On Saturday, thousands of people rallied on Russian streets against President Vladimir Putin who was inaugurated for a fourth time on Monday. Russian police combated these demonstrations, detaining no less than 1,600 protestors.
In Moscow, people filled Pushkin Square in the city’s center. They then faced groups of riot police officers who ran into the crowd, attempting to end the rally. Over 700 people were detained in Moscow, while the total was 1,612 in 26 Russian cities, according to the protest-monitoring website OVD-Info.
“They’re even worse than bandits — the people in power have made this country unfit for living,” said Natalia Znaminskaya, 58, editor of a regional journal in the Moscow suburbs. “No one can survive with these salaries, and in this environment.”
Alexei Navalny, 41, organized 90 rallies across the country, labeling them “He is not our czar.” Putin was originally elected president in 2000 and this label draws attention to him being Russia’s longest-serving leader since dictator Joseph Stalin. Putin’s fourth term will keep him in office until 2024 but it is very possible that he intends to keep his position until he dies. Across the country, rioters yelled “Out with the czar,” “Putin is a thief” and “Russia without Putin!”
In Russia, for protests to be allowed, authorities have to approve them. Authorities denied permits, so many of the demonstrations on Saturday were not approved.
In Moscow, the sound of chanting crowds and police sirens mixed with the tunes of an outdoor international music festival. Artists sang a cappella to a minor audience while police officers detained by protesters. This juxtaposition highlights multiple moods, particularly one of acceptance towards Russian politics.
Demonstrations for this inauguration were much smaller than the ones for Putin’s last inauguration in 2012. Six years ago, over 100,000 people showed up to protest in the Russian capital alone, during the winter and spring, against Putin’s third term.
These earlier protests were fueled by Navalny’s primary supporters, young people, for they want their voices to be respected despite the risks of imprisonment and violence that noise entails.
“We don’t have the hope that we’ll make Russia wonderful and prosperous overnight,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, said on a live YouTube broadcast encouraging people to join the demonstrations. “The sum of our efforts must match the efforts of those evil people, and then, gradually, we will be able to bend the situation in our direction.”
However, polls reveal that Putin has a majority support for all age groups in Russia. Putin is a guiding, experienced hand, against the enemies of Russia. After more and more years with Putin, people are just less willing to riot against their leader.
“I’m not too sure what the protesters want, but, economically, we’re fine,” said a 37-year-old business analyst who would give only her first name, Olga, who did not attend but witnessed the Moscow rally. “Since Crimea reunited with Russia and we were hit with sanctions, we’ve proven that we’re able to stand on our own two feet.”
The European Union did not support the actions of the Russian government, stating disapproved demonstrations do not “justify police brutality and mass arrests.”
Meanwhile, in the western hemisphere, the U.S. State Department also criticized the actions of Russian police officers.
“The United States condemns Russia’s detention of hundreds of peaceful protestors and calls for their immediate release,” Heather Nauert, the department’s spokesperson on Twitter. “Leaders who are secure in their own legitimacy don’t arrest their peaceful opponents for protesting.”
Navalny who was detained with his supporters was released Sunday morning. It is very clear that he will continue to oppose the Putin administration. 2018 is not even halfway over and he has already led multiple nationwide rallies.
Even people who aren’t for or against Putin feel that there is corruption within his perpetual reign over Russia.
“I’m not actually very political as a person — I have no allegiance to any party — but fighting corruption is important,” said Alexander, a 26-year-old at the Moscow protest who only gave his first name.