RUSSIA – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested during anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow on Sunday, as rallies continue nationwide.
“I’ve been detained. This doesn’t matter. Come to Tverskaya (Street). You are not going there for me, it’s for you and your future,” Navalny tweeted after his arrest.
Within minutes of arriving at Pushkinskaya Square, where hundreds of protesters had gathered, Navalny was wrestled into a patrol van by police, in dramatic footage posted on Youtube.
The Moscow Police said in a statement that Navalny was arrested after organizing an “unsanctioned public event.” The offense carries a maximum penalty of 30 days detention and fine.
Earlier Navalny said police forced their way into his Moscow office, hours before the protests were due to take place.
Navalny, a longtime critic of President Vladimir Putin, broadcast CCTV footage of what he says is the moment police forced their entry into the office.
CNN contacted the Moscow police, but officials there said they “have no information regarding the raids.”
Navalny has called for nationwide protests and for supporters to boycott what he calls rigged presidential elections, set to take place March 18.
Following the office raid, Navalny urged supporters to join the protests later Sunday.
“I am proud of all those who joined us today in any capacity: from Magadan to Sochi. From the FBK office to the headquarters in Kemerovo. From Krasnodar to Yakutsk, where the meeting took place at -40. These are real citizens,” he said in a Facebook post.
“Be real citizens. Go out to the demo in your city.”
Across the country, protests have ranged from gatherings of a few dozen in remote areas, to around 1,000 people in central Moscow, police said in a statement.
Police interrupt broadcast
Prior to his arrest, Navalny said police sawed through the door of the office’s studio during a YouTube broadcast Sunday morning.
“In order to take down our broadcast, the police cut out the door to the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) office, and then began to saw the door to the studio right in the middle of broadcast,” he said in a Facebook post.
“Do you know the formal reason? Dmitry Nizovtsev, the host, was accused of planting a bomb (without actually going off air, we must assume), and it was necessary to cut the doors ASAP in order to find this bomb.
“And then they detained him. Watch it, it’s a good example of what the Russian police has become.”
Eight staff members of Navalny’s Moscow offices were detained in the raid, part of 90 people arrested across the country, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info.
They included the head of Navalny’s Moscow headquarters, Nikolay Lyaskin, who was grabbed by police on his way out of the office, according to Navalny press secretary Kira Yarmysh.
During the raid, police also seized computers and cameras from the office, tweeted the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Roman Rubanov.
Navalny’s weapon of choice
Putin controls and dominates Russian State TV and there has so far been no mention of the demonstrations.
Instead, Navalny and his supporters have turned to YouTube to get their message out, with over 50,000 people watching his live feed as of Sunday morning.
Who is Alexei Navalny?
Navalny, Russia’s best-known opposition leader, was barred from running in the upcoming elections after a 2017 criminal conviction for embezzlement.
Critics say the case against the 41-year-old was politically motivated.
In an exclusive interview with CNN at his Moscow headquarters last week, Navalny accused the Putin administration of being “built on corruption” and warned of growing impatience for political change.
“Putin has been in power for 18 years now,” he said. “People are not ready to wait another six years, then another six, then another.”
The Kremlin has rejected allegations of widespread, high-level corruption and has condemned Navalny as a dangerous influence whose calls for protests could plunge Russia into chaos.