Russia detains opposition politician for calling war in Ukraine an ‘invasion’ | Russia
Russian police have arrested one of the country’s most prominent remaining free opposition politicians over his public criticism of the war in Ukraine, capping a six-month crackdown on dissent fueled by its neighbor’s invasion by the Kremlin.
Yevgeny Roizman, the former mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, said he should be charged over his use of the word “invasion” under strict new laws that ban criticism of Russia’s armed forces. He could face five years in prison if convicted, Russian media reported.
There is little left of an organized opposition movement in Russia, where people who protest the war either do so anonymously or simply wait, like Roizman, to be arrested.
More than 224 Russians face jail time for calling the conflict a “war” or an “invasion”, human rights group OVD-Info reported on Wednesday. Nearly 16,500 people have been arrested across Russia for protesting against the war since late February. Even individuals waving anti-war placards, an act theoretically protected by Russian law, are quickly herded into police vans. Most vocal opposition members are now in exile.
Roizman, who built his political base through his public outreach and outspoken and often crude criticism of Russian authorities, had refused to remain silent.
“I now understand how anti-fascists felt during the Third Reich,” he told the Observer in a March interview. “But I can’t run away, it’s unacceptable for me to do this.” Three of the six activists named in this article have since been arrested.
For many, his arrest was only a matter of time. Roizman himself said he keeps a bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste and other essentials for when the time comes.
Video footage released by a pro-Kremlin media outlet shows masked police wearing body armor bursting into the building where Roizman lives. After a search, Roizman was led out of the apartment past reporters waiting in the stairwell. When asked where he used the word “invasion”, he replied: “I say it everywhere”.
Most of the others who have dared to speak out against the war, including activists Ilya Yashin and Vladimir Kara-Murza, have already found themselves behind bars. “I’m the only one still free,” Roizman wrote last month, post a photo of the three of them with imprisoned activist Andrei Pivovarov. Roizman is also a supporter of Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned last year and called for public protests against the war.
Roizman is rare among opposition figures for his success in electoral politics. He served as mayor of Yekaterinburg from 2013 to 2018 after winning popular elections to that post. In a sign that his arrest could anger locals, Russian officials said Roizman would be transferred to Moscow while the investigation continues.
The Kremlin may fear a repeat of the months-long protests that followed the arrest of regional governor Sergei Furgal in 2020. Roizman’s move to Moscow could distance him from his closest allies and prevent protesters from gathering near the prison where he is to be detained. .
In an unusual statement, the region’s Kremlin-loyal governor said Roizman deserved “justice and respect and I hope he receives it.” He also said he expected the Roizman Icon Museum to remain open.
Roizman’s reputation took years to build, starting when he ran an anti-drug center in the 1990s that used harsh methods to force addicts to quit heroin.
Entering politics, Roizman developed more conventional tactics: Until this week, he held weekly runs through Yekaterinburg where locals could approach him for help, and he founded an icon museum nuns open to the public.
He also regularly trolled and insulted officials on Twitter. He has been fined three times since the start of the war for his public remarks. Repeated violations of the law can lead to a criminal charge.
It’s unclear what ultimately led to the arrest of Roizman, who has irritated the Kremlin for years. As the shortcomings of Russia’s war in Ukraine become more public knowledge, some believe the Kremlin will have to look for scapegoats at home.
“Strength, endurance and freedom to Evgeny Roizman,” wrote Boris Vishnevsky, an opposition lawmaker in St. Petersburg who has also spoken out against the war and remains free. “It seems like the worst predictions are coming true.”