Russia cracks down on anti-Putin protests

Thousands of people have taken part in opposition rallies against Vladimir Putin’s United Russia after allegations of widespread electoral fraud.

Police and anti-Putin protesters have clashed every day since the parliamentary elections on 4 December.

Hundreds of people protested against election fraud directly on elections day; most were detained by police. There were 8-10 thousand people (two thousand according to the police) in the centre of Moscow the day after elections.

Opposition leaders Ilya Yashin and Alexey Navalny were detained, as well as journalists from Reuters, Bloomberg, The New Times magazine, “Izvestia” newspaper and news agency. The journalists were released, but Yashin and Navalny were sentenced to 15 days of arrest for “failure to follow a lawful order of policeman”. Both claim they didn’t break the law.

On 6 December, there was a rally at Triumphalnaya Square in Moscow with more than 1,000 protesters. People chanted “Putin thief”, “Russia without Putin”, “It’s a shame to be in NASHI”.

NASHI, a pro-government youth movementallied with two other pro-Kremlin organisations – “Stal” and “United Russia’s Young Guard” – celebrated the victory of United Russia in the parliamentary elections. Seventeen thousand members of these movements gathered at Moscow centre on 6 December. About two thousand of them went to Moscow’s Triumphalnaya Square to prevent anti-Putin protesters from holding a rally by standing there and shouting out “Putin, Medvedev, victory”.

Between 250 and 300 protesters were detained, including Yabloko party leader Sergey Mitrokhin; People’s Freedom Party leader Boris Nemtsov; Other Russia activist Eduard Limonov; Oleg Orlov , head of the Memorial human rights organisation; and journalists Bozhena Rynska of and Alexandr Chernykh of Kommersant.

Over 50,000 Ministry of Interior troops are located in Moscow together with policemen. Protesters and journalists have complained of their brutality and aggression from soldiers.

Similar protests were held in Saint-Petersburg  by about 800 protesters, 200 of whom were detained whilst Rostov-na-Donu, saw 300 protesters on the streets, 15 of whom were detained.

Russian TV reported on the actions of pro-government movements’ as if they were the only ones held. Pro-Putin demonstrators were described as “citizens tired of marginal groups they don’t support”, in coverage reminiscent of Breznev-era propaganda.

Activists were disappointed by a controversial statement made by Pavel Gusev, the leader of Journalists’ Union in Moscow,  and public council of Moscow police, Olga Kostina. They accused journalists covering the anti-Putin demonstrations of “being biased and lacking objectivity” and “bringing difficulties to law enforcement authorities”.

In the meantime US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed “serious concerns about the conduct of the election”. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High representative for foreign affairs and security policy expressed the same concerns commenting on a “lack of media impartiality, lack of separation between party and state, and the harassment of independent monitoring attempts” during parliamentary elections.

A big opposition rally against election fraud is expected on 10 December at Moscow Revolution Square just near the Kremlin. Moscow officials have authorised the rally, but troops remain in the city.