Protesters collected across Russia on Sunday to support opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s call to boycott the March presidential election, and Navalny himself was arrested while walking to the Moscow demonstration.
Many of the crowds that turned out in commonly frigid weather skewed clearly young, apparently reflecting increasing discontent among Russians who have lived most or all of their lives under President Vladimir Putin, who arrive to power on New Year’s Eve 1999.
“As long as I’ve been alive, Putin has ever been in. I’m tired of nothing being changed,” said 19-year-old Vlad Ivanov, one of about 1,500 protesters who massed in St. Petersburg.
Navalny, Putin’s most prominent foe, organized the protests to lust a boycott of Russia’s March 18 presidential election, in which Putin is assured to win a fourth term. He was wrestled to the ground and forced into a police bus as he walked toward the demonstration on Moscow’s Pushkin Square.
The anti-corruption campaigner was denied permission to be a presidential candidate because of an embezzlement sentiment in a case broadly seen as politically motivated.
Late Sunday night, hours after police detained him; Navalny said on Twitter that he had been released before a trial. Russian news reports cited police prior as saying he was likely to be charged with a public-order violation for calling unauthorized demonstrations.
Independent radio station Ekho Moskvy reported after his release that Navalny had not yet been presented with a charge.
No figures were available for how many people engaged in the protests, but the turnout was clearly smaller than for rallies Navalny organized last year. The size and capacity of the earlier protests, which took place in provincial cities regarded as the center of Putin’s support, knocked the Kremlin.
Protests were reported in dozens of cities, from the Pacific Coast to the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. Navalny’s web page displayed a small group of protesters in remote Yakutsk, where it was minus 45 Celsius (minus 49 Fahrenheit).
A crowd that police estimated at 1,000 people, but came larger, assembled in central Pushkin Square, brandishing placards reading “They’ve stolen the election from us” and “Elections without Navalny are fake.”
After that collecting dispersed, columns of protesters took off in several directions. One group skirted the Kremlin, and then headed down the Novy Arbat, a prime shopping and entertainment area, and to the riverside government headquarters building consistently called the Russian White House.
Shouting “Putin is a thief,” some of the protesters threw handfuls of snow through the high barbed fence surrounding the building. Police did not interfere, a contrast to their typically rapid and harsh responses to unauthorized collecting.
The OVD-Info organization, which monitors political repression, reported that 257 people were arrested in the demonstrations throughout the country.
Hours before the Moscow protest, police raided Navalny’s headquarters, where there is a studio for live video transmissions. One broadcaster on the stream said police possibly were utilizing a power grinder tool to try to get into the studio.
The anchors hosting the feed reported that police said they had come because of an alleged bomb threat.
“They took these elections away from us, they took away our votes. Our candidate was not permitted to run,” said Vladivostok demonstrator Dmitri Kutyaev.
Navalny rose to eminence with detailed reports about corruption among top Russian officials, which he popularized on social media to avoid state control of television.