Spending 10 days inside Putin's Russia: Part 1

In Russia, where President Putin is power personified, "Nightline" met with opposition activists who participated in a national day of protest.
10:17 | 12/21/17

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Transcript for Spending 10 days inside Putin's Russia: Part 1
In some ways, yes. On a Saturday night in St. Petersburg, Russia, this graduate student is taking on one of the most feared men on the planet. Is that a dangerous thing to do? He's nervous, but resolute as he joins a protest against president Vladimir Putin. Because Putin is accuses of silencing his critics through violence, and this protest is happening on his birthday in his hometown. Things are about to escalate. In Russia, Vladimir Putin is power personified. Power that he has projected all over the world. Including by meddling in America's election. Hacking attacks. New questions about Russian interference. I have nothing to do with Russia. What is it really like on the ground in Russia? Just arrived in Russia? How does Putin maintain his iron grip. This is the kgp. Anyone can walk up to the red square? That's the Kremlin? Yeah. The thing in front of it is Lennon's mausoleum. As a kid, I would see videos from here and I would have nightmares. My parents had to send me to a shrink, now I'm here. Not far from here, a reminder of where we are. An anti-putin activist murdered within site of the Kremlin. He rose from a mid level spy to Russia's unquestioned ruler for 17 years and now has a nearly 90% approval rating fueled by flamboyant photo opens and the brutal crushing of his opponents. Already we have a problem, one of the people we were planning to spend the most time with, he got arrested. This is what democracy in Russia looks like. Putin's mange political opponent in a courtroom facing jail again. Police are yelling at the journalists, the defendant is taking Instagram videos. My story about you being here, have nice footage of me being arrested. You think they'll let you out or are they going to send you away? He has reason to be paranoid. He's been called the man Vladimir Putin fears most. He leads anti-putin rallies across the country. Where he's been publicly beaten and even once nearly blinded when a green substance was sprayed in his face. Eventually the judge enters and delivers the verdict, guilty for violating a law on organizing public meetings. Do you speak English? Yes. You do? He's going to jail for 20 days? He cannot attend a large anti-putin protest he had been planning just days from now. But he swiftly announces on Facebook, the protest will proceed anyway, and will, in fact, go nationwide, at which point the government crackdown quickly begins. We woke up to the news that the government carried out raids overnight. This is an opposition leader face down on the floor, a heavily armed police officer restraining him. All videotaped by state run media and posted on the internet. Tonya works for the same group as the man who got arrested. Their group is called open Russia, and their offices got raided. You think this is because of the protests on Saturday? Yes. As we round the corner, I am stopped short by what's ahead. Armed, masked officers. Can I show the door, is that okay? You can try to, but be careful. I'm going to open it, you can see where they broke through the door here. You seem very relaxed for somebody whose offices are being searched -- No, no, no, no. I am here because I love my country and I thing that we have to do something. It's not possible to live under this pressure. The country is in danger. St. Petersburg, home of the tsars and birth place of Putin. The day of national protest has arrived and the potential for conflict is real. It all begins with a show of force from one of Vladimir Putin's most unusual allies, an ultranationalist, anti-western, anti-gay and allegedly violent biker gang called the night wolves. The group is led by a man known as the surgeon. Alexander zoldostano. He's a personal friend of the president. How did this motorcycle club develop such a strong relationship with the leader of this country? Funding of this group is not part of a propaganda effort? Propaganda -- Despite his denials, the gang does get funding from the Kremlin they're not just some show piece. During Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This gang was accused of taking part. The U.S. Government has sanctioned you and your group accusing you of committing criminal acts in Ukraine, is there any truth to that? If the protesters show up anywhere near here tonight, what will happen? The opposition protesters could not be more different. I'm Dan. Nice to meet you. We visit with a 23-year-old graduate student named Alexander. This is where you live? Yeah. How many people live here? Four people. Are you excited for this tonight's event? Yes, and I hope it's safe. Have you been arrested before? No. He and his roommate represent the young voter. Slick videos document the alleged corruption of Putin and his inner circle. This is a risky thing you're about to go do. Yeah, it's Russia. Alexander's nerves are starting to show. The police have promised to act partially. When you see all these police, is it scary for you? In some way, yes. There's two options, you get arrested or not. If you're fast enough. Things are starting to ramp up just ahead, we move in to see what's beyond the roadblocks. I don't know if you want to stay with us. We will wait here. Scared me. We're seeing another group of police here. These are the riot police with the batons and the masks? This is quite a show of force. This group of protesters here are completely surrounded by riot police. Looks like they're getting ready to do something. They're yelling this is an unauthorized March, driving people to the corners. Are you okay? Yeah. When the police aren't wading into the crowd, we're told they're sending in instigators to stir up trouble. They're trying to start a fight? Yes. Here we go. This kind of thing in America, nobody bats an eye. People protest the government all the time. They have for years. Here, it is a radical act. As things wind down we catch back up with Alexander. It was pretty tough at times. As always in Russia. How much impact due think you're having? There's a mall right over here, people are continuing to shop. Restaurants all around, people are just living their life all around you. Yes. We can make this stand all together. Only all together. A brave idealistic stance, you can't help but wonder if it's futile here. Coming up, what happens when we try to get inside an alleged troll factory, where they manufacture fake news. And we travel to siberia, where these families could be paying a very high price for the Putin presidency.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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