MOSCOW -- More than 270 Russians were detained by police on October 7 as opposition activists staged antigovernment rallies across the country to demand the release of jailed anticorruption crusader and presidential hopeful Aleksei Navalny.
Held on President Vladimir Putin’s 65th birthday, the rallies were the third major opposition protest action this year, but not everything went down as usual. Police transparently avoided making arrests in the capital, demonstrator turnout was markedly smaller overall, while competing “spoiler” rallies were held in two cities to support – of all things -- Catalan independence.
RFE/RL takes a closer look at five of the biggest rallies.
Several hundred protesters gathered under the central Moscow statue of Aleksandr Pushkin before launching a procession down Tverskaya Street toward the Kremlin, chanting “Putin is a thief” and brandishing protest signs.
Despite this and the fact that the protest was not authorized by City Hall, the police did not make arrests in what appeared to be an unusual -- but entirely calculated -- tactic.
Speaking to the independent Moscow-based TV Rain, political analyst Valery Solovei said police simply anticipated there would be a small turnout given the relative spontaneity of the rally and the fact that many of the leading figures in the Navalny camp were detained before events even began.
Announced just days before, the protest on October 7 had a much smaller turnout in the capital than two previous protests there led by Navalny in March and June that brought thousands onto the streets and saw hundreds of arrests.
The protest on October 7 fizzled out and dispersed over the course of an afternoon plagued by heavy showers, with scattered pockets of young people gathering, for instance, by the Pushkin statue, where they sang Soviet-era war songs and the Russian national anthem. The protest was proclaimed over by late afternoon, although it did continue in some form.
A small group of hardcore Muscovites rallied on Manezh Square by the Kremlin walls late into the evening, demanding Navalny’s release and promising to stay overnight.
The authorities’ handling of the rally in the capital was in stark contrast to the harsh police response in Putin’s hometown, where an estimated 1,500 demonstrators gathered by the Field of Mars park.
Police detained at least 66 people, while a woman was filmed bleeding from her head after taking what she said was a blow from a police truncheon. Another woman reportedly broke her leg, while a journalist said he had been repeatedly kicked by police in the head.
RFE/RL’s Russian Service reported that provocateurs -- known as “titushki” during Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests -- were also present among the demonstrators and started a fight.
The rally in St. Petersburg and another in the Urals town of Yekaterinburg had unusual quirks, as well as police arrests. Competing “spoiler” rallies were held at their intended locations by mysterious groups of students who held aloft flags of Catalonia. The Spanish region recently held an independence vote, and the rally was quickly interpreted by opposition activists as spoiler rallies masquerading as a show of support for Catalan independence in order to distract from the opposition spectacle.
Photographs from Yekaterinburg showed a few hundred antigovernment protesters on Labor Square. The OVD-Info monitor said at least 14 people were detained, with videos from the scene showing police literally carrying protesters away to police buses. The protest in Yekaterinburg was also attended by the opposition-minded Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman, who tweeted a photograph of himself standing with Navalny ally Leonid Volkov’s mother.
A few hundred people took part in a protest in Krasnodar on Theater Square outside the city administration. Organizers said at least 20 people were detained. Writing on the popular social-networking site VK (formerly VKontakte), Navalny’s local activists said all street lighting in the vicinity was turned off on the square. Activists alleged that “masked provocateurs” had been sent into the crowd. Kavkazky Uzel reported that a Cossack supporter of Navalny was attacked.
A few hundred protesters rallied on Yaroslavl’s Soviet Square, prompting police to make the second-largest number of detentions at any rally in the country.
According to the OVD-Info monitor, 54 protesters were detained, including 20 minors. In addition, Navalny’s local campaign headquarters was searched by police for at least four hours, activists said. Police claimed they were following up on information that the activists were planning “mass riots.” Navalny’s local representatives said on Twitter that the police confiscated computers to check them for “extremism.”