Russia Arrests Thousands During Protests Backing Opposition Leader Navalny

Spent five months recovering from nerve-agent poisoning he blames on Kremlin
A rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on January 31, 2021. (Photo by
Anatolij Medved/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Russia’s 11 time zones on Sunday to demand the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Police detained more than 3,300 people — who chanted slogans against President Vladimir Putin, and some were beaten, The Associated Press reported.

Navalny, 44, an opposition leader and anti-corruption investigator who has repeatedly criticized Putin, was arrested on Jan. 17 after he returned from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. He was charged with violating his parole conditions by not reporting for meetings with law enforcement — while he was in a coma in Germany.

Protests have spread across the nation since Navalny’s arrest, even as Russian authorities battled to shut them down. Last weekend, tens of thousands rallied across the country in what the AP said was the “largest, most widespread show of discontent that Russia has seen in years.”

After those protests, Russian authorities warned that demonstrators face lengthy jail terms, but thousands still showed up on Sunday. In an effort to shut them down, authorities in Moscow deployed unprecedented security measures in the city center, closing subway stations near the Kremlin, cutting bus traffic and ordering restaurants and stores to close.

“Facing police cordons around the square, the protest shifted to other central squares and streets,” the AP reported. “Police were randomly picking up people and putting them into police buses, but thousands of protesters marched across the city center for hours, chanting “Putin, resign!” and Putin, thief!” a reference to an opulent Black Sea estate reportedly built for the Russian leader that was featured in a widely popular video released by Navalny’s team.”

At some point, crowds of demonstrators walked toward the Matrosskaya Tishina prison where Navalny is being held. They were met by phalanxes of riot police who pushed the march back and chased protesters through courtyards, detaining scores and beating some with clubs. Still, protesters continued to march around the Russian capital, zigzagging around police cordons. Nearly 900 people were detained in Moscow, including Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who joined the protest. “If we keep silent, they will come after any of us tomorrow,” she said on Instagram before turning out to protest.

Several thousand marched across Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, and occasional scuffles erupted as some demonstrators pushed back police who tried to make detentions. Nearly 600 were arrested. Some of the biggest rallies were held in Novosibirsk in eastern Siberia and Yekaterinburg in the Urals.

The United States has criticized the arrest of Navalny and urged Russia to release him. “The U.S. condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected Blinken’s call as a “crude interference in Russia’s internal affairs.”

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