Anti-Maidan protesters rally in Moscow to condemn the “coup” in neighboring Ukraine, a year after the downfall of its pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Russian state media heavily promoted the rally and march with the slogan “We won’t forget! We won’t forgive!”.
Ukraine’s protests ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
Russia has since annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and is accused of backing rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government, Western leaders and NATO say there is clear evidence that Russia is helping the rebels in eastern Ukraine with heavy weapons and soldiers. Independent experts echo that accusation. Moscow denies it, insisting that any Russians serving with the rebels are “volunteers”.
Shelling could be heard on Saturday morning in the city of Donetsk, the rebels’ main stronghold, further fraying the ceasefire which was meant to begin nearly one week ago in eastern Ukraine.
Nearly 5,700 people have died since the fighting erupted in April 2014 and some 1.5 million people have fled their homes, according to the UN.
The Moscow event is styled as an “anti-Maidan” march – a reference to Ukraine’s pro-EU protests that started on Kiev’s central Independence Square, widely known as the Maidan.
Groups of demonstrators gathered in central Moscow on Saturday under patriotic Russian banners.
One group of marchers in military fatigues could be seen with a placard which read “Maidan is an illness – we’re going to cure it!”
Another placard read “Maidan benefits the enemies of Russia!”
At least 10,000 people are expected to turn out with more than 100 public organizations mustering support, Russia’s NTV news channel reports.
The channel says it will air an interview with Viktor Yanukovych later in the day.
The anti-Yanukovych revolt was triggered by a sudden U-turn that ditched a wide-ranging pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia.
Since Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev, the new authorities in Ukraine have issued an arrest warrant for him over the “mass murder of peaceful citizens”.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia on February 20 of direct involvement in the sniper fire that killed dozens of protesters in Kiev on February 18-20 last year.
Petro Poroshenko was speaking just two days after his army retreated from the key town of Debaltseve, now in rebel hands.
Speaking at a commemorative gathering in Kiev, he said Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov had organized “groups of foreign snipers”. The president cited information he had received from Ukraine’s security services.
The Russian foreign ministry hit back at the claim, calling it “nonsense”.
The rebels took the strategic transport hub, despite the ceasefire signed on February 12, arguing that the truce did not apply to the flash-point town.
An intense rebel bombardment forced some 2,500 government troops to retreat from Debaltseve, and dozens of others surrendered.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a tough statement on February 20 warning that he would not allow any foreign state to gain the military advantage over Russia.
“No-one should have the illusion that they can gain military superiority over Russia, put any kind of pressure on it,” he said.
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Alexei Navalny and more than 100 other demonstrators have been arrested at a rally in central Moscow, activists say.
The Russian opposition leader had urged protesters to gather in Manezh Square near the Kremlin after his brother, Oleg Navalny, was sentenced to jail.
Police detained Alexei Navalny at the protest and took him home, where he has been under house arrest since February.
Alexei Navalny says the legal cases against him and his brother are motivated by his opposition to President Vladimir Putin.
Hours earlier, a court in Moscow handed Alexei Navalny a suspended prison sentence of three-and-a-half years for defrauding two firms. His brother Oleg was given a three-and-a-half-year custodial sentence for the same offence.
Alexei Navalny accused authorities of trying to punish him by jailing his brother, and called for his supporters to gather in central Moscow in protest.
Around 2,000 people gathered in temperatures below -10C.
Pro-government protesters are staging a counter-demonstration nearby.
At least 171 people were detained by police said OVD Info, a campaign group that monitors political detentions. However there was no official confirmation of the number of arrests.
Upon arriving at the rally, police detained Alexei Navalny and drove him to his house in a police van.
He said he was not allowed out of his flat and that five soldiers stood guard outside.
After his arrest, Alexei Navalny sent a tweet saying that he “had not got as far as the square”.
“I call on everyone not to leave until they are forced to,” he said.
“They cannot arrest everyone.”
Just before his arrest, Alexei Navalny told reporters that his motivation was “not my brother, my family, myself or some specific people” but “this disgusting outrage that has been going for many years”.
Prosecutors had demanded 10 years in prison for Alexei Navalny and eight years for his brother Oleg.
Alexei Navalny has been under house arrest since February as part of a separate five-year suspended sentence for the alleged theft of 16 million rubles from a timber firm in 2009.
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Tens of thousands of Russians have marched in Moscow to protest against the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.
People carrying Russian and Ukrainian flags chanted “No to war!” and “Stop lying!” Similar rallies took place in Sankt Petersburg and other Russian cities.
Ukraine accuses Russia of arming rebels in the east and sending Russian troops across the border. Moscow denies this.
More than 3,000 people have died in fighting since April.
A truce was agreed on September 5 but there have been repeated violations since then.
The fighting began after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula in March – a move condemned by Ukraine and the West.
The demonstrators marched from Pushkin Square to Sakharov Avenue in central Moscow.
Organizers had hoped up to 50,000 people would take part to denounce what they described as Russia’s “aggressive foreign policy”.
Tens of thousands of Russians have marched in Moscow to protest against the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine
Moscow police said there were about 5,000 protesters but a reporter for the AP news agency estimated that the crowd was at least 20,000-strong.
Police stepped up security in the capital and there were only minor scuffles reported between rival demonstrators.
It is Russia’s first major anti-war rally since the fighting began five months ago in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
A number of supporters of the pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine held their own rally in Moscow.
In Ukraine, fighting was reported to be continuing on Sunday close to the city of Donetsk despite an agreement on September 19 to set up a 19 miles buffer zone as part of the Minsk memorandum.
The government in Kiev said its military forces would not pull back until pro-Russian forces stop firing and Russian troops leave. Russia denies that its forces are involved.
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said violations of the ceasefire continued, telling reporters: “In the last 24 hours we have lost two Ukrainian soldiers, eight have been wounded.”
On September 20, General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, said the cease-fire existed “in name only”.
Gen. Philip Breedlove said the numbers of artillery rounds fired recently was comparable to periods before the truce came into effect two weeks ago.
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