Alexei Navalny, the most prominent of Vladimir Putin’s domestic political opponents, has been arrested at the beginning of a Moscow rally, part of nationwide demonstrations he organized against Russia’s autocratic leader. Navalny is reportedly charged with organizing illegal protests.
The unauthorized rallies have continued in cities across Russia, according to the BBC, with protesters shouting slogans including “Down with the Tsar!” and “Russia without Putin.” Dozens of participants in the rallies have been arrested along with Navalny, with one source telling Russian pro-democracy group OVD-Info that as many as 50 arrests were made in the city of Krasnoyarsk.
Videos and photos emerging from Russia show what appear to be large crowds assembled for the protests. Pro-Putin counterprotestors have also reportedly taken to the streets.
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The protests come days before the scheduled inauguration of Putin for his fourth term as president, which would extend his effective political control of Russia into its third decade. Putin won re-election with nearly 77% of the vote, but international observers have described the election as essentially rigged.
Among the measures to preserve the illusion of Putin’s popular support was the exclusion of Navalny himself from the election. His candidacy was blocked in December on the basis of embezzlement charges that he credibly claims were politically motivated. Though multiple candidates did nominally oppose Putin in the election, Navalny has said only those “who don’t pose the slightest threat” to Putin were allowed to run.
Russian authorities have also recently taken new steps to hamper Navalny’s efforts to expose the web of cronyism that undergird’s Putin’s power. Parts of Navalny’s website were blocked in Russia in February. Social media sites including Instagram have also complied with Russian government takedown requests linked to Navalny’s investigation of alleged corruption involving oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko.
Update 5/6/2018: Navalny was been released from custody one day after his arrest. He faces charges that could lead to further jail time, but described the protests as “a great success.”