Moscow police arrested three Russian opposition leaders during an unsanctioned protest that took place this Saturday. The protest denounced the increasing crackdown against the opposition as well as the treatment of leftist activist Leonid Razvozzhayev.
Anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, Left Front movement’s leader Sergei Udaltsov, and fellow opposition member Ilya Yashin were accused of disrupting public order.
They were released several hours later after being charged with starting the unsanctioned protest, for which they will be fined. Hundreds of people attended the protest that was organized outside of the headquarters of the Russian security agency FSB, a successor of the KGB, and the office of the Investigative Committee, sometimes regarded as the Russian FBI.
In fact, the participants stood 50 meters apart in a line that stretched between the two agencies’ locations, so as to be in accordance with Russian law, which interdicts unsanctioned demonstrations, but allows people to protest individually.
The protest came as a reaction to shocking confessions made earlier this week by Left Front activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev. Russian investigators had claimed that Razvozzhayev had turned himself in three days after an arrest warrant was issued against him and had confessed planning mass disorder in Russia in order to overthrow President Putin. Days later however, he retracted his statements, by claiming that he had been abducted in Kiev while striving to obtain refugee status from the United Nations (UN).
Razvozzhayev further claimed he was taken across the Russia-Ukraine border by his abductors, who turned out to be Russian intelligence agents.
He also said he had been tortured into making his original, false declarations, as he claimed that he had been kept for two days without food and water and threatened to be killed if he did not confess to planning riots aiming to overthrow President Putin.
While Mr. Razvozzhayev is currently kept under custody and awaits his trail, investigators from the Investigation Committee are probing the abduction and torture accusations.
The charges of plotting President Putin’s overthrow stem from a footage aired by pro-Kremlin NTV channel earlier this month. The footage showed Udaltsov, Razvozzhayev and Konstantin Lebedev, another member of the Left Front, meeting Givi Targamadze, a Georgian politician, seemingly to create a plan on how to seize power in Russia. The clip also suggested that Udaltsov had intended to bring Chechen fighters to assist in organizing the overthrow.
Udaltsov has denied the authenticity of the video and has claimed that it is part of the current leadership's crusade against the opposition.
Another one of the opposition leaders arrested during the protest, Navalny faces ten years behind bars after being charged with large scale embezzlement. He has denounced the accusations to be absurd, given that he had been already probed twice in this particular matter without facing any problems.
In the meantime, another Russian opposition member active in the Solidarity group, Mikhail Maglov, has applied for political asylum in Ukraine. Maglov also claims to have been detained in Moscow on June 11, 2012 and forced to testify against opposition leaders, Navalny, Udaltsov, Yashin and Boris Nemtsov.
Despite increasing obstacles coming from the Kremlin, the existing opposition is striving to organize itself better. Last week, the opposition formed a Coordinating Council, with elected members, including the three arrested leaders. The Council, which comprises 30 independent members and five representatives from liberal, leftist and nationalist movements, aims to lend legitimacy to the Russian opposition and strengthen its capacity to run more successfully against the government during elections. It remains to be seen if the Council can withstand a hardening of Russia’s official government’s reaction to opposition members and movements.