Siberian shaman walking to Moscow to 'cast out' Putin arrested

Alec Luhn
Locals greet Kremlin critic and shaman Alexander Gabyshev with traditional dumplings - Facebook

A popular Siberian shaman walking to Moscow to “cast out” Vladimir Putin and sparking protests along the way has been arrested in an early morning raid on his camp on Lake Baikal. 

Around 6am, dozens of masked men with batons and assault rifles suddenly seized Alexander Gabyshev, a shaman who has already trekked more than 1,700 miles from his native Yakutia region, from his tent near the world's deepest lake. 

Refusing to answer questions, they loaded him and his pull-cart into vans and drove off toward Ulan-Ude, supporters who were camping with the “warrior shaman” said. They believe he could face prison time on charges of extremism, which have sometimes been levelled against Kremlin critics. 

“It was a silent special operation,” fellow traveler Viktor Yegorov said in a video. “This is how operations to seize terrorists, criminals or other people who pose a danger to the state are done.”

The interior ministry in Ulan-Ude said in a statement a man born in 1958 had been arrested and would be sent by plane to Yakutia, where he was “wanted for committing a crime”.

No one with Mr Gabyshev's name and birth year is included on the Yakutia or nationwide wanted lists, however. 

Viktor Yegorov and Mr Gabyshev rest at a camp near Lake Baikal this week Credit: YouTube

The traveller, who said he became a shaman while “living in the woods” after his wife's death from cancer, in March began a 4,500-mile walk from Yakutia to Moscow, where he claims Mr Putin is a “demon” ruling in the name of dark forces. 

“Democracy should be without fear,” he said in one interview. “A sorcerer has imposed an illusion of fear and a depression on the whole country, but a sorcerer of light like myself can clear up this apparition.”

His power-to-the-people message has been quick to win admirers in towns across Siberia, where living standards are low and many still turn to shamans for help with problems. Like a Russian Forest Gump, he has attracted dozens of followers to walk with him part of the way.

A viral video of him at a “Russia without Putin” rally in Chita calling for “people's gatherings” to approve laws brought him national attention.

Late last month, a group of shamans from Ulan-Ude tried to stop Mr Gabyshev, arguing that spiritual leaders shouldn't get involved in politics. Police also confiscated two supply vehicles accompanying the Yakut shaman's party. 

A gathering of Mr Gabyshev's supporters in Ulan-Ude on September 9 to complain about the seizures turned into a mass protest against the results of elections the day before. 

While the ruling United Russia party received fewer votes in almost all regions thanks in part to a tactical voting campaign by the liberal opposition, its candidates nonetheless kept control of regional parliaments and posts, including in Ulan-Ude, amid complaints of violations. 

After three days, the protest was broken up and 17 were detained. Mr Gabyshev did not enter the city.

Mr Gabyshev carries a yurt and stove in his pull-cart Credit: VK

 

Commentators were quick to condemn and ridicule Mr Gabyshev's arrest, wondering how the authorities could be afraid of a simple shaman. 

“If someone makes a voodoo doll of Vladimir Putin is that extremism or a crime?”  asked Natalya Semyonova, a member of the opposition Yabloko party in Ulan-Ude. “Let's introduce a criminal article against sorcery and shamanism!”

Alexei Tsydenov, head of the region, said “everyone needs to slow down” in a cryptic Facebook post on Thursday. His spokesman later said Mr Tsydenov had been referring to the recent protests rather than the shaman's arrest.