Protests have broken out across Russia against the extent of corruption in the Kremlin this Sunday. Widespread arrests have been made by police to combat the protests, with over 850 people arrested in Moscow alone. In dozens of smaller cities across the country, several hundred people came to protest. In Vladivostok, in the far east of the country, police detained a number of protesters, while in St. Petersburg, several thousand gathered in Palace Square.
Among those arrested was opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Navalny helped plan the protests in response to the wide spread corruption in the Russian government. The catalyst came after the posting of a Youtube video by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that showed Medvedev’s collection of luxurious cars and yachts. Navalny then called for the protests after publishing a detailed report this month accusing Medvedev of controlling a property empire through a shadowy network of non-profit organizations. As the country enters its third year of economic downturn, the display of wealth by Medvedev demonstrates the outrage that struggling citizens feel against the exuberant lives of politicians.
Police said about 7,000 people attended the Moscow rally on Sunday, though the real number may have been much higher. Police also told those on the street that the protest was unsanctioned and asked them to move on. As protesters stood their ground, there have been reports of excessive force being used to remove protestors.
The Guardian’s reporter, Alec Luhn, was among those detained, grabbed by riot police while photographing police detaining others. Police searched him, confiscated his phone, and put him in a police bus, where he was held for two hours before being driven to a police station on the outskirts of Moscow with 16 other detainees. He was told he would be charged with “participating in an unsanctioned protest,” despite repeatedly telling police he was a journalist and showing Russian Foreign Ministry accreditation. He was released after more than five hours in detention when the Foreign Ministry intervened.
Albert Komissarenko, an engineer who was passing the rally by chance, saw a man being punched by police. “I was angry and shouted, ‘shame’, and then they detained me too. They grabbed me and punched me twice in the back and pushed me into the police bus,” he said. Komissarenko said that after his experience, he would attend the next rally as a participant. He said: “There was excessive, unfounded violence today. The regime is trying to intimidate everyone, not just those who fight against it.”
While the protests were subjected to a blackout on state media, which acted as if they were not taking place, the size and scope of the demonstrations pose a clear challenge to the Kremlin.
Sunday’s demonstrations also come at a time when the safety of critics of Putin is under scrutiny. On Thursday, the former Russian lawmaker and vocal critic of the Russian government, Denis Voronenkov, was shot dead outside of a hotel in Kiev.
In spite of this danger, Navalny has declared himself a candidate for the presidential elections next year. Navalny has spent the past weeks traveling around the country and recruiting volunteers in the regions to help him run his campaign. During the travels, he has had to contend with supposed bomb threats at venues, frequent demonstrations meant to disrupt his gatherings, and even an assault, in which green fluid was tossed over his head.
However, the extent of corruption that Navalny will have to overcome to be successful is daunting. Sources close to the presidential administration say that after some discussion, a decision has already been made not to allow Navalny to take part in next years election. But, Navalny is steadfast to his cause and has stated: “They understand that Putin’s support is only based on a total lack of competition, and are doing everything they can to keep us quiet.”
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