Moscow (dpa/retuers) – More than 2,600 people were detained on Saturday as demonstrators took to the streets across Russia to demand the release of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny, civil rights activists said.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in 100 cities across the length and breadth of Russia, from the far eastern city of Khabarovsk to Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast, for some of the largest demonstrations seen under President Vladimir Putin.
Participants chanted not only “Freedom for Navalny”, but also “Putin, go away!”
At least 800 detentions were reported in the largest protest in the capital Moscow, according to volunteer platform OVD-Info, where Navalny’s team said 40,000 people had marched in support of Navalny.
Dozens of people were injured in later clashes between police and protesters, according to dpa reporters in Moscow’s central Pushkin Square.
Protesters broke through metal barriers and threw snowballs and fireworks at police, who responded with batons against the overwhelmingly young demonstrators.
Security forces also detained protesters who gathered outside the prison where Navalny is being held.
More than 40 officers received minor injuries during the protest in the capital, state agency Tass reported, with media reports suggesting demonstrators were also injured. Exact figures were not immediately available.
Navlany’s wife Yulia Navalnaya was among those briefly detained. She posted a picture of herself in a dark space on Instagram with the caption: “Sorry for the poor quality. The light in the police van is very poor.” She was reportedly released several hours later.
Navalny’s team had also posted a picture of his mother at the unauthorized event.
Close Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer, was also detained.
On the streets in Moscow were many young people and members of the middle class. Activists and journalists had earlier said the internet had been shut down.
Passing cars honked their horns in solidarity for the demonstrators. “I don’t want to live in a Russia like we have now,” 30-year-old Irina told a dpa reporter. “We have no democracy.”
In St Petersburg, demonstrators took over the main thoroughfare, Nevsky Prospect, and some 300 people were detained. Earlier, arrests were also reported in cities across the country’s far east, where demonstrations began hours earlier due to the time difference.
Navalny’s team said thousands of demonstrators turned out in the cities of Khabarovsk, Irkutsk and Novosibirsk, braving freezing-cold temperatures, as low as minus 56 degrees Celsius in Yakutsk.
Crowds shouted slogans including: “We have the power” and “Putin is a thief.”
Earlier this week, Navalny’s team released a video titled “A Palace for Putin,” claiming to show that the long-standing leader has built a “tsarist empire” on the Black Sea funded by bribes.
The Kremlin has dismissed the accusations as a “lie.”
In Khabarovsk, protests also focused on the arrest of the city’s popular former governor, Sergei Furgal.
In the Siberian city of Tomsk, where Navalny was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent in August, his supporters were expected to stage the largest unauthorized protest in decades.
Navalny has blamed the chemical attack on Putin and the FSB intelligence service – charges which the Kremlin denies.
The rallies were not sanctioned by authorities, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warning people not to take part, and universities threatening to expel students. Russia has banned all protests during the pandemic.
Navalny, who returned from receiving treatment in Germany last weekend, was sentenced to 30 days of pre-trial detention at a snap trial on Monday.
Navalny and his team have dismissed allegations of parole violations as a politically motivated attempt to silence him.
Authorities have also clamped down on Navalny’s associates and supporters, detaining several of his aides, including his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh.
EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell expressed dismay on Saturday at the numerous detentions and disproportionate use of force.
EU foreign ministers are to discuss the bloc’s next steps at a meeting on Monday, he said.
The EU imposed sanctions after the poisoning and a number of countries have called for Navalny’s release.
Washington likewise condemned the harsh treatment of protesters and called for Navalny’s release, in a statement on Saturday.
“The United States will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and partners in defense of human rights – whether in Russia or wherever they come under threat,” the statement said.
Demonstrations for his release were also held in Berlin and Dusseldorf in Germany, and in Helsinki, Finland, and in Warsaw, in Poland.
Russian opposition politicians including Garry Kasparov and former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky called on the EU to impose sanctions on oligarchs and friends of Putin, in an online press conference.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry meanwhile warned foreign powers not to interfere in the protests, slamming the US embassy in Moscow for listing details of a number of demonstrations on its website.
The embassy warned US citizens to “avoid these demonstrations and any demonstration-related activities,” but the ministry says its true intention was to promote them.
Photo – Russian special police units officers clash with protesters during an unauthorized protest in support of Russian opposition leader and blogger Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, Russia, 23 January 2021. Navalny was detained after his arrival to Moscow from Germany on 17 January 2021. A Moscow judge on 18 January ruled that he will remain in custody for 30 days following his airport arrest. Navalny urged Russians to take to the streets to protest. In many Russian cities mass events are prohibited due to an increasing number of cases of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS CoV-2 coronavirus. EPA-EFE/MAXIM SHIPENKOV