Russian opposition leader arrested as protests rage

Across the country, thousands of people came out to protest, many of them teenagers.

Police detain a protester during a demonstration in downtown Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 12, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin
Police detain a protester during a demonstration in downtown Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 12, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

Opposition leader Alexei Navanly was among hundreds detained in Russia Monday, as protests raged across the country in a sea of rallies that coincided with Russia Day.

Thousands turned out to voice dissatisfaction with the government on Monday, the latest in a series of demonstrations to engulf Russia this year. More than 100 cities held rallies, including the major hubs of Moscow and St. Petersburg, where crowds were especially massive. Independent political persecution monitor OVD Info said that at least 750 people were detained in the protests in Moscow, with an additional 900 detained in St. Petersburg.

While the protests have previously been marketed more as “anti-corruption” demonstrations rather than an indictment of Russia’s government, Monday’s turnout seemed to indicate that protesters have become bolder and more willing to speak out. Video footage of rallies showed Russians calling for a “Russia without Putin” and yelling “Putin is a thief!”, while also throwing in a “Happy Russia Day!” in honor of the ongoing national holiday.

Navalny, who was detained ahead of the protests while at his house, had urged Russians to participate in anti-corruption demonstrations. Originally, the protest in Moscow was set to be held at Sakharov Prospekt, but at the last minute, Navalny announced that the location had been changed, claiming that authorities had put pressure on local vendors to deny his team access to stage equipment.


A fierce critic of Putin, as well as of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the 41-year-old activist and presidential candidate has become the face of Russia’s opposition movement, accusing the government of corruption and impropriety. In March, Navalny oversaw massive protests across Russia, leading to his brief arrest, reportedly for disobeying a police officer. The charge was only the latest against Navalny, who has also been accused of embezzlement — a charge he says is a lie to keep him out of office, something the European Court of Human Rights has seconded.

Navalny’s wife wrote on Twitter half an hour before the scheduled protests: “Hello. This is Yulia Navalnaya … Alexei has been detained in the stairwell.”

Electricity in Navalny’s office was also reportedly shut off, according to Navalnaya’s spokesperson. State news agency TASS confirmed Nalvany’s arrest on Monday, but later claimed that the protests were in fact festive Russia Day celebrations.

The arrest did little to hamper protests, some of the biggest the country has seen in years. Many of those present were young people, according to reports. Some came with parents and other family members who wanted them to experience a taste of Russian reality, as well as dissent.


“We are concerned for our children’s future,” Konstantin Kozlov, a lawyer who brought his teenage children to a rally told Financial Times. “We want them to see for themselves what they won’t see on TV.”

Max Seddon, a Moscow correspondent for Financial Times, tweeted several photos of teenage girls who participated in the protest, while noting that he was surprised at the youthful turnout. “Seeing a lot of parents accompanying their teenage children to this protest,” he wrote. “A first in Russia, for me at least.”

But young faces weren’t enough to stop violence from breaking out. Recent protests in Russia have been met with harsh resistance, a trend Monday’s events only asserted. Video footage from Deutsche Welle’s Russian-language Twitter account showed security officers violently grabbing protesters and forcing several onto the ground:

While major cities saw the biggest turnout, smaller areas also witnessed unprecedented attendance. Around 5,000 people reportedly rallied in Novosibirsk, a Siberian city that saw its biggest crowds since 1991, when residents called for the end of the Soviet Union.


Official Russian state media did not cover the protests, but Russia Today (RT) did — going so far as to tweet images of protesters being arrested and dragged by riot police.