Chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin, thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday across Russia’s vast expanse to demand the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, keeping up the nationwide protests that have rattled the Kremlin. More than 4,700 people were detained by police, according to a monitoring group, and some were beaten.
Russian authorities mounted a massive effort to stem the tide of demonstrations after tens of thousands rallied across the country last weekend in the largest, most widespread show of discontent that Russia has seen in years. Despite threats of jail terms, warnings to social media groups and tight police cordons, the protests again engulfed cities across Russia’s 11 time zones on Sunday.
Navalny’s team quickly called another protest in Moscow on Tuesday, when he is set to face a court hearing that could send him to prison for years.
The 44-year-old Navalny, an anti-corruption investigator who is Putin’s best-known critic, was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusations.
CBC’s Chris Brown reports from a demonstration in Moscow. 1:53
“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” and accused Washington of trying to destabilize the situation in the country by backing the protests.
On Sunday, police detained more than 4,700 people at protests in cities nationwide, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests, surpassing some 4,000 detentions at the demonstrations across Russia on Jan. 23.
In Moscow, authorities introduced unprecedented security measures in the city centre, closing subway stations near the Kremlin, cutting bus traffic and ordering restaurants and stores to stay closed.
Navalny’s team initially called for Sunday’s protest to be held on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square, home to the main headquarters of the Federal Security Service, which Navalny claims was responsible for his poisoning. Facing police cordons around the square, the protest shifted to other central squares and streets.
Protesters face off with law enforcement in Moscow on Sunday.
“We mustn’t be scared by clubs because the truth is on our side.”
At one 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. Still, protesters marched around the Russian capital for hours, zigzagging around police cordons.
WATCH | Police arrest protesters near prison where Navalny is being held:
Police arrest protesters near prison where Navalny is being held
4 hours agoVideo
Police arrest people protesting near Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison, where Kremlin critic Alexi Navalny is being detained.
“If we keep silent, they will come after any of us tomorrow,” she said on Instagram before turning out to protest.
Amnesty International said that authorities in Moscow have arrested so many people that the city’s detention facilities have run out of space. “The Kremlin is waging a war on the human rights of people in Russia, stifling protesters’ calls for freedom and change,” Natalia Zviagina, the group’s Moscow office head, said in a statement.
Several thousand people marched across Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, chanting “Down with the czar!” and occasional scuffles erupted as some demonstrators pushed back police who tried to make detentions. More than 1,000 were arrested.
Thousands attend a rally in St. Petersburg on Sunday. (Valentin Egorshin/The Associated Press)
Some of the biggest rallies were held in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk in eastern Siberia and Yekaterinburg in the Urals.
“I do not want my grandchildren to live in such a country,” said 55-year-old Vyacheslav Vorobyov, who turned out for a rally in Yekaterinburg.
His brother, Oleg, top aide Lyubov Sobol and three other people were placed on Friday under house arrest for two months on charges of allegedly violating coronavirus restrictions during last weekend’s protests.
Prosecutors also demanded that social media platforms block calls to join the protests.
The Interior Ministry issued stern warnings to the public, saying protesters could be charged with taking part in mass riots, which carries a prison sentence of up to eight years.
Furor over ‘aqua discotheque’
Protests were fuelled by a two-hour YouTube video released by Navalny’s team after his arrest about the Black Sea residence purportedly built for Putin. The video has been viewed more than 100 million times, inspiring a stream of sarcastic jokes on the internet amid an economic downturn.
Russia has seen extensive corruption during Putin’s time in office while poverty has remained widespread.
WATCH | Putin touts stability amid protests over Nalvany’s arrest:
Putin touts stability amid protests over Nalvany’s arrest
4 days agoVideo
Russian authorities are bracing for another round of protests amid outrage over the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Demonstrators in Moscow chanted “Aqua discotheque!” a reference to one of the fancy amenities at the residence, which also features a casino and a hookah lounge equipped for watching pole dances.
Putin says neither he nor any of his close relatives own the property. On Saturday, construction magnate Arkady Rotenberg, a longtime Putin confidant and his occasional judo sparring partner, claimed that he himself owned the property.
Navalny fell into a coma on Aug. 20, 2020, while on a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow, and the pilot diverted the plane so he could be treated in the city of Omsk. He was transferred to a Berlin hospital two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, as well as tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to the Novichok nerve agent.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears on a screen set up at a hall of the Moscow Regional Court on Thursday.