Monday

23rd Apr 2018

Tens of thousands challenge Putin's authority

  • Police in riot equipment arrested about 1,000 people, including Navalny, in Moscow (Photo: Person Behind the Scenes)

The EU has called on Russia to release "without delay the peaceful demonstrators that have been detained" after a protest in Moscow.

Tens of thousands of people protested against corruption in Russia on Sunday (26 March) in the biggest challenge to Kremlin authority in five years.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The rallies were prompted by allegations that Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev had amassed an illicit fortune, but they also voiced anger against Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Between 20,000 and 60,000 people took part in more than 80 cities across the country, with the largest protest of some 10,000 reported in central Moscow. Smaller rallies were as far afield as Vladivostock in the Far East, and in Makhachkala in the North Caucasus.

The protests were the biggest since the winter of 2012, following flawed presidential elections, and come ahead of Putin’s next re-election bid in 2018.

Civil unrest

Police in riot equipment arrested around 1,000 people in Moscow alone, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who called for the demonstrations earlier this month in a YouTube clip alleging that prime minister Dmitry Medvedev had amassed a $1 billion fortune.

The clip attracted more than 11 million views on the social media website.

A recent investigation by the OCCRP, a club of investigative reporters in eastern Europe, also showed that the Russian elite had transferred more than $20 billion in illicit funds out of the country.

Protesters on Sunday held banners, such as “Russia without Putin”, waved Russian flags in a show of patriotism, and carried rubber ducks in reference to Navalny’s claim that Medvedev’s palatial homes included a special building to house ducks.

“You can’t detain everyone who’s against corruption. There are millions of us,” Navalny tweeted from police custody.

Others detained included Nikolai Lyaskin, an opposition leader; Gregory Hill, a 17-year old British student; and Alec Luhn, an American journalist who writes for the British newspaper The Guardian.

The police were accused of doling out scattered beatings, but did not react with the same brutality shown by Belarus law enforcement agencies against protesters in Minsk on Saturday, where up to 600 people called for the abolition of a new tax.

Strong condemnations

The US state department in a comment on Sunday said it “strongly condemns the detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters” in Russia.

"Detaining peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values,” its spokesman, Mark Toner, said.

Ben Sasse, a senator from the Republican Party of the Russia-friendly US president Donald Trump, added: “Putin’s thugocracy is on full display. The United States government cannot be silent about Russia’s crackdown on peaceful protesters”.

The EU foreign service said Russian police had “prevented the exercise of basic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly - which are fundamental rights enshrined in the Russian constitution”.

It also called for Russia “to release without delay the peaceful demonstrators that have been detained”. It went on to condemn the events in Minsk on Saturday, saying: “The response by the security services was indiscriminate and inappropriate”.

Illegitimate protests

The Russian authorities said Sunday’s protests were illegitimate and branded Navalny as a “crook”.

The Belarusian foreign ministry reacted by accusing the protesters of intending to use violence, adding: “In order to be consistent, European institutions and policymakers should express ‘concern’ over numerous arrests on the eve of the celebration of the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March, and active usage of water cannons, tear gas and other non-lethal devices to disperse demonstrations in European capitals”.

Speaking to EUobserver from Moscow on Friday, Mikhail Kasyanov, another Russian opposition leader and former prime minister, called on the EU to keep a “principled position” on Russia by maintaining economic sanctions and by voicing support for Russian reformers.

He said his party’s activists were being intimidated by the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, with threats of job losses or violence if they kept up their work.

Kasyanov added that while the mood in the opposition was “gloomy” and “nervous”, many people in the Russian middle classes were increasingly coming to blame Putin for the country’s economic woes.

He said the West should not expect much from the 2018 election, which would be “an imitation” of democracy, just as in the last vote in 2011, but he said Russian society was already “divided 50-50” against Putin.

Stolen Russian billions ended up in EU states

Illicit money flowing out of Russia ended up in almost every single EU state, an investigation has found, posing questions on the integrity of Europe’s banking systems.

EU toes the line on Syria air strikes

EU foreign ministers to back Western air strikes on Syria, the same way they backed the UK over Russia's chemical attack on an ex-spy in Britain.

Analysis

Is Germany more hawkish on Russia?

Germany's socialist foreign minister just said the EU should "step up pressure" on Russia. Merkel aired "political" doubts on a Russian pipeline.

Analysis

Is Germany more hawkish on Russia?

Germany's socialist foreign minister just said the EU should "step up pressure" on Russia. Merkel aired "political" doubts on a Russian pipeline.

News in Brief

  1. Commission will 'not shy away' from Malta killing repercussions
  2. EU Commission opens probe on Alitalia state loan
  3. Paris suspect given 20-year sentence for Brussels shoot-out
  4. Merkel and Pena Nieto praise EU-Mexico trade agreement
  5. Nahles elected new leader of Germany's SPD
  6. Report: EU budget to refocus on South
  7. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  8. MEPs urge better protection for journalists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. 'Strong suspicion' of corruption in Council of Europe assembly
  2. France tightens immigration law, sparking division
  3. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  4. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  5. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  6. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  7. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  8. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights