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Russian embassy gatherings reflect rage and defiance after Navalny killing

It started with a lone woman lighting candles opposite the Russian Embassy in Notting Hill on Friday afternoon. By the evening, there were hundreds massing on pavements along Bayswater Road.

Only hours had passed since the news first emerged that Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken opponent, had died in the Siberian penal colony in which he had been incarcerated.

No-one there had any doubt that whatever claims the Kremlin might make, he had been murdered.

The gathering seemed predominantly Russian, although plenty of English-speaking support was in evidence.

Speakers using a megaphone to address the assembled throng, numbering perhaps 500 or so, made speeches in Russian. Marshals keeping order, along with Met officers, spoke Russian.

The message from everyone was unanimous and clearly directed towards the building across the road: ‘Putin is a Murderer’ and ‘Putin is a Killer’. They chanted those mantras.

They laid candles and flowers around images of Navalny. They held placards aloft with the words ‘Don’t give up’ – quoting the defiant message Navalny himself relayed to supporters via a much-seen documentary in which he proclaimed that, in the event, of his death, the Russian people should not give up the dream of ousting Putin and setting themselves free of the tyrannical regime in their homeland.

Several in attendance were clad in blue and white flags – the Russian flag minus the red of bloodshed, as they see it – which has come to symbolise an anti-war, anti-tyranny message of those fighting for a return to democracy and an end to oppression back home.

On the plaque at the entrance to to the consular section of the embassy, someone had daubed red handprints – the message to those inside unmistakable.

Some stood silently in quiet contemplation, others animated the crowd with passionate speeches. Passing motorists beeped their horns in solidarity.

In Russia, such protests and gatherings were being met with a fierce clampdown over the weekend, with arrests and detentions of many daring to mark the former lawyer’s death with any gesture of grief or solidarity.

Messages on social media were warning even those attending the Bayswater Road gathering they could face consequences on their return to Russia. Several chose to attend with face coverings, clearly attempting to avoid identification in the event they were being filmed.

The following day, activists projected a giant image of Navalny across the embassy walls. It was a message that the death of a man who had given them hope would remain a rallying focal point.

Navalny, like so many who have crossed Putin, has joined a list of those killed or died mysteriously: Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Nemtsov, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Even Putin’s ertswhile mercenary ally Yevzeny Prigozhin.

The charismatic 47-year-old survived one assassination attempt by Novichok poisoning in 2020 – the same substance which almost killed Sergi Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in 2018 – but after three years in jail following his return to Moscow, he also became a victim of the brutal dictator.

(All Pictures: Yann Tear)



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