In a development that will likely grab media attention in the US, Russian police detained Kremlin opposition leader Alexei Navalny, according to his Twitter feed on Monday, hours before he called on supporters to mount an unsanctioned protest against corruption near the Kremlin. Navalny’s wife wrote on his Twitter account that he had been detained near the entrance of his home but that plans for the protest in central Moscow hadn’t changed.
Earlier in the day, the presidential hopeful had announced rallies against official corruption Monday, the Russia Day holiday, and protesters gathered in numerous other cities. Similar protests led by Navalny drew thousands in March in Moscow and several other cities across Russia, in what the WSJ dubbed "a rare challenge to the rule of President Vladimir Putin." Photos from cities around the country on Monday, an official holiday known as Russia Day, showed thousands of protesters at fresh rallies. Vladimir Putin vowed to punish people who broke the law after the March protests at anti-corruption rallies organized by Navalny that were mostly unsanctioned in 80 cities across Russia, the biggest unrest in five years. Police arrested 1,500 people nationwide, including more than 1,000 in Moscow, and a handful are being prosecuted for attacking police.
Navalny hopes to take on Putin in presidential elections next year, although an earlier conviction may prevent him from taking part and opinion polls show overwhelming support for the current 17-year Kremlin leader.
While Navalny had received permission from the authorities to stage Monday’s rally in Moscow, on Sunday he said he was switching the venue to the capital’s main street near the Kremlin, Tverskaya Street, blaming authorities for pressuring companies into not providing sound equipment. The Moscow prosecutor’s office said the planned rally is illegal and that police will “be forced to take all necessary measures to prevent provocations, mass unrest,” according to a website statement.
There was no immediate police comment on his detention. The studio for his YouTube channel also suffered a power outage around the same time, his staff wrote in Twitter.
According to Bloomberg, at the same time, police wouldn’t interfere with participants marching down Tverskaya without placards and slogans, Ekho Moskvy radio station cited a Moscow security official as saying. Navalny’s Twitter account later carried similar information. TV Rain quoted the same city official as denying any effort to sabotage the sanctioned protest. Downtown is already full of people celebrating the holiday, accompanied by a large police presence.
On June 12, Russia celebrates Russia Day – the national holiday dedicated to the 1990 declaration of sovereignty. Millions of people are expected to attend celebrations with over 200 public events scheduled to take place in Moscow alone. Some 10,000 police officers and National Guard servicemen will be deployed to ensure law and order in the capital. The Tverskaya Street venue has been reserved by city authorities for the ‘Times and Epochs’ historical festival, which brings together in one venue the best performances, reenactments and expositions that have been performed and displayed across Moscow since June 1. Some 6,000 reenactors have already immersed numerous citizens and tourists in history, and is expected to attract hundreds of thousands during the grand finale on June 12.