Russia attempts to quell invasion criticisms with protests.

MOSCOW — On Friday, demonstrators took to the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and throughout Russia to condemn the invading Ukraine. Authorities sought to suppress antiwar sentiments and present a strong image of righteousness and strength. The largest protest was in St. Petersburg. Hundreds of people spontaneously assembled in the center of the city and chanted “No to War!” while police in full riot gear arrested one after another.

The OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests counted 437 detentions in 26 Russian cities, including 226 in Moscow and 130 in St. Petersburg. According to media reports, officers were also taking random passers-by into custody in Moscow.

The rallies on Friday night appeared smaller than on Thursday, when thousands took to the streets across Russia. A total of 1,820 demonstrators were detained in 58 Russian cities on Thursday night, including 1,002 in Moscow, according to OVD-Info.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sought to downplay the scale of the protests, saying Friday that while President Vladimir Putin “hears everyone’s opinion,” he also knows “the share of those who have a different point of view and those who are sympathetic to such a necessary operation.”

An ominous show of support for the attack on Ukraine came from Chechnya, Russia’s predominantly Muslim region run by the iron-fisted leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Chechen media on Friday reported that Kadyrov rallied some 12,000 security forces operatives in the center of Grozny, the region’s capital, for what was described as an operational readiness check.

According to a local news site, Chechnya Today, Kadyrov said they were prepared to take part “in any special operation,” if needed, and urged Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to call Putin and offer an apology. Margarita Simonyan (editor-in-chief of Russia’s state-funded television channel RT) posted a Telegram video showing Russian armored cars rolling through a rural region and a man shouting “God Save You, Guys!” We’ve been waiting for you for eight years.”

Simonyan, whose blog on Telegram has over 132,000 subscribers, said in the post that it was Ukrainians near the city of Kharkiv greeting the Russian military. Those who opposed the invasion were subject to repercussions.

Yelena Chernenko, a journalist with the Kommersant daily, said she was kicked out of the Foreign Ministry pool over an open letter condemning the attack on Ukraine that has been signed by nearly 300 reporters. Chernenko stated on Telegram that she was cited by the ministry for her “lackof professionalism” and urged officials to not retaliate against the journalists who had signed the open letter.

“Apparently such are the times,” Chernenko wrote of the ban she now faces.

Yury Dud was another journalist in trouble. Yury Dud was another journalist in trouble on Thursday. Dud is a prominent Kremlin critic and runs one the most popular YouTube channels in Russia.

On Friday, an influential Kremlin-backed internet watchdog group, the League of Safe Internet, filed a request with the Prosecutor General’s office and the Justice Ministry to consider labeling Dud a “foreign agent” — a crippling designation that implies additional government scrutiny and strong pejorative connotations that would discredit him. A state-owned TV station called Channel One. It announced that it would be replacing its entertainment programs with news and politics shows. This was in response to an Instagram post by Ivan Urgant. The channel’s spokespersons insisted that Urgant’s removal from its schedule was not due to his Instagram post.

In another sign the Kremlin was tightening the screws on dissenting voices, Russia’s state communications and internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor, announced “partial restrictions” on access to Facebook in response to the platform limiting the accounts of several Kremlin-backed media. The restrictions were not explained.

The agency stated that it wanted Facebook to lift restrictions on Zvezda, the state television channel Zvezda, and RIA Novosti (the state news agency), but Facebook refused. Roskomnadzor claims that Facebook made several moves to restrict the reach of publications on Facebook, including marking them as “unreliable” and placing restrictions on search results.

In its official statement, Roskomnadzor said that Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s office on Friday found Facebook “complicit in violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms, as well as the rights and freedoms of Russian nationals,” and cast its move as ‘”measures to protect Russian media.”

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