Alexei Navalny, the blogger who coined a new United Russia moniker — “the party of crooks and thieves” — addressed the protesters. “They can laugh and call us microbloggers. They can call us the hamsters of the Internet. Fine. I am an Internet hamster. But I know they are afraid of us.” The protesters cheered. And then 300 of them and Navalny were arrested. The next night in Triumfalnaya Square, protesters returned, and 600 were arrested. A Putin spokesman declared that “unsanctioned demonstrations must be stopped.” (See TIME’s 2007 Person of the Year: Vladimir Putin.)
Monday night’s arrest of Alexei Navalny, a crusading anti-corruption blogger, might be the biggest mistake the authorities could have made, suggested Alexei Venediktov, chief editor at the Ekho Moskvy radio station. An opposition that was looking for a charismatic leader might have just found one.
Navalny, 35, was heading an unsanctioned protest over the Russian elections when he was taken into custody. It was Navalny who coined the expression “party of crooks and thieves” to describe Vladimir Putin’s United Russia — a name that is now almost universal here. “This is our enemy and we hate him!” Navalny told the crowd of several thousand demonstrators before his arrest. “We should remember that they are nobody. And we are the power. We do not need thieves and crooks! We want another president and not a thief and crook!”
The crowd began chanting, “Putin is a thief!”Late Tuesday afternoon, Navalny was sentenced to 15 days in jail for obstructing traffic.