MOSCOW (AP) — Protesters took to the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg and across Russia on Friday to denounce the invasion of Ukraine, even as authorities sought to quell spreading anti-war sentiment and to project an image of strength and righteousness.
The largest demonstration erupted in Saint Petersburg, where several hundred people spontaneously gathered in the city center, chanting “No to war! as police in full riot gear arrested one protester after another.
Rights group OVD-Info, which tracks political arrests, counted 437 detentions in 26 Russian cities, including 226 in Moscow and 130 in St Petersburg. In Moscow, police were also detaining random people who were just passing through, according to media reports.
Friday night’s rallies appeared smaller than Thursday, when thousands of people took to the streets across Russia. A total of 1,820 protesters were arrested Thursday evening in 58 Russian cities, including 1,002 in Moscow, according to OVD-Info.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sought to downplay the scale of the protests, saying on Friday that while President Vladimir Putin “hears everyone’s opinion”, he also knows “the part of those who have a different point of view and of those who are in favor of such a necessity”. transaction.”
A disturbing show of support for the attack on Ukraine came from Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim Russian region ruled by iron-fisted leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Chechen media reported on Friday that Kadyrov had gathered some 12,000 members of the security forces in the center of Grozny, the region’s capital, for what was described as an operational readiness check.
According to a local news site, Chechnya Today, Kadyrov said he was ready to take part in “any special operation”, if necessary, and urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to call Putin and apologize.
The editor-in-chief of the Russian public television channel RT, Margarita Simonyan, posted a video on Telegram showing Russian armored vehicles driving through a rural area and a man shouting: “God protect you guys! We’ve been waiting for you for eight years.
Simonyan, whose blog on Telegram has more than 132,000 subscribers, said in the post that they are Ukrainians near the city of Kharkiv saluting the Russian military.
Those who spoke out against the invasion, meanwhile, faced repercussions.
Yelena Chernenko, a journalist with the daily Kommersant, said she was expelled from the Foreign Ministry pool because of an open letter condemning the attack on Ukraine, signed by nearly 300 journalists. Chernenko said on the Telegram messaging app that the ministry cited her “lack of professionalism” and she urged officials not to retaliate against journalists who signed the letter.
“Apparently now is the time,” Chernenko wrote of the ban she now faces.
Another struggling journalist was Yury Dud. Like many others on Thursday, Dud, a vocal Kremlin critic who runs one of Russia’s most popular YouTube blogs, wrote an elaborate social media post decrying the invasion of Ukraine.
On Friday, an influential Kremlin-backed internet watchdog group, the League of Safe Internet, filed a request with the Attorney General’s Office and the Justice Department to consider labeling Dud a “foreign agent” – a crippling designation that involves additional governmental scrutiny and strong derogatory connotations that would discredit it.
The popular state broadcaster, Channel One, announced that it was replacing entertainment shows on its schedule with news and political shows “due to the current situation”. Among those that were dropped was a late-night show hosted by popular comedian, Ivan Urgant, who took to Instagram against the invasion.
Spokespersons for the channel insisted the decision to remove Urgant’s show from the schedule had nothing to do with its Instagram post.
In another sign the Kremlin was tightening the screws on dissenting voices, Russia’s communications and internet watchdog Roskomnadzor announced “partial restrictions” on Facebook access in response to the platform limiting accounts of several Kremlin-backed media. He did not specify what exactly his restrictions entailed.
The agency said it demanded that Facebook lift its restrictions on state news agency RIA Novosti, state TV channel Zvezda and pro-Kremlin news sites Lenta.Ru and Gazeta. Ru, but the platform did not comply. Facebook’s moves, according to Roskomnadzor, included marking their content as untrustworthy and imposing restrictions on search results to reduce the audience for Facebook posts.
In its official statement, Roskomnadzor said that the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office on Friday found Facebook “complicit in violating fundamental human rights and freedoms, as well as the rights and freedoms of Russian nationals”, and presented his decision as “”measures to protect Russian media.
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