Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Moscow and dozens of other Russian cities on Sunday in protest of alleged corruption among high-ranking Kremlin officials.
Although official estimates were unavailable, independent radio station Ekho Moskvy judged over 60,000 people gathered for rallies in over 80 cities. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are believed to have drawn the largest crowds.
Denied permits to rally, protesters were met by Moscow police and riot policemen who expected the crowd. Authorities in Russia’s capital city charged most of those detained with illegal assembly and defiance of law enforcement.
A majority of the demonstrations took place at Pushkin Square and on Tverskaya Street, which are located blocks from the Kremlin and Red Square. Protesters were heard shouting denunciations of Putin and Medvedev and calling for their impeachment.
Although the protests remained peaceful, over 700 were jailed in Moscow alone, including the organizer of the march, anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny. It is estimated an additional 100 were detained in Saint Petersburg.
Navalny was charged for disobeying a police officer and later accused of encouraging lawlessness and provoking violence. He has been sentenced to spend 15 days in jail for the offenses.
A vocal critic of public corruption and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule, Navalny is said to have organized the demonstrations in response to investigative work in which he concluded Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is guilty of gross misconduct.
Navalny recently released an independent film in which he claims to have captured evidence of Mr. Medvedev’s luxurious lifestyle, all of which Navalny says is beyond Medvedev’s means.
Navalny claims Medvedev has acquired a number of properties with the assistance of non-profit groups. The Kremlin has denied the charges.
A career attorney and anti-graft champion, Navalny is speculated to be considering a run for the Russian presidency in 2018 after his surprise showing in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election. Despite losing, Navalny received 27 percent of the vote against Kremlin-backed Sergey Sobyanin.
On Monday, the White House called for Russia to release those detained. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the U.S. “strongly condemns the detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters throughout Russia on Sunday,” and read a State Department statement which called the round-up “an affront to essential democratic values.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) backed up the U.S. executive branch’s condemnation of Russian authoritarianism in a statement Monday, which said that America “cannot be silent about Russia’s crackdown on peaceful protesters.”
“Free speech is what we’re all about and Americans expect our leaders to call out thugs who trample the basic human rights of speech, press, assembly, and protest.”
[Reuters] [BBC] [AP] [ABC News] [Photo courtesy Reuters via Russia Beyond The Headlines]