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Defiant Navalny Moves Protest To Kremlin's Doorstep Ahead Of Anticorruption Rallies


A Russian policeman removes handcuffs from Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, who was arrested during a March 26 anticorruption rally, during an appeal hearing at a court in Moscow on March 30.

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has called for protesters to move a planned anticorruption rally to central Moscow, defying city authorities and setting up a potential violent confrontation with police.

Navalny announced the last-minute change in a YouTube video on June 11, less than 24 hours before planned anticorruption protests in the Russian capital and across the country.

He said the Moscow protest was being moved to the central Tverskaya Street, which leads to the Kremlin, because authorities allegedly pressured providers of audio, video, and stage equipment not to work with the organizers.

The move sets up a possible violent crackdown by Moscow police, which had warned earlier about possible "provocations" during the protests.

The Moscow prosecutor's office warned that "any attempts to hold an unauthorized event on Tversakaya Street" would be illegal and "law enforcemnt organs will be forced to take all necessary measures" to keep order.

A Moscow police spokesman was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying on June 10 that police would "respond harshly to violations of the law and take all necessary measures to ensure order and protect citizens."

Russian riot policemen detain a demonstrator during an opposition rally organized by Navalny in central Moscow on March 26.
Russian riot policemen detain a demonstrator during an opposition rally organized by Navalny in central Moscow on March 26.

More than 1,000 people were detained in Moscow alone during March 26 anticorruption protests organized by Navalny. Those rallies jolted Russia's political landscape, most notably thanks to a substantial turnout by young people.

Navalny was jailed for 15 days following that protest, one of dozens across the country in the biggest grassroots demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin's government since a wave of rallies in 2011-12.

Navalny, a Kremlin foe who is seeking to run for president next year, is looking to build on momentum picked up during the March 26 protests, which drew unexpectedly large crowds.

He said on his website on June 11 that demonstrations are set to be held in more than 200 cities and towns across the country on June 12 to protest what he alleges is a system of corruption and cronyism that Putin presides over.

Ahead of the planned Moscow march, rallies were held in cities further east such as Vladivostok, which is seven hours ahead of the capital.

"Authorities, especially the kind we have -- sitting on the throne for 18 years -- are not capable of changing for the better by themselves," he wrote prior to his YouTube announcement. "They need outside pressure."

Moscow authorities granted permission to Navalny and his supporters to stage a rally on Prospekt Sakharov, outside the city center.

Navalny's team had previously asked to hold the rally at a central location close to the Kremlin and the offices of the Russian government.

The city government rejected that idea, saying the protest might disrupt scheduled events to mark the Russia Day holiday.

In his June 11 YouTube video, Navalny accused authorities of making it impossible for demonstrators to hold the rally by pressuring businesses that organizers were seeking to rent equipment from.

The video included an alleged recording of a telephone conversation with a contractor who said his bosses told him it was "forbidden" to provide services to Navalny's group.

Navalny said protesters had a constitutional right to gather to express their political opinions and that Tverskaya Street would be an ideal location because it will be turned into a pedestrian zone for the Russia Day celebrations.

"The law is completely on our side," he said.

Navalny is trying to get on the ballot for the March 2018 presidential election, in which Putin is widely expected to seek and secure a fourth term as president.

He has been convicted three times in financial-crimes trials that he calls Kremlin-orchestrated retribution for his activism, though he has been handed suspended sentences rather than actual prison time.

Russian authorities have suggested that he could be barred from the presidential ballot due to his criminal record. But his backers say the rules are unclear, and Russian officials have not stated clearly whether he will be allowed to run.

A day before the planned June 12 protests, a video produced by Navalny and his supporters accusing Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of corruption was published on two government websites.

The video, which played a central role in galvanizing protesters for the March 26 demonstrations, was published briefly on the websites of the regional prosecutor's office in the central city of Yaroslavl and the St. Petersburg regional administration.

Yaroslavl prosecutors said they suspected their website was hacked.

With reporting by Interfax and Kommersant
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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.