The Washington Post
March 26 at 8:28 AM
A wave of unsanctioned rallies swept across Russia on Sunday to protest corruption in the government of President Vladi­mir Putin, prompting arrests as hundreds of riot officers moved in to break up crowds.

The protests are driven by opposition leader Alexei Navalny and fueled by the popular response to his recent allegations that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has amassed vineyards, luxury yachts and lavish mansions worth more than $1 billion.

Navalny, the chief architect of the rallies, was detained in Moscow shortly after they began at 2 p.m. local time. Thousands came out on Moscow’s central Tverskaya street for the unsanctioned protests and were met by a heavy police presence, which began detaining demonstrators en masse around 30 minutes after the rallies began. According to media reports, protesters had blocked traffic on Tverskaya street.

Also in Moscow, a warning over a loudspeaker urged people to “think of the consequences” and disperse now.

The demonstrations appear to amount to the largest coordinated protests in Russia since the street rallies that broke out in 2011 and 2012 after a parliamentary election that opposition leaders decried as fraudulent. State-run television was silent about Sunday’s protests as of midday, but pictures posted on social media sites like Twitter suggested that sizable rallies were underway across the country.

Dozens of arrests were reported in the far east city of Vladivostok, and more were likely as demonstrations began in Russia’s largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Authorities preemptively banned a rally that Navalny called for central Moscow. Putin’s spokesman has said that even urging people to take part is illegal.

On Friday, senior Russian police official Alexander Gorovoi warned that authorities will “bear no responsibility for any possible negative consequences” for people who do show up. That could mean that if something is started by pro-government activists who routinely interfere with Navalny’s campaign stops, officers might stand aside and let it happen.

Official Moscow has dismissed Navalny, who has said he will run for president in 2018, as a widely reviled nuisance whose allegations are an attention-grabbing stunt. One of the slogans for Sunday’s rallies is “No one showed up,” a reference to the dismissal by authorities of Navalny’s popular support. Another popular logo for the rallies is a duck, a reference to a detail in Navalny’s report that ducks have their own house at one of the lavish estates allegedly owned by Medvedev.

Navalny, who emerged as an anti-corruption whistleblower and took a leading role in the street protests that accompanied Putin’s 2012 return to the presidency, has been the target of fraud and embezzlement probes he calls politically motivated. In 2013, he was convicted of siphoning money off a lumber sale, a verdict that the European Court of Human Rights declared “prejudicial,” saying that Navalny and his co-defendant were denied the right to a fair trial.

In November, Russia’s Supreme Court declared a retrial, and Navalny was convicted of embezzlement and handed a five-year suspended sentence in February, which by Russian law would prevent him from running for president.

Andrew Roth in Moscow contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/russian-police-arrest-protesters-at-nationwide-anti-corruption-rallies/2017/03/26/11208e46-10a1-11e7-aa57-2ca1b05c41b8_story.html?utm_term=.7a2009581696