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Demonstrators in Moscow clash with police Sunday during a protest against the jailing of Alexei Navalny. Thousands of people took to the streets across Russia to demand the opposition leader’s release.
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The heavy police presence in Moscow left demonstrators scrambling to revise their plans. Roughly an hour before the protest was scheduled to begin, organizers announced new meeting points, including outside the prison where Navalny is being held. Originally, the plan had been to gather at Lubyanka Square — home to the headquarters of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, which Navalny has blamed for his near-fatal poisoning in August. Navalny has said the Kremlin was behind the attack — a charge Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied.
«In Russia, the government is suppressing anyone who has an opinion different from a very narrow point of view. And if you are different, you are suppressed,» said one protester, Elina Mukharlyamova. «The propaganda makes you feel alone. That’s why we came here. To show that we are not alone. That there are many of us.»
Similar scenes to what was happening in Moscow played out elsewhere, as protesters and police clashed in cities across the country. In the eastern port city of Vladivostok, police closed down the city center, forcing demonstrators onto the ice of a frozen bay, where they chanted, «My Russia is in prison.» In Putin’s home city of St. Petersburg, crowds gathered in a central square chanting «down with the czar.» Video footage showed officers swinging batons at protesters and arresting a person wearing a bright yellow press vest.
Protesting on ice. In Vladivostok they’re shouting ‘My Russia is in prison!’
Numbers today may well be lower: the risk of protesting is v high-from probs at work/college or a few days’ detention to full-on criminal prosecution. But the protest mood is clearly growing here. https://t.co/kjlcfdBCp4
— Sarah Rainsford (@sarahrainsford) January 31, 2021
In a statement on Twitter, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken decried the violence and called on the Russian authorities to release protesters.
«The U.S. condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight,» Blinken wrote. «We renew our call for Russia to release those detained for exercising their human rights, including Aleksey Navalny.»
Sunday’s rallies come eight days after protesters mobilized for Navalny in roughly 100 cities across Russia, marking the largest and most widespread wave of demonstrations for the country in years. In many cities, protesters clashed with baton-wielding riot police, and more than 3,000 people were detained, according to OVD-info.
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The continued protests have highlighted the extent to which a desire for change and frustration with Putin has — as much as support for Navalny himself — bubbled to the surface, particularly among younger Russians. The Jan. 23 protests unfolded across all 11 of Russia’s time zones, fueled in large measure by members of a generation who have only ever known one leader in their lifetime. And while few experts believe the protests pose an immediate challenge to the Russian president, Navalny’s anti-corruption message, coupled with his dramatic return from poisoning, has made him a particularly influential figure in the opposition movement.
«Putin is now in a no-win situation,» said Julia Davis, a Russian media analyst with the Atlantic Council, in an interview with NPR. «If he kills Navalny in prison, then he becomes a martyr and it would be impossible to deny who is responsible for that. And if Navalny is allowed to continue to function, he will continue to be a thorn in Putin’s side.»
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Alexei Navalny is surrounded by journalists on a plane Jan. 17 before a flight to Moscow at Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Navalny was arrested upon his return to Russia.
More Than 3,000 Arrested In Russia In Protests Calling For Release Of Alexei Navalny
Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning to Russia from Germany, where he had spent the previous five months recovering from being poisoned. Doctors in Germany say he was poisoned with a variant of a Soviet-era nerve agent known as Novichok.
Russian authorities said Navalny was arrested for violating the terms of a suspended sentence dating to a 2014 embezzlement conviction. Navalny says the charges against him are politically motivated. A Moscow court is due to rule next month on whether his 3 1/2-year sentence in the case will be converted into a prison sentence.
Lucian Kim contributed reporting from Moscow.
- Alexei Navalny