Ponomaryov disagreed that arrests would give the authorities an excuse to clamp down, although on Tuesday, as organizers were requesting permission for another rally Saturday, a deputy mayor warned that their behavior Monday would be taken into account.
“If they want to find an excuse, they will,” Ponomaryov said.
In a radio interview Tuesday, Boris Akunin, a well-known mystery writer, said the arrests meant the end of peaceful rallies and marches. He blamed the authorities.
“I believe we should not organize our march on the 10th of March because this will cause aggression by the authorities,” he said. “I was at the rally at Pushkin Square. Everything was calm and peaceful. I left and watched the later events online.
“I was stunned — I just could not understand why the authorities and Putin would want to do all this.”
Criticism in the aftermath
Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency, also left the rally before the arrests. He defended those who stayed, criticizing the police for rounding up people simply standing in the square, with no placards or slogans.
“Today’s events on Pushkin halted the tradition of peaceful opposition rallies,” he wrote on Facebook. “The authorities are responsible for citizens’ security and a conflict-free settlement of such situations.”
Navalny and Udaltsov were charged with permit violations and face fines of about $70. Yashin, charged with disobeying a police order, could get 15 days in jail. On Tuesday, prosecutors said they were considering other charges against some detainees, including inciting mass disorder, which carries a possible two-year jail sentence. One woman knocked down by police broke her arm in two places.
“Troubling to watch arrests of peaceful demonstrators at Pushkin Square,” U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul tweeted.
The Russian Foreign Ministry differed, tweeting that the Russian police at Pushkin Square were far more humane than the U.S. police who dispersed Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Certainly, a line has been crossed. On Tuesday night, news agencies reported that a dozen or more young people were arrested at Pushkin Square, accused of trying to start an unauthorized opposition rally. Others were being detained in St. Petersburg, at St. Isaac’s Square.
Organizers wonder how much risk they can ask their many middle-class professional followers to take if rallies become illegal. But without rallies, they worry, enthusiasm for change might languish, easing the pressure on the government.
“If the authorities again obstruct our choice of venue, this could prompt a host of unsanctioned protest rallies,” Gennady Gudkov, a rally organizer and member of parliament, told reporters. “The authorities are displaying cruelty when they should have displayed wisdom.”