Tens of thousands of people gathered in Moscow and other major cities across Russia on Sunday to protest against official government corruption in what certainly looked like the largest show of anti-Kremlin defiance since 2012. Hundreds of people were arrested, including prominent opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who was one of the main organizers of the rally. Navalny fueled outrage by releasing a video that alleged the country’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, had amassed a huge fortune as a public servant.
Navany downplayed his detention and called on people to keep on marching. “Today we are discussing (and condemning) corruption, not the detentions. Well, I was detained. So what. It ok. There are things in life that are worth being detained for,” Navalny tweeted. He was not the only one who apparently felt that way. One group said that at least 800 people were arrested in Moscow alone, although figures were hard to come by. Police officially said that 7,000 people took part in the rally in Moscow, but photos suggest the real number was much higher. One independent Moscow radio station estimated some 60,000 people took part in 82 protests across the country.
Although Russian opposition is often derided by the Kremlin as nothing more than Western puppets who live in urban centers, on Sunday protesters gathered in towns far from the cities. The protests are taking place a year before a presidential election in which Vladimir Putin is expected to win a fourth term in office.
Police searched him, confiscated his phone and put him in a police bus, where he was held for two hours before being driven to a police station on the outskirts of Moscow with 16 other detainees. He was told he would be charged with “participating in an unsanctioned protest”, despite repeatedly telling police he was a journalist and showing Russian foreign ministry accreditation. He was released after more than five hours in detention, after the foreign ministry intervened.