Six months ago, Siberian shaman Alexander Gabyshev experienced a mystical revelation.
To this end, the shaman set off on foot from far eastern Siberia. He aimed to meet his presidential nemesis in Moscow sometime in 2021. But in the early hours of Thursday, over 1,800 miles into his journey, Mr Gabyshev was stopped, arrested, and reportedly charged with extremism offences.
Authorities were taking no chances, with an elaborate dawn raid to detain the ageing shaman.
According to witnesses, police first cut off the highway on the border between Buryatiya and Irkutsk, the impoverished regions lying on the sides of Like Baikal. They cut off mobile networks. Then officers surrounded the shaman’s campsite, before pinning him to the ground, leading him to a waiting van, and whisking him away.
For a long time, the idea of a 50-year-old shaman tugging a small trailer towards Moscow was the butt of jokes. Only a fragmented biography about the man was available. It seemed to speak of personal tragedy: a history graduate, Mr Gabyshev turned to mystical religion after the death of his wife in the 2000s.
There seemed little prospect of the one-man protest managing to complete the 5,000 mile journey to the capital.
Yet every day that Mr Gabyshev inched along the federal highway towards his goal, 10 miles at a time, his following grew. A handful even joined him on his crusade.
He, Putin, is not human. He’s a beast, a Demon.
Shaman Alexander Gabyshev
For some, his unusual protest spoke to a wider general disaffection with Moscow. Locals staged demonstrations in support. And that was when things started to get embarrassing for the Kremlin.
In an interview with the local outlet Znak published before his arrest, Mr Gabyshev said he aimed to create an “army” by the time he reached Moscow.
“God told me to go and banish the demon,” he said. “He, Putin, is not human. He’s a beast, a demon.”
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Mr Gabyshev encountered plenty of resistance along the way. Earlier this month, a group of shamans more loyal to the Kremlin tried to impede his entry into Buryatiya. Nearer the regional capital, police also began to take a close interest, arresting two of Mr Gabyshev’s followers.
On Thursday, police sources briefed a local publication that Mr Gabyshev would now be charged for “organising an extremist network.” The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that it remained a matter for the local authorities.
For Mr Gabyshev, the aim of reaching Moscow has been set back somewhat.
Sources in the local police also suggested that the shaman had already been flown back to his starting point, Yakutiya, some 1,800 miles east.