Russia reportedly detained at least 4,600 people at protests against the war in Ukraine on Sunday, 1,700 of them in Moscow. Protesters used social media to accuse the police of using excessive force to make the arrests, including shots of detainees beaten bloody with police batons.
Russia-based independent human rights monitor OVD-Info put the total number of arrests on Sunday even higher, at 5,020 people. The largest previous crackdown by Russian police came in January 2021, when opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested upon returning from Germany after he was attacked with chemical weapons, allegedly by agents of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Moscow Times quoted police officials, who said the detainees were arrested for participating in “unsanctioned” rallies. The police only gave numbers for the main rally in Moscow and a somewhat smaller event in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, but OVD-Info said arrests were made in 65 towns across the country.
A protester in St. Petersburg lets loose a bunch of blue and yellow glitter while getting arrested on Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main street https://t.co/Nwi8zTeaSp (via @AvtozakLIVE). pic.twitter.com/e1qc5iTObb
— Eilish Hart (@EilishHart) March 6, 2022
The Russian Interior Ministry on Sunday said 750 people were detained in St. Petersburg. Several of them were allegedly involved in assaulting police officers.
“On March 6, an attack was staged on police officers who tried to stop an unauthorized rally by its participants. Two of the attackers were detained, the third one fled but was identified. A criminal case was opened on charges of an attack on policemen,” a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said.
“The screws are being fully tightened. Essentially, we are witnessing military censorship,” OVD-Info spokeswoman Maria Kuznetsova said on Sunday.
Nevertheless, Kuznetsova said her group was “seeing rather big protests today – even in Siberian cities, where we only rarely saw such numbers of arrests.”
At a community meeting in the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk, regional governor Sergei Tsivilyov was confronted by citizens who accused the Russian government of “deceiving” young men into military service to use them as “cannon fodder.” The meeting was captured by an amateur photographer and Radio Free Europe (RFE) could not confirm the date of the meeting.
“No one has lied to anyone,” Tsivilyov reportedly told the crowd, arguing that it was “right” and “correct” not to comment on an ongoing “special operation.”
“Look, you can shout and blame everyone right now, but I think that while a military operation is in progress, we shouldn’t criticize,” he argued.
When Tsivilyov said the operation in Ukraine would surely “end soon,” someone in the crowd shouted, “You mean when everybody dies?”
As RFE pointed out, troops from Novokuznetsk are known from footage and reports to be among the reportedly heavy casualties suffered in Russia’s assault on a key city near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Captured Russian troops who identified themselves as members of the Novokuznetsk unit said they were deceived into thinking they were part of a training exercise.
In another awkward moment, Tsivilyov reportedly argued the Ukrainian invasion was being handled much like the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, in which the first wave of troops “didn’t know where they were going.” This argument did not appear to reassure anyone in the crowd.
Social media accounts, especially on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram, carried photos and video of riot police “beating protesters with batons and demonstrators with blood running down their faces.” OVD-Info said electric shocks were also used to subdue the protesters.
The Moscow Times counted over 10,000 demonstrators under arrest since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Sunday’s rallies were held in defiance of new speech controls imposed on Friday that effectively criminalized all criticism of the war, including calling it a “war.” Ironically, the first man charged under the new law made a point of calling the conflict a “special operation to demilitarize Ukraine,” the preferred verbiage of Putin’s regime, but was arrested and fined anyway because he organized a demonstration against it.
The New York Post on Friday offered a backhanded salute to the “spoiled rich kids” of Russian oligarchs, who apparently have no taste for rumbling with the police in the streets of Moscow, but are “posting anti-war messages, blasting Putin, and praying for peace” with their Instagram accounts.
These fiery Instagram posts might seem like trivial acts of resistance compared to the street demonstrations, but they could be punished with jail time under the speech codes imposed on Friday, and some of the protesting socialites are the children of rich and powerful members of Putin’s inner circle.
In fact, one of them is Elizaveta Peskova, the 24-year-old daughter of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Her Instagram post saying “no to the war” was mysteriously deleted within an hour of reaching her 237,000 followers around the world, and her Instagram account was switched to private status shortly thereafter.