(CNSNews.com) – Amid swelling unauthorized anti-government protests in Moscow, Russian authorities are accusing the U.S. Embassy of encouraging people to take to the streets, and the State Duma is planning a meeting to discuss “foreign interference” in Russia’s domestic affairs.
The foreign ministry was incensed when the embassy, in an advisory to U.S. citizens ahead of a planned demonstration on August 3, posted a map showing the protest route and various gathering points in the capital.
Although the advisory clearly stated that “U.S. citizens should avoid the protest route,” the ministry late last week summoned Tim Richardson, the head of the mission’s political section, for a reprimand.
The ministry said it presented Richardson with “an official protest in connection with” the embassy’s website and Twitter account posts concerning the planned protest.
“It was emphasized during the meeting that the foreign ministry regarded the publication of the protest route map, drawn by the organizers of the illegal event, as an act encouraging participation and a call to action, which constitutes an attempt to interfere in Russia’s domestic affairs.”
The ministry statement did not elaborate on Twitter posts it found inappropriate, although on the day after the Aug. 3 protest an embassy spokeswoman tweeted, “Authorities continue to restrict citizens’ right to express themselves via free and fair elections & peaceful assembly, fundamental rights enshrined in their constitution. Yesterday’s response undermines the rights of citizens to participate fully in the democratic process.”
Queries sent to the embassy brought no response by press time.
The protests, growing in size by the week, are in response to the disqualification of dozens of opposition candidates who wanted to run for seats in Moscow’s city legislature in September 8 elections.
Last Saturday, August 10 – the fifth consecutive weekend of protests – saw a significantly bigger turnout than the previous week, with an estimated 50,000 protestors taking to the streets. Ahead of that event, the embassy had again advised American citizens to steer clear of the protest, although no map was posted this time.
“Previous recent demonstrations resulted in over one thousand arrests, and there were eyewitness accounts of excessive use of force against protesters. There were also reports that innocent bystanders were detained, and that cellular voice and data services were suppressed near protest areas,” the embassy said in the advisory.
‘Given the size of the protest, unknown route or routes of protesters, substantial police presence, and past accounts of excessive use of force by law enforcement, U.S. citizens should avoid the demonstration and any demonstration-related activities, including marches that may take place within and along the Garden Ring Road,” the embassy said.
The Moscow Times called Saturday’s protest one of the largest in Russia since 2012, when large rallies were held against Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency.
(Putin was president from 2000-2008, then handpicked Dmitry Medvedev to take the helm for four years while he served as prime minister, before returning to the presidency in 2012, when he won with 63.6 percent of the vote.)
Police detained 256 people for taking part in the unauthorized Aug. 10 march. Organizers are planning another protest this Saturday, August 17. The focus is on both the disqualifications for the upcoming Moscow City Duma (MCD) elections, and police clampdowns on recent protests, including criminal “mass unrest” charges brought against some protestors.
Leading anti-corruption campaigner and Putin critic Alexei Navalny was among those arrested at previous protests, and jailed for 30 days.
‘A threat to sovereignty’
The State Duma, Russia’s lower house, is on summer recess but the State Duma Council, a consultative body that drafts agendas for the legislature, plans an “extraordinary meeting” next Monday to discuss “foreign interference” in the country’s internal affairs, arising from the recent protests.
The chairman of a committee dealing with security and corruption issues, Vasilii Piskarev, said state organs including the foreign ministry, law enforcement agencies, and federal bodies overseeing the Internet and mass media, have been asked to provide information on foreign interference, for the Aug. 19 meeting.
Piskarev said it was necessary to understand who was standing behind the “riots” and attempting to influence the course of the election campaign.
“The intervention of anyone from outside in Russia’s internal affairs is unacceptable, it is a threat to sovereignty,” he said.
Adalbi Shkhagoshev, a member of the pro-Kremlin ruling United Russia party, said, “the time when we simply ignored foreign support [for] the forces that destroy the stability of the state and security systems of our country have passed.”
The TASS state news agency said United Russia and opposition factions support the calls to investigate interference “by a number of foreign media outlets and diplomatic missions, particularly during a recent unauthorized rally in Moscow.”
The official reason for the electoral commission’s disqualification of dozens of candidates in the MCD election is alleged irregularities in the gathering of signatures.
Each candidate had to obtain 5,000 signatures of residents in the applicable Moscow constituency in order to run for the 45 seats up for grabs in the city legislature, which is currently dominated by United Russia.