Supporters of the imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny held large demonstrations across Russia over the weekend in a series of mass protests that the police deemed illegal.
Navalny, one of Vladimir Putin’s lead political opponents was evacuated to Germany last August where he was treated after being attacked with what Western nations believe to be a nerve agent. Russia’s Federal Prison Service (FSIN) ordered him last month to fly back from Germany, where he was recovering, and report at a Moscow office or be jailed if he failed to return in time. He was immediately detained after his return last week. He is accused of failing to inform FSIN of a deferred term he was completing on a conviction dating from 2014. Navalny maintains that the initial conviction against him was been politically influenced. He faces potential trouble in three other criminal cases too. A Moscow court also sentenced Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh to nine days in prison, giving another ally 10 days, and fining another 250,000 roubles for criminal conduct.
Navalny had called on his supporters to protest and demand his release. In central Moscow, an estimated 40,000 people had gathered in one of the biggest unauthorized rallies in years. Across the country, an estimated 100,000 protesters took to the streets raising anti-Putin and anti-government slogans. The authorities had warned people from attending protests citing COVID-19 risks and possible prosecution. More than 3,000 people were arrested across the country in the ensuing police crackdown. Images of protesters with injuries such as bloodied heads circulated on social media. State prosecutors opened criminal cases into alleged violence against police officers by protesters. There were outages on mobile phone and internet services, the website monitoring site downdetector.ru showed which made it difficult for protestors to communicate with each other.
The US State Department condemned “the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities throughout Russia” and called on Russian authorities to immediately release Navalny and all those detained at protests. “We urge Russia to fully cooperate with the international community’s investigation into the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil.”
The EU will consider fresh sanctions on Russian individuals on Monday as neighboring countries like Lithuania, Romania and Estonia strongly condemned Russia. Navalny’s supporters called for protests again next weekend.