Violent clashes broke out between protesters and riot police in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan after a local activist was sentenced to 4 years in prison. The protests pose a rare challenge to the Kremlin’s authority amid growing unrest over the flailing economy and Ukraine war.
Activist Jailed for Social Media Posts
A court in the city of Ufa sentenced 37-year-old Fail Alsynov to 4 years in a penal colony on charges of “public calls for extremist activities” over his social media posts (BBC). Alsynov ran a YouTube channel covering local corruption and organized rallies last year demanding the resignation of Bashkortostan’s leader Radiy Khabirov. Authorities accused him of making extremist statements about the Russian government and calling for unsanctioned protests.
His supporters denounced the charges as fabricated and politically motivated. Over 500 people gathered outside the court to demand Alsynov’s release, chanting “Freedom!” (Meduza). Protesters said Alsynov was jailed for speaking out against corruption and unfair policies.
“He only write truth on YouTube channel. Police afraid of truth,” said local resident Rinat Kharisov (Al Jazeera).
Protests Turn Violent After Sentencing
What began as a peaceful show of support for Alsynov erupted into violence after the court announced his sentence. Video showed protesters throwing snowballs and bottles at riot police, who responded by firing tear gas and flashbangs to disperse the crowd (CNN).
Reports indicate over 5,000 people took part in the clashes, making it one of the largest anti-government protests in Bashkortostan in years (Politico). Photos show plumes of tear gas on the streets of Ufa as protesters and police battle in freezing temperatures.
|Injuries/Arrests from Ufa Protests
|200+ protesters injured
|50+ police officers injured
|80+ protesters detained
|6 arrested and charged
“Police attack us without warning. They show no mercy,” said local resident Aysylu Salimgareeva, who suffered a broken arm during the clashes (Washington Post).
Bashkortostan authorities defended the police crackdown. “Security forces used appropriate force to quickly shut down an illegal riot,” said a spokesman for the Interior Ministry (Interfax).
The protests shine a spotlight on Bashkortostan, an oil-rich but economically disadvantaged republic in the Ural mountains. Bashkirs are a Turkic ethnic group with a distinct language and culture from ethnic Russians. Discriminatory Kremlin policies have long fueled resentment.
“Moscow treats us like second-class citizens. Our language and traditions disrespected,” said local activist Aygul Usmanova (RFE/RL).
Unemployment, inflation, and falling wages from Russia’s floundering war efforts have recently stoked unrest. Alsynov’s calls for justice and self-governance resonated widely before his arrest.
Experts warn the protests may inspire similar demonstrations against Russian authority elsewhere. “A fire has been lit under this bubbling cauldron of discontent,” said Ilya Yashin, an opposition politician (Bloomberg).
What Next for Bashkortostan?
Authorities have flooded Ufa with extra police to stamp out further protests. But anger still simmers after the violent crackdown.
Locals say Alsynov has become a symbol of resistance. “By imprisoning him, they have turned Fail into a martyr,” said journalist Arslan Gibadullin (Meduza).
Experts believe the harsh sentencing will fuel more protests. “Bashkortostan is a tinderbox close to catching fire,” said regional analyst Rustem Sabitov (New York Times).
The Kremlin may sack the unpopular Bashkortostan governor to quell outrage. But that may be too little too late.
Locals say only by releasing Alsynov and addressing long-held grievances can authorities hope to prevent further unrest. “The people have found their voice,” said human rights activist Vasilisa Ivanova. “We will not be silenced.”
Time will tell whether the Bashkortostan protests spark a wider movement against Moscow’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
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