In Moscow, at least 19 people were arrested near Red Square during a smattering of protests calling for gay rights. Those detained included several foreign activists who gathered at a clock counting down the last minutes to the opening of the Games. Another protester was arrested near a central subway station for unfurling a banner that said, “No Thieving Olympics.”
Yet another prominent opposition leader, Dmitri Berdnikov, the leader of a group that organizes protests against arbitrary prosecutions and court rulings, was detained at the airport in Kazan, in central Russia, as he prepared to board a flight. Mr. Berdnikov, in a telephone interview, said that guards at the airport confiscated his passport, preventing him from traveling to Sochi even though he already had a ticket.
The detentions followed the arrests of two environmental activists in Sochi that were seen as a chilling sign of Russia’s efforts to quash criticism of either the Games or President Vladimir V. Putin’s tenure.
“Human rights are generally violated in Russia,” said Polina Andrianova, a gay-rights activist in St. Petersburg, where the four demonstrators were arrested shortly after posing for a photograph near the State Hermitage Museum with a banner that read, “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement. Principle 6. Olympic Charter.”
Among the four was Anastasia Smirnova, a spokeswoman for a coalition of gay-rights organizations in the city, who recently met with the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, to draw attention to Russia’s policies toward homosexuality, including a law adopted last year prohibiting gay “propaganda” aimed at children. At least some of the protesters were later released, though they could face fines or other administrative punishment, according to All Out, an organization that held rallies in cities around the world this week.
“People should be able to protest anywhere, anytime,” Ms. Andrianova said in a telephone interview. “It’s a human right.”
The protest in Nalchik appeared to be organized but short-lived. Eight cars drove to the city’s main square, waving old Circassian flags and banners that declared, “Sochi is the Land of Genocide,” according to photographs posted by an organization that has campaigned for a boycott of the Olympics. The protest ended within minutes, as the police surrounded the protesters, according to two witnesses.
Kabardino-Balkaria, a predominately Muslim republic east of Sochi, has been at the center of a simmering Islamic insurgency that has provoked a sharp response from the police and security forces, who tolerate little sign of dissent.
“Practically no time passed; literally two or three minutes,” said Alsan Byshto, the head of the Kabardine Congress, a regional social organization, who witnessed the protest. “A crowd of police arrived. They took the flags and arrested the activists.”
In Sochi, Mr. Putin appeared to express frustration that protests over Russia’s policies threatened to overshadow the spectacle of the Games. The issue of gay rights came up again during a meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands.
Mr. Putin said that he had watched a television report on a gay club in Sochi, where one of those interviewed said: “You know, can you just finally leave us be. Sport is sport, and the Olympics are the Olympics. Let’s focus on the Olympics now. The less aggression there is from both sides on these issues, the better, in my opinion.”
Mr. Putin added, “I fully agree with what he said.”