Vladimir Putin under pressure like never before from gold-plated toilet brush waving Alex Navalny supportersFebruary 6, 2021
WITH gold-painted toilet brushes waving in the crisp Russian air, thousands gathered to mock president Vladimir Putin.
From ageing babushkas to wide-eyed teens, they had answered opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s call last weekend to take to the snow-covered streets to protest at corruption, in what has been dubbed the “Flushin’ Revolution”.
Putin, 68, is suddenly under pressure at home like never before after furious Russians in 100 cities demanded an end to his iron rule.
For the first time in a generation, Kremlin watchers are signalling that the vast nation’s ruthless self-appointed czar may have been mortally wounded. And this week his enemies insisted that the man who would next year celebrate ten years in office now fears a grisly end like Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, who ended his life being dragged around the streets by victorious rebels.
The tipping point for many had been a Navalny YouTube film — now watched 100million times — in which he claimed a £1billion Putin palace came with mod cons including £600-a-pop golden loo cleaners.
Meanwhile, the average Russian wage is just over £430 a month and poverty-blighted pensioners struggle to pay their rent.
Navalny’s right-hand man Vladimir Ashurkov — who has claimed asylum in Britain — told The Sun that Putin’s alleged gilded lav brushes have become a “symbol of opulence and corruption”.
Anti-corruption campaigner Navalny’s two-hour video of what he claims is Putin’s rambling palace on the Black Sea coast showed a gaudy mansion complex — nearly 40 times the size of the principality of Monaco — is crammed with despot chic.
'ALEXEI STARTED SCREAMING'
It boasts opulent state rooms, three helicopter pads, a swimming pool, ice hockey rink and the red velvet private pole dancing boudoir.
The classic Italian-style edifice dominates a rocky plot overlooking its own vast vineyard and has a tunnel to its own private beach.
Navalny released his video with a scathing attack on Putin, accusing him of using cash swindled from his people to build the retreat near Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast.
The opposition leader said in his accompanying commentary: “This is not a country house, not a cottage, not a residence. It’s a whole city, or rather a kingdom.”
Poking fun at the suite he scoffed: “The palace seems to have a striptease bar for Vlad to enjoy pole-dancing.
“There is not a single window, but for some reason there is a stage, a dressing room, spotlights, and on the plan something very similar to a pole.”
Putin quickly branded Navalny’s video “boring” and denied that the palace belonged to him.
Within days Putin’s former judo sparring partner, Arkady Rotenberg — an oligarch worth an estimated £2billion — claimed he became its owner “a few years ago”.
Yet furious protesters — many at their first demos — are not buying it and quickly made clear their disgust as they took to the streets to protest.
Spraying ordinary loo brushes with gold paint, they held them rebelliously aloft.
A young protester started the craze with a TikTok video of himself painting a plastic brush gold at Tomsk University.
And the brushes were soon being waved at angry street demos where more than 5,000 Russians were arrested last weekend — after 4,000 more arrests a week earlier.
Other protesters have waved blue boxer shorts above their heads or draped them from street signs in a reminder of how Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent smeared in his pants.
Even bigger protests are planned in support of Navalny this weekend after he was jailed for two years and eight months on trumped-up probation breach charges.
The courageous firebrand was arrested within minutes of arriving back in Moscow from Germany last month after treatment for a Novichok poison attack, believed to have been ordered by Putin last August.
Navalny, 44, was found guilty on Tuesday of breaching probation terms by failing to report to police — at a time when he was fighting for his life in a Berlin hospital.
But Kremlin watchers believe the clumsy bid to lock up his most dangerous opponent is about to backfire on Putin.
Russia expert Dr Jade McGlynn, from the Henry Jackson Society think tank, said: “Many were first-time protesters. They were frightened by the police brutality but it was also a mobilising factor for them. They weren’t hardcore activists. They were risking being beaten, being thrown out of their jobs and universities and going to prison.
“They are incensed at Navalny’s treatment or just by the corruption he has highlighted.”
This week thousands of Russians wore red in solidarity with Navalny’s 44-year-old wife Yulia.
She had worn a red top when her husband was sentenced to two years and eight months in a penal colony.
Putin has surely never faced an opponent with such moral certainty and sheer guts as Alexei Anatolievich Navalny.
Leader of the Russia of the Future party and the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), Navalny has long been a thorn in the president’s side.
In 2018 a Russian general issued a video insisting he would 'make nice juicy mincemeat' out of Navalny
His 2011 description of the president’s United Russia as “the party of crooks and thieves” has lodged in the Russian conscience.
Harnessing the power of social media, Navalny regaled his countryfolk with details of Russia’s rampant corruption. Prosecutors went after Navalny and he received suspended sentences on two charges of embezzlement which was widely seen as political interference to stop him running in elections.
The European Court of Human Rights later ruled Navalny’s right to a fair trial had been denied but the verdicts were not overturned.
Navalny met his wife Yulia, a former bank worker, on a Turkish beach 23 years ago.
The couple and their two children lived in a Moscow flat under heavy state surveillance.
Yulia once said: “Our family has for many years lived in a way where searches, arrests and threats are commonplace.”
In 2018 a Russian general issued a video insisting he would “make nice juicy mincemeat” out of Navalny.
Then, on August 20 last year, Navalny became ill on a flight from Tomsk in Siberia to Moscow.
A fellow passenger said: “Alexei started moaning and screaming. He was clearly in pain. He was lying on the floor in the part of the plane reserved for cabin crew.”
The plane was diverted to Omsk, where Navalny was taken to hospital and put into a coma.
Yulia prised her ailing husband from Russian officialdom and three days later he was flown by air ambulance to Berlin.
She would later say: “I am the wife. If I fall apart, then everybody else will in turn fall apart. So, I pulled myself together.”
German doctors said toxicology tests conducted by a military laboratory gave “unequivocal proof” that Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.
Meaning “newcomer” in Russian, it was the same Cold War chemical weapon that had been used on former double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018.
Britain blamed Moscow for the brazen attack, identifying two officers from Russian military intelligence as suspects. Russia denied they were responsible.
Almost three weeks after he was poisoned, Navalny began to improve.
Doctors at Berlin’s Charité hospital announced on September 7 that they had taken him out of his induced coma.
Nursed back to health, Navalny blamed the Kremlin for his attempted murder and set a trap that could have come from a John Le Carre novel.
An investigative journalist collective called Bellingcat — founded by Leicester-based Eliot Higgins — was piecing together evidence that alleged Navalny had been followed by a “poison squad” working for the FSB security services for years.
Bulgarian researcher Christo Grozev bought flight records and phone data on the black market and matched travel records of known operatives with those of Navalny. Grozev said: “It’s impossible not to leave traces in today’s world. If you were there, you leave a trace.”
Then, extraordinarily, Navalny called one of the alleged poison squad and tricked him into believing he was an aide to a high-ranking FSB officer conducting an internal investigation.
Convinced he was talking to a superior, the agent apparently confirmed the FSB was behind the poisoning.
And he told how FSB colleagues had applied Novichok to the “inner seams” of Navalny’s blue boxer shorts while he was staying in a hotel in Tomsk.
While recuperating, Navalny made clear his wish to return to Russia, and blamed the Russian president for his poisoning.
His right-hand man Ashurkov, 48, told The Sun yesterday: “When he was in a coma, we were very worried.
“I thought he would want to return to Russia. It was my duty to persuade him that he has options — going back and risking arrest or staying for a while outside Russia and working from there.
“But the work of his life is in Russia. He’s building an organisation that has millions of supporters there and he has done nothing wrong. So, why the hell shouldn’t he go back to his home country?”
When Navalny touched down on Russian soil he was duly arrested. On Tuesday an earlier suspended sentence was turned into jail time.
Yet, from the court, impassioned Navalny took aim at his arch foe.
As wife Yulia looked on, he said: “The reason why it all happened is one man’s hatred and fear — one man hiding in a bunker.
“I mortally offended him by surviving.
“Murder is the only way he knows how to fight.”
Then, citing former leaders, he added: “We all remember Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise.
“Well, now we’ll have Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants — that’s how he will go down in history.”
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