Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg this evening after protesting against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who won Sunday's presidential election.
Columns of riot police filed into Pushkin Square after opposition members overstayed their permit. Barrel-chested police officers linked arms and cleared the square of most journalists and observers before making the arrests.
Others were detained as they tried to march down a main avenue. Russian media reports say 250 were arrested in Moscow and another 300 in St. Petersburg. As the police moved in, the crowds intensified their chants of "Russia without Putin" and "Putin is a thief."
As they were pushed away by the police the protesters changed their chants to "shame, shame" and "this is our city."
The arrests followed a sanctioned protest a day after Putin won an election that will return him to the presidency for another six years. International monitors said Monday that they found problems with the vote, namely the outsized advantage given to Putin by state-controlled media as well as other inconsistencies on election day.
Protesters gathered in the bitter cold to hear speeches from a wide range of opposition figures. The opposition leaders spoke in front of a banner that read "for a fair vote" and led the crowd in chants of "Russia without Putin."
Those were the only things they had in common. The opposition to Putin remains fragmented and is an awkward alliance ranging from liberals and communists to right-wing nationalists. Presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owners of the New Jersey Nets who had been a Kremlin ally, also delivered a speech for the first time at the opposition rally.
Anti-corruption blogger Alexy Navalny received the loudest cheers when he took the stage. He told the crowd to remember that "we are the power."
Other speakers noted the heavy police presence surrounding the square and wondered aloud who they were prepared to fight.
Indeed, hundreds of police lined the square and cordoned off adjoining roads. Buses full of police in riot gear and accompanied by police dogs waited on nearby streets.