Kremlin slams anti-corruption protests as 'provocation'

Prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been jailed for 15 days for disobeying police orders during huge anti-government protests Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Moscow and other major cities across Russian Federation on Sunday to protest against official government corruption in what certainly looked like the largest show of anti-Kremlin defiance since 2012.

The protests, reckoned to be the biggest since a wave of anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2011-12, come a year before a presidential election that Vladimir Putin is expected to contest, running for what would be a fourth term.

The State Department censured Russian authorities for detaining peaceful protesters Sunday as anti-corruption demonstrations swept the country, according to a statement provided to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

Mr Navalny was earlier fined 20,000 rubles ($350) for his role in organising the event. He said police had gathered factual evidence that some teenagers, who had been detained, had been paid cash by protest organisers to attend.

On Monday, Putin met with senior officers of the National Guard, which took part in arresting participants in the demonstrations along with police, but he didn't mention the protest.

While crowds of supporters surrounded riot police as they closed in on Mr. Navalny, videos circulated online showed a van carrying the opposition leader away from the scene.

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Navalny's arrest was accompanied by almost 1,000 other arrests after protesters clashed with police.

"Under laws passed in the wake of anti-government protests in 2011, Russians must request protests be sanctioned by the government or face imprisonment and fines", reporter Charles Maynes tells NPR from Moscow.

The rallies were prompted by allegations that Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev had amassed an illicit fortune, but they also voiced anger against Russian president Vladimir Putin. The rallies also took place in Saint Petersburg, Voronezh, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, as well as other cities.

The U.S. government condemned the arrest of Navalny and of peaceful protesters, calling for their immediate release. Numerous protests were in violation of Russian regulations on public gatherings, which require organizers to receive permission from the authorities to avoid schedule conflicts and overcrowding. They concluded with a massive protest on 6 May 2012, the day before Putin returned to the presidency after four years as prime minister. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the detention of "peaceful protesters, human rights observers and journalists is an affront to core democratic values".

It was a claim reminiscent of assertions made by Donald Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer, who accused demonstrators angry at the Trump administration's policies of being paid.

On Monday, the European Union and the United States criticized the police crackdown and called on Russian authorities to release all those detained.

A Russian monitoring group, OVD-Info, said that 1,030 people had been detained at the protests in Moscow alone, with about 120 still in custody. Soon after the opposition leader's detention, Navalny wrote a tweet urging demonstrators across the country to continue with the protests.