Skip to main content

Protest leaders arrested at Moscow rally

By Courtney Weaver and Charles Clover, FT.com
December 16, 2012 -- Updated 0448 GMT (1248 HKT)
Russian police officers arrest an activist on December 15, 2012 in Moscow.
Russian police officers arrest an activist on December 15, 2012 in Moscow.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Demonstrators mark anniversary of anti-Putin movement at an unsanctioned protest
  • Turnout was significantly lower than last winter's rallies, which attracted more than 100,000
  • Ksenia Sobchak, the socialite turned opposition leader, and her boyfriend among those detained

(CNN) -- A few thousand Muscovites braved police and subzero temperatures to mark the first anniversary of Russia's anti-Putin movement at an unsanctioned protest in central Moscow.

While turnout was significantly lower than last winter's rallies, which at one point attracted more than 100,000 people, those that came faced more serious consequences, including jail and fines of more than $9,500 -- nearly the average monthly Russian salary.

Hundreds of riot police cordoned off protesters who gathered next to the headquarters of the Russia's FSB security service and the former home of the KGB during the Soviet Union.

Alexei Navalny, the popular anti-corruption blogger, and Sergei Udaltsov, a leftist activist, were detained by police immediately upon arriving, as were Ksenia Sobchak, the socialite turned opposition leader, and her boyfriend the activist Ilya Yashin.

All four were taken to a police station in the south of Moscow but released within hours.

Police initially allowed the crowd gather peacefully, but after an hour began closing in on specific protesters who they arrested in often brutal scenes. An estimated 40 people were detained.

The rally was the first major protest to not receive approval from Moscow authorities, a sign of hardening relations between the city government and opposition leaders who refused to hold the rally at alternative locations suggested by the state.

The demonstration is unlikely to breathe new life into the opposition, which has struggled to find direction since Vladimir Putin's re-election in March. Yet the turnout was arguably higher than expected given the threat of violence and fines.

In the days before the rally, the state appeared to issue a warning to the demonstrators, announcing that a criminal investigation had been opened into Mr Navalny and his brother, and raiding the home of an associate of Mr Udaltsov.

"It was very scary for me to come. I cried this morning," said Tatiana, 52, who did not want to give her last name for fear of getting in trouble with her employer.

She said once she had arrived at the rally she had become more confident, and had dared to affix to her coat lapel a pin that read "We were at Bolotnya . . . Arrest me!" -- a reference to the first major protest last year.

"They say that there we don't exist, but today we showed them that we do. Their laws created by an illegitimate regime an illegitimate president are not an order for us. We are in charge here . . . We will come out on to the streets again," she said.

With no speeches or performances, the protest lacked the euphoria that coloured the demonstrations of a year ago. But those present insisted that were optimistic that change and reform would come, no matter how gradual.

"Over the past year, nothing particularly changed in politics. However, I think society has started thinking a bit about what needs to be done," said Ivan Kosnisky, a designer.

"We need to change from within. I don't know if there is a universal recipe. But we need to stop being indifferent and start thinking of things that are located outside our own apartments."

He added: "I see the faces here I usually see at the Moscow Conservatory or the Tretyakovsky art gallery. It's simply pleasant for me to chat here with these people who are clearly of the same mind."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
February 8, 2013 -- Updated 0718 GMT (1518 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT