Jim Heintz and Natalia Vasilyeva report from Moscow
Thousands of anti-government activists challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule were protesting across Russia on Monday, with police arresting main opposition leader Alexei Navalny outside his Moscow home before he could reach the main demonstration and scores of others.
It seems we’re talking about tens of thousands across the country, of whom only a few percent are activists in the common sense of the word. It bears repeating that the protesters’ focus is systemic corruption rather than any particular official’s transgressions. Some are angry at the house demolition program spearheaded by the Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin under the name of “renovation.” Its critics argue that the “renovation” business is a particularly dangerous strain of systemic corruption.
Although city authorities had agreed to a location for the Moscow protest, Navalny called for it to be moved to Tverskaya Street, one of Moscow’s main thoroughfares. He said contractors hired to build a stage at the agreed-upon venue could not do their work after apparently coming under official pressure.
He’s published some of his correspondence with potential contractors to back up his claim. A section of Tverskaya was supposed to be reserved for pedestrians anyway during the Day of Russia festivities:
Tverskaya, known in Soviet times as Gorky Street, was closed off to traffic on Monday for an extensive commemoration of the national holiday Russia Day, including people dressed in historical Russian costumes.
It looks like the protesters managed to rain on the authorities’ parade in Moscow. From Pushkin Square down to the start of the street at the Okhotny Ryad intersection, Tverskaya appeared packed with people, and it’s probably a safe bet the protesters made up three-quarters or more of the crowd. There are also reports of an unusually large number of young people – unusual, that is, for the rallies of 2011-15, but repeating the pattern of the March 26 protests. Gazeta.ru’s correspondent estimates that the crowd consisted of two parts: the larger made of people aged 16-25, and the smaller, 45+. The number of detainees is said to be 750 in Moscow and 900 in St. Petersburg, which indirectly indicates that more than merely a few thousand people took to the streets.