More than 3,000 Russians arrested after taking to the streets to support jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in one of the biggest confrontations against Putin in years

A man shouts at a rally protesting the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny on January 23 in Moscow. Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images
  • Thousands of Russians were arrested on Saturday after participating in protests in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

  • Navalny spent several months recovering in Germany after being poisoned.

  • He returned to Russia on January 17 and was immediately arrested and charged with violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence.

  • Visit the Insider homepage for more stories.

Tens of thousands of Russians from more than 100 cities took part in a massive demonstration on Saturday against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The protests took place across the country, from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and in some of the most remote parts of Siberia, where locals braved temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit to express support for the anti activist -corruption.

In August 2020, Navalny fell violently ill on a flight to Moscow and was hospitalized in Berlin. Navalny later managed to trick a Russian Federal Security Service agent into revealing that the cause of his illness was a Novichok nerve agent intended to poison the anti-corruption leader.

Navalny spent the last few months recovering in Germany, but returned to Russia on January 17. After arriving in Moscow, he was immediately taken into custody. on allegations he violated the terms of a 2014 conditional sentence for embezzlement.

He is currently being held at Matrosskaya Tishina prison, where a judge has ruled he is expected to remain in pre-trial detention for the next 30 days.

Russian authorities have used violence and repression to detain thousands of citizens

Upon hearing of his arrest, the Russians began using social media platforms, including TikTok, to stage protests. More than 40,000 people are believed to have taken part in the nationwide protests on Saturday.

protests in russia
Russian police in Moscow clash with protesters demonstrating against the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Beata Zawrzel / NurPhoto via Getty Images

During a demonstration outside Matrosskaya Tishina, police used batons to beat protesters, according to Russian Mediazona outlet. A 54 year old woman was hit by an officer and landed in the hospital. A cyclist was removed from his bicycle and beaten by law enforcement in St. Petersburg, and more than two dozen people in Moscow were injured in a skirmish with the police.

More than 3,400 Russians have been taken into custody during the protests, including Navalny Yulia’s wife. On Saturday, she posted a photo of herself on Instagram with the caption: “Sorry for the poor quality. Very bad light in the paddy wagon.”

She was then released.

Read more: Wife of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny arrested as mass protests challenge Putin, demand his release from prison

Journalists were among those targeted by the authorities. Dozens of journalists from several independent Russian media outlets, including TV Rain, The Insider and Vital Stories, have been arrested by police and sentenced to heavy fines. In one case, the police went to a place where Dozhd TV employees were working and turn off the building’s electricity, Mediazona reported.

The founders of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina and Lyusya Shtein, were also among those detained. Russian news agency Ria Novosti says Alyokhina has been fined 30,000 rubles (about 400 USD) for allegedly encouraging people to “participate in an unauthorized assembly”.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price issued a statement on Saturday condemning the detentions and violence.

“The United States strongly condemns the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities across Russia,” he wrote, noting that the crackdown on protesters followed ” years of tightening restrictions and repressive actions against civil society, independent media and political opposition. “

riot police Yekaterinburg
Riot police officers line up their shields during protests in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Donat Sorokin TASS via Getty Images

Price then called for the “unconditional release” of Navalny and the protesters detained on Saturday.

Thursday the Biden administration said he “would endeavor to hold Russia accountable for its reckless and contradictory actions, including” its use of chemical weapons against opposition leader Alexei Navalny “.

Navalny’s allies hope protests lead to his release – again

Leonid Volkov, a close opposition ally, said he hoped the pressure of the protests would force the Kremlin to release Navalny, as he has done in the past.

“We know the Kremlin fears mass protests”, Volkov told Reuters. “We know that the Kremlin has never failed in recent years to bend one way or the other if the protests were powerful and strong enough.”

Navalny has established himself as the leader of the Russia of the Future Party and the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and has served as a foil for Putin since the former Kremlin official was elected president in 2012.

A 2013 Wall Street Journal article describes Navalny as “the man Putin fears the most”, which may have, ironically, helped cultivate its popularity in Russia.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in rally in Moscow
Alexei Navalny spent several months recovering in Germany after being poisoned with a nerve agent. REUTERS / Shamil Zhumatov

“I am on the blackest part of the blacklist,” Navalny told The Journal in 2013, noting that his public appearances are often banned or severely altered by official Russian media. “Sometimes it seems to me that there is a little madman in the Kremlin who works for me. Relatively few people watch such shows. But because they have banned them, there are millions of Russians now wondering ,” Who is he? “”

In 2013, Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison for alleged embezzlement over $ 500,000 worth of lumber from the Kirovles company in 2009 and sell it. But thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow to protest the conviction, and a day later, Navalny was released.

There are also fears that the Kremlin may double its sanctions. Putin was reportedly particularly angered by a recent 90-minute video Navalny uploaded to Youtube claiming the Russian president. had built an ostentatious $ 1.4 billion complex on the Black Sea in Russia funded by stolen money. The video has been viewed over 50 million times.

Read more: Drone footage claims to show Vladimir Putin’s $ 1.4 billion secret Black Sea palace in Russia

“Putin has a palace that was built with stolen money, and Putin himself is a thief,” a protester said in Moscow. The New York Times.

Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has dismissed Navalny’s claims as “pure absurdity and patchwork,” according to Russian point of sale Astonished.

As protests raged on Saturday, Putin remained silent other than offering his condolences on the death of longtime television journalist Larry King, according to the Russian state media Ria Novosti.

Peskov told reporters: “The president has always appreciated his utmost professionalism and undisputed journalistic authority” from King.

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