by Sarah Hurst
At the end of a long day in which thousands of protesters took to the streets in dozens of cities across Russia, people are still shouting slogans such as “Putin is a thief!” and “Free Navalny!” on Moscow’s Manezh Square and St. Petersburg’s Palace Square. Alexei Navalny told a Dozhd TV reporter who visited him in prison, where he is serving a 20-day sentence, that he was happy with the response to his call to celebrate Putin’s 65th birthday with rallies, especially considering the fact that they took place at short notice.
In Moscow people came out at 2 pm for a “walk” down Tverskaya Street after authorities refused to provide a venue for a rally. Hundreds gathered in Pushkin Square while others walked in the direction of Manezh Square and Red Square. When police blocked their path, they turned around and went back to Pushkin Square. Surprisingly, no one was detained, in stark contrast to the similar events of March 26 and June 12 organised by Navalny, when police detained hundreds of people violently. Some of those protesters have since received prison sentences of two to three years.
The rally in St. Petersburg started at 6 pm, the time when Navalny had been scheduled to hold a campaign rally in the city. People gathered on the Field of Mars, despite authorities’ efforts to deter them by dumping a huge pile of sand there and pretending to do repairs. Leaflets were also distributed encouraging the people not to protest, but to go to a free showing of the propaganda film “Crimea”. There weren’t many takers.
The crowd soon started walking in the direction of Ploshchad Vosstaniya, and police suddenly made dozens of violent arrests. One detained woman had blood pouring out of her head after being beaten. Former political prisoner Ildar Dadin, who was wearing a sweater with a Ukrainian trident on it, was also detained. But a crowd of hundreds made it to Ploshchad Vosstaniya and refused OMON riot police demands to disperse. Eventually the OMON retreated, the crowd applauded, and people walked down Nevsky Prospekt to Palace Square. All the detained protesters were released.
In Moscow the protesters on Pushkin Square decided to head back towards Manezh Square, and this time police let them through. After some discussion the crowd of a few hundred decided to try to stay in the square all night, demanding that Navalny and his campaign chief Leonid Volkov be released. Police stood and watched, while a few instigators from the Caucasus harassed the protesters and got into confrontations with them. Some of the protesters brought food for the others.
In total hundreds of people were detained today at protests, and many have not been released. Protests took place from Volgograd to Vladivostok. Putin tried to act as if this was a normal working day, meeting with members of the Russian Security Council and accepting birthday greetings from other authoritarian leaders. But it wasn’t a normal day, and it isn’t over. Putin is already having to adapt his tactics to Navalny’s. He will need to think hard about his next move.
Categories: Campaign diary