An ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny called on Russians to change their protest strategy amid a police crackdown on his supporters.
Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, urged supporters of the opposition leader to hold up their smartphone flashlights from residential courtyards at 8:00 pm on Sunday for 15 minutes.
“Take a picture from above, from one of the apartments, and post it on Instagram. Let social media feeds be filled with thousands of such burning hearts from dozens of Russian cities,” Volkov wrote on Facebook in a post entitled “Love is stronger than fear”.
He asked that residents protest with candles and flashlights in a heart in a protest that will take place on Valentine’s Day.
“Putin has made fear his main and only weapon. This means that we need to adopt something that is stronger than fear,” Volkov wrote.
Navalny was detained by Russian police in Moscow on January 17 when he arrived from Germany after recovering from a poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. He was recently handed a 3.5-year jail sentence, part of which he has already served.
Tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated in support of Navalny on January 23 and 31, which resulted in thousands of detentions and a heavy-handed police crackdown.
This time Volkov said there would be “no riot police” and “no fear”.
“It may seem to you that these 15 minutes will not change anything – but, in fact, they will change everything.”
It’s similar to a change of tactics in Belarus where local neighbourhood rallies were used by opposition supporters to avoid police.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Tuesday that Navalny’s supporters were “agents of influence” of NATO, according to AP.
Navalny’s detention has meanwhile raised tensions between the EU and Russia, with the EU’s top foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell saying relations are at their lowest level.
Diplomats from Germany, Sweden and Poland were expelled from Russia for attending pro-Navalny protests, Russia’s foreign ministry claimed last week.
The three countries expelled Russian diplomats on Monday in a tit-for-tat action.