One day after snap protests against corruption and Russia PM Medvedev broke out across numerous Russian cities, leading to the detention of hundreds of protesters as well as opposition leader Aleksey Navalny, the Russian opposition activist was found guilty of staging an unsanctioned rally, and will be fined 20,000 rubles (US$350) for his role in organizing what the authorities said was an illegal protest in Moscow on Sunday.
The Russian protests, estimated to be the biggest since a wave of anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2011/2012, come a year before a presidential election that Vladimir Putin is expected to contest, running for what would be a fourth term.
The same court was due, later on Monday, to consider a separate charge against Navalny of disobeying a police officer.
"Those who claimed on the previous day in pseudoacademic language that the event was lawful and in no way violated the law – they were telling blatant lies,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday, referring to the organizers of the event.
As reported on Sunday, Navalny was detained shortly after arriving at an anti-corruption protest in downtown Moscow on Sunday. He was charged with violating a law on public gatherings and faced a fine, community service, or administrative detention. Moscow police have officially confirmed that they detained some 500 demonstrators.
Approximately 8,000 people took part in the protest in Russia’s capital, law enforcement officials reported. As the rally continued, police used loudspeakers to call on the protesters to disperse.
Protesters turned up despite failing to obtain a permit from the mayor’s office to hold a rally at the site of their choosing. The authorities had suggested two alternative venues, which the organizers rejected. Moscow police said that taking part in the unsanctioned rally could pose a safety risk and advised people against it. Similar rallies, some unsanctioned and others permitted by local authorities, were attended by thousands of people across Russia on Sunday.
Additionally, on Monday the Kremlin rejected calls by the United States and the European Union to release opposition protesters detained during what it said were illegal demonstrations the previous day and accused organizers of paying teenagers to attend.
Police detained hundreds of protesters across Russia on Sunday, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, after thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev's spokeswoman has called corruption allegations against him "propagandistic attacks," saying they amount to pre-election posturing by Navalny, who hopes to run against Putin next year.
According to Reuters, which cites opinion polls, the liberal opposition, which Navalny represents, has little chance of fielding a candidate capable of unseating Putin, who enjoys high ratings. But Navalny and his supporters hope to channel public discontent over official corruption to attract more support.
On Sunday, the U.S. and the European Union both issued statements calling on Russia to free detained protesters, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday such calls were wide of the mark. "We can't agree with these calls," Peskov told reporters on a conference call, saying the police had been professional and properly enforced Russian law.
He said the Kremlin had no problem with people expressing their opinions at protest meetings, but said the timing and location of such events had to be agreed with the authorities in advance, something which he said had not been done in large part on Sunday.
The authorities are concerned opposition activists will try to encourage people to break the law again in future, he said. "We can't respect people who deliberately misled minors -- in essence children -- calling on them to take part in illegal actions in unsanctioned places and offering them certain rewards to do so, thus putting their lives at risk," said Peskov.
"What we saw yesterday in certain places, and especially in Moscow, was a provocation." He said police had gathered factual evidence that some teenagers, who had been detained, had been paid cash by protest organizers to attend.
The Kremlin would listen to what people who took part in other sanctioned anti-government protests in some Russian cities had said on Sunday, Peskov promised.
Needless to say, the US and EU, which have accused Russia of hacking the US election and of being behin attempts to manipulate both the Brexit vote and the upcoming French election, were not amused.