Russian authorities appear to have detained more than 1,000 protesters during a rare wave of nationwide demonstrations against corruption in the Putin regime on Sunday. The mostly unauthorized protests, the largest public demonstrations in Russia since 2012, were called for by Alexey Navalny, a key opposition figure who has been leading an anti-corruption campaign in the country and plans on running for president. Navalny was among the as many as 850 people arrested in Moscow, where social media-images indicated that tens of thousands had gathered to protest.
The full scale of the protests, or exactly how many people were ultimately detained, is not clear. State-run media ignored the protests entirely, and independent estimates have been hard to come by. According to Nalvany’s anticorruption organization, protests happened in 99 cities across Russia, and only 17 of those demonstrations were sanctioned by authorities. An independent radio station in Moscow estimated that 60,000 people had joined demonstrations in 82 cities.
Shaun Walker, the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent reports that more than a hundred people were arrested in each of the cities of Makhachkala, Krasnodar, and Saint Petersburg, which also saw a large-scale protest:
In Moscow, police said that only 7,000 had gathered to protest, but the actual number, looking at photographs, was probably much higher.
The 40-year-old Navalny, who was also an organizer of the 2012 protests, published a YouTube video on March 2 that accused Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev of using his power to accumulate more than a billion dollars worth of assets. As of this weekend, the video has been watched more than 12 million times, and many of Sunday’s protesters carried signs or shouted slogans related to Medvedev’s alleged corruption. The Russian regime has been dismissive or the corruption accusations and Navalny, who they have accused of fraud and embezzlement.
Navalny was quickly detained at the protest in Moscow on Sunday, but urged demonstrators to carry on without him in a series of tweets.
Some protesters tried to block security vehicles in Moscow by obstructing their path with cars, and they even unsuccessfully tried to free Navalny following his arrest, chanting “This is our city!” and “Russia without Putin!” That effort was ultimately beaten back by police. The Guardian reports that staff members of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation were arrested at the organization’s offices on Sunday as well.
Riot police apparently targeted anyone carrying a sign or shouting slogans, and many of the arrests appear to have been violent. There are also reports of bystanders also being rounded up in the chaos, as was Guardian reporter Alec Luhn, who was detained while photographing the arrests in Moscow.
Neither the White House nor the State Department have yet commented about the protests or arrests.