Today’s anti-corruption rallies brought about by the release of Anti-Corruption Foundation’s “Don’t call him Dimon” investigation gathered thousands of people in over 80 cities across Russia, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, and even in European cities like London, Prague or Basel. Reaction from local authorities greatly varied between cities. In some places, like Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk, police did not interfere at all, and protesters could freely express their views and demands. In other cities, however, various tricks were used by the government to prevent protesters from gathering at designated places. For example, in Omsk local authorities played loud music next to the square where the rally was held and ordered snow-cleaning machines to start driving right through the square.
Many cities were not as lucky, as protests there were violently suppressed by the police. Over two thousand people were arrested across the country, and there were several reports about police using tear gas or smoke grenades. The biggest (and most violently suppressed) protests took place in Moscow and St Petersburg. In Moscow, the crowd blocked the paddy wagon with Alexey Navalny and was preventing the police from taking him to the department for almost an hour. In St, Petersburg, the crowd reached the square in front of Zimny palace (former emperor’s residence that was stormed by revolutionary forces a century ago, in 1917) and managed to surround the police forces. Over 50 protesters were arrested in St. Petersburg, and over 700 in Moscow.
Despite such a large scale of protests, there wasn’t a single word about them not only from any of Russian TV channels but also from online news aggregators. Weather reports and news about a runaway cow in the US were considered much more important by them. The Anti-Corruption Foundation organised a livestream of all the rallies on Youtube, and the police did its best to shut it down. First, they searched the ACF office, where the livestream studio was located, after allegedly receiving a report about a bomb in the building. After that, they cut the power and the internet in the entire building. Finally, they stormed into the office once again and arrested everyone inside. Leonid Volkov, manager of Navalny’s election campaign and host of the livestream, is being accused of extremism for organising “an unsanctioned online broadcast”, even though online broadcasts do not need to be sanctioned in any way. Despite all these efforts by the police, the livestream continued from the backup studio without any interruptions.
The primary purpose of rallies was to receive any kind of reaction from the government regarding accusations of corruption. For almost three weeks after release of the investigation they’ve been refusing to comment on it. Their reasoning was that they don’t feel obliged to respond to accusations made by a “criminal”, as they like to call Navalny. Today, the same accusations were repeated by thousands of common people. We’ll see if the government will respond to them now.
UPDATE: Late in the evening all of the equipment (computers, cameras etc) from the ACF office was seized by unknown security services, presumably this was an "anti-extremism" department of Internal Affairs. As of today, the whole ACF team and Navalny remain in detention.