In Moscow, the sun came out at last on Saturday after weeks of steady rain: a chance to go to the dacha or take a stroll in the park. However, thousands of Muscovites responded instead to the call by the opposition parties to demonstrate in front of the Moscow city hall.
Two weeks ago, the capital’s Executive Electoral Commission denied permission to 57 candidates to run in the local elections in September. But these candidates’ applications were rejected for frivolous and inconsistent reasons, the protest organizers say.
Protests have been ongoing for many days, and last Saturday over 15,000 people assembled in front of the municipal building on Sakharova Avenue, shouting slogans including “Russia without Putin!” and “This city is ours!” The demonstration ended peacefully, but on the next night police searched the homes of some of the rejected candidates. The administration and the police put out a notice that any further “gatherings” set for the following Saturday would not be permitted.
Everyone knew the day would not just go by quietly, since early Saturday morning, when the mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, claimed that “serious provocations are being prepared that represent a threat to the safety, life and health of people.” According to Sobyanin’s version, groups of provocateurs from the provinces were concentrating in the capital, determined to cause incidents. Already before the start of the demonstration, the Meduza news portal reported that almost 200 people had been detained. Despite the large security presence trying to prevent the thousands of people from assembling in front of the city hall, the protesters managed to block traffic on Bolshaya Dmitrovka street and attempted to break through the police lines to move toward Stoleshnikov Avenue.
According to the government-run TASS press agency, the participants in the march launched rockets and used pepper spray against the police (they reported that eight policemen required medical care), and some storefronts were destroyed. The organizers denied these allegations and denounced the “repeated charges on the part of the security forces, resulting in many wounded.” Afterward, the protesters dispersed throughout the center, organizing impromptu marches on Novy Arbat Avenue.
In the late afternoon, police raided the headquarters of the Dozd TV station, which was broadcasting the protests live. The chief editor, Alexandr Perepelov, received a notification that he was being summoned for questioning at the prefecture. This unusual measure was interpreted by the editors of Dozd as an attempt “to intimidate and restrict the freedom of information.”
At the end of the day, many will pay a serious price: a large number of the 779 people arrested are expected to be fined or kept under administrative arrest for up to 30 days. However, the confrontation between the city government and the opposition is unlikely to cool down, as there are only five weeks left until the local elections, which will be held on a single day, on Sept. 8.