Thousands of Russian citizens gathered in three major cities to protest reports of government corruption on March 26th. People at these events say that this is one of the largest displays of resistance to President Vladimir Putin’s regime in recent memory.
Alexei Anatolievich Navalny, a Russian lawyer who has gained international attention for his opposition to President Putin, was the mastermind behind these political protests. Moscow police detained Navalny while he was leading protestors in Russia’s capital city of Moscow.
Immediately after his detention, Navalny took to Twitter to encourage those who showed up at the Moscow rally. Navalny tweeted, “There are things in life worth being detained for.”
The majority of protestors gathered around historic Pushkin Square in central Moscow. Many of the protestors held up hand-painted signs decrying Putin’s political corruption. At various intervals, people cried out for a “Russia without Putin.”
Police units from the Interior Ministry were called to the scene to ensure the protests were peaceful. All of the police who showed up at Pushkin Square wore full riot gear.
In a press release the day after the Moscow rallies, members of the Interior Ministry said there were around 7,000 to 8,000 people protesting at Pushkin Square. They also said they arrested about 500 of these protestors.
Despite the Interior Ministry’s report, many news agencies believe the number of actual protestors was much higher. Reporters working at the radio station Echo of Moscow said there were thousands more protestors than the government officially admitted to the press.
Other major Russian cities that participated in Sunday’s anti-Kremlin protests included Vladivostok and St. Petersburg. Mr. Navalny organized all of these resistance marches through his organization Foundation for Fighting Corruption.
The main impetus for these protests came from recent news reports that Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has been purchasing mansions and yachts on the Russian taxpayers’ dime. Mr. Navalny wrote and published scathing articles revealing the Prime Minister’s misdeeds and calling for him to resign.
Moscow protestors told news reporters that they were sick and tired of the reports of corruption coming out of the Kremlin. Many protestors said they wanted to see an investigation into the Prime Minister’s spending habits.
Although no one denies there was violence at these protests, it’s hard to tell whether the police instigated it or not. Official police officers in Moscow claim many protestors were engaging in “illegal provocation.” Some protestors said the police used excessive force. There were no reported fatalities, however, at any of these events.
Prime Minister Medvedev’s spokeswoman told the Russian media that there’s no truth to Mr. Navalny’s criticisms. She went on to say Navalny’s attacks on Medvedev’s character were no more than “propagandistic” tactics.
Many people at these events immediately posted videos and pictures from these massive protests on social media. Although it’s unclear how many of these images will be shown in Russia, numerous Western news organizations are now showing footage from these protests in full detail.
Despite the fact that these protests were the largest since the 2011-2012 anti-Putin marches, Mr. Navalny faces an uphill battle challenging Putin in the upcoming election. Many opinion polls show President Putin still has huge support from a majority of Russians.