on EU leaders to seize all assets belonging to Putin and his close affiliates, thus pressuring his government to finally grant freedom to Navalny.


Collage by Lily Cowper


COVID-19 vaccine: what Canadians should expect in 2021

With over 100,000 Quebecers vaccinated, the province prepares for mass immunization

Two days before Christmas, Agnes Wong walked into the Berkley Care Centre in North Vancouver to begin her usual shift as a cook. Having worked at the senior home for 15 years, she was feeling particularly nervous that day. It was on Dec. 23 when Wong received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

As a staff member of a long-term care centre, Wong became part of the first phase of Canada’s mass vaccination plan. This phase also includes residents of such care centres, as well as seniors aged 70 and over, frontline healthcare workers, and adults living in Indigenous communities.

Before the procedure, Wong was concerned about the vaccine’s potential side effects, as it was developed in less than a year. Pfizer and Moderna, the only companies whose vaccines have been approved by the Canadian government thus far, have both warned that patients may experience fatigue, headaches, chills, muscle pain, or fever after getting the vaccine.

However, Wong told The Concordian that she only felt slight pain in her left arm, in the area where the vaccine was administered.

“The pain disappeared two days later, so I don’t feel that discomfort anymore. I’m ready to receive the second dose of this vaccine, which should happen in about two weeks,” said Wong.

The World Health Organization recommends people take the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine within 21-28 days. It is expected to cause stronger side effects than the first dose, with 16 per cent of vaccinees aged 18 to 55 having experienced fever after its injection, as well as 11 per cent of those aged 56 and above.

The highest-priority groups are recommended to receive the vaccine before the rest of the population in every province and territory by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). However, each province, including Quebec, is responsible for its own vaccination plan.

Over 115,000 Quebecers have been vaccinated as of Jan. 15, according to Health Minister Christian Dubé. The province has already received 162,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and this number is expected to reach 250,000 next month.

As of now, Canada has vaccinated 1.1 per cent of its population and thus occupies the 13th position worldwide in terms of the COVID-19 vaccination rate. The current world leader is Israel, where a whopping 25 per cent of the population already received the COVID vaccine.

The estimated cost of Canada’s vaccination process remains unknown. However, it will be fully covered by the federal government, meaning all vaccine doses will be free of charge for Canadians.

Going forward, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday that the country is “on track to have every Canadian who wants a vaccine receive one by September.” This year, the government expects to receive a total of 80 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna.

At the same time, Trudeau made it clear that the COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory for the general public. The Prime Minister also reassured Canadians that there is no plan to develop a system of COVID-19 vaccine passports, which would act as official proof of one’s vaccination, as he believes it would create a divisive impact on the country.

According to an Ipsos/Radio-Canada poll conducted in late November, 16 per cent of Canadians definitely oppose taking the vaccine, while 64 per cent would be willing to get vaccinated. However, just 41 per cent of Canadians believe that vaccination should be mandatory for all, a poll from the Association for Canadian Studies reveals.

Wong also believes that mass vaccination will help Canada get through such a challenging period and move in a positive direction. She added, “I believe the vaccine should be widely administered because — just like a flu shot — it would give people a sense of security.”

There is no guarantee that all pandemic-related restrictions will be lifted as soon as the vaccine becomes available to the general public. However, mass vaccination is a major step towards returning to ordinary life in Canada.

The quicker everyone gets vaccinated, the quicker we’re going to be able to get back to a semblance of normality,” stated Trudeau.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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