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June 17, 2024

Thousands Clash With Police After Activist Jailed in Russia’s Bashkortostan

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Jan 18, 2024

Protests erupted on January 17th in the city of Baymak in Russia’s republic of Bashkortostan after popular activist Aidos Alsynov was sentenced to 4 years in prison on charges his supporters say were politically motivated. Thousands gathered to voice anger at what they saw as an unjust ruling, leading to clashes with riot police dispatched to contain the crowds.

Peaceful Protest Turns Violent

What began as a peaceful demonstration rapidly descended into chaos as protesters hurled snowballs and other projectiles at lines of riot police. Officers retaliated with tear gas and batons, resulting in dozens of injuries on both sides.

Video footage shows large crowds gathering outside the Baymak courthouse in frigid winter temperatures to await the verdict in Alsynov’s case. Supporters chanted his name while holding signs blasting the charges as fabricated.

As word of the 4-year sentence spread, an initially peaceful scene grew tense with protesters alleging injustice. When clashes broke out soon after, riot police tried to restore order with force.

“They started to pelt the National Guard with snowballs,” one activist told reporters. “In response, they fired tear gas.”

Who is Aidos Alsynov?

A 31-year-old ethnic Bashkir activist, Alsynov is known as a vocal critic of regional authorities and policies he sees as discriminatory towards minority groups. He has organized rallies calling for the resignation of Bashkortostan’s leader Radiy Khabirov, attracting thousands of supporters over the last two years.

His sentencing relates to charges of public calls for extremism and cooperating with a banned organization over social media posts from 2021. Supporters dismiss these allegations as a pretext to silence a prominent dissenting voice in the region.

Many attendees braved temperatures as low as -20°C to protest the court’s decision, underlining Alsynov’s substantial popularity, especially among ethnic minority groups.

“If the government jails everyone who tells the truth, soon there will be no one left,” said one demonstrator outside the courthouse.

Why Bashkortostan?

A mainly Muslim region with a sizeable minority of ethnic Bashkirs and Tatars, Bashkortostan has seen rising unrest recently. Critics argue state policies increasingly disenfranchise these non-Slavic groups leading to growing resentment.

Alsynov’s activism aims to give such groups more of a political voice, protesting attempts at forced assimilation into wider Russian culture. This defiance of the Kremlin’s centralization agenda and promotion of regional autonomy has helped garner huge grassroots support.

The sentencing also comes against the backdrop of Russia’s floundering war in Ukraine, where minorities from remote regions make up a disproportionate share of mobilized personnel. Anger over disproportionate casualties and devastated communities drives some of the outrage behind protests.

Ethnic Makeup of Bashkortostan

Ethnic Group Share of Population
Bashkir 29%
Russian 36%
Tatar 25%
Other 10%

Source: 2010 Russian Census Data

“The war made existing tensions worse,” noted one analyst. “Minority activists like Alsynov give a voice to communities bearing an unfair cost.”

How Have Authorities Responded?

In the wake of the protests, officials were quick to blame outside agitators while dismissing the scale of discontent.

“Various traitors and provocateurs are trying to destabilize society at the behest of foreign backers,” said a spokesperson for Bashkortostan’s government. “But they do not represent the views of most citizens who wish to live in harmony.”

Riot police arrested over 100 demonstrators under charges linked to rioting and assaulting officers. Further protests were officially banned, with warnings of a harsh crackdown against those still taking to the streets.

President Vladimir Putin has so far refrained from commenting directly. However, critics allege Russia’s centralized governance structure leaves little room for dissent, with autonomy activists seen as dangerous radicals undermining state authority.

Observers expect any conciliatory gestures to activists will be minimal given the premium placed on projecting strength amid challenges both domestically and in Ukraine.

What Comes Next?

The coming days will prove pivotal in determining if unrest spreads across Bashkortostan and triggers wider instability.

Authorities are likely to step up arrests and intimidation tactics to prevent the Baymak clashes from inspiring copycat protests regionwide. Much depends on how heavy-handed riot police are permitted to be with demonstrators.

At the same time, anger over issues like disproportionate war casualties and perceived cultural discrimination continues simmering under the surface. The sentencing of a widely popular minority rights defender may have been the spark that gave this resentment an outlet.

But Russia has considerable experience using coercion and co-option to deflate outbreaks of dissent before they escalate beyond control. Most experts believe protests will gradually die down under intense pressure.

Whether activists can overcome their vulnerabilities and factionalism to sustain a coordinated opposition campaign long-term remains the pivotal unknown for Bashkortostan’s future stability.

“This looks ominous for Russian unity even if protests soon run out of steam,” warns one observer. “The damage is already done in terms of perceptions.”

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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