Russian opposition leaders urged supporters to join the latest election protest in Moscow on Saturday, risking a new wave of detentions after city officials refused to authorize the rally.
The “march against political repression” through the center of the capital takes place eight days before Moscow city council elections that have become the focus of a revived opposition movement against President Vladimir Putin. Thousands have been detained by riot police at a series of demonstrations called after the authorities declined last month to register dozens of opposition and independent candidates for the Sept. 8 vote.
“We have the legal right to do it and we are just obliged to do it, for the sake of the future of our country,” opposition leader Lyubov Sobol said in a video posted on YouTube urging people to join the march. The demand to allow independent candidates on the ballot “is simple, legal and just,” she said.
Sobol, who went on a month-long hunger strike in protest at the rejection of her candidacy, filmed riot police breaking into her election office to detain her during the last major protest on Aug. 10. As many as 60,000 attended the sanctioned rally that day, the largest anti-Kremlin demonstration since the 2011-2012 wave of unrest against Putin’s return to the presidency after four years as prime minister.
The confrontation between the authorities and the opposition may be the prelude to a more significant struggle over 2021 parliamentary elections. The Kremlin is determined to lock in its control of the lower house of parliament ahead of potentially vital decisions that could extend Putin’s rule beyond the end of his term in 2024.
Several opposition politicians, including Ilya Yashin, remain behind bars after being repeatedly detained for encouraging participation in previous unauthorized protests. Sobol was doused in filth outside her home by an unidentified assailant Thursday after publishing the video announcing plans for the march.
Even as the protest plans seem certain to trigger another round of detentions, the opposition’s most prominent leader, Alexey Navalny, is calling on people to work within the system to break the ruling United Russia’s grip on the Moscow council.
Navalny, who was released last week after 30 days in prison for urging supporters to attend a July 27 protest, set up a website to encourage “smart voting” in the elections, whereby voters will be directed to back the strongest non-United Russia candidate in any given district.