The man behind Sunday’s anti-corruption demonstrations in Russia, the biggest in five years, has been sentenced to 15 days in jail after hundreds were arrested. Here are the basics about what happened, what the Kremlin says and what’s next
Riot police officers detain a protester in Moscow on March 26, 2017.
Where the protests happened, and why
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Russia on Sunday in the biggest show of defiance since 2011-2012 anti-government protests. The protests were led by Alexei Navalny, a charismatic opposition leader.
Moscow’s protests coincided with similar rallies in 99 cities across the country, according to the organizer, Mr. Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation. The demonstrations included areas that typically produce a high vote for President Vladimir Putin, from Siberia’s Chita to Dagestan’s Makhachkala.
Russian state television completely ignored the protests in their broadcasts on Sunday, and authorities didn’t comment on it in any way.
Opposition supporters rally in central Saint Petersburg on Sunday. Opposition supporters participate in an anti-corruption rally in central Saint Petersburg.
Mr. Navalny, the 40-year-old founder of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption, is arguably Russia’s most popular opposition leader. He gained notoriety as an activist shareholder, buying stock in major oil and gas companies and using his position to access and publish documents about their financial activities, alleging fraud and corruption. Since then, he has used his social-media influence to rally critics of the Russian government, and recently declared his intention to run in the 2018 presidential race – despite a criminal conviction in February on fraud charges that made him ineligible to compete in the election but was widely viewed as a political ploy to keep him out of the race.
A picture taken and provided Sunday by Evgeny Feldman, for Alexei Navalny’s campaign, shows police officers detaining Mr. Navalny during a protest in central Moscow.
Even if Mr. Navalny manages to compete for the presidency, he has little chance of winning: Opinion polls suggest the liberal opposition that Mr. Navalny represents can’t field a candidate capable of unseating Mr. Putin, who enjoys high ratings. But his presence on the ballot would end what since 2000 have been a series of tightly choreographed presidential contests that resembled coronations rather than elections.
In a Moscow court on Monday, Mr. Navalny was sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying a police officer and fined 20,000 rubles ($340 U.S.) for organizing the protest illegally. In court, he decried the judicial and political response to the protests:
Even the slightest illusion of fair justice is absent here. Yesterday’s events have shown that quite a large number of voters in Russia support the program of a candidate who stands for fighting corruption. These people demand political representation. And I strive to be their political representative.
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Russian police say that about 500 people were arrested, while human rights groups say 1,000 were taken into custody. Separately, police arrested Mr. Navalny’s associates who were at their office, setting up and monitoring a webcast of the rally. Thirteen of them spent the night at a police station while authorities raided their office, reportedly removing all equipment.
Mr. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov chided protest organizers, saying they incited illegal acts:
The Kremlin respects people’s civic stance and their right to voice their position. We can’t express the same respect to those who consciously misled people and who consciously did it yesterday and provoked illegal actions.
The Kremlin has dismissed the opposition as Westernized urban elite disconnected from the issues faced by the poor in Russia’s far-flung regions. Asked about the Kremlin’s reaction to the wide geography of the protests, something that has not been seen at least since 2011, Mr. Peskov said:
The Kremlin is quite sober about the scale of yesterday’s protests, and are not inclined to diminish them or push them out of proportion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The international response
Europe: On Monday, the European Union has called on Russian authorities to release the demonstrators.
United States: Washington on Sunday condemned the arrests, calling the action an affront to democratic values. “We call on the government of Russia to immediately release all peaceful protesters,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
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