President Vladimir Putin observed a large naval parade in Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg on Sunday, a day after a harsh police crackdown on peaceful protesters in the capital.
Putin, who has overseen a restoration of Russia’s military, said the navy would add 15 vessels this year at celebrations that included a parade of more than 40 warships. During his prepared speech, he didn’t comment on the Moscow clashes, which monitors called the harshest crackdown on the opposition since a wave of anti-Kremlin protests in 2011-2012.
Police in riot gear beat protesters with batons and detained nearly 1,400 people on Saturday to disperse crowds in central Moscow unhappy with the exclusion of opposition candidates from the ballot for city council elections in September, according to monitoring organization OVD Info. The police said they detained 1,074 people.
The protests came amid swelling opposition anger at how the ruling United Russia party controls Moscow and monopolizes power. With Putin’s approval rating at the lowest since 2013 after five years of falling living standards, Russia’s beleaguered opposition has grown bolder in its demands to be included in the political process.
The authorities, meanwhile, are showing less tolerance for dissent. Alexey Navalny, the opposition’s most prominent figure, was sentenced to 30 days in jail Wednesday for urging people to attend the weekend protests. On Sunday, he was taken to hospital after a severe allergic reaction caused facial swelling and a skin rash, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter. Navalny didn’t have any known allergies, she said.
The response by the authorities marks a reversal from several concessions to mass movements across the country earlier this year. Protesters succeeded in overturning plans to build a church in a popular downtown park in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. When widespread outrage erupted last month over the arrest of a Moscow investigative journalist on trumped-up drug charges, the interior ministry ordered police to drop the case and dismissed several officers.
Saturday’s protests, a week after an authorized rally drew over 20,000 people in the capital, appeared to energize the opposition despite the crackdown. Ilya Yashin, an opposition leader detained ahead of the protest for calling people to attend it, called for people to repeat the action on 3 August.