MOSCOW — A wave of protests against corrupt Kremlin leaders rolled all across Russian cities, from Moscow and Saint Petersburg to Siberia and Far East on Sunday.
Authorities did not permit the rallies and warned that participants would be punished, but tens of thousands came out to demonstrate their anger with the country’s leaders’ overwhelming corruption.
In Moscow protesters were chanting: “Putin the thief, go away!” Thousands of people gathered on the Palace Square of Saint Petersburg in front of the Hermitage and shouted: “Down with the Tsar!” The scene was reminiscent of the famous images captured 100 years ago on the same square during Bolshevik revolution.
According to Echo of Moscow radio station, 60,000 people took part in anti-Kremlin rallies in 82 Russian cities.
Earlier this month, opposition leader Aleksey Navany’s Anti-Corruption Foundation revealed details of Prime Minister Medvedev’s multiple luxurious real estates around the country; according to the report Medvedev received profit from various companies both in Russia and abroad. Medvedev did not deny Navalny’s claim.
Navalny’s investigation went viral on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, as well as on Russian social networks. The account of outrageous wealth of Putin’s closest ally and long-time friend made thousands of Russians furious; it was a turning point that woke up the biggest anti-Kremlin movement since the opposition rallies against Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2011-2012.
“Most people are not here for Navalny, they are here because their own anger boiled over, because of their personal issues,” one of Irkutsk protesters told independent Rain TV.
“Russia is against corruption!” was one of the most popular slogans chanted in dozens of cities, where Russians said they were “sick of the Tsar” of Putin’s geopolitics and wanted to see domestic politics, fair elections and non-corrupt politicians.
“We do not want Syria, we want roads in Irkutsk,” a young protester told reporters.
“Navalny! Navalny!” people chanted in Barnaul, a city 1,822 miles away from Moscow.
“Every day for 17 years they have been giving us false promises that our life is close to getting better,” an opposition leader addressed the crowd in Tomsk, another Siberian city situated 1,788 miles away from Moscow. Thousands of teenagers joined the protests in Siberian towns saying they hated to see the thieves at the rule of their country.
The most striking news of this revolutionary movement was the overwhelming number of teenagers joining. Hundreds of school kids participated in “the walk” on Tverskaya in Moscow.
“While you were stealing money, we were growing!” a group of 14-15-year-old boys and girls chanted, addressing Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin.
“Today all the grandpas in the Kremlin suddenly faced the new awakening reality: thousands of teens hit the streets, they chose to be against the Kremlin and demonstrated the most classical peaceful protest,” deputy chief editor of Echo of Moscow radio station Olga Bychkova told The Daily Beast.
The youth were not violent. The young protesters said they were disgusted by corruption and wanted to exercise their constitutional rights of expression, the rights they were aware of. The Russian interior ministry reported that 7,000 to 8,000 people participated in the demo on Moscow’s Tverskaya avenue. Ambulances took several people with head injuries to intensive care units in Moscow, however, including one policeman from National Guards.
“This Internet generation did not leave a day neither in USSR, nor in Yeltsyn’s Russia; they were too little to hear ‘Putin helped us raise off our knees in early 2000s, and now they despise the television propaganda and believe in the opposition,” Bychkova said.
Since authorities banned the political rally, Navalny called for Russians to come out on a peaceful “anti-corruption walk” on Sunday. In Moscow the political promenade began at 2 p.m. and proceed counterclockwise along the Moscow central Tverskaya avenue, from Belorussky railway station to the Kremlin. Hundreds of black helmets of the police special forces were shining in the sun around Moscow courtyards and side streets, ready to attack the peaceful demonstrators. Police detained more than 500 in Moscow in the following two hours.
At 2:15 police grabbed the protest’s leader, Navalny, and forced the 40-year-old politician into a police bus. Some of Navalny’s supporters rocked the bus, the others drove their vehicles and blocked the road but police units still managed to take Navalny away.
Pedestrian walks quickly flooded with people on both sides of Tverskaya Avenue; the closer people came to Pushkin Square, a traditional place for anti-Putin protests, the more difficult it was to move in thick crowd: the square was filled up with thousands of people. At some point police blocked the access to Pushkin Square from Tverskaya avenue, so people in the thick crowd were trapped between rows of police and Rossia movie theater. That was dozens of policemen rushed to club and grab people, to use the usual threatening method of suppressing the movement.
Tow teen boys climbed up a light poll.
“Do not climb down! Do not climb down!” the crowd chanted to them, as the poll was surrounded with policemen. A few dozen people ran away from riot policemen, up the Rossia theater’s staircase. But the officials chased even older protesters with silver hair and dragged them down, towards the police busses, that were already filling up with dozens of people.
“I realized that the only way not to get detained or clubbed was to run to the side street,” Zina, one of the protesters told The Daily Beast.
The group of young artists that Zina came with to the protest walked towards the Kremlin, Big Zamoskvoretsky Bridge.
“Police arrested people everywhere, even by the memorial for the assassinated opposition leader Boris Nemtsov,” she told The Daily Beast at the rally.
Meantime in Irkutsk, a Siberian city 2,611 miles away from Moscow, hundreds of people joined the anti-corruption rally.
“Hello Irutsk, my name is Dmitry but I am not Dimon!” one of the demonstrators said in a loud speaker. Many in the crowd were laughing. “Dimon” was an ironic nickname for Russia’s PM and chairman of the ruling United Russia party, Dmitry Medvedev.
The Russian interior ministry reported that 7,000 to 8,000 people participated in the demo on Moscow’s Tverskaya avenue. Several protesters told The Daily Beast that they were impressed to see that so many people shared their opposition views, that Russia was finally awakening.