In Russia, thousands of demonstrators supporting Putin’s criticism of Alexei Navalny were arrested

Mass protests erupted across Russia on Saturday in support of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin. Navalny was arrested last Sunday after returning from Germany to Moscow, where he was treated for poisoning allegedly linked to the Kremlin five months ago.

to me ReutersAround 40,000 people participated in the Moscow demonstrations, although the police described this figure as incorrect, and estimated the crowd at 4,000. Several thousand others took part in cities across the country, from Yakutsk in the northeast to Saint Petersburg in the west. Around 3,000 protesters were arrested in total.

The protesters were met with a strong police presence – and government officials urged citizens to stay home, arguing that the marches did not have the proper mandate.

“Respected citizens, the current event is illegal,” the police Advertise During the demonstration in Moscow. “We are doing our best to ensure your safety.”

Few protesters heeded these warnings, and the number of people arrested in the protests in Moscow, St.Petersburg and some 70 other towns and cities swelled to at least 3,000, according to reports from OVD-Info Human Rights Watch Group. This includes about 1,100 people in Moscow alone, as of 11:30 pm Moscow time on Saturday.

Navalny’s wife, Julia Navalnaya, was among those arrested at the weekend protests. The heads of his party’s regional offices were arrested prior to the protests, as were members of Navalny’s team, including his boss. Press SecretaryKyra Yarmish.

Navalny’s arrest – and the arrest of his team – spurred a massive movement of the crowd. The scale of the Moscow protests is reminiscent of the summer of 2019, when at least 60,000 people demonstrated in that city to demand fair elections. (Navalny was arrested prior to this move, too.)

While many of the protesters were Navalny’s supporters, others said they turned out more because they wanted to see an all-out end to Putin’s authoritarian rule.

“I have never been a big supporter of Navalny, yet I understood very well that this is a very dangerous situation,” said Vitaly Blazevic – who was 57 years old and was one of the oldest participants in the demonstration. The New York Times.

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“Unless we keep going out [to protest]Natalia Krinova, a former teacher, told the Guardian that the problem in this country will never go away. And that problem is Putin.

Regardless of their motives, protesters were met in many places with swift and aggressive police forces.

A video clip from Moscow, for example, shows policemen in riot gear beating protesters with batons. Dozens of protesters were arrested in that city outside the Matroskaya Tishina detention center, where Navalny is being held.

As night fell, police fired smoke bombs into central Moscow, and protesters responded with snowballs, according to reporter Alec Lun.

The demonstrations were also amazing due to their enormous geographic diversity. On Twitter, Atlantic correspondent Anne Appelbaum collected scenes of large protests – largely made up of young people, many of them waving Russian flags – in the cities of Irkutsk, Novosirsk, Vladivostok, Tomsk and Yakutsk.

Yakutsk is located in eastern Siberia, while Vladivostok borders the Sea of ​​Japan. In the Siberian winter, these demonstrators were braving extremely cold temperatures, with temperatures nearing -60 degrees Fahrenheit in some places.

The widespread spread of the protests, and their involvement with Russians of all ages, is indicative of Navalny’s charisma and his ability to rally supporters – especially the youth – according to Washington Post.

In recent years, Putin has moved to suppress dissent more vigorously, with new laws making it more difficult to organize protests. Russians who demonstrated on Saturday face jail and other consequences.

Artyom, a college student protested, said Watchman He and his colleagues have been threatened with serious academic consequences, and he said many believe it means expulsion, if they participate.

Putin will likely remain in power, despite popular opposition seen on Saturday. A final change to the Russian constitution would allow Putin to keep power for an additional 15 years.

Navalny is the leader of the Russian opposition movement

in August, Navalny fell ill At the Siberian airport before boarding a flight to Moscow. His team, worried that he is not receiving proper care in Russia, has partnered with a humanitarian group that has taken him to Germany for treatment. There, doctors tracked down the cause of his illness, and found that it was novichokIt is a deadly nerve agent known to be used by the Russian government.

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Such as Alex Ward books from VoxNavalny has always pledged that he will return to Russia, even as he continues to criticize Germany of Putin – including directly accusing the Kremlin of trying to kill him in YouTube videos have been viewed more than 40 million times.

When Navalny arrived at Berlin airport on January 17 on his flight home, he said he was not afraid, though Russian officials had threatened to arrest him upon his return. Hundreds of his supporters violated anti-protest laws to greet his plane at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. Instead, the plane was diverted to Sheremetyevo, where Navalny was arrested at passport control.

The official charge he faces is not appearing at a parole hearing, linked to a 2014 embezzlement case. Navalny claimed that these charges were politically motivated. However, if the charges continue, he could face years in prison.

His new arrest came after years of attempts by the Kremlin to stifle his opposition and dissuade Navalny from returning home, including by way of Put him on the federal wanted list, And claimed to have avoided the inspectors while abroad, as Ward wrote:

This kind of thing isn’t new to Navalny. As we mentioned, it is He was caught before – and even poisoned before So it is possible that he will eventually be released and return to leading the anti-Putin movement in Russia. Sometimes, the Kremlin just wants to remind Navalny of the official, and slow down his action, in a way that tries to preserve the illusion of Russian democracy.

But it’s also possible that Putin got it, especially him He seeks to stay in power for life. Removing his top political opponent would certainly make this trick easier, though it may warrant condemnation from other countries, including the United States led by President-elect Joe Biden.

Navalny received support from US officials. Hours after Navalny was arrested, the next national security adviser Jake Sullivan He tweeted a statement condemning the arrest of Putin’s critic. “Mr. Navalny must be released immediately, and the perpetrators of the heinous attack on his life must be held accountable.”

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“The United States supports the right of all people to peaceful protest and freedom of expression,” Rebecca Ross, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Moscow, tweeted on Saturday. “The steps taken by the Russian authorities eliminate those rights.”

However, it is not clear how effective the American response will be. Relations between Washington and Moscow – already cold – deteriorated further a year ago Hacking US federal agencies It was linked to Russia in late 2020. Moreover, operations in the last two remaining US consulates – one in Vladivostok and the other in Yekaterinburg – were closed, leaving the US embassy in Moscow as the only US outpost in the entire country.

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