On 12 June up to an estimated 100.000 people protested in the centre of Moscow against Putin's return to the Kremlin for a third term. The protests, on a national holiday, came one day after Russian police raided the homes of prominent critics of Putin and some of them were arrested.
Those targeted by police on 11 June included leading opposition activists Alexei Navalny, the increasingly popular anti-corruption blogger and Sergei Udaltsov an outspoken leftist who stages periodic hunger strikes to protest his repeated arrests and his wife Anastasia. Mr Navalny and Anastasia Udaltsov arrived for questioning at the headquarters of the Russian investigative committee a day later. Others on the list include Ksenya Sobchak, a media celebrity and more recent Putin critic and the more moderate democracy campaigner Ilya Yashin. Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, was also targeted, activists said.
One of the causes for the protests is the signing of a law that increased fines for violations of public order at street demonstrations by President Putin on the 8th of June, ignoring warnings from his human rights council that it was unconstitutional. Opponents said the law was an attempt to silence dissent. The new law increases fines for protests to as much as 300,000 roubles ($9,200) for participants and one million roubles ($30,600) for organisers - almost equivalent to Russia's average annual salary. "Before when we were going to the rallies, we were worried because of the illegitimate elections and we requested a new vote. Now we realise this illegitimate authority is making decisions which break all the rules," one of the protester told Aljazeera.
The early morning raids on 11 June carried out by police armed with assault rifles, showed a shift in tone in dealing with protests as Putin starts his new six-year term, having served as prime minister since his first two terms of office ended in 2008. Despite the raids, Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said the crowds representing the various political groups in the nation, remained united in their opposition to Vladimir Putin.
This is the first big anti-government rally in Russia since Mr Putin returned to the Kremlin. Organisers put the figure at about 100,000, as protests swelled well beyond the limit of 50,000 people. Though the president came out in a "conciliatory tone", saying the demonstrations were signs of a healthy democracy, and that he wanted to engage in dialogue with the nation's many political groups, he also vowed not to let Russia be weakened by "social shocks". "We cannot accept anything that weakens our country or divides society," he said in televised remarks.
Following the raids, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was "deeply concerned by the apparent harassment of Russian political opposition figures on the eve of the planned demonstrations on June 12".
Sources: BBC, AlJazeera, Photo: Flickr, person behind the scenes