With biggest crackdown on protesters in recent years, political tensions escalate in Russia

Kremlin is determined not to allow genuine opposition candidates to gain a foothold on the electoral ladder because it believes this would trigger the beginning of the end for Putin’s carefully managed political system.

Russia descends into chaos

Bloodied protesters, a hunger strike, police raids, more than a thousand arrests, a mysterious "illness" afflicting the Kremlin’s most prominent critic — a long-simmering dispute over a local Moscow election boiled over this weekend into a major political crisis for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Resistance towards tightly-controlled political system

In biggest crackdown in recent years, nearly 1,400 people were arrested at an unauthorised protest in Moscow against the exclusion of opposition politicians from local elections later this year.

The demonstration, attended by many in their 20s and early 30s, has been staged over the blocking of opposition candidates and to urge the authorities to open up the tightly-controlled system.

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'Right to my candidate'

Chants of "Russia without Putin", "Putin resign" and "I have a right to my candidate" echoed through central Moscow as guardsmen clad in riot gear beat back protesters with batons and indiscriminately arrested people including the elderly and passers-by. 

Police also detained a number of popular opposition politicians who have fought to get on the ballot.

Activists said the crackdown was the harshest since a wave of anti-Kremlin protests in 2011-12.

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Putin's critic 'poisoned'

Ahead of Saturday's rally, police jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny who is currently recovering from a health condition. Doctors have alleged that he was "poisoned" by an unidentified toxic.

The 43-year-old, Putin's most prominent critic, was rushed to hospital on Sunday with swollen eyelids, discharge in the eye and a rash on his upper body. On Monday it was reported that he is out danger and has been sent back to the prison.

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Putin dives to bottom of Gulf of Finland

With Putin's ratings continuously dropping over the year, the protests are expected to send a powerful message to the authorities.

Reports say Kremlin is determined not to allow genuine opposition candidates to gain a foothold on the electoral ladder because it believes this would trigger the beginning of the end for Putin’s carefully managed political system.

Meanwhile, as riot police assaulted the peaceful protesters, Putin dived to the bottom of the Gulf of Finland aboard a submersible.

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West condemns crackdown

Following the mass arrests at the weekend, the West has condemned the largest police crackdown on dissent in Russia in recent years.

The German government said it was very concerned about Russian police arresting so many people and expects detainees to be released quickly.

While the Canadian government expressed concern over the matter and called on Russia authorities to respect freedom of assembly and expression and "refrain from violence".
 

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Activists 'banged up'

The Bell, a respected Russian-language online publication, said the Kremlin had underestimated Muscovites' anger and readiness to protest.

"Now we'll have to think what to do with all of this," it quoted a Kremlin source as saying.

A person familiar with the Kremlin thinking told the Bell that the most prominent activists would be "banged up", while the rest would be intimidated into no longer protesting.

More than 21,000 people signed a petition calling on Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to resign.

(Photograph:Reuters)