Tens of thousands of Russians protested in Moscow in the first big demonstration since Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. Leftist politician Sergei Udaltsov was among seven key opposition leaders summoned for questioning an hour before the march was to begin. Via Twitter, Udaltsov indicated that he was ignoring the summons, saying that it was his duty to lead the protest as one of its organizers; his lawyer appeared at the Investigation Committee instead, saying that it would be “irresponsible” for his client not to be present at a rally he had helped to organize.
Others of those summoned — television star Kseniya Sobchak, the liberal organizer Ilya Yashin and the anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny — appeared for questioning. Their summoning just before the protest was to begin was apparently an effort to “strip the event of its headliners.”
Sobchak is the only daughter of a deceased St. Petersburg mayor who was, says the Guardian, was a mentor of Putin. Sometimes called Russia’s “Paris Hilton,” she had not faced reprisals until Monday, when her apartment and those of other opposition leaders including Navalny and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov — were searched by Russian authorities. Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said that more than one million euros in cash had been found at Sobchak’s apartment and an investigation would be initiated into whether she had paid her taxes.
The Web site of the Dozhd television station, which has covered the protests extensively, was hacked an hour before the protest was to start.
Despite all this and despite a thunderstorm, thousands of Russians joined the march in Moscow’s central Puskin Square. A march held in May had resulted in fierce clashes between protesters and the police. The Kremlin has pushed through a Parliamentary law — signed by Putin on Friday — fining those who participate in rallies causing harm or death to people the equivalent of $9,000, a huge penalty considering that most people’s average salaries are $8,500.
Activists estimated the crowd at 50,000, while police said that only 18,000 had shown up.
Protesters were defiant, according to the Guardian:
“Those in power should feel this pressure. We will protest by any means, whether peacefully or not,” said Anton Maryasov, a 25-year-old postgraduate student. “If they ignore us, that would mean that bloodshed is inevitable.”
Another protester, 20-year-old statistics student Anatoly Ivanyukov, said attempts by the authorities to disrupt the rally would only fuel further protest. “It’s like when you forbid children to do something, it makes them even more willing to do that,” he said.
The Natalya Z. Mazurchik, a doctor, said in the New York Times that Russia is moving “toward dictatorship at a fast tempo.”
More than 400 people have been arrested since the previous rally in May, with five more detained on Sunday. But the determination to protest the country’s move towards autocracy was apparent, with popular Twitter hashtags in Russia being #hello1937 and #Welcome to the Year ’37, references to the year Stalin came to power.
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