Live feeds of the protests posted to social media from the event showed people chanting: “This is our land” and “Putin must resign,” while demanding Khabarovsk Governor Sergey Furgal be released and brought back to the territory.
The arrest comes less than two weeks after the country gave Putin the green light to serve beyond his existing term limits, in a referendum on constitutional reforms that could now see the leader cement his power until 2036.
Furgal ran a company selling timber and metal at the time of the killings, in a region that is largely run by rival business and criminal groups. Furgal trained and worked as a neurologist and general practitioner GP before taking on his timber and metal business.
Furgal, often referred to locally as “the people’s governor,” beat a Kremlin-backed candidate from the ruling United Russia party in the 2018 local elections. He refused to drop out of the race for the second round as his Kremlin-backed opponent had reportedly offered to allow him to serve as his deputy. He has been portrayed as disloyal to Putin and the Kremlin.
Khabarovsk police estimated between 10,000 and 12,000 people attended the demonstration, while some local media estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people took part, reporting it was the biggest public demonstration in the city’s recent history.
Furgal’s arrest is being seen by some observers as a warning from Putin to local leaders to keep their new powers in check. The President deferred much of the decision-making around the coronavirus pandemic to governors and other local leaders, a move that appears to have contributed to a recent slide in his popularity. Russia has struggled to keep its case numbers down and the pandemic has shone a light on its poorly resourced health system.
“Do not try to imagine that ‘coronavirus federalization’ is serious; all power that was transferred to the field during the epidemic must be returned intact,” Gallyamov wrote.
The Federal Security Service said he was “performing tasks for one of NATO’s intelligence services, collecting state confidential data about Russia’s military and technical cooperation, defense and security and handing it over to its [NATO intelligence service] representative.”
Safronov’s lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, told Russian media the charges “obviously” stemmed from his work as a reporter and that little evidence had been submitted to support the charges. “There are no documents testifying that Ivan transferred any information to foreign citizens,” he said.
Dozens of activists and journalists joined public demonstrations in support of Safronov, saying he had been unfairly detained. Like his father, who died after mysteriously falling out of a window in 2007, Safronov has extensively covered defense, including the activities of the Russian military.