Police have dispersed the “popular promenade” in Central Moscow, a new form of peaceful demonstration led by Russia's opposition. Over 200 arrests have been made as anti-government rallies continue for a third day.
Police say some of the protesters have been arrested more than once, as they continued breaking law and order in the city’s streets after being released.
Law enforcers detained demonstrators as they moved to different locations throughout Moscow. Russian socialite and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak, along with opposition activist and dissident blogger Aleksey Navalny, were among those detained. Several journalists were also detained according to the reports, among them employees of the Rain TV channel and Afisha lifestyle magazine
Sobchak was released in the early hours Wednesday. She then made her way to the Barrikadnaya Metro station, where about 50 people were reported to have congregated. The socialite tweeted the police were not arresting demonstrators at Barrikadnaya, as they were “tired.”
Later in the night, demonstrators were joined by Dmitry Gudkov, a Duma deputy for the Just Russia Party, as well as Aleksey Navalny. Gudkov told the police that he was holding a peaceful meeting with his electorate. He also proposed for the estimated 70-80 participants to wait for the Victory Day military parade on Novinsky Boulevard.
The police repeatedly called on protesters to leave the area. Most remaining demonstrators decided to find a new spot for their “popular promenade” and began leaving Novinsky Boulevard, but were arrested by the police. Among the detained was Aleksey Navalny. At around 6:00 local time some activists, including Ksenia Sobchak, left the scene. Some went to grocery shops nearby to buy some food, while other activists delivered sandwiches, which they began to hand out for free. A number of people are reported to be sleeping on benches.
The protesters are regularly changing the location of the “promenade,” as it has been called by Navalny. It has already been dubbed the recent Russian protest movement's longest demonstration. Opposition movement leaders Navalny and Sergey Udaltsov initially organized the protest at the Kitai-Gorod area in the center of Moscow in the early hours on Tuesday. Navalny called on his supporters via Twitter on Monday night to come to Central Moscow to take part, to “fight for a better future.” People brought warm clothing, tea and cots. However, arrests followed and Navalny and Udaltsov were both detained but released shortly thereafter.
The flash mob resumed on Tuesday morning at Chistye Prudy, the cradle of anti-government demonstrations in Moscow, later rejoined by Navalny and Udaltsov.
The situation at Chistye Prudy was calm and quiet, as protesters made the rally look like a random hangout. They chatted, sang and posted pictures from the scene on social networks; nobody chanted political slogans. Politicians and symbolic figures of the months-long anti-government protest movement also came to the square to show their support.
However, later in the evening hundreds of people were forced to leave Chistye Prudy. Some activists relocated to the neighboring Kitai-Gorod area, where the “promenade” had initially started. Others headed to Pushkinskaya Square, which police cleared quickly. Many people simply crossed the road, and continued on their way towards the Kremlin.
Despite torrential rain, demonstrators continued their promenade late into Tuesday night. The “For Fair Elections” movement reported that around 250 people gathered around the Patriarch’s Ponds in Central Moscow. The movement invited all those willing to participate to come, but also called for moderation and said anyone who was tired or wet would be better off going home. Sergey Udaltsov, who was among the participants of the Patriarch Pond rally, reported via Twitter that the police had arrested him.Udaltsov later announced that he was going on dry hunger strike, Aleksey Navalny tweeted.
The opposition is planning to organize another demonstration on Pushkinskaya Square on Wednesday. That rally, which is set to begin at 11:00 local time, was approved by city authorities.
Tuesday’s unfolding protests follow two days marked by less peaceful demonstrations in Moscow. On May 6, the “March of the Millions” turned violent as demonstrators clashed with riot police at a rally organized by the opposition on Bolotnaya Square. More than 400 people were arrested for illegal actions in and around Bolotnaya. Twenty police officers were injured over the course of the demonstration, of whom three were taken to hospital.
People continued to protest on May 7, the day Vladimir Putin officially became President of Russia for the third time. Police reported at least 120 people had been detained for unauthorized demonstrations on Red Square.
The State Department deputy, Mark Toner, told reporters that the United States was “disturbed” by reports of violence at the May 6 demonstration and the arrest of several opposition activists.
“We are disturbed by images of police mistreatment of peaceful protesters both during the protests and after detentions,” Toner stated “At the same time we are also concerned by reports of violence perpetrated against law enforcement by a small group of protesters. And we call on all parties to refrain from violence and strongly urge the authorities to respect the rights of freedom of assembly and speech”.
Eric Draitser, a geopolitical analyst at Stopimperialism.com, believes the Russian opposition is unlikely to garner much support amongst the population as it has failed to present a political platform of its own, aside from animosity towards the current Russian government.
“In order to have a real political opposition with some political force behind it, there has to be something that unites a movement […] an idea of what future Russia would look like,” Draitser told RT. “The only thing I see that is uniting them is a universal hatred of Putin.”
He said that support for the opposition would most likely dwindle as Putin's presidency carries on.
“It’s unlikely that it will continue too far into Putin’s term, simply because the opposition has very little that unites them,” he stated. “I can see the opposition dissipating into factions; one faction led by Nemtsov, one led by Navalny. One can see this devolving into a movement that really just exists in memory”
Draitser stressed that the manner in which the Russian authorities treated opposition protests was far more tolerant than the brutal dispersals of Occupy Wall Street events in the United States.
“The Putin government is willing to allow dissent, it’s willing to allow a voice to the people in so far as that voice is able to follow the law,” Draitser noted. “Here in the United States we’ve seen a level of police violence related to Occupy Wall Street that is, in fact, I would argue, much higher and to a much more extreme degree than what is being seen on the streets of Moscow and elsewhere in Russia.”