russia protestsAfter 40,000 Russians faced freezing temperatures and snow to protest on Saturday, President Dmitry Medvedev called for a probe into election fraud, which demonstrators allege took place during December's parliamentary elections.

Despite Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s hostile language and veiled threats in reference to the protests on Thursday, state television ran footage of the rally and police didn’t make any arrests - a marked change from just a few days before when Putin seemed set on crushing the opposition. “We are required to protect our sovereignty,” he said earlier in the week, according to the Associated Press (AP). “We need to think about strengthening the law and holding more responsible those who carry out the aims of a foreign government by influencing our internal political process.”

One protestor who has received international attention for his work is, a 35-year-old lawyer who had, until his arrest on December 5th, been blogging about corruption at the Kremlin. While protestors chanted, “Putin must go,” they cheered loudly for Navalny, who although he was in jail, wrote a statement that was shared on Saturday and posted on his blog at “You cannot beat up and arrest hundreds of thousands or millions,” Navalny said. “We are not cattle or slaves. We have a voice and we have the strength to defend it.”

Alexei NavalnyDuring an interview with Reuters in May, Navalny said he’d like to be president, "But there are no elections in Russia."

Even Hillary Clinton mentioned Navalny in a speech at a conference on internet freedom at The Hague (December 8). “This is an urgent task,” she said. “It is most urgent, of course, for those around the world whose words are now censored, who are imprisoned because of what they or others have written online, who are blocked from accessing entire categories of internet content, or who are being tracked by governments seeking to keep them from connecting with one another… Perhaps the most well known blogger in Russia, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced (December 8) to 15 days in jail after he took part in protests over the Russian elections.”

Putin has already blamed Clinton for stoking the opposition, saying she “set the tone for some opposition activists,” and “gave them a signal,” according to AP. He also warned that anyone working for foreign governments to influence Russian politics would be held to account.

In a U.S. State Department briefing, Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner made it clear that the U.S. did not “give a signal,” as Putin said, to the Russian people to rise up against the government. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “In terms of signalling, we’ve stood up, as we have elsewhere in the world, and continue to stand for the right of people to peacefully express their views and their democratic aspirations, and we’re going to continue to do so.”


(Photo ©  AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko and Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters)