But in the ensuing minutes, as the crowds swelled, Washington Post reporters in the capital and above the Arctic Circle witnessed what makes opposition politician Alexei Navalny a force in modern Russian Federation: his ability to mobilize thousands of people across the country into risking arrest to oppose President Vladimir Putin.
"If you don't go, you won't forgive yourself later", Navalny's said in a video address before the start of the protest.
"Putin has been in power for 18 years now", he said.
Russian police raided Navalny's Moscow office Sunday morning, according to the Associated Press.
On January 25, police issued a stern warning to anti-government protesters.
Another Moscow protester, 31-year-old Alexandra Sokolova, told the Washington Post she felt if she had stayed at home nothing would ever change, instead by marching, "maybe my kids will live in a better country".
Fourteen people were arrested at a rally in Kemerovo, a city in western Siberia.
When Navalny had called for nationwide protests in March and J une 2017, similar raids were conducted against his offices thwarting all the demonstrations.
Despite his arrest, Navalny called for the protests to continue. He was also almost blinded when a pro-Kremlin supporter threw a chemical into his face.
Today, a lengthy march through central Moscow took place with tens of thousands of people in attendance. "These are real citizens", Navalny said in a Facebook post.
Navalny was taken to a Moscow police station on charges of organizing an "unauthorized rally", police officials told TASS, a Russian news agency.
The message urged parents to make sure their children did not attend the Sunday protests.
Officials there said they "have no information regarding the raids".
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, warned that unsanctioned rallies would lead to "certain consequences". "He has been taken to the local police for formalities and protocol about an administrative abuse".
He says the upcoming election will be little more than a coronation of Putin who is expected to win a fourth presidential term, becoming the longest-serving Russian leader since Stalin.
The anti-corruption campaigner was denied permission to be a presidential candidate because of an embezzlement conviction in a case widely seen as politically motivated.