The security forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin have instigated a major crackdown on political dissidents in the run-up to March’s presidential election.
Police arrested over 250 people on Saturday during anti-Putin demonstrations in approximately 100 cities across Russia, spanning all the way from Moscow to Vladivostok.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has long campaigned against political repression, corruption, and Putin’s leadership, led the protests.
Navalny claims he would defeat Putin in a free and fair election. Russian officials banned him from running in the upcoming election over a criminal conviction he says is politically motivated. In the likely case that Putin wins, he will remain in power for another six years.
During the weekend’s protests, Nalvany was wrestled to the ground and detained as his supporters attempted to pull him free after Russian authorities claimed that the protests were unlawful.
“I have been detained. This means nothing. You are not rallying for me, but for yourselves and your future,” he wrote on Twitter. “The detention of one person is meaningless if there are many of us. Someone, come and replace me.”
Задержание одного человека теряет малейший смысл, если нас много. Кто-нибудь, придите и замените меня pic.twitter.com/TODVdF5lEm
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) January 28, 2018
Police later released Navalny without charge, although he could face a fine and a 30-day detention. Over the course of 2017, he faced three separate sentences for organizing protests.
Then on Sunday, security forces raided the offices of Navalny’s anti-corruption organization in Moscow, accusing one of its employees of planting a bomb, and consequently interrupted broadcasts on their YouTube channel, which has around 1.6 million subscribers.
“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 the broadcast,” Navalny wrote in a Facebook post. Navalny’s post continued:
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.
Navalny’s main opposition to Putin concerns endemic corruption and authoritarianism. According to the Moscow Times, young people are a driving force behind the movement, being the most willing to mobilize in often sub-zero temperatures.
Opposition activists are mainly calling for a boycott of the upcoming election, which Putin is widely expected to win, consistently scoring over 40 percent in opinion polls.
“The goal is to convince everyone that this isn’t an election but a reappointment, to create low turnout and strike an additional blow to the legitimacy of the regime and Putin,” Navalny told the Telegraph in an interview last week.