Police in Russia arrested more than 1,000 people Sunday during anti-government protests in cities across the country. As Russia’s presidential election nears, the demonstrations have energized President Vladimir Putin’s critics.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was imprisoned for 15 days by a Moscow court on Monday after being convicted of disobeying the police. He was also fined 20,000 rubles ($352) for organizing an unsanctioned demonstration.
According to radio station Ekho Moskvy, at least 60,000 people participated in more than 80 protests despite strict laws forbidding unsanctioned demonstrations. Over 1,000 people were detained by police.
“You can’t detain tens of thousands of people — yesterday we saw the authorities can only go so far,” Navalny told court reporters. “As long as people see tens of billions of dollars being stolen by top officials,” they will be prepared to protest, he said.
The protests were the largest demonstrations to break out since those in the winter of 2011 and spring of 2012 against alleged vote-rigging in parliamentary elections and the anticipation of Putin’s third term as president.
It is expected that Putin, 64, will seek a further six years as president in next March’s elections, although he has not officially announced his candidacy. Navalny, 40, has committed to running despite the Kremlin’s assertions that he is ineligible due to a fraud conviction which Navalny claims to have been politically motivated.
“This is just the start, and the culmination will be nearer to the presidential elections,” said Vladimir Milov, one of the opposition leaders. “Now, our task is to force them into concessions.”
The U.S. and the European Union criticized Russia for breaking up the demonstrations and called for the release of those who were detained.
During a Monday conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the protests were a “provocation” and police acted “absolutely correctly, professionally, and legally” in their handling of the situation. Peskov claimed that organizers recruited people to join the demonstrations on the “lie” that the protests had been approved by authorities.
Officials are uncertain how to respond to the resurgent opposition. According to Igor Bunin, head of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, the 2011-2012 protests involved mainly middle-class Russians, but the emerging opposition movement is galvanized by a younger generation that “has its whole life ahead so it’s going to be much more determined and bolder.”
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