MOSCOW — The scale of Russia’s nationwide protests this weekend took even their organizers by surprise.
On Sunday, tens of thousands of Russians took part in anti-corruption demonstrations across 82 cities — from Vladivostok on the Pacific to Kaliningrad on the European Union’s borders. In Moscow, the protest culminated in over 1,000 arrests, a record for the city under President Vladimir Putin’s rule. The man who brought the country out into the streets was able to revel in his achievement for only a few minutes. As soon as opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared on Moscow’s central Tverskaya Street, he was immediately detained by police. (The next day, a Moscow court fined Navalny $350 for organizing banned protests and sentenced him to 15 days in jail.) But Navalny remained defiant. “The time will come when we will have them on trial (but honestly),” he tweeted before his sentencing.
Two weeks earlier, Navalny — Putin’s most prominent critic and the one most devoted to opposing him at the ballot box — had published an investigation into Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s alleged corruption. His team released a video revealing that Medvedev had amassed a collection of palaces, yachts, and vineyards during his time in office. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation regularly publishes blogs and videos making public the ill-begotten riches of people within or close to the government. Past exposés have focused on the business empire belonging to the son of Russia’s general prosecutor and the millions allocated to a foundation run by Putin’s daughter. With the Medvedev video, however, Navalny struck a nerve like never before.
Russia, which is in its third year of a serious economic recession, has been living under Western sanctions since annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The news of Medvedev’s secret fortunes, at a time of nationwide suffering, had the country furious. In a matter of days, millions of Russians had watched the…